Tag Archives: Texas Constitution

Wipe out dry precincts

An idea for a Texas constitutional amendment came to me today as I read a newspaper story about a petition to allow for beer and wine sales at a retail outlet planned for a Potter County justice of the peace precinct.

Let’s call for an amendment to the Texas Constitution that allows Potter County to get rid of the prohibition.

For that matter, why not vote statewide on eliminating all dry county precincts?

Are we up for it?

At issue is a petition to allow a proposed Sam’s Club box store planned for a site in far west Amarillo. It sits in JP Precinct 3, which is dry. To buy a mixed drink or a cold beer in JP 3, you have to join a private “club.” I found this out when I first moved to Amarillo in January 1995. I went to dinner one night, ordered a beer at Hoffbrau on Interstate 40 and Coulter, but had to join a club to buy a drink.

What a joke.

I’ve never quite understood, to be candid, how dry precincts and counties continue to have any relevance in this mobile society of ours.

As for the Sam’s Club petition, to deny the retailer the chance to sell alcoholic beverages — beer and wine — is to deny the company a chance to enhance its profit, earn more revenue, thrive in a growing business climate. Why not allow the sale?

I’m guessing it would require a constitutional amendment to enact the change, given that Texas counties are governed by state statute. Under state law, any constitutional amendment — no matter how “local” its implication — requires a vote of all Texans.

The entire notion of dry justice of the peace precincts is an archaic notion that needs to be tossed aside.

States' rights or federal authority over marriage?

The debate over same-sex marriage keeps roiling.

I continue to straddle the fence on whether to endorse the notion of full “marriage” for same-sex couples, even though my view of it is “evolving” toward favoring it. I do understand the reason that federal courts are tossing out states’ prohibitions against same-sex couples tying the knot, as in getting married.

The argument against the courts getting involved usually centers on states’ rights. Foes of same-sex marriage — or “marriage equality,” as proponents call it — keep harping on a misconstrued notion that since sexual orientation isn’t mentioned specifically in the U.S. Constitution that judges have no jurisdiction or legal standing to comment on these issues.

The latest such contention came from an editorial published Sunday in my local newspaper, the Amarillo Globe-News. “The 14th Amendment (read it) does not specifically mention marriage — gay or straight,” the editorial notes. OK, I then read the amendment, for the umpteenth time. Here’s part of what it says: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States …” It goes on at the end of that section to say states cannot “deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

No, the amendment doesn’t mention gay marriage. I’d bet some serious dough, however, that the founders deliberately intended to include all citizens regardless of any orientation — sexual or religious, to name just two — under the equal protection clause. Gay couples are seeking to be recognized as being equally entitled to all the rights guaranteed straight couples. That’s a fairly uncomplicated proposal. I’m quite certain the U.S. Constitution covers it nicely in that pesky 14th Amendment.

Texas’s state constitutional amendment “abridges” those rights, a federal court judge has ruled. The ruling is under appeal. Gay marriage isn’t legal in Texas, at least not yet.

This curious argument by foes of “marriage equality” that states’ rights trump the U.S. Constitution on issues not delineated by the founders doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

I’m guessing the surest way for those who oppose same-sex marriage to have the practice banned entirely in this country is to campaign for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that supersedes the 14th Amendment.

Good luck with that. A majority of Americans now favors same-sex marriage.

Me? I’m still grappling with it.

Texas gay-marriage ban struck down

Was there ever any doubt that the federal judiciary would catch up with Texas’s ban on same-sex marriage?

It did so in equally conservative states such as Oklahoma and Utah. Now it has happened in Texas.

The sea change is now lapping at our front door.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/federal-judge-strikes-down-texas-gay-marriage-ban-n39466

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia struck down the same-sex marriage ban — which voters approved by an overwhelming majority in a 2005 election to amend the Texas Constitution. Garcia ruled in favor of a gay couple that wanted to be married in Texas, but couldn’t given the state’s prohibition.

The ruling has been put on hold pending a sure-fire appeal by the state. Gov. Rick Perry vows to fight the ruling, as will Attorney General Greg Abbott (who wants to be the next governor).

It seems increasingly inevitable that the federal courts are going to uphold citizens’ rights, under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to “equal protection of the laws.” By “equal,” gay-rights advocates and their political allies argue persuasively that bans on gay citizens’ right to marry the person they love deprives them of the rights of full citizenship granted to them by the Constitution.

Governors such as Perry, however, argue that the 10th Amendment carries greater weight, that the states have the constitutional right to enact their own laws that aren’t in direct conflict with federal law.

Let’s have this debate.

Setting aside my own personal qualms about redefining the term marriage — which my American Heritage Dictionary says is “The legal union of a man and a woman as husband and wife” — I totally understand why this issue is turning the nation upside-down.

Judges are looking at this issue from a constitutional standpoint and determining that the Constitution is unambiguous about who gets all the rights of citizenship. There cannot be a separate standard for people of certain sexual orientations. In a way that I am still trying to understand more clearly in my head and my heart, I get how the judges are ruling on this matter.

What’s more, the radio talk-show blowhards and others on the right and far right should not even try to suggest that we elect the federal judiciary, or that we put term limits on these individuals, or that we somehow water down the power of presidents to appoint these jurists. The system works just fine the way it’s set up. Leave it alone and debate these issues on their merits.

So now the fight has come to Texas. The state is going to take this matter to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Stay tuned. This fight is going to get very interesting.

Tide moving against same-sex marriage ban

Is it me or is there an increasingly inexorable tide beginning to swell across the nation in the move to legalize marriage between two people of the same sex?

Virginia is the latest state to have its ban on same-sex marriage overturned. It joins Oklahoma and Utah among the ranks of states that have had similar laws tossed aside.

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/judge-strikes-down-virginia-gay-marriage-ban

The federal judge in this case was appointed to her post by President Obama.

U.S. District Judge Orenda Wright Allen wrote: “Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal. Surely this means all of us. While ever-vigilant for the wisdom that can come from the voices of our voting public, our courts have never long tolerated the perpetuation of laws rooted in unlawful prejudice.”

So it goes on.

Texas remains on the list of states where gays and/or lesbians might sue for similar results.

The Texas Constitution has been amended to disallow same-sex marriage. Its language says virtually the same thing the Oklahoma Constitution says it its ban. Yet a judge in the Sooner State tossed out the prohibition for the same reasons that Judge Allen did in Virginia.

What has been most interesting to me was that Texas already had a statute on the books that prohibited same-sex marriage, but the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry decided it wanted to double-down on the prohibition by adding an amendment to the state Constitution.

I’m betting the tide is going to catch up eventually with Texas’s ban. It’s likely just a matter of time.

Potter-Randall merger: Is it remotely possible?

Nancy Tanner is running for Potter County judge.

I’m seeing an increasing number of her lawn signs cropping up on yards — in Randall County.

The appearance of these signs begs a question I’ve been kicking around in my noggin for the nearly two decades I’ve lived in Amarillo: Why don’t the counties merge?

Here’s a bit of background for readers of this blog who live far away.

* Amarillo straddles the line dividing Potter and Randall counties. It serves as the Potter County seat; the Randall County seat is about 12 miles south on Interstate 27 in Canyon. The city’s population is now very close to 200,000 residents. Roughly 60 percent of whom live in Potter County, the rest in Randall County.

* Randall County’s main courthouse complex is in Canyon, but the bulk of its business is done at its annex in south Amarillo, which collects about 80 percent of all the revenue for the county and adjudicates a similar percentage of all the small-claims crimes decided by the justice of the peace.

* Amarillo, indeed, comprises about 85 percent of Randall County’s population and generates about 80 percent of the county’s property tax revenue.

* The Randall County jail sits on the southern edge of Amarillo, next to the Youth Center of the High Plains.

All that said, the Potter County judge race featuring five candidates running for the Republican nomination is of interest to Randall County residents because many of them work in Potter County. As for Tanner’s yard signs showing up in a county where residents cannot vote for her, that’s just good politics on her party. They put her name out there and give her more of a ubiquitous presence. I’m quite sure the other candidates — those with the money to spend — will do the same thing eventually.

Back to the question of a merger. It’s always made sense to me to meld the counties into one, given their common interests and the fact that Amarillo sits atop the line dividing them.

It’s an immensely complicated process politically. How would one merge the county governments? Who gets to keep their job? Who would lose theirs? How do you settle the obvious turf fights? How do you accomplish this thing legally? Would Canyon residents want to lose their status as the county seat? Lastly, what would you call this new county and how do we settle on a name?

It would require at minimum a constitutional amendment election, meaning that all Texans would have to vote to allow the counties to merge in a statewide referendum. We’ve amended the Texas Constitution for far less consequential things than this, so this is a natural.

I know this topic has been nibbled at for many years. Nothing ever happens for obvious reasons. Merging the counties would step on too many political toes and there would be too many battles to fight. No one seems to have the stomach for fighting them.

I get all that.

Lawn signs, though, for candidates running for office in a neighboring county seem to make as much sense as having two counties of nearly identical size sharing a single significant city.

Which is to say it makes little or no sense at all.

Okla. same-sex marriage ban nixed; is Texas next?

Well, this is a fascinating development in the on-going debate over same-sex marriage.

A U.S. district judge has struck down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage, declaring that the state’s constitutional amendment violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one granting equal protection under the law.

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/oklahoma-gay-marriage-ban-struck-down

I’ll point here that Oklahoma is arguably even redder — meaning more Republican — than Texas, which is pretty darn red.

That begs an obvious question, in my mind. Would the Texas constitutional amendment stand up under a challenge such as the one mounted in Oklahoma?

Judge Terrence Kern wrote: “Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights.”

Two couples of the same sex challenged the Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment was approved by a majority vote of all Oklahomans. The judge’s ruling declares that even with a majority vote, the amended state constitution cannot supersede the U.S. Constitution.

Precisely the same thing happened in Texas, where voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. To be honest, that vote made me uncomfortable for a number of reasons, the chief of which was that the state already had a statute on the books that prohibited people of the same sex from marrying each other. The Legislature, though, decided to add some extra enforcement of that law by piling on a constitutional amendment.

Texans then said “not just ‘no,’ but ‘hell no!'” to the same-sex marriage prohibition.

Is our state’s constitutional amendment any more legitimate than the one struck down in Oklahoma?

I’m thinking it’s not.

Why not put income tax to a vote?

This crazy idea has been rattling around in my skull for some time.

It involves a state income tax for Texas. The idea is this: If Texas legislators are so sure-fire certain that a state income tax never would be approved by rank-and-file Texans, why don’t they just put the issue to a vote and let them decide this issue once and for all?

My pal Enrique Rangel, writing for the Amarillo Globe-News, talked to some leading Texas pols recently to get their take on ways to improve the state’s rickety tax system. Tea party Republican comptroller candidate Debra Medina favors a consumption tax to pay for public education; state Sen. Bob Duncan, R-Lubbock, favors a statewide property tax to pay for schools; Fort Worth Democratic state Rep. Lon Burnam wants an income tax.

Of the three ideas, I kind of like the idea of an income tax coupled with property tax relief.

Here’s the problem with an income tax: It requires an amendment to the Texas Constitution, which requires a statewide popular vote.

The Legislature, in a silly act of buck-passing, decided some years ago to require a constitutional amendment election, believing it didn’t have the votes in the body to approve an income tax by itself. Legislators figured that such a monumental decision needed voters’ stamp of approval.

They knew all along Texans wouldn’t approve such a tax, even if it could be structured with a serious offset somewhere else, such as local property taxes.

The state has been dancing all over this issue for as long as anyone can remember. Only lame-duck politicians — and a few active pols living in districts where they won’t be threatened with electoral defeat — have had the guts to talk openly about reforming the state tax system with an income tax.

It’s an open secret that an income tax would enable the state to keep its public school system from courtroom fights when judges rule the financing system to violate the state’s Constitution.

So, why not put the issue on the ballot. Burnam’s idea goes nowhere every time he pitches it to his legislative colleagues.

If it’s such a bad idea that’ll never fly with voters, put it on the ballot and let’s decide it.

What’s to love about Texas Constitution?

I hate the Texas Constitution.

Don’t misunderstand. It’s not that it stands for evil intent.

My problem with it is that it so damn archaic and nonsensical.

Consider one of the measures Texans voted on this past Tuesday. It involved whether we here in the Panhandle, or in East Texas, or the Hill Country, or the Trans-Pecos, or the upper Gulf Coast should vote on a tax measure involving the Hidalgo County Hospital District.

The measure passed, as did all nine of the constitutional amendment proposals the Texas Legislature tossed in our laps. Some of them actually mattered, such as Prop 6, which sets up a fund to pay for water development projects across the state. The drought-ravaged Panhandle can use that kind of help from the state.

Back to the Hidalgo County Hospital District. I didn’t bother to vote on that one. Why? I don’t care about tax rates involving a hospital district about 500 miles from here. If we lived on the East Coast, it’d be three, maybe four, states away.

I get why the state’s founders set up a Constitution this way. They wanted to spread power to as many folks as possible. They hated centralization and didn’t want to copy the federal constitutional model. Heck, they partitioned the state into 254 counties, for crying out loud; one of them, Loving County, is populated by all of 71 residents.

If the idea, then, was to create an environment for greater local control, why did they set up a Constitution that requires all Texans to vote on things that have no bearing on their lives? Remember when the entire state had to decide whether to let tiny Roberts County just northeast of Amarillo let go of its hide inspector’s office?

Some issues ought to be a totally local matter and don’t have to involve the rest of the state.

I would ask the Legislature to change the document to make it more modern and make more sense.

Except that such a request will go nowhere. The hidebound traditionalists who populate the Legislature will have none of it.

Get ready, therefore, to vote in two years for issues that will have you scratching your head.

Prop 6 looks like a water winner for state

Texas’ Legislature was kind to voters this election year by giving us “only” nine amendments to the Texas Constitution to consider.

One of them is of huge importance to the Panhandle. It’s Proposition 6, the “water amendment.”

I plan to vote for it.

http://www.texastribune.org/2013/10/22/guest-column-vote-yes-prop-6-we-need-water/

Gov. Rick Perry’s column attached here tells us that the amendment would allow the state to tap into its Rainy Day Fund — which is a rather ironic twist, if you think about it — to develop water resources for the state.

Perry writes: “Our booming economy, rapidly growing population and the drought that has plagued most of the state for years are combining to stress our ability to meet our water demands. If we do nothing to address these needs, we place at risk the health and well-being of future generations.”

The Rainy Day Fund, Perry and other supporters note, won’t be imperiled. There will remain plenty of money left in the fund to use for other “emergencies.” By my way of thinking, I believe the state’s water shortage constitutes an emergency, particularly in regions of the state that have so little of it. That means the Panhandle.

Perry adds, “Because of our economic strength, the Rainy Day Fund has reached historic highs. Even with a one-time transfer of funds to address our water needs, we’ll still have an estimated $8.3 billion in reserve.”

Debra Medina, the tea party darling who ran for governor in 2010, opposes it. Her essay is attached here:

http://www.texastribune.org/2013/10/22/guest-column-vote-no-prop-6/

Of the two, Perry’s makes more sense. Proposition 6 is a reasonable approach to spending money the state has on hand to fend off actual emergencies.

A world without water? That constitutes a dire circumstance.