Category Archives: State news

Will ‘Texodus’ cause loss of clout in Congress? Uhh, yes, it will

A headline in the Texas Tribune asks a question that borders on the preposterous.

“As experienced Texan congressmen retire, will the states’ sway in Congress decline?”

I have the answer: Yes. It will decline.

Both congressional chambers rely heavily on seniority. The more senior the members of the House and Senate, the more powerful committee assignments they get. They ascend to chairmanships or, if they’re in the House, they sit as “ranking members” of the minority party; a ranking member is deemed to be the senior member of the party that doesn’t control the chairmanship.

My former congressman, Republican Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, is retiring at the end of next year; he won’t seek re-election to his umpteenth term in the House. He serves as ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, a panel he chaired until Democrats took control of the House after the 2018 election.

Congressional power ebbs and flows. Texans who worry about such things need not fret over Texas’s loss of clout in the House. Indeed, if the state is turning into more of a “swing state,” Texas Democrats might find themselves elevated to positions of power formerly occupied by their Republican colleagues.

For the time being, though, the retirements of six Texas members of Congress does create a dwindling clout for the state on Capitol Hill.

However, it is likely far from a terminal ailment.

Hoping that Empower Texans has suffered a mortal wound

As I survey the lingering damage done by the downfall of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, I am left to hope that a good bit of collateral damage has been inflicted on a key principal in that fiasco.

That would be Empower Texans and the political action committee’s founder/guru/main man Michael Quinn Sullivan.

Sullivan met in June with Bonnen, who delivered him the names of 10 Republican legislators who Empower Texans could target in the 2020 election. Bonnen didn’t know it in the moment, but Sullivan plunged a knife into his back by recording the conversation.

Bonnen offered Sullivan’s right-wing lobbying group access on the House floor by issuing it “media” passes. Empower Texans is by no stretch of the imagination a media outlet. It is an advocacy group that seeks to bend the Legislature to its rigid ideology.

Bonnen denied initially the leaked reports about giving up the legislators to Sullivan, who then produced the recording of Bonnen doing precisely what Sullivan said he did.

Bonnen was toast. Many of his fellow GOP lawmakers called for his resignation. Bonnen didn’t quit, but did the next best thing: He announced he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2020 to his Angleton House seat.

My strong hope is that Empower Texas becomes a PAC non grata among Texas legislators. Democrats already detest Empower Texans and Sullivan. So do a number of moderate Texas Republicans; and, yes, there are some moderates among GOP legislators’ ranks, as I happen to know some of them.

Sullivan betrayed Bonnen, who in turn betrayed his Republican colleagues, many of whom supported his election as speaker at the start of the 2019 Texas Legislature.

Bonnen will be gone from the 2021 Legislature. Empower Texans, which has sought to meddle in local politics for too long already, needs to be gone as well.

If I were a Republican Texas legislator, I damn sure wouldn’t trust Michael Quinn Sullivan as far as I could throw him.

Price is right for Texas House speaker?

Now that the speakership of the Texas House of Representatives is certain to be an open spot when the Texas Legislature convenes in January 2021, I want to offer a suggestion for who could become the new Man of the House.

State Rep. Four Price of Amarillo might be right for the job.

Why this guy? Well, for starters he sought the speakership in advance of the 2019 Legislature, then bowed out when it became clear that Rep. Dennis Bonnen would get the job.

Bonnen, though, blew it all apart when he turned on 10 of his fellow Republican lawmakers in that infamous conversation he had with right-wing fanatic/zealot Michael Quinn Sullivan, the founder of Empower Texans. Bonnen gave Sullivan the names of 10 legislators that Empower Texans could target in the 2020 election. Bonnen at first denied doing it, but then Sullivan provided proof that he did with a recording he made of the conversation.

Well, as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry once said famously: Oops!

Bonnen was toast. He won’t seek re-election to the House in 2020.

Four Price also is a friend of mine, but that’s not the reason I think he would be a fine speaker of the House … presuming that Republicans maintain control of the chamber, which isn’t necessarily a guaranteed event, given the shame that the current GOP speaker has brought on himself and his party.

One reason, though, to recommend Price is that he is no friend or fan of Sullivan, who funded a GOP challenger to Price in the 2018 GOP primary. Price thumped his foe. So, it would scramble my brain beyond recovery to think Rep. Price would align himself with Sullivan in any meaningful fashion. He also has endeared himself to Legislature-watchers with his work on mental health reform in Texas.

Now, the question is this: Will Price decide to make another run for the speakership? I haven’t spoken to him. He has reached out to me, either. I don’t expect him to seek my guidance or counsel. He knows how I feel about him.

So I am going to use this forum to speak out in favor of Four Price seeking the Texas House speakership.

I just did.

Still a need to revamp the Texas Constitution

I am no fan of the Texas Constitution. I don’t like having to vote on amendments every other year. I don’t believe the Constitution works as well as it would work if it were modeled more like the U.S. Constitution.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

On Tuesday, those few Texans who bother to vote will get to decide on a constitutional amendment that has no real meaning. It would make it more difficult to enact a personal income tax in Texas. Here’s the deal: We already have an amendment to the Texas Constitution that requires voters to approve a state income tax. The proposed amendment on the Tuesday ballot makes it more difficult for the Legislature to refer a state income tax to voters for their approval or likely rejection.

What’s more, the amendment already on the books was enacted after an earlier Legislature approved a law requiring a statewide vote to approve a state income tax.

Texans will decide the fate of 10 Texas constitutional amendments all told.

This is an absurd way to govern a state as huge, diverse, modern, cosmopolitan and sophisticated as Texas.

The 1876 Texas Constitution has been saddled with roughly 700 amendments. They all have gone to the voters for their approval. Except that constitutional amendment elections — which occur every odd-numbered year after the Legislature adjourns in May — usually draw paltry voter turnouts. By “paltry” I mean, well, dismal, abysmal, minuscule. These elections usually do not reflect rank-and-file Texans’ view of the proposed amendments. We need to do a much better job of boosting voter turnout … but that’s another story for another day.

The state came close to changing the Texas governing document. There was a serious move toward convening a constitutional convention in 1974. It collapsed.

The federal Constitution has been amended just 27 times. Congress refers amendments to the states, which then charge their legislative assemblies with the task of ratifying the amendment. If three-fourths of the states’ legislatures ratify the amendment, it gets added to the U.S. Constitution.

We have the federal court system to interpret whether laws are constitutional. The U.S. Constitution can get rickety at times. It is facing a serious test of its durability and strength now with the pending impeachment of the president of the United States. I am certain the U.S. Constitution will survive.

The Texas Constitution was the product of a government principle that didn’t trust the Legislature to enact certain laws without an endorsement of voters. It’s a creaky document that seems beyond antique as we prepare to commence the third decade of the 21st century.

Will the Legislature ever find the will to tackle serious reform of the Texas Constitution? Oh, probably not in my lifetime. I just want to put it on the record that I believe a major Texas governmental makeover is long overdue.

Parking It, Part 3: An undiscovered treasure

MARTIN CREEK LAKE STATE PARK, Texas –– My wife and I some time ago declared ourselves to be in love with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Specifically, we love the state parks system.

We have discovered what we believe is one of TP&W’s hidden treasures. Martin Creek Lake State Park is about a three-hour drive from our home in Princeton. We made the drive and then found this gem of a public park.

One minor difficulty proved to be no difficulty at all: Every spot in the park is a back-in space, meaning we had to back our fifth wheel into the space we had reserved. It turned out to be wide enough, roomy enough and, by golly, we got ‘er done!

However, the scenic nature of this park is quite stunning.

As we have found with all the Texas state parks we have visited since we took up RV life in retirement, this one is well-maintained, well-groomed and well-managed. There are plenty of scenic hiking trails throughout the park, which isn’t a large park.

What’s more, there is plenty of space between RV campsites. There’s no crowding of folks parked right next to the site next door.

So help me, I recommend to all of our Texas-resident friends that the state park system is worth using.

My wife and I make notes of those parks we intend to visit again when we see them for the first time. Martin Creek Lake has just elbowed its way to the head of the line of return-visit locations.

We love this place!

Beto wipes out on wave he hoped would win the White House

Beto O’Rourke rode a huge wave to a near win in a 2018 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Texas.

Then the former El Paso congressman decided he would ride that wave in search of a bigger prize: the White House.

Today, though, he called it quits. He is no longer running for president of the United States. Indeed, O’Rourke never quite caught the same wave that excited so many Democrats in Texas and for a time got ’em pumped up in many other parts of the country.

I’ll admit to being disappointed. I had hoped to cast my ballot for O’Rourke once the Democratic Party primary parade marched its way toward Texas. However, O’Rourke never quite ignited the same level of interest in his presidential campaign that he did while he challenged Sen. Ted Cruz a year ago.

Oh, I wanted him to win the Senate seat in the worst way. He campaigned in all of Texas’s 254 counties. He took his message to progressive bastions such as Travis, Dallas and Bexar counties as well as conservative strongholds in the Panhandle, the Permian Basin and Deep East Texas.

O’Rourke finished Election Night 2018 less than 3 percent short of victory. In Texas, that constituted some sort of “moral victory” for Democrats who have lusted for a statewide election victory for more than two decades.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be as O’Rourke sought his party’s presidential nomination.

There might be another elected office in O’Rourke’s future. Just not this next year.

Nice try, Beto. Many of us still want to see you stay in the game, even if you’re no longer a candidate for public office.

Rep. Gohmert invokes the ‘civil war’ canard … sheesh!

Leave it to U.S. Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Loony Bin, to add an extra element of hysteria to the debate over whether to impeach Donald J. Trump.

After the U.S. House of Representatives today voted along partisan lines to proceed with its impeachment inquiry, Gohmert — an East Texas Republican — called it a “coup” against the president and invoked the possibility of a “civil war” erupting if he’s removed from office.

Good grief, dude!

Gohmert was among the 196 House Republicans to vote against the inquiry resolution. At a time when calm and reason might work well for the political process, we hear from Gohmert during a House Judiciary Committee meeting yapping, yammering and yelling about “coup” and “civil war.”

This is the guy who, I should add, continues to foment the idiocy about President Barack Obama’s place of birth.

But … I kinda/sorta digress.

The impeachment inquiry is no “coup” against the president. And for Gohmert, a member of the legislative branch of government, to invoke the prospect of open warfare in this country is reprehensible on its face.

He should be as ashamed of himself as I and other Texans are ashamed that this individual represents our great state under the Capitol Dome.

Bonnen won’t face prosecution; just let him go away

The Brazoria County, Texas, district attorney won’t prosecute Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen for any felony charges stemming from a rotten deal he cut with a right-wing provocateur.

That is just as well. Bonnen has announced his intention to step down after the 2020 election; he won’t seek re-election to another term in the Texas House of Representatives. I hope he just disappears from public view. He doesn’t need any jail time.

DA Jeri Yenne called Bonnen’s conduct “repugnant,” but not criminal.

What did he do? He met with Empower Texans guru Michael Quinn Sullivan this past June and gave up the names of 10 fellow Republican legislators that Sullivan’s group could target in the 2020 election. Sullivan recorded the meeting he had with Bonnen and former Texas House GOP chairman Dustin Burrows of Lubbock. Bonnen denied stabbing the lawmakers in the back, then Sullivan released the recording and, well, proved Bonnen to be a liar as well as a back-stabber.

The district attorney where Bonnen represented in the Legislature had considered prosecuting the speaker on campaign finance charges, but then decided there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a criminal investigation.

That is just as well. Bonnen disgraced himself nicely by consorting with Sullivan and Empower Texans, an outfit that many of us detest. They are a rigid, right-wing organization that seeks to undermine mainstream Republican politicians in Texas.

My hope is that Bonnen doesn’t inflict any more damage on his fellow legislators before he leaves office prior to the start of the 2021 Legislature.

I just want him to go away. Goodbye, Mr. Speaker … and don’t let the door hit you in your backside.

This ‘stunt’ is not necessary in Texas

Texans don’t like a state income tax. They don’t pay it now. They likely won’t ever approve of it in my lifetime, or maybe in my granddaughter’s lifetime.

Yet our Legislature has decided that we need to have yet another amendment to the Texas Constitution that makes a state income tax even more difficult to enact.

It’s as what one Dallas-area legislator has called it: a “stunt.”

Proposition 4 is the ballot. It is one of 10 amendments to the Texas Constitution that voters will decide next month. It will pass likely with a huge majority. It won’t have my vote.

It’s not necessarily that I want a state income tax. It is because Texas already has an amendment on the books, on top of a law passed prior by the Legislature that requires a majority of Texans to approve of a state income tax if the issue ever were put to a vote.

Proposition 4 is a case of amendment overkill.

According to the Texas Tribune: Currently, the Texas Constitution requires voters to approve an individual income tax in a statewide referendum, which legislators can ask for with a simple majority in the House and Senate. Proposition 4 would raise the bar, amendment the constitution so that any income tax resolution would need two-thirds support in both legislative chambers before the matter goes to votes, who would ultimately decide.

State Sen. Pat Fallon of Prosper, a Republican who toyed briefly with challenging U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the 2020 GOP primary for Cornyn’s Senate seat, authored this amendment.

State Sen. Nathan Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, calls Prop 4 a “waste of time” in addition to labeling it a “stunt.” It is both of those things.

Texans won’t approve a state income tax. There is no need to clutter up the Texas Constitution — which is too cluttered as it is — with this piece of legislative idiocy.

Just wondering: Was Bonnen set up?

I believe it is fair to wonder about a possible element in the shocking downfall of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.

The lame-duck speaker and a right-wing zealot had this conversation in June in which the zealot, Michael Quinn Sullivan, received the names of 10 Republican legislators he could target in the 2020 legislative election.

I do not know Bonnen or Sullivan. I have understood, though, that they are not considered political allies. Therefore, here’s my question:

Did Sullivan, the head of Empower Texans, lure Bonnen into a trap that he sprung when he released the recording of the conversation the men had several months ago? The recording went public, Bonnen’s words were revealed to stunned legislators, many of whom called for his resignation; Bonnen then decided he won’t seek re-election in 2020. He is done as speaker of the Texas House.

How in the world did this meeting occur? What kind of politician — other than someone who adheres to the rigid ideology espoused by Empower Texans — make such an agreement?

Bonnen’s decision to step away after the current term has brought some praise from media outlets and politicians who have talked of the speaker’s sense of principle.

Was he snookered somehow by Sullivan? For that matter, why did Sullivan feel the need to record that conversation?

My sense is that a bare-knuckled political operative records conversations surreptitiously for nefarious reasons.

I watched Sullivan’s tactics unfold during a couple of Texas Senate campaigns in the Panhandle over two election cycles. He sought to topple state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. He failed both times by running the same TEA Party-favorite candidate — Mike Canon of Midland — against Seliger. He played rough. So did Canon. Seliger was able to use his considerable knowledge of legislative matters to maximum advantage.

He won the GOP nomination in 2018, even though he also had to run against a third archconservative, Amarillo businessman Victor Leal, in the primary.

Seliger calls himself a conservative. He is proud of his conservative voting record and his conservative political views. He just isn’t conservative enough to suit Sullivan.

I am wondering, therefore, if Dennis Bonnen falls into that category and that Sullivan wants a House speaker to emerge from the GOP ranks who follows the same extreme ideology as he does.

As the late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen once said, “Politics in Texas is a contact sport.”