Lone Star Report: Chasm between October campaign promises & December business as usual

A little GOP perspective that addresses the growing discontent of the citizenry with the establishment…

OPINION: Some elected officials have short memories
by William Lutz
Lone Start Report
Week of Decmber 11, 2006

Isn’t it fascinating, the chasm between what leadership says in October and in December?

Just a few weeks ago, all of the state’s major leaders – from Gov. Rick Perry on down – ran campaign ads and gave speeches on how they are going to get tough on border security and be fiscally responsible.

Suddenly, now that the election is over, we hear the state’s elected leaders talk about waiving spending caps and characterizing as “divisive” any proposals to get tough on illegal immigration. It’s as if saying the right things in October did not obligate elected officials to do the right thing in January.

This bait-and-switch game is beginning to wear thin with the voters.

In Houston, voters overwhelmingly elected talk radio host Dan Patrick, despite expenditures against him of more $1 million by the usual trade associations and big party donors.

The usual tactics – flood the district with money and last-minute direct mail attacks -worked well against Republican insurgents like State Board of Education member Bob Offutt and Supreme Court Justice Steven Wayne Smith.

But they didn’t work this time. KSEV radio became the great equalizer, cancelling out leadership’s financial advantage.

In other parts of the state, issues such as toll roads, ethics, a lack of progress on fighting illegal immigration, and excessive federal spending, caused demoralized Republicans to stay home or vote for third-party candidates.

Yes, the voters kept Texas Republicans in charge, but 39 percent in the Governor’s race and a six-seat loss in the Texas House constitute a pretty clear warning shot.
But did the elected officials in Austin get the message?

Some members of the Texas House did.

Reps. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) and Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) filed bills that would prevent illegal immigrants from getting in-state tuition at state universities. Rep. Dianne White Delisi (R-Temple) filed a bill that would calculate the cost of illegal immigration. And Rep. Burt Solomons (R-Carollton) has filed a bill denying professional licenses to those who cannot work legally in the U.S.

And Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) has filed a bill that would cut off some government benefits to some children of illegal immigrants, and has been subjected to a series of ferocious attacks.

Meanwhile, in a Dec. 7 speech to the Texas Border Coalition, Perry said, in calling for a guest worker program, “Good neighbors do not foster fear and engage in divisive appeals; they seek solutions.” Candidate Perry ran commercials telling voters he’d keep Texas safe with more law enforcement, but Gov. Perry lambastes “divisive” appeals.

Meanwhile – again – on Dec. 7 one of the governor’s 2006 opponents, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, issued a report defending illegal immigrants, whom she now calls “undocumented workers.” During the campaigns she lambasted Perry for signing a bill that gives in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

(Strayhorn’s report conveniently ignores the cost of providing public education to American-born children of illegal immigrants. The report also claims that illegal immigrants add $17 billion to gross state product -a meaningless number, as the government’s giving $17 billion worth of welfare checks would add $17 billion to gross state product.)

Already, talk around Austin centers on how the leadership is going to “shut down” Dan Patrick. The idea is to make sure he doesn’t pass any bills, so that voters won’t re-elect him.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, that strategy – if employed by leadership – won’t neutralize Patrick. It will empower him.

Patrick’s message was clear: The party has lost its way; the incumbents won’t stop rising local property taxes and won’t take on the illegal immigration issue; it’s time for leaders who will.

If Texas leaders continue to avoid these issues, they only prove Patrick correct and increase both his radio audience and his political support.

And they will increase the growing gulf between average voters and the GOP establishment.

This column is not an endorsement of everything Patrick says or does. Patrick opposed the governor’s school finance package in 2006, for example, but the rollback language in HB 1 will make it more difficult for school districts to raise taxes in the future. The Legislature showed by passing HB 3 that it is serious about lowering local school property taxes.

In fact, there were candidates in Houston, such as Rep.-elect Jim Murphy (R-Houston), who won in spite of Patrick’s endorsing the other candidate.

But Murphy didn’t wait for the press to ask his position on appraisal caps or stopping illegal immigration. He campaigned on those issues and addressed voters’ legitimate concerns.

Here’s an idea for the leadership: instead of trying to dictate top-down to Republican voters and elected officials what they should be for, how about listening to them and addressing their concerns?

If the Legislature limits growth in local property taxes, enacts good border security legislation, and cuts off government goodies to illegal immigrants, what does Patrick have left to run on?

Voters in Houston won’t accept excuses from statewide candidates anymore. Either candidates deliver on immigration and property tax issues, or they get blown out of there.

The leadership has a choice: Either the GOP can keep its campaign promises and not mislead the voters with code words, or voters will continue to elect more Dan Patricks and GOP candidates will continue to under-perform in swing districts.

In other words, if leadership values its political future, it will bridge the chasm between the rhetoric of October and that of December.