For 140 days the seventy-seventh legislature searched for its personality without finding it. This was a budget-trimming session in which money was tight. No, it was a free-spending session in which state expenditures increased by $14 billion. This was a session that would be dominated by redistricting. No, the Legislature didn’t even pass a redistricting bill. This was a session when legislators took off a week to go to Washington to celebrate the inauguration of fellow Texan and former governor George W. Bush. But it was also a session when lawmakers passed bills to repair the damage to the state’s reputation incurred during Bush’s tenure and presidential campaign.
Republicans went to the inauguration elated and came home deflated, almost with a sense of “Daddy’s gone. What do we do now?” New governor Rick Perry had few suggestions. Both he and Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff, having filled vacancies, were unelected, and neither had a mandate to lead. With no one imposing an agenda on the Legislature, the lawmakers went about their routine business with no sense of urgency. The only piece of legislation that absolutely had to pass was the budget, and the only parts of the budget that posed serious problems were Medicaid and teacher health insurance. Not surprisingly, the lawmakers who figured out how to make these programs work without rupturing the budget made the Best list.
The one thing that could have ruined the session—partisan warfare—never came to pass. The hate crimes bill could have been the Fort Sumter that plunged the world of the Capitol into civil war, but in this torpid session, the will to fight just wasn’t strong enough to generate action. Anyway, the war is coming; it will be waged in the 2002 elections and in the 2003 session, but for now, everybody was content to run away and live to fight another day.