And Balaam said to Balak, “Look, I have come to you! Now, have I any power at all to say anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I must speak.”
In our round up of budget night, we included a link to a post by Chris Hooks at the left-leaning Texas Observer about the relationship between the Tea Party and the rest of the legislature. Hooks' post is worth reading in full. What's interesting is how, despite whiffing badly on the specifics of budget night, he nevertheless identifies a problem that has become glaringly obvious over the course of this legislative session:
Part of the problem is the targets they pick.Don't shoot the messenger...but this is actually a HUGE problem.
While the straw man examples from budget night cited by Hooks are stupid, the Tea Party actually does have a gigantic problem with going after the wrong targets. We attempt strategies that, even if they're 100% successful, won't accomplish their stated objective. And, of course, they won't be successful as long as current house leadership remains in place.
There are a number of examples we could cite from this session, but the utterly fraudulent "debate" over sanctuary cities is the highest profile.
We first noticed that the alleged "debate" over sanctuary cities contained a depressingly low cattle to hat ratio back in January:
In other words, the "debate" allowed both Greg Abbott and the Travis County Democrats to make inflammatory comments to their respective political bases, but that the actual policy changes under discussion were meaningless.
Here's the actual enforcement mechanism, from the version of the Sanctuary cities bill that passed the Senate in early February:
So the plan is to enforce the sanctuary city ban by denying state funding to the relevant political subdivisions.
Sec. 752.056. DENIAL OF STATE GRANT FUNDS; DATABASE. (a) A local entity, including each entity under the jurisdiction of the local entity, a state criminal justice agency, or a campus police department may not receive state grant funds if the local entity, agency, or department violates Section 752.053.
But...here's the dirty little secret, which Abbott confessed to Glenn Beck in a February interview: "We won’t fully defund the cities. A lot of their funding — really, the majority of their funding comes from local and property taxes as well as sales taxes. So it’s not going to defund their operations [Note: Emphasis added]."
Bingo; by allowing themselves to be appeased by an insignificant alteration to state grant distribution formulas, the Tea Party offers political cover to politicians who don't deserve it while simultaneously failing to create meaningful leverage over rogue political subdivisions.
Instead, consider an alternative approach (which we suggested back in February):
Imagine the following amendment on the property tax bill: "Any political subdivision that denies ICE detainers shall have their rollback rate set to zero."In other words, rather than hitting rogue local governments on inconsequential state grant formulas, you're hitting them on their ability to collect property tax revenue...which is a much bigger revenue stream.
Political subdivisions with sanctuary policies can withstand changes to state grant formulas, but you'd get whiplash from how quickly they cave if you ever threatened their ability to collect property taxes.
In addition to that, reigning in property taxes is an issue that resonates with the general public beyond conservative activists (especially in Harris County). Because this issue resonates beyond the conservative echo chamber, it would be a lot harder for Joe Straus to kill. By focusing on a better target, the Tea Party could have a 2 for 1 win on BOTH property taxes and sanctuary cities.
And that's why this fraudulent sanctuary city "debate" is a textbook example of how the Tea Party has a terrible habit of picking the wrong targets in all things related to the Texas legislature.
[Note: Abbott's equally fraudulent crusade against the NFL and this hot mess of a press conference are two other specific examples of the same phenomenon.]
Bottom Line: The old Sun Tzu line about choosing the proper field of battle still applies. If we ever want to stop spinning our wheels, we simply have to do a better job selecting our targets. This has been true for awhile, but the current session is making it apparent just how big of a problem it has become.