IN HIS THIRD VOLUME about the life of Lyndon Johnson , Master of the Senate, Robert Caro writes of the indifference of the United States Senate to the great issues of war and peace as World War II reached its climax, in 1944. To describe the lethargy of the Senate in those days before Johnson was a member, he cites the diary of Allen Drury, a reporter who covered the chamber for the United Press. Thinking of the millions of Americans in uniform, Drury wrote:“[A] kind of desperation sometimes rests upon the heart. No one here is talking their language, no one here is inspiring them or giving them purpose. Nothing is planned to help bring forth tomorrow’s world, or if it is it will be referred to committee and hearings will be held and someday if it is really lucky, it will appear upon the floor and become the center of a bitterly partisan fight that will presently rob it of all its heart and spirit.”
I came across this passage one night in early May, as the realization began to settle over the Texas Capitol that unless something dramatic happens in the final days, this legislative session is likely to fail in its mission to fix the state’s school finance system and tax structure. Drury’s words expressed what I had been feeling: Nothing is planned to help bring forth tomorrow’s world.
This was supposed to have been—and still could be—the session that laid to rest any doubts that the Republicans could govern. The two biggest problems facing the state, education and taxes, are in play. No one needs to be reminded that Texas has relied too heavily for too long on local property taxes to fund education. The shortcomings of the tax system, too, are a familiar refrain; the state still raises money according to the nineteenth-century notion that wealth is land-based rather than on how Texans earn their living today. If things break right, this could be a historic session, one that addresses these two long-festering problems. But where is the political will to find an enduring solution, rather than pump more air into leaky tires? Robbed of all its heart and spirit.
The biggest obstacle, but far from