Tag Archives: Texas politics

Senate races decided by differing factors

As I watch the Beto O’Rourke-Ted Cruz race for the U.S. Senate from Texas, I am struck by what is missing in the debate over who Texans should elect.

I am not hearing much chatter on which of these men will do more for Texas.

Will it be Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic congressman from El Paso, or Ted Cruz, the Republican incumbent from Houston? Which of them will work tirelessly on behalf of Texans’ specific needs, wants and desires?

Am I missing something here?

There once was a day when U.S. senatorial clout mattered to the home folks. I want to cite an example from my home state of Oregon.

For years, Oregon was represented by two moderate Republicans: Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood. They were joined at the hip on many issues. They were linked to each other so closely that we in the media used to refer them as “Sen. Hatwood” or Sen. “Packfield.”

They both attained influential committee chairmanships beginning in 1981 when the GOP took control of the upper congressional chamber after Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in the 1980 presidential election.

Hatfield and Packwood worked diligently to protect Oregon and Pacific Northwest interests.

Along the way, Sen. Packwood ran into ethical trouble relating to the way he treated women who worked on his staff; Packwood ended up resigning his seat. Sen. Hatfield remained the Boy Scout.

As we look at the current day, in Texas, I don’t hear the kind of chatter about Sen. Cruz or, how well he works with Sen. John Cornyn, the state’s senior U.S. senator. My sense is that the two Texans have a bit of a frosty relationship.

Cruz’s tenure in the Senate seems to have centered on his own future. He ran for president in 2016 and was among the final GOP primary candidates to hang in against the party’s nominee before bowing out.

Cruz’s theme so far appears aimed at ginning up GOP interest to counteract rage from the other side. According to the Texas Tribune: “The biggest challenge I have in this race … is complacency,” Cruz said. “People say all the time, ‘Oh, come on, it’s a Texas re-elect. How could you possibly lose?’ Well, in an ordinary cycle, that might be true. But this is not an ordinary cycle. The far left is filled with anger and rage and we underestimate that anger at our peril.”

O’Rourke has closed a once-gaping deficit to make it a race. I’ll stipulate once again that I am pulling for O’Rourke to defeat Cruz.

I’m just waiting to hear from the challenger — or from the incumbent, for that matter — what they’ll do to help Texans.

Texas on the way to turning purple?

If you live long enough you get to see lots of trends and transitions.

Politically, that’s the case for those of us who’ve spent a substantial amount of time in Texas, a state that once was “blue” before Democrats got tagged with that color label. Then it turned “red” — bigly, if you will.

I arrived in the Golden Triangle in the spring of 1984 to take up my post on the editorial page of the Beaumont Enterprise. The Triangle was among the last “Yellow Dog Democrat” bastions in Texas. That designation ID’d those who’d rather for a “yellow dog” than vote for a Republican. Its strong union movement voting bloc, along with its hefty African-American population, stayed true to their Democratic roots.

Then it began to change. Slowly, but inexorably, right along with the rest of the state.

Over time, Republicans captured long-held Democratic public offices.

These days, the state is about as Republican as any in the nation. The GOP occupies every statewide office. The last Democrat to win a statewide race was in 1998. That’s two decades, man!

Decades later, the state might on the verge of entering another transition stage.

Don’t misconstrue my reasons for welcoming the change. My major reason for rooting for a resurgent Democratic Party is my desire to keep the other major party, the GOP, more accountable for the decisions its officeholders make.

Believe this or not — and you are entitled to disbelieve it if you wish — but I was leery of total Democratic control upon my arrival in Texas. I felt that Democratic pols took voters for granted, much like Republicans do today. And I said so at the time using my forum at the Enterprise.

Are we going to see a sweep of all statewide offices on the ballot in 2018? Hardly. My strong sense is that Republicans will maintain their vise grip on most of the state offices being contested. You know already that I want one of those GOP seats to flip: the U.S. Senate seat now occupied by the Cruz Missile, Ted Cruz, who is running against El Paso Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke; I’ll likely have much more on that contest later.

There might be a more competitive climate up and down the ballot as well. Democrats might be able to declare some sort of moral victory if they make Republican foes squirm.

That is not a bad thing for the general well-being of a state’s general political health.

My hope, thus, for a more “purple” hue does spring eternal.

No need to vote today … woo hoo!

Texans are voting today. Big deal, yes? Well, yeah, it is!

I won’t be among them.

Today is Election Runoff Day in Texas. Democrats are going to nominate someone to run against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott this fall: It’ll be either Andrew White (son of the late former Gov. Mark White) or Lupe Valdez (the former Dallas County sheriff).

Here’s the deal: I didn’t vote in the Democratic primary in March. Given that I am registered to vote — for now — in Randall County, I chose to vote in the Republican primary. Randall County is the unofficial capital of Texas Republicanism.

It was important for me to cast my vote for a key Texas legislative race, the contest for Senate Texas Senate District 31. I am happy with the result, which is that state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo won the GOP nomination without a runoff against two primary opponents.

The runoff is important. I know that it’s critical for candidates who must run a second time for their party’s nomination to get the vote out. Texans don’t vote in huge numbers anyway in these primary races; the numbers plummet even more for runoffs.

That’s to our state’s voters’ shame.

We vote often in Texas. Our state constitution gives us plenty of chances to exercise our rights as U.S. citizens, as Texans. We need to do better at performing that duty.

Having said all that for the umpteenth time, I am glad to be sitting this one out.

My plea to the rest of you? Get out and vote! It’s important, man! Really! It is!

Sen. Seliger gets needed challenge

I used to drive former state Rep. David Swinford borderline batty with my occasional columns about the need for incumbents to get challenged at every election cycle.

My argument always has been that political incumbents at every level need to defend their record against legitimate challengers to their incumbency. The Dumas (Texas) Republican legislator understood that argument … but he still would express some mild (and good-natured) displeasure at my stating it.

One of Swinford’s colleagues — Republican state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo — is getting a serious challenge again this coming year. Regular readers of this blog know that I want Seliger to win his party’s nomination, which is tantamount to election in the GOP-friendly Texas Panhandle.

But he’s going to have to work for it. Which I consider to be good (a) for the incumbent and (b) for the cause of good government.

Former Midland Mayor Mike Canon is stepping up once more to challenge Seliger. The two of them faced off in 2014. The race was close, but Seliger emerged victorious. This year, Amarillo business owner Victor Leal has joined the Republican primary lineup.

The quality of Leal’s candidacy remains to be seen. Canon’s approach four years ago was to talk in TEA Party clichés, talking points and platitudes. He still garnered a lot of votes.

That’s all OK, though.

Seliger has served the sprawling Texas Senate District 31 he has represented since 2004 quite well, in my estimation. That doesn’t mean he should get a free pass.

Representative democracy demands a stout challenge when the opportunity presents itself. It’s doing so in this legislative contest.

Whoever emerges victorious in this primary fight — and I do hope it’s Seliger — figures to be tempered by the difficult campaign he will have endured. That’s good for state government.

O’Rourke trying to make a fight of it for U.S. Senate

I am going to give credit to a young member of Congress who wants to upgrade his status as a public official.

Beto O’Rourke is a Democratic congressman from El Paso. He’s running for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Republican Ted Cruz.

What deserves a word of praise is that O’Rourke is coming here, to Amarillo, the unofficial “capital city” of the most Republican region of one of the nation’s most Republican states.

He’s scheduling a meet-and-greet this coming Saturday at Abuelo’s Restaurant. He’s going to shake a few hands, get his picture taken with individuals, perhaps answer some questions from those coming to meet the young man.

OK, I get that the election is more than a year away. O’Rourke might not even win his party’s primary next spring; another young up-and-comer, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio is thinking about challenging Cruz.

That’s a decision to be made by others.

But I’m struck by the idea that a Democrat would come here. I understand this isn’t the first time O’Rourke has ventured this far north since announcing his candidacy. I’ve long lamented the idea that Democratic candidates have given up on the Panhandle while Republican candidates take this region for granted.

This ain’t necessarily a battleground region within Texas, if you get my drift.

Am I going to assert that some back-slapping at a popular eatery in Amarillo is going to turn this region into a critical front in the fight for political supremacy? Oh, no.

I do have to give Rep. O’Rourke some props, though, for spending some time among Panhandle partisans. Just maybe we can restore some competitiveness to these statewide races.

There once was a time, as the late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen used to say, that “politics in Texas is a contact sport.” It hasn’t been that way for more than two decades, since the last time a Democrat was elected to a statewide office here.

I am left to wonder — indeed, hope — that Beto O’Rourke is ready to return some of the rough-and-tumble to Texas politics.

Partisan labels ought to go

democrat_republican

I arrived in Texas in the spring of 1984 with my eyes open about the state’s vigorous political climate.

Perhaps I should have opened my eyes just a little bit wider so that I could see something that got past me as I studied up on the way things would be done in my new home state.

I knew that Texans like to elect people to public office. We have more elected offices than I’d ever seen, for instance, at the county level.

What I didn’t quite grasp, though, were the partisan labels that we attach to all the candidates. Perhaps most fascinating is how we elect judges in this state — as Republicans or Democrats.

My new Texas home would be — for my first 11 years in this state — in Beaumont, where Democrats ruled. Indeed, the entire state was still controlled by Democrats, who held most of the elective office statewide.

What I couldn’t quite grasp, though, is why we elect choose Democrats and Republicans among candidates seeking public office.

I’m left now, 32 years later, to keep asking: Can someone identify for me the difference between a Democratic and a Republican tax assessor-collector, or county clerk, or district clerk, or treasurer? For that matter, does a sheriff or district attorney arrest and prosecute criminal suspects differently if they’re Democrat or Republican?

I posed these questions once in a column I wrote for the Amarillo Globe-News. I got an interesting response from a county elected official — a loyal Republican, naturally — who agreed with me. She couldn’t fathom the difference, either, between how individuals of one party would do the job she took an oath to do any differently from individuals of another party.

Judgeships have proved to be the most troublesome.

In the early to mid-1980s, solid Republican were getting booted out of office or were losing elections simply because they were of the wrong party. It was wrong then, just as it is wrong now to see more qualified Democratic candidates losing to Republicans for precisely the same reason.

I don’t intend — yet — to make this a major issue for this blog. I just feel inclined to suggest that a change to a more reasonable and logical election system would serve the state better than the system we have now.

State legislators, governors and other statewide officeholders — except judges — surely can make the case that partisan differences exist. I’m fine with that.

Judges? That’s another matter.

I’ve all but given up arguing for a retention system in which judges are appointed and then stand for retention at the ballot box. At this point, I’d settle for a change in the way we elect judges, simply by having them run on their judicial philosophy rather than on whether they belong to a certain political party.

How would we change all that? Through a constitutional amendment, which requires a vote of all Texans — and which is equally cumbersome, antiquated and nonsensical.

That, though, is a subject for another day.

 

End of a Texas era is about to end

One of my favorite Texas political observers, pundits, commentators and thinkers is about to call it a career.

Paul Burka is retiring in March from Texas Monthly after a 40-year career commenting on Texas politics, government and public policy.

I haven’t met Burka, but I hope to shake his hand one day before one of us checks out. I’ve read his work extensively over the 30-plus years I’ve lived and worked in Texas. He brings considerable heft to any political discussion.

http://www.texasmonthly.com/burka-blog/last-forty-years-and-future

He includes a lengthy email sent to Texas Monthly staffers from editor Brian Sweany.

Sweany notes in his email the many contributions Burka made to the magazine, including one of my favorite essays, the 1986 cover story about how the Chevrolet Suburban had been named the “National Car of Texas.” His best-worst list of Texas legislators has become a political staple every other year.

I enjoy including Burka’s thoughts in my own blog and I usually rely on his expertise about political matters relating to our great state.

The man knows the ropes. He has, as the saying goes in Texas, earned his spurs.

Good luck and Godspeed, Mr. Burka.

Abbott getting good early reviews

Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott is getting some good reviews from at least one unlikely source.

They’re coming from Texas Monthly blogger/editor Paul Burka, who salutes Abbott for (a) setting a constructive agenda for the state and (b) selecting a team of grownups to advise him.

http://www.texasmonthly.com/burka-blog/finally-real-governor

Burka, of course, isn’t always kind to Republican politicians, given the sharply rightward shift the GOP has taken during the past decade or longer.

I share some of what Burka says about Abbott. However, I’ll withhold further comment on the new governor after I see how he handles the TEA party pressure he’s going to get from Republicans who comprise super-majorities in both legislative chambers.

The TEA party politician in chief is going to be the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who will preside over the Texas Senate for the next four years.

Rest assured that Patrick will have his eyes focused sharply on Abbott, pressuring him to keep tacking to the right on spending and perhaps even on some social issues near and dear to TEA party followers’ hearts.

Some folks are suggesting that Patrick might challenge Abbott in four years if the governor doesn’t govern the way he wants.

How will Abbott respond to the pressure that many of us think will come? He can remind Patrick that he — Abbott — is the governor and that the governor speaks for the state.

Lt. Gov. Patrick might not see it that way.

Hang tough, Gov. Abbott.

 

Gov. Perry loses key dismissal fight

A state district judge has ruled that Texas Gov. Rick Perry should stand trial for felony charges related to his alleged abuse of power.

Good. Now let’s get the trial started and then concluded, OK?

http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/18/politics/rick-perry-case-texas/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

Perry legal team sought a dismissal on the grounds that special prosecutor Michael McCrum wasn’t sworn in properly, rendering all his actions taken during the time he has investigated Perry to be invalid.

Today, Judge Bert Richardson said in Austin that McCrum’s swearing in was sufficient and that he has standing to prosecute the governor on two felony counts. “This court concludes that Mr. McCrum’s authority was not voided by the procedural irregularities in how and when the oath of office and statement of officer were administered and filed,” Richardson said in his ruling.

A grand jury indicted Perry on abuse of power and coercion of a public official in connection with his veto of money appropriated for the Public Integrity Unit run out of the Travis County district attorney’s office. He threatened to yank the money after DA Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunken driving. She pleaded guilty to the crime and served jail time. Perry demanded she quit. She didn’t. So, Perry vetoed the money appropriated by the Legislature for the integrity unit she runs.

This case is riddled with political overtones and consequences.

Perry is pondering a run for the presidency in 2016. He doesn’t want this case hanging over his head. Frankly, I happen to agree with him. Let’s get this thing settled.

As for Lehmberg, she’s going to bow out when her term expires. She should have quit when she got popped for the DUI. Had she done so, Perry could have appointed a Republican DA to replace the outgoing Democrat.

Do you see how this is so, so political?

Perry calls the indictment a serious overreach. He has received a lot of legal support — from Democrats as well as Republicans.

So, let’s get this case settled. If he’s acquitted of both charges, he can crow all he wants about his huge victory in court.

But if he’s convicted of just one of them — and I still think the coercion charge is the stronger of the two counts — well, the governor can kiss the White House good bye.

I’m ready to have this case decided.

 

Patrick is sounding scary

I’ll say this up front: Texas voters very well might be on the verge of electing a seriously frightening politician as their next lieutenant governor.

His name is Dan Patrick, a Republican state senator from Houston.

He’s glib. He is articulate. He is quick on his feet. He’s also unapologetically ultra-conservative — in a scary sort of way.

http://www.texasmonthly.com/burka-blog/patrick-v-van-de-putte

One of my favorite pundits, Paul Burka, hit it squarely in a blog post for Texas Monthly. Commenting on his debate with Democratic opponent state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, Burka writes: “The most interesting thing about the debate was Patrick’s persona. He felt no need to soften his message or appeal to more mainstream voters. This is exactly who he is, and who he wants to be: a true conservative radical.”

Those of us who’ve watched Texas politics transition from a conservative Democratic state to an ultra-conservative Republican one are well aware of the strength of what passes today for the Republican Party. Patrick fits that profile to the letter.

It’s scary to think that Texans very well could elect someone who, as Burka notes, wants to boost the sales tax beyond all reason and who actually talked the other night in his debate with debate with Van de Putte about immigrants tracking unknown diseases into the state.

He makes no apologies for the massive budget cuts that have affected public education. He wants the Senate — which the lieutenant governor runs as its presiding officer — to become more partisan, not less.

Patrick sounds like someone who believes that all Texans believe as he does and that he intends to run the Legislature’s upper chamber in such a manner.

Such arrogance, of course, is utter nonsense. That won’t stop millions of Texans on Nov. 4 from voting for this guy.

He’s favored to win the lieutenant governorship. It makes me sad that Texas is going to demonstrate to the rest of the country just how wacky we’ve become.

I will predict right here and now that a Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is going to drive the few reasonable and moderate Republicans left in the Senate out of office.