Time for Texas Democrats to Back a Democrat for Speaker

When the Texas Legislature convenes in Austin come January, we'll see Texas Democrats issue press releases bragging about their great subcommittee assignments. We'll see Democrats promise to work toward bipartisan solutions. We'll even see Democrats pledging to vote to reelect Republican Joe Straus as House Speaker because of his supposed moderate leanings.

For a change, it'd be nice if we saw them act like Democrats.

We won't have that problem with San Antonio's Trey Martinez Fischer, the Bull of the Brazos. The admittedly short line of Democratic state representatives willing to stop pretending bipartisanship still exists under the Pink Dome starts behind him.

"Frankly that attitude's been lost," said Martinez Fischer. "It hasn't been lost by Democrats; it's been lost by those in charge. And I've always said that when Republicans are willing to govern and govern responsibly, I'm going to be the first one that's going to want to participate in that discussion, but I have no interest in participating in my own demise."

Martinez Fischer has turned himself into a revolutionary, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund Hispanic organizing efforts and using the rulebook to stop Republican legislation when possible. But his combative tactics and cocksure attitude have won him few allies in an institution where Republicans hold all the cards. In Congress, each party's leadership makes their own committee assignments. In Austin, Democratic legislators have to beg for their committee assignments from Republican Straus, explaining why Democrats backed him for Speaker in 2011. This forces Democrats to choose between getting a scrap of influence from Republicans or providing an effective opposition to Republicans.

For Martinez Fischer, the choice isn't between being a politician and a legislator, but between right and wrong.

"There's nothing political about standing up for what's right," said Martinez Fischer. "There's a difference between right and wrong, and politics should not be part of the equation. We have seen issue after issue in 2011 that was nothing but a wedge war that was being waged against the entire state of Texas, from women's rights, to minority rights, to making victims out of senior citizens and children. ... I mean it couldn't get much worse than that. And so the fact of the matter is, I'm not worried about what Joe Straus thinks of me."

Collaborating with Straus didn't help Democrats in 2011 when Republicans gutted school funding, banned Planned Parenthood, mandated transvaginal sonograms, and passed Voter ID. When it comes to a substantive policy-making role in Austin, Democrats aren't even at the kids' table anymore. We're in the backyard with the dog. It's hard to get more outsider than Texas Democrats, yet we allowed Republican Ted Cruz to steal the outsider mantel when he said that "politicians from both parties have let us down."

To Martinez Fischer, that false equivalency is a byproduct of the strategy of paying off the bully so he won't steal our lunch money.

"I don't have an interest in helping Republicans blunt the destruction of bad policy. You know?" Martinez Fischer said. "I think the role has now shifted to where Democrats have an obligation not only to stand up and fight back but also to message who is entirely responsible for this new direction that we're headed in. Because oftentimes you go back and you try to mitigate and minimize, you know, what happened in Austin. You always say, 'The Legislature did this' and 'The Legislature did that,' ... but the fact of the matter is, it's not the Legislature that's doing these bad policies; it's Republicans that are doing these bad policies."

Republicans have drawn legislative districts that will prevent Democrats from taking the majority until next decade. The only available option is to provide a loyal opposition, cooperating where possible but holding the majority responsible when necessary. And that starts by not being complicit in choosing the Republicans' legislative leadership.

Helping Straus win makes Democrats complicit in a legislative session that promises doom for education and health care. Just this once, how about backing a Democrat for speaker? Republicans have been pummeling Democrats for more than a decade. There's no rule saying we have to hold ourselves down for them.