Tag Archives: Texas House

Speaker Bonnen sets constructive legislative agenda

Texas has a new speaker of the state House of Representatives.

Dennis Bonnen of Angleton is a Republican who says he doesn’t believe in “sugarcoating” issues. He says he calls ’em the way he sees ’em. “I am direct and I am a problem solver,” Bonnen said.

A new legislative era begins

But he also apparently is more interested in substantive matters than he is in some of the more cultural issues that came out of the Texas Senate in 2017.

Public school finance is Speaker Bonnen’s first priority, followed by human trafficking and property tax collection reform.

Bonnen succeeds Joe Straus as speaker. Straus, a San Antonio Republican, decided to step aside and not seek re-election in 2018. I am one Texan who is grateful, though, for Straus’s resistance to the Senate approval of that ridiculous Bathroom Bill, which required people using public restrooms to use those facilities that comport with the gender on their birth certificate. It discriminated against transgender individuals and Straus would have none of it.

Speaker Straus managed to scuttle the Bathroom Bill during the Legislature’s special session in the summer of 2017, angering Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, under whose watch the Senate approved the bill.

The new speaker’s legislative agenda suggests he is going to travel along the same path as his predecessor — to which I offer a salute.

Good luck, Mr. Speaker. May the new Man of the House lead the legislative chamber with wisdom and reason.

No legislative interference on this football matter, please

Texas House Bill 412 needs to go . . . nowhere!

What is it? It is a bill proposed by state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, that requires the University of Texas and Texas A&M University to play a football game sometime in November each year.

That’s right. Rep. Larson — an A&M alumnus — wants the Legislature to intervene in a decision that should rest entirely with the athletic directors of the respective universities.

I’ve already endorsed the so-called “end game.” I want the Longhorns and Aggies to resume their storied football rivalry, which ended in 2011 when A&M left the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference.

When the Aggies bolted, the series ended. Period.

But is the Legislature the right avenue to travel to bring this thing back? No. It’s the kind of feel-good legislation one sees on occasion. Legislators and members of Congress occasionally get all worked up when tragedy strikes; they seek a legislative remedy to prevent horrible events from recurring.

This kind of legislation sort of falls into that category.

I respect Rep. Larson’s desire to bring the rivalry back. I do not believe the Texas Legislature should waste a moment of its time debating it. Lawmakers have a lot of other matters to consider. You know, small stuff such as, oh, water policy, highway construction, education reform, tax-and-spend matters. The 2019 Legislature might even consider whether to rescind the authority it granted cities to install and deploy red-light cameras to catch traffic violators in the act of breaking the law; don’t go there, lawmakers.

Larson did make a cogent point, though. “It’s time for the folks in Austin and College Station to get in a room and make a deal to restore the rivalry,” he told the Texas Tribune.

You are correct, sir. They can — and should — hammer it out without interference from the Texas Legislature.

Let’s play a congressional succession parlor game

The Texas Tribune has broached a subject that caught my attention, even though I no longer live in the congressional district represented by a man whose been in office for more than 23 years.

The Trib reports that “many Republican operatives” believe Rep. Mac Thornberry, the newly re-elected Republican, is going to serve his final term in the House of Representatives beginning in January. Why? He might not cotton to being a member of the “minority party” in the House; he is surrendering his coveted Armed Services Committee chairmanship and won’t be able to serve as ranking member when he hands the gavel to his Democratic colleague.

I’ve moved away, but I retain a deep interest in Texas Panhandle politics. The 13th Congressional District is part of that landscape.

So . . . let’s play a parlor game called “Who’s Next?”

I’ll start by stipulating that the 13th District is arguably the most Republican congressional district in America. The next House member, if Thornberry calls it quits, is going to come from the GOP. Thornberry was re-elected this month with a whopping 81.6 percent majority in what was a “blue wave” year in other previously strong GOP districts.

It’s less certain, but still reasonably certain, that the next House member will come from the Panhandle portion of the sprawling 13th, which stretches from the very top of Texas to the western outskirts of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Congressional representation is rooted deeply in the Panhandle.

So, who might the next House rep be? I’ll toss a couple of names out there for you to ponder. They are Republican Texas legislators. Both are from Amarillo. Both are friends of mine. Both are fine men with ample political experience to take on the job of representing the entire 13th District.

State Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price? Stand up and take a bow.

Seliger would seem like the better fit for the 13th District. He’s a retired businessman who essentially works full time as a state senator. His Senate district stretches from the Panhandle to the Permian Basin. He is a native of Borger who is as fluent in Permian-speak as he is in Panhandle-speak. He and Thornberry are political allies and friends, from all that I have gathered; then again, so are Price and Thornberry.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think highly of Four Price, too. I’ve known him for as long as I’ve known Seliger. He has a successful Amarillo law practice and has risen to the top of the legislative roster in the 150-member Texas House. Texas Monthly named him one of the state’s top legislators after the 2017 Legislature.

Seliger, though, brings some municipal government experience as well as legislative experience to any consideration of who should — if the opportunity presents itself — succeed Mac Thornberry. He served on the Amarillo City Commission as commissioner and then mayor before being elected to the Texas Senate.

I am making no predictions. I merely am stating what I think might happen if the Texas Tribune’s report is accurate.

Let’s all stay tuned and wait for the fur to fly when the next Congress convenes.

Speaker-to-be Bonnen is OK with the far right

Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, is poised to become the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

I wish him well. He succeeds Joe Straus of San Antonio, the GOP strongman who stood up to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate when the need arose.

I hope Rep. Bonnen is made of the same stern stuff. He’s a moderate who likes to work across the aisle. He has had his differences with the Freedom Caucus wing of the legislative Republicans who serve with him. But the Texas Tribune reports that almost all the returning Freedom Caucus members are OK with the new speaker, assuming he gets the nod in January.

I get that the Freedom Caucus comprises only 11 members in a 150-member Texas House. History tells us that far right and sometimes far left fringe groups develop outsized influence that reaches far beyond their meager numbers.

Given the nature of Texas Republican politics, it’s likely too much to assume the Freedom Caucus will follow the speaker’s lead and become more of a moderate influence in the Legislature.

Whenever I think of these far-right groups, I think immediately of Empower Texans, the right-wing loons who sought to topple two of the Legislature’s shining stars — two fellows who happen to be friends of mine to boot!

They are state Rep. Four Price and state Sen. Kel Seliger, two Amarillo Republicans who fended off challenges in handsome fashion. The challenge was financed by Empower Texans, the far right group that seeks to influence local political races all across the state. Empower Texans got its mitts on a number of contests, but given that I was living in during the spring primary season, I got to witness Empower Texans’ dirty work up close.

So, it is my hope that the new speaker keeps his distance from the Freedom Caucus and certainly from Empower Texans.

Speaker Straus to Lt. Gov. Patrick: Listen more, talk less

Joe Straus is now officially the lamest of ducks in Texas politics and government. The midterm election is over. The speaker of the Texas House didn’t run for re-election and voters in his San Antonio House district have selected a successor.

That doesn’t mean he is keeping quiet. He has offered Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the garrulous politician from Houston, some cogent advice: Patrick should “listen more and talk less” during next year’s Texas legislative session.

Patrick, not surprisingly, is having none of it. He responded in an interview with the Texas Tribune: “(Straus) decided he wanted to continue to poke a finger in the eye of Greg Abbott, the president, myself and conservatives as he goes out the door and I find that disappointing. I wish him the best and I thank him for his public service, but at the end of the day, it’s clear he’s not much of a conservative — and it’s beginning to look like he’s not much of a Republican.”

Read Texas Tribune story.

I suppose if Patrick’s view of a true Republican rests with some of the harsh, nutty notions that came out of the Texas Senate this past year, then perhaps he’s right about Straus. It sounds to me that Patrick is still miffed that Straus killed the Bathroom Bill that the Senate — over which Patrick presides — sent to the House. The Bathroom Bill required individuals to use public restrooms that comported with the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. .

It clearly was a discriminatory measure aimed at transgender individuals. Straus called it a non-starter, along with police chiefs and other law enforcement officials across Texas.

Straus made sure the bill would die in a special legislative session during the summer of 2017. He said it was virtually unenforceable; he said it would harm businesses in Texas. He wanted no part of it.

The soon-to-be-former speaker is a reasonable man. He is as much of a Republican as Patrick, without the stridency that Patrick brings to his high-profile position.

To be candid, I’ll miss Straus’s leadership as the Man of the Texas House. As for Patrick, he ought to take Straus’s advice and listen more and talk less … a lot less.

West Texas remains in the legislative power grid

You know already that I am delighted to see Republican state Rep. Four Price of Amarillo toss his Stetson into the contest to become the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

I alluded in an earlier blog post how West Texas, namely the Panhandle, need a strong voice to call attention to their needs. Having a son — or daughter– from the Panhandle in the speaker’s chair certainly would elevate the region’s profile in Austin.

But you know, the Panhandle and South Plains haven’t exactly been cast into the political wilderness over many years.

Pete Laney, a Democrat from Hale Center, served as speaker until he was ousted by Tom Craddick, a Republican from Midland. Republicans took control of the House and Craddick saw his chance to lead the 150-member body. He enlisted support from GOP state Reps. David Swinford of Dumas and John Smithee of Amarillo, the Panhandle’s two representatives who had formerly backed Laney.

I admit to being furious at the time. I hated the way Swinford and Smithee turned on their “pal” Laney. The reality, though, is that West Texas remained a player with Craddick handling the House gavel.

Craddick eventually ceded the speaker’s job to Joe Straus of San Antonio, who this year announced his retirement from the Legislature.

Thus, the door is opened wide for someone new to take control of the House.

I hope it’s my friend Four Price. I no longer live in Amarillo, but I remain intensely interested in the Panhandle’s political future.

You go, Rep. Four Price!

It would be presumptuous of me in the extreme to assume that state Rep. Four Price of Amarillo read a recent blog post of mine and then decided to run for speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

Whatever, my friend has joined a growing gaggle of politicians seeking to succeed Speaker Joe Straus as the Man of the House.

I applaud him for taking the plunge.

Price joins four fellow Republicans and a Democrat in the speaker’s race.

I’ve already stated my bias. Price is my friend and, thus, my admiration for his legislative skill is tainted somewhat by my personal affection for him. Still, the young man has cast a large shadow over the 150-member Texas House since he joined that body in 2011.

“Having successfully worked for the last four sessions with my colleagues from across our state to pass major legislation and focus on issues of importance to all Texans, I am eager to seek this leadership position in the Texas House of Representatives,” he said in a statement. “Looking towards the future, I truly believe the Texas House will play a leading role in making the decisions that keep Texas on the path to prosperity.”

I am quite certain Price knows what becoming speaker would mean to his role as a “part-time citizen legislator.” It means he would become nothing of the sort. House speakers essentially become full-timers, on call 24/7 to the media, to fellow pols, to constituents who live far beyond their legislative districts.

I find it impossible to believe that Price has failed to build sufficient political alliances within the House to make a serious run for the speakership.

With all the talk we keep hearing about the shifting power balance in Texas, as rural districts such as the one Price represents in the Texas Panhandle lose their clout, a Four Price speakership could produce a boon to the often-overlooked region way up yonder at the top of Texas.

So, good hunting, Rep. Price as you scour your colleagues for the support you’ll need as you seek to run the show in the Texas House.

Where is Rep. Price in this speaker race?

I just read where state Rep. Drew Darby has become the fifth member of the Texas House to declare his candidacy for speaker of the House of Representatives.

What do I know about him? He’s a Republican (naturally!) from San Angelo. OK. That’s it. Now he’s running for Speaker Joe Straus’s job, which Straus is giving up at the end of the year after choosing not to seek re-election to another term.

The roll of speaker candidates is missing a key player who has been reported to be somewhat interested, although he’s being typically coy about it.

I refer to my friend state Rep. Four Price of Amarillo.

I want Price to run for the speakership. I also want his House colleagues to elect him.

I’ll admit to bias here. I’ve known the young man almost from the moment my wife and I moved to Amarillo in 1995. He is a lawyer and our paths crossed as I developed a list of friends — and sources — while working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

Then he decided to run for the Texas House in 2011, succeeding former state Rep. David Swinford in the District 87 seat. He won the GOP primary, which meant election in the heavily Republican House district.

Price has acquitted himself handsomely, becoming a champion for the cause of mental health rehabilitation in the Legislature.

He also developed a constructive alliance with Speaker Straus, a man for whom I developed great respect over his objection to that hideous Bathroom Bill that died in the special legislative session in 2017. You remember that one, yes? It would have required people to use public restrooms in accordance with the gender assigned on their birth certificate; it was clearly discriminatory against transgender individuals. Straus would have none of the bill that sailed through the Texas Senate.

Four Price is an ally of the speaker and I’ll presume he backed Straus’s decision to torpedo the Bathroom Bill.

What’s more, Price fended off a challenge this past year from someone who was backed by the far-right political action committee, Empower Texans.

I believe Rep. Price would make a fine speaker of the Texas House. Yes, my wife and I have moved away from the Panhandle, but my interest in Texas politics and government is as strong as ever.

Thus, I hope Rep. Price decides to compete for the title of Man of the Texas House.

Run, Four, run!

Declaring intentions ahead of primary

I am not usually one to declare how I intend to vote before I actually do it, given that we do cast our votes in secret.

This year presents some serious concern for me. It’s enough to make me declare my intention to do something I usually keep semi-secret.

My intention is to vote in the Republican Party primary. Not only that, I am going to vote early; as much as I detest early voting, my wife and I will be unable to vote on primary election day, as we’ll be out of town celebrating our granddaughter’s birthday. Hey, we have our priorities, you know?

I have a particular concern, and it involves Texas Senate District 31. I want Kel Seliger to win the GOP primary. He faces two challengers, Victor Leal of Amarillo and Mike Canon of Midland. Both of those individuals are trying to outflank Seliger on the right wing of the GOP electorate. They contend he’s one of those damn liberals. What they don’t say, of course, is that they are being backed by interests from far outside the Texas Panhandle.

Seliger is a mainstream conservative. His only “sin,” in the eyes of Leal and Canon, is that he is not a crazy right-wing extremist.

I’ll stipulate once again that I believe Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, has done a fine job representing West Texas in the Legislature. He needs to stay on the job.

I wish I could throw my support behind state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, too. I cannot. I am registered to vote in Randall County; Price represents Potter County and other rural counties in his House district.

I have known Price and Seliger for as long as we have lived in Amarillo. I like and admire them both and I want them both to win their party’s primary.

Given as well that Price has garnered the attention of Texas Monthly, which considers him one of the state’s best legislators, I believe the Panhandle is well-served to keep Price on the job right along with Seliger.

Not only that, there’s considerable chatter around the state that Price might ascend to the speakership of the Texas House of Representatives. Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio is not running for re-election and Price — shall I say — is not discouraging talk of him succeeding Straus. I consider that a form of code that Price is quite interested in becoming speaker.

Think of the potential that could await the Panhandle if one of our own takes the House gavel and directs the flow of legislation in that chamber.

I won’t surrender my own progressive political leanings by voting in this year’s GOP primary. We do have a general election coming up this fall and my intention is to back candidates up and down the state ballot who adhere to my own world view.

When you live as we do in Ground Zero of Texas Republican Land, you have to cast your vote where it will do the most good for the region where you live.

That’s my intention. So there.

Senate race starting to get … nasty

Here come the grenades.

They’re being lobbed at Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who is facing a GOP primary challenge from former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo restaurant owner Victor Leal.

The live ammo is being tossed by Leal, who has approved a TV ad that accuses Seliger of being “liberal” and “corrupt.” Leal puts the two words together — in that order — at the end of his ad, which seems to equate liberal political views with corruption.

Seliger, meanwhile, is running hard on his own conservative credentials, proclaiming himself to be pro-local control, pro-life and pro-National Rifle Association.

As someone who plans to vote quite soon — my wife and I will be unavailable to vote on March 6, which is primary Election Day — I am taking a keener-than-usual interest in this race.

Just maybe Leal ought to take a deep breath before he airs this ad too many more times. I happen to remember the first time Leal ran for a legislative seat. It was in 2010. He wanted to succeed David Swinford, who retired from his House District 87 seat.

But here’s the deal: Leal had resided for many years in Randall County, which is not part of District 87. He then rented a house in Potter County, which falls within the legislative boundary. Questions arose about whether Leal was residing in the Potter County house.

I will not divulge whether I believe Leal actually lived in that Potter County residence. However, questions surrounding that messy residence matter can — and occasionally do — find their way back to the front burner.

Especially when politicians toss around words such as “corrupt.”