Captain of His Own Brinkmanship—Paul Sadler

Democrat, Henderson, 44. Obstinate, autocratic, sanctimonious, uncollegial, unforthcoming, infuriating: No, this isn’t a Ten Worst write-up—but it almost was. As the chair of the House Public Education Committee, Sadler held in his hands the fate of the pay raise for teachers and Governor Bush’s top-priority proposals for cutting school property taxes. And held. And held. Nineteen of the session’s twenty weeks elapsed before he allowed the House to vote on the year’s most important bill, and the final agreement with the Senate barely beat the deadline. In the end, his brinkmanship won the day, but not before he blurred the line between vice and virtue in politics.

Nearly everything he did this session was impolitic. After agreeing to sponsor the governor’s bill prohibiting social promotion of students who can’t pass the TAAS test, he repeatedly criticized it; he blasted Senate proposals in the press; he didn’t consult with members of his own committee or take them into his confidence; and he brought the entire education package to the House floor so late that scant time was left to hammer out a final version with senators, who were already so enraged by his dictatorial rejection of their proposals that they had nicknamed him Slobodan Sadler. Predictably, the peace talks in the final days broke down when it became evident to senators that Sadler’s negotiating style consisted of a single word: “no.”

He did do one thing right, however: He passed the biggest and best bill of the session. Sadler knew that the $3 billion initially earmarked by budget writers for the teacher pay increase and property-tax cuts did not leave anything for the education programs he wanted, such as expanding kindergarten to start preparing students for the higher standards. He also knew that he would lose if he tried to pass a bill that sacrificed tax cuts for new spending. So he did the only thing he could do, and that was wait. Wait until comptroller Carol Keeton Rylander determined exactly how much money was available to spend. Wait until it was so late that the House would have to choose between his bill or no bill at all. Wait until he drove everybody crazy. (That part was easy.) When Rylander released another $807 million in mid-May, Sadler immediately said how much he wanted: all of it, of course. Bush and the Senate held out for more tax cuts, but Sadler wouldn’t yield, gambling that with the presidential race beckoning and the national media focused on Texas, the governor would not risk calling a special session by insisting on another $100 million or so in tax cuts.

He judged correctly. The final product—a $3,000 pay raise for teachers, a $1.35 billion cut for property-tax payers, and $800 million in new educational spending—is one of those rare cases in politics where the end really does justify the means.

Tags: POLITICS

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