Tag Archives: Texas House of Representatives

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?

Tax shift set aside until 2021 … let’s look for real reduction

It won’t be any better in 2021 than it is this year.

Texas legislators have decided apparently to delay any action on a bill that would have increased the state sales tax by a penny while rolling back local property taxes.

House Joint Resolution 3 and House Bill 4621 had won the endorsement of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Most legislators seemed to like, but opposition arose from interesting and disparate ends of the political spectrum: progressives and archconservatives disliked the measure for wildly different reasons.

I agree with those at both ends.

Progressives believe the sales tax is regressive and punishes poor Texans because they pay the same tax as rich Texans on goods they purchase. Good point, yes? Sure it is!

Conservatives on the right and far right believe the Legislature’s Republican caucus should remain faithful to its members’ pledge to avoid raising new taxes. Another good point? Yep, it is!

Lt. Gov. Patrick had made property tax reduction a key legislative agenda item. I’m OK with that. Why, though, pay for that reduction with a boost in the state sales tax? I’m not so OK with that notion.

If we’re going to reduce property tax, I would be far more in favor of an actual reduction in Texans’ total tax burden.

Let’s hope legislators take some time between the end of this session and the start of the next one to find a way to get there.

Will this young man enter the speaker’s race?

The Texas Tribune has listed five state legislators who either have announced plans to run for Texas House speaker or are interested in joining the fray.

I looked the list over and was expecting to see a name from Amarillo. He wasn’t among the five of them.

So, with that I’ll offer this on-the-record request for state Rep. Four Price, the Republican representative from House District 87: Go for it, young man! Join the field of legislators who want to be the next Man of the House!

Price will see this blog post. He already knows that I have great personal regard for him. I am acknowledging my bias, OK?

Rep. Price brings some political muscle to this contest, were he to run for speaker.

First of all, Texas Monthly rated him among the state’s “Ten Best Legislators” in 2017. TM’s editors like his commitment to mental health issues.

Second of all, Price beat back a challenge from a guy who had some serious financial backing from Empower Texans, the far-right-wing political action group that had targeted a number of incumbent legislators. Price rolled up 79 percent of the vote in the March 6 Republican Party primary race. The way I see it, a victory margin of that size has purchased Price a good bit of political capital that he can spend while campaigning for speaker.

Third of all, Price would give the Texas Panhandle an important — and loud — voice in the Legislature at a time when it is experiencing a diminishing level of clout in Austin. It’s part of the state’s shifting population trend, with Central and North Texas growing at a much more rapid rate than the vast reaches of West Texas.

Price told me some months ago that he was part of current Speaker Joe Straus’s legislative team in the House. He endorsed the leadership that Speaker Straus brought to the lower legislative chamber. It follows, then, that a Speaker Price would follow the lead established by Straus, who’s not running for re-election.

I say all this knowing that this decision rests exclusively with Four Price and his family. Were he to run for speaker and then be selected by his House colleagues, he would be elevated immediately from a part-time citizen-legislator to a full-time political leader — even though the job won’t pay him accordingly.

It’s a sacrifice to run for speaker and to subject oneself to the abuse that goes with the territory.

Still, I hope Four Price goes for it.

Did you oppose it, governor?

How about this? A Texas legislator says Gov. Greg Abbott opposed that idiotic Bathroom Bill and didn’t want it to show up on his desk.

So says the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Byron Cook, a Corsicana Republican. Cook’s panel managed to block the Bathroom Bill from clearing the House of Representatives during this past summer’s special legislative session.

You will recall that the Bathroom Bill would have restricted the use of public restrooms by transgender individuals; it would have required them to use restrooms in accordance to the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. So, if you’re a man who was born a woman you would have had to use the women’s restroom … and vice versa.

Republican legislators determined the Bathroom Bill was “bad for business,” according to the Texas Tribune. That’s only part of the problem with this hideous piece of legislation. It was discriminatory on its face.

Yet the Texas Senate insisted that the state should enforce a public restroom use provision. Sheesh!

Most of me is glad the Legislature threw this bill — and please pardon the intended pun — into the proverbial crapper. A smaller part of me, though, wishes it had gotten to Abbott’s desk if only just to see if the governor opposed the bill enough to veto it.

I want to believe Chairman Cook is right, that Gov. Abbott disliked the Bathroom Bill. However, I still wonder …

Here’s an idea. Maybe the governor could set the record straight and tell us himself whether he would have signed it or canned.

Speaker candidates are lining up

Tan Parker has become the third Texas House of Representatives member to file for the race to become the next speaker of the state House.

He hails from Flower Mound; the other two are Phil King of Weatheford and John Zerwas of Richmond. They’re all Republicans.

OK. That’s all fine.

I’m wondering if we’re going to hear an announcement from another up-and-comer in the Texas House. He hails from Amarillo. He’s also a Republican, who also delivered a serious pounding to a candidate favored by Empower Texans, a far right wing political organization that sought to topple this fellow in the GOP primary this week.

Rep. Four Price? Are you listening?

Here’s what I have to say to this young man, who happens to be a friend of mine and who also has done a stellar job representing House District 87 since 2011.

Becoming speaker of the House essentially turns the office into a full-time endeavor. Price will have to come to grips with the idea that he no longer would be a part-time “citizen legislator.” He also has been a strong ally of the current speaker, Joe Straus of San Antonio, who isn’t running for re-election to the House.

Straus distinguished himself mightily by ensuring the death of the infamous Bathroom Bill that passed the Texas Senate in 2017. The Bathroom Bill would have required transgender individuals to use public restrooms in accordance to the gender assigned on their birth certificate.

It is discriminatory on its face. It had no business becoming Texas law. Straus saw it for what it was.

So, would a Speaker Four Price follow that lead? I would hope so.

I also believe that Rep. Price would make an excellent speaker candidate, giving the Texas Panhandle a strong voice in legislative matters, as it did when Democrat Pete Laney of Hale Center ran the House of Representatives.

Hey, I’m just a single voice here in the wilderness.

Still, my desire is to see my friend go for it.

A new trio forms a ‘Three Amigos’ team

I was fond years ago of referring to three Republican Texas state representatives as the “Three Amigos.”

They were Reps. John Smithee of Amarillo, David Swinford of Dumas and Warren Chisum of Pampa. Two of them — Swinford and Chisum — have retired from the Texas Legislature; only Smithee remains in public life. Indeed, Smithee is one of the longest-tenured members of the Texas House of Representatives, having served there since 1985; that’s 33 years.

Well, here’s the thing: Smithee has two new members of a trio of legislators with whom he has teamed up.

Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Four Price, both Amarillo Republicans, have joined their pal Smithee in creating a formidable team of “amigos” to represent the Panhandle’s interests.

I suppose I could include state Rep. Ken King, a Canadian Republican — but that would create a sort of “Fearsome Foursome” for the Panhandle. I cannot speak with any authority on the job he’s doing; King was elected after I left the working world.

So, for the purposes of this blog, I’ll stick with the newly constituted Three Amigos, all of whom I know quite well.

They’re all dedicated to their public service.

Smithee has been setting his legal practice aside for more than three decades during legislative sessions. He serves as chair of the House Insurance Committee and my experience with him has been always on the up-and-up. What I always appreciated about Smithee is his willingness to provide direct answers to direct questions. There’s no flim-flam or obtuseness where Smithee is concerned.

Price has emerged as star in the House and is now being discussed openly as a possible candidate for speaker of that body when the 2019 Legislature convenes. He has championed mental health reform and has learned quickly the unique language of legislators.

Seliger, too, emerged as a quick study in legislative-speak after he took office in 2004, succeeding the late Republican Teel Bivins, who had received an ambassadorial appointment from President George W. Bush.

And just this past week, Seliger and Price sent out mailers that were paid for by the Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund. Both men’s flyers say they are “getting conservative results for Texans.” They both said, “John … we know it isn’t easy to stand up to special interest groups. Tell (them) to stand strong and keep up the good work.”

Tag-team campaigning? Sure looks like it to me.

All three men have been endorsed by Amarillo Matters, a local political action group with a mission to help shape the community’s agenda for the future.

The Three Amigos have opponents this year. Seliger and Price are facing primary challengers; Smithee has a Democratic foe awaiting him this fall.

The Three Amigos aren’t the same trio that I once knew. They are just as effective, though, in fighting for the region they represent.

Speaker Straus, would you reconsider quitting the House?

Joe Straus has declared that “decency trumped tribalism” in Alabama.

Yes, it did. The election of U.S. Sen.-elect Doug Jones over his fiery and deeply flawed foe, Roy Moore, suggests a potential turning of the tide in deeply red, Republican-leaning states.

Straus, the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, issued a stern warning to his fellow Texans in a talk to the Greater Austin Crime Commission. “If more mainstream voters participate in primaries, there will be fewer Roy Moores in position to hold important offices,” Straus said.

Straus is on point

“Mainstream voters” are opting out of the primary process these days, Straus fears. I share his fear. I also want Straus to rethink his decision to retire from public life after the 2018 midterm election.

He is stepping down as speaker of the House. Indeed, he represents the very type of “mainstream politician” that states such as Texas need as government faces a frontal assault by political zealots. In Texas, that assault is coming from within the Republican Party.

Straus is a mainstream Republican who led the fight to kill the ridiculous Bathroom Bill that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate wanted to enact. That bill would have required transgender folks to use public restrooms according to the gender assigned on their birth certificate. Straus made damn sure the House wouldn’t follow suit and, in his mind, discriminate against Texans.

Mainstream politics, anyone? There you have it. Speaker Straus embodied it quite nicely during the special legislative session that Gov. Greg Abbott called earlier this year.

When someone such as Straus declares that “decency” must win the day, he speaks from intense personal experience.

I know he won’t reconsider his decision to step aside at the end of next year. He likely would face a Republican primary challenge in San Antonio.

But still … I want to make the plea just one time for the record. Stay in the fight, Mr. Speaker. The state needs you.

Speaker Price? Sure, why not? But only if …

Four Price is a friend of mine who I’ve known for about two decades.

Having gotten that disclosure out of the way, you may take my endorsement of the Amarillo Republican lawmaker’s potential candidacy for speaker of the Texas House of Representatives for what it’s worth.

I believe he would make a smashing speaker.

But here’s the important caveat I want to attach to it: I want him to follow the lead set by his good buddy, the current speaker who’s leaving the Legislature after the 2018 election.

Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, is quitting politics. He calls the atmosphere too “divisive” and too “partisan.” He sought to run the House of Representatives with a bipartisan touch. He worked with Democrats as well as Republicans.

That sense of political comity cost Straus support among the hard-core Republicans who believe he had become a Republican In Name Only, a dreaded RINO.

I don’t sense that Price, also a Republican, believes that of his friend and colleague. I believe it would be pure folly for Price to buckle under the pressure that some of the right-wingnuts are going to exert.

One of them happens to run the Texas Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick locked horns with Speaker Straus over that damn Bathroom Bill that died a well-deserved death in this summer’s special legislative session. The bill would have required transgender people to use public restrooms in accordance to their birth certificate gender. Patrick wanted the bill passed into law; Straus resisted, earning him the scorn of county GOP organizations, including the Randall County Republican Party, which resolved to support someone else for speaker in the 2019 session.

So, to my friend Four Price, I ask only this: If you’re going to run for speaker, please resist the temptation to tilt too far to the right. Do not forsake the millions of Texans — such as yours truly — who believe that moderation is critical to effective governing.

One-punch vote abolition closer to reality

Could there be an end in sight for something I consider to be a bane on Texas politics?

Texas House Bill 25 would abolish “one-punch voting” for those who want to vote for one party. I cannot cheer this piece of legislation loudly enough.

The Texas House of Representatives approved HB 25 with an 88-57 vote. It now goes to the state Senate. I do hope senators approve it and send it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk; and then I want the governor to sign it. If it becomes law, it takes effect in time for the 2020 presidential election.

According to the Texas Tribune: “State Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, one of the authors of HB 25, said he filed the measure to foster more educated voters since they’d have to go down the ballot and make a decision on every race. ‘I think it’ll give us better candidates and better elected officials. It won’t have people getting voted out just because of their party identity,’ Simmons told The Texas Tribune on the House floor prior to Friday’s preliminary vote.”

I have yammered for some time — including on this blog — about how much I dislike straight-ticket voting, or more to the point, how much I dislike the notion that voters can just hit straight Republican or straight Democrat — and then walk away from the polling place.

Texas is one of just nine states that allows one-punch voting.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mind if voters want to cast ballots for candidates of just one party. In Texas, the predominant party for the past three decades has been the Republican Party. I long have favored the idea of requiring voters to look at their ballots one race at a time before making the decision on who gets their vote.

One-punch voting equates to laziness

Opponents of HB 25 think it could impede voter turnout. One foe is state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who said: “There are a lot of races on the ballot in these general elections, and voting individually takes extra time. Instead of one-punch, you’re asking people to individually vote in dozens of races, perhaps even 100 of them. This can be a real impediment.”

I happen to believe that voting for candidates for public office ought to require some thought and, yes, some time.

For too long in Texas, we’ve seen good candidates get swept out of office because they happen to belong to the “wrong party.” Victims of this phenomenon have been Democrats; prior to that, when Democrats controlled politics in Texas, Republicans fell victim to this electoral travesty.

One-punch voting creates the potential for this kind of political purging to continue. I am acutely aware that the one-punch voting option doesn’t require voters to cast their ballots in that manner. It does, though, tempt many of them to do so. I see nothing unreasonable in removing that temptation.

I applaud Texas House members for taking this important first step. My hope is that that the other legislative chamber follows suit and that Gov. Abbott signs it into law.

Lawmakers right to grill DPS head over Bland arrest

Texas legislators are putting the head of the state’s police agency on the hot seat.

He needs to stay there until he can offer some remedy for an incident that resulted in the tragic death of a young woman who was arrested for a traffic violation.

Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw came under fire this week in a Texas House committee hearing over the arrest of Sandra Bland by a DPS trooper; Bland later died in a Waller County jail after apparently hanging herself in her cell.

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/07/30/lawmakers-review-county-jail-procedures-following-/

“I know the death happened in the jail, but the catalyst for the death clearly happened at the traffic stop,” state Rep. Jonathan Strickland, R-Bedford said.

The catalyst was a confrontation between Bland and Trooper Brian Encinia, who pulled Bland over after she failed to signal before making a turn in her vehicle. He asked her to extinguish her cigarette.Then matters got ugly.

Bland sassed the officer, who then became agitated. Bland then became angry. Encinia got even angrier. The trooper then pulled his Taser out and threatened to “light you up” with the device.

Bland and Encinia exchanged more heated insults. She exited the vehicle and was taken to jail.

And for what? Because she didn’t use her turn signal.

Strickland also wondered aloud why the trooper is still on the job, to which McCraw answered that the agency has a process that he intends to follow before deciding how to handle Encinia’s future with DPS.

The incident, which has drawn international attention, needs a thorough examination. McCraw has promised to provide one.

One avenue that needs exploring is how a trooper — who is supposedly trained to de-escalate tension with the public — actually took it in the opposite — and tragically wrong direction.