Marital Counseling
Wed January 31, 2007 9:43 am

The fight over the 4/5 rule in the House yesterday was the sort of spat that, if the Rs (supported in debate by Sylvester Turner) and Ds had been married, would have caused a divorce--a desultory combination of bitter and meaningless. It was a fight that was not over the issue on the floor, but over bruised feelings about the way each partner has been treated by the other. Turner argued that opponents of suspending the rule were being inconsistent, having voted for it in previous years, and that by not suspending the rule, they were preventing the Legislature from doing the people's business: blocking committees from considering bills in the first 30 days and the House from passing them in the first 60 days while they lived the high life in Austin. In fact, most committees are still in the organizing stage, and wouldn't be able to post the required notices and consider bills by February 7 (the 30th day) anyway. Geanie Morrison argued that the failure to suspend the rule would lead to "gridlock in the process": long calendars and a legislative logjam at the end of the session. That's a safe bet, because the House has long calendars and a legislative logjam even when they do suspend the rule. Dunnam responded for the Ds, "The argument that we're going to obstruct the process and bottleneck the process is totally bogus," claiming that very few bills make it through the committee process and to the floor in the first 60 days. Branch, an excellent lawyer, forgot the first rule of cross-examination--never ask a question to which you do not already know the answer--and challenged Dunnam to produce statistics for committees. Oops, Dunnam had them: 14 bills in 2001, 4 in 2003, 2 in 2005 (in each case, these were in addition to emergency measures proposed by the governor, which do not require a 4/5 vote). But then Dunnam, as he is wont to do, went too far. With Branch pressing him about his inconsistency in voting to suspend the rule in the past, Dunnam lashed out: "I didn't vote for it in 2003 because they brought the repeal of Robin Hood to the floor that you voted out of the first Public Ed committee without any debate."

In the end, this was a fight over nothing--or, perhaps I should say that like most fights over nothing, this was a fight over everything. The apparent issue, suspending the rule, was not the issue at all. It could affect only a handful of bills at most. Craddick can easily get around the failure to suspend by asking the governor to designate issues he cares about as emergencies, and presumably Perry will agree. The real issue was anger--the anger the Democrats feel about the way Craddick has run the House; the anger Craddick and the Republicans feel about the way the Democrats have behaved in opposition (which, various Rs, including the speaker, have accurately pointed out to me, was not the way the Republicans behaved when they were in the minority). The Ds are furious that Craddick has excluded them; the Rs are furious that the Ds obstruct the process just to keep the wheels from turning. And the fact that the Democrats are winning--not on the House floor, but in elections for the House--gives the Democrats the incentive to do more of the same, and Republicans the incentive to exclude them even more, if possible.

I would offer some marital counseling here if I thought anyone would listen. Don't fight over things that don't matter. Don't try to justify your position with bogus arguments. Don't hold four-year-old grudges. Don't expect the other side to act the way you did in the same circumstances. Find reasons to agree rather than to disagree, whenever you can.

After the resolution to suspend the rules was defeated--the Democrats mustered only two votes more than the minimum 31 needed to defeat it, including six freshmen, with Talton being the only Republican to vote no--there was a hopeful sign. Mike Krusee, chairman of Transportation, made a motion to suspend all necessary rules so that his committee could consider three bills next week. Krusee explained that this included the 4/5 rule. He was asked what the bills did, and he explained them. And the House voted, without a dissent, to suspend the rules. And for a few moments, everything was back to normal.

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