Contentious Issues Put Texas Republican Super Majority at Risk

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Should Republican Speaker of the House Joe Strauss be strong enough to retain his powerful position he'll have his hands full in holding together a very volatile GOP caucus. Republican extremist Warren Chisum is certainly fraying Strauss' pledges for the Speaker's job so we don't know where this race will end. This nasty and contentious race for the Speakership of the Texas House is most certainly a preview of the upcoming 82nd Session, which will pit moderates against extremists for overall influence and direction of the Texas GOP.  Most certainly newly elected Teapot extremists, combined with the fringe GOP that was already in the legislature, have winnowed the influence of moderate Republicans and we see that pent up anger on the part of the extremists coming to fruition now.

We saw this battle between moderates and extremists first unfold when Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison challenged Rick Perry for the 2010 Republican nomination for Governor.  Hutchison had long been considered a pragmatic moderate never of the extreme mold that Rick Perry chiseled for himself. Republican Perry defeated the moderate Hutchison in the primary and continued his extreme campaign against the moderate Democratic candidate, Bill White.  The former Mayor of Houston retained many platform points and themes that Hutchison utilized in her race against Perry, but the pragmatic, moderate White lost the most recent November 2nd General Election.  

As a result of the recent November 2nd elections the Republican legislative caucus increased to Super Majority status, and along with it entered a new crop of extreme elephants that threaten to trample what is left of moderates in the Texas GOP.  

The following very contentions issues are likely to cause this internal party battle between moderates and extremists to continue and boil over into the public:

  • The estimated $20-25 billion dollar budget shortfall

With a “no new taxes pledge,” newly elected extreme Republicans and their allies are already talking up the possibility of opting out of the federal Medicaid program. Doing so would leave a large swath of Texans, including seniors and children–the most vulnerable in our society, without health insurance. Rick Perry even proclaimed that Texas can run its own program without federal assistance, which essentially means Republicans will end Medicaid and do nothing to provide Health Care for the most vulnerable amongst us who rely on it.  If Medicaid is on the cutting block you know that the Children's Health Insurance Program is too. And as we all know, public education has long been a favorite target for a slash and burn Republican approach to governing. Higher education is a target too.  All this to say, the moderates, or what is left of them, are all that stands between a full dismantling of government as we know it, and perhaps trimming the sides a bit. Look for the budget shortfall to be one of the top contentious issues that could cause the Republican caucus to explode with internal family strife.

  • Voter Suppression

If ever a case existed in which politicians are attempting to craft a solution to a problem that doesn't exist voter suppression legislation ranks high.  In a divided 81st Legislative session Republicans were very close in passing “Voter ID,” had it not been for the Democratic caucus chubbing the legislation to death.  With a Super Majority, Republicans certainly have the votes to ram through the long desired extreme Indiana-style legislation that would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters including seniors, veterans, and minorities.  Republican moderates attempted to reach across the aisle to Democrats and work out compromise legislation in 2009 with no success.  If moderates that are left don't warm up to the most extreme Indiana-style voter suppression legislation preferred by the new extreme Republican majority, look for this contentious issue to result in a traditional family reunion-like quarrel.  

  • Arizona-style Immigration Reform

Republican Debbie Riddle, arguably the chair of the extreme element of the Texas Republican Party, championed not only Arizona-style immigration legislation, but something tougher then even that.  Rick Perry took a  moderate position in the recent gubernatorial election, recognizing that attacking the fastest growing population in the country's 2nd largest state is not smart politics for the future of the GOP. Will newly elected Republican extremists get the message that Arizona-style legislation, or tougher, is not good for Texas or the GOP?  If not, this contentious issue could become the proverbial nail in the caucus coffin.    

As we have seen from the Washington D.C. policy-making process, having super majorities doesn't always result in the legislation the majority party expects.  A Party such as the GOP that has prided itself on caucus discipline married itself to the most extreme, fringe elements of Republicans in order to win this cycle.  Given the contentious and pressing issues facing all legislators in 2011, this marriage could very well end in a bitter divorce two years from now.    

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