Republican, Burleson, 51. On the next to last night of the session, a nervous Republican staffer watches Sylvester Turner, who is trying to talk the governor’s tax-cut bill to death. If the bill goes down, so does the session. What has come over him? She turns to the person next to her and says, “He’s the new Arlene.”
Arlene, of course, is Arlene Wohlgemuth, whose name is enshrined in the legislative hall of infamy as the symbol of wanton, pointless destruction. It was she who, in a flare of anger over Democratic efforts to kill an anti-abortion bill, perpetrated the Memorial Day Massacre of 1997, using a parliamentary device to wipe out an entire calendar of bills. That was then, and this is now, but such actions are not quickly forgotten or forgiven.
Wohlgemuth tried to rehabilitate herself. She was part of a bipartisan working group on the children’s health insurance bill and ultimately supported it—but only after offering a series of amendments to scale it back, most of which failed. She targeted another bill aimed at helping the lower end of the economic spectrum, a college scholarship program for needy students, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to limit it to two years. She is a worthy and fearless debater who can take on anyone in the House and hold her own, but her ideology and partisanship are so extreme that, in the words of a fellow Republican, “If you solve her problem, she creates another one; if you meet her halfway, she backs up a step.”
Or sometimes ten steps. A conservative Democrat wanted to co-sponsor a Wohlgemuth proposal that would have made it more difficult for the Legislature to raise taxes, but she rebuffed him; the Fort Worth Star-Telegram subsequently reported that a GOP political consultant had advised her that only Republicans should be allowed to sign onto the bill. Just as in 1997, she violated the spirit of civility of the Legislature. She yearns to lead—she lost a race for the vice chair of the House Republican Caucus—and will be heard from again, but she remains a marked woman, an ambitious Lady Macbeth, who, try as she might, cannot wash the blood of the Memorial Day Massacre from her hands. Out, damned spot.