By the Clear Lake Tea Party
Special thanks to Geri Bentley and Cheryl Johnson for training in how to get around Austin and lobby our own Representatives. And more special thanks to the dozens of patriots who spent long, arduous days going to and from Austin to confront our legislators with information, appeals, and calls to action. We all owe them our sincere gratitude for taking our concerns to the Capitol on our behalf.
During our Citizen Lobbyist Trips we were armed with our white papers outlining our conservative positions FOR or AGAINST specific bills. We would present these at every stop in the Capitol. We made a point of visiting the Governor’s office, our Senators Mike Jackson and Dan Patrick, and any Representative who was involved in legislation we wanted to influence. And of course, we always dropped in on our own Reps who represent this area: Larry Taylor, John Davis, Randy Weber, Wayne Smith and sometimes even Democrat Craig Eiland! (FYI: you can see a graph of how they voted in the first 120 days of the session here.)
Here are the Top Twelve Things We Learned During the 82 Legislative Session:
12. For better or worse, you will be dealing mostly with your legislator’s staff.
You can learn a lot about a legislator from the attitudes of his staff. People tend to surround themselves with like-minded folks, and staff is really an extension of the legislator. Some are rude and snotty, some are warm and welcoming. Sometimes, the legislative staffs will outright lie to you. More than once, when we asked if a legislator was in his office, his staff would say “No, he’s not here.” Then, while we’re signing his guest book, wouldn’t ya know, the Rep unwittingly traipsed out of a back room and right into our midst!
The key is to never forget that all these folks work for us. We always stayed polite but firm when presenting our cases to legislative staff.
11. Learn to translate Clintonese!
Speaking of untruths, be aware that the legislators will parse their language so carefully that what they are saying to you might only be true in that moment, under specific circumstances, but otherwise not true at all. This is truly Clintonian stuff, folks! The tip is here is DO NOT TRUST, and ALWAYS VERIFY.
10. Reps don’t always cast their own votes.
The Reps vote to suspend a House Rule every session that requires them to cast their own votes on each piece of legislation. They will tell you it’s so they can go to the restroom, each some lunch, negotiate with their peers, get to committee meetings. The reality is that on many days, a couple dozen or so Reps may vote for everyone. I’ll leave that up to you to decide whether that’s acceptable or not.
9. Committee chairmen will try and dodge citizen input in hearings.
Chairmen will drag out committee hearings so they can avoid hearing from work-a-day folks who are signed up to testify. They will even adjourn, knowing that folks have been waiting for hours, and then commence again at 10pm, when most folks have to go home to families and jobs. Just be ready for it! It’s a game they play and your only option is to outlast ’em! Unfortunately, it is effective, because no one but those yahoos are getting paid to be there, and they know you have pressing responsibilities. If your testimony is imperative, you have to know ahead of time that sometimes you might be there all night!
8. The folks are NOT policy experts.
We are represented by folks elected from among us: insurance agents, business owners, attorneys, veterans, retirees, etc. They are not legislative geniuses. Many times the language of bills is written by staffers, consultants, or lobbyists, and the legislator slaps his name on it. Some of it is so poorly written, it’s unenforceable, and sometimes it’s so convoluted that it leaves loopholes of unintended consequences lurking in the muddled language. Worse, some legislators don’t always read the bills they vote on, unless they are directly involved as authors or sponsors. They rely on the expertise of the other Reps to know which way to vote. You know what that means? There is a very tiny niche of self-proclaimed experts making decisions for the entire deliberative body on issues within their purview. It is a self-perpetuating problem, and it needs watching!
That’s why your letters, emails, and phone calls are so crucial. If you don’t feed these guys info on important issues, folks, they will not know.
Sometimes bills are passed because “that’s the way things have always been done.” By now, most of you are already aware of the self-inflicted disaster of the Republican redistricting maps – at every level. As predicted, conservatives who had opposed Straus were paired against each other or drawn right out of their known districts. A more strongly conservative map (Cain/Nixon) was ignored and never made it to the floor for debate. The SBOE map set up some of the conservative members to be eliminated in the next election. When we discussed our concerns with Senator Mike Jackson, we learned that the Senate always passes the House map and vice versa – it’s tradition!
Tradition. The bottom line is that’s a pretty poor cop out.
6. Where’s the fire??
Very little business gets done in full view of the public and even fewer folks are paying attention. Bills are thrown up on the floor at a rapid fire pace in a constant drone from the clerk. Yes, there are thousands of bills but much of it is nonsense, such as commending Mildred for her 100th birthday, congratulating so and so on the birth of their first child, their 50th anniversary, their new dog, whatever! Meanwhile, the people’s business is not getting done! There seems to be ZERO sense of urgency. Big issues languished in committees or Calendars while the House voted day in and day out on ridiculous stuff.
We were there on the last day of the House voting on House bills. You’d think they would be on fire with an urgency to pass every last bit of serious business they could get to before midnight, right? No, they passed one bill dealing with electronic bingo and the rest was garbage.
If you don’t know already what’s wrong with Austin, a recent article in the Dallas Morning News should give you more clues:
AUSTIN — As lawmakers scramble to pass thousands of bills during the legislative session’s final weeks, one House committee wields the power to decide which legislation will see the light of day on the floor and which will die an unceremonious death.
Once a committee advances legislation, the Calendars Committee must then schedule it for floor debate. With a key House deadline looming, committee members are at the height of their power. To outsiders, the powerful 15-member group largely works in the shadows, shrouded by its esoteric procedures.
At the committee’s daily meetings, Chairman Todd Hunter rapidly lists off bills by their numbers, and committee members vote on whether to schedule the bill for a House vote. There is little discussion, and the meetings are so short that many committee members don’t even bother to take seats.
How the committee makes its final decisions, which bills out of the nearly 400 currently pending get a chance, and exactly what legislation they will stall or push is murky. The real action takes place among committee members, other legislators and lobbyists in private conversations.
The House speaker loads the committee with trusted allies who can advance the leadership’s agenda — and insulate him from criticism by members whose bills never get to the floor.
In essence, there are two people who can veto a bill: the governor and the Chairman of House Calendars…
5. The Republicans can’t blame anyone but themselves for their performance.
You are going to hear Republicans claim heroics for having to return for a special session. You will also hear Republicans blame Democrats for “chubbing” or killing legislation with technicalities before the deadline. Don’t let them get away with it! They have to come back because their super-majority failed to take care of business in a timely manner. They could not even complete the emergency legislation Governor Perry assigned at the beginning of the session! There’s nothing heroic about willful neglect or incompetence.
Look, the bottom line is the Republicans passed important legislation that was a no brainer. It’s like calling Obama “gutsy” for sending the SEALs after bin Laden. Anyone would’ve made the same call and good on them for doing so, but they would’ve gotten creamed if they hadn’t. Self-preservation is a powerful motivator folks, and if there is anything that drives these yahoos, it’s self-preservation.
The real test is in what DIDN’T get passed.
4. We don’t answer to special interest lobbies, and neither should our Reps!
Lobbysists live in Austin round the clock and spend every resource they have hammering home their agenda on these guys. When the House failed to pass E-Verify, a cornerstone bill to stem illegal immigration, we were told by Taylor’s staff that the TAB – Texas Association of Business lobby – killed the legislation and if we had a problem with it we needed to take it up with them! Wrong answer.
3. The Texas Senate is out of touch with regular Texans.
How is that possible when they are only in Austin 5 months every 2 years? Believe me, folks, they manage.
This excerpt from EmpowerTexans sums it up well:
Texas senators seem to believe they’re members of an exclusive club, rather than elected public servants. Speaking for the club this week, State Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), chair of the Finance Committee, told the press it “has always been … pretty hard to penetrate the club, but these outside groups have done it and it’s making it hard to pass the [budget].”
Outsiders? That’s you, the voting taxpayer; the one paying their club dues. That’s the general sentiment inside the halls of the Senatorial Clubhouse.
Senators are dismayed that their budget scheme isn’t sailing through the chamber. It’s a spending plan that lives beyond the taxpayers’ means using one-time revenue gimmicks and tapping the rainy day fund. In conversations this week with senior senate leaders, I was struck by just how out of touch that chamber’s Republicans are with political reality. Senators and staffers – all Republicans – told me they fear being defeated by Democrats in November 2012 unless they break the bank.
You know what that tells me, folks? They are worried about the WRONG VOTERS!
2. Pledge Cards – the dirty inside secret of Austin politics.
This corrupt practice protects the power structure in Austin. Here’s some background from the North Texas Tea Party: there has been a long-standing ‘tradition’ of pledge cards that has made selecting a Speaker nothing but a sham. The real backroom process is about as democratic as a mugging and is another tradition than needs to go away.
Here’s how it really works. A seated Speaker has hordes of special interests slavering to do favors for the one individual that controls ALL legislation- and tens of billions in State spending. And they have VERY deep pockets for donating vast sums for campaigns. Toward the end of the session, the Speaker will approach each representative and ask for them to sign a pledge card, promising to support the Speaker for re-election in the NEXT session. And everyone KNOWS that donations and future committee assignments are tied to this decision. This last session, redistricting was also a weapon to be used and it was used to effectively eliminate opposition. Normally, a seated Speaker can get nearly all of his own party’s cards; they ALSO can get many for the opposing party, based on favorable committee assignments and- you can be assured- assistance at killing selective majority party legislation by letting it die in the committees controlled by the Speaker. The current session, in which the GOP had a super-majority, the vast majority of the conservative agenda – other than the budget – died this way.
In open seats, candidates parade down to Austin looking for donations for their runs. They are judged by the ‘powers that be’, on whether they are willing to ‘play the game’. In the majority party, that very often involves a willingness to sign a pre-election pledge card. Sign a pledge, and doors are opened and donations made.
The major problem with the raw exercise of political power is there is ZERO input by the electorate in this. They don’t wait for the office holder or candidates are validated by the voters; they don’t brook any input from the electorate after. This is the power of the ‘Austin machine’ and it is time to challenge that when it matters- BEFORE the session is out, BEFORE the election.
Mind you, much of that ‘machine is pretty conservative and that is the ONLY reason Texas is STILL in decent shape. But the constituency has amazing little say in events in Austin and that is one thing we of the Tea Parties need to help change. Both policy AND process matter.
1. WE were right and our Reps were WRONG.
We were 100% right to oppose Joe Straus as Speaker of the House and all of our Reps were 100% wrong to support him. All of our warnings about Committee assignments, calendars, and procedures that killed conservative bills came true. What these Reps will tell you – and I want you to watch for it – is that “Hey, look at what we passed! You guys should be so happy.” What they want you to do is look at what’s in this hand so that you don’t realize the other hand is empty. I’m telling you right now that approximately 30% of the conservative agenda has passed thus far. (We’ll be updating this figure after the session ends with the final tally.) That’s not nearly good enough.
SUMMARY: Nice guys finish last. Let me leave you with this thought. The big bills that got passed are certainly a credit to the Republicans. But it is a paltry showing when they had the opportunity to do so much more – and PROMISED to do so much more to get elected. Passing 30% while leaving 70% on the table is unacceptable. We must demand more. We had a serious shot at a bold conservative agenda with an unprecedented super majority. But we were let down by our Reps who thought they knew better than us.
We don’t need more of the same self-interested politicians worried about re-election, we need fearless leaders driven by their principles. When the issues get complicated and the pressure mounts, we have to know that the Reps we elect have a bedrock of uncompromising conservative principles.
Knowing what we know now, we are committed to vetting candidates for office for the 2012 primary. Principle matters above all! We don’t want flowery words and empty promises – we want backbone and determination. We absolutely count on YOU folks to back conservatives that otherwise would not have a chance without your commitment.
It is imperative that we build a grassroots organization to support these efforts and it starts in your neighborhoods in your precincts. To that end, we need everyday folks to step and volunteer to become precinct chairs. We want to help you do this. We will help you determine your precinct by your address, and will help you with the 1-page application.
This is a call to action, folks. If you’re interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can talk further.
Thank you, Patriots!