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Session Up

By February 2011Comments

This issue went to press four days before the start of the most important legislative session of our lifetime, when lawmakers face, in addition to the testy, high-stakes business of redistricting and the supercharged debate over immigration and voter ID, an epic fiscal crisis: a budget shortfall of up to $25 billion. The decisions made by this Eighty-second Legislature as it struggles to balance the state’s checkbook will affect us for years to come, determining how we educate our children and train our workforce, how we take care of our sick and our poor, and what kinds of jobs we create and businesses we attract. There will be no easy decisions. Unlike other states facing similar shortfalls, Texas has very little operating fat—the state budget is lean and mean, and every cut will hurt.

For a normal session, TEXAS MONTHLY might publish a single legislative preview in January and be done, but this is no normal session. So over the months leading up to it, we’ve run a series of articles previewing the challenges our lawmakers will have to contend with this year. Fittingly, we started with the bottom line. Back in October I asked senior executive editor Paul Burka to see how hard it would be to cut $18 billion out of the current state budget (that’s right, just four months ago it was only an $18 billion shortfall; apparently this session can’t start soon enough). The answer was, extremely hard. Paul’s story detailed the kinds of alarming cuts that will be on the table if the budget is to be balanced without new revenue, as many legislators have insisted. In November we turned our attention to immigration, with a special issue that featured a roundtable discussion with lawmakers Debbie Riddle, Leo Berman, Leticia Van de Putte, and Rafael Anchía. Among other things, they debated the Arizona-style immigration bills that both Riddle and Berman were preparing (and have since filed). In January writer-at-large Patricia Kilday Hart delved into redistricting, explaining what will be on the line when the lines are drawn.

This month, having worked our way through the three issues we expect to be the session’s most critical and with lawmakers having finally arrived at the Capitol, we turn to the all-important question of who actually has the clout to get things done. Who are the state’s most influential players, the ones to whom the legislators themselves have to answer? Who has the money, ideas, experience, connections, hubris, and guts to push the agenda? Our power list is the result of months of research by Paul, Patti, and senior editor Nate Blakeslee. They looked at the question of influence not in absolute terms but in terms of the political world we’ll be inhabiting over the next four months and the particular issues that will dominate the discussion.

We’re at an interesting moment, when the rise of insurgent groups like the tea party (or, three years ago, the Obama campaign) has shaken up the old order and turned a number of “outsiders” into insiders. For this reason—and the Republican tsunami it helped create in the November elections—we gave the tea party the top slot on our list. But as much as power has reoriented, much, if not most, of it still resides with the establishment, with figures like, at least in our imagination, the cigar-puffing old boy on the cover this month. Let’s hope they know what to do.

Next month

A very special issue commemorating the quartoseptcentennial (that’s the 175th anniversary) of Texas independence.

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