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Texas Politics - Texas Political Culture
 
 
 
Norma Chavez recalls the importance of personal connections in launching her political career. Norma Chavez recalls the importance of personal connections in launching her political career.
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Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
6.3    Political Actors and Political Culture

Individual political actors - both the powerful and the relatively weak, singularly or in groups - also shape the political culture of the state. They do this in two ways.

More obviously, they shape the political culture through the battles they win and lose. As political actors compete over public policy and public resources, the ones that win tend to gain legitimacy for themselves and their causes. Over time, successive victories can help weave particular policy orientations into the fabric of the political culture.

Whether it's dedicating gasoline taxes for highway construction (supporting the view that tax money should be returned to the policy area from which it came) or privatizing state services (supporting the belief that the private sector is inherently more capable of delivering public services than government), public policy outcomes have a way of reinforcing the orientation of the political victors in the political culture.

More subtly, whether rich or poor, politically victorious or vanquished, most political actors seeking concrete policy outcomes tend to use the language of the prevailing political culture to support their cause. For instance, in 2003, groups on both sides of the policy debate surrounding the proposed Texas Enterprise Fund invoked some of the core ideals of the state's political culture to promote their views. At that time, amidst a state budget crisis, Governor Rick Perry sought $390 million for a new fund to promote business development in the state. More than half of that money was to be dedicated to a "deal closing" fund, to pay last minute cash incentives to businesses investing in Texas.

Unfortunately, the Texas Enterprise Fund ended up competing directly with the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) a joint federal-state program, in which the federal government matches state funding levels to provide health insurance to poor children. Because the program relies on matching federal dollars, cuts in state funding (some $200 million was cut from the 2003-2004 budget state budget) would reduce federal funding (hundreds of millions of dollars to Texas) accordingly.

Supporters of the Texas Enterprise Fund argued that private enterprise needs to be encouraged in order to create a dynamic economy that keeps people employed in well-paying jobs. Many opponents of reducing CHIP funding to pay for the Enterprise Fund argued that the net cost of funding cuts (counting the loss of federal funds, the loss of the multiplier effect of federal expenditures in the state economy, and higher use of expensive emergency room treatment), exceeded the benefit of the Enterprise Fund - in short, they said, it made better business sense to invest in CHIP.

As expected, supporters of the Enterprise Fund articulated the classic Texas view that favors facilitating business development. Somewhat unexpectedly, but shrewdly, supporters of maintaining CHIP funding levels also used an economic argument, rather than simply dwelling on our social responsibility to help the poor. They emphasized the loss of federal dollars and the increased costs of caring for those who would lose their health insurance. Supporters calculated that the state's political culture tends to be less receptive to appeals for helping the poor, but more receptive to appeals for economic efficiency and growth. To be sure, many advocates of the poor decried the apparent transfer of wealth from the needy to powerful corporations. But the economic arguments in favor of continued CHIP funding levels were certainly prominent.

By utilizing the language of the dominant political culture, political actors engage in two distinct processes. First, they reinforce the implicit ideals of the political culture. But second, they appropriate those ideals in an attempt to attach them to specific policy preferences. In essence, while reinforcing general political ideals (thereby inhibiting change to the political culture), political actors simultaneously contribute to the ongoing evolution of the dominant political culture, or at least the policies to which those ideals are applied.

But all political actors are not created alike - in Texas or anywhere else. Business interests generally have greater access to policymakers and other influential people, than do ordinary citizens and the poor. Also, in a state like Texas, where we celebrate wealth, power and entrepreneurialism, the political advantage of business interests is even more pronounced. Texans tend to accept as natural state programs that help business, as witnessed by the successful passage of Governor Perry's $390 million Texas Enterprise Fund during the 78th Legislative session at the same time as $200 million were cut from the CHIP program.

Nevertheless, ordinary citizens and consumers have a number of important tools at their disposal both to win political victories and to shape the political culture. These include, lobbying (the favored tactic of groups or individuals with financial resources), circulating petitions and mounting letter writing campaigns, staging public demonstrations, mounting media campaigns, attending public meetings, and taking legal and illegal actions. Even though millions were cut from the CHIP program in 2003, a variety of efforts led to the restoration of funds in the 2005 legislative session - a task likely made easier by the considerable mobilization against the funding cuts in 2003.

Illustrating the importance of the how certain kinds of language resonates more than others, the arguments in favor of restoring funds offered by Senator Kip Averitt (R-Waco), the sponsor of the bill that restored the cuts, focused on the overall economic impact to the state. Averitt specifically emphasized the flow of federal dollars into Texas and the efficiency of healthcare delivery. [6]

The two levels on which political actors shape the political culture were plainly evident in the tug-of-war over the Texas Enterprise Fund and the CHIP program from 2003 to 2005. On the concrete level, the battles won and lost by the various supporters and opponents of these two programs contributed to the larger tapestry of public policy (subsidizing business investment, subsidizing health insurance for the poor, promoting growth) that becomes woven into our state's political culture. On the more abstract level, the way various elements of the dominant political culture (faith in free markets, support for business, economic efficiency, etc.) were invoked to support or oppose changes to these particular programs contributed to the ongoing evolution of core ideals and values.

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6 link: "Averitt Adds Chip 12-Month Eligibility to Essential Budget Bill: Restoring fiscally conservative CHIP program session-long battle for Senator," press release, May 25, 2005; accessed August 23, 2006.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
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