Remember: Snooze buttons can defeat wake-up calls

Let me be the last to say — “Wow! What an election!”

The pundits — great and small, obnoxious and insightful, Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal — have, by now, weighed in on the statement made by voters across the nation Nov. 2. Leaders from both parties have held press conferences and media interviews, and some have even launched national book tours and taken other visible steps on the way to dipping their political toes into the 2012 Presidential Pool.

Over the next several months, it will once again be both fascinating and entertaining to see which prospective candidates end up performing perfect swan dives and jackknives off the high dive, and which ones do belly-flops on the national stage.

Republicans unquestionably scored historic gains in the U.S. House of Representatives, going from meaningless, minority status after Hurricane Obama in 2008 to picking up the most seats and gaining the largest majority in 60 years. Republicans also picked up seats in the U.S. Senate, but the gains were not as historic — Republicans are still in the minority, and Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada was re-elected and will presumably return as Senate Majority Leader.

Tea Party activists and disaffected conservative Republicans have to be wondering now if Republicans will really deliver on the message that was clearly sent by voters, given that they will apparently be led by the same folks who were leading them when they collapsed in 2008. Can old dogs really learn new tricks?

Well, my dog is 13, and he still runs out the door when it’s opened, if I don’t hold him back. I’m not saying … I’m just saying.

The biggest surprise, to me at least, was the Republican sweep in the Texas House of Representatives. In 2002, as a result of legislative redistricting in 2001, Republicans finally won a majority in the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction — and it was a sizable majority of 86-64. Because of that majority, the Texas Legislature was able to successfully tackle a $10 billion budget shortfall without raising taxes and enact sweeping tort reform. Since then, as anti-Bush and anti-Republican sentiment increased, that Republican majority had continued to shrink to 77-73. After 2008, there was reason to wonder if Democrats might actually reclaim a majority in the Texas House in 2010.

Instead of a Democrat majority, however, the Republicans picked up an additional 22 seats, giving them a 99-51 majority in the upcoming legislative session in January. That’s only one vote short of having a two-thirds majority.

Included in that 22-seat pick-up were the two Lake Highlands seats, where Republican challengers Stefani Carter and Kenneth Sheets defeated Democrat incumbents Carol Kent and Allen Vaught. As a result, Lake Highlands — still divided among three Texas House districts — will be represented in the upcoming session by Carter, Sheets and longtime incumbent Republican Will Hartnett.

Despite these dramatic swings for Republicans in Washington and Austin, it nevertheless remained the case that Democrats prevailed in every countywide race in Dallas County, including re-electing Craig Watkins as District Attorney, Clay Jenkins as County Judge and every judicial race. Given the strong Republican vote in this election, since not one Republican candidate was able to pull out a victory in a countywide race in Dallas County, the conclusion is inescapable that Democrats have a solid lock on county politics into the immediate future.

So what does all of this mean for Lake Highlands?

Well, it remains to be seen. Based on my first-hand experience and observation, our new state representatives will be tested immediately to see if they are susceptible to being co-opted by senior Republicans, by lobbyists, and by the allure of prime committee assignments and leadership positions.

The legislature will be confronted with a budget shortfall that is predicted to be as high as $20 billion. How will our representatives deal with it? Will they cut spending? Hold the line on taxes? Expand gambling? What principles will guide their decision-making? Whose voices will they listen to? Which leaders will they follow?

In addition to the daunting challenge of balancing the state’s budget, they will also be tackling redistricting. Will Lake Highlands remain chopped up and divided among three different state representatives? Or will we finally be drawn into one district and represented by one voice?

Perhaps the most pressing question for us is: Will we continue to participate in the process and hold our representatives accountable? Or will we put our voter registration cards back in the drawer and conveniently forget about all of this until 2012? Effective representative government in the United States, in Texas, in Dallas and in Lake Highlands is not only a contact sport, but it is first and foremost an interactive responsibility, requiring those of us who claim to be in charge as voters to do more than just vote. It requires us to stay informed and hold our elected officials accountable for their actions.

Nobody performs as well as when they know their report card is being watched and graded. Frustration with our elected officials starts with frustration with ourselves for not paying attention. Paying attention pays dividends.

Now that the wake-up call has been delivered, don’t hit the snooze button.