Keep Austin Weird
Is it just me, or does anybody else think that this is the weirdest session ever? Think of all that has occurred already: Ted Nugent at the inauguration; huge fights over routine matters (the House rules, suspending the 4/5 rule); bad ideas (an unconstitutional death penalty for repeat sexual predators, an executive order for a mandatory vaccine program); voluntary stupidity (the governor and Phil King scoffing at global warming); more bad ideas (selling the lottery, building more prisons, billions for medical research but not a penny for stem cells), and, yesterday, a state of the state speech that sounded like it was written for the California Legislature. If you had been in the House chamber, you would have thought the Republicans were the opposition party. A number of them didn’t even show up in what appeared to be an informal boycott over Perry’s vaccination order. There was no applause for an embarrassingly long period at the beginning of the speech. When the applause did come, it was mostly Democrats who were doing the clapping. The speech was schizophrenic–spend, spend, spend, but give the governor line-item veto power and impose a lower spending cap and let’s cut taxes too. When it was over, I thought of something Perry had said during an appearance before the election on the TV program, “Texas Monthly Talks.” Editor Evan Smith had asked Perry about his relatively low standing in the polls, and Perry had responded with, Whatever my percentage is on election day, I’ll be a 100 percent governor. Well, Perry’s percentage was 39, and yesterday he seemed very much like a 39 percent governor.
I don’t mean to suggest that the speech itself was poor. In fact, it was an uplifting speech (something Perry has not been known for in the past) that was delivered flawlessly (something Perry has not been known for in the past), and it laid out a comprehensive vision for the state. But it was a vision that, as was evident from the Republican reaction, lacks a constituency. This is what made it seem so weird. It was if he had brought the wrong speech with him. If it achieved anything, it was to reinforce the idea that Perry has national ambitions. The message was that you can have your conservative cake and share it with liberals. Perry even called for bipartisanship (“the high road of unity”), as if tort reform and congressional redistricting had never happened. Rs and Ds applauded that, thinking, perhaps, that he was speaking to the other party. National politics crept into the text with his request for $100 million for a more secure border, his opposition to a fence, and his opposition to amnesty. “Let us begin the airing of grievances with Washington,” he said, singling out the feds’ failure to ameliorate the cost of illegal immigration, their commandeering of CHIP funds, and the “environmental extremism” of preventing the state from building reservoirs by declaring sites to be wildlife sanctuaries. But his attempt to bypass a sitting Legislature with an executive order on an issue that riles conservatives–mandatory vaccinations–took all the air out of the room, and it may have the same effect on his presumed vice-presidential prospects.