Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Amarillo is hardly a Texas ‘outpost’

I hereby declare that never, ever again should Amarillo consider itself to be some sort of remote outpost in the great state of Texas.

My example? Take a look at all the money, manpower and machinery at work repairing, renovating and rebuilding the highways that course through this city.

Interstate 40, between roughly Quarter Horse Drive and Soncy? Serious rebuilding is underway. Interstate 27 from the I-40 interchange south to 34th Avenue? More reconstruction. I-27 northbound from 26th Avenue? More of the same. Loop 335 on the southern edge of the city? Ditto, man!

I am unaware of the total dollar cost the Texas Department of Transportation is spending on all this work. I’m pretty sure it’s in the high tens of millions.

Let’s flash back for a moment.

I was working in Beaumont in 1991 when I heard about a freshman legislator from the Texas Panhandle who suggested openly that the state needed to partition itself into several parts. This fellow didn’t like the way state government allegedly “ignored” the Panhandle. My initial reaction was, shall we say, not terribly flattering toward this gentleman.

Four years later, I moved to Amarillo and became acquainted with state Rep. David Swinford, a Dumas Republican. I asked him about his desire to carve up the state. He smiled and didn’t deny that was his intent, although it seemed to me at the time that he was only half-serious — or maybe he was half-joking … whatever.

We developed a good professional relationship over the years. I became convinced that Swinford’s desire in 1991 might have taken off had it earned any support from legislators downstate.

Suffice to say today, though, that Amarillo hardly sits at the edge of some desolate frontier. The state ended up building two prison units here about the time Swinford took office; Texas Tech University installed a pharmacy school near the city’s complex of hospitals and medical clinics.

I surely have heard how Amarillo is closer to the capitals of neighboring states than it is to Austin. And, yes, I’ve heard multiple tales of how President Johnson allegedly closed the Air Force base  here because he was mad that so many Panhandle counties for voted for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.

But … that was then.

On this very day — and for the foreseeable future — Texas highway construction is telling us that the state is acutely aware of Amarillo’s importance to the rest of Texas.

Once more: Get rid of constables office

Now that we’re talking about law enforcers in Texas today, I want to turn attention briefly to an issue I have raised before — and likely will raise again until the Texas Legislature does what it should do.

When have you ever read about a Texas constable playing any kind of significant role in any case, or made a significant arrest?

I continue to be utterly astounded that Texas allows this office to remain on the books throughout the state. It’s an elected office. Yep, we elect these law enforcement officials. We charge them with delivering summonses and other civil papers to residents; they also are empowered to provide court security in justice of the peace courts.

Their powers go beyond just the humdrum of paper serving and bailiff duties.

In actuality, any of those duties could be done by municipal police and sheriff’s departments.

I have written about this before. The Legislature isn’t taking the hint, which I’ve said out loud is to get rid of the office.

Constables … who needs 'em?

The 2019 Legislature isn’t likely to budge on this matter. I wish it would. The problem lies in the power of the constables and judges lobby, which is significant in Austin.

The performance of the office as it has been handled in Texas Panhandle counties has been spotty at best. I’ve been observing this office for more than three decades at opposite corners of the state. I have watched it function badly in the Golden Triangle and again in Potter and Randall counties.

I realize that other counties put constables to more effective use than what I have witnessed up close.

Absent a total abolition of this waste of taxpayer money, my hope remains that counties are given the authority to toss aside constable offices where they don’t serve the public good.

I’m still waiting to read or hear about a constable making a tangible difference in local law enforcement.

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.

All hell is about to break loose in Austin

You want to hear the rumble of thunder under your feet?

Put your ear to the ground and get a load of the racket emanating from a Texas legislator’s announcement that he won’t seek re-election in 2018.

That would be House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, who stood firm, tall and steady against the onslaught of the far right within his party. Straus is calling it quits.

The Texas Tribune is reporting that a political earthquake is under way in Austin. A Rice University political scientist says the “political center in Texas” has just collapsed.

That might be the truth.

Straus fought against the TEA Party and other fringe elements within the Republican Party. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick sought to shove the Bathroom Bill down our throats. Straus was having none of it; a bill that would require people to use public restrooms according to the gender noted on their birth certificate. The Bathroom Bill discriminates against transgendered individuals and Straus wouldn’t stand for it.

His stubborn refusal to let the bill get a vote in the House has drawn the outrage from those on the right. So the speaker is out of there.

And the successors are starting the line up. One of them might be a friend of mine, Rep. Four Price, an Amarillo Republican first elected to the House in 2010. I asked Price about the speaker’s future a few weeks ago, but he said he was standing behind his guy, Straus.

Now that the speaker is on his way out, there exists an opportunity for one of Straus’s key lieutenants — that would be Price — to step in and maintain the moderate tone that the House ought to keep.

As the Texas Tribune reports: More than any other Texas Republican with real power, Straus was seen as a voice of moderation. On issue after issue, he and his team alone stood in the way of the kind of runaway populism that Donald Trump championed and major statewide Republicans endorsed.

Here’s the Tribune article

Will another moderate step up? Might it be Four Price? And would a Speaker Price resist the pressure that’s sure to come hard from the far right?

Meanwhile, the ground continues to rumble.

Is there a West Texas primary donnybrook in the making?

That old trick knee of mine is flaring up again.

It’s throbbing so much that I am beginning to think that West Texas Republican voters are facing the prospect of a serious donnybrook in the race for the state Senate District seat now held by Amarillo businessman Kel Seliger.

My critics are all too willing to remind me that the trick knee isn’t nearly as reliable as I’ve suggested it is. But that’s all right. It’s telling me that Seliger is going to have to fend off some serious criticism from two GOP primary foes. The criticism well might center on the senator’s decision against endorsing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s own re-election bid in 2018.

I have read Sen. Seliger’s comments on this decision. He said he’ll “support” Patrick — I presume with his vote. He just won’t declare his endorsement out loud in public, for the record.

Seliger’s decision drew a hair-trigger response from Amarillo restauranteur Victor Leal, who suggested that Seliger is turning his back on the Senate’s presiding officer. I am guessing that Leal is going to endorse Patrick, one of the Texas GOP’s more vivid ideologues. Seliger isn’t wired the same way, and my hunch is that his own legislative temperament — which differs greatly from Patrick — has compelled him to withhold his active endorsement of the lieutenant governor.

The third Senate District 31 Republican candidate, former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, likely will seek to gain some political leverage, too. He’s a TEA Party kind of guy, which also runs anathema to Seliger’s more measured and studied approach to legislating.

Seliger has told local media that he expects a tough fight. I will presume he’ll prepare for one as well. It is my hope that he preps for a bruising campaign and gets ready to rumble with Leal and Canon.

Leal is a known quantity in the northern half of the Panhandle; Canon’s base is in the Permian Basin. Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, has managed to make his presence felt down yonder in the southern part of the sprawling district.

I’ve already revealed my bias in this race; I want Sen. Seliger to win the nomination, which in this district is tantamount to election.

The only bit of advice I can give Seliger — based on my trick knee — is to get his opposition research ready and to respond quickly and forcefully to the attacks that are sure to come his direction.

Texting and driving? It’s illegal in Texas, man!

I want to present a portion of an editorial that appeared in today’s Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, where I used to work before I gravitated in early 1995 way up yonder to the Texas Panhandle.

It comes from a regular Saturday feature called “Bouquets and Brickbats.” The Enterprise tossed a Brickbat thusly at: Southeast Texans who continue to text and drive even though that has been illegal since Sept. 1. Most local police and sheriff’s deputies have not been writing tickets for this offense because of Harvey duties and to give residents time to become familiar with the new law, but they say that will change soon. Statewide, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers issued four citations and 46 warnings for texting in the first 12 days. Texas Department of Transportation officials blame texting while driving for more than 3,000 vehicle crashes in Texas last year. The new law prohibits drivers from using their phones to “read, write, or send an electronic messages while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.” Violations can lead to a fine up to $99 for a first offense, with costs rising for subsequent offense.

I want to call your attention to this pearl of wisdom because it could apply at this end of Texas as well. Motorists seem to be ignoring the state law that took effect at the beginning of September.

I cannot stress enough the importance of this statewide ban. It took some guts for the Legislature to approve it, given that a previous Texas governor, Rick Perry, vetoed a nearly identical bill in 2011. Gov. Greg Abbott saw the wisdom of signing this bill into law.

Are Texas Panhandle drivers any more obedient than our fellow Texans way downstate? Hardly. A day doesn’t go by without my being able to spot someone yapping on a handheld device while driving a motor vehicle. Just the other day I watched a young man doing that very thing while driving past Windsor Elementary School in Amarillo; I should note that Amarillo enacted an ordinance years ago banning such activity in school zones.

I want to make a request of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which does a good job stopping drug traffickers moving along Interstate 40.

How about turning your sights with equal intensity on the yahoos and morons who ignore state law by texting and gabbing on handheld cell phones while exceeding the posted speed limit on I-40?

Randall County GOP puts Speaker Straus on notice

So, just how Republican-red is Randall County, Texas?

It believes that the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Joe Straus of San Antonio, isn’t conservative enough. It believes he has stalled legislation near and dear to the far right wing of the GOP. Why, he is just too bipartisan, too willing to work with those dreaded Democrats in the Texas House.

So, the Randall County Republican Party has joined some other county GOP operations in pulling its support of Straus should the Republican seek another term as speaker of the House.

Good bleeping grief!

Straus appears to have drawn the ire of the Randall County GOP because he heeds public opinion on certain controversial measures. Off the top of my noggin, the Bathroom Bill comes immediately to mind.

Texas senators approved the Bathroom Bill, which was pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and sent it to the House. Straus opposed the bill that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms in accordance to the sexual identity stated on their birth certificate. Straus saw the bill for what it was: an unenforceable act of discrimination against some Texans. He joined chiefs of police, business executives and medical professionals who also opposed the Bathroom Bill.

But because he didn’t push this monstrosity of a bill through the House — among other legislation — he no longer deserves to be speaker. The Randall County GOP’s resolution seeks to get state Reps. John Smithee and Four Price, both Amarillo Republicans, to vote against Straus if he seeks another speaker term.

It’s interesting to me that Price, whose district includes Potter County, declined to comment to the media about the Randall County resolution. Why do you suppose he did that? Oh, maybe it’s because he might applaud the job Straus has done while serving as the Man of the House.

I don’t want the Randall County Republican Party to have its way. The Texas House has managed to stall some overheated legislative remedies, the Bathroom Bill being one of them.

As for the bipartisanship that Straus has shown, I welcome that, too. It is in keeping with a longstanding Texas legislative tradition with governors, lieutenant governors and Texas House speakers routinely reaching across the aisle to get things done for the good of the entire state.

Still looking for cell phone ban sign at border

I was hoping to see something the other day next to the “Welcome to Texas” sign that greeted us on our way back from a long-weekend trip to Colorado.

It would be a “No cell phone use while driving” sign.

I didn’t see it when we re-entered Texas from New Mexico along Interstate 40. Dammit, anyway! Where is the warning to motorists coming here from elsewhere that they need to put their cell phones away while they’re driving on Texas highways?

The Texas Legislature this year approved a cell phone ban while driving bill. Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law, which took effect Sept. 1.

Most states have laws that ban cell phone usage while driving; even more of them ban texting while driving. New Mexico has a “local jurisdiction” ban, by the way; Colorado bans cell phone use if the driver is operating on a learner’s permit. Colorado also bans texting while driving; New Mexico has no such statewide ban.

My point is that states that ban this act of sheer stupidity should be sure to let motorists know it when they enter those states.

I’m proud of our Legislature for agreeing to implement a statewide ban; I also am proud of Gov. Abbott for signing the bill into law, doing something his predecessor as governor, Rick Perry, declined to do in 2011, citing a ridiculous notion that such a bill was too “intrusive” on drivers’ private lives.

The state needs to take the next step and erect those signs at all its entry points that warn motorists: Keep your cell phones put away while you “Drive Friendly, the Texas Way.”

Seliger makes it official: He’s running again for the Senate

I am heartened to learn that Kel Seliger is going to run for re-election to the Texas Senate.

The Amarillo Republican has two GOP primary opponents, one of whom he defeated in 2014; the other Republican challenger comes from the heart of Seliger’s base.

Seliger will face former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo businessman Victor Leal.

I watched the Seliger-Canon primary fight up close four years ago. It shouldn’t have been a contest. It turned out to be one. Canon, a lawyer by profession, is a TEA Party favorite. He speaks in platitudes and clichés. Seliger demonstrated clearly in the 2014 primary campaign a firm grasp of the details of legislating, of state law and of how government works.

Canon managed to split the vast District 31 Republican Party primary vote nearly in half, losing the primary by about 4 percentage points to Seliger.

Now we have Leal entering the race. I don’t yet know what kind of campaign Leal is going to run. He’s got some good name ID, given all the radio advertising he runs promoting his restaurant. Seliger will have to deal with that in some form or fashion.

Seliger’s platform will stress “local control.” He said in a statement that he believes that “Folks closest to a problem are usually the best at solving it.” Good deal, senator. Then perhaps he’ll persuade the 2019 Texas Legislature, presuming he wins re-election, to stop monkeying around with cities’ efforts to install red-light cameras as a deterrent to those who keep breaking the law by running through those stop lights.

I’ve already stipulated that I consider Seliger to be a friend. I also am impressed by how quickly he grasped the nuts and bolts of legislating after he was elected initially in 2004.

Seliger says he’ll run as a conservative legislator. According to some political interest groups, though, he’s not conservative enough. Empower Texas is one such group that likely will work to defeat Seliger. I believe this group is making a mistake.

Kel Seliger knows the pulse of Senate District 31 from the Permian Basin to the top of the Panhandle. He needs to return to the Senate.

Right there might be Sen. Seliger’s first political endorsement.

You’re welcome, senator.

A tiny sliver of good news from Harvey

It occurs to me that Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey has produced a tiny, minuscule sliver of good news for Texans.

The monstrous storm that drowned the Gulf Coast has diverted Texas legislators’ attention away from idiotic notions, such as mandating that people use public restrooms in accordance with the gender designated on their birth certificate.

Yes, the Legislature gathered in special session to consider 20 items put before it by Gov. Greg Abbott. One of them was that goofy Bathroom Bill. The Legislature adjourned its special session with the Bathroom Bill going nowhere. Then came Hurricane Harvey, which turned into Tropical Storm Harvey, which then tore the coast apart from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle.

The storm’s wrath riveted Gov. Abbott’s attention away from nutty notions such as the Bathroom Bill and focused him tightly on his role as chief disaster relief coordinator — a job he has done skillfully; he has exhibited tremendous leadership during this time of crisis.

The Legislature, meanwhile, has gone home across the state. Some of them have returned to flood-ravaged communities along the coast. They all have more urgent matters to which they must attend.