Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Might there be a judicial election reform on tap?

Readers of this blog are aware of this fundamental truth: I detest, hate, loathe the way we elect judges in Texas.

We elect them at every level on partisan ballots. The system stinks. It has resulted in good judges being tossed out of office only because they belong to the party that isn’t in power in the moment. Republican or Democrat. It doesn’t matter. The partisan election of judges sucks out loud, man!

There might be a change in the works. A legislative effort is underway to study how to bring a needed change. It is running into a major roadblock in the form of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate.

According to the Texas Tribune, Patrick is “skeptical” of potential changes in the way we choose our judges. He said something about Texans preferring to elect their judges. Well, duh! I get that. I am not totally on board with an appointment system. I want at the very least to see an election system that allows judges to run on non-partisan ballots.

A former state senator, Republican Bob Duncan, has been a longtime champion for reforming the election system. The Legislature has created a commission to study ways to repair the system. Duncan agrees with Patrick that there needs to be total buy-in if there’s going to be a change. If only the lieutenant governor would throw his support behind a judicial reform effort; Gov. Greg Abbott already has done so. We’ll have a new House speaker in the next session and my hope is that he or she will sign on, too.

I keep asking: What is the difference between Republican justice and Democratic justice? I cannot determine a partisan difference. There are differences in judicial philosophy that have nothing to do with partisan consideration. So why not forces judges to run on their judicial philosophy?

I used to argue for a reform that creates a judicial appointment system; it would require judges to run for “retention.” I don’t think that will happen in Texas. I am going to hold out some hope that Texas can find a way to change the judicial election system from a purely partisan effort to a non-partisan system.

It makes sense and in my view is going to deliver a better quality of judges who adjudicate justice on behalf of all of us.

Shooting incident turns out OK, however …

Does a single shooting involving a gunman who was shot dead by those with handgun permits make me believe that it’s OK to allow guns into houses of worship?

No it doesn’t. However, it does give me pause to offer a word of gratitude that church congregants had the presence of mind to end a spasm of gun violence quickly before it could get much worse.

A shooter opened fire this morning in a church at White Settlement, Texas, a Fort Worth suburb. He shot two people in the church, one of whom died; the other suffers from life-threatening injuries.

Then some worshipers who happened to be carrying weapons opened fire on the gunman, killing him on the spot.

Texas legislators recently approved a law that allows concealed handguns in houses of worship. Only those who are licensed to carry them will be allowed to pack the weapons while worshiping.

I am not yet persuaded that this is a good idea. However, I certainly am grateful that the bystanders who were in the church sanctuary had the skill to end the nightmare quickly. Such relatively good fortune — and I use that term with extreme caution — isn’t necessarily a guarantee that future incidents will produce similar results.

White City Police Chief J.P. Bevering called the congregants who killed the gunman “heroic.” Yes, they most surely are. The rest of the congregation at West Freeway Church of Christ owe them an eternal debt of thanks.

Wanting a reform of rules governing legislators becoming lobbyists

While working on a blog entry I happened to call the office of Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo to ask whether the state had clamped down on legislators who seek to become lobbyists.

The answer I got was “no.” The state had not reformed what is commonly called the “revolving door policy” that allows state legislators to become lobbyists for the special interest group of their choice.

In short, someone can walk away from the Legislature and walk directly into a high-paying job as a registered lobbyist.

That rule has to change. It is one of the items I am going to place on my wish list for the 2021 Texas Legislature to enact.

State legislators have built-in access to their former colleagues when they walk away from their public service careers. My memory of legislators with whom I am familiar who then went to work on behalf of special interests is lengthy.

The most notable example is former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center. The Democrat left the Legislature after being muscled out of the speaker’s chair and became an instantaneous lobbyist/big hitter. And who was surprised at that? No one. Laney had a lot of political allies and personal friends on both sides of the aisle. He has been able to parlay those friendships into a healthy post-Legislature career.

Former Republican state Rep. David Swinford is another one. The Dumas lawmaker left the Legislature after the 2009 session and went to work pitching wind farms to his former legislative colleagues.

The rolls are full of those kinds of examples. I harbor no particular ill will toward lobbyists as a general rule; only those who represent special interests that I find repugnant.

Still, the instantaneous advantage former legislators have when they leave elected office and go to work for special interests puts them at a decided advantage over their competitors.

Why not level the field a bit by mandating, say, a two- or three-year waiting period before former legislators can sign up as lobbyists? Is that such a hard task to accomplish? It doesn’t seem so to me.

Wanting next POTUS to rescind transgender ban

Donald Trump took office as president and began issuing a flurry of executive orders, even though he criticized Barack Obama for his use of executive authority when he was president of the United States.

One of the orders he issued revoked an Obama order that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly in the U.S. military. Trump listened to his base of supporters and rescinded the previous order.

He is now getting his re-election campaign ramped up. Many of the Democrats seeking to succeed him want to yank the transgender ban off the books and allow those patriotic Americans to don the uniform of their country while serving in the military.

I fully support lifting the ban. Even the Washington Examiner, a newspaper friendly to the Trump agenda, has urged the president to take a second look at the transgender ban.

Trump offered a number of dubious assertions seeking to justify his decision to rescind the previous executive order. The worst of those reasons had something to do with the money that the Defense Department would be spending on personnel who would be in various stages of what is called “gender reassignment.” The counter argument to that notion, of course, came from those who noted the enormous amount of money the Pentagon spends on medication to correct maladies such as, oh, “erectile dysfunction.”

Without doubt, though, the most ironic aspect of Trump’s decision dealt with his denying Americans’ desire to serve their country when, back in the day, Trump avoided/evaded such service during the Vietnam War. He secured the now widely derided medical exemption relating to alleged “bone spurs” that Trump said he suffered on his feet.

For this president to deny Americans the opportunity to serve, which they seek to do voluntarily, is ridiculous on its face.

Furthermore, I equate the military transgender ban with the idiotic Bathroom Bill that the 2017 Texas Legislature considered enacting. You’ll recall that one, yes? The Senate approved a bill that required people to use public restrooms in accordance with their gender at birth; it was meant clearly to discriminate against transgendered individuals. The Texas House, led by then-Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, killed the idea in a special session.

Whoever succeeds Trump — whether it’s after this upcoming election or the next one — has vowed to restore some justice to our military ranks. My fervent hope is that the opportunity comes sooner rather than later.

Bonnen won’t face prosecution; just let him go away

The Brazoria County, Texas, district attorney won’t prosecute Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen for any felony charges stemming from a rotten deal he cut with a right-wing provocateur.

That is just as well. Bonnen has announced his intention to step down after the 2020 election; he won’t seek re-election to another term in the Texas House of Representatives. I hope he just disappears from public view. He doesn’t need any jail time.

DA Jeri Yenne called Bonnen’s conduct “repugnant,” but not criminal.

What did he do? He met with Empower Texans guru Michael Quinn Sullivan this past June and gave up the names of 10 fellow Republican legislators that Sullivan’s group could target in the 2020 election. Sullivan recorded the meeting he had with Bonnen and former Texas House GOP chairman Dustin Burrows of Lubbock. Bonnen denied stabbing the lawmakers in the back, then Sullivan released the recording and, well, proved Bonnen to be a liar as well as a back-stabber.

The district attorney where Bonnen represented in the Legislature had considered prosecuting the speaker on campaign finance charges, but then decided there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a criminal investigation.

That is just as well. Bonnen disgraced himself nicely by consorting with Sullivan and Empower Texans, an outfit that many of us detest. They are a rigid, right-wing organization that seeks to undermine mainstream Republican politicians in Texas.

My hope is that Bonnen doesn’t inflict any more damage on his fellow legislators before he leaves office prior to the start of the 2021 Legislature.

I just want him to go away. Goodbye, Mr. Speaker … and don’t let the door hit you in your backside.

Bye, bye … Speaker Bonnen

It’s one and done for Dennis Bonnen.

As in one term as speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and now he’s gone, retiring at the end of 2020 from the Legislature.

The Angleton Republican won’t seek re-election next year to another House term. It’s is just as well, given that he squandered the trust of his fellow GOP lawmakers by engaging in a surreptitious conversation with a well-known right-wing radical political activist — in which Bonnen offered the radical the names of 10 GOP lawmakers the said radical could target in the next election.

I am referring to Empower Texans main man Michael Quinn Sullivan, who’s made a career out of targeting Republicans in Texas who don’t adhere to the same rigid ideology as he and his group. He has drawn a bead in the past, for example, on state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and state Rep. Four Price, also of Amarillo. He lost those effort to unseat two fine legislators.

There are others, too, who have been victimized by this guy.

He now has brought down Speaker Bonnen, which the more I think about it might have been his aim all along. Sullivan and Bonnen aren’t exactly allies, but Sullivan recorded that meeting he had with Bonnen and former Texas House GOP caucus chairman Dustin Burrows of Lubbock. He said he had the goods on Bonnen, who denied giving up the names of those 10 legislators. Oh, but then the recording was released and Bonnen can be heard using some pithy language to describe his fellow Republicans.

At least 30 GOP House members had declared they either would not support him for re-election as speaker or flat out asked him to resign his speakership.

Bonnen took the least painful course. He won’t run for his Gulf Coast seat in 2020.

That’s all fine with me. I don’t want the Man of the Texas House to be a tool of a right-wing outfit such as Empower Texans, or of Michael Quinn Sullivan. My hope is that the next speaker of the House will stand up to this guy, tell him to take a hike and proceed to run the legislative chamber with at least a modicum of honesty and integrity.

Dennis Bonnen has failed to do so. For that reason I am glad to see him gone.

Texas House speaker is playing a weird game with colleagues

Talk about doing an end-around …

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who’s under fire over a weird conversation he had with a fiery right-wing activist, has squandered the trust of his Republican House colleagues. He could just resign the speakership, but no-o-o. He decided to ask his colleagues to draft a resolution calling for him to quit.

Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, made an emotional speech Friday to his colleagues, apologizing for tossing several of them under the proverbial bus. His colleagues, though, decided against the resolution because House rules — not to mention the Texas Constitution — require them to be in active legislative session to remove a speaker from office.

Good grief, man. Just quit your speakership! At the very least, just announce you won’t seek the speakership for the 2021 Legislature.

Bonnen took part in a meeting in June with Empower Texans guru Michael Quinn Sullivan, who recorded the meeting he had with Bonnen and with former Texas House GOP chair Dustin Burrows of Lubbock. Bonnen offered Sullivan the names of 10 GOP legislators that Empower Texans could target in the 2020 election. He also offered to grant Empower Texans media credentials, which means House floor access to lawmakers.

Bonnen had tried to deny what he said. Then he apologized for saying mean things about his colleagues. Now we have heard the conversation. Sullivan had it right.

The Friday meeting was a tense affair, according to the Texas Tribune. House GOP members have condemned in strong language what Bonnen told Sullivan. They also are angry with Burrows. It is becoming apparent that Bonnen wouldn’t be re-elected as speaker if he decides to seek the office again.

The speaker is seeking to play some kind of weird game of chicken, it seems to me, with his Republican colleagues, several of whom have called for his resignation. He ought to knock it off.

Just submit your resignation or tell your colleagues you won’t run for the Man of the House job next time around.

State law silences mayor’s vote on issues

I have an answer to a question I posed in an earlier blog regarding the Princeton, Texas, mayor’s inability to vote on routine issues that come before the City Council.

It’s the law that prevents him from casting votes.

Princeton does not have a home-rule charter. Texas “general law” dictates how the city can govern itself.

It’s not as if the city hasn’t sought to approve a charter. It has gone through four municipal elections to adopt a home-rule document, but voters have rejected it. The issues are complex and, to my mind, misguided. Opponents hold up annexation as a major impediment to home rule, neglecting of course to recognize that the Texas Legislature made it impossible for cities to annex land without property owners’ approval.

The Princeton mayor can vote only to break a tie on the council. For that to happen one of the five council members would have to be absent from a meeting, leaving the council with just four members … excluding the mayor.

All that is left for the mayor to do is, well, just run the meeting. The mayor recognizes council members who choose to speak and calls for the vote.

If I were king of the world — or in charge of matters in the city where my wife and I live — I would recruit a new home rule charter commission and charge them with the task of drafting a new charter.

Then the city should put it up for a vote and then, with the help of residents who can see through the demagoguery that shot down previous efforts, it would be able to have full autonomy to run the city as it sees fit.

Princeton’s mayor needs the ability to cast votes along with his City Council colleagues.

Hit the road, Mr. Speaker

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen should be toast.

The Angleton Republican, who took possession of the speaker’s gavel at the start of the 2019 Texas Legislature, has managed to accomplish a rare feat: He has destroyed the trust he built among his fellow Republicans by climbing into the proverbial sack with a right-wing zealot with whom he reportedly had serious differences of opinion. In the process, he has given up the names of at least 10 GOP legislators whom the zealot could target in the next election.

Hit the road, Mr. Speaker, before your colleagues boot you out at the start of the next Legislature.

The issue is a meeting among Bonnen, former Texas House GOP chair Dustin Burrows of Lubbock and aforementioned right-wing fanatic Michael Quinn Sullivan, who leads Empower Texans, a political action committee. Sullivan had said he recorded the meeting and this week he produced the goods.

It ain’t looking good for Speaker Bonnen.

One of the lawmakers he targeted, Phil Stephenson of Wharton, said it is “time to cut the head off the snake.” Stephenson also said he believes 35 to 40 fellow Republicans are going to demand that Bonnen quit the speakership.

Bonnen and Sullivan talked about the speaker granting Empower Texans House floor access, an unusual arrangement under normal circumstances. Bonnen also reportedly delivered the names of 10 GOP legislators who, according to the recording, were a bit troublesome for the speaker. I guess they were, um, too moderate to suit his taste and certainly the taste of Sullivan, who demands that all legislators adhere to Empower Texans’ rigid right-wing ideology.

This ain’t good governance. Not even close.

You see, the speaker of the House isn’t just the leader of the party to which he or she belongs. The speaker should have cordial — if not warm — political relationships across the broad spectrum represented in the legislative chamber.

Bonnen has squandered all of that through his initial dissembling and then through the revelation that Sullivan was essentially correct, that the speaker betrayed his legislative colleagues.

It turns out that speaker isn’t the top-drawer statesman he portrayed himself as being. He’s a right-wing shill.

Adios, sayonara … b’bye, Mr. Speaker.

What? Lt. Gov. Patrick and NRA locked in a feud?

Hell must have frozen over during the night. Or … the sun rose in the west. Or …  something else totally out of the ordinary occurred.

I see that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the National Rifle Association are supposedly feuding because Patrick has planted himself in favor of background checks on firearms transactions conducted between strangers.

That isn’t exactly a revolutionary notion. However, it marks at least a slight crack in the Texas Republican Party’s snuggly relationship with the NRA.

The nation’s premier gun owner lobby calls Lt. Gov. Patrick’s idea a “political gambit.” It says he seeks to “resurrect the same broken” policies pushed by the Obama administration.

The Texas Tribune reports: “In Texas, person-to-person sales of firearms do not require background checks, but after two mass shootings in Texas in less than a month — in El Paso and Midland-Odessa — the lieutenant governor has openly supported closing the supposed loophole. President Donald Trump also has endorsed the idea.” 

I need someone to explain to me why this is a bad idea. It isn’t, as far as I am concerned. It’s a small step. However, it might help prevent some idiot/moron/madman in the future from delivering the kind of misery that the two shooters delivered in El Paso and the Permian Basin. Not to mention what has happened over many decades in countless other communities across this nation.

Will the lieutenant governor stand firm? Will he be able to persuade Gov. Greg Abbott to join him in his feud? Or how about the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature, which sadly contains too many pro-NRA fanatics who are digging in against any measures to toughen gun purchases in the state?

Hold your ground, Lt. Gov. Patrick.