Texas House Dumps Rightwing Speaker in Favor of Bi-Partisan Reform Choice

Texas House Dumps Rightwing Speaker in Favor of Bi-Partisan Reform Choice

Thursday, December 8, 2008



Texas House Dumps Rightwing Speaker in Favor of Bi-Partisan Reform Choice

When Progressive States Network (PSN) discussed gains in progressive power in legislative chambers around the country back in November, one of the question marks was what would happen in the Texas House.  Earlier this week, that question was largely resolved when it was announced that rightwing Speaker Tom Craddick no longer had the votes to be reelected. Instead, a majority coalition, including most House Democrats and a growing number of Republicans, decided to support Republican Joe Straus from San Antonio as the new speaker.  

This kind of bi-partisan coalition is the norm in Texas tradition -- a number of Democrats had supported Craddick -- but the change promises a very different atmosphere for the Texas House.  The new speaker has detailed a vision of restoring greater procedural fairness to the chamber, including allowing open debate with floor amendments which Craddick had severely restricted.  Straus would also be the first Texas speaker coming from an urban district in modern Texas history.  This change was highlighted by his promises to tackle issues like health care, transportation and education which were sometimes ignored by his predecessors.

Rep. Garnet Coleman is a Democratic leader, Chair of the Texas Legislative Study Group and co-chair of Progressive States Network, and gave this description of the change in an interview with PSN:

What was wrong with the Craddick regime was that it was run like Congress under Tom Delay. Craddick eliminated the ability to make amendments on the floor.  He blocked all progressive policy. You name it, he blocked it.

In supporting Joe Straus as the new speaker, our objective was never based on policy. Our objective was based on fairness and the belief that when the deck is not stacked against anyone, the policy we believe is important will be able to pass. This is a chance to have merit win out on the floor of the House.

The presumptive speaker laid out his vision that everyone will have an opportunity to lay out the best policy and get a vote on their policy. Statehouses are effected by debate and bills will get debated and views may be changed. The fair process will have an impact on public education. It will impact energy efficiency and alternative energy.  It has an impact on health issues. 

We believe that this bi-partisan change means a better world where change comes from win-win.  Unfortunately, everything has devolved into win-lose, but in the Texas House we'll now have a chance for a new era.

So mark the Texas House as one more chamber where progressives ended up making big gains this last election.


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Indexing Minimum Wage to Inflation Critical for Low-Income Working Families

Washington State minimum wage workers got a raise January 1st to $8.55 per hour -- now the highest minimum wage in the country.   Like nine other states, Washington automatically increases its minimum wage each year at the rate of inflation to make sure families don't face a de facto pay cut as rising costs eat into family budgets.  Because the federal minimum wage is not indexed to inflation in this way, we have seen a decline in its value from $9.34 in inflation-adjusted dollars down to just $6.55 per hour this past year.  This trend highlights why state efforts to index the minimum wage to keep up with inflation are so critical.

While minimum wage workers in a couple of states, notably Connecticut and New Mexico, had raises this January based on recent legislative action, that still means minimum wage workers in those states may see these gains eaten up by inflation if legislative attention drifts away from the issue for a couple of years, as has too often been the pattern at the federal level and in states without indexing. 

Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington all index their state minimum wage to the federal consumer price index (CPI). Additionally, the cities of Santa Fe, NM and San Francisco, CA have indexed their minimum wages to inflation, with raises for minimum wage workers to $9.92 and $9.79 respectively on January 1st, providing the strongest support for low-wage workers in the country.

The reality is that even in Washington State with its $8.55/hour minimum wage rate, that translates only to an annual full-time salary of $17,784 -- barely more than the federal poverty level for a family of three.  One way to permanently set more realistic minimum wage rates, as some advocates have argued, is to fix the minimum wage at something like half the average wage in the economy.  

With so many minimum wage workers barely treading above the poverty line (and often living below it), raising the minimum wage and permanently indexing it to inflation or the average wage is critical so that Americans who work hard for a living are able to provide for their families. 


MINIMUM WAGE (in $/hour)
New Mexico

* This state pegs their minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index.


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A Simple Approach for Expanding Eligibility to Health Insurance

In New York State, 31% of uninsured residents are young adults between the ages 19 and 29. To help this population and reduce the state's uninsured rolls, Governor Paterson wants to require private employers to offer health insurance to workers' dependents who are between the ages 19 and 29.  The proposal would expand eligibility to some 800,000 uninsured New Yorkers and the Governor's Office projects about 80,000 would take advantage of the new rule.  According to the New York Times, business groups appear to be supportive of the idea, which would not require employers to help pay for coverage, merely to make it available.

The proposal is not unique to New York and represents a growing trend across states.  At least 11 states require insurance companies to offer coverage of dependents to age 25.  Iowa enacted the rule as part of an expansive health care reform package last May, House File 2539. And, New Jersey has extended the requirement to age 30.  

This is a small but meaningful step that states can take to help increase coverage options for families and young adults.  President-Elect Obama has similarly embraced the idea, with a proposed requirement on insurers to offer coverage of dependents to age 25.

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Battles Over Voter ID Requirements Loom Large in 2009 Sessions

Last year we saw the incredible wave of voter ID legislation promoted nationwide by rightwing activists seem to peter out. High profile campaigns for restrictive photo ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements, which limit the voting of many legal citizens (see here and here), were met with defeat. But the proponents of voter ID have apparently not been deterred. The good people at Project Vote, who have been monitoring voter ID legislation across the country, are finding that rightwing lawmakers in key states continue to place voter ID at the top of their to-do list.  This is despite the passing of another election without any evidence of the type of fraud that voter ID requirements would help prevent - someone attempting to register and vote twice in the same state.

From Texas to Missouri to Virginia, conservative legislators are promising to push the issue as hard as ever.  But, despite their determination and earlier successes in some states, progressive legislators and voting rights advocates have proven that passage of such measures is not guaranteed.  Missouri is perhaps the most important example, as voter ID proponents were basically declaring victory at the end of last session only to see their efforts fall short. That victory for voters was made possible by strong coordinated action by legislators, local advocates and national groups.  Similar efforts and coordination will likely be required to defeat these measures again this year.

Regular readers of our Dispatch are aware that evidence of voter fraud is thin at best.  Yet, time and again conservatives raise this red herring to justify suppressive voting laws.  Progressive legislators in states with voter ID battles brewing can bolster their position by vigorously refuting these false claims of fraud, and highlighting the impact that voter ID requirements have on the ability of elderly, disabled, young, and married female voters to cast their ballots.  Additionally, strong voter protection legislation that sanctions intimidation, deception and voter caging can be introduced to deal with the very real problems of voter suppression, which unlike fraud, we see in every election.

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Research Roundup

How long would a job-market recovery take? - One year into the recession and the U.S. economy has already lost nearly 2 million jobs, according to this Economic Policy Institute Snapshot.  Evidence comparing the pattern of that job decline to recent recessions indicates that employment levels will likely not fully recover until mid-2010 or beyond.

Recession and Recovery - The Urban Institute has produced six issue briefs detailing how Americans have fared during and after downturns since the 1970s, what might be ahead, and how government programs aid those in distress.  They stress the key roles of unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps, the earned income tax credit, and public health programs like Medicaid and SCHIP in protecting families during rough economic times.

The State of America's Children 2008 -  In the past year, the number of poor children has increased by nearly 500,000 to 13.3 million, with 5.8 million living in extreme poverty, according to a new report from the Children's Defense Fund.

The Future of the Internet III - The Pew Internet & American Life Project surveys key leaders in the technology world and details among others predictions that by 2020, the mobile device will be the key tool for accessing the Internet, transparency of institutions will increase, divisions of personal time and work time will continue to erode, and the next generation engineering of the network is more likely to take the form of an upgrade of the current architecture than starting over from scratch. 

AALDEF Exit Poll of Over 16,000 Asian-American Voters - A new Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) report out on exit polls done in 11 states with 60 organizations found that Asian Americans across ethnic lines prioritized the economy and jobs in choosing a presidential candidate. Additionally, the findings revealed that 35% of those polled had limited English language proficiency, which points to the need for bilingual ballots and language assistance at the voting booth.

Please email us leads on good research at


Indexing Minimum Wage to Inflation Critical for Low-Income Working Families

Economic Policy Institute - Securing the wage floor: Indexing would maintain the minimum wage's value and provide predictability to employers
Progressive States Network - States Still Leading Feds on Minimum Wage
Bureau of Labor Statistics - Minimum Wage Laws in the States - January 1, 2009
Brennan Center for Justice, New Jersey Policy Perspective, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice - The Adequacy of New Jersey's Minimum Wage

A Simple Approach for Expanding Eligibility to Health Insurance

Commonwealth Fund - Rite of Passage? Why Young Adults Become Uninsured and How New Policies Can Help, 2008 Update
Progressive States Network - Improve Access to Private Coverage

Battles Over Voter ID Requirements Loom Large in 2009 Sessions

Project Vote - Voter ID Still a Looming Threat for 2009
Progressive States Network - Resist Vote Suppression by the Right Wing
Demos - Voter ID Issue Brief
Brennan Center for Justice - Alternatives to Voter ID Policy Brief
Project Vote - The Politics of Voter Fraud
Model Voter Protection Legislation


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Economic Development Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

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