January 14, 2009
Thank you, Mr. President.
Members, it’s been a long day. I appreciate this body more than you’ll ever know in the way it goes about its business.
But let’s take a step back for just a minute. This whole big fight is over really a procedure, a technical maneuver, a technical matter. In other words, it’s a really complicated thing that I think most folks would find rather boring.
So if you don’t serve in the Texas Senate, if you’re just a Texan who’s interested in this, you’re going to go to a computer. You’ll pull up Google, and you’ll type in “Texas Senate two-thirds rule.” The very first thing that’ll come up is a page from our very own Legislative Reference Library website. And here’s what that page, our official government explanation about what we do, says:
“Though it has been set aside on rare occasions, this practice – known as the “two-thirds rule” – has been an honored tradition in the Senate. Among other things, it is generally acknowledged that the Senate’s two-thirds rule fosters civility, a willingness to compromise, and a spirit of bipartisanship.”
Before we vote, and certainly before we leave here, we need to figure out what that next sentence will be. We should think about what the history books are going to say about what’s going to happen today.
In my view, the proposed corruption of the historic two-thirds rule would create a special class of bills – a special class of bills that the normal rules don’t apply to. As has been pointed out today, if a partisan bill, such as a redistricting bill or a voter ID bill, is introduced under the old rules, the President of the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor, may refer that bill to a Committee of the Whole.
It can go to a Committee of the Whole so that the Committee of the Whole – the entire Senate – can engage in the process that Senator Williams has referred to during the course of the day: to build coalitions, to build compromise, to debate, to discuss, to try to figure out how we can get to two-thirds.
This special class of bills – yesterday, it included redistricting; today it just includes voter ID – but that special class of bills doesn’t include children’s health needs. It doesn’t include methods for making college affordable for Texans. It doesn’t include help on growing high utility bills.
That so-called special class doesn’t include relief from insurance bills or predatory insurance companies. It doesn’t include protection of the environment, or laws that would stimulate our economy, create a single job, or increase the wages of working Texans.
All this special class of bills includes are purely partisan bills aimed, really, at preserving power.
Texans, I believe, have a justifiable right in 2009, they have a justifiable right and reason to ask why state government is failing them.
Why are they seeing skyrocketing tuition increases. Why are they seeing skyrocketing insurance bills and utility bills.
Why are they having to fear a declining economy? But also, why do we have such corruption at the TYC? Why is the federal government looking so strongly at our state schools?
Why are they choking in traffic congestion? And why have there been failures of our primary public safety agency?
And the answer may be that it is because state government appears to be more concerned with protecting partisan rule than governing to protect the people.
We can be candid – these bills are the most partisan and political things on our agenda. These aren’t the things that matter to ordinary, hard-working Texans. And frankly, if they made enough sense that they could pass in the way that every other bill is passed by the Texas Senate, then we wouldn’t be here talking about this.
They have not passed because so far they can’t, or shouldn’t, be able to build a coalition around those bills. And we’ve heard today discussion of hate crimes legislation and other pieces of legislation that originally couldn’t build that coalition – but over time, through debate, and discussion, and people changing their minds, and compromise – at some point, they did.
But these bills can’t, or the people carrying them won’t make those coalitions, and so they haven’t done it yet.
And make no mistake, we aren’t here fighting about this today because it’s just the right thing to do to have these kinds of bills. We’re fighting about this because it’s the only way these bills can pass. The only way these bills can pass is to somehow make them a special category of bills. These issues are too partisan to be considered under normal procedures.
I believe that this will be the full and final victory of politics over policy on this issue. We need to remember – it’s been a long day, but history’s going to look at this day.
It will remember the cooperation and bipartisanship that protected Texans, that blocked bad ideas and, by rule, forced us to work together – forced us to work together in a bipartisan manner.
History will look, clear-eyed and cold, at bitter partisan issues like this that have nothing to do with the struggles of middle-class Texans.
And I believe it will judge all of the back-biting, the bickering, and the gridlock that the Senate should fear if it gives up the best part of itself by creating a special class of bills that corrupts the two-thirds rule that we all at least say we believe in.
Members, I encourage you, set your priorities and vote against this resolution.