Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

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.

‘Godless … hearts’ are a part of the gun violence ‘problem’

It didn’t take long for Texas state Rep. Matt Schaefer to weigh in on what he said should not occur in the wake of the Odessa slaughter of seven people at the hands of a shooter.

The Tyler Republican said the state should not enact red flag rules, or ban high-capacity magazines or the sale or possession of AR-15 or AK-47 rifles, weapons of war designed to kill a maximum number of people in as little time as possible.

Oh, brother.

Schaefer is entitled to his opinion. I am entitled to mine as well.

I believe he is dead wrong. I also believe there are legislative remedies available to state legislatures and to Congress that can place additional restrictions on the purchase of these weapons without infringing on the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The shooter opened fire when a police officer pulled him over on a traffic stop. He then went on a rampage through Odessa before police killed him in a fire fight after stopping him outside of a movie theater.

Schaefer launched a Twitter thread that has gotten a good bit of resistance from Texas and around the nation. One of his entries included this: I say NO to “red flag” pre-crime laws. NO to universal background checks. NO to bans on AR-15s, or high capacity magazines. NO to mandatory gun buybacks.

Well, we know where he stands.

He added this item on the thread: YES to supporting our public schools. YES to giving every law-abiding single mom the right to carry a handgun to protect her and her kids without permission from the state, and the same for all other law-abiding Texans of age.

Texas already has lax gun restrictions. We allow residents to carry concealed weapons; they can carry them in the open. They can carry them on college campuses, in church sanctuaries.

This is the second mass slaughter in Texas in the past few weeks. I do not feel one bit safer now knowing that Texans can pack heat, giving them the opportunity to “prevent” this kind of madness.

Rep. Schaefer, we need to do something. Yes, “Godless hearts” are a problem, as Schaefer said. However, they are only part of the crisis that is enveloping the country.

DMV: Legislature’s next big project?

Texas state Rep. Scott Sanford came to our Rotary Club in McKinney the other morning to provide an update on the accomplishments of the 2019 Legislature.

Then he took a question from the audience about an issue that has been in the news of late in North Texas: insufferably long lines at Department of Motor Vehicles offices.

What is the Legislature going to do about that? How do Texans avoid having to wait in line for hours on end to get a new driver’s license or to do any kind of business at DMV?

Sanford, a McKinney Republican, didn’t have a quick-and-easy answer. He is acutely aware of the problems that have plagued Collin County DMV offices.

News reports in recent days, noting the 100-degree temperatures logged all across the state this summer, told of people waiting six or seven hours. Some of them waited until the DMV office closed, denying them the chance to get finish their business at the state office.

I’ll mention Collin County because it’s where I live. It’s also a rapidly growing part of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. The county’s population sits at right at 1 million residents. DMV needs to do a much better job of responding to residents’ needs; that’s what I have heard in our brief time living there.

It’s the kind of question that confronted Rep. Sanford. He couldn’t provide much assurance that relief is on the way.

My hope is that he takes those concerns with him to the 2021 Legislature, presuming of course that he gets re-elected next year. My sense is that DMV should be high on lawmakers’ to-do list when they return to work.

Have the stakes risen as Texas prepares to vote in 2020?

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen appears to have made a big mistake. Whether he has inflicted a mortal wound on the Texas Republican Party remains to be seen.

The Texas Tribune reports that the stakes for the 2020 election in Texas might have risen exponentially as Bonnen tries to repair the damage done by a reportedly secret meeting with a high-powered, ultra-conservative political activist. In that meeting, Bonnen — an Angleton Republican — allegedly offered up the names of 10 GOP lawmakers that the activist, Michael Quinn Sullivan, could defeat in exchange for press credentials inside the House chamber.

Sullivan runs that far-right outfit called Empower Texans. I detest Empower Texans. So do many other Texans, even many Republicans.

Bonnen became speaker at the start of the 2019 Legislature with a reputation as something of a GOP moderate. I guess he can be had, right? Yep. Apparently so.

So now it becomes questionable whether the Texas House might flip from Republican to Democratic control after the 2020 election. Democrats need to flip nine House seats next year to win control of the lower legislative chamber.

I am one Texan who isn’t of the Republican ilk, although I have a few GOP lawmakers I count as friends; they are people I respect and for whom I have personal affection. I doubt strongly any of them would be in danger of losing their seats in 2020.

That all said, Bonnen’s reported deal to provide the names of 10 fellow Republicans to Hatchetman Sullivan isn’t playing well among Republican circles. It’s also giving Democrats ammo to use against their GOP foes as they seek to campaign for control of the Texas House of Representatives.

This tumult also might put Bonnen’s speakership in jeopardy. He took the gavel from former Republican Speaker Joe Straus, who didn’t seek re-election in 2018. I admired Straus’s leadership of the House and his commitment to stand firm against the likes of Empower Texans and Michael Quinn Sullivan. I just wish Bonnen had shown the same courage as Straus.

Texas is now seen as a potential battleground state on the presidential election level. Democrats might have actual, tangible and demonstrable reason for optimism that they can control at least one legislative chamber as they prepare for the 2020 election.

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.