Losing at Ping-Pong—Norma Chavez
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Democrat, El Paso, 39. In a word: clueless. She doesn’t know the first lesson of legislative survival: Lead, follow, or get out of the way. She can’t lead, won’t follow, and absolutely refuses to get out of the way. She set the tone for her career in 1997, her freshman year, by promising her vote to both candidates for the head of the Mexican American Caucus. You might think she’d learned something since then—even an amoeba picks up things by osmosis—but she continues to bumble her way through.
Take her pet bill, establishing the birthday of Cesar Chavez as an optional state holiday. Never mind whether a Texan, such as Lorenzo de Zavala, the first vice president of the Republic, would have been a better choice than a California farmworkers’ leader; the operative question was whether she could pass an unopposed bill without incident. Not a chance. The Senate sponsor passed the bill over to the House only to run into opposition after all—from Norma Chavez. She pleaded with the House committee chairman to shunt the Senate bill aside so that the version with her name on it could pass. You would think that Chavez would know that this is a big no-no; the bill could get caught in a perpetual Ping-Pong game between the two chambers. After an impasse of several weeks, she relented, but not before she violated lesson two of legislative survival: Don’t risk killing your own bill for the sake of ego.
And whatever you do, don’t give aid and comfort to the enemy. Just as the bill requiring parental notification of abortion was poised to pass the House, Chavez tried to add an amendment requiring the Department of Health to produce and distribute information about the rights of pregnant girls. Okay, said the Republicans—so long as the notice also included information about alternatives to and the health risks of abortion. Okay, said Chavez. And with her help, the Republicans enlisted the State of Texas in their battle to publicize the horrors of abortion.
But then, Chavez does lots of things that are inexplicable. Like introduce a bill to place the La Paz environmental agreement between the United States and Mexico into Texas statutes. Like object to a passage in a proposed ceremony to retire the Texas flag that read, “My spirit rode with the Texas Rangers in the streets of old El Paso…” (It was changed to read, “My spirit rode with the Texas Rangers over the Forts Trail of the Big Country,” and El Paso, removed to another section, evolved into El Paso del Norte.) Politically correct was the only way she was correct all session.