For some background: the Texas Speaker of the House is a powerful position, elected from among the 150 State Representatives as the first act of any incoming legislature. However, there has been a long-standing ‘tradition’ of pledge cards that has made this nothing but a sham in the case of a seated speaker. The real backroom process is about as democratic as a mugging and is a tradition than needs to go the way of the Chicken Ranch.
Here’s how it really works. A seated Speaker has hordes of special interests slavering to do favors for the one individual that controls ALL legislation- and tens of billions in State spending. And they have VERY deep pockets for donating vasts sums for campaigns. toward the end of the session, the Speaker will approach each representative and ask for them to sign a pledge card, promising to support the Speaker for re-election in the NEXT session. And everyone KNOWS that donations and future committee assignments are tied to this decision. This last session, redistricting was also a weapon to be used and it apparently was, resulting in a kangaroo court version of an ethics investigation. Normally, a seated Speaker can get nearly all of his own party’s cards; they ALSO can get many for the opposing party, based on favorable committee assignments and- you can be assured- assistance at killing selective majority party legislation by letting it die in the committees controlled by the Speaker. The current session, in which the GOP had a super-majority, the vast majority of the conservative agenda- other than the budget- died this way.
And in open seats, candidates parade down to Austin looking for donations for their runs. They are judged by the ‘powers that be’, on whether they are willing to ‘play the game’. In the majority party, that very often involves a willingness to sign a pre-election pledge card. Sign a pledge, and doors are opened and donations made.
The major problem with the raw exercise of political power is there is ZERO input by the electorate in this. They don’t wait for the office holder or candidates are validated by the voters; they don’t brook any input from the electorate after. This is the power of the ‘Austin machine’ and it is time to challenge that when it matters- BEFORE the session is out, BEFORE the election.
Mind you, much of that ‘machine is pretty conservative and that is the ONLY reason Texas is STILL in decent shape. But the constituency has amazing little say in events in Austin and that is one thing we of the Tea Parties need to help change. Both policy AND process matter.