Leg­is­la­ture is start­ing to lean fur­ther to right

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - JA­SON EM­BRY

The Leg­is­la­ture is inch­ing right­ward. Those who think our state law­mak­ers are too mod­er­ate have notched a num­ber of vic­to­ries over the past year. We’ll know in a few months whether those wins hold up.

Let’s start in the Texas Se­nate. Repub­li­can Sen. Kip Averitt of Waco re­signed his seat for health rea­sons ear­lier this year, and vot­ers chose tea party cham­pion Brian Bird­well of Gran­bury to re­place him. Averitt was mod­er­ate on some is­sues, hav­ing cham­pi­oned more spend­ing on the Chil­dren’s Health In­surance Pro­gram.

Much of the state’s Repub­li­can lead­er­ship is vo­cif­er­ously op­posed to what it sees as fed­eral med­dling in state en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. But as leader of the Se­nate Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee, the soft-spo­ken Averitt said Texas in­stead should take a seat at the ta­ble to ne­go­ti­ate fed­eral car­bon lim­its to get a bet­ter deal for the state.

The new Nat­u­ral Re­sources chair­man, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horse­shoe Bay, said in a con­fer­ence call last week that steps be­ing

Con­tin­ued from B con­sid­ered or al­ready taken by the fed­eral govern­ment on air and car­bon is­sues amount to “un­prece­dented en­croach­ment by the fed­eral govern­ment,” par­rot­ing the ex­act lan­guage used by the lieu­tenant gover­nor mo­ments be­fore on the same call.

Averitt’s de­par­ture also helped cre­ate an open­ing on the bud­get-writ­ing Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee for GOP Sen. Dan Pa­trick, the out­spo­ken con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host from Hous­ton.

Now Sen. Jeff Went­worth, R-San An­to­nio, could step aside. Went­worth told the San An­to­nio Ex­press-News that he will seek re-elec­tion this fall and then con­sider whether he should re­sign and go to work for the Texas A&M Uni­ver­sity Sys­tem. If Went­worth bolts for A&M, vot­ers would choose his suc­ces­sor in a spe­cial elec­tion. We’ve seen in sev­eral con­tests this year, in­clud­ing Bird­well’s, that tea party ac­tivists are par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful in low-turnout races such as pri­mary runoffs and spe­cial elec­tions. Went­worth, one of the more mod­er­ate mem­bers of the Se­nate Repub­li­can cau­cus, could give way to a more ide­o­log­i­cally driven con­ser­va­tive.

Over on the House side, Reps. Tommy Mer­ritt and Del­win Jones, two of the Repub­li­cans most likely to vote with Democrats, lost their pri­maries. Other mod­er­ates might emerge from the corps of Repub­li­cans elected to the House this year, but there’s lit­tle doubt the suc­ces­sors to Mer­ritt and Jones will be more likely to stick with their party. Mean­while, Rep. David Farabee, D-Wi­chita Falls, opted not to seek re-elec­tion, and a Repub­li­can will al­most cer­tainly suc­ceed him.

Yes, the Leg­is­la­ture is al­ready con­ser­va­tive. But be­cause it was split be­tween 76 Repub­li­cans and 74 Democrats last year, the House passed a num­ber of mod­er­ate mea­sures, in­clud­ing those that would make more fam­i­lies el­i­gi­ble for the Chil­dren’s Health In­surance Pro­gram and im­pose new spend­ing re­stric­tions on cor­po­ra­tions and unions in po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns. Those mea­sures died once they left the House, but the fact that they made it that far high­lighted a mod­er­ate streak that could be weak­ened next year.

Democrats will have plenty to say about all of this as they try to re­take a House ma­jor­ity this fall. They know how to win House seats, hav­ing made gains in the past three elec­tions. But sev­eral Repub­li­can groups are flush with cash and ea­ger to spend it, and the GOP has the na­tional wind at its back. So the move to the right might be about to speed up.

James Brosher

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