Thursday, March 26, 2009

Don't sit on that sword, Governor

Addressing the state's newspaper executives Monday, Rick Perry might have been wearing a coonskin cap and leaning on Ol' Betsy. Or he could have been Col. Travis drawing a line in the sand.

To Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's joust that he's wrong to turn down half a billion federal dollars in unemployment aid, Perry parried: "The last thing we want is Washington coming down here and telling us how to run our state."

Bravo. Perry has always walked the walk of independence. Like in 2003, when Congressman Tom DeLay left his duties in Washington to hang out in the state Capitol for days, even hand-carrying versions of the congressional redistricting bill that paralyzed the Legislature. We called ol' Tom Texas' shadow governor back then, and Rick his lapdog.

The real shadow governor was the previous one, George W. Bush. For him, Perry made sure nothing would happen in Austin that session until the GOP had several more congressional seats.

So, here we are, and our Col. Travis — it's all in the clothes — just drew a line in the sand so tight to his boots he risks his toes.

Texas' unemployment insurance trust fund is running out of money. Hutchison asserts that to replenish it, the state might have to raise employers' taxes. So, she says, take the money.

Perry says the strings attached would require the state to raise taxes on employers when the stimulus dollars cease.

Tom Pauken, Perry's own man running the Texas Workforce Commission, says that needn't be. Lawmakers can accept the money and let an expanded state program expire when federal funding runs out.

More than 111,000 Texans are projected to lose their jobs this year, more than the population of Waco proper. Perry says he has bigger principles in mind, like independence.

State Sen. Steve Ogden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he can easily swallow his Republican pride and make good use of the federal stimulus funds flowing to the state.

Texas will be accepting school dollars, highway dollars, health care dollars.

No, this isn't about independence at all. It's about political theater, something apparent from the start in the declarations of a handful of Republican governors convening in Washington last month. Though they would accept the lion's share of stimulus dollars, they'd draw the line at unemployment aid.

The question wasn't, "What's best for our hurting citizens?" It was: "Where can we strike a pose? And who's with us? Perry? Aye. Jindal? Aye. Palin? Aye. Barbour? Aye." Then all went back to their home states with party-supplied talking points.

Yes, this is the way it works — not addressing the needs of those who hurt, but posing to suit men in suits.

When is it ever about the people in need?

When is it about the growing millions in this nation who have no health insurance — 6 million workers added in the last decade? When is it about nursing home residents in our state whose savings are gone and who are at the mercy of skinflint Medicaid reimbursement rates? When is it about citizens with mental illness left on society's fringes? It's never about them. It's about posing.

Meanwhile, back in Austin, something encouraging is happening — something almost too good to be true. The Senate initially has OK'd a bill to end the partisan paralysis associated with redistricting. It would create a bipartisan, independent commission to redraw congressional districts.

That would be mighty good for the state, but not the party in power. Yet legislation author Jeff Wentworth says Perry "wants to sign the bill."

Come on, lawmakers. Let's give him the chance to show he's serving us.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald.

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