Category Archives: State news

Time of My Life, Part 36: Recalling a long-distance relationship

A Father’s Day Facebook post reminded me today of someone with whom I was acquainted while I worked as a journalist, but he was someone whose hand I never shook. Indeed, our paths never crossed.

Still, I considered him a valuable source.

He was the late George E. Christian Jr., who in the late 1960s became noted as White House press secretary during the tenure of President Lyndon Johnson.

Christian’s son, Brian, posted a Father’s Day greeting to his late dad today and it brought back a memory I had about my own long-distance relationship with George Christian.

I’ll be candid about one matter: I do not recall how Christian’s name and phone number ended up in my Rolodex. My file did have that information. There were occasions during my years in Beaumont and later in Amarillo — when I was editing opinion pages at newspapers in both communities — when I needed some “deep background” information political matters in Austin.

George Christian retired from the White House grind in 1969 after serving as press secretary since 1966. The end of LBJ’s presidency was plagued with lots of bad news emanating from the Vietnam War. Christian suffered plenty of wounds himself battling a skeptical White House press corps.

However, after leaving public life, he did not lose his affinity for reporters and editors. He ran a public relations firm in Austin that often put him in contact with some of his old nemeses. I wasn’t one of them. I was just an opinion journalist who at times needed some “expert” advice on what was happening in Austin.

There were times — I lost count of the number of them — when I would call George Christian. We would chat about this or that. I would ask him about the flow of laws being written in the Legislature. I would inquire about how he envisioned the progress of legislative initiatives.

George Christian always was willing to tell me his thoughts, or to refer me to someone who had more detailed answers to the questions I would ask. Most amazingly, he never seemed to tire of talking on the phone with someone he had never met face to face.

He was courteous, kind, professional and as near as I can tell, always truthful.

I don’t have many regrets about the career that ended in August 2012. One of them stands out. I regret never shaking George Christian’s hand and telling him how much I appreciated the knowledge he was willing to share with me.

Let the kids’ lemonade flow!

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has taken up the cudgel for the state’s budding entrepreneurs.

Abbott signed a bill that makes it illegal for cities and homeowners associations to force children to shut down their lemonade stands.

Yes, I know I have been tough on the governor and the Legislature for snatching local-control issues out of locals’ hands. This one, though, makes me smile.

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, authored the bill that prohibits the closure from cities and local neighborhood groups. Kids like to sell non-alcoholic drinks to raise money for all manner of causes: field trips, gifts for Mom and Dad, or just plain vacation money.

As the Texas Tribune reports, support for the legislation grew after two East Texas siblings were forced in 2015 to shut down a lemonade stand they had set up to raise money for a Father’s Day gift.

The injustice of it all! I’m tellin’ ya, those youngsters needed the strong arm of the state. Well, those who will come along to raise money for their own parents will have the protection of state law.

The warning now has been sent to city halls and neighborhood association busy-bodies: Leave the kids alone! In fact, you need to buy a glass of the cool drink yourselves to help the up-and-coming business tycoons meet their financial goals.

This conservative stands on principle … how about that?

Jeff Leach calls himself a true-blue political conservative, an avid pro-life politician who opposes abortion fervently.

The Plano, Texas, state representative, though, does see the wall that separates conviction from political fanaticism.

Such is the case when he withdrew his support for a piece of legislation that was considered in the 2017 Texas Legislature. Leach co-authored a bill two years ago that would have made abortion a crime, it would have made women who obtained them criminals and would have subjected them potentially to the death penalty for terminating a pregnancy.

He pulled his support for the bill in the just-concluded 2019 Legislature. As he told the Dallas Morning News:

“Very candidly, when I signed onto that bill … I did not understand the criminal implications on the woman and the possibility of that woman being convicted of homicide and subjecting her to the death penalty … I think it’s the wrong direction for the pro-life movement in Texas to be criminalizing women and I decided very strongly not to support it this session. And I’m pro-life through and through and will not apologize for that, but this is the wrong direction for the pro-life movement.”

Well. How about that?

The Morning News asked Leach this question: What would you say to purists or idealists who might call that kind of flexibility cowardice instead of compromise?

“It’s not cowardice or compromise, it’s conviction. I am a conservative through and through … My values are deeply rooted. It’s who I am and political strategy and legislation changes, but my core convictions, my core values do not.”

Read the DMN interview here.

I believe Rep. Leach represents one of the struggles occurring within the Republican Party and the conservative movement over this abortion matter.

Several states have enacted strict laws banning abortion. Some of them have criminalized the act, subjecting women who have to make the most difficult decision imaginable to prosecution. And, yes, the death penalty is in play in some of those instances.

Does a politician who proclaims himself to be fervently pro-life then stand by while a woman who — for whatever reason — cannot carry a pregnancy to full term? Does that politician then want to punish that woman by killing her in the name of the state where she ended the pregnancy?

This kind of legislation has drawn considerable reluctance among some GOP politicians who, like Leach, say they are reaching too far.

State Rep. Leach tilts too far to the right to suit my political tastes. On this matter, though, he is demonstrating a commitment to reason and to a higher principle than legislating punishment for women who face decisions that not a single male human being can ever imagine having to face.

Legislators don’t need a full-time salary

Blogger’s Note: This post was published originally on KETR-FM’s website — www.ketr.org. Your blogger wanted to share it here as well.

I actually have wrestled with this issue on occasion, but I cannot shake my belief in my original thought about it.

What is the issue? Whether to pay Texas legislators a working salary to serve in the state Senate and the House of Representatives. I kind of get the argument in favor of paying them a salary on which they could live.

I keep coming back to the idea that I really like the idea of a “citizen Legislature.”

So, let’s leave the salary issue alone.

The 86th Legislative Assembly has adjourned sine die. It completed its 140-day cycle and, near as I can tell, Gov. Greg Abbott won’t summon them back for a special session this summer.

That’s fine with me. Our legislators can get back to work on their day jobs.

Texans pay their legislators a whopping $600 per month, who also get an expense allotment of $190 per day when the Legislature is in session. That amounts to around $33,900 when the Legislature is in session, and about $41,000 for a two-year term for a member of the Texas House of Representatives.

Is that enough for someone to live on? Of course not! But that isn’t the point.

The Texas Constitution ostensibly allows for regular folks to take a break every odd-numbered year for about five months to write laws, to argue among themselves and to persuade each other to support their legislation.

When they’re done, they go home and resume whatever it is they do when they aren’t in Austin.

The Legislature also appropriates money for staff, some of whom serve between legislative sessions. When the Legislature is in session, House members and senators hire additional staff to handle the deluge of business that occurs from January to May every odd-numbered year.

I like the principle of a citizen Legislature. It gives at least the appearance that our elected lawmakers have an understanding, a kinship, with the people they represent. They are bound to return home and under the strictures of the laws they enact.

I am acutely aware, too, that often the chintzy salaries we pay our legislators might shut out actual working men and women from serving. It costs a lot of money to give up one’s day job to head to Austin for five months every other year. That means those elected to the House and Senate might be, oh, lawyers or physicians who have the financial means to serve in the Legislature.

What’s more, the lieutenant governor who presides over the Senate and the speaker who presides over the House also receive essentially the same salary as the legislators they manage in either legislative chamber. Plus, the lieutenant governor and House speaker essentially hold down full-time legislative jobs.

My version of reality tells me the state system of paying legislators a chump-change salary works well for the state.

As the saying goes, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Besides, even if it is broke, paying legislators more money isn’t likely to be sufficient to repair what needs fixing.

This amendment issue is worth all Texans’ support

It’s not often that a Texas constitutional amendment election gets my juices flowing, but this year is going to present one for my wife and me.

Hey, we’re retired these days and we spend time cruising around Texas hauling our fifth wheel recreational vehicle behind our pickup. When we travel in Texas, we make it a point to spend as many nights as we can at one of the state parks.

So, the Legislature has decided to send a measure to voters this fall that dedicates a lot of money to maintain and improve our state park network.

I am all in on this one!

According to the Texas Tribune: In a big win for outdoor enthusiasts and day trippers alike, legislation that would ensure that the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission always get the maximum amount of money they are allowed to receive through a state sporting goods sales tax has passed both the House and Senate and heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature.

The 1993 Legislature approved a law that dedicated 94 percent of sales tax revenue to the state parks, with 6 percent going to the Texas Historical Commission. In the years since then, the state has been forced to use that revenue to balance the budget, depriving the parks system of money it needs for maintenance, upkeep and improvement of the system.

The constitutional amendment would ensure the state spends as much money as possible on parks, according to state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, author of the bill.

My wife and I recently moved to Collin County. We live with easy driving distance of several first-class state parks. We have enjoyed Lake Tawakoni, Lake Bob Sandlin, Eisenhower and Lake Arrowhead state parks.

We are — and this is not an overstatement — gigantic fans of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the state park system. We have enjoyed many of our state parks over the years. We purchase the annual pass that waives our entrance fees; we see it as an investment in what we believe is a first-class network of parks.

We obviously aren’t alone in making ample use of our state parks. TP&W Commission Chairman Ralph Duggins noted in an email that pressure on the parks is coming from a booming population and said that “this bill will give voters the chance to assure their future with a predictable, dedicated and sustainable funding stream.”

I am often highly critical of state government. Not on this matter, though. The Texas state park network is worth all Texans’ support.

Mount Vernon ISD has just made a big mistake

Art Briles is back in the game.

It ain’t the same as the game he coached while at Baylor University. It’s still the game, on the high school level.

To my way of thinking, this former college head football coach doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the young men he is going to coach.

Briles got fired from Baylor in May 2016 because of a string of incidents involving players under his charge. They were charged with committing sexual assault on female students at the faith-based university in Waco, Texas. Briles became the face of the scandal.

He got the boot in 2016. Now he’s going to coach high schoolers at Mount Vernon High way over yonder in Deep East Texas.

I am filled with the question: What in the world is the Mount Vernon Independent School District thinking?

If I were king of the world I wouldn’t put this guy anywhere near these young men.

The coach is damaged goods, man! He got fired for cause at Baylor.

Sure, I get that winning matters. Briles already has coached high school teams in Texas successfully, winning state titles while at Stephenville High School. It’s clear to me that at Mount Vernon, winning must matter more than character.

An athletic coach’s responsibility as often as not goes far beyond just ensuring that his teams win more games than they lose. He becomes a sort of surrogate father, someone who should shepherd the young people he leads into leading good and productive lives.

Did the former Baylor coach succeed in that fulfilling that duty? Hardly. Has he learned his lesson? That remains to be seen.

However, I am still scratching my head wondering how in the world a public school district could put its faith in someone who failed so miserably in that important task.

Hit the road, Mr. Secretary

So long, David Whitley. Don’t let the door hit you in the … whatever.

Whitley has resigned as Texas secretary of state after serving for less than half a year. His brief tenure as the state’s chief election officer will be remembered for one thing only: his botched effort to purge Texas voter rolls of ineligible voters, which turned into an embarrassing revelation that those so-called illegal voters were actually quite legal.

As the Texas Tribune reports, gubernatorial nominees usually sail straight through the Texas Senate. Whitley didn’t make the grade; he never was confirmed by the Senate. So, when the Senate gaveled itself adjourned today, Whitley had to leave. So, he did.

Whitley got caught up in the tempest over whether the state’s voter rolls were filled with illegal immigrants. His office flagged the names of thousands of Texans who were thought to be voting illegally. It turned out to be, um, false. The alarm turned out to be mostly false.

Whitley was left trying to explain why his office got it so wrong.

Senate Democrats stood firm in their opposition to Whitley and given the Senate’s two-thirds rule required to confirm nominations to executive positions, Whitley’s nomination by Gov. Greg Abbott was doomed.

Well, the governor will now look for another secretary of state.

My hunch is that the next one will not try the kind of stunt that torpedoed David Whitley.

86th Texas Legislature about to end … for keeps, maybe?

I am putting my ear to the ground but I don’t hear much of anything coming from down yonder in Austin.

The Texas Legislature is about to call it a session. It will end fairly quietly compared to recent previous legislative sessions.

I do hope Gov. Greg Abbott refrains from calling a special session to meet later this summer.

What did this group accomplish? A few things.

  • They approved a form of public school finance reform that doesn’t respond to a court order. That’s a pretty good thing.
  • Lawmakers managed to give public school teachers a raise in pay, which the good teachers surely deserve. Was it enough? Probably not. Then again, it’s never enough.
  • Legislators — and this is a big deal for Amarillo, where I used to live — approved money for Texas Tech University to build a new school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. That’s huge, man!
  • The Legislature approved a reduction in property taxes, which no doubt is music to those who shell out growing amounts of tax money every year. I don’t have a particular issue here, given that I’m old enough to qualify for a homestead exemption that freezes my property taxes.

All told, it was a fairly productive session. It also was fairly quiet.

A special session might still occur if Gov. Abbott can find a reason to call one. Whatever. I hope it doesn’t happen.

Legislators don’t make enough money –$600 a month plus per diem expenses — to stay on the job for longer than the 140 days mandated every other year.

Go home, legislators. We’ll see you in 2021.

Keep fighting the fight, Sen. Seliger

Stand tall, Kel Seliger. I am with you, my friend.

There you go. I have just laid out my bias in favor of the Amarillo Republican who serves in the Texas Senate representing the sprawling District 31 that stretches from the top of the Panhandle to the Permian Basin.

A thorough Texas Tribune feature story tells how Seliger, who’s served in the Senate since 2004, managed to get on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s sh** list during the 2019 legislative session.

The way Seliger tells it, he is voting on behalf of his West Texas constituents and doesn’t really give much of a damn about the political agenda being pushed by Patrick, the Senate’s presiding officer.

That, I believe, is what we call “representative democracy.”

Seliger says he’s still “paying penance” in the Senate after Patrick stripped the body’s second-most-senior Republican of his committee chairmanships and his role on other key committees. Patrick blamed his response on what he called “lewd” comments from Seliger toward a key Patrick aide; Seliger believes it’s because he has opposed much of Patrick’s legislative agenda.

Sen. Seliger has occasionally been the lone Senate GOP vote against some legislation, such as the measure to ban cities from deploying red-light cameras aimed at deterring traffic violators. Seliger called it a matter of “local control.” Amen to that, senator!

I’ve known Seliger since 1995, when I arrived in Amarillo to take my post as editorial page editor of the Globe-News. Seliger was mayor of Amarillo at the time. We hit it off right away, developing a thoroughly cordial professional relationship. Over time, it turned into a personal friendship, particularly after he left public office.

Then the senator from Amarillo, the late Teel Bivins, received an ambassadorial appointment from President Bush and Seliger ran to succeed Bivins in District 31. He has served with distinction and dedication to his constituents ever since.

The Tribune article notes that Seliger hasn’t yet committed to running for another term in 2022. He defeated two GOP primary challenges in 2018, winning the nomination without a runoff.

All the while, Seliger has managed to stick it in Patrick’s ear. He was the only Republican senator to not endorse Patrick for re-election in 2018. Why? My best guess is that Patrick is too, um, ideological to suit Seliger’s taste.

Seliger wears his own brand of conservatism proudly. Indeed, he embodies what I believe is a traditional Republican world view, which is that the state need not meddle in matters that local communities can settle themselves.

I believe Seliger is the same man he’s always been. The shift has occurred elsewhere, within the leadership of the Texas Republican Party. I prefer, thus, to stand with my friend as he continues to serve the people who keep electing him to the Texas Senate.

Texas GOP wages new ‘civil war’ against cities

A progressive publication has called attention to what it sees as a fascinating new reaction to “liberal” cities’ attempts to rid themselves of monuments to arguably the darkest period in American history.

Texas cities are taking action to remove monuments to the Confederate States of America, which formed in 1861, declared war on the United States of America for the purpose of preserving states’ rights to enslave human beings, to allow them to be kept as property.

Dallas is the latest and perhaps most notable city to take action, according to the Texas Observer. The Texas Legislature led by a Republican super-majority in both legislative chambers, is fighting cities’ efforts to eradicate those symbols of treason against the United States.

The Observer notes that more than 30 Confederate monuments have been removed from Texas municipal property between 2015 and 2018. As the Observer noted: This has sparked an intense backlash from Anglo conservatives who see the removal of these monuments as an erasure of their Antebellum heritage. Activist groups pumped out robocalls and radio ads calling on Texas Republicans to keep the monuments in place.

The Dallas City Council approved a measure in 2018 to take down a century-old statue in downtown Dallas. It’s still standing. It has become a rallying cry, according to the Observer, of those who want such symbols to stand as a testament to Texas’s “heritage.”

Two bills, one in each legislative chamber, were introduced this legislative session that would strip local governments’ authority to take down these monuments or to rename public streets, parks or other property. As the Observer noted: Brandon Creighton, a Republican senator from suburban Houston who authored the upper-chamber version, brought the bill to the Senate floor Tuesday, prompting a heated and emotional debate. Houston Senator Borris Miles, one of the Senate’s two black members, called the legislation “disgraceful.”

Is this really going on here? Is this some sort of legislative hanky-panky aimed at circumventing cities’ ability to self-govern? What’s more, is it a form of “municipal aggression,” as the Observer calls it, launched by conservative legislators to get back at more, um, progressive/liberal politicians who wield power in city halls or county courthouses?

Again, from the Observer: Texas isn’t alone. For years, red states have enacted laws prohibiting cities from establishing local minimum wages and other labor protections. In the face of renewed public opposition to Confederate monuments, several Southern states have passed laws making it extremely difficult to remove historical monuments.

I continue to stand with those who believe the Confederacy is nothing to be saluted, or honored. The Confederate States of America committed treason against the United States of America. It was by the grace of President Lincoln who said in his second inaugural speech that he would  seek “with malice toward none and charity for all” to bind the wounds that the Civil War inflicted on the nation.

None of that, though, should stand as a reason to honor the cause of that bloodshed.