Legislators show a fighting spirit
Looks like it. Although a few independent legislators always said what they thought, suddenly quite a few members of the Texas Senate, and - no lie - even the formerly docile Texas House - have gotten a spine transplant.
Many have been tired of being run over by the governor and legislative leaders. But for the last four years, with iron-fisted House Speaker Tom Craddick in tandem with Gov. Rick Perry, Perry basically has had his way.
But now, it seems the Perry-hunting season is perpetually open. The 39 percent governor, as the Democrats love to call him -- his re-election plurality last year - finds things backing up on him. Even many Republican legislators think Perry overreached on some things, and been wrong or asleep at the switch on others.
During last year's elections, legislators heard plenty from voters angry about Perry's Trans- Texas Corridor toll roads. Some lawmakers who voted in 2003 to allow it are having second thoughts now, afraid they've given away the ranch to foreigners.
At least two-thirds in both the Senate and House - enough to override a veto -- favor a two-year moratorium to re-evaluate publicprivate toll road deals.
Add tuition deregulation and spiraling college costs for middle-class families, and it's a potent stew.
What helped it boil over, however, was Perry's surprise executive order Feb. 2 that11- and 12-year old girls be inoculated against the human pappilomavirus (HPV). Perry said parents could opt out for their daughters.
Some Democrats endorsed Perry's initiative, because the vaccine prevents a condition that can cause cervical cancer. But Perry's own Republicans were in lockstep in their disagreement.
First, ordering shots for pre-teen girls for a disease spread solely by sexual contact would put a political bulls-eye on Republican legislators who let it happen.
Second, they and many Democrats were livid that Perry presumes he can unilaterally order a state agency to spend tens of millions on the injections. That tells legislators they're out of the loop. "We might as well go home," groused one disgusted Republican.
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, and Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, asked Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott for an informal opinion about the executive order. It amounts to an unenforceable suggestion, they said Abbott told them.
Austin District Court Judge Stephen Yelenofsky, a Democrat, sided with environmental groups challenging Perry's executive order fast-tracking the power plants. The order has no legal force, the judge ruled.
Then the TYC scandal broke. Perry demoted the board's chairman, initially said the rest of the board would stay, and appointed a "special master." The Texas Senate, however, overwhelmingly called for the board to be fired and an independent conservator appointed.
Monday, March 19, a Texas Legislative Council aide told a House committee there is no such thing as a special master. On Tuesday, more than a dozen House members of both parties also called for appointment of a conservator over TYC - an independent official for which the law does provide.
Midway through the 140 days the Legislature meets in regular session every two years, Perry is in Dubai for eight days, helping dedicate a new Texas A&M University campus. Back in Austin, the Texas House voted by well over two-thirds -- more than enough to override a veto -- to rescind Perry's HPV order. Twentyfive of 31 senators signed a letter calling for Perry to rescind his action.
After six years, Perry has appointed every member of every board in Texas, and five of the nine members of the Texas Supreme Court. He's sprinkled former staff members through several agencies. He presumably has enormous power, and is just two months into another four-year term.
But the House and Senate, with or without their presiding officers, seem to have their backs up. Perry and legislators may soon find out how much power he really has.
Reach McNeely at email@example.com or (512) 323-0248.