Category Archives: State news

Watch for the response to Davis memoir

Texas is full of armchair political experts. You can call me one of them, as I’m liable to offer an opinion or two on occasion on how I see the state of play across the state’s enormous landscape.

A friend of mine is another one. He tilts the other direction. I lean left, he leans right.

A recent blog post I published wondered aloud about the possible political impact that Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis’s revelation that she ended a pregnancy would have on her bid to become the state’s next governor. My friend responded that it wouldn’t budge her “dismal” poll numbers. She’ll still lose to Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, my friend believes.

I agree that the news by itself isn’t likely to budge the numbers in Davis’s favor. Abbott remains a solid favorite to win the gubernatorial election in November.

What could influence this race, however, is the response to her memoir, “Forgetting to Be Afraid,” and the item in it in which she reveals she aborted a pregnancy in the second trimester because she and her then-husband learned that their unborn daughter had a rare and potentially fatal brain disease.

Will her GOP opponent make hay over it? Probably not.

However, he has some zealous supporters across the state who just might try to make something of it. They just might seek to rub Davis’s face in the tragedy that darkened her life. They very well might want to resurrect the “Abortion Barbie” epithet that was attached to her after she led that legislative filibuster in 2013 that derailed temporarily a restrictive anti-abortion bill in the Texas Senate.

A lack of discretion on their part well might rouse some anger among those who otherwise would be inclined to vote for Abbott but who take issue with those who are beating up a political opponent over a decision that transcends politics. Indeed, that kind of personal tragedy ought to be out of bounds.

The more zealous among us — on both ends of the political spectrum — too often think everything is on the table. In the case involving Wendy Davis, acting on that instinct could blow up in their face.


Speed trap needs to be probed


That was a bit startling.

I saw the headline about a speed trap town being investigated and the thought came immediately to mind: Estelline, as in the small town just west of Childress, Texas.

I opened the link and saw that the town under investigation happens to be in Florida.

An allegation has been made that Waldo, Fla., is using speeding tickets to fatten its coffers. The city allegedly is trying to turn a profit on the backs of unsuspecting motorists.

Is this news? Really?

Maybe it is if Waldo’s city fathers and mothers can be convicted of doing what’s been alleged. Other towns all across the country have carried this reputation. I’ve always thought that nabbing motorists who don’t obey speed laws was one way the towns paid the bill. It’s a “revenue stream,” yes?

Let’s turn back to the other town, the one in Texas, that has a bit of reputation as a speed trap.

Flash back to early January 1995. I had just left Beaumont in my 1987 Honda Civic that was packed to the max with my possessions. I was driving northwest toward Amarillo to start my job at the Amarillo Globe-News. I spent the night in Fort Worth with friends — a lovely couple my wife and I have known for many years — before heading toward the High Plains.

I’ll never forget the words of advice from my friend, Tommy. “Be careful as you drive up toward Amarillo,” he said, “and be especially careful when you drive through Estelline. It’s a speed trap, man. They’ll get ya.” Tommy had spent some of his growing-up years in Amarillo, so he knows a bit about driving along U.S. 287 through the Panhandle.

He warned me. Message received.

But Estelline’s reputation remains intact.

As for Waldo, AAA — the motoring public’s watchdog organization — declares that the town is enough of a speed trap that it’s warning motorists with billboards. “AAA named the tiny town between Jacksonville and Gainesville one of only two ‘traffic traps’ nationwide and even placed an attention-getting billboard outside the limits of the town to warn drivers to slow down before entering,” according to The Associated Press.

Estelline “boasted” a similar billboard until about a year ago. Some disgruntled motorist apparently got popped by the city’s police officer — hey, the town has fewer than 200 residents — so the individual posted a billboard proclaiming the town to be a speed trap.

I’m not actually buying into the speed trap label that’s hung on Estelline all these years. I’m merely reporting what I’ve been told and what I’ve heard countless people in the Panhandle say to others when giving driving instructions between Amarillo and the Metroplex.

“Be sure to obey the speed limit signs as you approach these small towns,” the message goes, “and be really careful when you drive through Estelline.”

It’s tough having to live down an unflattering reputation.



The Hammer knows about trouble

Who knows what trouble lurks for politicians aspiring for higher office? The Hammer knows.

Take it from Tom “The Hammer” DeLay, who says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is going to face some serious fundraising trouble as long as he has those crazy indictments hanging over him.

Perry is under indictment for political coercion and abuse of power relating to his strong-arming of a Democratic district attorney in Travis County. A grand jury indicted him on two felony counts.

Perry is believed to want to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. It’s going to be tough for him to raise the money he would need to seek the office, said DeLay, the former GOP member of Congress known for putting the “hammer” on colleagues to ensure they voted the right way.

The ex-House majority leader got into some trouble himself over alleged misuse of campaign funds. So he knows a thing or two about the political fallout that can accrue when politicians get into trouble.

Whether the lame-duck Texas governor ever is convicted of anything remains an open question. It’s quite clear — at least to me — that his presidential ambitions have been dealt a potentially mortal blow.


'P' offers a pleasant surprise

Politicians occasionally surprise me — pleasantly so.

Sometimes I draw conclusions about politicians, only to have them suggest I might have been a bit too quick on the trigger.

George P. Bush has been, well, one of those pleasant surprises as he runs for Texas land commissioner.

It turns out that the tea party wing of the Republican Party with which he has aligned himself might be gnashing its teeth over P’s environmental policies. As land commissioner, environmental protection goes with the territory.

P, the grandson of President George H.W. Bush, nephew of George W. Bush, son of Jeb Bush and a darling of the more conservative wing of the Republican Party, turns out to be keenly aware of some issues that interest those of us who tilt the other direction.

The young man acknowledges the Earth’s climate is change, that it’s getting warmer; he likes the idea of developing alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power; he stops short of calling for abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency; he’s concerned about protecting coastal wetlands; he wants the state to use less coal and use more natural gas to fire electrical power plants.

This guy just might be OK if he gets elected. In a state that leans so far toward the GOP, that event is a near-certainty.

The land commissioner has other responsibilities as well, such as administering the state’s veteran home loan program. On that score, I give the incumbent Commissioner Jerry Patterson and his immediate predecessor David Dewhurst loads of credit. P likely will need to study up on the impact the program has on prospective homebuyers.

I’ve long thought of the land commissioner, though, as one of the state’s chief environment stewards. The office’s very name suggests that protecting “the land” is its top priority.

On that score, George P. Bush is sounding more reasonable than his tea party affiliation would suggest.

I presume he’ll know that many Texans — including yours truly — will be watching him to ensure he stays true to his stated beliefs about our environment.

We’ve only got one planet, P. We need to take care of it.



Texas abortion fight takes key turn

A federal judge has ruled that a critical part of the Texas anti-abortion violates the U.S. Constitution.

Good for him.

The judge is Lee Yeakel, who presides over the U.S. District Court’s Western District of Texas. His ruling declares that a provision in the law that requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospitals puts an unfair restriction on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion if she chooses.

Thus, the fight will continue. The state is certain to appeal this ruling. The leading candidate for governor, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, is a strong supporter of the law; his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, rocketed to national political fame when she led a filibuster in 2013 to “kill” temporarily the bill that would become state law.

Yeakel ruled that the intent of the law was to close only existing licensed abortion clinics. The law, he said, goes too far in establishing the stricter standards on par with ambulatory surgical centers.

So, why the curious turn here?

Yeakel was appointed to the federal bench by Republican President George W. Bush, another strong anti-abortion politician.

I’m as certain as I’m sitting here that we’re going to hear comments from critics of the ruling declare their disgust with “unelected” federal judges overreaching and “writing laws from the bench.”

Again, this is the beauty — not the bane — of the federal judicial system. Judges aren’t beholden to their political benefactors, the politicians who select them for these lifetime jobs.

Abbott says he’ll appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, where he thinks he’ll get it overturned.

Would those judges be overreaching and writing laws from the bench?



Debate is off, now it's on

Someone pick me up off the floor. I’m getting dizzy trying to keep up with the on-again, off-again, on-again Texas gubernatorial debate status.

Republican candidate Greg Abbott backed out of a planned debate with Democratic candidate Wendy Davis. That announcement came Friday.

Now comes word that the candidates will debate Sept. 19, in McAllen.

Hey, what gives?

I’m glad they’ll debate. Frankly, I’d like to see more of them prior to the election this November.

The Texas Tribune posted an interesting item profiling the debates the candidates for Texas governor have had dating back to 1982.

Abbott and Davis need to face off.

Abbott had backed out of a Dallas debate because his new debate planner, Bob Black, didn’t like the roundtable format agreed to earlier by Abbott and Davis campaign advisers. I considered that to be kind of chicken bleep of Black to pull the plug on something his guy had agreed to already.

The Davis camp accused Abbott of being scared. No surprise there.

Now the two are going to meet under the auspices of another TV network.

They’ll travel to South Texas.

How about coming way up yonder? To Amarillo? How about talking to us about your plans to implement further statewide water management plans. Water’s a big deal around here. How about talking about how you intend advance efforts to develop more affordable wind-powered electricity. You two know this already, but we’ve got lots of wind blowing.

I’m glad to hear that Abbott and Davis will face off at least once. More would be better.


Time for 'new president'?

“If the president doesn’t have a strategy, maybe it’s time for a new president.”

You know who said that? U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in remarks at a Dallas ballroom after speaking at an Americans for Progress meeting.

Pretty darn profound, don’t you think?

He’s talking about President Obama’s declaration that he doesn’t yet have a strategy to deal forcefully with ISIL, the hideous terrorist organization seeking to overrun governments in Syria and Iraq.

Paul has joined a number of other critics who’ve hit the president hard for not having such a strategy.

It’s the “maybe it’s time for a new president” comment that makes me chuckle.

Let’s see: We’re nearly halfway through Barack Obama’s second term as president. We’ll be getting a new president in January 2017, which is just around the corner.

The 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids Obama from seeking a third term. So he’s out of the campaign game.

Yeah, it’ll be time for a new president … in due course.


Abbott's not afraid of Davis … is he?

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has just tossed some seriously cold water on the effort to educate voters on the two major-party candidates running for governor.

He’d had agreed to take part Sept. 30 in the only statewide televised debate with Wendy Davis. Then he got a new debate coordinator, Bob Black, who promptly said “no can do.” Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, has backed out of his debate with the Democratic nominee, Davis, citing some “format” concerns.

This, folks, is a serious bummer.

Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas said this:

“It’s no surprise that Greg Abbott is pulling out of a long planned debate the day after he was defeated in court for protecting billions in public education cuts that have led to overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and shuttered schools. Greg Abbott is clearly too afraid to defend his record of siding with insiders at the expense of Texans — whether it’s defending funding cuts for classrooms, siding with a corporation against a victim of rape or letting his donors take tens of millions of taxpayer dollars intended for cancer research. This is nothing short of an insult to the voters of Texas.”

I’ll leave that kind of mind-reading to the partisans, as I have no personal knowledge of why Abbott dropped out of the debate.

It is, however, a major disappointment if his refusal to debate Davis sticks. I believe there’s still plenty of time to work out through the format problems that seems to have bugged Black, who joined the Abbott campaign earlier this month.

The format calls for a roundtable discussion between Abbott and Davis. It usually doesn’t require time limits. As the Texas Tribune reported: “The looser format is designed to create a conversation and give voters a more candid look at candidates and their positions.”

I’ve known Abbott for a number of years and I’ve found him to personable and engaging. Do I agree with him politically? Umm, no. But that’s not the point. He would seem comfortable in a roundtable format.

WFAA-TV of Dallas, which had planned to broadcast the debate statewide, should start working on a way to (a) persuade Abbott to take part or (b) find a Plan B that suits both candidates.

Texans would do well to hear from these two candidates. If we’re only going to get one statewide debate, then something has to be worked out — immediately.


They're moving the Texas political 'center' line


I concur totally with Paul Burka’s assessment of the Texas political landscape.

There ain’t any Texas Republican politicians who can be described as “left of center” by any stretch of the imagination.

Burka’s comment comes on the heels of a Forbes magazine piece that describes Texas House Speaker Joe Straus as a lefty.

As Burka writes: “This commentary has all the earmarks of a Michael Quinn Sullivan put-up job.”

And who is Michael Quinn Sullivan? He’s an ultra-right wing political strategist who’s earned the scorn of many mainstream politicians, namely Republicans. One of them is state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, who barely defeated a Sullivan-backed stalking horse — ex-Midland Mayor Mike Canon — in this spring’s GOP primary for Seliger’s Senate seat.

Suffice to say that Seliger cannot stand Sullivan.

Back to the article in question and the description of Straus as a “left-of-center speaker.”

It ain’t so.

I’m inclined to go along with one of the comments attached at the bottom of Burka’s blog post for Texas Monthly. “I guess it all depends on how you define ‘center,'” the comment starts out.

Indeed, the Texas GOP has been moving the center line farther to the right with each election cycle. I’m not at all sure where the center really is these days. It’s not the center that I used to define it, which is that a Republican could be a strict conservative on social issues but more moderate on fiscal matters … or vice versa.

These days, the “perfect Texas Republican” appears to be a fiery conservative on every single issue under the sun.

As Burka notes: “Straus actually wants to move the state forward economically by building roads and badly needed water projects.”

If that makes Straus a flaming lefty, well, you go for it, Mr. Speaker.




Governor had no business demanding resignation

Dave Kemp is a friend of mine who happens to be a lawyer who works in the public sector.

He knows Texas law better than most folks, including me. He put something on Facebook today about Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment that is worth sharing here.

Kemp writes: “There is a lot of spin going on involving the Governor’s felony indictments. Here are my observations: 1. Whether or not the Travis County DA should have resigned is not the question. The question is did the governor violate the Texas Penal Code by trying to force her to resign. Therefore, Perry should stop trashing Ms. Lehmberg, who has paid the price for her own criminal conduct – she pled guilty and served jail time. And a removal suit against her was unsuccessful. So focus on your own conduct, Governor. 2. What business it is of the governor if the DA doesn’t resign? That’s what elections and removal suits are for. The governor had no responsibility for the DA’s conduct. We must conclude that at best he was using bullying tactics that he would condemn if a Washington politician tried using. 3. What collateral damage did the governor do by cutting the funding for the Public Integrity Unit? It certainly didn’t harm the DA. But it could have harmed other criminal investigations. The veto was an irresponsible act.”

The most interesting element in this post is contained smack in the middle of it.

“What business is it of the governor if the DA doesn’t resign? That’s what elections and removal suits are for.”

A grand jury indicted Perry on two felony counts of abuse of power and coercion. He demanded that Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg resign after her drunk-driving conviction. If she didn’t do as he demanded, he then threatened to veto money for the public integrity unit her office operates. She didn’t quit; he vetoed the money.

Kemp’s point is a valid one.

Gov. Perry became entangled in what essentially is a local political matter. I agree that Lehmberg behaved badly; she broke the law and should have resigned. I said so, too, at the time. She didn’t listen to me, either.

However, for the governor to then carry this fight further speaks to political bullying.

It’s been reported that other DAs have been accused of drunk driving, but we heard nary a peep out of the governor’s office. This one is different. Lehmberg is a Democrat, Perry is a Republican, and Lehmberg’s office was looking into some allegations against key GOP allies of the governor.

It’s been speculated that Perry’s interest in Lehmberg’s drunk-driving case had everything to do with how he could remove a partisan nemesis.

Yes, politics can be a nasty affair. I’m betting Gov. Perry is going to learn that lesson the hard way.