Less Than Hero

The budget crisis is severe, but with challenges multiplying all around, Texas faces an even more serious shortfall: a deficit of leadership.

Perhaps you were among the thousands of Texans who answered their phones on the evening of the Ides of March and were surprised to hear the voice of the governor of Texas. “Good evening,” the voice began. “I’m sorry I missed you. Texans elected a Republican supermajority to cut wasteful government spending, not to raise taxes or grow government.

But right now, some are pressuring lawmakers to do just that.

Your voice is needed in Austin. But your voice can only be heard if you are engaged. Please make sure your legislator knows where you stand.”

Robocalls like this one are standard political tactics. But Perry’s script represented a significant departure from the norm. It was designed not to support members of his own party but to undercut them, to portray them as wavering under pressure. (Perry finished by directing people to the website of Empower Texans, where they found another attack on Republicans: a post taking to task the House Appropriations Committee, with its 18–9 Republican majority, for “stopping at $800 million in cuts.”) Though Perry didn’t say so directly, the clear implication was that Republican lawmakers were contemplating raising taxes and growing government. In fact, the opposite was true. Even as Perry’s voice was echoing across the state, GOP budget writers in the House were putting the finishing touches on a bill that proposed far less spending than contemplated in a similar bill in the Senate. So why did the governor feel it was necessary to record this message to voters?

The answer is, this is what passes for leadership in Texas today. Most Texans by now are well aware of the budget deficit the state faces. But another deficit threatens to do just as much harm: a leadership deficit. In the face of monumental challenges (a national recession, exploding population growth, faltering schools, border security concerns), our state leadership has been largely indifferent, starting with the governor, who excels at consolidating and maintaining power but not at using it to move Texas forward. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus, and Comptroller Susan Combs

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