Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Speaker Bonnen comes clean … but he’s still a goner

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen messed up royally when he agreed to meet with a far-right-wing political activist and then offered to toss 10 of his fellow legislative Republicans over the proverbial cliff.

He finally has fessed up to the mess he created. It’s just that it is way too late to do him any good. Bonnen took many hits from his Texas Legislature colleagues and then decided he wouldn’t seek re-election from his Angleton House district after serving just a single legislative term as the Man of the House.

Why speak out now? Who knows? At some level, though, I do care.

Bonnen conspired with Michael Quinn Sullivan, the head of that far-right outfit Empower Texans. He committed a terrible mistake by agreeing to meet with Sullivan in the first place. You see, Sullivan recorded the meeting secretly, then sprang the trap into which he had snared Bonnen in the summer of 2019. He revealed what Bonnen had done; Bonnen at first denied it; then Sullivan released the recording and, by golly, he was right.

Bonnen had given Sullivan the names of 10 legislators. He also offered to provide media credentials to Empower Texans, enabling the PAC direct access to House members on the House floor when the Legislature was in session. Very, very bad call, Mr. Speaker.

Bonnen spoke recently to the Dallas Morning News in which he apologized to his House colleagues and admitted to turning his career into so much road kill.

I am hoping for all I’m worth that the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives will learn from Bonnen’s mess up … and trust Michael Quinn Sullivan only as far as he can toss him.

Do not seek to bring back straight-ticket voting!

I will get straight to the point with this blog post.

South Texas Democrats have rocks in their noggins if they intend to argue that the elimination of straight-ticket, partisan voting is unconstitutional and that it discriminates against minority voters.

Readers of High Plains Blogger know that I detest straight-ticket voting. The Texas Legislature finally — as in finally — saw the light in 2017 and eliminated the provision that allows voters to walk into the polling booth and punch straight “Democrat” or straight “Republican.” Wham! That’s it! Then you get to leave.

A lawsuit filed in Webb County by the Texas Democratic Party and Webb County Democrats seeks to bring the practice back. They didn’t like the long lines that slowed the voting process to a crawl in many urban areas. Many voters, namely African-Americans and Latinos, stood in line for as long as eight or nine hours waiting to vote.

How come? I guess because voters ahead of them were taking the time to examine the ballots carefully before casting their votes.

What is wrong with that? Nothing, I tell ya!

I have argued for years that if Texans want to vote straight ticket, then they should be allowed to do so only after they examine each ballot entry. I also have argued that straight-ticket voting has resulted in qualified office seekers and incumbents losing their election or re-election efforts simply because they belong to the “wrong” political party. In recent years it’s been Democrats who suffer the most. In earlier times, Republicans suffered the same fate.

Allowing straight-ticket voting in Texas, in my mind, contributes to the continued dumbing down of the electorate.

Texas Republicans who argued for a change in the law had it right when they argued that disallowing straight-ticket voting would produce a more enlightened voting public.

I happen to agree with that logic. The current system doesn’t require voters to study the issues and the candidates. It just gives them more incentive to do so. If they want to vote for every candidate of a single party, then they are still allowed to do so.

That is where the unconstitutionality argument breaks down for me.

Therefore, South Texas Democrats do have rocks in their heads.

Daylight Saving Time? No big deal … really!

Oh, how I have to chuckle at all the hand-wringing over what’s about to occur this weekend.

We’re going to bed Saturday night and will awaken the next morning with the sky staying dark an hour longer than it did the previous day. The good news, as I see it, is that the sun will stay in the sky an hour later than it did at the end of the day.

Yep, Daylight Saving Time will be upon us once again. We’ll have it until November.

Why the worry among many of us ? I guess some folks just don’t like changing their schedule. They dislike losing an hour of sleep, which they wouldn’t really lose if they simply went to sleep an hour earlier than normal. You know?

The 2019 Texas Legislature flirted with the idea of scrapping DST. Legislators prepared a bill that would have produced a statewide referendum asking us three questions. We could vote to (a) change to permanent Standard Time (b) change to permanent Daylight Saving Time or (c) keep the status quo, meaning we would change times twice a year.

I never — ever! — have had a problem with switching back and forth. It doesn’t bother me in the least. However, were I given the choice I would vote to switch to permanent Daylight Saving Time. I like having the sun in the sky a little longer at the end of the day.

I realize the sun still sets earlier in the winter months than it does in the summer, given Earth’s rotation and how it tilts away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter. However, I also appreciate the reason for establishing DST in the first place, which was to preserve energy by allowing us to keep the lights off a little longer in the late afternoon and early evening.

The Legislature ended up choking on the referendum. It never managed to put the issue to a vote. As I recall, legislators ran out of time. So the issue died a quiet death.

The 2021 Legislature might bring it up again. Fine. Go for it, ladies and gents. I’ll still vote for permanent DST if I get the chance.

Meantime, I welcome the return of Daylight Saving Time, even if it means we have to switch back to Standard Time in a few months.

It’s not a big deal, folks. Honest!

Still steamed over red-light cameras’ demise

I must admit that I am still angry with the 2019 Texas Legislature, which in itself is no great flash. A lot of Texans are angry with legislators for a lot of reasons.

My main source of anger stems from legislators’ decision to pull the plug on red-light cameras that cities have deployed to help police enforce traffic laws. I mean, too many motorists are none too inclined to obey red lights at intersections which are intended to order motorists to stop and not proceed until the light turns green.

The result has been serious automobile crashes. Motorists occasionally stop and then race through the intersections before the light changes from red to green. Or, they just keep on racing on through.

Dallas city traffic officials reported this past week that the red-light cameras had helped reduce auto accidents. They also generated revenue for the city to use on traffic infrastructure improvements, which the Legislature required of cities when it enacted the red-light camera law in the first place.

Then came the pronouncement from Gov. Greg Abbott, who signaled his willingness to sign legislation banning cameras when it got to his desk. The Legislature delivered it to him and, by golly, he kept his word. Dammit, anyway!

At least the Legislature had the good taste to allow cities to keep the cameras deployed until their vendor contracts had expired. Indeed, my wife and I recently visited Amarillo, where we lived for 23 years before moving to the Metroplex, and noticed that the city still has it cameras working. They’ll be unplugged in due course.

As a social media acquaintance of mine noted in reaction to an earlier blog post on the subject, driving on public streets is a “privilege” and not a right guaranteed for motorists, who all they have to do to avoid getting cited by cities is just follow the law.

Don’t run through the red lights!

Cameras make streets safer, so let’s get rid of ’em!

What do you know about this?

Dallas city transportation officials are boasting about the effectiveness of the red-light cameras that the city used to deploy. They made the streets safer, but because the Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott wanted to get rid of them, the city is being forced to unplug the cameras.

What a travesty!

The city isn’t alone. The 2019 Texas Legislature enacted a law that ordered cities to do away with the devices once their current vendor contracts expired. Dallas’ time has come. The city must pull the plug the cameras.

Get a load of this, though: The city says the cameras did their job in helping the police enforce traffic laws. It contributed to a reduction in T-bone wrecks at intersections.

I long have supported the idea of cities using the devices to help police enforce these laws. The cameras take pictures of vehicles that run through red lights. The city then sends citations to the owner of the offending vehicle. The owner then must pay a fine at municipal court or, if he or she feels the citation was issued incorrectly, he or she can appeal the citation.

Yes, cities also derive revenue from these cameras. Dallas stands to lose $2.5 million to $3 million annually, according to city officials. The Legislature, though, mandated that cities must use the revenue to enhance traffic programs. Dallas officials say their traffic infrastructure needs repair and the money generated by the cameras helped fund those repairs.

As the Dallas Morning News reported: The Texas Legislature “took another tool away from us,” said Michael Rogers, director of Dallas’ Department of Transportation, forcing city officials to rethink how to reduce crashes at problematic intersections.

I don’t live in Dallas. I do live close enough to the city to be somewhat concerned about the demise of these devices, given that I occasionally venture into the belly of the traffic beast on occasion.

I am sorry to hear the news that Dallas is bidding goodbye to a valuable law enforcement tool.

Is there an option for states to take the lead on climate change?

If Congress and the president aren’t going to take a serious interest in climate change, isn’t there a place for states such as Texas to take the lead on what I and others believe is an existential threat to the nation?

I get that Texas’s Legislature isn’t exactly a haven for environmental activism, given its strong Republican majority in both legislative chambers. However, the state does possess the world’s 11th or 12th largest economy; its carbon footprint continues to be bigger than it should be.

Yes, some of the Democratic candidates for president keep talking about the need to tackle climate change head-on. They profess concern for the dire peril that Earth faces if we don’t do all that we can as human beings to curb the human impact on the changing climate.

The current president, of course, remains ignorant about that danger posed by deforestation, carbon emissions and the warming of our atmosphere. Given that he has no interest in science or any other fields of study dedicated to this condition, I cannot possibly expect Donald Trump to take the necessary lead as the nation’s president.

Texas, though, faces an existential threat all by itself. Our state’s coastline is receding every year a little at a time. The tides are rising as well, largely because of melting ocean ice at both of our poles.

Texas and other states — especially those states with political leadership that takes this threat seriously — can do what they can individually or perhaps in conjunction with each other to wrestle with this burgeoning environmental crisis.

It would take a miracle, I suppose, but I am going to hope that Texas legislators can appreciate the impact they could have on national policy if they were to take the lead on dealing head-on with this national emergency.

Hoping the Legislature wises up to Empower Texans’ trickery

Empower Texans is a political action committee that has tremendous sway in the Texas Legislature, which at the moment comprises many legislators who adhere to Empower Texans’ extreme right-wing dogma.

We’ve got 181 legislators in both chambers, many of whom think Empower Texans speak for millions of Texans and deserve a special place at the legislative table.

The cabal of zealots deserves nothing of the sort.

My hope for the 2021 Legislature, which convenes next January, is that the legislative leadership — particularly in the House of Representatives — keeps its distance from Michael Quinn Sullivan’s PAC.

It’s not as though Sullivan hasn’t earned legislators’ scorn. Witness what he did to soon-to-be former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. He and Bonnen had a “secret” meeting. They agreed that Bonnen would provide the names of 10 Republican lawmakers that Empower Texans could work to defeat in the 2020 election. Sullivan recorded the meeting without telling Bonnen. Then he spilled the beans on the speaker, who at first denied saying the mean things he said about his GOP colleagues. The denial lasted right up until the moment Sullivan produced the audio recording.

As they say … Oops!

Sullivan is untrustworthy. So, too, is Empower Texans, which Sullivan runs. Yet the PAC continues to throw its weight around. It seeks to demand that local legislators follow Empower Texans’ agenda.

I want Empower Texans to be put in its place. I want Michael Quinn Sullivan, who has launched efforts against legislators I happen to know and respect, to cease playing an outsized role in determining the Legislature’s political course.

He won’t bow out voluntarily. It then falls on legislative leaders to exert the power they possess to keep Sullivan and Empower Texans at arm’s length.

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.