Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Freedom Caucus loses a member . . . more to follow?

Jeff Leach has just emerged as one of my favorite members of the 2019 Texas Legislature.

The Plano Republican state representative has just bolted from the Texas Freedom Caucus, a cabal of far-right wing legislators intent on steering the Legislature toward ultra-conservative government policies.

Leach says his goal now is to “unite” the Republican majority in the House. The Freedom Caucus — which morphed from the TEA Party wing of the Republican Party — has fought with fellow Republicans through the past legislative session. It tangled with outgoing Speaker Joe Straus and other GOP moderates who want to chart a more reasonable and, yes, “moderate” course for the state to follow.

It’s too bad Straus won’t be around after January when the next Legislature convenes. The new speaker-to-be, Dennis Bonnen, R-Arlington, appears at first blush to be more in the Straus model of legislator than the Freedom Caucus model.

That’s fine with me.

It’s also quite fine with me that the Freedom Caucus’s numbers have been diminished by one; it’s down to just 11 members, a tiny fraction in the 150-member Texas House. These yahoos, ‘er, legislators do have an outsized influence on the rest of the legislative chamber.

The Texas Tribune reports that Leach’s departure from the wacky Freedom Caucus appears to be an amicable one: “There appears to be no hard feelings between Leach and caucus leadership, at least publicly,” the Tribune reports.

Even if there are hard feelings, my own sense is . . . too bad.

Welcome back to the real world of legislative moderation and good government, Rep. Leach.

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.

‘W,’ Clinton showed us how divided government can work

Since I’ve already noted the arrival in Washington this coming January of a form of “divided government,” I feel the need to offer a two brief examples of how it works.

One party controls one branch of government, the other party controls the other. Such a circumstance doesn’t guarantee gridlock or incessant bickering, bitching and backbiting.

Donald J. Trump is going to report for work in January with Democrats controlling the U.S. House of Representatives; his fellow Republicans will retain control of the Senate. It won’t be a fun time to govern. It doesn’t need to be this way.

I give you two examples, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Before he became president, Bush was governor of Texas. He was elected in 1994. The Republican governor took office with a solidly Democratic Legislature in power. Unlike the man who now is president, he didn’t insult, defame or denigrate legislative Democrats. He learned quickly how to forge alliances — even friendships — with those on the other side.

Two men became his BFFs — before the term became widely accepted. They were the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, the crotchety, curmudgeonly Democrat who controlled the Texas Senate and House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center, the affable Democrat who ran the People’s House.

They formed a trio who respected each other’s skill and who managed to notch some notable legislative victories among them. They sought to give public school teachers a pay raise and increase test scores among students, they dipped into the state’s budget surplus to enact a tax cut, they furthered the push to invest in renewable energy resources.

Two Democrats learned to work with a Republican governor who, after all, had defeated a Democratic incumbent, the late Ann Richards, in a bitter campaign.

But “W” didn’t denigrate his legislative foes. He worked with them, understanding the need to cooperate when possible. To their credit, Bullock and Laney  understood precisely the same thing.

Bill Clinton watched the Democrats lose control of Congress in 1994, two years after his election to his first term as president. Newt Gingrich became the speaker of the House, Bob Dole rose to majority leader in the Senate.

Did the president let that loss of congressional power dissuade him? Hardly. He, Gingrich and Dole managed over time to work together to accomplish a budgetary miracle: a balanced federal budget, the first one of them in about 30 years.

They understood each other, just as “W” understood his legislative partners in Austin.

What lies ahead for the next Congress and the president as they embark on the second half of the president’s term? The indications are that it’s going to be a rough and rocky ride. It doesn’t help that Donald Trump doesn’t have the political chops needed to navigate and manage a political agenda with discipline and finesse. Nor does it help that he has bruised and battered so many congressmen and women with his insults and nasty pronouncements on Twitter.

Oh, and he’s that got that “Russia thing” hanging over his head.

I wish it were different. I fear we’re headed down the slipperiest of slopes. It need not be this way.

Excellent outcome, flawed tactic to get there

A San Antonio state representative has pitched a marvelous idea, but I do not believe his tactic to get there is the right way to go.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, a Republican, has filed a bill to require the University of Texas and Texas A&M University to play a non-conference football game each year. Larson, an A&M graduate, has put his name on House Bill 412, which would require the teams to play that game some time in November.

Oh . . . my!

First of all, I applaud his intent. I, too, would love to see the teams play each other again. The Longhorns and Aggies last played a tackle football game in 2011, before Texas A&M bolted the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference.

The Longhorns and Aggies used to play on Thanksgiving Day. It used to be part of Texas’s holiday tradition. It was a home-and-home series, alternating between Austin and College Station.

It’s huge, man!

But now it’s history.

Should there be a legislative remedy? Umm. It’s unnecessary. The Legislature must spend more time dealing with issues that are infinitely more critical to Texans than requiring an annual UT-A&M football game. OK, I get that such a football game is about as important as it gets for some Texans. But, c’mon!

I would like to implore the athletic directors at both schools to consider scheduling such a game earlier in the season. Most of the nation’s top-drawer football programs schedule a series of non-conference games at the beginning of each season. Many of their non-conference opponents are of the “cupcake” variety; they bring teams representing smaller colleges and universities into their mammoth stadiums full of fans, giving those smaller schools a slice of a large revenue pie to take back home.

That, of course, is not the issue with either UT or A&M. Both schools are loaded with money. Their endowments are among the richest in the world. Their respective athletic budgets are among the priciest of any in the country.

The issue here is to have student-athletes from these universities play football. It is to give loyalists, alumni and just plain fan(atics) a chance to cheer for their favorite team. It enables one of them to achieve bragging rights for the rest of the year when they defeat the other guys.

I appreciate Rep. Larson’s desire to see the teams return to the field of competition.

However, we should take this battle straight to the schools’ ADs.

Tom Craddick: testament against term limits

Fifty years is a long time to do anything, whether it’s selling shoes, branding cattle . . .  or writing legislation.

Tom Craddick, a feisty Midland Republican, is about to cross the half-century mark as a Texas legislator during the upcoming legislative session. I’ve had some differences with Craddick, dating back to when I was editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. That was then. Today I want to say a good thing or two about this Texas Capitol institution.

He and I got crossways some years back when he engineered the ouster from the Texas House speaker’s chair of Pete Laney, a Hale Center Democrat, whom the newspaper supported. Laney was no flaming liberal as speaker and did a good job representing the Texas Panhandle while running a relatively smooth Texas House of Representatives.

Then the Republicans took control of the House and Craddick cast his eyes on that big ol’ gavel that Laney wielded. He enlisted the help of Laney’s Panhandle pals — namely fellow Republican state Reps. John Smithee of Amarillo and David Swinford of Dumas. They turned on their old friend, Laney, and backed Craddick for speaker.

We became angry with Smithee, Swinford and Craddick for depriving the Panhandle of a powerful voice . . . and we said so on our Opinion page.

Craddick sent me a testy letter in response. I responded with equal testiness.

That was a long time ago.

Laney, from what I understood, took his ouster personally. He retired from the House and became a lobbyist. Craddick, though, is still on the job, 50 years after being elected the first time.

Craddick ran the House with a heavy hand. It helped him shepherd legislation through a GOP-controlled chamber, but his tactics also created plenty of political enemies.

Since leaving the speakership himself in 2009 after enduring — ironically — an ouster from his fellow Republicans, Craddick has continued to be an effective legislator.

I applauded his work, most notably, in persuading the Legislature to impose a ban on handheld cell phone use while driving. Craddick was tireless in his pursuit of that legislation over the course of five legislative sessions. It was an odd sight to see: a Republican legislator in a heavily GOP state that endorses “personal liberty” working hard to enact a bill that critics decried as a “nanny state” measure. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it in 2011, but then Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law in 2015.

Tom Craddick, I submit, is a walking, talking, breathing testament against term limits. He’s been on the job for 50 years and, according to the Texas Tribune, hasn’t lost an ounce of zest for the job of legislating. He’s done a good job for his Permian Basin constituents, who continue to send him back to Austin to work on their behalf.

Tom Craddick is one tough dude. Stay with it, sir.

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.

Texas remains a red state, just not as red

I was hoping the 2018 midterm election would turn Texas from blood red to purple; turning the state blue was out of the question.

The results are in and from my perch it appears the state is still red, as in Republican-leaning. Texas, though, is not as red as it was prior to the balloting this past week.

Yes, “red” means Republican, “blue” means Democrat and “purple” is a combination of the two primary colors, meaning that “purple” states are those “swing” territories, battlegrounds if you will.

Texas’s roster of statewide offices remains occupied by an all-GOP lineup. The state’s featured race, between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic challenger, finished with Cruz being re-elected by less than 3 percentage points. The closeness of that contest gives Texas Democrats some hope they might break the GOP’s death grip on statewide offices as soon as the 2020 election.

The Texas Legislature saw Democrats gain 12 seats in the 150-member House; Democrats gained two seats in the 31-member Senate. The House GOP majority remains substantial, but the Republican hold on the Senate is bordering on tenuous, although it’s not there yet.

Democrats did manage to flip some U.S. House seats. The one that interested me was the seat held by GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, who got beat by Democratic upstart Colin Allred in North Texas.

What does all this portend for the state as we head into the 2020 presidential election year? It might be that Texas becomes more of a battleground than it has been since, oh, 1980. In every election year since the Ronald Reagan landslide the state has been cast aside by both parties: Democrats have given up on the state; Republicans take us for granted.

That has-been role might change come 2020.

I am highly reluctant, though, to suggest that Texas is anything other than Republican red. It’s just that the state’s reddish hue isn’t nearly as vivid as it has been for so very long.

The next election cycle, therefore, might be a lot more interesting than anything we’ve seen here in some time.

Will the new speaker be a bulwark?

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen appears set to become the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

The Angleton Republican says he has the votes to win the job when the Legislature convenes in January. I’m glad for him. I am not yet willing to say I’m glad for the state, given that I know nothing about him other than what I’ve read in recent days.

My favorite speaker candidate, Republican Four Price of Amarillo, bowed out of the race; three other GOP hopefuls did the same.

They left the field open to Bonnen.

Bonnen has the votes

I have a request of the presumptive speaker: Will you act as a bulwark against some of the Texas Senate’s more reckless impulses, the way the current speaker, Joe Straus, did in 2017?

I hope he does. Indeed, I understand that Bonnen has a bipartisan streak he might be willing to exhibit. One way is to select Democrats to chair House committees.

Bonnen is making some noise that he might stand tall against the likes of, say, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the leader of the Senate. The men have had an occasionally testy relationship. That suits me fine, given my distaste for some of the stunts that Patrick has tried to pull on the Legislature and, therefore, on Texans.

The most notorious stunt, of course, was the 2017 Bathroom Bill that the Senate shoved through at Patrick’s insistence. It got to the House during a special session in the summer of 2017. Speaker Straus dug in. He ensured the death of the bill that would have required individuals to use public rest rooms in accordance with the gender assigned on their birth certificate.

The Bathroom Bill intended to discriminate against transgendered people. Straus was having none of it.

Bonnen says he is an ally of the lame-duck speaker. I hope he remains faithful to Straus’s policy in running the House of Representatives.

The early indications about a Dennis Bonnen speakership look promising.

Don’t let me down — please! — Rep. Bonnen.

There goes my favorite speaker candidate

Well, dadgummit anyway!

Four Price of Amarillo, as fine a legislator as I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, has decided he doesn’t want to be the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

OK, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll acknowledge that Price also is a friend of mine. I’ve known him almost from the day I arrived in the Texas Panhandle way back in January 1995.

He was elected to the Texas House in 2011, succeeding another Republican lawmaker, David Swinford.

I wanted Price to run for speaker after Joe Straus announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to his House seat from San Antonio. I said so a time or three. Then Price decided to go for it.

Now he’s out. He’s thrown his support to Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

The Texas Tribune reports: On Sunday, … Price announced he was exiting the race, saying he and Bonnen had “had a number of candid and productive conversations about our vision for the future of Texas and how we can work together to make that future as bright as possible.”

If you know Four Price, you get the unmistakable sense that he means precisely what he told the Tribune.

That he is dedicated to the state’s future and wants the best for it.

It happens to be one of the reasons why I wanted him elected speaker of the House when the Legislature convenes in January.

If Four Price is up to remaining in the Legislature, I’m sure he’ll be in the hunt for the speakership at a later date. That, too, would be good for Texas.

Texas Democrats find the spring in their step

The just-concluded 2018 midterm election has produced a fascinating result in Texas.

The long-downtrodden Texas Democratic Party has rediscovered its mojo. Its members have a renewed spring in their step. They fell short in their goal of electing one of their own to a statewide office, but the fellow at the top of the ballot — Beto O’Rourke — came within 3 percentage points of defeating GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.

That’s not supposed to happen in blood-red Texas, which hasn’t elected a Democrat to a statewide office since 1994; the last Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate was Lloyd Bentsen, in 1988.

Now comes word out of Austin that the selection of the next Texas speaker of the House of Representatives will involve more Democratic votes among the 150 legislators.

Democrats carved into the GOP legislative majority. They’ll fill 67 seats in the 2019 Legislature; Republicans will occupy 83 of them.

That means Democrats will get to speak with a louder voice in determining who takes the gavel from Joe Straus, who didn’t seek re-election this year.

Democrats to join speaker fight

A Republican is a shoo-in to become the next speaker. That’s a given. My favorite for the speakership is my good friend Four Price, the Amarillo Republican who, in my view, would do a smashing job as the Man of the House. He is an ally of Speaker Straus, for whom I have high regard, given his torpedoing of the Bathroom Bill in 2017.

However, it’s good to see a semblance of two-party rule returning somewhat to the Texas House. The GOP remains the pre-eminent political party in a state that once was dominated by Democrats.

As for O’Rourke, I’m quite sure that Democratic Party loyalists and activists are getting way ahead of themselves by suggesting Beto should consider running for president in 2020. A better option might be to challenge John Cornyn for the U.S. Senate two years from now.

However, O’Rourke’s legacy for the state well might be that his presence on the ballot and his near-victory over the Cruz Missile has energized a political party that’s been in a hang-dog mood for as long as anyone can remember.