To be fully accurate, Chisum did not say these words directly. He agreed with a questioner at a Tarrant County meeting who said these words. The episode can be seen on YouTube. A questioner asks, “I’ve seen a letter purporting to come from Representative Hughes’s office where one of Straus’s associates has been trying to blackmail people into voting for him. Is that a true situation, and if so the man does not deserve the office.” At this point Chisum takes the microphone and says, “Yes and Yes.” The associate is now known to have been Larry Phillips. He was, as I have written before, amazingly stupid to have said anything about redistricting to another member. The problem with Larry–and you could see it in the rules debate on the second day of the 09 session–is that he wants to be a player but he doesn’t know how. He deserves a special place on the liquor reg subcommittee. Straus’s biggest assets are his character and his fairness, and Phillips undercut them. It’s the old story that your friends are more dangerous than your enemies. That said, the tactic of the opposition has become to impute any questionable action by any member at any time to Straus himself. If a bill died in Calendars last session, it’s Straus’s fault. If Larry Phillips pops off, it’s Straus’s fault. That is not how the Legislature worked under Straus. He was a hands-off speaker. He appointed the committee chairs and let them do their work. This strategy may work with the tea party groups that don’t know, or think they know, how the Legislature works. It is not going to work with the people who do know how the Legislature works — the members themselves, the people who actually cast the votes for speaker. Chisum’s comment is rather sad. It is a tree falling in the empty forest. And to make matters worse, he knows better. He and Paxton are trying to make the least intrusive, least power-hungry speaker in memory into a bully. Here’s another example of imputation — an e-mail from the Gun Owners of America: Gun Owners of America E-Mail alert Friday, November 19, 2010 In spite of Texas being such a pro-gun state overall, the current Speaker of the House, Joe Straus, has impeded getting pro-Second Amendment legislation passed. [The next paragraph notes that Straus was elected by 11 Republicans and 65 Democrats. This charge overlooks that, as I have pointed out on several occasions, Straus had no opponent and was elected by acclamation.] How did Straus impede Second Amendment legisation? With committee appointments, of course. “Such is the power of the Speaker….But probably the most damaging was installing Brian McCall as Chair of Calendars. That’s a very powerful position, as Calendars basically decides when (if ever) a given piece of legislation makes it to the floor. If you want to avoid recorded votes on pro-gun bills, make sure you have a liberal lackey as Chair of Calendars.” Did Joe Straus–NRA member, Texas State Rifle Association member, and NRA “A”-rated legislator–really appoint Brian McCall chairman of Calendars to kill gun-rights legislation? This is a peculiar kind of logic: If an issue didn’t turn out exactly the way somebody wanted it to, it must have been Straus’s fault. I guess the leaders of the Gun Owners of America have never heard of the saying, “There are a thousand ways to kill a bill but only one way to pass it.” I did not turn on my computer today with the idea of defending Straus. My concern is that Chisum and Paxton and their allies in the conservative movement do not respect the legislative process. Paxton can be excused. He has never played much of a role here. Chisum, on the other hand, knows how the process works; indeed, he has shown considerable skill in using it. The Chisum/Paxton tag team is a real threat–not to Joe Straus, who will be elected speaker on January 11 unless the sun rises in the west–but to the public’s perception of how politics works. Their strategy for winning is to enlist outside conservative groups to the cause of making the public believe that the speaker is responsible for every failure of conservative legislation. The insiders know this is not true; they know that a session is filled with unpredictable events; they know that a speaker’s power comes from the good will of the members; they know–because they saw it with their own eyes–that a speaker who is a bully and who threatens and dictates to members will not remain in the chair. This is an old fight in democratic politics. On the one hand you have the voters, who believe it was their ballots that won the election. They regard the winning candidates as their delegates, who are duty bound to enact the voters’ agenda. On the other side you have elected officials, who view themselves as trustees whose responsibility is to use their best judgment. This dichotomy is as old as ancient Athens and as new as November 2, and it is going to play out between now and January 11.
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Weekly dispatches from the middle of the road of Texas politics.
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