Say what you will about Arlene Wohlgemuth (and everybody did), but she will go down in legislative history. Way down. Wohlgemuth was the perpetrator of the Memorial Day Massacre, when in a fit of rage she killed 52 bills and managed to unite a previously divided House—against her.
It is the night of May 26, one week before the end of the session. Rumor sweeps through the House that the contentious parental-notification bill, which requires that parents be informed before a girl under eighteen can get an abortion, is afflicted with several procedural defects, one of which applies to the entire calendar of bills scheduled for debate that night. The sponsor of parental notification postpones his bill until the next day’s debate, clearing the way for the rest of the calendar to pass. But a few pro-life Republicans huddle in the back of the House chamber, furious that the abortion bill may still have a fatal flaw (which will prove to be the case). Wohlgemuth leaves the huddle, walks slowly to the microphone, and raises a parliamentary objection to an unrelated bill. Carnage! The calendar is wiped out.
Democrats and Republicans alike stand in the aisles, shoulders slumped, mouths agape in disbelief at Wohlgemuth’s wanton act of destruction. An irate Republican senator whose bills had just died storms through the door and asks the first person he sees, “Where’s Lizzie Borden?”
Now begins the identification of the dead. Thirty-eight bills with Republican sponsors in either the House or the Senate. Governor Bush’s charter schools bill. Another Bush-backed bill, providing partial immunity from lawsuits to doctors working for charities. A bill to cut bureaucratic red tape at the state anti-pollution agency. A bill to increase efficiency at the Public Utility Commission. A bill allowing Texas to avoid federal regulation of health insurance. A bill strongly backed by charities to clear up a defect in Texas law that discourages large donations. The “slacker” bill, which raises tuition for perpetual students at state universities. (Aren’t Republicans supposed to be passing these bills instead of killing them?) In frantic eleventh-hour maneuvering, a few of the dead bills were tacked on to other measures. Most, however, could not be saved.
Neither could Wohlgemuth. Her act had no point except to make others share her misery. She broke the social contract that is the basis of all government: the agreement to give up the right to use brute force in exchange for the benefits of civility and order. That makes her the worst of the worst.