Who’s the Boss?

What was the hotly contested race for Speaker of the Texas House really about? An age-old struggle between two different visions of democracy.

On November 2 a wave of straight-ticket Republican votes swept 22 Democrats out of the state House of Representatives, a victory of unprecedented dimensions. After 2 Democrats switched parties in the days following the election, the House stood at 101 Republicans and just 49 Democrats, not even a sufficient number to break a quorum. Republicans envisioned a historic opportunity to tackle a budget shortfall estimated at press time to be $25 billion. Here was the chance to institute fiscal restraint, to enact anti-immigrant laws, and to turn out the lights at inefficient state agencies. With the Democrats essentially powerless, the new Republican supermajority could do anything it wanted to do.

And what, do you suppose, Republicans wanted to do? They wanted to fight. Not against the hapless Democrats. Against other Republicans—in particular against Joe Straus, the incumbent Speaker of the House and (at this writing) the favorite to be elected to a second term. The protagonists in the battle to come are old and familiar adversaries. On one side are the grassroots activists, the folks who went to the polls and cast the votes that sealed the victory. On the other side are the politicians, the officeholders who are the beneficiaries of those votes. The divide is as ancient as democracy itself. But the fundamental issue remains unsettled: In a democracy, are the people the boss? Or are the public servants? As any freshman political science student knows, one argument reflects the tea party view that elected officials are mere delegates the voters have put in office to do their bidding. The view of the political establishment is that elected officials are trustees who have been empowered by the voters to exercise their best judgment. That is the great rift in American politics right now, and the establishment isn’t winning.

Political pros have every reason to be alarmed. The grassroots organizations—the tea parties, the right-to-life groups, the newsletter publishers who relentlessly stir up the base, and their counterparts on the left, such as MoveOn.org—have no respect for the collective wisdom of the pros, and certainly none for the trustee theory. A memorable confrontation

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