In January it will be 10 years since the Texas GOP takeover of all levers of government power in Texas. The Texas Tribune has a look back, Looking Back at Texas’ Republican Decade.
It was a gradual takeover, with the minority party trending upward for several years: George Bush was elected governor in 1994, Republicans took over the state Senate in 1997, and by 2001 the party was just four seats away from taking a majority in the House. The resulting 2001 legislative redistricting maps would cement the state’s shift from blue to red.
A new House map and an influx of campaign funds — some of which were eventually deemed illegal — led 88 Republicans to be elected to the House in 2002. Tom Craddick was elected the state’s first Republican speaker since Reconstruction. Craddick says the new majority carried responsibilities and freedoms many Republicans had never experienced, which led to a few problems during that 2003 session.
But what really shines through is why we’ve gotten such bad legislation over the years.
The new leadership had clear priorities: insurance regulations aimed at stabilizing a homeowners insurance market with skyrocketing premiums, and legislation limiting medical malpractice lawsuits.
“Most of the people that carried the major legislation had never passed a major bill,” Craddick says. “Many of them had never passed anything but local bills.”
One example of that inexperience surfaced at the end of the session. When bills headed to conference committees to reconcile differences between House and Senate versions of a bill, Craddick often had multiple committees meeting in different parts of his apartment in an effort to help with the negotiations.
“My wife, Nadine, came home after an event and said, ‘What’s going on? There are people everywhere in the apartment,’” Craddick says. “And I said, ‘Nadine, you know more about conference committees then most of them. Dig in and help with one of them.’”
Kronberg says the inexperience also showed in how quickly some bills were passed, sometimes with little understanding of what was in them. That includes passage of bills that gave new powers to Texas’ traditionally weak governor.
[Harvey Kronberg, the editor of the Quorum Report] says Republican inexperience also showed in some of the key legislative committees. More experienced Democrats were either voted out of office or relegated to the background, and eager but “green” Republicans took control.
The GOP leadership also had problems getting business-centric lawmakers to get out of their comfort zone and tackle other topics. Craddick says that was a problem, especially when trying to fill out the House committees focused on health care.
“No members wanted to do it. No Republicans wanted to be on those committees. No Republicans wanted to be chairmen of it,” Craddick says. “We had a real hard time. I had to sit some members down and say, ‘You know this is a major issue in the state. We’ve got to be able to do it.’”
The new majority also had to contend with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. The hole was filled through program cuts, fee increases and some accounting tricks. But there were no outright state tax increases.
And at the end Cal Jillson echoes something I’ve been saying for years.
We can’t expect our current leaders who believe government is the problem, to know how, or even try for that matter, to use government for, or as part of, a solution.
Using government to help people – not corporations – is a foreign concept to Republicans. (And these days for far too many Democrats as well). And this goes to the heart of what once was the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Here’s Jillson:
Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson says that budgetary road map established in 2003 has directed GOP policy ever since. Over the years, he says, this has led to less money for state infrastructure, health care programs, and public and higher education.
“They are far more oriented towards stopping bad things from happening — from their perspective — than causing good things to happen,” Jillson says. “They don’t have a positive agenda in the sense of [making] improvements to education or access to health care, transportation, the environment or any of the other major policy issues.”
I would put that slightly different. The GOP has what they would consider a positive agenda for education, health care, transportation. etc. It’s called corporatization, or privatization. As far as they’re concerned there’s no reason to spend taxpayer money unless it’s to overpay the private sector for something the government used to do cheaper. Exhibit A, State, Accenture split is final.
Texas hired the Accenture-led Texas Access Alliance in 2005 to manage the Children’s Health Insurance Program and to run call centers enrolling Texans in food stamps and Medicaid.
It was one of the most ambitious outsourcing projects of its kind in the country: a deal originally worth $899 million over five years. The call center project was envisioned as a way to save money and give Texans more ways to apply for services than in person at offices. But the project hit problems — advocates for the poor reported widespread difficulties in eligible Texans getting benefits — and the savings never materialized.
The Texas GOP deregulated college tuition in 2003 and as a result:
According to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board data, since tuition deregulation was passed in 2003, overall designated tuition has increased 156 percent. The percentage increase at select Texas universities is even higher. Since fall 2003, tuition at the University of Texas at Austin has increased 230 percent; tuition at the University of Texas at Dallas has increased 219 percent; tuition at Texas Tech University and the University of Houston has increased 178 percent; and tuition at Texas A&M University and increased 165 percent.
The list goes on and on. The Trans-Texas Corridor. The GOP tax swap scheme of 2006. In 2011, for the first time ever, enrollment growth was not funded in public education. They Cut children’s heath insurance, aka CHIP, funding in 2003. Also in 2003 they increased state fees to the tune of almost $3 billion.
Besides that there have been a couple of taxpayer funded corporate welfare funds set up since 2003. The Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) was created in 2003. It’s described as being, “Overseen by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, TEF doles out taxpayer money to private companies to create jobs in Texas”. If’s performance has been discouraging. The other is the Emerging Technology Fund which has been tied to cronyism since it’s inception. Including this from today, 4th bankruptcy in Texas gov’s tech fund pushes losses above $5M, clouds earnings.
Critics have questioned why the state invested any money in Terrabon. It’s among a handful of tech fund recipients with ties to campaign donors of Perry, who has repeatedly denied that politics influence the funding process. The final say on whether a company receives a taxpayer investment is made by Perry, the lieutenant governor and the House speaker.
One of Terrabon’s backers is Texas A&M regent Phil Adams, who was appointed to that job by Perry and who has contributed more than $300,000 to the governor’s campaign. On his state financial disclosure form filed in 2010, Adams stated that he received between $10,000 and $24,000 in interest, dividends or other income sources from Terrabon.
And the one thing that seemed like it had a chance of being worthwhile was the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). And now it appears to have been politicized with cronyism, Top scientific reviewers defect from cancer agency and As annual meeting begins, embattled Texas cancer agency looks forward.
It’s been a tumultuous few months for Texas’ cancer-fighting program.
The agency, whose annual meeting begins Wednesday, has seen mass resignations, accusations of politics overtaking science and new divisions over how the state should best spend $3 billion in taxpayer money fighting cancer over the next decade.
The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is trying to repair a once-celebrated image that has been battered by top scientists publicly condemning the agency over how it operates the nation’s second-biggest pot of cancer research dollars.
Thirty-three of the agency’s scientific peer reviewers have recently resigned, many in protest. They include a Nobel laureate and other top names in the science community who say politics have seeped into decisions over which projects get funding and which don’t.
What all of this shows is that in almost 10 years Texas, under GOP dominance, is unrecognizable from what it once was before the takeover. And hat’s not a good thing for the overwhelming majority of Texans. And the truly sad part is that unless the people of Texas realize it and demand something else it will continue.
[UPDATE]: Part 2 from the Texas Tribune, In Decade of GOP Power, Cuts Moved Costs to Local Level.