One of the Republican responses to the Democratic walkout of the state House has been to point out that the GOP was the minority party for most of Texas' history. As Speaker Craddick put it, "How do you think the Republicans felt for the last 130 years?"
Well, not to put too fine a point on it, the Republican Party barely existed in Texas for most of that 130 years, as it was originally identified with Reconstruction. Only in the past 30 years or so has there been a Republican Party worth talking about in Texas. Everyone who was anyone was a Democrat.
What that means, in particular, is that the conversion of Texas from a Democrat state to a Republican state has not meant that the party of George Bush and Phil Gramm has finally wrested control of the state from the party of Hillary Clinton and Barney Frank. When the Democrats were the only party in the state, there was a sizeable and powerful conservative wing in it, a wing which contained politicians such as Gramm and Rick Perry, who started as a Democratic representative in the state House. Eventually, these conservatives realized they'd be in a stronger position if they followed the national trend and switched parties.
This is one reason why the Texas Lege has a history of bipartisanship - there was and still is a lot of common ground shared by the conservative Democrats and the Republicans. Many Republicans still recognize that, which is why some of them pledged to support Pete Laney for Speaker in 1999 when it first looked like the GOP would win a majority of the seats in the state House.
"I didn't pledge to Laney for any reason other than I think he is the best person," said Rep. Gary Walker, R-Plains.
Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, said he is pledged to Laney for "however long he wants to be speaker." Jones said his primary responsibility is to his West Texas district and that Laney has been supportive of the region, Lubbock and Texas Tech.
Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, said he gave his pledge to Laney and has no intention of reversing that. "Anytime you would go back on your word, that puts in question what your word's worth," Chisum said.
Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, said it will take more than winning 76 seats for Republicans to elect a Republican speaker. Goodman said he expects Laney to have at least six or seven Republican votes even if the Republicans are in the majority.
"It would have to be a super Republican candidate to get me not to vote for Pete Laney for speaker," said Goodman, who signed a pledge card for Laney.
It's the recent crop of Republicans who have put more emphasis on party identity over pragmatism. It can be seen in many ways, such as committee memberships and bloc voting on amendments. Had the Republican leadership been even just a little more flexible and amenable to Democratic concerns, they likely would have accomplished just about everything they wanted, as noted here:
What changed the atmosphere from the Bush era was the Republican takeover of the House last year for the first time since the Civil War. The Republicans are moving an agenda that thanks their longtime supporters, said Harvey Kronberg, a longtime Austin observer and editor of The Quorum Report, a political newsletter.
A blistering six-day debate on lawsuit limits in which Democratic amendments were steamrolled under, along with a bruising fight on budget cuts, has left the minority party feeling desperate, he said.
"It is almost impossible to get 50 Democrats to walk off the floor," but the GOP did it by making them feel ignored and irrelevant, he said.
"The early message was that we could do all this without you, which is naive because the rules protect the minority as well as the majority," Mr. Kronberg said.
He said that all of the GOP agenda could have been passed by starting early and settling for just a little bit less.
"I think they could have taken the Democrats in the backroom and seen what they needed to come on board. Maybe you give them a little bit of A, or some of B. Then they walk out the door and they've been made a little bit pregnant," Mr. Kronberg said.