Friday, September 23, 2005

A Little More On Sharp and Perry: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

Now that we've had a few days to look over this new pairing and let it sink in, it's time to take a longer view of John Sharp's "..stunning political pirouette..". To some, these two guys getting together like this may seem a little odd. But veterans of Texas politics with a knowledge of the recent past know that these two guys, ideologically, have never been that far apart. That's why their race was so close. Sharp's record of fiscal conservatism is what made his races against Perry and Dewhurst so close. His plan in 2002 to balance the budget was not all that different from what wound up happening. He was going to go after CHIP and other social programs and balance the budget mainly on the backs of the poor, the same way we saw it happen. Sharp has always been a fiscal conservative--that's not a bad thing!--and he did an excellent job as Comptroller by all accounts, no pun intended.

John Sharp stayed a Democrat when others decided to become Republican. His "buddy" and other Democrats at the time put their fingers to the wind and decided that to survive they needed to become Republicans; he didn't. Back when these two "buddies" entered politics, to win on a state level you had to be a Democrat. One effect that had was such that some people who ran as Democrats back then would not do so today. Some West Texas Democrats, like Pete Laney, and those redistricted out of office, like Charlie Stenholm and Jim Turner as examples, if they were starting their careers today, would probably run as Republicans. That changed with the election of Bill Clements as governor and then changed even more when Ronald Reagan was elected president. Some stayed, some left, but a candidate no longer had to be a Democrat to win statewide. Now it's the exact opposite: you have to be a Republican to win statewide. Therefore, from this we can infer that the only reason Sharp lost to Perry and Dewhurst in his statewide races had nothing to do with his record, but everything to do with his party affiliation.

When John Sharp left politics, he joined a company which specializes in minimizing a business' state and local tax burden. Who better to assist a corporation in Texas with tax issues than the former Comptroller of Texas? John Sharp, after all these years, has finally joined them. He now specializes in helping businesses to avoid paying taxes. Who better to "restructure" the tax structure in this state?

Editorial boards around the state think it is a great idea and a wonderful bipartisan effort and that this will depoliticize the whole effort. I say B.S.! This was, at its heart, a political move. To dismiss the fact that there is an election next year and to view this as just a good faith effort to fix the tax structure in this state is naive. This is a Republican Party in Texas which was built by Karl Rove and his Machiavellian minions. Policy means nothing to these people; winning elections means everything. Whether this is a master stroke or a master joke, only time will tell.

Any way you look at it, the man who was believed by many to be the best Democratic hope to unseat this Republican governor has just come to his aid. John Sharp, these days being more a friend to corporations than to the people of Texas, heading a committee like this, makes me a little suspect about what conclusions this committee will eventually come up with. Perry and Sharp both made it perfectly clear that one possible solution, a state income tax, won't even be discussed! This closed-minded approach adds to the speculation about what is really going on here. One of the first things to look at will be who else joins Sharp on this committee and whether the committee's membership is representative of Texas. If it is stacked with business leaders, voucher proponents and the like, we will know that nothing has changed.

And I have more questions: When does the committee report? What does Sharp get out of this in the long run? What do Republicans think about this? Speaker Craddick, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, what do they think of the governor going to a Democrat for help? I hope that Democrats in Texas will now put John Sharp behind them and understand that the way for Democrats to win in Texas in the future is to look to the future and not to the past.

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