I want to nip this in the bud before the conventional wisdom sets in that this line of thinking is true:
Strauss will stop the GOP hemorrhaging seats in the chamber, and possibly deny Democrats a majority until after redistricting? How? Why? Because Strauss is the GOP establishment. He'll bring money and power to a House Republican campaign organization that needs it. He'll bring a fresh, less controversial face-one that will be awfully hard for Democrats to hang on GOP incumbents necks' like an albatross come 2010. It means less gains in seats for Democrats, and, possibly, less Democratic holds.
Vince is expressing an opinion I've heard repeatedly, by Democrats inside and outside the blog world -- that Democrats would have been better off to keep Craddick in the Chair. So when I refute this, I'm not just picking on Vince -- I'm legitimately concerned that this will be the conventional wisdom, and we'll have to spend the next 22 months explaining ourselves.
- The House Democrats are stronger than ever.
I mean, seriously -- the caucus laid out 64 names in writing, and delivered, as a block, over 70 votes to Straus. Party unity of that magnitude is only a negative in a world of purely pavlovian psychosis, where the commenter is trained to think that anything a Democrat does must be wrong.
It's OK to be happy about winning. Really.
- Demographics are only in our favor.
The growth in suburban and ex-urban communities largely favors Democrats. Rep. Harper-Brown is gone with a strong opponent (which is already being recruited). Rep.-elect Ken Legler will be a very vulnerable freshman Republican. Who knows what West Texas retirements may bring us -- so far, they've brought us Rep. Joe Heflin and Rep.-elect Joe Moody. Volunteers in Dallas & Harris counties can focus on state races and not the Obama campaign.
- Politics are still very much in our favor.
Yes, Tom Craddick will no longer be Speaker. But we still have David Dewhurst and Rick Perry running the show, both of whom are staunch conservatives -- potentially even more so than Craddick -- who are not going to be catering to any progressive policies any time soon. A challenger Democrat can still say "Republicans in Austin" just as easily as he/she could say "Tom Craddick."
We alson don't know what will happen with Straus/Smithee as Speaker. We have to wait and see -- but there's no guarantee that we're going to suddenly have an incredible shift towards progressive policies. The only change will be framing that discussion about issues to constituents and large donors, to ensure we have the votes and money to put that message in play. But we have to wait and see where session takes us, first. Which brings me to....
- The policies are still in our favor.
When we talk about "restoring CHIP" we don't mean just getting back to the May 2002 level of 529,000 children enrolled. The estimates are much closer to around 725,000 children that should be enrolled in CHIP -- and that's just using the 200% federal poverty limit standard. The new administration is likely going to make it easier and encourage states to raise the FPL limit. Texas isn't going to go from providing the worst health care coverage for kids to the best health care coverage for kids just because a different Republican is Speaker. (Remember, Dewhurst was the real obstacle in 2007).
We need at least a tuition freeze, an increase in funding for our schools, and more Top Tier universities. But even the Austin American-Statesman doesn't think we should have more Top Tier schools. Granted, it's because UT-Austin doesn't want it b/c UT-Austin could never have enough money....but that's another fight for another post. The point is, whatever we accomplish this session (and it should be more than last time), we won't be done fighting for full tuition relief for Texas families.
Insurance rates. Homeowners coverage. Utility relief. Margins tax reform. School finance changes. Forward-thinking renewable energy policies and 21st new technology planning. Those issues aren't off the table just because we have a new Speaker. Those issues just have a more honest hearing in the Texas House -- which is a tremendous step in the right direction, but we still have a ways to go.
There will be politics & policy for Democrats to run on in 2010. There should still be major funders, provided that we still have strong candidates, strong GOTV plans, and a large network of staffers capable of executing the strategies. And our Democratic Party unity should be as strong as ever, so that if we can just pick up a few more seats, we can elect a Democrat Speaker in 2010.
Whether it is Rep. Joe Straus or Rep. John Smithee, those scenarios remain the same, with only marginal changes based on how well we can cooperate to put policies ahead of politics for the next five months. But come election season, Democrats will be Democrats, Republicans will be Republicans, and we'll all still be beating each other up over the best direction for Texas. As it should be, and as it will always be.
The only difference is now with Craddick gone, the fight will be fair, and focused on issues. And I'm never going to think that is a bad thing.