The 83rd edition of the Texas Legislature opened in Austin with enough palace intrigue afoot to stock a fistful of Shakespeare plays. Gov. Rick Perry sees threats all around to his Texas crown even as he eyes another run for the White House in 2016, despite his embarrassing flop last year that restored “Oops!” to the national lexicon.
Comptroller Susan Combs, who announced a rosy revenue projection for state coffers, aspires to some higher office – probably lieutenant governor – and has already raised a big pile of money to fund her next campaign. The current occupant of that office, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, would like to run for re-election after being handed his head by Tea Party newcomer Ted Cruz in the race for U.S. Senate in November, despite spending millions of dollars of his own money. Don’t forget Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has also raised a lot of campaign cash. To be sure, he holds an elected office, but Abbott is the most political AG we can remember and seems to file lawsuits against the federal government at the drop of a hat.
That is the backdrop against which this legislative session will unfold, and once again the people’s business might take a back seat to the political ambitions of the state’s top officials, most notably Perry. Recall the 2011 session when his legislative “emergencies” included voter I.D. – part of a nationwide GOP effort to suppress likely Democratic voters – and an abortion sonogram bill. Roe v. Wade might still be the law of the land, but conservative legislators around the country are attempting a de facto reversal with increasingly restrictive measures. Already introduced are bills to ban the procedure after 20 weeks because of fetal pain and another that requires doctors who perform them to have admitting privileges at a hospital. Presumably passing this legislation will allow Perry to burnish his conservative credentials to Tea Party types in Iowa and South Carolina but does little to address the real problems of real people in Texas.
Over in the Senate, the new chair of the Education Committee is Sen. Dan Patrick. A former TV sportscaster who once painted himself blue on the air to promote the playoff hopes of the Houston Oilers (remember them?), years ago Patrick purchased a small radio station and put a then-unknown Rush Limbaugh on the air. His fortunes soared and whatever his political leanings were before, Patrick became a hard-right conservative and a perfect match for the Tea Party. Now he wants to give vouchers to permit public education funds to go to private and religious schools. An adherent of Grover Norquist, Patrick supports his desire to shrink government to the point it is small enough to be drowned in a bathtub.
Meanwhile, the $5.4 billion cut from public education in the last session? Perry doesn’t want to restore that funding but use it for tax cuts, no matter what the needs of the students of Texas.
We urge the citizens of this state to be vigilant and make sure their elected representatives do not allow the people of Texas to be sacrificed on the altar of Rick Perry’s ambitions — or those of anyone else.