85th Texas Legislature: A Failure of Leadership

Posted by Eric Johnson (Texas) on June 12, 2017 at 3:16 PM

The 85th Texas Legislature was my fifth as an active participant.  I participated in the 76th Texas Legislature as a legislative director for a veteran member and in the 82nd through 85th Texas Legislatures as a member in my own right.  I have never been more embarrassed by our state government's inability to serve the interests of the people of Texas than I am by the legislative session we just concluded.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you already know that I coined the hashtag #worstsessionever to describe the 85th Texas Legislature.  For those of you who don't follow me on social media, let me tell you what I told the Associated Press recently: the 85th Texas Legislature was nothing if it was not a lesson in failed leadership.

Republicans control Texas state government, and they control it entirely.  Our Governor is a Republican.  Our Lieutenant Governor is a Republican.  The Speaker of the House is a Republican.  Every statewide elected official, from the Attorney General to the Comptroller to even the justices on the Texas Supreme Court are Republicans.  The chairpersons of every major legislative committee --  House Appropriations, House Calendars, House State Affairs, House Public Education, House Ways and Means, Senate Finance, Senate Education, and Senate State Affairs  -- are Republicans.  How is it then, that we find ourselves asking the taxpayers to foot a $1,000,000 bill for what amounts to a "do over" special session to take care of what we had a 140 day regular session to handle?  The answer, as I discussed last week in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, is a failure of leadership, and a failure of Republican leadership to be precise.

The 85th Texas Legislature had ample opportunity to adopt meaningful reforms in the areas of property taxes and school finance, as well as pass legally required sunset legislation for certain state agencies, in the 140 days of regular session mandated by our state constitution.  The 85th Texas Legislature also could have adopted legislation dealing with such important issues as racially discriminatory gerrymandering, maternal mortality, and early childhood education.  Instead, our state's Republican leaders decided to spend the entire 140 days posturing and fighting among themselves and the result was the least productive legislative session in at least two decades.  There will be some who will want to parse out which Republicans are most to blame: the self-styled House Freedom Caucus?  The lack of "true conservative" leadership on the part of the House Speaker?  A power hungry Lieutenant Governor?  An absentee and largely feckless Governor?  Whomever you wish to blame, one thing is clear: it wasn't the Democrats who brought our state government to this very sad point.

One party rule is proving disastrous for our state and after this #worstsessionever, I'm hoping it won't be long before my fellow Texans see this, too.