Texas House needs caucus of ‘respect’
It may be time to add a new caucus -- of good guys and gals, who treat with respect, or try to, even people with whom they disagree.
It could be called The Ed Kuempel Caucus, after probably the most beloved member of the House. Kuempel, 67, dropped dead of a heart attack Nov. 4, two days after being re-elected to his 15th two-year term.
Though the Seguin Republican voted in line with the wishes of most constituents from his staunchly conservative district, he treated legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle with warmth and friendship.
A bear of a man, with the outgoing and affectionate demeanor of a 250-pound Labrador retriever, Kuempel first came to the House in 1983. He was beloved by members on both sides of the aisle, greeting men with a smile and a firm handshake, and often a wisecrack, and for women added a kiss on the cheek or hand.
The Ed Kuempel Caucus is needed to encourage other House members, regardless of party, to discourage rancor and bitterness and encourage courtesy and respect.
In a democratic legislature, it is expected that people from diverse districts will disagree on many things. It should not be expected that they do so with mean and nasty behavior.
Which brings us to the effort by conservative Republicans to oust Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, for the sin of treating Democrats with respect, which he did even before his surprise choice as speaker in 2009.
Most Democrats in the Texas House sided with 11 Republicans, including Kuempel, to replace threeterm incumbent Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who ran the House with an iron fist.
The other 10 Republicans who worked to dump Craddick chose Straus as their speaker candidate designee, even though he never even had been a committee chairman, because he is calm, polite, friendly and hard-working.
And, he was elected to the House in 2005, after the bitter Craddick-driven scorched-earth battle in 2003 to re-draw Texas congressional districts that had already been re-drawn by a three-judge federal court less than two years earlier.
Though a life-long conservative Republican, Straus gets a “moderate” put in front of that description largely because he treats people in a gentlemanly fashion.
Straus thinks that just because your opinion is different from his doesn’t make you a bad person. He thinks the speaker should let members vote what they think to be the interests of their district, rather than force them to reflect the view of him or his party.
Trying for a second term, Straus has been challenged by some vehement conservative Republicans, including Warren Chisum of Pampa, who were on Craddick’s leadership team.
Especially in a session with a huge budget shortfall, plus legislative and congressional redistricting, there’s a real need to try to focus on areas of agreement rather than just disagreement.
Hopefully, some thoughtful members in both parties will look for areas in which there are the possibilities of agreement, and focus less on the areas in which they disagree.
It’s also a time to think about being conservative in the long term.
It may be called “conservative” to cut spending on children’s education and health care. But the long-term costs of that attitude -- school dropouts, gangs, crime, prisons, higher welfare costs, fewer good, educated citizens who can also be taxpayers – hurts not just those kids, but all of us.
Yes, search for waste, fraud and abuse to root out. Look for the most efficient and least costly service delivery systems, to maximize the impact of our tax dollars.
But there’s also a need to remember that we’re all in this together. The Texas Legislature should strive to be a better example of being able to get along, and reach constructive decisions on complicated issues, than the chaos that seems endemic in governmental bodies like Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Edmund Kuempel’s son John, 40, also from Seguin, has filed for the Dec. 14 special election to replace him in HD 44. But apparently inherited name identification didn’t scare many folks away. Nine others filed by the deadline Monday, Nov. 15.
John Kuempel and six others are Republicans. There are also two Democrats and a Libertarian.
All candidates will be on the same ballot, regardless of party. There are no primary elections. If no candidate gets a majority, the two front-runners will face off a few weeks later.
District 44 includes Guadalupe, Gonzales and Wilson Counties. It wraps around the east side of San Antonio.
Find the full list of candidates here: http://www. sos.state.tx.us/elections/voter/hr44can.shtml
Longtime Texas political columnist Dave McNeely, who retired from the Austin American-Statesman in 2004, writes a weekly column on Texas politics for three dozen Texas newspapers. With longtime Dallas journalist and author Jim Henderson, McNeely is the author of “Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 458-2963.