Tag Archives: Texas Constitution

‘Double-dipping’ not allowed in Texas

I likely shouldn’t even concern myself with this matter, but given the amount of money being poured into some Texas Panhandle legislative races, I think I’ll weigh in on a potential complication facing a candidate for the Texas Legislature.

Drew Brassfield is challenging state Rep. Four Price of Amarillo in the Republican primary for the House District 87 seat that Price has filled since 2011.

But … as they might say: Austin, we’ve got a problem.

Brassfield is the Fritch city manager. The Texas Constitution has some provisions in it that appear to make him ineligible to serve in the Legislature if he decides to keep his day job in Hutchinson County.

There’s more to this as well. Brassfield, who has been endorsed by the far-right group Empower Texans, isn’t divulging what his plans are until after election — presuming he wins the GOP primary, which remains the longest of long shots against a rising star in Rep. Price. He won’t tell voters if he intends to quit his city manager’s job and go to work as a legislator for $600 per month, plus a per diem expense total while the Legislature is in session.

Three clauses in the Constitution prohibit legislators from also drawing a salary from another public entity. One clause is quite specific, banning double-dipping if one of his jobs allows him to handle public money; as city manager, Brassfield certainly handles public funds.

Yet another clause says clearly that a legislator cannot hold another public office at the same time. Period. End of discussion.

These quite obvious conflict of interests are precisely why I said early on that Brassfield’s candidacy just didn’t pass the smell test.

It’s not that he is ineligible to run for the Legislature. It’s just that he would have to surrender his primary job — which also involves a public trust — if he gets elected to the Legislature.

The young man, furthermore, should tell voters up front before the primary election what he plans to do if hell freezes over and he defeats Price in the GOP primary.

What is fundamentally disgusting about Brassfield’s candidacy is that he is being used as a tool by a powerful political interest group that is misrepresenting Price’s voting records on issues such as elder care and abortion. Brassfield is not disavowing any of it.

So, young man, why not come clean before primary election day and tell House District 87 Republican voters what you intend to do if you manage to win this contest?

Early vote turnout ‘just dismal’ … oh, really?

Randall and Potter County election officials say the early voter turnout for next Tuesday’s statewide election is miserable in the extreme.

Only about 3 percent of the registered voters in both counties have bothered to cast ballots for the Texas constitutional amendments that will be decided.

Wow! Who knew? Actually, many of us could have seen this coming.

System breeds extreme apathy

The state’s system of amending its Constitution requires statewide voter approval of the amendments. It’s a highly obsolete and archaic system of government. It has caused me in the past to wonder: What is the point if so few Texans take part in this electoral process?

I have wondered before about whether we should have a Texas constitutional convention to re-craft a governing document that looks more like the federal Constitution. The nation’s founders established a governing framework avoids the cumbersome nature of calling elections whenever Congress and the president want to amend the Constitution.

Texas chose long ago to put all that power in the hands of rank-and-file Texans. Which is fine if they would actually exercise that power by going to the polls. The dismal turnout suggests to me that the vast majority of Texas residents don’t care about what their State Constitution says.

If only the state would think about the effectiveness of a system that places so much authority for governance in voters who refuse to take part in what is supposed to be a participatory process.

The Legislature won’t change it. The governor won’t go there, either.

So, we’re stuck with “dismal” turnouts that places a whole lot of power into the hands of too few of us.

About those elected offices …

1407859219000-Election-3-

Let’s take an earlier blog post briefly to the next level.

I questioned why we elect certain officials in Texas on partisan ballots, why we choose between Democrats and Republicans.

Here’s the blog.

A friend poses an excellent question: Why must we elect some of these officials at all?

He makes the excellent point that tax assessor-collectors, district clerks, county clerks and treasurers — all countywide elected offices — don’t set policy. They follow policy set by state legislators and, to a lesser degree, by county commissioners. They are “functionaries,” he says.

I guess I harken back to an earlier point: Texans love to elect people to public office. It’s in our political DNA, I reckon. Perhaps we like to hold them accountable to us exclusively; we don’t want some intermediary standing between these individuals and the people who elect them.

But my friend’s point remains well-taken.

Then again, that would call for an even more drastic leap of faith were we to recommend such a drastic change to our antiquated Texas Constitution.

I’m willing to take it.

 

Partisan labels ought to go

democrat_republican

I arrived in Texas in the spring of 1984 with my eyes open about the state’s vigorous political climate.

Perhaps I should have opened my eyes just a little bit wider so that I could see something that got past me as I studied up on the way things would be done in my new home state.

I knew that Texans like to elect people to public office. We have more elected offices than I’d ever seen, for instance, at the county level.

What I didn’t quite grasp, though, were the partisan labels that we attach to all the candidates. Perhaps most fascinating is how we elect judges in this state — as Republicans or Democrats.

My new Texas home would be — for my first 11 years in this state — in Beaumont, where Democrats ruled. Indeed, the entire state was still controlled by Democrats, who held most of the elective office statewide.

What I couldn’t quite grasp, though, is why we elect choose Democrats and Republicans among candidates seeking public office.

I’m left now, 32 years later, to keep asking: Can someone identify for me the difference between a Democratic and a Republican tax assessor-collector, or county clerk, or district clerk, or treasurer? For that matter, does a sheriff or district attorney arrest and prosecute criminal suspects differently if they’re Democrat or Republican?

I posed these questions once in a column I wrote for the Amarillo Globe-News. I got an interesting response from a county elected official — a loyal Republican, naturally — who agreed with me. She couldn’t fathom the difference, either, between how individuals of one party would do the job she took an oath to do any differently from individuals of another party.

Judgeships have proved to be the most troublesome.

In the early to mid-1980s, solid Republican were getting booted out of office or were losing elections simply because they were of the wrong party. It was wrong then, just as it is wrong now to see more qualified Democratic candidates losing to Republicans for precisely the same reason.

I don’t intend — yet — to make this a major issue for this blog. I just feel inclined to suggest that a change to a more reasonable and logical election system would serve the state better than the system we have now.

State legislators, governors and other statewide officeholders — except judges — surely can make the case that partisan differences exist. I’m fine with that.

Judges? That’s another matter.

I’ve all but given up arguing for a retention system in which judges are appointed and then stand for retention at the ballot box. At this point, I’d settle for a change in the way we elect judges, simply by having them run on their judicial philosophy rather than on whether they belong to a certain political party.

How would we change all that? Through a constitutional amendment, which requires a vote of all Texans — and which is equally cumbersome, antiquated and nonsensical.

That, though, is a subject for another day.

 

Texas AG facing serious ethical probe

AUSTIN, TX - FEBRUARY 18: Texas Governor Greg Abbott (2nd L) speaks alongside U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L), Attorney General Ken Paxton (2nd R), Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) hold a joint press conference February 18, 2015 in Austin, Texas. The press conference addressed the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas' decision on the lawsuit filed by a Texas-led coalition of 26 states challenging President Obama's executive action on immigration. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

Ken Paxton took a serious oath when he became the Texas attorney general.

He put his hand on a Bible and vowed to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and of the state.

Then the U.S. Supreme Court did something Paxton — I presume — didn’t expect. It ruled that gay marriage was legal in all 50 states. All of ’em. Including Texas.

How did Paxton react? He said county clerks weren’t bound by the court ruling, that they could refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples if the issuance of such documents violated their religious beliefs.

Oops! Can’t do that, said the State Bar of Texas.

It’s now going to launch an ethics investigation to see if Paxton — who’s already been indicted for securities fraud by a Collin County grand jury — violated his oath.

Well, of course he did!

If I were able to make a call on this, I’d declare that the AG broke faith with the oath he took. So did that county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Clark, who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples and who spent some time in jail because of that refusal.

What I can’t quite fathom is how these elected public officials feel they can get away with refusing to serve all their constituents. Paxton is a statewide officeholder, representing 26 million Texans. He won election in 2014 and then swore to follow the laws of the land. Not just those with which he agrees.

The Texas bar would seem to have an easy decision on its hands as it regards whether Paxton violated his oath of office. The tougher decision will be in the sanction it should level against him.

I am not going to say he should be removed from office.

Honestly, though, it baffles me constantly that these public officials — who get paid to represent every constituent — think they can select which laws to obey and which laws to flout.

That oath is clear. They cannot make that choice.

At all.

 

Early vote totals: impressive

EARLY+VOTING_MGN

Let’s try this number on for size …

13,627.

That’s the number of Amarillo voters who cast ballots in advance of Tuesday’s election. We’re going to decide whether we want to build a $32 million multipurpose event venue that includes a ballpark in downtown Amarillo; we’re also going to vote on seven proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.

The early-vote number isn’t a record-breaker. It’s impressive nevertheless.

By my estimation, that number represents roughly 10 to 11 percent of all registered voters in the city. It’s not great in and of itself.

However, compared to the hideous turnout of many recent previous municipal elections, I believe that early-vote number represents a positive trend.

I’ll be frank. The constitutional amendments aren’t drawing voters out. It takes a citywide issue such as the MPEV to bring ’em to the polls.

I haven’t voted early. I’m waiting until Tuesday. I’ll probably go to my Randall County polling place first thing. I’ll be there by 7 a.m.

You know how I’ll vote on this deal. Oh, just in case you don’t know … I’m voting “for” the MPEV as a statement that the city is ready to keep marching forward.

I’m heartened that the early turnout has been so relatively brisk.

What does it mean for the final result? We’re going to find out early Tuesday evening when those early ballot results are released.

Here’s hoping for the best.

 

AG may keep job, even if he’s convicted? Wow!

The Texas Tribune has published an interesting primer on the complexities of Texas law, its constitution and whether the state’s attorney general can keep his job even if he’s convicted of a felony.

Here’s the link. I encourage you to take a look at it and then try to decide what you think about it.

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/08/04/texplainer-if-convicted-will-paxton-have-leave-off/

Ken Paxton, a Republican, has been indicted in Collin County on three felony counts alleging securities fraud. He just took office as Texas attorney general in January. He vows to plead not guilty. He won’t quit.

I don’t think he needs to resign as AG while the case is being adjudicated. But if he’s convicted? To me, it’s a no-brainer. Hit the road, Ken.

The Tribune reminds us of a curious quirk in the Texas Constitution, which is that judges and other judicial officials do not have to be practicing lawyers when they take office, although they do need good standing as members of the State Bar of Texas.

Some years ago, Potter and Randall County voters elected the late Hal Miner to preside as judge in the 47th District Court. Miner hadn’t practiced law, as such, for more than two decades. He ran a family business, but stayed active in the state bar.

The question that Paxton could face involves whether he’d lose his license to practice law if he’s convicted of a felony. If he does, then he cannot serve as the state’s top legal counselor. But as the Tribune reports, the law license and a possible felony conviction are separate issues.

Bizarre, eh?

I believe a conviction should compel Paxton to quit — if for no other reason than his credibility as the state’s top law enforcer would be blown apart if a jury finds him guilty of, um, breaking the law.

Let’s now await high court ruling on gay marriage

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott knows when the Legislature has finished its work and there’s no need for “overtime.”

Thus, he has nixed the idea of a special session to deal with same-sex marriage, which legislative conservatives wanted to do.

To what end? Beats me.

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/06/08/abbott-no-special-session-same-sex-marriage/

Texas already has approved a constitutional amendment that says, by golly, marriage should involve a man and a woman. The amendment came on top of an existing statute that said the very same thing.

Now the state is awaiting — along with 49 other states — a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that well could render all of that action moot. The court is going to decide, more than likely, whether states’ bans on same-sex marriage violate the federal Constitution, the one to which all state governments must adhere.

Texas legislators considered a bill that dealt with religious freedom, a bill that resembled legislation approved in Indiana, but which attracteded a torrent of protest from gay-rights groups. The Indiana bill would have allowed businesses to deny serving same-sex couples on the basis of business owners’ religious convictions. Critics said the bill, in effect, permitted business owners to discriminate openly.

The Texas bill didn’t pass. Legislators, though, did approve a bill that, according to the Texas Tribune says this — and you’ll have to follow it closely to understand it: The bill protects those from being from forced to “solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation or celebration of any marriage if the action would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief.” The bill awaits action from Gov. Abbott.

Hey, all of this could be tossed aside if the high court rules that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees every American “equal protection” under the law, regardless of who they love or intend to marry.

I’m pretty sure that covers Texas.

 

Red-light cameras 'unconstitutional'? Guess again

James Watson has filed a lawsuit against cities in Texas that deploy red-light cameras to catch those who run through intersections against signals that tell them they should stop.

Amarillo is one of them.

He got popped by a red-light camera in Southlake. So, to make his point, he’s going after other cities that use the devices as well.

This lawsuit needs to be thrown out on the plaintiff’s ear.

Watson contends that the cities’ ordinance violates the Texas Constitution and state law by depriving motorists of the “presumption of innocence, the right to trial by an impartial jury, the right to cross-examine witnesses and the right against self-incrimination.”

Oh, my.

What, then, do we do about police officers who catch motorists running through red lights? Do the cops who write the tickets also deny motorists the presumption of innocence and all those other rights that Watson lays out in his suit?

Amarillo City Attorney Marcus Norris said he believes the court will reduce the issues once it reviews the lawsuit. My own hunch is that the court might reduce them to zero, as in tossing the case out.

The lawsuit is as specious as they come.

If he hadn’t run the red light in the first place in Southlake, he wouldn’t be in a jam.

Count me as one who still strongly supports the red-light cameras in Amarillo. I do not want the Legislature to eliminate the law that allows cities to use them. Nor do I want the city to back down on its use because of complaints coming from a vocal minority of residents.

What are our constables doing … actually?

Sometimes you run into people and wonder: Is this person for real?

I saw one of those folks this morning at the Potter County Courthouse in downtown Amarillo.

His name? Morice Jackson. His job? He’s an elected constable in Justice of the Peace Precinct 4. Why take note of this man?

I shall explain.

Constable Jackson was dressed in full police gear. I was being body scanned as I entered the building, which is the new normal at both Potter and Randall county government buildings.

There was Jackson, chatting up a couple of Potter County sheriff’s deputies. He looked sharp in his uniform. He had all the hardware required: pistol, Taser, handcuffs, some kind of leg holster, ammo … for all I know, he might have been packing brass knuckles in a pocket.

Then the thought came to my mind. Why is it I never hear of Constable Jackson making an actual arrest? For that matter, why don’t we hear of any constable making arrests? I brought this up with a friend of mine later in the day who once served as a constable in Randall County. We concurred that we never hear about Jackson being involved in an arrest of a fleeing bad guy, or taking part in what one would call actual police work.

It’s fair to presume, just for the sake of argument, that a constable who’s elected to office is a politician who’d jump at the chance at getting his or her name mentioned whenever an arrest is made.

I don’t bring this up necessarily to poke fun at Constable Jackson. Frankly, I do not know this man.

I do want to wonder aloud, though, just why we have this office in the first place.

I continue to scratch my head over this extra layer of law enforcement that seems to me to be an obvious waste of taxpayer money. Yes, some folks are going to disagree with this, saying that you cannot have “too many cops on the beat.”

But the Texas Constitution, as I understand it, lays out constable’s duties. They are to provide security for JP courts and to serve warrants and other papers on behalf of the justice of the peace. I don’t think either or both of those jobs requires the constable to look like a SWAT team member ready to blast his way into a building. They have authority to perform other police duties, but in the 20 years I’ve lived in Amarillo, I have yet to hear about a constable being involved in anything other than paper-serving and bailiff’s duties.

Which brings up another question: Aren’t those duties that can be performed by sheriff’s deputies?