How civilized. Everybody seems to have kissed and made up in the state Senate.
The Texas Senate sought to rediscover its clubby self Tuesday.
The start of a special session on school finance marked the first time the full Senate had convened since October, when a third special session on redistricting ended with passage of a Republican congressional plan, $57,000 worth of probationary fines hanging over the wallets of 11 Democratic senators and partisan ill will in the air.
But the Democrats who fled to Albuquerque, N.M., last year, shutting down the Senate and delaying action on the redistricting map, were present and accounted for on Tuesday, shaking hands and joking with their Republican colleagues.
Democrats delivered about half of the 19 effusive nominating speeches for Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, a Republican who was unanimously elected president pro tempore, or assistant presiding officer, an honor that makes him third in line of succession to the governor's office.
"You're not as mean-spirited as you seemed, maybe last summer," joked Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, addressing Wentworth across the Senate floor.
"You've got to be professional and put partisan and petty fights aside," said Whitmire, the Senate's "dean," or longest-serving member.
"We are really friends," he added, describing how traditional relationships among senators often resemble memberships in an exclusive club. The Senate includes only 31 members, and senators of both parties are accustomed to debating each other on the floor then sharing lunch in the lounge.
Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, said he still had visions of "orange parking barrels and orange cones in my dreams."
True to his word, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate's Republican presiding officer, took steps on Tuesday to restore a tradition requiring two-thirds of the Senate to approve debate on any legislation.
Dewhurst's decision to bypass that tradition during the redistricting fight prompted the walkout. Now, Democratic senators will have more clout over educational proposals even though they are outnumbered by Republicans 19-12 because some of their votes will be needed to bring a bill up for debate.
For months, Dewhurst has been predicting that senators will not let old differences over redistricting block their efforts to devise a new school funding plan.
Dewhurst said he will honor the two-thirds tradition as long as senators of both parties cooperate in seeking consensus on educational changes. If they don't, he warned in an interview last week, he will bypass the procedure "faster than a New York second."
How can Dewhurst "bypass" this rule - and note that while having a blocker bill is a tradition, once it's there the two-thirds requirement is a rule - if he feels like it? There may be other means, but I'd think the simplest way would be to bring the blocker bill itself up for a vote. Once it's cleared off the calendar, the next bill in line can be debated and voted on with simple majority approval. By the way, I take this as another sign that all is not quite as happy and carefree as the article indicates.
UPDATE: A bit more on the installation of Sen. Wentworth as President Pro Tem of the Senate. This one is more convincing to me in its depiction of restored collegiality, but I remain skeptical.Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 21, 2004 to Killer D's | TrackBack