“If you’ve got me in your sights, I’d like to talk to you before you write anything,” said Kent Grusendorf in the closing hours of the session. He deserved a fair hearing. He is a thoughtful man who was once a fine legislator. But he has become the most radioactive member of the House, the archfoe not only of Democratic Speaker Laney but also of the widespread commitment of Democrats and Republicans to bipartisan policy-making. He is to the Legislature today what Newt Gingrich was to Congress in the final years of Democratic rule: the insurgent whose aim is to radicalize and polarize the House. The case that Grusendorf makes for himself is straightforward: “My motives are philosophical, not personal.”
The appeal is reluctantly denied. His antipathy for Laney is evident in the op-ed pieces he writes, in the personal-privilege speeches he makes on the House floor, in his attacks on the rules by which Laney operates, and in the assistance he gave to Laney’s Republican opponent in the last election. He has placed the blame squarely on Laney for the failure of legislation he supports: term limits, initiative and referendum, and school vouchers. Others see that the legislative process is more complicated. “There are a thousand ways to kill a bill,” the saying goes, “and only one way to pass one.” All highly controversial bills, especially those that will change the political system, have a hard time making it through the process—and well they should.
Grusendorf has made himself a marked man. When he tried to change travel reimbursement rules this session, it was seen on the floor as an oblique slap at Laney, whom Grusendorf had criticized to reporters for using campaign funds to pay for his travel—even though the use of campaign funds was legal and saved taxpayers’ money. A brouhaha erupted. Although Grusendorf’s proposals had merit and didn’t apply to Laney, they didn’t have a chance. He lost one vote 126–6, made a personal-privilege speech defending his motives, felt the sting of a Democrat’s reply (the gist was, It should be obvious to you, members, what this is about), and lost by the same overwhelming tally. You can’t question someone else’s motives and not have others question yours.
In the dying minutes of the session, Grusendorf made a final personal-privilege speech. “In my opinion, the rules and the process have been manipulated to undermine the public interest,” he said. His complaint was that three bills cosponsored by more than half of the House had died without a vote: parental notification of abortion, prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages, and disannexing Kingwood from Houston. He would reform the rules to ensure that bills with so many cosponsorships can’t be killed in committee and must be debated on the floor. So great is his antipathy for Laney’s stewardship that he is willing to advocate the very thing that the founders of our system of representative government feared the most: the tyranny of the majority. Grusendorf’s “reform” would override the need for deliberation and obliterate the incentive to compromise. Fortunately, he stands almost alone. The day will come when the Republicans take control of the House, but when they do so, it will not be according to the methods advocated by Kent Grusendorf.