Category Archives: State news

Texas House tumult claims a victim

The tumult surrounding Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s recorded conversation with a right-wing rabble rouser has claimed its first victim.

Texas House Republican Caucus Chairman Lance Burrows of Lubbock has resigned his leadership post. He was allegedly caught taking part in some secret conversations involving Burrows and Empower Texans guru Michael Quinn Sullivan, who reportedly were targeting some House Republicans for defeat in the next election cycle.

What’s more, the Texas Rangers are now involved, investigating whether there might be some campaign law violations associated with this apparently growing mess.

Bonnen at first denied taking part in the conversation with Sullivan, with whom he has had a testy relationship. He has since apologized to his fellow legislative Republicans for the things he said about them. Bonnen wants Sullivan to release the entire conversation, apparently thinking its full context might explain what the men were discussing. Good luck with that, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad the Rangers are involved. We need to find out what happened, who said what to whom and what precisely this clown, Sullivan, was intending to do with the information being pledged to him by Bonnen … allegedly.

I had some hopes that the new speaker would continue the kind of leadership demonstrated by Joe Straus of San Antonio, who left the Legislature at the end of 2018. Silly me. It appears my hopes have been dashed, if what we hear turns out to be correct.

The idea that the speaker, reportedly a moderate-to-conservative politician would hold hands with a far-right ideologue such as Sullivan, for whom many mainstream Texas Republicans have considerable loathing, is repugnant on its face.

Bonnen’s role in this once-secret conversation has angered a lot of GOP House members. To which I say: Perhaps a change in the House speakership well might be in order.

If anyone is interested in some names to replace Bonnen, I can think of a couple of fellows from up yonder in the Panhandle who I believe would work out just fine.

Four Price or John Smithee, are you available?

Beto feels the heat from those who want him to drop out

Beto O’Rourke is getting a lot of unsolicited advice these days.

Such as what came from the Houston Chronicle over the weekend. The Chronicle, which endorsed his candidacy for the U.S. Senate over Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, has urged O’Rourke to drop out of the Democratic race for president and to run for the Senate seat now occupied by GOP incumbent John Cornyn.

Read the editorial here.

O’Rourke is polling in the single digits. He was thought to be a strong favorite in Texas among the still-large field of Democratic primary candidates for POTUS; he isn’t polling all that strongly in his home state.

So, should O’Rourke bail on the race for the White House? I’ll offer this view.

He lost by a thin margin against Cruz in 2018, filling Texas Democrats’ hearts with hope that the state might actually elect a Democrat to statewide office for the first time in more than two decades. Cruz has parlayed his near-miss into a presidential campaign that started with a lot of buzz, but which has floundered.

Does he shuck that bid and take on Cornyn? Well, he would need some assurance that he could actually win the Senate seat Cornyn has occupied since 2003.

Were the former El Paso congressman lose a second consecutive U.S. Senate race, I believe that might doom any statewide office aspirations that O’Rourke might harbor.

Two straight losses would be tough to overcome.

I have no advice to give the young man. He’s getting a lot of it from people who are more in the know than little ol’ me. I am just concerned that the magic that Beto found in his first run for the U.S. Senate might be a bit more elusive to find were he to make another run for another Senate seat.

Good luck, Beto. Do what you think is best.

Hey Democratic candidates for POTUS, come on down!

Hey, I understand the large field of Democrats running for president of the United States have been seen scurrying around the Iowa State Fair. They’re scarfing down alleged “fair food,” kissing babies, shaking hands, begging for votes.

Good for them. Good for Iowa, which kicks off the nation’s first electoral process leading up to the 2020 presidential election.

However, we’ve got a state fair coming up right here in Texas. The Texas State Fair commences in Dallas on Sept. 27. It runs until Oct. 20. They’ll play a big college football game — Texas vs. Oklahoma — during the run of the fair.

Oh, and Texas figures to be every bit as much of a “battleground state” in 2020 as, say, Iowa. And … our primary will be early in the election season.

Here’s my point. I want to see the Democrats pour into Texas just as they have done in Iowa, are doing so as well in New Hampshire and South Carolina, two other early primary states.

I live a bit north of Big D, but I just might find some time to venture to the State Fairgrounds before the fair closes down for the year. I want to see some of these folks up close. I want to hear with my own ears what they’re telling voters, how they’re pitching their candidacies.

Come on, candidates. Big Tex beckons you to the Texas State Fair.

What’s more, the fried beer is worth a try.

Empower Texans zealot really makes me angry

I am going to admit something about which I am not very proud.

Whenever I see the name of Michael Quinn Sullivan, my hair tends to stand straight up. Why this guy? He runs an outfit called Empower Texans, a far-right political action committee that tends to interfere in Republican Party primary contests; Empower Texans prefers GOP candidates to adhere to rigid ideology, no matter how effective certain Republican incumbents have been in service to their constituents.

He is now linked to Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Sullivan reportedly recorded a conversation he had with Bonnen in which the speaker allegedly offered to give Sullivan the names of 10 Texas House GOP incumbents who might be ripe for targeting in the 2020 GOP primary election.

Texas Democrats have sued Sullivan and Bonnen, alleging campaign finance law violations connected to that conversation. Democrats also want Sullivan to reveal the full content of what he and Bonnen discussed.

Bring it on

Bonnen is embarrassed. He has apologized to his Republican House colleagues for things he allegedly said to Sullivan about them. He has reached out to House Democrats as well in an effort to rebuild his reputation. Bonnen assumed the speakership at the start of the 2019 Legislature after Joe Straus gave up the speaker’s office at the end of the 2018 election.

But … back to Sullivan.

I haven’t met this man. I know him only by what I’ve seen him and Empower Texans try to do in legislative districts in the Texas Panhandle, where I lived for 23 years while writing about politics and policy as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

Empower Texans has tried twice to defeat Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo. They ran a TEA Party candidate against Seliger in 2014. Seliger defeated former Midland Mayor Mike Canon five years ago. Canon ran against Seliger again in 2018, along with a third candidate, Amarillo restaurant owner Victor Leal. Seliger managed to defeat both challengers in the GOP primary, avoiding a runoff.

I’ve stipulated already that I have strong professional and personal affection for Sen. Seliger. It pi**** me off royally to see Seliger get a primary challenge from the far right wing of his party.

Indeed, Seliger has made no secret that he detests Sullivan. The feeling is quite mutual. Never mind that Seliger is a solid and dependable mainstream conservative Republican lawmaker who talks candidly and fluently about issues throughout the vast Senate district he has represented since 2004.

Sullivan also drew a political bead in 2018 on state Rep. Four Price, another mainstream Amarillo Republican. The Fritch city manager ran against Price in the GOP primary, but got thumped in the process. Price, though, has been much quieter about his feelings about Sullivan. My hunch is that Four Price shares Kel Seliger’s view about the Empower Texans political mogul.

Accordingly, I am hopeful that Texas Democrats can prevail in their lawsuit against Sullivan and against Speaker Bonnen.

Sullivan plays a relentless game of political hardball. This guy needs to get beaned.

Gun violence: tragedies built on mountain of complexity

Another massacre has stabbed the nation in its heart. The wound is deep.

El Paso, Texas, has fallen victim to the insanity of gun violence. Twenty people are dead; 26 are injured. A 21-year-old Allen, Texas, resident is under arrest and will face charges of capital murder.

What motivated the shooter to do what he did?

Police have found a screed written by someone. It is fervently anti-immigrant. Its contents border on a form of white supremacy. Police are saying that if it’s proven the young man in custody wrote the screed he will be charged with a hate crime.

We now are entering the world of “domestic terrorism,” which is what this tragedy is sounding like.

Don’t you remember when these crimes provoked debate about accessing guns, about the proliferation of firearms, about how Congress and the president fail continually to enact laws that keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them?

Those issues remain on the table. Now they are joined by the issue of hate, of angry political rhetoric that some suggest spurs these hateful actions. They join the threat of international terrorism, which occasionally becomes the focus of these crimes when they’re committed by those angered by foreign policy decisions related to our nation’s ongoing war against terrorists.

It is boggling my mind. However, the El Paso massacre is looking more and more like an act of domestic terror.

My hope at this very moment is that the Texas Rangers, the FBI, El Paso County and municipal police investigators can get answers for us in short order so we can sort out the motive.

If it is as many of us suspect, then we need to launch a full-out, frontal attack on those who would terrorize fellow Americans in such a heinous manner.

‘Screed’ might lead authorities to massacre motive

Our hearts are broken. Our heads are spinning. Our minds are trying to comprehend this latest spasm of gun violence.

However, some information is starting to leak out and, oh brother, it is frightening on many levels.

Officials are reporting that 20 people were gunned down today at a Wal-Mart complex in El Paso, Texas. Many others were injured; there might be more fatalities to report.

Police have arrested one man. He will be charged with capital murder. I won’t identify him, maintaining my blog policy of keeping the identity of these mass killers out of readers’ eyesight.

What have we learned about this moron? He reportedly posted a screed and distributed it on virulently anti-immigrant websites. Police haven’t yet determined whether the shooter posted the message. Whoever wrote this essay talks angrily about immigrants who are coming into this country and taking jobs away from Americans. It looks to me that the likelihood of a connection between the anti-immigrant message and the young man held in connection with the massacre will be determined.

What in the world does one conclude about such a message and the tragedy that exploded in El Paso?

I’ll draw one obvious conclusion. It is that the shooter, who lives in Allen, a Dallas suburb, was spurred allegedly by intense hatred of immigrants. Hmm. Why do you suppose he was driven to act on that hatred? How can we fail to connect such motivation to the kind of political rhetoric we’ve been hearing over the past two or three years from, oh … let’s see … Donald John Trump.

The screed that’s been discovered is similar to the document that led to the Christchurch, New Zealand massacre at the mosque. There reportedly have been other such essays posted on websites around the world.

If it turns out that the screed and the massacre are linked, then we have a crystal clear message that needs to land in the Oval Office. It is this: Mr. President, you must cease fanning the flames of hatred with your anti-immigrant rhetoric. 

Speaker Rayburn’s credo: Just tell the truth

BONHAM, Texas — The text below the picture posted with this blog item offers a fundamental and irrefutable truth about those who serve in public office.

It is simply to tell the truth at all times. “You don’t have to remember what you said,” the text tells us.

Who said it? The late great U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, arguably Bonham’s favorite son.

He was known simply as Mr. Sam. He mentored many huge Texas political icons, men he taught the lessons of legislating and leadership. He was known to be a plain speaker, a man of enormous integrity. Mr. Sam did not enrich himself at the public trough.

I came to his library and museum today. My wife and I took a tour of the simple but still elegant exhibit and learned a little more about this legendary political figure.

I was struck by the text I cited at the beginning of this blog post because — and you likely know where this is going — of the conduct we have seen exhibited by the current president of the United States, Donald John Trump.

I have no idea how Speaker Rayburn would react to the incessant, relentless and unceasing lies that pour forth from Donald Trump. I only can presume to believe that he would be appalled, aghast and astonished at what would he hear.

The library and museum speak silently but eloquently to the kind of man Rayburn was. He represented his North Texas congressional district with honor, as he did the House of Representatives as the Man of the House.

Sam Rayburn’s honor, to my mind, was built on his effort to speak honestly and truthfully. It is a lesson that is lost totally on too many politicians who have come along after him.

That means you, too, Donald John Trump.

‘Don’t Mess With Texas’? Let’s make it count

We all know the phrase “Don’t Mess With Texas.” It has become some sort of political battle cry. Right-wingers have adopted it as a defiant call to those who might want to, um, “reform” certain laws and customs.

It truth the phrase was born in the 1980s as an anti-littering slogan during the time Garry Mauro was serving as the state’s land commissioner. The General Land Office took up litter abatement as a critical issue facing the state.

Mauro and those who have followed him into the Land Office, though, have yet to take the next step in the effort to rid the state of litter that sullies our state’s vast landscape.

I want to bring up an issue I’ve raised before in other forums.

I bring you the Bottle Bill.

A bottle bill works in the states that have them. I grew up in Oregon, where the bottle bill has become a way of life. Rather than tossing bottles into the garbage, you save ’em and take ’em to the store where you get a return on the deposit you paid when you purchased the beverage the bottle contained.

The Oregon bottle bill, as I recall it, was enacted during the time Republican Tom McCall was serving as governor. The Legislature approved it in 1971 and has amended it a couple of time since then.

I remember a study done by media in Oregon that examined the amount of trash tossed along Interstate 84 on the Oregon side of the Columbia River; they also looked at the same length of highway on the Washington side of the Columbia. They found much more trash — namely glass bottles — in Washington than in Oregon.

OK, what does this mean for any other state, especially Texas, where my family and I have lived since 1984? It means the state hasn’t discovered what residents of other states, including my home state, have learned: bottle bills help abate litter.

I know that the grocery lobby opposes any effort to enact such a law in Texas, or any state that doesn’t have such a law on the books. They contend it is costly to process the bottles brought in by customers.

I don’t expect the next Texas Legislature to move on this matter. There is no interest among legislators to approve a law that requires such a fundamental change in consumer attitudes.

Sure, many communities have vibrant recycling programs. My wife and I live in Princeton and are happy to fill our recycling bin with items to reused/repurposed. They include glass bottles.

Still, we see a lot of litter strewn along our state’s thoroughfares. To their shame, too many Texans are still “messing with Texas.”

Is ex-state Sen. Davis, um, a carpetbagger?

I was a bit surprised to hear that former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, who used to represent Fort Worth and Tarrant County in the Legislature, is running for a congressional seat … way down yonder in San Antonio. 

She wants to run in the fall of 2020 against Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, who damn near got beat in 2018 as Texas Democrats became energized by the candidacy of Beto O’Rourke in his race against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Roy ran for he seat vacated when Lamar Smith decided against running for re-election.

I believe Wendy Davis is a fine public servant. She is smart, well-educated, capable and might prove to be a lightning-quick study on the issues pertaining to the 21st Congressional District. I don’t know much about Roy, other than he is a solid Donald Trump sycophant, er, supporter. Any effort to remove someone of that ilk is OK with me.

But I do wonder whether Davis’s opportunism isn’t revealing itself.

She burst on the national scene in 2013 when she led a Democratic filibuster in the Legislature against a stringent anti-abortion bill that eventually got passed by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. She then ran for governor the following year and got trounced by the incumbent.

Davis earned her political chops, though, by representing the Fort Worth area. I am now wondering if she isn’t opening herself up to critics who could suggest that she’s merely looking for a public office to occupy, so she found a potentially vulnerable Republican a good distance away from her home.

Politicians have been called “carpetbaggers” by employing that kind of tactic. I know Davis is not the first pol to do such a thing. She won’t be the last one, either.

Hey, Davis is a grownup. She likely is well aware of what lies ahead for her, presuming she wins the Democratic primary. I’m just looking ahead to what could become a bruising, bitter and bellicose battle for power in the U.S. House of Representatives.

U.S. Senate race suddenly becomes quite the attraction

Well now. A serious legislative big hitter has just entered the contest for U.S. Senate. He hails from just down the road from my wife and me in Dallas.

Royce West, who’s served in the Texas Senate since 1993, wants to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. So he’s in.

Suddenly this contest has become a top-tier event, in my view.

West is one of the state’s leading legislative Democrats. He brings serious gravitas to the debate that will unfold over time.

Sure, first things first. West has to win the party’s nomination next spring. Democrats already have a crowded field in that primary. West’s entry only clutters it up, except that West has considerable standing among his legislative colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — not to mention a reputation as a serious and thoughtful individual.

West is a lawyer. No surprise there. As one of his legislative colleagues noted, he brings “a big voice and a big presence” to the contest. Big presence, indeed, given that West is, shall we say, an imposing physical specimen. He also brings considerable knowledge of the state.

Let me stipulate that I’ve known John Cornyn for a long time. He and I have a strictly professional relationship. I have considered it to be a good one at that. I got to know when he ran for Texas attorney general prior to his moving to the Senate. I like him personally, but am baffled — along with many other Americans — by his silence concerning Donald Trump’s behavior and the potential revelations concerning impeachable offenses.

How might this Senate race get even crazier? Consider this: Beto O’Rourke, who lost by just a little bit to Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, is flailing in his effort to run for president; he might decide to bail on the White House bid and make another run at the Senate seat occupied by John Cornyn.

Stay tuned, folks.