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99 Opportunities for Change Print E-mail
by Bill Keffer    Sat, Nov 13, 2010, 11:44 AM

The November election results for the Texas House almost certainly guarantee that the upcoming 2011 legislative session in Austin will be a battlefield on which the bodies of conciliators or combatants will be left – in either case, those bodies will belong to Republicans, and the result will be either a seized or pitifully-squandered opportunity.

Exceeding even the most optimistic predictions, Republicans added 22 more seats on November 2 to the thin 77-73 majority that it had dwindled to, after having achieved majority status in 2002 for the first time since Reconstruction and having started with an impressive 86-64 advantage.

Like in the 2003 legislative session when the legislature was confronted with an unprecedented $10-billion budget shortfall, the 2011 legislature will be facing an even more daunting shortfall that some estimate could be as high as $23 billion. But unlike in 2003 when Republicans were given the keys to the car for the first time in 125 years and were a little rusty on how to start the ignition, many of the 2011 Republicans have seen their opportunity to implement needed change in state government almost completely frittered away since then, so that now these 99 Republicans stand at a crossroads.

It has been stated by more than a few pundits that the 2010 election was a rejection of policy initiatives pursued by President Obama and embraced generally by the Democrat Party, but it was not necessarily an endorsement of Republicans. The accuracy of that observation depends on how that sentence is completed. Voters were not endorsing Republican leadership as demonstrated in Washington during the Bush Administration, when “compassionate conservatism” became a euphemism for big government. Voters, however, were endorsing Republican philosophy, as once espoused by Ronald Reagan, whose hallmarks were less government, less spending, and lower taxes. The Tea Party movement and the significant swing in independent voters from Democrat to Republican could not have made that point more clearly. They experimented with the Obama elixir of “hope and change” in 2008 but quickly learned that it was just another flim-flam promise paid for with our nation’s fiscal future.

So what lesson will 99 Republican Texas House members take with them to Austin in January? Will they, like in 2003, stand firm and resolve the budget shortfall through zero-based budgeting and spending reductions? Or will they fall prey to the siren song – deftly played by entrenched lobbyists and representatives who have long forgotten their original purpose and lost their former passion – that taxes must be raised and that new sources of revenue, like more gambling, are unavoidable?

As with the freshman Republican class in 2003, these newly-elected Republican House members will have to provide the energy and passion to articulate and execute the structural policy changes that can only be accomplished when clarity of challenge and opportunity for action meet. Whether led by a seasoned veteran conservative like Warren Chisum of Pampa or a product of the 2003 class with impeccable conservative credentials like Ken Paxton of McKinney, there must be leadership equipped with concrete objectives and the resolve to achieve them. And, most important, those objectives must have as their common theme the transformation of state government as we know it, marked by elimination, reduction, and efficiency. Government can no longer do everything we have come to expect it to do – first, because it doesn’t do it well; and, second, because excessive dependence on government ultimately makes us lesser people.

Voters are genuinely fearful that our country has begun its long decline, and that we will collapse under the weight of the behemoth government we have permitted and even encouraged. The November election was a vote cast in panic, with voters desperately hoping that Republicans have found themselves again. But it will not be enough for Republican leadership to simply slow down the march to collapse, just as falling from a 50-story building and a 100-story building makes little difference as to the end result.

Responsible Americans and Texans clearly declared on November 2 that they want representatives who will reverse course on profligate spending, runaway government, and suffocating taxation. To succeed, institutional reforms must be made, and entrenched practices must be eliminated. The fundamental way we have allowed government to operate must change. Either we must concede that government should continue to be all-consuming until it consumes all of us. Or we must finally set out on a different course, returning government to the limited role our federal and state constitutions originally contemplated.

These 99 Republican legislators must be clear of vision and steadfast in purpose. In short, they must be warriors – because to truly change what we have allowed government to become is nothing short of waging war. And no war worth fighting has ever been won by those who prefer peace over principle.

(Bill Keffer, a Dallas attorney, was first elected to the Texas House in 2002 and served through 2006. His email address is This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
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Comments (3)add comment
written by Preston Walker Jr. , November 14, 2010

Seems to me like Michael Quinn Sullivan, a paid political lobbyist in Austin, is trying to hijack the entire republican mandate by accusing Joe Straus of not being conservative enough. Maybe Sullivan is anti-semitic because Straus is Jewish? I hope that's not the case. Sometimes prejudice is shrouded in causes like social conservatism.

written by ElHombre , November 14, 2010

Why am I not surprised? A column talking about the upcoming budget disaster demanding solutions without presenting any numbers. It's a complete waste of time.

written by Johanna E Runnels , November 17, 2010

Well articulated, Bill.

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