“ CAN THE REPUBLICANS GOVERN?” FOUR months ago, at the start of the legislative session, I asked the question in this space and went on to say, “To some, the question may seem condescending. But rookies always have to prove themselves. The Republicans have never had control of the entire process before. They have never had the sole responsibility of preparing a budget, of determining the state’s priorities, of finding a balance between politics and policy.” Now, almost one hundred days into a desultory session, the answer to my question is becoming clear: No. Not yet.
The first one hundred days serves as a checkpoint in American politics, a moment to take stock of how a new administration has defined itself and what it has produced. Okay, let’s take stock—using 1995 as a benchmark for comparison, when another Republican governor reached the one-hundred day mark. By that time, George W. Bush had defined himself as an effective, bipartisan governor, having forged close ties with Bob Bullock and Pete Laney, the Democratic legislative leaders, and his program, headed by education reform and tort reform, was moving toward certain passage. How has the new Republican administration defined itself? It hasn’t. The central issue of the session is how to deal with the $9.9 billion budget shortfall—whether the Republicans will cut spending or seek new, non-tax revenue to keep programs alive—but the leadership has been unable to reach an agreement. Governor Rick Perry wants to cut, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst wants new revenue, and Speaker Tom Craddick started out with Perry and moved toward Dewhurst. What has the administration produced? The House passed a sweeping tort-reform bill (the Senate has yet to act) but at a very high price: two weeks of spiteful