TCR over the last few weeks has had several conversations with key state representatives, state senators, and Texas conservative leaders.
Here are the consensus observations:
Big Week In Washington
- "The Texas House and Senate are majority Republican but not majority conservative." When one key GOP representative was asked what happened, that was his answer. This statement explains a lot of conservative failures. First and foremost, property tax caps and a broad-based consumption tax as pushed previously by Talmadge Heflin and David Hartman got nowhere and TCR wonders why?
- The Texas Senate's so-called twenty-one vote rule and preference for 31-0 votes strengthens the left wing, big spenders, and waters down key conservative initiatives. How conservative can you be when you have to please Rodney Ellis and his allies?
- State campaign finance clarification (which would slow down the Ronnie Earle's fishing expeditions) faded despite broad support.
- Key conservative initiatives have either died: Robin Hood Repeal, school choice (university admission), property tax caps, voter identification, property tax cuts, or been watered down: parental consent on abortion (better than nothing but not as strong as the original bill), university admission reform, tax-payer rights.
- On the plus side we passed bills on asbestos reform (thanks to the work of Joe Nixon and Kyle Janek and all the various interest groups), workers compensation reform and a constitutional amendment on marriage.
- Some statewide elected conservative leaders usually said the right thing but when the rubber meets the road - they were either ineffective or uninterested, protecting local officials from having to make tough spending and tax decisions or playing for praise from a flaming left wing press in Austin, Houston, and Dallas.
- The interim between the 2003 legislative session and this one was wasted while we studied the big issues of education reform, Robin Hood sunset, and property tax and general tax modernization and reform. No innovative conservative solutions surfaced or were advanced and conservatives are asking why not?
- The best ideas for common sense conservative reform comes from private think tanks or groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation; David Hartman, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Texas Eagle Forum, Free Market Foundation and others.
- The Republican Party of Texas which "could" (but clearly is not) be an influential conservative force was essentially a cheerleader for elected officials except for election reforms (unsuccessful) and to stop gambling expansion (never really was seriously advanced this session). Where was the party when it could help bolster conservatives on the key issues of the session - school reform, Robin Hood, property tax relief, and a new revenue system for Texas? Answer: They were followers when conservatives needed them to lead.
- Robin Hood sent back to the Courts. After hearing a lot of rhetoric for years about getting rid of Robin Hood and redefining equity it now seems we will let the Texas Supreme Court rule. Conservatives generally don't want public policy determined by the courts, don't like the original Robin Hood plan, and think there is still much waste and inefficiency in public education and believe we've continued to increase education spending without getting the results we expect.
TCR Comment: Sending it to the courts is a failure of GOP leadership starting at the top and remember this has happened with significant GOP majorities in both houses, which "could" be threatened in the 2006 election. Our base expects common sense conservative policies, not liberal democrat light. Have some of our legislators and leaders forgot why they got elected?
TCR was in D.C. last week with a front row seat on four big stories: (1) Judicial confirmation; (2) Bolton's vote for UN ambassador; (3) Pork-barrel transportation bill goes to president (veto bait); (4) the widening Jack Abramoff lobby/influence scandal; (5) Hillary v. Frist a '08 preview?
JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION - As TCR expected, a deal was cut and yes, three conservatives were advanced but the soft filibuster still stands above our heads. Tactically we messed up, why didn't we make the Democrats actually filibuster in January so we could accuse them of being obstructionist? Why didn't we push harder sooner instead of letting the issue fester? And finally, does this threaten the appointment of conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court? You know it matters when a federal judge in Nebraska overturned Nebraska's marriage law that got 70% of the vote. If we don't get ours confirmed then be resigned to continue leftist domination. Yes, we also need a federal marriage amendment now.
JOHN BOLTON CONFIRMATION VOTE - TCR asks, is this for real, attacking someone because they got angry at a staffer? We could disqualify 90% of the House and Senate and scores of presidents. What a joke, Bolton is a strong, opinionated conservative who is tough. TCR says this is the right prescription for the UN.
VETO-BAIT THE TRANSPORTATION BILL - Conservatives are waiting to see if the pork-ladened federal transportation bill, (which the Heritage Foundation estimates over a hundred billion dollars are to be spent on nothing that has to do with highways and is billions over the Bush request), gets vetoed.
TCR Comment: How about this for a conservative idea - abolish the federal gas tax and let states do what they want. The bill should be vetoed if fiscal restraint means anything at all anymore. The fact that this bill got a lot of GOP votes confirms what a prominent conservative congressman confided to TCR, "we have from 80-100 conservatives in the House, that's it, can you believe it?" It seems many in the U.S. House in Washington, like many in Austin, are members of the "spending party." Did any conservatives out there want to send to Austin or D.C. members of the spending party? Email your comment.
JACK ABRAMOFF LOBBY SCANDAL - Who TCR calls a "fallen angel" is a good man who lost sight of who he was and what he believed in. This is not a new story for D.C., but what is sad for those who were part of the 1994 GOP revolution is that Jack became what we sought to get rid of in D.C. when the Democrats lost Congress. The scandal is growing weekly and now engulfs Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, Tom DeLay, Bob Ney and others. TCR feels we've only seen the tip of the iceberg and the collateral damage to the GOP and conservatives could be quite extensive.
HILLARY AND BILL FRIST, A 2008 PREVIEW? - While in Washington TCR got to see and hear in a major venue, Senators Hillary Clinton and Bill Frist. Hillary took the opportunity to display her hawkishness on Iran and Iraq and international terror. She continues to track right.
RIP - Ed Wendt
TCR Comment: Look for Hillary to continue to the right on border security, spending control and maybe even tax reform. She is energetic and graceful and has honed the art of triangulation.
As for Bill Frist, he was professional but uninspiring, about what you expect from a former heart surgeon. He mainly talked about the Israel/Arab dispute and his recent trip to Israel.
TCR Comment: Senator Frist does not have the impact or charisma of President Bush or Hillary Clinton and at this point would be hard pressed to keep up with Hillary. If the audience TCR was with was voting, she'd have won in a walk. Maybe running current or former Governors is the GOP's secret for victory.
Investigative conservative newspaper reporter Ed Wendt died on May 26. Ed was a fixture in Houston area politics. As a muckraking reporter he hit hard but fair on politicians who played fast and loose with the truth.
I personally got to know Ed well when I had the privilege of representing him pro-bono in the famous Trespass at City Hall case when Ed, while reporting, was arrested for not leaving a public Houston City Council meeting. By the way, Ed was acquitted and the case later written up in Texas Justice by Martana, published by Red Bandana, Dallas, TX in 2005.
Ed's enthusiasm and energy will be missed. TCR sends its condolences to Ed's family and friends and legions of readers.
Conservatives "Busted" In Texas?
By Hon. Paul Bettencourt
Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector
Most Texans are familiar with the "Boom" and then the "Bust" business cycle of the Oil Industry in Texas. In politics, the complete sweep by a new Republican Majority in all branches of Texas government was accompanied by the "Boom" fanfare of rising expectations set by GOP candidates and their supporters gushing over basic Republican tenets as tax relief, education reform, and family values. Shouldn't all Texans expect these principles to be implemented in the reddest of all "red" states that helped elect our popular former Governor, George W. Bush, to the office of President of the United States of America at the start of the Twenty-First century?
What economic conservatives could not foresee then is the complete fiscal policy "bust" displayed by elected Republican leadership in this legislative session. A simple property tax relief measure, a 5% yearly "appraisal cap" that passed the House unanimously 134-0 in 2003, was denied debate on the House floor by a close vote in the 2005 session that just finished. This occurred despite the fact that the average Texas homeowner paid 32.3% more property taxes in just three years from the year 2000 to 2003. Then a property tax "revenue cap" reform bill was gutted by Senate action to the point where 130,000 voters in Harris County, mostly Houstonians, would have to sign a petition forcing a rollback election only when their taxing jurisdictions effectively hiked up the tax rate by more than 11% in one year!
In addition, a proposed school voucher program for urban area independent school districts was openly defeated by "Tax and Spend" Republicans even though it would have enabled school children in failing Public Schools to escape to an environment that would allow them a better education. After years of promises by Republican leadership at all levels to end the so called "Robin-Hood" school funding system, even this cornerstone legislation failed without an up or down vote. The promised property tax relief vanished leaving the average Houston area home's tax bill up 106% in seven years and total statewide ISD property tax levies up 74% over seven years as well.
The lack of true fiscal conservatism is obvious with a record new level of governmental spending in the proposed 139 billion-dollar budget for the States of Texas sent to the Governors office for his signature last week. This "Texas" size budget is up nearly 18% over the last two-year budget of 118 billion dollars when the same leadership took tremendous pride in closing a 10 Billion dollar shortfall after making the courageous votes to do it!
Texas governmental revenues and resulting spending will be up over 21 Billion Dollars due in large part to an improved Texas economy, but not one penny of this money will be returned to the taxpayers in the form of any tax relief. What happened to the Republican majority's calls for ending "Robin-Hood"? Could it be they have been replaced by "Republicans in name only", RINO's, that are the future champions of "Tax and Spend" public politics?
I hope not, but face it; the Republicans in this Texas legislative session have developed a full case of what I call "Majority Party Disease" from the usual friends of any government in power the "Spending Lobby". The endangered species in Texas government is rapidly becoming the truly dedicated economic conservative trying to limit the growth of government because so many Republicans are joining Democrats that have never been "cured" of the affliction despite having been swept out of all statewide political offices themselves. Local property tax bills need not rise 4 to 5 times faster than Texan's paychecks year after year. The State's Budget should not grow twice as fast as the combined rate of yearly population growth and the inflation rate under any majority party. It's not good for homeowners, businesses, or the Texas economy over the long-term to surpass these "yardsticks", and every fiscal conservative knows it!
While we can take some solace in the fact that an important traditional marriage definition and needed parental consent for minor abortions passed, these are 70% plus favorable opinions held by the public. When a bicameral legislative Republican majority, backed by a clean "sweep" of all GOP Texas officials at the Governorship, Lt Governor, Speaker, Comptroller, etc…cannot successfully implement the fiscal tenets their grassroots party supporters hold dear, they are asking the conservative base to become something they can never be - Tax and Spend Republicans! Let us get our "veto" pens out, join the call for another special session, and help get the job done right.
If not, all Republican officeholders should be ready to ask their naturally conservative Republican primary voters a simple question. Are you going to vote for reform in this Grand Old Party of ours, or are you going to join the "Boom" to "Bust" political ride their elected leadership is seemingly on in Texas?
TCR COMMENT: Paul Bettencourt is Texas' leading taxpayers rights advocate. Too bad more politicians can't be like him.
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About Your Editor
Gary Polland is a long-time conservative and Republican spokesman, fund-raiser, and leader who recently completed three terms as the Harris County Republican Chairman. During his three terms, Gary was described as the most successful county Chairman in America by Human Events - The National Conservative Weekly. He is in his ninth year of editing a newsletter dealing with key conservative and Republican issues. The last four years he has edited Texas Conservative Review. Gary is a practicing attorney and strategic consultant and can be reached at (713) 621-6335.
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