Tag Archives: Texas House

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.

Not very ‘pro-life’ of this legislator

I am trouble grasping the logic of this proposal by a Texas legislator.

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican, wants to criminalize abortion. He wants to charge every woman who terminates a pregnancy with homicide, or murder. He wants, therefore, to subject that woman to the death penalty, which Texas allows for those convicted of murder.

He is a “pro-life” legislator? I don’t get how that computes.

Enter a more reasonable GOP lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano (pictured), who says he won’t allow Tinderholt’s bill to the House of Representatives floor for a full vote among the state’s 150 state representatives.

Leach chairs the Texas House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence. Since announcing his plan to stop House Bill 896, Leach has received threats at his office. The Collin County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the source of those threats.

Yes, this issue is highly sensitive. It pushes hot buttons on folks they possibly didn’t know existed on their person.

As for Tinderholt’s idea of criminalizing a legal medical procedure — which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled — it doesn’t sound very “pro-life” to kill someone who makes the most difficult decision she ever would make.

This debate over women’s right to choose whether to give birth needs to stay on a more sane track than the one proposed by Rep. Tinderholt.

Thank goodness there exist some sense of reason among Texas Republicans.

Rep. Price gets handed a very large gavel

It’s clear that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick didn’t give state Sen. Kel Seliger any love when he handed out committee assignments for the 2019 Texas Senate.

He yanked the Amarillo Republican out of the chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education Committee, pulled him off the Senate Education Committee and off the Finance Committee. Patrick “awarded” Seliger the Agriculture Committee chairmanship then snatched that one away when Seliger made an impolite comment about a key Patrick adviser.

Now, what about the Texas House of Representatives? Well, Speaker Dennis Bonnen has handed out a gigantic gavel to state Rep. Four Price, another Amarillo Republican.

Price will chair the House Calendars Committee. It’s a big deal, man! Here’s why: The Calendars Committee determines the legislative flow; the chairman is able to stop legislation from being considered by the full House. OK, so it’s more of a procedural panel than a policy-making one. But . . . it carries huge responsibility in determining how the House does its business.

I used to know a previous Calendars chairman quite well. State Rep. Mark Stiles was a Beaumont Democrat who chaired that panel in the 1980s. Stiles, who no longer serves in the Legislature, was quite proud of the influence he had in controlling legislative traffic. Stiles also was quite fond of reminding anyone who would listen that he was good friends with the House speaker, the lieutenant governor, the governor. You name it, anyone with real power in Austin was a BFF of the legislator who nicknamed himself “Bubba.”

I mention this because I don’t expect Rep. Four Price to carry on in that fashion. He’s a more, um, humble individual who seems — as I have known him — to take his public service far more seriously than he takes himself.

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.