IF NOTHING ELSE, the second special session was a spectacle. Its only product was embarrassment, unless you count disaster metaphors: train wreck, meltdown, implosion. After two regular sessions and three special sessions, stretching over 32 months, Capitol wags were left to debate which film the school finance saga more nearly resembled: Groundhog Day (lawmakers are condemned to relive the same experiences over and over) or Weekend at Bernie’s (they drag around a corpse—in this case, another dead school finance bill—and act as if it’s alive).
The question raised by this fiasco ought to be familiar by now: Can the Republicans govern? You may be getting tired of reading it, and indeed I am getting tired of asking it. The GOP is firmly entrenched as the state’s majority party. The Democrats have no prospects of regaining control of either house of the Legislature in this decade; they are as likely to lose seats in the near future as gain them. Nor are they likely to win any statewide races in 2006, even against a governor as ineffectual as Rick Perry. So the future of the public schools—the most important element of governing—will be determined by the R’s. We need them to get it right.
And yet it’s been a pretty dreadful effort by Perry, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, and Speaker Tom Craddick. The governor misjudged the situation entirely. Except in a few school districts, the public isn’t up in arms over property taxes; even in Republican strongholds, they want more money for their schools and their teachers. Dewhurst frittered away the goodwill he’d built up in the Senate during his first legislative session in 2003, and Craddick’s unyielding nature alienated not only Democrats but also an increasing number of Republicans.
These guys couldn’t agree that it’s hot in Houston in August. Craddick doesn’t want to tackle the issue at all until the Texas Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the current system, probably this fall. Perry wants a minimalist fix that will provide him with