Tag Archives: Texas GOP

Rep. Taylor targets those ‘socialist Democrats’

I keep wanting to give my brand new member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, the benefit of the doubt.

The Plano Republican, though, keeps testing my magnanimous attitude.

He recently released a poll that he said suggests that 65 percent of Democrats think positively of “socialism.” He then goes on to say that Texas Democrats who seek to turn Texas into a battleground state in 2020 need to be stopped. He says Democrats want to create a socialist state, they want to junk the economic system that has given the nation its status as the world’s top economic power.

I think the young congressman is letting his GOP zeal get in the way of his better judgment.

I had heard earlier this year how he had forged good relationships with Democrats with whom he serves in Congress. I appreciate his bipartisan approach to legislating; I do not appreciate his efforts to demonize Democrats who — in my view — love this country just as much as he does.

Then again, that’s just me. He offends my own bias.

It might be too much to hope Rep. Taylor will tone it all down once he gets to know his congressional colleagues a little better.

Then again, my hope springs eternal.

Have the stakes risen as Texas prepares to vote in 2020?

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen appears to have made a big mistake. Whether he has inflicted a mortal wound on the Texas Republican Party remains to be seen.

The Texas Tribune reports that the stakes for the 2020 election in Texas might have risen exponentially as Bonnen tries to repair the damage done by a reportedly secret meeting with a high-powered, ultra-conservative political activist. In that meeting, Bonnen — an Angleton Republican — allegedly offered up the names of 10 GOP lawmakers that the activist, Michael Quinn Sullivan, could defeat in exchange for press credentials inside the House chamber.

Sullivan runs that far-right outfit called Empower Texans. I detest Empower Texans. So do many other Texans, even many Republicans.

Bonnen became speaker at the start of the 2019 Legislature with a reputation as something of a GOP moderate. I guess he can be had, right? Yep. Apparently so.

So now it becomes questionable whether the Texas House might flip from Republican to Democratic control after the 2020 election. Democrats need to flip nine House seats next year to win control of the lower legislative chamber.

I am one Texan who isn’t of the Republican ilk, although I have a few GOP lawmakers I count as friends; they are people I respect and for whom I have personal affection. I doubt strongly any of them would be in danger of losing their seats in 2020.

That all said, Bonnen’s reported deal to provide the names of 10 fellow Republicans to Hatchetman Sullivan isn’t playing well among Republican circles. It’s also giving Democrats ammo to use against their GOP foes as they seek to campaign for control of the Texas House of Representatives.

This tumult also might put Bonnen’s speakership in jeopardy. He took the gavel from former Republican Speaker Joe Straus, who didn’t seek re-election in 2018. I admired Straus’s leadership of the House and his commitment to stand firm against the likes of Empower Texans and Michael Quinn Sullivan. I just wish Bonnen had shown the same courage as Straus.

Texas is now seen as a potential battleground state on the presidential election level. Democrats might have actual, tangible and demonstrable reason for optimism that they can control at least one legislative chamber as they prepare for the 2020 election.

Texas House tumult claims a victim

The tumult surrounding Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s recorded conversation with a right-wing rabble rouser has claimed its first victim.

Texas House Republican Caucus Chairman Lance Burrows of Lubbock has resigned his leadership post. He was allegedly caught taking part in some secret conversations involving Burrows and Empower Texans guru Michael Quinn Sullivan, who reportedly were targeting some House Republicans for defeat in the next election cycle.

What’s more, the Texas Rangers are now involved, investigating whether there might be some campaign law violations associated with this apparently growing mess.

Bonnen at first denied taking part in the conversation with Sullivan, with whom he has had a testy relationship. He has since apologized to his fellow legislative Republicans for the things he said about them. Bonnen wants Sullivan to release the entire conversation, apparently thinking its full context might explain what the men were discussing. Good luck with that, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad the Rangers are involved. We need to find out what happened, who said what to whom and what precisely this clown, Sullivan, was intending to do with the information being pledged to him by Bonnen … allegedly.

I had some hopes that the new speaker would continue the kind of leadership demonstrated by Joe Straus of San Antonio, who left the Legislature at the end of 2018. Silly me. It appears my hopes have been dashed, if what we hear turns out to be correct.

The idea that the speaker, reportedly a moderate-to-conservative politician would hold hands with a far-right ideologue such as Sullivan, for whom many mainstream Texas Republicans have considerable loathing, is repugnant on its face.

Bonnen’s role in this once-secret conversation has angered a lot of GOP House members. To which I say: Perhaps a change in the House speakership well might be in order.

If anyone is interested in some names to replace Bonnen, I can think of a couple of fellows from up yonder in the Panhandle who I believe would work out just fine.

Four Price or John Smithee, are you available?

Empower Texans zealot really makes me angry

I am going to admit something about which I am not very proud.

Whenever I see the name of Michael Quinn Sullivan, my hair tends to stand straight up. Why this guy? He runs an outfit called Empower Texans, a far-right political action committee that tends to interfere in Republican Party primary contests; Empower Texans prefers GOP candidates to adhere to rigid ideology, no matter how effective certain Republican incumbents have been in service to their constituents.

He is now linked to Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Sullivan reportedly recorded a conversation he had with Bonnen in which the speaker allegedly offered to give Sullivan the names of 10 Texas House GOP incumbents who might be ripe for targeting in the 2020 GOP primary election.

Texas Democrats have sued Sullivan and Bonnen, alleging campaign finance law violations connected to that conversation. Democrats also want Sullivan to reveal the full content of what he and Bonnen discussed.

Bring it on

Bonnen is embarrassed. He has apologized to his Republican House colleagues for things he allegedly said to Sullivan about them. He has reached out to House Democrats as well in an effort to rebuild his reputation. Bonnen assumed the speakership at the start of the 2019 Legislature after Joe Straus gave up the speaker’s office at the end of the 2018 election.

But … back to Sullivan.

I haven’t met this man. I know him only by what I’ve seen him and Empower Texans try to do in legislative districts in the Texas Panhandle, where I lived for 23 years while writing about politics and policy as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

Empower Texans has tried twice to defeat Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo. They ran a TEA Party candidate against Seliger in 2014. Seliger defeated former Midland Mayor Mike Canon five years ago. Canon ran against Seliger again in 2018, along with a third candidate, Amarillo restaurant owner Victor Leal. Seliger managed to defeat both challengers in the GOP primary, avoiding a runoff.

I’ve stipulated already that I have strong professional and personal affection for Sen. Seliger. It pi**** me off royally to see Seliger get a primary challenge from the far right wing of his party.

Indeed, Seliger has made no secret that he detests Sullivan. The feeling is quite mutual. Never mind that Seliger is a solid and dependable mainstream conservative Republican lawmaker who talks candidly and fluently about issues throughout the vast Senate district he has represented since 2004.

Sullivan also drew a political bead in 2018 on state Rep. Four Price, another mainstream Amarillo Republican. The Fritch city manager ran against Price in the GOP primary, but got thumped in the process. Price, though, has been much quieter about his feelings about Sullivan. My hunch is that Four Price shares Kel Seliger’s view about the Empower Texans political mogul.

Accordingly, I am hopeful that Texas Democrats can prevail in their lawsuit against Sullivan and against Speaker Bonnen.

Sullivan plays a relentless game of political hardball. This guy needs to get beaned.

Empower Texans is going after state Sen. Seliger … who knew?

I see political ads on my Facebook news feed from time to time. They are paid for my Empower Texans, my least-favorite far-right political action organization.

Empower Texans apparently has a serious bur under its saddle that bears the name “Kel Seliger.” An ad appeared this morning with a picture of a church, containing this text:

A bill aimed at protecting individuals against losing their occupational license for practicing their faith passed through the Texas Senate. State Sen. Kel Seliger was the lone Republican vote against the bill.

This is the latest in a string of such statements from Empower Texans. They all end with the same notation about Seliger, an Amarillo Republican lawmaker, being the “lone Republican” to vote against a certain bill.

I’ve known Seliger for nearly a quarter century. He was mayor of Amarillo when I arrived in the Panhandle in 1995. He stepped off the public stage for a time and then ran for the Texas Senate in 2004 after the late Sen. Teel Bivins accepted President Bush’s appointment to become U.S. ambassador to Sweden.

Seliger has made no secret of his dislike of Michael Quinn Sullivan, the ideologue who runs Empower Texans. Sullivan has sought twice to defeat Seliger, only to fall flat on his face while the candidates he backed have lost at the ballot box.

Now he seems intent on badgering the lifelong West Texan who in my view has done a fine job representing his sprawling Texas Senate District.

I no longer can vote for Kel each time he runs for re-election to the Senate. I’ve moved away. However, I can keep offering moral support through this blog. And when given the chance to extol his virtues as a legislator who works hard for the entire state, I do not hesitate to do so.

As for Michael Quinn Sullivan and Empower Texans, suffice to say they will not earn my support. They constitute a significant reason for what has gone wrong with Texas politics in the past decade or two. Such far-right rigidity is anathema to my sensibilities.

If only the rest of the state would realize it, too.

Keep the faith and stay strong, Sen. Seliger.

Empower Texans endorses Trump, but am wondering why

At one level, this is no surprise. Empower Texans, the far-right political action group that often targets “establishment Republicans” for defeat in favor of far-righties, has endorsed Donald J. Trump for re-election as president of the United States.

I want to share the endorsement here. 

It is authored by Michael Quinn Sullivan, the CEO of the outfit. He calls the 2020 election a watershed event for Texans and it is utterly critical, he said, for Texans to join the rest of the country in sending Trump back into office for four more years.

It amazes me. I am stunned. Astonished. Perplexed. Baffled. Bumfuzzled.

I always thought of Empower Texans as a rigid ideological organization. It adheres to a doctrine that calls for extreme fiscal restraint. Empower Texans was born out of the TEA Party movement and I figure it has morphed into an ally of the Texas Freedom Caucus, which is part of the larger conservative movement that has taken control of the Republican Party.

Trump, though, doesn’t have an ideology. He tilts at whatever forces are pushing him.

But he kowtows to tyrants. He denigrates our intelligence agencies. He actually invited the Russians to attack our electoral system in 2020 the way they did in 2016. He ridiculous our allies in Europe, Australia, Asia and Latin America.

Trump, moreover, has talked about spending a trillion or so dollars to rebuild our nation’s transportation infrastructure, which by itself isn’t a bad thing. The problem, though, is that he cannot work with Democrats to come up with a plan on how to do it, or certainly how to pay for it.

Trump promised to “drain the swamp.” It only has gotten even swampier since he took office. Oh, yeah … let’s not forget those key aides who have been indicted, pleaded guilty or are actually serving time in the slammer.

Empower Texans has managed to stick its collective political nose into local races around the state, seeking to elect legislators who cotton to its rigid ideology. It has failed even in the most conservative regions of Texas, such as the Panhandle, to elect legislative candidates to its liking. Why? Because local folks don’t like being dictated to by ideologues of any stripe, even far-right-wingers such as Empower Texans.

This group never is going to win me over. Its endorsement of Donald John Trump is no surprise to me, even though I still cannot comprehend why, given the president’s utter lack of moral/political/ideological base.

Nor should it surprise readers of this blog that I believe Empower Texans has made a patently foolish decision to stand with a president who is completely unfit for the office he occupies.

Keep fighting the fight, Sen. Seliger

Stand tall, Kel Seliger. I am with you, my friend.

There you go. I have just laid out my bias in favor of the Amarillo Republican who serves in the Texas Senate representing the sprawling District 31 that stretches from the top of the Panhandle to the Permian Basin.

A thorough Texas Tribune feature story tells how Seliger, who’s served in the Senate since 2004, managed to get on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s sh** list during the 2019 legislative session.

The way Seliger tells it, he is voting on behalf of his West Texas constituents and doesn’t really give much of a damn about the political agenda being pushed by Patrick, the Senate’s presiding officer.

That, I believe, is what we call “representative democracy.”

Seliger says he’s still “paying penance” in the Senate after Patrick stripped the body’s second-most-senior Republican of his committee chairmanships and his role on other key committees. Patrick blamed his response on what he called “lewd” comments from Seliger toward a key Patrick aide; Seliger believes it’s because he has opposed much of Patrick’s legislative agenda.

Sen. Seliger has occasionally been the lone Senate GOP vote against some legislation, such as the measure to ban cities from deploying red-light cameras aimed at deterring traffic violators. Seliger called it a matter of “local control.” Amen to that, senator!

I’ve known Seliger since 1995, when I arrived in Amarillo to take my post as editorial page editor of the Globe-News. Seliger was mayor of Amarillo at the time. We hit it off right away, developing a thoroughly cordial professional relationship. Over time, it turned into a personal friendship, particularly after he left public office.

Then the senator from Amarillo, the late Teel Bivins, received an ambassadorial appointment from President Bush and Seliger ran to succeed Bivins in District 31. He has served with distinction and dedication to his constituents ever since.

The Tribune article notes that Seliger hasn’t yet committed to running for another term in 2022. He defeated two GOP primary challenges in 2018, winning the nomination without a runoff.

All the while, Seliger has managed to stick it in Patrick’s ear. He was the only Republican senator to not endorse Patrick for re-election in 2018. Why? My best guess is that Patrick is too, um, ideological to suit Seliger’s taste.

Seliger wears his own brand of conservatism proudly. Indeed, he embodies what I believe is a traditional Republican world view, which is that the state need not meddle in matters that local communities can settle themselves.

I believe Seliger is the same man he’s always been. The shift has occurred elsewhere, within the leadership of the Texas Republican Party. I prefer, thus, to stand with my friend as he continues to serve the people who keep electing him to the Texas Senate.

Is this senator in the wrong party?

Kel Seliger likely would disagree vehemently if — and quite probably when — he reads this blog post, but I am going to ask once again a question I posed in a blog entry published some years ago.

Is the West Texas state senator, from Amarillo, in the wrong political party? He ran for election the first time in 2004 as a Republican and has been re-elected every time since then touting his strong “conservative” credentials while a member of the GOP.

But it appears he isn’t conservative enough to suit the arch-conservative Empower Texans, a political action committee that works to elect and re-elect legislators who suit the group’s rigid ideology.

Empower Texans keeps posting these social media items proclaiming how Seliger is the “only” Senate Republican to vote against one of ET’s preferred issues. They blast Seliger because he has the gall to side with Democrats.

To be sure, Seliger is no fan of Empower Texans. He speaks ill of ET’s guru, Michael Quinn Sullivan. Seliger incurred the wrath of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick early in this legislative session and Patrick then stripped Seliger of key committee chairmanships and membership on other key committees.

Seliger’s GOP credentials really aren’t at issue. He stands for public education, local control, private property ownership, low taxes, business enhancement.

He just isn’t a GOP ideologue. The way I see it — and once again, Seliger is likely to disagree with me — he would fit just fine as a Democrat in the mold of, say, Bill Hobby or Bob Bullock or perhaps even Jack Hightower.

Problem is, though, he wouldn’t win re-election running as a Democrat in the Texas Panhandle. To be a Democrat is to be considered the virtual spawn of Satan in the cradle of Texas arch-conservatism.

 

Still wondering: Why not mandatory helmet law?

As my wife and I have motored across Texas and into Louisiana for the past few days we have witnessed a number of motorcyclists behaving (in my view) dangerously on our public highways.

They whip across lanes, weaving at high speeds through traffic.

What’s more, most of them are bare-headed. They aren’t wearing helmets.

And . . . it makes me lament that Texas decided back in 1995 to toss aside its mandatory helmet law in favor of allowing motorcyclists to blast their way along our highways with exposed noggins.

I know this is a hopeless notion as long as Republicans control the Texas Legislature, but I am going to express my wish that legislators one day might find it within them to reintroduce the helmet law.

At this moment, only 19 of our 50 states require motorcyclists to wear helmets; 28 states — including Texas — require some motorcycle riders to wear the protective gear. Those riders are children. Only three states — Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire — have zero helmet requirements for motorcyclists and their passengers.

I might be overly pessimistic about the Texas Legislature’s potential for doing the right thing. The GOP-controlled Legislature did enact a law in 2017 that bans handheld cellphone use while driving motor vehicles. I still am amazed that the Legislature did pass such a law in 2011, only to have then-Gov. Rick Perry veto it, calling the law an infringement on personal liberty. It took a new Legislature and a new governor, Greg Abbott, to create that new law.

I wish the Legislature could find it within itself to do the same thing with motorcycle helmets. In 1995, when lawmakers dropped the law, they required licensed motorcyclists to be insured for at least $10,000. To which I said at the time “big . . . fu***** . . . deal.” Someone who suffers a traumatic head injury can burn through 10 grand before he or she even enters the ER.

I do know that helmets save lives. They also spare motorcyclists from debilitating head injuries that over time put a terrible strain on our state’s medical and social services.

While working as a journalist in the Golden Triangle in the early 1990s, an acquaintance from Orange County told me he hated the helmet law because he couldn’t “feel the wind” in his hair. I laughed in his face.

I know I’m spitting into the wind on this notion. That’s all right. I’ll keep spitting whenever the spirit moves me.

Cornyn might face a lengthy list of challengers

John Cornyn is now Texas’s latest marked man, politically speaking.

The San Antonio Republican U.S. senator is running for re-election in 2020 and he is facing a lengthy list of Democratic primary candidates who will fight among themselves for the right to run against him directly in the fall.

I have to say that the list of possible foes is looking pretty impressive.

Two names jump out at me: U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, who also hails from San Antonio and former state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth. Given the premium voters place on name identification, I would have to rate those two as potential front runners in the Democratic Party primary. Joseph Kopser and MJ Hegar also are in the mix.

Castro is the identical twin brother of Julian, who’s running for president of the United States in 2020. The two are so identical, in fact, that Joaquin is growing a beard (more or less) to distinguish himself from Julian.

Joaquin Castro, I suppose you could say, comes from the more progressive wing of the party. I hesitate to label him a “democratic socialist” in the mold of Bernie Sanders, but he’s out there near the left-end fringe of the party. He hasn’t announced his candidacy for the Senate, just yet. My guess is that he’ll go all in soon.

Then there’s Sen. Davis. She made hay in 2013 with her filibuster in the Legislature against a restrictive anti-abortion bill. She gave Democrats hope that she could break the GOP stranglehold on statewide office — but then she lost to Greg Abbott in 2014 by more than 20 percentage points.

I keep thinking, too, that Beto O’Rourke of El Paso — who is widely considered to be getting set to announce a presidential campaign in 2020 — might enter the Senate donnybrook. I am not going to predict it. I’m just waiting for Beto to announce what he says he’s decided already.

Do I want Sen. Cornyn to lose? Yeah, but not with the passion I wanted O’Rourke to defeat Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. I know John Cornyn. I actually like him personally. He and I have joked about our respective heads of gray hair and has assured me that he was that gray at a much younger age than I was; I believe him, too.

I want the 2020 race between Cornyn and whoever Democratic voters nominate to be as competitive as the 2018 contest turned out to be between O’Rourke and The Cruz Missile.

Texas needs two healthy major political parties and it appears — finally! — that Texas Democrats are awakening from their 30-year slumber/stupor to give Republicans a serious challenge to their superiority.