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June 02, 2005

Democrats Vindicated By Legislative Session

By Andrew Dobbs

Most of the stories about the end of the legislative session have rightfully focused on the GOP's inability to accomplish any of their main goals this session. But a much more important topic has been ignored-- the success of Democrats in stopping much of the worst legislation and their unprecedented unity.

In 2003 a handful of Democrats stood by Craddick's side the entire session. Not only did they support tort reform, health care cuts and robbing education and social services for cash, they even stood behind him as he gerrymandered Democrats out of Congress. The session was a bleak one as Republicans failed at next to nothing and steamrolled our party with the help of a handful of turncoats.

But something changed after that session. New leadership entered the Texas Democratic Party and these leaders promised that things would never be this way again. Several Craddick D's-- most notably Ron Wilson and Glen O. Lewis-- faced primary challengers that were actually endorsed by the Chairman of the TDP. People were stunned that a party chair would actually endorse in primary races. Chairman Soechting, who was roundly criticized at the time of his election on this blog for being "more of the same", shocked and awed true Democrats all over the state by standing up for core Democratic values. Wilson, Lewis, and at least three other Craddick Ds were defeated in the primaries.

The lesson was made REAL quick-- you screw us over, you aren't going to be in office any more. One of the biggest unreported stories from this session is Sylvester Turner's return to the fold. Battered in the Houston Mayor's race in part because of his sell out of the Party and facing threats of primary challenges this time around, Craddick's top Democrat (now that Wilson is gone) has changed tunes. He gave among the most impassioned speeches against the school finance plan, the tax plan and other efforts to hurt the people of Texas. While he wasn't 100%, he improved this session. Vilma Luna started out the session in her old ways and just the hint of a primary battle scared her straight. Al Edwards is still problematic, and there are some mossback Dems who haven't accounted for their sorry votes, but on the most important issues of the session-- school finance, tax reform and health care, Democrats were united.

The united progressive front helped Democrats kill some bad bills this session. Democratic Senators blocked many of the worst proposals from making it into law, and a concerted effort to expose the school finance and tax plans for what they really were (unfunded mandates crushed on the brow of Texas schools and the largest tax increase in Texas history) made it hard for Republicans to vote for the bills. As it stands Texas was let down by this session, but they can thank Texas Democrats for the fact that they won't be saddled with a host of other terrible fates.

Republicans failed Texas this session, but the only thing standing between working Texans and an even worse disaster were Democratic lawmakers united and fired up by strong Democratic leadership. If we can keep this united, this passionate and this disciplined 2006 could be an exciting year for Democrats across this state.

Posted by Andrew Dobbs at June 2, 2005 04:04 PM | TrackBack


Um, did you say Vilma Luna was scared straight? you might want to think that again. I wouldnt be suprised if she was scared. but she didnt really straighten up. I'm sure someone out there somewhere is working on a opponent as you read this-and it is rightly deserved.

Posted by: Worked in a D office at June 2, 2005 05:16 PM

The Texas Democrats could really make themselves look like leaders and doers NOW - IF they (or a majority of them) came together and put together a school finance package of their very own. They could then call a press conference; explain to the people of Texas that at least one party has its act together.

Texas Democrats did do well this last session, but it ain't over yet. They need to now show they can lead the state once more and be the ones to solve problems - not make them.

Posted by: gayinmidland at June 2, 2005 05:41 PM

We did put out our own school finance plan, authored by Scott Hochberg. It changed the property tax cut from a simple $0.50 cut in the rate to a $0.35 cut in the rate and a doubling of the homestead exemption-- most Texas homeowners would have seen a larger tax cut under this plan than the Republican plan (while a small number of wealthy Texans would have seen a smaller tax cut). They also proposed some new business taxes and the extra cash would have provided significantly more money than the GOP plan. He wrote in different funding formulas that meant significantly more money per district. More than 90% of schools would have seen more money under the Hochberg Plan than under the GOP plan.

So lower taxes, more money, better allocation was the Democratic plan. It was defeated on a largely party line vote-- every Democrat voted for it and a handful of GOPers joined them.

Posted by: Andrew Dobbs at June 2, 2005 05:49 PM

Great! I guess the million dollar question is why it did not get more press coverage (?) My point is that the Democrats MUST learn to use the press to their advantage. Obvious examples of this are the plane trip the Dems took several years ago out of the state (national coverage) and the latest being the national hoopla over filibusters.

One could have a cure for cancer but if it isn't made public, debated and talked about, it's as worthless as spit.

Posted by: gayinmidland at June 2, 2005 08:22 PM

This post raises an interesting question about the legitimacy of the criticism of certain Democrats who side with the Republicans on key issues, such as Lieberman. It raises a question about unity versus a "big tent." Which votes define a "turncoat"?

I don't disagree with you, that we need to be united, but the point raises some issues.

Re: Publicized plans: Besides the influence of the conservative Belo outlets, I think the news media recognized that no Democratic bill was going to have much of a chance. Their plan did get, for example, 1-2 articles in the Dallas Morning News, but that plan was not the center of legislative debate. It's hard to know if they pushed their plan hard enough or not to the media.

Posted by: Tx bubba at June 3, 2005 02:38 AM

Hello from a former Midlander (12 long years). One thing the Republicans do WAY better than Democrats is utilize the media. I'm sure the Democratic version of a school finance reform got little media coverage because they did not push it in the media. One place Democrats really need to learn from Republicans is pushing their agenda in the public forum.

There seems to be much more about the Democratic agenda pushed to the media via the GOP and the DNC.

Posted by: GT at June 3, 2005 03:22 AM

"The lesson was made REAL quick-- you screw us over, you aren't going to be in office any more"

I think Tx bubba makes an excellent point, I certainly think their should be some level of "punishment" for Democrats who betray their own party, for example the redistricting issue, however I think statements like the one I quoted above are a little scary. I would not expect someone who sided with the republicans on redistricting to have the support of their fellow dems, but I think whether or not they are in office should be left up to the voter.
We can not talk about "the big tent" on the left hand, then suppor the kind of strongarm tactics that Delay has used to "lead" his party, on the right.
The Dems have done a decent job this session considering what they are up against, but we need to be carefull when considering co-opting what is wrong with the GOP, I don't think the Dems should be making themselves over in the republicans image. We need a mixer, not a hammer.

Posted by: comeon at June 3, 2005 09:42 AM

Excellent post and good comments.

The lack of a media megaphone compared to the GOP is really hurting Democrats not only in Texas but nationwide.

Democrats are finally getting tougher and a bit more organized.

Posted by: Easter Lemming Liberal News at June 3, 2005 11:59 AM

Of course we are a big tent party, and we allow disagreement on some issues-- particularly when that disagreement stems from a deeply held moral objection or realization that you'll get beat if you vote that way (Thomas Jefferson said it is the politician's first order of business to be reelected). But when you screw over Dems not just with your votes, but by buddying up w/ GOP leadership because you want power and prestige, then you are a bad dude.

Posted by: Andrew Dobbs at June 3, 2005 12:21 PM

Let's look nationally, 20-30% of Democrats in the House are joining Republicans to pass legistlation. 20-40% of Democrats in the Senate are joining Republicans to pass legistlation or approve Presidential appointments, with the exception of Justice Owens. Are y'all looking to punish these people for their voting record? Please remember a few of your new stars have been voting to support Republican legistlation. The likes of Obama and Salazar. You seem to be pushing a party over the people agenda here.

And whats this Howard Dean comment referencing those who work for a living infering that Republicans don't need to work for a living? 62 million votes for our President and they DON'T need to work because of him. Keep incouraging Dean, he will lead you to further defeats, and less moneys in the party accounts.

Posted by: peter at June 4, 2005 10:51 AM

Now, if we could just get a real Democrat to run against Helen Giddings up here in south suburban Dallas...

Posted by: Steve Snyder at June 6, 2005 12:56 AM
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