The lack of leadership

State Sen. John Carona gets medieval on his party’s leadership.

Tempers flared Saturday on the Legislature’s last weekend with a key GOP senator declaring that the session’s central theme is “lack of leadership” by top members of his own party.

“If you look at this session, you’ve got two underlying problems: One is simply the lack of leadership in the top offices and the second is the lack of any clear, compelling agenda,” said Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas.

His angst was triggered by the evident demise of a proposal to allow urban areas to raise gasoline taxes and some fees in their areas to pay for local transportation projects.

But the bickering about the bill has been emblematic of a string of sparring episodes that have played out over the last few weeks as lawmakers have struggled with successes and losses on controversial public issues.


n charging a lack of leadership, Carona referred to Perry’s expected tough primary battle to keep his job against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, speculation that Dewhurst may run for U.S. Senate and the fact that GOP Speaker Joe Straus is a novice House leader.

“You can determine that perhaps that’s because the state’s top two leaders are considering their future political ambitions. You might consider that part of it is due to the fact we have a new speaker who has his own troubles,” Carona said. “The bottom line is you can’t lead 181 members without strong personalities and a set and significant agenda.”

He particularly said Perry has failed to lead on the transportation bill, saying the governor should have supported the local-option idea since money is running short to meet transportation needs.

Once again, I’ll say that this session has been about the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary from the beginning. Rick Perry has achieved a lot of his goals, though not all of them. If you don’t like what you’ve seen, well, that’s what the elections next year are all about.

The story talks about the bills that were killed by the chubfest, and the ensuing scramble to resurrect as many of the important ones as possible. I say the fact that so many bills were in a position to be killed by that kind of delay is itself an indictment of the leadership, specifically of Speaker Straus. Look at SB1569, the unemployment insurance bill that would have gone against the Governor’s wishes on stimulus money. It passed out of the Senate committee on April 2, was put on the calendar on the 14th, passed on second reading on the 16th, and on third reading on the 20th, when it was sent to the House. It then passed out of the House committee on May 2, and disappeared until May 18, when the Calendars committee finally took it up. It was debated in the House on May 21, then postponed due to disagreements over an amendment, and was finally taken up again after all the chubbing concluded late on the 26th, where it failed to pass before midnight. It took the Senate 18 days to go from committee approval to final passage. It took the House 19 days to go from committee approval to the initial floor debate. If the House had moved at the same pace as the Senate, SB1569 would have been on its way to Governor Perry’s desk before any of us had ever heard the word “chubbing”.

Oh, and despite Burka’s helpful suggestion that the House simply punt on this, I’ll note that SB1569 passed on third reading with eight Yes votes from Republican Senators, out of 19 total. Assuming it would have gotten 70 Yes votes from House Dems (let’s assume an absence or two, and a stray No vote or two), it would have needed 30 of 75 Republican Yeas to pass with a veto-proof majority. That’s a smaller percentage of House GOP votes needed than Senate GOP votes received, so don’t tell me it was impossible. Yes, there may have been more pressure on House Republicans to vote No, but we’ll never know that now. This could have been taken up for a vote in time had the House been better organized and had it been a priority instead of voter ID.

There are other examples, of course. We know that committee assignments came out later than usual. You can cut some slack for that. The House didn’t get to voting on any bills till later than usual as well, and along the way we’ve heard complaints about the pace of the action in the House and of the length of their daily schedule. All I’m saying is there was a reason there were so many bills imperiled at the end. It didn’t have to be that way.

Getting back to Carona and his complaint, it’s making for some quality entertainment if you’re into that sort of thing. Follow the ups and downs here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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