I attended a speech last Friday by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) to the Greater Houston Partnership. Kolkhorst, who chairs the Texas House Committee on Public Health, stood before a room crowded with representatives of Houston’s premier medical institutions and bluntly stated that we must find a way to bend the cost curve in medicine. “We will have to spend less on health care or it will crowd out education, transportation and other essential government services in our state budget.” It probably wasn’t a popular message to the audience, but it was an important one.
Elizabeth Brock, Director of State Relations for CenterPoint Energy, had introduced Kolkhorst. Brock remembered a time when she saw Kolkhorst headed into a contentious negotiation but stopping to put on lipstick. Kolkhorst looked at Brock and said “I find it easier to say no when I have my lipstick on.” Kolkhorst intends to have her lipstick on next session.
Friday evening, I attended a fundraiser for Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson at the home of Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston). A Houston super-PAC, Campaign for Primary Accountability, had just spent thousands of dollars attempting to defeat Congresswoman Johnson in the primary. Johnson received 70% of the vote easily brushing aside the super-PAC and her two challengers.
Ellis said “If a Dallas organization had just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to defeat me, I hope that I would not hold it against Dallas next legislative session – but I might.” He organized the fundraiser to show Houston support for Johnson, who graciously indicated that she was always happy to assist Houston in its legislative efforts. In fact, she had toured the Johnson Space Center earlier in the day in her capacity as Ranking Member of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
The fundraiser was attended by the panoply of Houston business, labor and political leaders, including current and former Members of Congress Al Green, Sheila Jackson Lee and Craig Washington. Johnson reminisced that she, Washington and Congressman Mickey Leland comprised an Austin triumvirate in the 70’s working closely together on social justice issues. Suddenly, “this bright and energetic young man from Houston [Ellis] began working with us.”
Many rightfully decry the hyper-partisanship that has gridlocked Washington, D.C. Although clearly approaching the Texas legislature, Texas has so far avoided the worst excesses of partisanship with neither the House nor the Senate organized along partisan lines.
Kolkhorst and Ellis are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet each is highly intelligent, energetic, engaging -- and blunt. As powerful members in Austin, each is also allowed to bring their talents and perspectives to bear on the public policy issues facing our state, regardless of party affiliation. When the 83rd Texas Legislature convenes in January, Texans need all members to be on top of their game – like Kolkhorst and Ellis.