It is a cliché around the Capitol that each legislative session has a personality unlike any other. Even clichés can be right on occasion, and this was one. The 69 th Legislature was a surly child that had been dragged along to a place it did not want to go for the purpose of doing things it did not want to do, and by golly, somebody was going to have to pay for it. In the end it did what it was supposed to, but not before bruising a lot of feelings and a few fists as well.
Three things affected the collective temperament this session: money, Republicans, and the memory of last summer’s special session on education reform. The state’s tight fiscal situation contributed mightily to the grim looks on lawmakers’ faces. Most politicians don’t like to tell people no; this session they had little choice. The unpleasantness was exacerbated by the fear that Texas is nearing the end of the oil era and ought to do something to plan for the future. Empty treasury or no, the Senate wanted to invest millions in high-technology programs, mainly at UT and Texas A&M, while the House clung to a we-can’t –afford-it posture.
Which brings us to the rise of the Republicans, or to put it another way, the decline of the conservative Democrats. The realignment election of 1984 added 15 new Republican seats to the House, swelling GOP numbers in the lower chamber to 52—more than a third of the membership. Many of their gains came at the expense of conservative Democrats, and those who survived never forgot it for a moment. For the first time, conservative Democrats began to see themselves as dinosaurs, and they did not view their prospective extinction with equanimity. They made nervous jokes about how the new Republicans want government only to defend the shores and deliver the mail, but they didn’t joke at all about their own party, which was trying to foist on them a presidential primary bill that would have accentuated the Democrats’ liberal drift. Kent Hance’s switch to the GOP hit them hard; they sprouted buttons advertising, “We would rather fight than switch.” Meanwhile, the Republicans proved themselves shrewd and able politicians by not voting as a bloc but letting their