Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Is a GOP retirement announcement coming from the Panhandle?

The Texas Tribune published a story on Nov. 28, 2018 that speculated about the possibility of several retirement announcements coming from Texas’s substantial Republican congressional majority.

One section of the story said this: ” … many Republican operatives bet that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the most senior Republican from Texas in Congress, could make the upcoming term his last. That’s because Thornberry, currently chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is term-limited out of being the top Republican on that committee, in 2021.”

Thornberry no longer is chairman of the panel. He currently serves as ranking GOP member, which gives him some clout on the panel. Still, it’s not the same as chairing it.

I want to defend my former congressman on one point. He campaigned for the office in 1994 while supporting the Contract With America, which contained a provision that called for limiting the number of terms House members could serve. Thornberry never said he would impose a personal limit on the terms he would serve representing the 13th Congressional District.

He has voted in favor of constitutional amendments in the House; the amendment proposals always have failed.

Twenty-four years later, Thornberry has emerged as one of Texas’s senior congressional lawmakers.

I, too, wonder whether he might pack it in after this term. I’ve speculated on it publicly in this blog.

I don’t talk to Thornberry these days, although I still believe we have a good personal relationship. I rarely have supported personally his policy pronouncements during his years in the House. I’ll admit, though, that my position as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News required me to write public statements in support of Thornberry against my personal beliefs; hey, it’s part of the job of writing for someone else.

The way I look at it, a Mac Thornberry retirement likely wouldn’t result in the 13th District flipping to a Democrat. The GOP majority in the Texas Legislature has created a rock-solid Republican district that stretches from the top of the Panhandle to the Metroplex.

If there’s a retirement announcement coming from Mac Thornberry, you can consider me as someone who won’t be surprised.

Empower Texans zealot really makes me angry

I am going to admit something about which I am not very proud.

Whenever I see the name of Michael Quinn Sullivan, my hair tends to stand straight up. Why this guy? He runs an outfit called Empower Texans, a far-right political action committee that tends to interfere in Republican Party primary contests; Empower Texans prefers GOP candidates to adhere to rigid ideology, no matter how effective certain Republican incumbents have been in service to their constituents.

He is now linked to Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Sullivan reportedly recorded a conversation he had with Bonnen in which the speaker allegedly offered to give Sullivan the names of 10 Texas House GOP incumbents who might be ripe for targeting in the 2020 GOP primary election.

Texas Democrats have sued Sullivan and Bonnen, alleging campaign finance law violations connected to that conversation. Democrats also want Sullivan to reveal the full content of what he and Bonnen discussed.

Bring it on

Bonnen is embarrassed. He has apologized to his Republican House colleagues for things he allegedly said to Sullivan about them. He has reached out to House Democrats as well in an effort to rebuild his reputation. Bonnen assumed the speakership at the start of the 2019 Legislature after Joe Straus gave up the speaker’s office at the end of the 2018 election.

But … back to Sullivan.

I haven’t met this man. I know him only by what I’ve seen him and Empower Texans try to do in legislative districts in the Texas Panhandle, where I lived for 23 years while writing about politics and policy as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

Empower Texans has tried twice to defeat Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo. They ran a TEA Party candidate against Seliger in 2014. Seliger defeated former Midland Mayor Mike Canon five years ago. Canon ran against Seliger again in 2018, along with a third candidate, Amarillo restaurant owner Victor Leal. Seliger managed to defeat both challengers in the GOP primary, avoiding a runoff.

I’ve stipulated already that I have strong professional and personal affection for Sen. Seliger. It pi**** me off royally to see Seliger get a primary challenge from the far right wing of his party.

Indeed, Seliger has made no secret that he detests Sullivan. The feeling is quite mutual. Never mind that Seliger is a solid and dependable mainstream conservative Republican lawmaker who talks candidly and fluently about issues throughout the vast Senate district he has represented since 2004.

Sullivan also drew a political bead in 2018 on state Rep. Four Price, another mainstream Amarillo Republican. The Fritch city manager ran against Price in the GOP primary, but got thumped in the process. Price, though, has been much quieter about his feelings about Sullivan. My hunch is that Four Price shares Kel Seliger’s view about the Empower Texans political mogul.

Accordingly, I am hopeful that Texas Democrats can prevail in their lawsuit against Sullivan and against Speaker Bonnen.

Sullivan plays a relentless game of political hardball. This guy needs to get beaned.

Speaker Bonnen, you might have blown it royally!

I was willing to give Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen the benefit of the doubt when he sought the office after Joe Straus left the Legislature at the beginning of the year.

Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, was thought by many to be a politician who is able to work with pols from both sides of the aisle in Austin.

But now … it turns out he might have double-crossed members of his own GOP caucus, if we are to believe ultra right-winger Michael Quinn Sullivan, the godfather of Empower Texans, the political action committee he founded. Sullivan reportedly has revealed that Bonnen agreed to offer Empower Texans the names of 10 GOP lawmakers the right wingers could target in the 2020 election.

Would Speaker Straus have done such a thing? Or Speaker Tom Craddick? Or Speaker Pete Laney? Or Speaker Gib Lewis?

I doubt it strongly! Yet we now have evidence, apparently, of collusion (there’s that word again) between Speaker Bonnen and a right-wing outfit that has sought to yank the Legislature even farther to the right than it already stands.

Betrayal anyone?

This is a disgraceful betrayal if it turns out to be true. There’s something credible-sounding about what has been revealed so far.

Sullivan has talked about a meeting he had with Bonnen in which the speaker made the offer to hand over the names of legislators that would show up on Empower Texans’ hit list. Bonnen has said publicly he wanted to work for the re-election of all GOP lawmakers. The Sullivan account contradicts Bonnen and many of Bonnen’s legislative colleagues are buying into what Sullivan is saying.

This looks for all the world like dirty pool. It looks also to me that Speaker Bonnen’s time with his hands on the House gavel might come to an end when the next Legislature convenes in January 2021.

This is particularly troubling for me on a personal level, given my own intense distrust of Empower Texans and of Michael Quinn Sullivan. Empower Texans has sought to unseat at least two Republican legislators with whom I have a high personal and professional regard. I refer to two men from Amarillo, state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price.

They both got “primaried” in 2018, only to beat back those challenges with relative ease. Both men’s GOP primary opponents were recruited and funded by Empower Texans, which seeks to push an ultra-conservative legislative agenda throughout Texas.

So, for Speaker Dennis Bonnen to crawl into the political sack with these clowns — allegedly! — is distasteful on its face.

Empower Texans endorses Trump, but am wondering why

At one level, this is no surprise. Empower Texans, the far-right political action group that often targets “establishment Republicans” for defeat in favor of far-righties, has endorsed Donald J. Trump for re-election as president of the United States.

I want to share the endorsement here. 

It is authored by Michael Quinn Sullivan, the CEO of the outfit. He calls the 2020 election a watershed event for Texans and it is utterly critical, he said, for Texans to join the rest of the country in sending Trump back into office for four more years.

It amazes me. I am stunned. Astonished. Perplexed. Baffled. Bumfuzzled.

I always thought of Empower Texans as a rigid ideological organization. It adheres to a doctrine that calls for extreme fiscal restraint. Empower Texans was born out of the TEA Party movement and I figure it has morphed into an ally of the Texas Freedom Caucus, which is part of the larger conservative movement that has taken control of the Republican Party.

Trump, though, doesn’t have an ideology. He tilts at whatever forces are pushing him.

But he kowtows to tyrants. He denigrates our intelligence agencies. He actually invited the Russians to attack our electoral system in 2020 the way they did in 2016. He ridiculous our allies in Europe, Australia, Asia and Latin America.

Trump, moreover, has talked about spending a trillion or so dollars to rebuild our nation’s transportation infrastructure, which by itself isn’t a bad thing. The problem, though, is that he cannot work with Democrats to come up with a plan on how to do it, or certainly how to pay for it.

Trump promised to “drain the swamp.” It only has gotten even swampier since he took office. Oh, yeah … let’s not forget those key aides who have been indicted, pleaded guilty or are actually serving time in the slammer.

Empower Texans has managed to stick its collective political nose into local races around the state, seeking to elect legislators who cotton to its rigid ideology. It has failed even in the most conservative regions of Texas, such as the Panhandle, to elect legislative candidates to its liking. Why? Because local folks don’t like being dictated to by ideologues of any stripe, even far-right-wingers such as Empower Texans.

This group never is going to win me over. Its endorsement of Donald John Trump is no surprise to me, even though I still cannot comprehend why, given the president’s utter lack of moral/political/ideological base.

Nor should it surprise readers of this blog that I believe Empower Texans has made a patently foolish decision to stand with a president who is completely unfit for the office he occupies.

Welcome back to the arena, Mr. Speaker

I am so glad to see this bit of news about a former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

Joe Straus has kicked in $2.5 million from his campaign treasure chest to form a political action committee that is going to fight for the “soul” of the Texas Republican Party.

What does that mean? It means that Straus is going to use his influence to persuade Texas GOP politicians to concentrate more on actual policy matters and less on divisive social issues. He wants the money he has pledged to promote GOP candidates who will be more focused on reasonable issues.

He cites health care and public education as the issues he wants the Republican Party to focus on going forward.

This is good news. Why? Well, I am one Texan who will be forever grateful for the kill shot that Straus — from San Antonio — fired during the 2017 Legislature that took down a ridiculous piece of legislation that cleared the Texas Senate but died a quick death in the House.

I refer to the Bathroom Bill, an item pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The Bathroom Bill would have required people to use public restrooms according to their gender at birth; the aim, quite obviously, was to disallow transgendered individuals from using restrooms that comport with their current gender.

Gov. Greg Abbott placed the Bathroom Bill on the 2017 Legislature’s special session agenda after the regular session adjourned. Straus was having none of it, to which I stood and applauded the then-speaker.

He wants to restore some additional sanity to the political discourse in Texas. He is taking aim at his own political party, which I am presuming he believes has been hijacked by social conservatives who want to enact discriminatory legislation … such as the Bathroom Bill.

As the Texas Standard has reported: Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, says Straus’ new PAC is likely part of a larger Republican movement toward the center.

“That’s been a result of some campaigns and the election that just passed where a lot of soul searching has been done in the Republican Party,” Rottinghaus says. “I think that’s the subtext for this.”

I hope he is correct. I also hope that Speaker Straus can talk some sense into his Republican colleagues, persuading them to steer away from the lunacy that too often drives them to produce legislation such as the Bathroom Bill.

City grapples with charting its own destiny

My education into the community my wife and I call home has taken a major step forward, courtesy of an assignment I completed for KETR-FM radio’s website.

I wrote a story about Princeton, Texas’s struggles to enact a home rule charter, and how four ballot box failures have kept the city functioning under laws established by the state of Texas.

Read the KETR-FM story here.

It is, to say the very least, one of the more peculiar municipal conflicts I have ever seen.

The city, dating back to 2007, has had four municipal elections that sought a city charter. It has fallen short every time. The opposition to home rule comes from a group of residents with specific bones to pick with City Hall. They express concern over tax policy and over annexation.

One of the leaders of the opposition, Michael Biggs, doesn’t even live within the city limits. He resides just south of the city, which means he cannot vote in these elections. Still, he is able to persuade enough of the city’s voters to go along with his opposition to enacting a city charter.

The city assesses a municipal tax rate of 68 cents per $100 assessed property valuation. A charter would enable the city to levy a tax of as much as $2.50 per $100. City Manager Derek Borg told me that possibility is a complete non-starter; it won’t happen, not ever!

Annexation is the bigger bogeyman for the anti-charter folks. They don’t want the city to envelop their property. What fascinates me, though, is that the city cannot do it without property owners’ permission, which apparently doesn’t assuage the concern of those who oppose the charter idea.

I am perplexed, indeed, that the city cannot seem to muster enough electoral support within its corporate limits to overcome the opposition that stifles City Hall’s effort to establish a home rule charter. The election returns I’ve seen reveal abysmal voter turnout in a city of several thousand residents.

The most recent measure, which failed in May 2014, went down to defeat by a vote of 260 to 151 ballots. The 2010 census put the population of Princeton at roughly 6,800 residents, which means that half of those residents were eligible to vote in the municipal election. Most of them weren’t interested enough to cast their ballots.

State law places plenty of restrictions on how cities can govern themselves. They surrender a good bit of “local control” to legislative fiat.

In my view that is no way to run a city. Maybe one day — and I hope it is soon — Princeton will be able to write its own rules for how it charts its own future.

Good riddance to this legislative … blowhard

I want to be among those who say so long, farewell and good riddance to a Texas legislative blowhard.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a onetime member of the Texas Freedom Caucus, has announced he won’t seek re-election in 2020.

The Republican from Bedford distinguished himself mainly through his fervent debates on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. He got little legislation enacted into law.

Although he did finally score something of a win when the Legislature approved — and Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law — a measure that bans cities from using red-light cameras to help fight lawbreakers who run through street signals that order them to come to a complete and full stop.

Nice going, pal.

He quit the Freedom Caucus — a group aligned with the TEA party faction of the GOP — to concentrate on “grassroots issues.”

Well, now he is soon to be gone from the Legislature. He represents a district on the other end of the Metroplex. Still, his votes matter to all of us, given that state laws cover everyone who lives in Texas.

I will not miss this man’s fiery objection to normal rules of order in the Texas House. Indeed, he managed to anger many within his party — and damn near lost to a Democratic challenger in 2018.

So, maybe he read something into those election results and decided to pack it in.

See ya, dude.

Texas AG waits and waits and waits … to stand trial

This just isn’t normal.

The state’s top law enforcement official continues to function with a dark cloud hanging directly over him, but there’s no apparent resolution in sight on how that cloud will disappear.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been indicted for securities fraud. He was elected in 2014 with that indictment hanging over him. Then he won re-election — albeit narrowly — in 2018 with the same cloud.

There have been venue change rulings and then delay upon delay.

Paxton got indicted by a grand jury in Collin County — which Paxton used to represent in the Texas Legislature — on felony counts of security fraud. Grand jurors accused him of failing to register with the state while receiving payments in return for soliciting clients for a North Texas investment firm.

Paxton also has received complaints from the Texas Securities Board, which reprimanded him for soliciting clients without being properly registered.

This is ridiculous.

The Texas Tribune has published a fascinating timeline of Paxton’s legal difficulties. Read it here.

I am left to doubt damn near everything that this guy says in his capacity as Texas AG. Sure, he’s entitled to an innocence presumption. However, a grand jury indictment doesn’t just happen because grand jurors are intent, to borrow a phrase, on “indicting a ham sandwich.”

Now the principals are caught up in a side issue involving prosecutors’ pay. More delays, foot-dragging and whatever.

Justice isn’t being delivered on this matter. The state’s attorney general needs to stand trial and there needs to be a resolution of the serious charges that have been brought against him.

Panhandle no longer is a Texas ‘step-child’

There once was a Texas Panhandle state representative who semi-seriously thought the Panhandle should separate itself from the rest of the state because, he groused, state government ignores the region.

That state rep was David Swinford, a Dumas Republican first elected to office in 1990. I asked him about that notion when I first met him in 1995 and he didn’t exactly deny it.

Well, Swinford has retired from the Legislature. And to its credit, the legislative body has restored faith in many in the Panhandle. How? By appropriating enough money — $17 million — to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

This is great news for the region. A lot of folks are taking credit for ensuring the Legislature made this event a reality.

The Texas Tech University System is going to build the vet school, the second one in Texas. The first vet school is run by the Texas A&M University System. Aggieland opposed Tech’s initiative. Tech wasn’t going to be denied. It lined up plenty of political backing in the Panhandle and the South Plains.

Amarillo Matters, a political action committee formed a couple of years ago, is one organization that is taking credit for pushing the Legislature to act. Amarillo Matters said this on its website:

“Not only does the budget include startup funding for the vet school, but it also includes a directive for Texas Tech to move forward developing the school,” Amarillo Matters President Jason Herrick said. “This is great news for Amarillo, the Texas Panhandle and South Plains, and our state as a whole.” The school will help meet the growing need for large animal and rural veterinarians across the state. It will also increase the opportunities for Texas students to further their education without leaving the state.

“Legislative approval of the Texas Tech veterinary school is a watershed event for West Texas, the Texas Panhandle, and all of Texas,” former Texas Tech University System Chancellor Bob Duncan said. “This culminates years of hard work by literally hundreds of individuals who recognized the unmet demand for rural and large animal veterinarians throughout our state,” Duncan added.

Read the rest of Amarillo Matters’ post here.

Here’s my essential point: State government has not ignored the Panhandle. Yet one hears the occasional gripe from those who think it still does. Let’s lose the attitude, my former Panhandle neighbors. The Panhandle has plenty of legislative clout and it used it effectively for the benefit of the delegation’s constituents.

I also doubt that my friend David Swinford is among the soreheads.

Vet school set to become a reality for the Panhandle

I want to offer some hand claps to Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle for a signature they have obtained from Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor has signed legislation that grants state money to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. It will be the second such institution in Texas. It will be operated by Texas Tech University and it will be located wholly in Amarillo, which lobbied furiously for the funds to build this much-needed project.

I had the pleasure of visiting with former Texas Tech Chancellor Bob Duncan not long before he got the bum’s rush by the Tech board of regents. Duncan came to Amarillo to make the case for the vet school and to tell the community that the state needed the second such program. Texas A&M University operates the long-standing school of veterinary medicine and had resisted Tech’s efforts to gain legislative approval for the new school.

This is a big deal, man! I am delighted that the region’s legislative delegation — state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Reps. John Smithee and Four Price, all Amarillo Republicans — flexed its collective muscle to ensure this legislative victory.

It also is heartening that Texas Tech, despite Duncan’s ouster as chancellor, managed to maintain its own momentum with a new chancellor, Tedd Mitchell, at the helm.

The Amarillo campus will enable Panhandle veterinary students to stay closer to home to get their education. One can hope, too, that they will remain at home to pursue their careers as doctors of veterinary medicine.

I had my share of anxious moments while living in the Panhandle and even after moving away. But then Amarillo’s economic development gurus lined up behind the project; so did the City Council; civic and business leaders ponied up serious money to help lighten the public burden.

I understand the vet school will open for class in a couple of years. Students will receive a first-class education that will pave the way for first-class careers.

It is nice to see the Texas Panhandle, which occasionally gets the short shrift from those in power way down yonder in Austin, score a major victory.