Republican gains in the Texas House and the US House were impressive. The new Congress was sworn in and a new Speaker took the gavel in the US House. A new Texas House was sworn in, although they kept their old speaker. One question is: what can we expect from these sweeping political changes? The answers, I think, will disappoint many people.
Change is hard in the American political system. It can be even harder under the cumbersome rules of the Texas Constitution. Our political systems were designed to move slowly to prevent what Alexander Hamilton (in Federalist #71) called “an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse.”
What amazes me most about political coverage is how poor the perspective of most analysis can be. They may be able to name every member of Congress and every bill being debated. However, most reporters and commentators have forgotten the basic system of checks and balances and how stubborn James Madison’s design can be.
One place to look for lessons is to the “Class of ’94.” The Republican members brought in by the Republicans landslide victory in 1994 came to office offering profound change. However, as Linda Killian writes in Politics Daily (“Advice for the House Class of 2011 From Their Revolutionary Predecessors in ’95“), they met with mixed results.
The bottom line is that by some measures the new Texas Legislature will be judged a failure because they did not do more. Some will fuss that too many principles were compromised and that legislation was “watered down.” However, we always need to remember that representative democracy was designed to simultaneously empower and restrict the majority. Also, some of the advocates of dramatic change may need to realize that conservatives have been running Texas government for decades and that some of the policies we have may actually be there for a reason.