Tag Archives: Texas House of Representatives

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.

Turner bids teary farewell to Legislature

rep. turner

This is something you don’t see every day: politicians from both sides of the political paying heartfelt tribute to one of their own as he prepares to depart their ranks.

So it was when state Rep. Sylvester Turner bid farewell to the Texas House of Representatives. He’s leaving the House, where he served for 26 years, to run for mayor of Houston.

http://www.texasmonthly.com/burka-blog/sylvester-turners-tearful-farewell

Is this a huge thing? Not really. It’s simply worth noting in light of the occasional acrimony that flares up in Austin and more often, it seems, in Washington, D.C.

Turner is a Democrat, but the praise he got from Republican colleagues seemed heartfelt and sincere.

They praised Turner’s rhetorical skills. This came from Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo: “He could turn the House with logic and good argument.”

I once heard the late Republican state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo say the same thing about a one-time foe, former Sen. Carl Parker, D-Port Arthur, who used to deride his GOP colleagues as “silk-stocking Republicans.” He included Bivins among that category of Republican. Bivins didn’t take it personally and they men remained friends despite their political differences.

That’s the way it ought to be.

As Turner told his colleagues to their faces, with tears welling up in his eyes: “I love each and every one of you. Whether we have voted together or not is not important to me. Whether you are a D or an R is not important to me. The reality is we are Texans, but proud Texans.”

Well said.

 

Texting-while-driving ban fails in Legislature

Tom Craddick wasn’t my favorite speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. He ran the place as though he owned it, not the people who elected its 150 members.

But when he got removed as speaker and became just another legislator from West Texas, well, something happened to him. He developed a keen eye toward what’s actually good for Texans — such as protecting motorists from idiots who simply cannot resist sending text messages while driving a motor vehicle.

To his great credit, the Midland Republican, persuaded his House colleagues to approve a statewide ban on that moronic practice. And to its great shame, the Texas Senate let Craddick’s bill die.

http://handsfreeinfo.com/14816-texas-texting-fails/

House Bill 80 sailed through the House on a 102-40 vote. Then it fell a vote short of going to a vote before the full Senate. That means we’ll have to wait another two years before Texas joins the vast majority of other states in banning this practice.

Yeah, I know. I’ve heard the unenforceability argument. Big deal. Police officers are able to spot motorists doing all kinds of things they shouldn’t be doing. If we’re going to rely on a bogus notion that we cannot enforce no-texting-while-driving laws, then let’s repeal the law that bans motorists from driving with an open container of alcoholic beverage. What the hell: The cops can’t see the open can or bottle of beer unless the motorist actually lifts it to his or her mouth, correct?

I ran into state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, not long ago and he more or less suggested the Senate would drag its feet on this important piece of legislation. I pleaded with him to talk to his Senate colleagues to do the right thing. I have no clue if he did.

Texas stands among a shrinking field of states — I think it’s six of them, all told — that cannot muster the guts to lay down a law that makes it illegal to do what idiots cannot quit doing by themselves.

Will a law, by itself, prevent this behavior? No, but we still execute convicted capital murderers and that hasn’t stopped people from committing those heinous crimes.

One of these days, and I hope it’s soon, Texas legislators will wise up to do what’s right and make it illegal across the state to send text messages while driving.

Thanks, Rep. Craddick, for the valiant effort.

 

So long to ‘pick-a-pal’ grand jury system?

Texas might be on the verge of doing something it should have done years ago.

It might dramatically reform the way many of the state’s 254 counties select members to sit on a grand jury.

Let’s hold to the cheers until it clears the Texas Legislature and lands on Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/05/24/texas-moves-closer-to-overhauling-grand-jury-syste/

The Texas House of Representatives has approved Senate Bill 135. It would require grand juries to be chosen the way trial juries are picked: randomly.

The current system allows state district judges to impanel grand juries using a jury commissioner system. The judge picks a jury commissioner, who then looks for friends, acquaintances or just plain folks he or she knows to serve on a grand jury.

Here’s where I make my full disclosure. I once served on a Randall County grand jury. A neighbor who happens to be a friend asked me to serve. I said “yes.” I then was seated by 181st District Judge John Board, along with other grand jurors. We met for the next three months and heard criminal complaints presented by the Criminal District Attorney’s Office.

Did that grand jury work well? Yes.

However, there remains the potential problem of friends picking friends to serve on grand juries. Heck, even judges pick friends to serve as jury commissioners. Cronyism can — and does, on occasion — run amok.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “Critics of the ‘pick-a-pal’ system, an uncommon practice nationwide, say it could lead to conflicts of interest. The debate over the legislation has unfolded amid outrage nationwide that grand juries have failed to indict police officers in shootings of unarmed men.”

A random selection method does not diminish the quality of the grand jury that hears criminal complaints and decides whether to indict someone for an alleged crime.

Look at it this way: If a randomly selected trial jury can decide whether someone lives or dies if he or she is convicted of a capital crime, then a similarly chosen grand jury can decide whether that person should stand trial in the first place.

 

Texas to keep Daylight Savings Time

We’ll all need to catch up on our sleep over the winter after all.

Texas legislators have defeated a bill to toss out Daylight Savings Time in Texas. The House of Representatives rejected a bill by Rep. Dan Flynn to revert solely to standard time in Texas, joining Arizona in staying away from having to spring forward and fall back every year.

http://www.texasmonthly.com/burka-blog/house-votes-keep-daylight-savings-time

I’m one who never quite has understood the problems people have with the time change. It’s been around off and on for many decades. It was brought back in force in the 1970s as a way to conserve energy. Longer daylight hours in the summer months meant using less electricity. What’s so terrible about that?

It’s interesting to me that Amarillo’s House delegation split their votes on this deal. John Smithee, who represents Randall County, voted “yes” on Flynn’s bill; Four Price, who represents Potter County, voted “no.” I don’t know why that’s important. I just thought I’d mention it to illustrate that occasionally the two Republican lawmakers do not vote in tandem.

I’ve gotten used to the time change since I was in my 20s. It’s no big deal to me.

Then again, I’m not a farmer or a rancher.

As Flynn told his House colleagues: “The only one who knows if it is sun up or sun down is the rooster.”

Whatever. It makes no difference to me.

Open carry bill set to become state law

Believe it or not, I’m going to keep an open mind on open carry.

The Texas House of Representatives has approved a bill that would allow licensed concealed carry holders to wear their sidearms openly. The state Senate already had approved it. Gov. Greg Abbott says he’ll sign it when it gets to his desk.

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/04/20/open-carry-headed-governors-desk/

Some legislative Democrats had sought to soften the bill by allowing big-city residents to vote on whether to opt out of the state law. That was a reasonable amendment to the bill, given that urban residents have a different view of open carry legislation than rural residents. Someone in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of south Dallas thinks differently of the bill than, say, someone living in Dumas or Dalhart.

“Rural open carry is different than densely populated open carry,” state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said. “If you put this to a vote in big cities, I think people are going to say resoundingly no.”

The amendment failed.

Now that I am resigned to open carry legislation set to become law, I’ll respect the Legislature’s decision — even though I disagree with it.

I now will hope that open carry doesn’t become the monstrosity I feared back in 1995 when the Legislature approved concealed carry legislation.

The concealed carry bill hasn’t produced shootouts in intersections, for which I am grateful.

Time will tell on this open-carry legislation. I’m going to hope for the best.