March 9, 2009
Politics is a fascinating thing to watch and be a part of. They don’t call folks political “junkies” for nothing (and if you’re reading a state senator’s mostly weekly newsletter, you probably know it).
But politics is also really, really important. Way too often, people lose sight of that importance – and shame on them when they do.
“Politics” ought to be shorthand for policy, for governing, for all of the choices that a few people make and that affect so many millions of others. Politics changes the lives of all of us – people in inner cities and suburban school districts, of farmers and ranchers out on the Texas plains, of workers in factories and mills across this big, beautiful, complicated state. That’s a big part of what makes the legislative session so exciting – two years’ worth of life-changing decisions compressed into four and a half months – but it’s also what makes it so important. We’ve all been sent here with a big job and a short time to do it, and we really only get one chance to get it right.
Every day we lose, every day we waste bickering about something that doesn’t make life easier on everyday Texans, is its own little tragedy.
This week, citizens will witness the failure of so-called leaders to devote these precious days to issues that really matter to Texans.
Instead, they’ll hear people speak more passionately about “registration rolls,” “licenses,” and “identification” than anyone should think is possible.
Make no mistake, the fight over what paper a Texan will have to show in order to vote is a partisan battle. It’s become the centerpiece of the 81st Legislative Session not because it helps Texans get through congested traffic, feed their families or pay their mortgages, but because new voting laws will benefit the political party in power.
You’ll hear some of this bill’s supporters talk about the sanctity of the ballot box. They should. It’s a sacred piece of America. But what makes it sacred isn’t the lever or touch-screen or judge or even the ballot itself.
No, what’s sacred is the voter. It’s you and me. The ballot box is sanctified by the people. Each of us. No matter who we are. And in the end, this bill targets far too many of us by declaring a crisis that doesn’t exist and adding new burdens that for some will be expensive and difficult.
This bill makes it harder for honest people to vote. That’s what makes it wrong.
But on a deeper level, the battle is just raw politics – unconnected to anything more important. It’s gamesmanship and maneuvering and intrigue that’s all about power and who holds it – and that has nothing to do with the decisions that are given force by that power.
These are the misplaced priorities and perspectives that lead a wildly popular radio personality to proclaim his hope that the President will fail to staunch a terrifying economic crisis, and then compare it to his desire that a quarterback will fail in a football game.
The Legislative Session should be more than a game. It should be about more than who’s up or down politically, or even who “wins” in the next election.
The session should be about the lives of the people of Texas, today and tomorrow, who will prosper or suffer under the policies created by those trusted to govern.
But it’s the game that causes gridlock; that hypnotizes otherwise smart, compassionate people into striving for only the quick kill; and that prompts an unusually proud body to give up the best of itself in a spasm of partisanship.
And for what? For a leg up over the other team, no matter whose voting rights suffer – and whose problems get ignored – in the process.
This week across the state, people will endure big tragedies that none of us will see.
Honest, hard-working Texans will lose their jobs because they couldn’t possibly work hard enough to stave off a recession.
Kids will drop out of schools, slamming shut countless opportunities without anyone there to stop them.
Families will learn that a beloved father, mother, son, or daughter will die without proper medical care – while others will watch medical bills drive them into bankruptcy.
Parents will sacrifice to send their kids to college, or they’ll give up on that pure, perfect hope for financial reasons that have nothing to do with their kids’ talents and potential.
And so much more. While we’re here in the Capitol, real people with real-life issues will wake up, face their day with courage, and put one foot in front of the other trying to do right and find happiness. They’ll count on us to take care of business in a way that will help them do so.
I hope and pray that at some point, everyone will remember that most of these people don’t care about this game – they’re removed from it, bored by it, angry with it, and frustrated that it has so little to do with their lives.
Sadly, I fear, that probably won’t happen this week.