Texas legislators from time to time “memorialize” Congress to do this or that. Since the request bears no force of law, the result is sort of like pouring a beer over the lip of the Grand Canyon and listening for it to hit.
But a freshman Texas House member several weeks ago came up with an idea for boosting camaraderie and considerate behavior that’s already having an effect in the Texas capitol and perhaps by mental telepathy may be spreading to Washington.
The freshman is Ron Simmons, a Republican from Carrollton. What he did was go to his freshmen colleagues –– 41, including him, one of the largest beginning classes in 40 years –– and say, why not send a message that we want to get along with one another?
The result is “Purple Thursdays” –– a day each week when the freshmen wear purple –– a tie or jacket or shirt or scarf. It’s to show that they aren’t just Republican red or Democratic blue but want to work together for bipartisan solutions. And, even if they don’t achieve solutions, respect one another in the process.
Simmons’ initiative, which has spread beyond freshmen to some of the upperclassmen, is refreshing. That’s because the other 109 veteran legislators have suffered through some rather rancorous times in the last few years.
It’s one reason for this year’s large freshman class: Some incumbents didn’t seek re-election because they were worn out by in-your-face squabbling. Other freshmen unseated incumbents who had indulged in over-the-top partisanship.
Some of these freshmen heard from constituents during the 2012 election that they want lawmakers to ditch the fighting and seek common ground. We need some deal-making lawmakers, the voters said, who realize compromises don’t give everyone everything they want but are better than being frozen in place.
The practice in the Texas House is to refrain from considering bills during the first 60 days, except those the governor deems emergencies. That period may seem wasted to some people. But, used properly, it is the meet-and-greet time for 150 members, especially the 41 new ones, to get to know their colleagues and maybe make some new friends.
State Rep. Mark Strama, a Democrat from Austin, said that time is valuable to establish goodwill that will help ease tensions over tough subjects later.
Legislators in 2013 were spared some rancor because the governor didn’t lay out any fight-inducing subjects as emergencies as he did in 2011. Among them were proposals requiring sonograms for women getting abortions, banning sanctuary cities, and requiring photo IDs to vote.
The fiscal situation has also eased compared to 2011 when legislators, facing a major shortfall and — under Perry’s no-tax-increase watchful eye — cut $5.4 billion from public schools rather than raise taxes or dip into the Rainy Day Fund.
Also, the Republican super-majority of 101 to 49 Democrats in 2011 has been knocked back to 95-55, making across-the-aisle bargaining more necessary.
Maybe it’s just that spring is here, but similar values seem to be blossoming in Washington as well. In recent days, President Obama hosted a dozen Republican senators at a dinner, ostensibly just to talk things over. Then the next day, he had House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan –– the 2012 Republican vice-presidential candidate –– to the White House for lunch.
Both times, breaking bread with the president seemed to put the Republicans in a better humor.
It’s certainly tougher to get to know colleagues in Congress, with 435 House members and 100 senators, than in Texas, with 150 House members and 31 senators –– as George W. Bush learned in 2001.
But one thing that helped Lyndon Johnson achieve as much as he did after moving up from the vice-presidency following John F. Kennedy’s assassination was that, after more than two decades in the U.S. House and Senate, LBJ already knew a lot of those folks.
So maybe the efforts of people like Simmons and, belatedly, President Obama will help return cooperation and maybe even camaraderie to our lawmaking process.
Maybe someday there can be a positive answer to the plaintive question posed a session or two back by Senate dean John Whitmire, almost like a prayer:
“Can’t we all just get along?”
Right on, Purple Gang.
Veteran Texas political writer Dave McNeely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.