Mob has Dewhurst at a disadvantage

Posted Friday, Jun. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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norman Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has reason to worry about mobs. They’re coming at him from all sides, and some of them are unruly.

He’ll have to do a better job of preparing for them than he did for the one that wrested control of the Senate from him Tuesday night in Austin. If he doesn’t, next year he could be forced to retire to a more peaceful life at his ranch near Austin — the opposite of what a determined politician like Dewhurst wants to do.

This week, Democrats won a victory over Republicans with the help of what Dewhurst called “an unruly mob” in the Senate gallery. You can bet they’ll generate more mobs when the next special legislative session called by Gov. Rick Perry begins on Monday.

And there’s a line of other politicians, fellow Republicans especially, who want to send Dewhurst away come next year’s party primary. For sheer brutality, mobs have nothing on Texas political parties when primary elections are in the offing.

Like an old-time movie mob marching with torches and pitchforks to confront the evil monster and growing in numbers along the way, this one added another big-name Republican on Thursday, Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston. Patrick and Dewhurst have a history of conflict and reconciliation that’s clearly back to open conflict.

Already in the get-Dewhurst GOP mob headed for the primary are Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. They, and now Patrick, brand Dewhurst as an ineffective leader.

The mob that gathered Tuesday night in the Senate gallery caught Dewhurst off guard at a difficult moment. In his role as the Senate’s presiding officer, he was bobbing and weaving between filibustering Democrats led by their new-found darling, Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, and his own team of Republicans who needed his help to break the filibuster and expand restrictions on abortions.

It’s part of Dewhurst’s job to be prepared for and effectively handle difficult moments. Fewer than four days earlier, opponents of the abortion restrictions had packed a House committee hearing and forced it to remain in session long past midnight to hear their arguments against the measure. That was fair warning of what was coming in the Senate.

Deafening noise and heckling from the gallery on Tuesday ultimately slowed the Senate’s progress to such a degree that it pushed the abortion vote past the mandatory midnight adjournment deadline.

On Wednesday, when the governor announced his plans for another special session to pick up where the last one left off, he blamed the Senate gallery crowd for a “breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do.”

For their part, Senate Democrats clearly were happy to get the crowd’s help. They called it democracy in action.

So when the crowds show up again for the next abortion debates, what’s Dewhurst to do? He can’t let the Senate’s work be disrupted again, so he’ll have to clear the gallery at the first sign of mobbery.

But with the nationwide attention generated Tuesday night, there are sure to be lots of news cameras in the room next time. How’s it going to look on CNN when Department of Public Safety officers in riot gear start dragging away hundreds of women, young and old?

There’s no win-win for Dewhurst. And the worse he looks, the better it will be for Patrick, Patterson and Staples in the coming primary.

Dewhurst welcomed the call for another special session, complaining again about the “unruly mob” and saying Texas leaders are willing to stand up against “special interest groups.”

He can call them as many names as he likes, but he’ll only show his mettle in what he does when he’s staring them in the face.

Mike Norman is editorial director of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7830 Twitter: @mnorman9

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