Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Putting the 85th #TXLEGE in Historical Context....

"Because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot,
The mistress of sorceries,
Who sells nations through her harlotries,
And families through her sorceries."
Nahum 3:4

The Trib has a really good write up this morning about some of the older history of the legislature; we'll post relevant excerpts then comment below:
In his adventures crisscrossing pre-Civil War Texas, Frederick Law Olmsted, famous for designing New York's Central Park and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, reported in his journal in 1857, "We visited, several times, the Texas Legislature in session, and have seldom been more impressed with respect for the working of Democratic institutions." He noted that "honest eloquence was displayed at every opportunity" and with "all desirable gentlemanly decorum." Even so, he observed, "One gentleman, in a state of intoxication, attempted to address the house (but this happens elsewhere), and he was quietly persuaded to retire."

The members of the Texas Legislature had slowly recovered their reputation considering earlier negative assessments of those in attendance in post-Revolutionary Texas. One dispatch reported that those in attendance at the second session of the Republic of Texas in Houston were different from the first: "a large proportion of grey heads, and men of tired abilities and integrity." Intoxication was still a theme, according to the Telegraph and Texas Register: "We notice few red noses; this we consider an indication that this congress will afford but few, possibly none of those more base, most groveling, and most despicable of creeping things — Drunken Legislators." The scene would have been rich for the American Phoenix Foundation's peering cameras.

By the mid-1930s, the Legislature was still run by "grey heads" but a youth movement had swept the state by the 45th legislative session: 46 members of the house were under 30 years old, and 19 were 25 or younger. The Speaker of the House, R.W. Calvert of Hillsboro, was 31. Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Byron Utecht in his book "The Legislature and the Texas People" noted the occupational variety of the members — one a blind musician from Carthage, another a railroad clerk, another an ex-telegraph operator and others including oilmen, bankers, a barber, a preacher, a chemist and a "ginner." They shared in common something with current members — complaints about the pay: "Some members are rather well fixed financially, while others look upon that $10 a day salary during sessions as a Godsend, and a majority complain that the $10 just about pays expenses."

Finances and politics have always been interrelated. A former editor of the Texas Observer quoted a state senator in a story in 1955 who bellowed "Where's a goddamn lobbyist? I want someone to pick up the check for my hotel bill, you can’t find one around here." The rules permitting such events have changed, but the prospect of a corruption scandal can ruin a perfectly good legislative agenda. Billy Lee Brammer, in his 1961 novel "The Gay Place," relays a conversation between a fictional governor (modeled loosely after Lyndon Johnson) and a legislator in reference to a scandal: "Well, most of our people got elected on the corruption issue, and I suppose it would be only fair to go right back out again for the same reasons."
Seriously, do read the whole thing here.


Our First Reaction: The reason why nothing ever seems to change in the legislature is because it's been this way for a really long time and nobody ever challenged it until about five years ago.  It is impossible to overstate how deeply entrenched the capitol good ol' boy network has become.  That being said, if you compare the 85th to the 82nd, it's remarkable how much progress we've made in a (relatively, in a historical sense) short period of time.

Our Second Reaction: Further proof that, in reality, the best thing Texas does is to simply keep these clowns out of town over 80% of the time.

Our Third Reaction: Smart phone cameras are a good thing.

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