A Bold Prediction Before Voting Starts...

Written by  Lawrence Olsen, Executive Vice President, Texas Good Roads

A fair warning to readers: this is written 19 days before the final votes are tallied Nov. 4, but this writer feels very confident in his predictions. After all the votes are counted, once again, it will show that the Texas Legislature has won and the U.S. Congress has lost.

For those of you who closely follow the political goings-on, the focus is on the balance of power between the parties in the United States Senate. In the U.S. House, where the Republicans enjoy a majority with 233 of the 435 members, no one is predicting that the Democrats will finish in anything other than second place. But the estimates about the makeup of the 100-member U.S. Senate are very different.

Attorney General and Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Greg Abbott discuss the future of transportation in Texas with AGC members Johnny Weisman, Hunter Industries; Doug Pitcock, Williams Brothers Construction; and Joe Anderson, Anderson Columbia.

Currently, the D’s enjoy a 10-seat margin in the senate. In order to get a working majority, the Republicans must seize at least six seats held by the Donkey party. Several seasoned D’s have relinquished their seats, many from states which have a history of voting Red for president. Only because veterans such as Max Baucus (Montana) and Jay Rockefeller (West Virginia) were so strong personally were the Democrats able to retain these seats.

But here’s the real answer to the big puzzler: the Republicans may well get to the magic 51 and find out (as Democrats often do nowadays) that although it is a nice illusion of power, it’s not quite the real thing. Oh sure, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (presuming he survives a challenge, which he should) will become the majority leader and Barbara Boxer of California will be replaced by David Vetter of Louisiana on Environment and Public Works. But here’s the rub: to pass most substantive statutes in the Senate, the real number is not 51, it is 60. And nobody, and I mean nobody, is predicting that November’s election will end with 60 Republicans elected to the U.S. Senate.

So, the scenario will be that come January, the U.S. House will pass a bill to repeal Obamacare (for the 41st? time), it will go to the Senate, will get out of committee, and after several months of delayed debate, it will slowly fade away. Somehow, if miraculously it did make its way through the 114th Congress, it would be quickly dispatched by a presidential veto which would fail to be overridden (certainly in the U.S. Senate and perhaps even in the U.S. House).

And why do I say that Texas wins and Washington loses? It is simply because there has been a tradition that began more than a generation ago when Democrats ruled the Texas House and Texas Senate. This unwritten tradition allowed Republicans not only to speak and pass bills, but to chair committees. We Texans don’t think that is a rare phenomenon. But it does not always happen like that in other states. We know it is a very rare occurrence in Washington, D.C. Neither the Senate nor the House have committees chaired by someone in the minority party.

LawrenceOlsenLawrence Olsen greets Traffic Operations Director Carol Rawson, Michael Chacon on the Traffic Operations Division, and Tom O’Leary of Ergon at the AGC-sponsored Fajita Fest during the 2014 Transportation Short Course in College Station.

When President George W. Bush left the Texas governor’s office in 2000 and moved to the White House, surely he spent a great deal of time trying to locate the Washington versions of Bob Bullock and Pete Laney, the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House (both Democrats) who had worked hand in hand with him at the Capitol in Austin. It was likely that it did not take Pres. Bush long to discover that folks similar to his Austin colleagues did not exist in Washington, D.C, or if they did they were certainly were not occupying influential roles within their party.

Hard as it may be to believe, there are some extreme groups in Texas which must believe that the current model of governance in Washington is the one to emulate. They have challenged the Republican nominee for Lt. Gov, Dan Patrick, to make sure that none of the minority party (R’s now control the 31-member Senate, 19-12 and are likely to increase that margin by one in November), retain their title of committee chairman.

If Senator Patrick does prevail in November, it might behoove him to read the case file on one of his predecessors, the aforementioned Bob Bullock. When Bullock was elected lieutenant governor in 1990, the Senate had eight Republicans. Bullock had been around the Capitol for decades: a former state rep, the state comptroller, and number one fund raiser for Gov. Preston Smith are just a few of the powerful posts he held. He had lots of friends and, not surprisingly, an enemy or three, and his appointment as secretary of state had been blocked by the Senate. At least one senator who had voted against him was a Republican committee chairman—Senator Ike Harris. Still seething from that memory, Bullock declared no R’s would chair committees in his Texas Senate. That lasted about one session and Bullock later admitted it was a bad mistake. It was not very long before Bullock’s big four included Republican senators David Sibley and Bill Ratliff. The State Senate under this leadership worked very well.

As written previously, Bullock took a real liking to Gov. George W. Bush and was supportive of his efforts to become president. In fact, Bullock’s widow (he died in 1999) spoke at the Republican convention for candidate Bush. Bullock’s successors as lieutenant governor, Rick Perry, Bill Ratliff and David Dewhurst (all R’s) named Dems to committee chairmanships.

On the Texas House side, not unlike the Senate, Republicans were a rare breed until the 80s. As their influence grew, conservative Democratic speakers such as Billy Clayton, Gib Lewis and Pete Laney all named Republicans to key committee spots.

Perhaps the long-told and likely apocryphal story is most fitting for this situation: The young freshman member, a fire- breathing Republican partisan, comes to visit the 30-year veteran, wanting to know what he was going to do about the enemy, the Democrats. The older gentleman looked at him for a minute and replied, “The Democrats in this House are the opposition. The enemy is the Senate.” But, again, that is a Washington story, and though they certainly enjoy jousting, the Texas Senate and House usually come around to a compromise that allows the Texas formula of government to succeed and prosper. Long may that Texas tradition continue.

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