April 15, 2004
More partisanship? Heaven forfend!

So it looks the State House could become a more partisan place now that several Democratic legislators were ousted by primary voters for not adequately representing their views. I know, I didn't think that was possible after the three-ring Special Session Circus last year, either.

The defeat of state Reps. Gabi Canales of Alice and Roberto Gutierrez of McAllen brought this year's total of dislodged House Democrats to seven -- including Fort Worth's Glenn Lewis.

"You could call this the first shot fired in a coordinated strategy to take back the Texas House," said Kelly Fero, a veteran party operative. "And to do that, we need to elect Democrats who not only run as Democrats at election time but vote like Democrats during the legislative session."

Democrats emerged from the 2002 elections as the minority party in the Texas House for the first time since the Reconstruction. Tom Craddick, the new Republican House speaker, installed a new leadership mostly composed of his GOP allies. But he brought several Democratic lawmakers into his inner circle as well

Lewis, a five-term representative from east Fort Worth who was defeated by newcomer Marc Veasey, was named chairman of the County Affairs Committee. State Rep. Ron Wilson, a 26-year House veteran from Houston, was tapped to head the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Jaime Capello, D-Corpus Christi, chaired the Public Health Committee.

Craddick awarded committee vice chairmanships to Gutierrez and Rep. Timo Garza, D-Eagle Pass.

Canales, a freshman, was not part of Craddick's team but was criticized for using her office to win delays of clients' trials during the 2003 legislative sessions.


Fero said that after a series of losses in statewide elections dating back to the mid-1990s, and after losing majorities in both state houses in recent years, Democratic voters have a right to expect a more combative and assertive crop of candidates.

"Democrats want to elect candidates who will represent their interests," he said.

On the one hand, I'm very happy with this. It's not mentioned in this article, but Garza and Gutierrez were targeted because of their support of the awful tort "reform" law that was passed last year, while Wilson of course was ousted for his odious support of the DeLay redistricting. If you were to ask me which two issues from last session should no Democrat have compromised on, those would be the two.

This is also a pretty blunt recognition of the reality, which some but not all realized in 2003, that House Democrats are the minority party in the way that Congressional Republicans were before 1994. Bipartisanship and compromise are only good things if they're not just another word for getting rolled. Sometimes all you can do is play defense. You can't advance an agenda if your bills are getting garrotted in committee and all of your amendments die on party-line votes.

Holding one's ground, though, is not generally a winning strategy for regaining a majority. There's also a very real danger of being portrayed as working against the greater good to protect selfish interests, not to mention the possibility that the hardened resolve of the group might lead to hostility towards individuals who don't share the group ideology on enough points. Success will involve convincing people that it's the other guys who are rigid and doctrinaire; confusing feistiness with purity is a recipe for disaster. You've got to tolerate some heresy if you're going to enlarge that tent.

We'll see how effective this is in the short term. Longer term, given the nature of the 2001 Legislative Review Board redistricting of state House districts, I don't expect much to change any time soon, though a Democrat capturing the Governor's office in 2006 (however unlikely that may be) would speed things up a bit. A more realistic goal is to be aim to be in a stronger position by 2010 for the next LRB redraw.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 15, 2004 to Show Business for Ugly People | TrackBack

In the shorter term, we need to concentrate our resources on winning back individual seats in both the House and the Senate between now and then. In Dallas County, D's are targeting 6 R House seats, which vary in likelihood from unlikely to winnable. With a little luck and a lot of work, we should be able to take at least 2 of them (barring an absolute Bush blowout in November).
Notably, the R's aren't running anybody against any currently D-held seats up here, indicating that they've given up on Dallas County for growth, having maxed out in 2002. Failing to run against incumbents is an effort to avoid swelling D turnout in countywide races, which are at the edge of tipping from R to D.
We just have to repeat the process every cycle from now to 2010, each time running in at least half the seats, and each time picking up 2 or more, and we'll be nearly rid of the idiots by the next redistricting, having changed from 10 R and 6 D to 2 R and 14 D. Optimistic view? sure. Impossible? surely not.

Now, if we could just get Harris County to do the same thing. . .

Posted by: precinct1233 on April 15, 2004 12:19 PM

I don't particularly like the details of the new Texas flavor of it, but tort reform is a very urgent need in the general case, IMO, and if Democrats get too uppity in their opposition to it, it won't help their chances of winning even dog catcher, much less the statehouse.

Posted by: Tim on April 15, 2004 12:55 PM

From the current Austin Chronicle:

One of the state's largest medical malpractice insurers plans to raise rates by 10% this summer, by switching its customers from state rate-regulated policies to an unregulated line beyond the purview of state regulators, the Houston Chronicle reported on April 10. Since the narrow passage last year of the controversial Proposition 12 the so-called tort reform package that capped economic damages in civil suits in exchange for a "promise" that insurance rates would then drop only five of the state's med mal insurers have said they would actually lower rates. According to the Houston daily, GE Medical Protective, which insures 7,000 Texas doctors, factored in the potential cost savings from Proposition 12 before determining that it would still have to raise rates in June. J.S.

yep, good thing we got that tort reform. Now my doctor bills should be how much cheaper, Tim? I'd like either an absolute figure, or a percentage.

Posted by: DocG on April 15, 2004 1:48 PM

Uh, Doc? I'm not speaking specifically of *medical* malpractice when I talk of tort reform overall, though that was what was addressed in *this* particular piece of tort reform. Plus, I clearly said I wasn't particularly enamored with this particular version of it (Prop 12).

So given my stated dislike for how it was implemented (Prop 12), wherefore the "in your face" back at me about what you perceive to be its consequences (or just lack of effectiveness)? And how does one flawed piece of legislation prove that tort reform in general is a horrible idea?

You see, Doc, there's more to tort reform in the general case than just medical malpractice. And there's more ways to address the medical malpractice problem than Prop 12.

There's a right way and a wrong way to do it, but trial lawyers need to be restrained in some cases just as Big Business does. If Democrats get too far in bed with trial lawyers in the general case, it's bad for Democrats, I think, and at least in a state like Texas, makes a comeback more difficult. That was my primary point, but you couldn't see that forest through the trees, apparently.

Posted by: Tim on April 15, 2004 2:05 PM

I didn't see any "forest", just a couple of weeds.

Time and time again, I see tort reform pushed as a way to save us all money. And consistently, I don't see any evidence that it actually ever does.

And I'm sure the Texas Democratic leadership will be thrilled to hear your strategic advice, so I'll be sure to pass it right along to 'em.

Posted by: DocG on April 16, 2004 11:48 AM