Before Kevin Bailey erupted this session, sixteen years had passed since the House had seen an outspoken liberal leader in action. An extra two years would have been a blessing. Bailey is a demagogue straight from the old school—disposed to make personal attacks, preferring cliché to argument, always righteous in his indignation but seldom right.
When a Republican argued against opening state courts to lawsuits under the federal family medical leave law, Bailey questioned motive, not policy: “Why are you so insensitive to families in Texas? Don’t you have a heart?” When another Republican opposed forcing landlords to pass on property-tax reductions to renters—an unprecedented governmental intrusion for Texas—Bailey accused him of advocating “trickle-down economics” and a “return to Reaganomics.” A proposal to exempt real estate trusts from an expansion of the franchise tax drew this response from Bailey: “We have a choice here, don’t we?—to exempt wealthy investors or to exempt the first $50 of car repairs for poor and middle-income working people.” But politics isn’t as simple as Bailey suggests, nor are the choices as limited. The bad guys have arguments on their side too. If property taxes are reduced, the market will eventually adjust rents downward. If Texas real estate investment is taxed, investors will take their money to other states where the rate of return is greater. Legislative debate is supposed to test ideas, shed light on problems, subject proposals to widespread scrutiny, and arrive at solutions. It cannot work if the argument is over whose motives are more noble.
Nothing about Bailey was more dismaying than his display of the liberals’ instinct for eating their young. He joined with the ultraconservative Republicans in an attempt to derail the property tax–relief plan, focusing all his fury on increases in the sales tax, never taking into account that liberals were getting what they had long sought: guaranteed full and equitable funding for public schools (and, for good measure, a fairer tax system in which wealthy professionals would have had to pay franchises taxes). Bailey and the liberals threw it all away because a few rich guys still went untaxed and landlords were getting a temporary windfall. It was one of the worst misjudgments of modern Texas politics. The liberals badly need a leader who knows how to win. They don’t need Kevin Bailey.