HOUSTON — The recent meltdown of the Texas Legislature, dubbed “the Austin Tea Party,” may be the opening shot of a resurgence of the power of Texas progressives.
Needless to say, the Texas political scene has been a virtual circus since George W. Bush first occupied the governor’s mansion. The right wing has been continuously on the assault and it has been difficult, at best, for progressives to pass any legislation to move the state forward. However, “the times they are a changing.”
House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) has ruled the Texas Statehouse with an iron fist, but last month he faced a serious challenge to his leadership mounted by both Democrats and Republicans. The explosion started on May 25 and continued through the Memorial Day weekend.
Craddick responded by refusing to recognize any motion to unseat him. Craddick’s actions were characterized by many as “dictatorial” and not appropriate to a democracy. Many complained that his actions flagrantly violated House rules. Craddick ultimately prevailed and retained his position, but most agree he is seriously compromised.
According to some reports, progressives were gratified by the legislation that came out of this legislative session, saying it compares favorably with reactionary laws adopted in recent years. Examples of the latter include the notorious redistricting of congressional district boundaries engineered by the GOP’s Tom DeLay, and the slashing of funds for children’s health insurance, both approved by the Legislature.
In contrast, in this session, legislation passed which will increase funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This will allow an additional 127,000 children to qualify for the program.
A GOP-backed bill which would have required voters to produce additional identification failed. It was widely thought that “voter ID” measure would have been intimidating to African Americans, Mexican Americans, working people and poor people generally.
The Legislature also reversed a recent law that mandated the privatization of foster care. Supporters of public education were pleased that laws favoring school vouchers were defeated. Progressives were excited that a number of anti-choice measures were also defeated.