“We’re making deals” was perhaps the favorite excuse Texas state lawmakers used during this legislative session to appease Texans who were waiting for their representatives to deliver long-promised results.
And they’re still saying it, despite this disappointment of a session.
When the last gavel of the session fell on Monday, the results were depressing: No significant laws protecting pre-born babies. Practically nothing done to secure our elections. A massive new spending spree with Austin’s surplus horde of our money. A bare minimum given back to Texans for property tax relief. And at one point in the session, Gov. Greg Abbott even tried raising the sales tax!
And all of this with barely a whimper from the Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers supposedly committed to fighting for Texans. They were busy talking about all the great “deals” they were making, but given the results, this was hardly “Art of the Deal” material.
This brings me back to 2000. I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and our baseball team, the Reds, had just barely missed the playoffs. Expectations were high, and word got out that then-superstar Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners wanted to come to his hometown. But how on earth could a small team like the Reds ever hope to pull off a deal like that?
Enter then-General Manager Jim Bowden. Bowden was an interesting character; he was not an awesome GM, by any stretch, but he did pull off a number of exciting deals during his time—and this one was no exception.
Bowden played the situation like a very cool customer. The Mariners’ GM, Pat Gillick, under pressure from Griffey, became desperate to get the trade done, but Bowden was firm: He would only trade for Griffey what he felt Cincinnati could afford to part with, and he sent strong signals that he was willing to go into the next season with the team he already had.
Not once did Bowden surrender his walk-away power.
It worked. The deal was entirely lopsided: Cincinnati got Griffey and the Mariners got nowhere near what they gave—all because Bowden stayed firm and maintained his walk-away power.
Unfortunately, instead of a superstar slugger, Griffey became Mr. Disabled List, and one of the players we sent to Seattle performed better than him. Bowden was fired a few years later.
Though that deal went badly, the process still provides a practical lesson in regards to the Texas Legislature. I think our elected officials who kept talking about “deals” either got caught up in the “new day” fever or got played like fools at a used car lot.
“Play it casual throughout the whole process,” Dave Ramsey says in his Complete Guide to Money. “And always be willing to walk away at any point in the negotiation if you simply cannot get the deal you want or need.”
Halfway through the session, at most, the Freedom Caucus should have called out Republican leadership and walked out on whatever “deal” they made. The only one who did was State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R–Bedford). Had the rest done so, and done so earlier, Texans might have seen some real progress—like a massive property tax reduction. The fact that the rest of the caucus, to this day, refuses to see this shows that they have lost all perspective and are therefore incapable of seeing the lemon of a session they gave us.
But we the voters must also never give up our walk-away power. We aren’t beholden to anyone in elected office, and we must continue to hold them accountable—or we, too, will find ourselves suckered into a nice, shiny lemon.