May 31, 2005
Let the analyses begin

The major papers all have analyses of the finally-ended 79th Lege and how its performance will affect Governor Perry in his reelection battle. The consensus is more or less that Perry won a few and lost a few, and that nobody knows just yet how the failure to reform school finance will play out. For me, the best take comes from the Morning News:

Gov. Rick Perry cemented his relationship with social conservatives this legislative session, but he didn't make many new friends.


In his session's 140-day to-do list, Mr. Perry scored some major victories: revamping the workers' compensation system, requiring parental consent on abortions, securing new help for abused and neglected children.

But the issue at the top of the list billions more dollars for education and a restructuring of the tax system that pays for schools circled around the drain at midnight Saturday.

"I just think there's no way you can say, 'I got asbestos reform, but I didn't get school reforms, so it's a wash,' " said SMU political science professor Cal Jillson.

"I really think he was on the griddle this session to do something significant to improve the quality of education."


Dr. Jillson predicted Mr. Perry's victories would please the conservatives who have been his core supporters. But with approval ratings that have hovered in the mid-40s for more almost two years, Mr. Perry needed to score a victory to attract moderates.

"He's held his own, but he hasn't broadened his base," Dr. Jillson said. "He needed to deal definitively with education if he was going to hold off Hutchison. I think that door is still ajar."

I think that's about right, and I think that sooner or later the small-government types who were happy with the penurious 2003 budget will take a look at the vastly bigger 2005 version and ask themselves what the point was. We've certainly seen in recent months that a Republican can be successful by playing to his base without worrying too much about reaching out, but I don't think you can draw any strong parallels from the Presidential race to Texas 2006, if for no other reason than the likely presence of the Kinky Friedman wild card. I think the school finance failure hurts Rick Perry, and I think that the things he'd call successes - asbestos-lawsuit "reform", Double Secret Illegalizing gay marriage, and parental consent for abortion - are things that won't have much appeal to anyone who isn't already a strong Perry backer.

I find the attempts to defend Perry's performance this session to be rather ludicrous:

Michael Quinn Sullivan, a spokesman for the low-tax, small-government Texas Public Policy Foundation think tank, agreed.

"Rick Perry has done what a governor is supposed to do: outline priorities, the broad objectives, and leave it to the Legislature to craft the policy," he said.

While school reforms didn't happen, Mr. Sullivan said Mr. Perry shouldn't be blamed.

Why shouldn't he be blamed? This was his priority. If he can't get the Legislature - a Legislature dominated by his own party, mind you - to do what he asks them to do, then what good is he? Surely the bar needs to be higher than that.

Another try at it:

Perry pollster Michael Baselice said the legislative failure on property tax cuts is not a negative for the governor.

"There's been two bites at the apple, but we're getting closer to getting this thing done," Baselice said.

Baselice said Perry has been the one to keep pushing the Legislature to solve school finance reform and cut property taxes. Neither of those is easily done, he said.

"The fact is, Perry is the one that kept both chambers together, and kept bringing them back to the table," Baselice said. "If that's not leadership, I don't know what is."

In my world, leadership involves providing a vision and then persuading people to buy into that vision. What was Rick Perry's vision for school finance reform? We know more or less what Tom Craddick and David Dewhurst wanted. What did Rick Perry want? Why didn't he throw his weight behind one or the other of them?

Let's be clear about something here: If a school finance reform bill had passed, Sullivan and Baselice would have been among the first in line to praise Rick Perry for making it happen. Well, if you get the credit for something when it succeeds, then you get the blame when that same thing fails. It's as simple as that.

Rick Perry by the numbers:

98 - Media events

96 - Personal or group photo opportunities

85 - Ceremonies and/or speeches

55 - Meetings with visitors from outside Capitol

29 - Trips out of Austin

24 - Meetings with lieutenant governor and House speaker

15 - Formal meetings with legislators

10 - Briefings on executions

2 - Funerals

1 - Overnight stays in White House

Emphasis mine. Why did Governor Perry take more out-of-town trips than meetings with Craddick and Dewhurst? Even if he didn't realize until the end of the session that school finance reform was in trouble, he surely must have known from the beginning that it would be a rocky road - we all remember what happened in 2003 and 2004, right? Yet here we see where his true priorities were.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 31, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack