The political center no longer rules the Texas Legislature, and it’s both parties’ fault.
A Republican “Freedom Caucus” seems determined to move the party further toward the populist-conservative rightward edge, and now.
Some Democrats, weary of compromising between moderate and reactionary Republican legislation, now seem determined to simply fight it all in hopes of winning back seats as soon as possible.
Until this year, establishment leaders from both sides held partisanship at bay by molding a ruling consensus.
For years, senior senators controlled the smaller and more manageable Texas Senate. Lately, with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s iron-fist rule reshaping the Senate, a plurality of House Republicans and most Democrats had formed a coalition to keep Texas on a steady path.
But that consensus began to fracture last month during the debate about the “sanctuary cities” bill requiring local authorities to comply with any federal request to hold an immigration detainee.
A dozen or so Democrats refused to support a more tempered Republican bill that would have allowed police to ask the immigration status only of anyone arrested. Instead, a Republican majority passed a Freedom Caucus amendment extending the law to affect everyone stopped except a complainant, victim or witness.
Publicly, some Democrats called even the compromise bill “hateful.” But the daylong debate also provided useful campaign fodder for the 2018 elections.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, told the Austin American-Statesman that Democrats support compromises “with the understanding the House isn’t going to be the Senate, and those distinctions are a lot harder to see right now.”
Another senior Democrat, Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia, noted the House passed a Freedom Caucus amendment by state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, preventing state authorities from automatically having foster children vaccinated. Another House amendment would allow lawyers to discriminate for religious reasons.
The Freedom Caucus, a new name for the Tea Party Caucus, has never liked establishment Republicans’ hold on the House. But until this year, it was an outsider faction unable to gain a foothold.
Now, both partisan Democrats and movement Republicans are rejecting centrist leadership and constructive compromise in favor of political advantage.
That can only hurt Texas.