Bud Kennedy

Message for this session: Keep calm and count on Nelson

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is now the senior Republican in the state Senate. “But don’t call me old.”
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is now the senior Republican in the state Senate. “But don’t call me old.” Star-Telegram.com

The Come-and-Take-It session of the Legislature is here, reducing every policy debate to a cannon flag and a dare.

Even the lunchtime grill inside the Capitol now advertises its daily special with an adapted Gonzales flag and the message “Come and Eat It.”

Tuesday’s special: chicken-basil pasta Alfredo, not exactly the stuff of Texas Revolution heroics.

But as a session full of unknowns begins under a cloud of division and doubt, Sen. Jane Nelson is positively sunny.

“I am so ready to get started — I’m like, ‘Let’s do it!’” she said Tuesday, ascending to a new role as the Senate’s senior Republican and arguably the most powerful woman in Texas politics.

As the new chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, the Flower Mound Republican is the first woman in Texas history with a lead role writing the budget.

In her eighth term, Nelson, 63, is also the institutional memory in a Senate full of Republican freshmen and sophomores.

“We’ve lost so many people with experience in specific budget areas. I know human services, but I’m trying to learn the rest and get my arms around it all,” she said.

A former Arlington sixth-grade teacher, Nelson said Texas Education Agency officials were taken aback when she started down the budget line by line, asking, “Now what is this $6 million for again?”

“I want to budget based on what gets results,” she said.

“If they can’t show me results, I’d rather put the money toward teacher raises.”

Nelson is also expected to carry the mail for North Texas in Austin, with leaders asking for more transportation money and stable education funding.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price was among leaders calling at Nelson’s door.

“We’ve got such an inexperienced delegation — it falls to [Rep.] Charlie [Geren] and Jane and [Sen.] Kelly Hancock, and we count on them,” she said.

Three local lawmakers are rookies, and four others in the House won’t have much say-so after bucking the Republican majority Tuesday and voting for a rump Tea Party challenger instead of consensus Speaker Joe Straus.

So many Senate and House members are new — nearly half are in their first or second terms — that lobbyists inevitably will know more of the history and take more control.

“No, they will not!” Nelson argued.

“I totally believe we are going to have a very successful session.”

Come and see it.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy