News Top Tens
Top 10 Legislature Stories1) The Texas Redistricting Massacre: Whatever the final outcome, the 78th will be long remembered as the Lege that broke the decennial dam on no-holds-barred partisan warfare. Tom DeLay gave us the gift of angry hearings, busted quorums, legislators in full flight and bitter exile in two states, and now a court case that may determine whether what Lite Guv David Dewhurst called "contagious flu" will spread from Austin across the entire country. When they call Texas the National Laboratory of Bad Government, this is exactly what they mean. On the other hand, 51 Democratic House members and 10 senators proved something else: Even in politics, some things are still worth fighting for.
2) Watch Us Make Nothing Out of Something: Determined to fill a $12 billion to $15 billion hole (officially only a measly $10 billion) with "no new taxes," Gov. Perry and the Republican leadership balanced the books on the backs of school teachers and their students, the poor, the elderly, and the weakest among us -- and still had to smuggle in nearly $3 billion in fees, fines, penalties, and other shell-game maneuvers that get us nowhere close to solving the school and health care funding crises. Can they screw things up any worse? You have to ask?
3) So Sue Us: The business lobby, desperate to insulate major industry from legal liabilities, hired three dozen spanking new Republican freshmen, elected a speaker, and still feared it might not be able to cram "tort reform" -- aka caveat emptor, suckers! -- through a reluctant Lege. So it grafted that weed onto medical-malpractice insurance reform, and used the specter of impoverished doctors to terrorize the pols and their constituents not only into med-mal and liability limits, but a constitutional amendment that promises an eventual get-out-of-the-courtroom free pass for every moneyed interest in the state.
4) You Want Ethics, It'll Cost You: Borderline sleaze and blood-splattered walls tainted the process, but hey, we expected nothing less on the subject of ethics. In the end, legislators passed a stripped-down version of the bill (HB 1606) that Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, introduced and defended throughout. The bill -- watered down, inevitably, in the speaker's back room -- stops lawmakers from lobbying before state agencies, makes campaign finance disclosure a wee more transparent, and adds a tad more muscle to the Ethics Commission. Craddick's horse-trade? University tuition deregulation, clouding future access to higher education.
5) Spreading Official Ignorance: Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, called his anti-abortion HB 15 the "Woman's Right to Know Act." What a kidder, that Corte. The new law effectively limits accessibility to health care by imposing a 24-hour waiting period for women who lawfully seek abortion, thereby encouraging a return to backstreet desperation. Women who can spare the time are expected to wile it away perusing "informational" brochures featuring junk-science scare stories about breast cancer and replete with color photos of fetuses during various stages of development. Hey, Dr. Frankie: Why not legislative take-home videos of colonoscopies and prostate surgery?
6) One Man, One Woman, Lots of Votes: San Antonio Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth, perennially threatened on his far-right flank, went trolling for homophobes with his Defense of Marriage Act (SB 7), modeled after the federal law. The law declares that Texas -- in dire anticipation of invading armies of leather boys and sapphic celebrants -- will not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions approved by other states. True marriage, Wentworth says, is "between one man and one woman." Not necessarily permanent, not necessarily faithful, not necessarily even civil. But by God, sacred, if you know what's good for you.
7) Talton the Terrible, Foiled Again: Make no mistake. Rep. Warren Chisum remains the House's leading anti-gay legislator, but at least he's polite about it. Pasadena Republican Robert Talton, on the other hand, is mean, snarly, rude, and, um, incompetent. Not even the State Affairs Committee's Republican majority could go along with a bill that would have prohibited gays and lesbians from becoming foster parents. "Quite frankly," Talton drawled before a packed committee hearing, "ah don't look at those that may be homosexuals as parents." Fortunately, even the new Republican majority can count abandoned children.
8) Muddying Sunset Valley: The Lege mostly left Austin alone this session, but its neighbor to the southwest took a beating at the hands of Jeff "Lowe-Down" Wentworth, whose district includes Sunset Valley. HB 1204 -- which calls on cities and counties to streamline their development regs in extraterritorial jurisdictions -- is not bad on its face. But Wentworth added some stealth language specifically written to help Lowe's secure approval on a big box that Sunset Valley didn't, and doesn't, want. Never let it be said that the Lege doesn't listen -- to those who underwrite the Golden Rule.
9) Unsocial Services: Couched as a "reorganization" of the state's health and human services programs, HB 2292, the omnibus bill crafted by Burleson Republican Arlene Wohlgemuth, effectively gives the have-nots the shaft and the people who serve them the boot. The new law streamlines (read: dismantles) the state's many social programs, and its provisions are already having catastrophic effects in rural and urban areas across Texas. This worst is yet to come.
10) Obi-Wan Leaves the Galaxy: Standing up for principle is a rare thing in politics, especially in these days of Republican jihad. When his own party declared bipartisanship obsolete, former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff -- nicknamed "Obi-Wan" by his colleagues -- decided he'd had enough, and left the Texas Senate after 15 years. Bill, we didn't always agree with you, but we respected you.