Tag Archives: Pete Laney

Speaker lost the trust of the entire legislative chamber

When you ascend to the role of speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, you preside over a body of disparate political views. Republicans and Democrats seek to work together — most of the time — for the common good. They need a speaker they can trust to say and do the right thing at all times, in public and in private.

Dennis Bonnen for now is the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. He won’t be for long. He announced today he won’t seek re-election in 2020 to his House seat. Why? Because he lost the trust of the entire body over which he presided for a single term.

How did he lose that trust? By talking in nasty terms about some of his Republican colleagues in a surreptitious meeting with a right-wing zealot after expressing confidence in them publicly.

The zealot, Empower Texans boss Michael Quinn Sullivan, recorded the meeting. He released the recording the other day, revealing Bonnen to be underhanded, duplicitous and treacherous. Bonnen gave Sullivan the names of 10 GOP legislators that Sullivan’s right-wing organization could target in the next election.

About 30 GOP legislators called for Bonnen’s resignation. He delivered the next best thing: an announcement he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Bonnen needed the trust of his Republican colleagues to be an effective speaker of the House. His Democratic colleagues have remained largely silent since details of this scandal surfaced. Why should they say a word when the GOP speaker was setting himself on fire?

Trust is a requirement for effective legislative leadership. Previous speakers of both parties had it. Republicans Joe Straus and Tom Craddick had it; so did Democrats Pete Laney and Gib Lewis. They managed to run the House effectively while working with governors and lieutenant governors of opposing parties. Of the men I mentioned, I happen to know Pete Laney, a man who operated on the notion that he would “let the will of the House” determine how legislation gets enacted.

Trust is essential. Bonnen had it when his House colleagues elected him speaker. He lost it when he conspired with the Empower Texans zealot to cut the throats of his colleagues.

He had to go. I wish there was a way for the Legislature to accept his resignation now while it is in recess. The Texas Constitution doesn’t allow that. Fine. Bonnen now just needs to do as little as possible for the time he has left as speaker of the House.

Just stay out of the way, Mr. Speaker, and leave the heavy lifting to the committee chairs who I am going to presume still have their colleagues’ trust.

You are untrustworthy.

Lobby reform: a tough hurdle to clear

Having already lauded Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez for reaching across the partisan chasm to take up the issue of lobby reform, I want to extol the virtues of what the lawmakers hope to accomplish.

The Republican Cruz and the Democrat Ocasio-Cortez say they want to prohibit members of the House and Senate from moving directly from public service into lobbying on behalf of well-heeled, deep-pocketed corporate sponsors.

Yes, the Cruz Missile and AOC have teamed up.

Why is their goal so important? Because it would deprive recently former lawmakers from parlaying their influence and friendships with their former colleagues into legislation that favors their new employers. It’s not a fair fight when lobbyists who do not have those connections have to compete with those who do have them.

I understand fully the role that lobbyists play. I do not oppose lobbying per se within the halls of power, as long as it’s done ethically and above board.

I do oppose the notion that legislators can walk directly from their public service jobs into their for-profit jobs, while gaining an unfair advantage as they campaign on behalf their sponsors.

We’ve seen this kind of thing happen all too often in Texas. Other states no doubt have the same issue that nags them, too.

Former Republican state Rep. David Swinford went to work for wind energy interests immediately after leaving his Texas House District 87 seat. Former Democratic Texas House Speaker Pete Laney left the House some years earlier and registered immediately as a lobbyist for agriculture interests.

That’s for the state to rectify. Perhaps it will eventually.

As for the federal lobbying reform, let’s hope Sen. Cruz and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez can use their newfound alliance to hammer out an overhaul that makes sense.

Whether a lobby reform bill ever gets a vote in both congressional chambers likely will serve as a test to determine whether Cruz and AOC are serious about the effort or whether they’re just pretending to be allies for the sake of positive news coverage.

‘W,’ Clinton showed us how divided government can work

Since I’ve already noted the arrival in Washington this coming January of a form of “divided government,” I feel the need to offer a two brief examples of how it works.

One party controls one branch of government, the other party controls the other. Such a circumstance doesn’t guarantee gridlock or incessant bickering, bitching and backbiting.

Donald J. Trump is going to report for work in January with Democrats controlling the U.S. House of Representatives; his fellow Republicans will retain control of the Senate. It won’t be a fun time to govern. It doesn’t need to be this way.

I give you two examples, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Before he became president, Bush was governor of Texas. He was elected in 1994. The Republican governor took office with a solidly Democratic Legislature in power. Unlike the man who now is president, he didn’t insult, defame or denigrate legislative Democrats. He learned quickly how to forge alliances — even friendships — with those on the other side.

Two men became his BFFs — before the term became widely accepted. They were the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, the crotchety, curmudgeonly Democrat who controlled the Texas Senate and House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center, the affable Democrat who ran the People’s House.

They formed a trio who respected each other’s skill and who managed to notch some notable legislative victories among them. They sought to give public school teachers a pay raise and increase test scores among students, they dipped into the state’s budget surplus to enact a tax cut, they furthered the push to invest in renewable energy resources.

Two Democrats learned to work with a Republican governor who, after all, had defeated a Democratic incumbent, the late Ann Richards, in a bitter campaign.

But “W” didn’t denigrate his legislative foes. He worked with them, understanding the need to cooperate when possible. To their credit, Bullock and Laney  understood precisely the same thing.

Bill Clinton watched the Democrats lose control of Congress in 1994, two years after his election to his first term as president. Newt Gingrich became the speaker of the House, Bob Dole rose to majority leader in the Senate.

Did the president let that loss of congressional power dissuade him? Hardly. He, Gingrich and Dole managed over time to work together to accomplish a budgetary miracle: a balanced federal budget, the first one of them in about 30 years.

They understood each other, just as “W” understood his legislative partners in Austin.

What lies ahead for the next Congress and the president as they embark on the second half of the president’s term? The indications are that it’s going to be a rough and rocky ride. It doesn’t help that Donald Trump doesn’t have the political chops needed to navigate and manage a political agenda with discipline and finesse. Nor does it help that he has bruised and battered so many congressmen and women with his insults and nasty pronouncements on Twitter.

Oh, and he’s that got that “Russia thing” hanging over his head.

I wish it were different. I fear we’re headed down the slipperiest of slopes. It need not be this way.

Tom Craddick: testament against term limits

Fifty years is a long time to do anything, whether it’s selling shoes, branding cattle . . .  or writing legislation.

Tom Craddick, a feisty Midland Republican, is about to cross the half-century mark as a Texas legislator during the upcoming legislative session. I’ve had some differences with Craddick, dating back to when I was editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. That was then. Today I want to say a good thing or two about this Texas Capitol institution.

He and I got crossways some years back when he engineered the ouster from the Texas House speaker’s chair of Pete Laney, a Hale Center Democrat, whom the newspaper supported. Laney was no flaming liberal as speaker and did a good job representing the Texas Panhandle while running a relatively smooth Texas House of Representatives.

Then the Republicans took control of the House and Craddick cast his eyes on that big ol’ gavel that Laney wielded. He enlisted the help of Laney’s Panhandle pals — namely fellow Republican state Reps. John Smithee of Amarillo and David Swinford of Dumas. They turned on their old friend, Laney, and backed Craddick for speaker.

We became angry with Smithee, Swinford and Craddick for depriving the Panhandle of a powerful voice . . . and we said so on our Opinion page.

Craddick sent me a testy letter in response. I responded with equal testiness.

That was a long time ago.

Laney, from what I understood, took his ouster personally. He retired from the House and became a lobbyist. Craddick, though, is still on the job, 50 years after being elected the first time.

Craddick ran the House with a heavy hand. It helped him shepherd legislation through a GOP-controlled chamber, but his tactics also created plenty of political enemies.

Since leaving the speakership himself in 2009 after enduring — ironically — an ouster from his fellow Republicans, Craddick has continued to be an effective legislator.

I applauded his work, most notably, in persuading the Legislature to impose a ban on handheld cell phone use while driving. Craddick was tireless in his pursuit of that legislation over the course of five legislative sessions. It was an odd sight to see: a Republican legislator in a heavily GOP state that endorses “personal liberty” working hard to enact a bill that critics decried as a “nanny state” measure. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it in 2011, but then Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law in 2015.

Tom Craddick, I submit, is a walking, talking, breathing testament against term limits. He’s been on the job for 50 years and, according to the Texas Tribune, hasn’t lost an ounce of zest for the job of legislating. He’s done a good job for his Permian Basin constituents, who continue to send him back to Austin to work on their behalf.

Tom Craddick is one tough dude. Stay with it, sir.

Craddick leads text-ban fight

It’s hard for me to believe I am thinking so highly of state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

I once exchanged testy letters with him after he engineered the ouster of Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, as speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

That was then. The now has revealed that Craddick is emerging as a good-government Republican. Evidence of that is House Bill 80, which today passed the state House, and brings the state a big step closer to banning the act of sending text messages while driving a motor vehicle.

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/03/25/texas-house-texting-while-driving/

Craddick is on the side of the angels in this fight. Good for him. Good for the Texas House in approving the legislation.

HB 80 resembles a bill approved by the Legislature in 2011, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry, who called it an attempt to “micromanage” Texans’ behavior.

Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t yet weighed in on HB 80, but my sincere hope is that he signs it.

Texas is among a handful of states, six of them, that haven’t approved a statewide texting-ban law. Several cities within the state — such as Amarillo — have enacted ordinances banning the insanely stupid idea of texting while driving.

The state needs to stand up for those who are threatened by the nimrods who cannot grasp the danger involved in operating a texting device while driving a 2-ton — or heavier — motor vehicle.

Craddick has been at the forefront of this important legislation.

I congratulate the former speaker for his guts on this issue.

Now it’s the Senate’s turn. Approve the bill, send it to Gov. Abbott’s desk, and then demand he sign it into law.

 

Revolving door keeps spinning in Austin

The late comic genius George Carlin used to poke fun at words — for example, taking note of particularly amusing oxymorons.

“Military intelligence,” “jumbo shrimp” … that kind of thing.

“Government ethics”?

I know, it’s a tired cliché at times to make light of what some in government think of as ethical conduct. But here’s yet another example of why ethical reform needs government’s attention — but it’s not likely to get off the ground.

Former state Rep. John Davis, a Houston Republican, has just registered as a lobbyist immediately after ending his tenure in the Texas House of Representatives.

http://blog.mysanantonio.com/texas-politics/2015/02/ex-houston-state-lawmaker-becomes-lobbyist/

Why is that so bad? Simple. He’s now able to parlay his myriad connections within state government to fatten his own wallet and help the clients on whose behalf he is lobbying.

Davis is going to lobby for a Tomball-based residential contracting firm that works closely with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Is that fair, say, for other contractors who might want to get in on the action provided by a state agency? Does former Rep. Davis have some inside knowledge that others might not be able to obtain as readily?

You figure it out.

Davis is doing not a single illegal thing here. He’s just taking advantage of a gigantic loophole in the state’s ethics-in-government code.

It stinks.

It’s also a tradition in Texas politics and government for lawmakers to move smoothly and seamlessly from legislating to lobbying. Former House Speaker Pete Laney, a Hale Center Democrat, did it when he left the House just a few years ago.

Two state legislators, both Republicans — Rep. Angie Chen Button of Garland and Sen. Van Taylor of Plano — have proposed putting a four-year waiting period on the time former lawmakers can register as lobbyists. Davis, according to the San Antonio Express-News, opposes the legislation. Imagine that.

Do you think they’ll find other opponents among their fellow legislators who might want to jump on that lobbyist gravy train once their days as public servants have ended?

Government ethics? Add it to that dubious list of nonsensical terms.

 

Abbott takes aim at Texas ethics laws

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is trying to remove the term “Texas government ethics” from the list of ridiculous oxymorons.

Good for him.

The Texas Tribune reports that the leading Republican candidate for governor — and the unquestioned favorite to win the job in next year’s election — is proposing a sweeping set of ethics rules that just might make Texas legislators a bit nervous.

http://www.texastribune.org/2013/11/14/abbott-proposes-far-reaching-ethics-reform/

It is about time someone stepped up.

Abbott’s proposal puts teeth in state ethics laws that are supposed to restrict legislators’ ability to pass laws affecting their private businesses. He would seek to give private citizens the right to sue lawmakers if they believe they have crossed ethical boundaries. “They are supposed to be working for you, not their own bank accounts,” Abbott said in a speech outlining his proposals, according to the Tribune.

The Tribune also reports that Abbott’s proposal takes dead aim at presumptive Democratic nominee state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, whose own legal interests have been questioned as their propriety. Davis’s legal activities have involved principals connected with legislation.

Liberals have applauded Abbott’s proposal as far-reaching and virtually unprecedented. As the Tribune reported: “We haven’t seen a proposal like this in decades, if ever,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a liberal watchdog group that has for years advocated for stricter ethics laws. “This takes giant steps toward eliminating conflicts of interest and improving the sometimes unethical behavior of members of state government.”

Does it go far enough? Probably not. I would like to see laws that seriously restrict legislators’ ability to go from making laws to becoming advocates for businesses affected by laws. I refer to their post-legislative lobbying efforts. Former Texas Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center went from legislator to lobbyist, as did former state Republican Rep. David Swinford of Dumas. Were they able to parlay their relationships into material benefit for their clients? Certainly. That’s not right, either.

It’ll be a challenge for whomever is elected governor next year to try to push any meaningful ethics reform through the Legislature, given lawmakers’ long-held resistance to approving such measures.

Abbott, though, has initiated a long-overdue discussion that should remain front and center of the upcoming campaign for governor.