Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Why write about red-light cameras? Here’s why

A social media acquaintance of mine — and I do not know this fellow personally — posed a question about why High Plains Blogger keeps writing about red-light cameras.

He implies that I am fixated on the issue, suggesting I reckon that I am devoting too much attention to it.

Hmm. Here’s my answer to my acquaintance — who’s a frequent critic of this blog.

I write frequently about the issue because I consider it a public safety matter. I also believe that cities that deploy these devices are correct to rely on a technological advance that assists police departments in their enforcement of traffic-safety laws and municipal ordinances.

It’s merely a matter of opinion and I am aware that others do not share it. I believe in the technology. I believe the Texas law that allows cities to use it is not being abused by local authorities.

The Texas Legislature stipulated some strict provisions on the law. It requires cities to use revenue generated by fines paid by motorists who run the red lights strictly for traffic improvements. I urged the Legislature to act while I was working for the Amarillo Globe-News; I wrote personal columns and editorials on behalf of the editorial board imploring the Legislature to act. I have continued beating that drum in my retirement years. I also have applauded Amarillo’s resistance to taking down the cameras despite the overheated protests from a vocal minority of residents.

The cameras take a picture of offending motor vehicles; cities then mail the citation to the registered owner of the vehicle, who then is required to pay the fine. He or she can appeal the fine to the municipal judge.

I answered the social media acquaintance with a semi-snarky response, telling him that I intend to keep writing about it. I’ll reiterate my answer here.

Public safety is important enough for this blog to keep raising the issue.

Gov. Greg Abbott vows to urge the next Legislature to rescind the enabling law, provided he’s re-elected on Nov. 6. If he does and the Legislature follows his lead, you can bet I’ll have a whole lot more to say on this issue.

That, dear reader, is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Once more about red-light cameras

I want to add this brief note to my previous blog post about red-light cameras.

They are not, as critics of the cameras contend, revenue raisers for cities looking to set up speed traps to catch unsuspecting motorists.

I want to cite an example of what I mean.

My wife and have been driving between Amarillo and the Dallas/Fort Worth region for more than two decades. Of all the communities through which we pass, I can think of precisely one — Denton — that uses the red-light cameras. The rest of them — Claude, Clarendon, Hedley, Memphis, Estelline, Childress, Quanah, Chillicothe, Vernon, Electra, Iowa Park, Wichita Falls, Bowie, Jolly … you name ’em — don’t use these devices.

Or if they do, say, in Vernon, Bowie, Jolly and Wichita Falls, U.S. Highway 287 does not have stop lights, meaning that motorists can breeze through these towns without having to stop.

Have some of these towns become “speed traps”? Yeah. Estelline comes immediately to mind. They do so without aid of these devices designed to deter motorists from breaking the law by running through stop lights.

There. That’s it. I’m out on this issue.

Until the next time.

Is this a one-issue race for governor?

Honest to goodness, I usually don’t vote for public office based on a single issue. I regret, though, that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott might have tossed at my feet the one issue that might make me vote against him.

Gov. Abbott said not long ago that the Texas Legislature needs to rescind its earlier approval for cities in the state to deploy red-light cameras at dangerous intersections to help deter motorists from running through stop lights.

If he’s re-elected, Abbot said he would ask the 2019 Legislature to pull the plug on the cameras that have been deployed in cities across the state.

To be fair, I have been looking for a reason to support Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez. The campaign for governor has been so devoid of compelling issues, I cannot commit fully to supporting the former Dallas County sheriff.

Back to Abbott … I wish he wouldn’t have ignited the red-light camera discussion. I continue to support cities’ attempts to deploy this technological ally in their effort to curb dangerous motorists’ behavior. Amarillo, where my wife and I lived until this past spring, is one of those cities.

A former city commissioner, Ellen Robertson Green, once declared that the best way for motorists to avoid getting slapped with the $75 fine is for them to “stop running red lights.” Duh!

Abbott says the cameras haven’t improved traffic safety sufficiently. He said something, too, about an increase in rear-end wrecks at intersections as motorists try to avoid running through yellow lights that turn red.

What about city officials’ concerns about the hazards created by those who continue to run through these street lights? And don’t Texas Republicans traditionally cede these decisions to local authorities, preferring to keep the state out of matters that can be decided locally?

I’m still grappling with how I’m going to go on this race for governor. I hate the idea of leaving that ballot spot vacant when it comes time to vote.

I also hate deciding an important election campaign on the basis of a single issue. However, if I must …

Gov. Abbott, have you lost your mind?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has given me a reason to vote against his re-election. I mean, doggone it, anyhow!

Abbott wants to unplug the red-light cameras that have been deployed in cities throughout Texas. The cameras are meant to deter motorists from breaking the law when they run through stop lights and, thus, endanger other motorists and pedestrians.

This is a deal-breaker, Gov. Abbott. Have you gone around the bend?

Cities charge violators $75 when they run through intersections. The Legislature established strict rules on how cities should spend the revenue they collect: They pay the vendors who operate the equipment and then dedicate the revenue specifically to improve traffic enforcement and other matters related to that critical issue.

But then the governor says the cameras aren’t working as they should. He wants the state to pre-empt local communities’ desire to use technology to help police officers enforce traffic laws. Some cities have taken the cameras down. Others, such as Amarillo, where I used to live and work, have stayed the course. Good for Amarillo!

“Red light cameras have been like the white whale for many conservatives who have tried to ban them in Texas by arguing they harm individual liberty or are unconstitutional,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Eliminating red light cameras is a low cost way to appeal to conservative legislators whom the governor will need to pass his agenda.”

Harm individual liberty? We don’t allow motorists to drink and drive. We require drivers and passengers to wear seat restraints. Do those rules “harm individual liberty”? I wish the professor was kidding. I also wish Gov. Abbott is kidding when he says the state needs to unplug the cameras.

Sadly, they aren’t.

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!

Memo to Tech: Keep the vet school moving ahead

If I had a chance to ask the candidates who seek to become the next chancellor of the Texas Tech University System a single question …

It would go like this: Will you ensure that Texas Tech continues to proceed full force with establishing a college of veterinary medicine in Amarillo?

Whoever seeks the office that Bob Duncan is vacating with his retirement at the end of this month had better answer it the right way. That would be an emphatic “heck, yeah!”

Duncan, who built a stellar career in law, then in the Texas Legislature and then as Texas Tech’s chancellor, has decided to go on down the road. He turns 65. He wants to scale it back.

The chancellor has done very well for the school where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees. The school’s endowment has grown to more than $1 billion under Duncan’s tenure as chancellor, which speaks to the success he enjoyed as a fundraiser for the university.

Back to my original point.

Duncan has become an articulate champion for Tech’s next great system addition, the vet school in Amarillo. This project, which has the full backing of the Amarillo City Council and the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, will be a boon to veterinary medicine in Texas, not to mention to the Texas Panhandle, which will benefit greatly by delivering a top-quality education to students who want to serve their communities.

The vet school holds tremendous promise for large-animal veterinary care. Given the Panhandle’s reliance on livestock and horses, that is — as one might think — a very … big … deal.

The vet school is gaining valuable momentum, much of it pushed forward by Chancellor Bob Duncan.

The next chancellor, whoever he or she is, must carry that momentum forward.

As for Chancellor Duncan, I want to join the chorus of those who thank him for his service to the state, to his beloved university and to the Texas Panhandle.

Godspeed, sir.

‘Interesting’ doesn’t begin to say enough

“Interesting” is such an, oh, interesting adjective. It usually says not a damn thing about the subject being addressed.

Such as the editorial in today’s Amarillo Globe-News that talks about an “interesting” tweet from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott regarding his apparent skepticism about the effectiveness of red-light cameras in cities throughout the state.

The editorial is attached to this link. Take a look.

I can’t tell if the Globe-News no longer favors the red-light cameras, which I suppose makes the editorial “interesting.”

I’ll fill in a blank or two.

The red-light cameras are doing what they’re supposed to do in Amarillo. They are deterring idiotic motorists from disobeying the red lights’ instructions to stop, do not proceed until the lights turn green.

As for cities’ “raking” in big money, I need to remind y’all that the Legislature instituted some strict provisions in allowing cities to install the cameras. Any revenue derived must first pay the vendors for the cameras and then be earmarked specifically for traffic-safety improvements. Amarillo recently coughed up some dough to do precisely that.

Gov. Abbott thinks there’s “no evidence” that the cameras are making our streets safer. That’s not what I have heard from Amarillo city officials. He ought to talk to them directly.

The governor might get some “interesting” details.

Stand tall, Speaker Straus

Joe Straus offers living, breathing, demonstrable proof that not all Texas Republican politicians have gone around the bend, that they all aren’t bat-crap crazy.

Straus, the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives — until the end of this year, when his term ends — has emerged as a leading GOP opponent of Donald J. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

The speaker, who is not seeking re-election, wrote the president a letter urging him to end the program that allows for children to be snatched from their parents’ arms at the southern border and sent to, um, somewhere apart from Mom and Dad.

As the Texas Tribune reported: “I know that members of Congress from both parties have proposed various ways to address this issue in the form of legislation, and while I applaud their attention to the problem, I also know that congressional action often does not come quickly,” the speaker told Trump in a letter. “In order to at least begin addressing this issue, there is no need to wait for Congress to act. That’s why I respectfully ask that you move immediately to rescind the policy that [Attorney] General [Jeff] Sessions announced in April and any other policies that have led to an increase in family separations at the border.”

There’s more: In the letter, Straus also rejected arguments by the Trump administration that the policy could be used as leverage against Democrats in Congress. “It is wrong to use these scared, vulnerable children as a negotiating tool,” Straus wrote.

Straus hails from San Antonio. While the state’s second-largest city isn’t on the border with Mexico, it is close enough to be considered near Ground Zero of this still-boiling crisis. The city has a huge Latino population, comprising many recent immigrants. Speaker Straus is listening to them as well as the better angels of his own conscience in seeking relief from this hideous policy.

I want to add, too, that Straus is no stranger to political sanity in a state that at times veers into fits of partisan hysteria.

Gov. Greg Abbott called the 2017 Legislature into special sessions to consider, among other items, that goofy “Bathroom Bill,” which required people to use public restrooms in accordance with the gender assigned to their birth certificate. The bill was clearly discriminatory against transgender individuals.

It passed the Senate — which is led by GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — on a partisan vote. Speaker Straus, as the Man of the House, would have none of it.

Through the speaker’s leadership, the Bathroom Bill ended up dead and buried. Which is where it should remain now and forever.

Straus is turning his speaker’s gavel over to someone else in 2019. I do hope, however, that he remains a clear voice of reason among Republicans whose hearts, minds and souls have been captured by the lying carnival barker/flim-flam artist who in 2016 got elected president of the United States.

Texas needs Joe Straus to continue speaking out, as does the nation.

Time to re-calibrate political antennae

Twenty-three years in the Texas Panhandle gave me an up-close look at politics in one of the state’s most reliably Republican regions.

I’m no longer living there full time. I hesitate to say my wife and I have severed our ties to the Panhandle, because we haven’t … exactly. We’re still making periodic trips back to check on family matters.

But the fact remains that we’re registered to vote in Collin County, which brings me to the point of this blog.

I am having to re-calibrate my political antennae. I now must look at other sources for local political grist to help keep High Plains Blogger reasonably fresh. This will be a challenge for me.

I wanted to vote in the next election for the 13th Congressional District. Although I harbor a considerable personal affection for the congressman who has represented the district since 1995, Mac Thornberry has been a disappointment to me. It just so happens that his Democratic opponent this year is a good friend of mine, a fellow I’ve known almost as long as I’ve known Thornberry.

Greg Sagan wants to represent the 13th District when the next Congress convenes in January. Will he be able to step into the job? That remains huge, given the 13th’s significant GOP bent.

Sagan has made one pledge that Thornberry — despite critics who contend wrongly that he did — never made: Sagan has vowed to step aside after serving a set amount of time. Thornberry didn’t make such a declaration for himself, although he has endorsed congressional term limits legislation whenever he’s had the chance to vote on it.

But I believe it’s time for a change in the Panhandle’s congressional representation. Although I cannot vote for Sagan, I can speak on his behalf through this blog, which I intend to do when the opportunities present themselves between now and November.

My former Texas state representative, John Smithee, has a Democratic foe this fall. He is Mike Purcell of Amarillo, with whom I have a casual acquaintance. Smithee is another matter. I’ve known him well since my arrival in Amarillo in 1995. What I’ve always liked about John is his willingness to answer direct questions with equally direct answers. Have I always agreed with the Republican’s legislative point of view? No, but his candor always has meant much to me whenever I sought it from him.

Purcell’s chances of defeating Smithee are, um, zeee-ro!

Again, I cannot vote in that one either.

***

As for the statewide races on the ballot, I’ll be dialed in on one for sure: the U.S. Senate contest between Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

I won’t belabor the point here about the Cruz Missile. I do not want him re-elected. My strong preference is for O’Rourke, if only because I want him to think first of Texans and much less of his own political ambition. Sen. Cruz, to my mind, has demonstrated clearly that he puts his own needs, wishes and desires first. Ted Cruz needs to go.

I’ll chime in later on the race for governor and some of the other statewide races, namely the contest for agriculture commissioner.

I’ll be watching all this unfold from a new perch in the Metroplex. I’ll need to get up to speed in a hurry in the race for the 3rd Congressional District, Texas Senate District 8 and Texas House District 89, all three of which will be represented by freshman lawmakers next January.

Hey, come to think of it, everyone is starting fresh in the halls of power in Austin and on Capitol Hill.

Just like me!