Category Archives: State news

Political ‘leaders’ too often become ‘tyrants’

Jay Leeson, writing for Texas Monthly’s Burka Blog, wonders how Texas legislators can stiff their constituents in favor of an agenda being pushed by the state’s second-leading politician, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

He wonders if state senators, for instance, are working for the people who they represent back home or for the lieutenant governor.

Implicit in his essay is the question about whether Lt. Gov. Patrick is running the Texas Senate — a body over which he presides — with too heavy a hand.

Read the essay here.

Indeed, we see this developing all too often. Politicians attain positions of power thanks to the votes of their fellow politicians and then decide that their voice is more important than anyone else’s. It’s a bipartisan affliction that crosses party lines.

A notable Texas politician, Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson, was famous for corralling fellow senators, getting right into their faces and “persuading” them to vote for a bill of his choosing … or else pay the consequences.

Another brief story involves another Texas pol, former Republican U.S. Rep. Larry Combest of Lubbock, who once refused in the 1990s to support legislation dramatically overhauling the nation’s farm program. House Speaker Newt Gingrich wanted him to support it, and pressured him to do so. Combest refused because he said it would do harm to the West Texas farmers and ranchers who sent him to Congress in the first place.

This dance is occurring now in Washington, D.C. Republican leaders want to overhaul health care laws. They have developed an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that has been getting some seriously angry reviews among voters in congressional districts and states all over the country. Senators and House members are hearing about it, too.

Do they vote for their constituents’ interests or the interests of the party leadership?

Democrats exerted the same pressure on their congressional members when they pushed for passage of the ACA in 2010. The law was unpopular out here in the land, but Democratic congressional leaders insisted on approving it. The ACA’s fortunes have turned; Americans want to keep it and they favor it over the alternative that Republicans are trying to shove down our throats.

But GOP congressional leaders won’t be persuaded by silly notions about public opinion or the principle of representing the desires of the “bosses,” voters who elect them — or who can unelect them if they are given the chance.

Political leadership — whether in Austin or Washington — is vulnerable to those who turn it into tyranny.

Not sure boycott will do what it’s intended

I dislike boycotts, even when they are launched to promote a cause with which I might agree.

Sometimes they give me heartburn. Take the decision by California officials to no longer send state employees to Texas because of the Lone Star State’s recent legislation affecting LGBT residents.

I might lose some “friends” over this blog post. If so, well, so be it.

The Texas Legislature recently allowed welfare agencies to deny adoptions for same sex couples based on their religious beliefs. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra declared the law to be discriminatory and as a result, the state no longer will send employees on state-funded trips to Texas.

Yes, the law discriminates. I don’t like it, either. It opens the door for folks to declare religious objections when they faith might not be the actual reason. Is a boycott of Texas the most appropriate response? I tend to doubt it. I am open to discussion about this and would invite comments arguing the point.

My concern is that boycotts tend to inflict gratuitous collateral damage. The people who are hurt by them quite often are business owners or residents of the jurisdiction being boycotted; these individuals might happen to agree with the reason for the boycott, so they are caught in a political vise.

California overreacts?

According to the Texas Tribune: “While the California DOJ works to protect the rights of all our people, discriminatory laws in any part of our country send all of us several steps back,” said Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general. “That’s why when California said we would not tolerate discrimination against LGBTQ members of our community, we meant it.”

OK, Mr. Attorney General. I get it. Raise hell about it. Stomp your feet. Pound on your desk. Declare it to be bad law and urge residents of Texas to seek to overturn it. I agree with you!

I just fail to understand how a boycott is going to bring tangible result, other than to inflict damage to private citizens who would benefit from state employees traveling to Texas.

Rep. Price makes the grade, according to Texas Monthly

Texas Monthly is an entertaining and informative publication.

Its most popular regular feature arguably is its annual Bum Steer Award issue that highlights the antics of the weird throughout our vast state.

The next most popular issue is the one that features the Best and Worst Legislators. Guess what, dear reader: One of the Panhandle’s own made the Best list.

I’ve long been proud of Walter Price IV — aka Four Price — the Republican state representative from Amarillo. He’s a friend and a supremely good guy. According to TM, he’s also one of the Legislature’s most effective members.

The TM list was compiled by veteran political journalist R.G. Ratcliffe, who knows his way around the Capitol Building in Austin.

Price is the only Panhandle delegation member to make either list from the 2017 Legislature. That is not to denigrate the others: Reps. John Smithee of Amarillo and Kenneth King of Canadian, or Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, all of whom are Republicans in the heavily GOP Legislature. It’s interesting to me, though, that GOP Sen. Charles Perry from just down yonder in Lubbock made the Worst list, but since he’s not from the Panhandle, I won’t say any more about him.

TM cites how Four Price — a lawyer by training — often gets overlooked because he makes legislating look easy. As TM notes: “It’s not. As chair of the Public Health Committee, Price introduced more than a dozen bills to reform how Texas cares for those with mental illness, a historically neglected population. Probably the most significant was House Bill 10, which designated a state ombudsman to oversee access to behavioral health care and push insurance companies to cover treatment for mental health the same as they do physical ailments. It passed the House on a 130–13 vote, and the Senate sent the measure to the governor with only one dissention.”

Read the entire article on the Best and Worst legislators here.

I am sure Rep. Price is going to get his share of pats on the back from his friends throughout Amarillo and House District 87, which includes Potter and Moore counties.

That said, I want to join them in offering a good word to a sharp and energetic young man who works hard on behalf of the community that keeps sending him back to the Legislature.

No-text bill becomes law — finally!

I’ve been quick to criticize Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for this or that pronouncement or action.

I now want to praise him for signing a bill that should have become a state law long ago. Gov. Abbott has put his signature on a bill that bans texting while driving a motor vehicle; it now becomes against state law to perform a foolish and potentially deadly activity.

Well done, Gov. Abbott.

One of the bill’s prime sponsors, state Rep. (and former Texas House Speaker) Tom Craddick said the governor has saved lives by signing this bill into law. Craddick, a Midland Republican, has been a champion for this cause over the course of several legislative sessions.

Indeed, Abbott’s immediate predecessor as governor, fellow Republican Rick Perry, vetoed a similar bill in 2011, claiming — ridiculously, in my view — the bill constituted a “governmental effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” Sure thing, Gov. Perry. Then let’s not prohibit drinking while driving, or let’s allow motorists to drive without being strapped in with safety restraints. Isn’t that a form of “micromanagement,” too?

The new law, which takes effect in September, gives continuity across our vast state. It supersedes local ordinances and gives motorists ample warning when they enter the state that they’d better put their texting devices away … or else!

Who you callin’ a ‘Texan’?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — My wife and I were waiting to enter The Hermitage, the home of President (and Gen.) Andrew Jackson.

One of the guides walked down the line chatting up visitors, asking where we live. He got to us and asked where we are from: “Texas,” I told him. Then he launched into a semi-tirade about the state, about Amarillo; he then offered an unkind word about Odessa. I guess he didn’t like it there.

We walked toward the door and entered The Hermitage. “We’ve got a Texan here at the rear of the line,” the gentleman said.

And that brings me to the point of this essay. The term “Texan” doesn’t quit fit me. It seems a bit strange to acknowledge it, given that my wife, sons and I have spent 33 years in Texas. We moved there in 1984 so I could pursue a career in journalism.

We settled in Beaumont. Eleven years later, we gravitated to Amarillo.

We have carved out great lives — individually and collectively — in Texas. There’s plenty about Texas I find appealing. I like the sheer size of the state; I like the absence of a state income tax; I enjoy Texas barbecue; the state parks are second to none; I enjoy the vast differences in topography throughout the state.

Texas isn’t perfect. I don’t like, um, the political leanings of the state’s leadership. I’ll leave it at that.

But do I feel like a “Texan”? No. But understand, it’s not of my choosing. I lost count long ago of the number of times I’ve heard “real Texans” tell me that merely moving to the state — of my own volition — doesn’t make me an actual Texan.

I suppose the term “Texan” is a birth right. You must be born in Texas to be considered the real thing. Is there another state in America where one sees bumper stickers that declare one to be a “Native” of that particular state as frequently as we see them in Texas?

I’ve wrestled with this whole notion for the more than three decades we have lived in Texas. The state is likely to be our forever home. They’ll likely plant me in Texas when the time comes.

The nice gentleman at The Hermitage likely thought he was paying me a compliment. Well, I didn’t take it precisely that way. Don’t misconstrue me; I took no offense at it, either.

State pride means something quite profound to “real Texans.”

I remember that TV journalist Dan Rather — who was born and educated in Texas — once said that he isn’t merely “from Texas; I am of Texas.” I guess that’s the average Texan’s benchmark.

So much for gubernatorial wisdom

Thanks a heap, Gov. Greg Abbott.

You’ve called the Texas Legislature back into special session beginning July 18. And, by golly, you just had to add that idiotic “Bathroom Bill” to the call you’ve assigned to legislators.

Property tax reform? No problem with that. Sunset legislation? Sure thing. The Bathroom Bill? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Sure, you said you have some concern about protecting public school students who want to use restrooms. But please, governor, what is the threat? You want the state to require people to use bathrooms commensurate with the gender listed on their birth certificate.

My question persists. How is the state going to enforce that law? I suppose we can check the gender of students using restrooms, right? What are we going to do, make ’em show their, um, private parts?

I was among those hoping you’d limit the special session to issues that mattered a great deal to Texans. The Bathroom Bill — pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — does not qualify.

You have let me down, Gov. Abbott.

Special sessions seems likely; bring it … with caution

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott well might be ready to call the Legislature back into session to finish some work.

He talked today about property tax reform and then his office announced he would have a press conference on Tuesday to make an announcement.

I totally get the need to hammer out important issues. Property taxes is high on everyone’s list. The governor, though, should resist the pressure being applied by the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who wants the Legislature to enact that stupid “Bathroom Bill” that didn’t make it out of the regular session.

It’s heartening to me that Abbott didn’t mention the Bathroom Bill in discussing potential topics to be dealt with in a special session. That’s fine with me.

The bill would require people using public restrooms in Texas to use those that align with the gender declared on their birth certificate. It’s clearly discriminatory against transgender individuals. What’s more, how in the name of intrusiveness does the state plan to enforce such a law?

My trick knee is telling me that Abbott might be a bit miffed that Patrick sought to pressure him on which issues to put on the Legislature’s special session agenda.

According to the Texas Tribune: “Our goal is to solve your challenges, to solve your problems,” Abbott said at a Bell County GOP dinner. “I think there is one challenge, one problem, that many Texans face that went unsolved. It’s complex, but it needs to be addressed, and that is the incredible rise in property taxes in this state.”

Property tax reform is reason enough to call legislators back to Austin. That’s it.

Enough of the delays in Texas AG’s fraud case

Texans deserve to know whether their state’s attorney general is crooked.

Many of them believe that Ken Paxton is innocent of the charges leveled against him. Many others do not.

Meanwhile, Paxton’s pending trial on securities fraud is getting caught in a tangled web of legal wrangling that is threatening to delay justice well beyond what is reasonable.

A state appeals court has ruled that District Judge George Gallagher surrendered his jurisdiction in the matter when he moved the trial from Collin County to Harris County. State prosecutors are asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn the lower-court ruling.

Meanwhile, the rest of the state — at least those of us who care about such matters — is waiting to hear whether the Republican attorney general is guilty of defrauding investors before he became the state’s top law enforcement official.

The Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals ordered Gallagher to vacate all rulings related to the Paxton case, including the one that set his trial for September. That means the trial likely will be delayed again.

Meanwhile, the 2018 election is coming up. Paxton likely will want to run for re-election. Does he submit himself to voters once again while awaiting trial for securities fraud?

Voters’ trust in government isn’t too high as it is. Foot-dragging and legal maneuvering such as this only worsens it.

So long to straight-ticket voting … woo hoo!

I am happy to report that not all Republicans appear to be bat-crap crazy.

One of them, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, has just signed a bill that does away with straight-ticket, one-punch voting in Texas beginning with the 2020 election cycle.

The Legislature sent the bill to his desk and he signed it fairly quickly after the end of the 2017 legislative session.

Why is this a good deal? Because it forces voters to consider each race individually as they look over their ballots. Sure, they can still vote for an entire partisan slate if they so choose; but now they will have consider each race, each candidate and make their decision on some other factors — perhaps — other than just the political party to which they belong.

It fascinates me that a Republican governor would sign a bill approved by an overwhelmingly Republican Legislature, which is elected by a rock-solid Republican state full of, well, Republicans.

The nation’s leading Republican, Donald J. Trump, today went around the bend by pulling the United States out of a worldwide campaign to battle the impact of climate change.

I am glad that a Republican leader of one of our nation’s largest and most important states has decided that it’s better for voters to take just a tad more time in the polling place before casting their votes.

‘Men will be boys’

The headline on the Texas Tribune story says plenty about the way the Texas Legislature ended its regular session.

It concluded with two legislators, both men — a Democrat and a Republican — threatening to harm each other. A disturbance broke out on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives.

The Tribune article, written by Ross Ramsey, posits an interesting notion. As I look the article over, Ramsey seems to suggest that we need more women in the Texas Legislature.

It’s been a man’s world under the Capitol Dome for a long time.
Ramsey makes this point: “According to the Legislative Reference Library, 23.9 percent of all of the women — all of them — who ever served in the Texas Legislature are in office right now. That’s 37 of the 155 who have served in the Texas Legislature’s history.

“About one in five Texas lawmakers is female. Over the state’s history, 2.8 percent of the 5,571 people who’ve served in the Legislature have been women. The 155 women who’ve served wouldn’t be enough — if they were all alive and in office today — to fill all 181 seats in the House and the Senate.”

He goes on to note that none of the women currently serving in the House took part in the melee at the end of the session. Ramsey adds: “If you know any of them, you know that’s not because they were afraid.”

I once took note of the time in 2015 when Amarillo voters booted two women off the City Council, electing an all-male governing body. I lamented at the time the absence of any female perspective on the council. This year, voters reversed themselves in a big way, electing three women to the five-member council, creating a female council majority for the first time in Amarillo history.

It’s not that City Hall has seen the kind of nonsense that erupted at the State Capitol. It’s merely that I consider female voices on the council to be a good thing.

I’m now thinking that we might need more women in the halls of the Texas Legislature to bring some measure of calm to state government.