Sunday, May 24, 2009

Chub-by lovin'

Just like he promised he would when he was boosted to power, rookie Republican Speaker Joe Straus has let the (Texas) House rule itself for the last five months. Now, the 150-member chamber is coming unraveled.

The House has been stuck in partisan gridlock for three days, and with just a week left in the legislative session, bills are dying by the minute. ...

Straus has been largely absent from the House speaker's rostrum as Democrats have seized control of the agenda. They've done it with a maneuver known as chubbing, which uses the rules to run out the clock.

Their strategy is to block a divisive voter ID bill. So far, it's working.

Start with one House evenly divided, add a weak Speaker, fold in a partisan Voter ID bill, blend on medium-high for about twelve weeks, chill and serve. Progress in these waning days of the legislative session -- such as it usually is -- has ground to a standstill. Which is never a bad thing when it comes to the Lege.

Oh yeah, throw in a dash of Republican whining ...

"It's really unfortunate that (Democrats) have taken these measures," said Rep. Larry Taylor, chairman of the House Republican Caucus. "There are a lot of contentious bills that we deal with, but we never go to this extreme ... It's unfathomable to me the level of effort they've taken to avoid this issue. They've stopped the whole process."

But, the Democrats are playing by the rules, Taylor said, making Straus powerless to end the gridlock. ...

As the Democrats prattled on over a tedious list of local and uncontested bills, they pushed weightier legislation like college tuition relief and insurance reform closer to demise with a Tuesday deadline. The rules could be suspended to take up any legislation out of order, but it would require a two-thirds majority. Republicans have rejected the offer to take up any bill out of order and Straus has refused to facilitate any efforts to do so.


The speaker, who began his job in January, made it clear that he is taking a hands-off approach to leading the House. It presents a stark contrast to the long shadow cast by his predecessor, Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, whose iron-fisted approach eventually led to his ouster a few months ago.

Straus "was hired not to cast a long shadow and I don't think he's got any political capital to spend," said Harvey Kronberg, editor of the state politics Web site Quorum Report.

But, with the House narrowly split in a 76-74 Republican majority, Kronberg said it would be difficult for any speaker to avoid such partisan meltdown over the effort to require voters to furnish more identification before being allowed to cast a ballot at election time.

And there you have it. The Republicans, with both the gavel and the threadbare majority but lacking anything resembling a mandate or a will to govern, are powerless to advance any legislation without compromising on Voter ID. But compromise is the stuff of conservative weakness, as we all know. The impasse threatens the, ah, 'agenda' of a certain secessionist:

Perhaps state lawmakers are fatigued by Gov. Rick Perry’s long tenure or maybe they’re just balking at his leadership, but the Republican-led Legislature this year has turned its back repeatedly on the governor’s decisions and policy positions.

The Senate has rejected a Perry appointee to the parole board as incompetent for the job. His nominee for Board of Education chairman is in grave danger. The House last month stripped Perry’s office of most of its funding in the budget debate, and the money had to be restored in a joint conference committee.

House lawmakers also voted to abolish the Texas Department of Transportation, which is chaired by Perry’s former chief of staff, and replace it with an elected commission. Not to mention the controversial $555 million in federal stimulus money that Perry wants to reject and lawmakers seemed poised to accept.

And there's also the death of "Swift Boat" Bob Perry's TRCC, which my blog buddy John Coby and others are celebrating.

Gee, most people would say that's a lousy record. But after decades of governance like this, that pretty much the entire conservative mission has been stopped qualifies as a tremendous victory for working-class Texans.

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