Monday, June 1, 2009

Republican Party of Texas Wastes a Legislative Session

Here's a question for you Texas Republicans out there: What state issue is most important to you? Is it securing the border? Property tax reform? Getting rid of the franchise tax? Civil liberties protections, including gun rights? Or is it requiring that voters present one form of photographic identification or two forms of identification lacking a photograph before voting? If you chose that last choice, popularly known as Voter ID, good for you. Your state party went to bat for you this legislative session. They failed to get it through the House of Representatives over Democratic opposition, but they tried. If you careabout anything else, your state party failed to even speak for you.
I certainly think ballot integrity is a worthy cause, but right now, in Texas, it's a solution looking for a problem. There are rumors every year of voting irregularities in the Rio Grande Valley, and in some of the inner-cities, but most investigations seem to find only small amounts of localized fraud. I don't pretend to know how the inner mind of any of our state party leadership works, but, to me, the only logical reasoning for this was to win a public relations by getting Democrats on record "supporting voter fraud". Unfortunately, the Democrats might have even won the PR battle, as the media and much of the public seems to have accepted the Democrats ridiculous claim that Voter ID would disenfranchise legitmate voters.
On the other hand, Texas has many opportunities for real, meaningful reform: Some would like a plan to replace all of the very high Texas property taxes, which unfairly target small farmers, independent ranchers, and the elderly, with a small increase in the sales tax. Others have talked about replacing the anti-business Margins Tax with a 1/2% increase in the sales tax. (To their credit, conservative Republicans and Democrats in the legislature temporarily increased the exemption on gross receipts from $600,000 to $1,000,000 this year, with no help from the Republican Party.) Still others have talked about ending the diversion of gasoline tax money away from transportation, so that needed highway, rail, and port projects could be funded without increasing taxes. The Republican Party was nearly silent on all of these issues. They were completely silent on all of these issues until it looked like a gasoline tax increase might be passed, and they panicked and quickly threw together an opposition. I'm sure that those who care most about enforcing the border, civil liberties, religious liberty, parental rights, or health freedoms could give a similar list of worthwile legislative pushes that fit within Conservative ideology.
Although they have lost much of the goodwill and support that was fought for over many years, Republicans in Texas are still a majority, hold majorities in both houses of the Legislature, and hold every state-wide elected position. With that kind of clout, they should be able to pass meaningful reform that makes a real difference in citizen's lives. Overall, it was a pretty forgettable legislative session. There were many efforts to quash liberty, like the nearly-passed statewide smoking ban, but overall, not much good or bad legislation passed, and the status quo won. Still, I wonder how many conservative victories we could have had, if only we had a Republican Party with vision.

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