As I type this, the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature is less than one business quarter away from dropping the gavel. After last week's election I've given some thought to some of the possibilities and this is what I'll be watching for....
The success rate of Sen. Dan Patrick. It's no secret that Patrick's goal is to remake Texas politics, with himself set up as a major regional power-broker. It will be a bell-weather session for him if Voter ID, anti-illegal immigration and appraisal-cap bills get passed. It will be a nightmare for future Texans if he's successful in repealing the Rosebush/Blocker Bill.
Does Warren Chisum win the speakership? Possibly the biggest question is going to be answered early. How Republicans are going to attack the significant problems they'll be facing will be revealed in this vote. For my part, I'm rooting hard for Straus.
How much of Debbie Riddle's legislative agenda passes? Riddle is setting herself up to be the darling of the anti-immigrant, social-values "the sky is falling" because people that don't look or talk like us are ruining the country crowd. At the same time some of the elephants are starting to make noise about minority outreach, the pass/fail rate of Riddle's bills will be telling.
How will the Freshman do? There are a LOT of freshman R's. Many of them lacking political experience. Fortunately for the GOP they are in a position of dominance and can overcome this by keeping the herd in line. Most people are saying the Tea Party is going to be a big driver, but even Tea Party politicians understand the need of party structure. How big of a roll will it play?
How effective a minority can the Democrats be? To answer this, my guess is that Scott Hochberg will be the key. Besides the stamping of feet and profane classification of political opposites that one expects to find amongst the InterLeft, at some point the Democrats are going to have to present a viable opposition legislative package. My expectation is that Rep. Scott Hochberg will offer up the best bills. He's a serious thinker on matters of budget and education who could actually squeak one or two bills through this session. If he can do that, he should be the guy Democrats look to in the future for direction.
Is Ardmore in play? In 2003 the TX Democrats famously absconded to Ardmore in an attempt to shut-down TX government and block the GOP legislative agenda. It was John Whitmire who eventually returned to Austin and broke the stalemate. What Whitmire rightly understood, and Democrats didn't, was that the ploy wasn't playing well outside of the far-left base, and they were going to be there anyway. Where Democrats were suffering was among the middle, voters who, while not crazy about the GOP agenda, understood the stalling tactic for what it was: Political grandstanding.
Oh that short-fall. By some accounts it's up to $25 Billion, the most reliable estimates peg it at around $18 Billion. The expectation is that the GOP is going to attack spending with a machete, all while trying to pass a tax cut which could exacerbate the problem. One are in which I find myself in agreement with TX Democrats is that TX Budget has a structural flaw on the income side, we disagree on how to fix it. I also agree with Republicans that government spending is too, too high. Where we disagree is what, where and how deeply to cut. My ideal scenario is a restructuring of the tax-code that is not revenue neutral (but which spreads a small increase over all residents and businesses with few (if any loopholes) coupled with small cuts in agencies whose budgets are full of projects and not recurring charges. For example: Road building would be a good place to cut, for now. We can go without new roads for a bit, we cannot go without education or assistance to the poor. Any tax code written should be designed with an eye toward future stability and made to be as free from future political class-warfare as is possible.
Who's going to provide the coverage? MSM newspapers are flaming out, and online sites such as the Texas Tribune (hip, urban eyeware and all) have, so far, been unable to fully fill that void. Last session the Trib (without as much eyeware) did a serviceable job but, as we saw during the last election, their limits are still being fleshed out. Harvy Kronberg's Quorum Report is a good source of information, but it's a pay-site that the general public won't read. One interesting issue of note is the rise of news-ish sites such as Texas Observer and the Texas Independent. Their agenda being the forwarding of progressive causes under the guise of straight news stories could be instrumental in framing the largest issues facing the 82nd, even before the first gavel drops.