IN OCTOBER, a few days before the presidential election, I drove to Lubbock—through the Hill Country, into the empty West Texas ranch lands, and then onto the Plains, where late cotton waited in the fields to be picked. In all that time, from the moment I left Austin to the moment I returned, I did not see a single John Kerry yard sign or bumper sticker. The election returns verified my informal survey: George W. Bush won 61 percent of the vote in Texas, a two-point gain over his showing in 2000, and down-ballot Republican judicial candidates raised their previous floor by the same amount. The state, it’s widely acknowledged, is more Republican than it has ever been.
But the question that always must be asked in politics is, To what end? Elections change the balance of power, but outside the Capitol, our problems remain the same. Texas today faces two intractable crises: an outmoded—and, according to a recent court ruling, unconstitutional—method of financing its public schools and a system of raising the revenue to pay for state government that bears little relation to the modern Texas economy. What is the state’s majority party going to do about them? It is still struggling to create an identity for itself, to find the ideal balance between ideology and governing. If the Republicans’ numerical superiority is assured for the foreseeable future, their aptitude for leading the state is less certain.
This is the dark cloud hovering over the legislative session that begins on January 11. The same question that faced the first GOP legislature two years ago is still awaiting an answer from the second: Can the Republicans govern? The best description of the feud-filled 2003 session was that the Republicans didn’t know how to act like a majority and the Democrats didn’t know how to act like a minority. The