Tag Archives: Texas politics

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


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.

Watch for the response to Davis memoir

Texas is full of armchair political experts. You can call me one of them, as I’m liable to offer an opinion or two on occasion on how I see the state of play across the state’s enormous landscape.

A friend of mine is another one. He tilts the other direction. I lean left, he leans right.

A recent blog post I published wondered aloud about the possible political impact that Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis’s revelation that she ended a pregnancy would have on her bid to become the state’s next governor. My friend responded that it wouldn’t budge her “dismal” poll numbers. She’ll still lose to Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, my friend believes.

I agree that the news by itself isn’t likely to budge the numbers in Davis’s favor. Abbott remains a solid favorite to win the gubernatorial election in November.

What could influence this race, however, is the response to her memoir, “Forgetting to Be Afraid,” and the item in it in which she reveals she aborted a pregnancy in the second trimester because she and her then-husband learned that their unborn daughter had a rare and potentially fatal brain disease.


Will her GOP opponent make hay over it? Probably not.

However, he has some zealous supporters across the state who just might try to make something of it. They just might seek to rub Davis’s face in the tragedy that darkened her life. They very well might want to resurrect the “Abortion Barbie” epithet that was attached to her after she led that legislative filibuster in 2013 that derailed temporarily a restrictive anti-abortion bill in the Texas Senate.

A lack of discretion on their part well might rouse some anger among those who otherwise would be inclined to vote for Abbott but who take issue with those who are beating up a political opponent over a decision that transcends politics. Indeed, that kind of personal tragedy ought to be out of bounds.

The more zealous among us — on both ends of the political spectrum — too often think everything is on the table. In the case involving Wendy Davis, acting on that instinct could blow up in their face.


Will Greg and Ted stay together to the finish?

How long will it take — or should it take — for Republican Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott to throw rocker Ted Nugent overboard?

Nugent’s appearances on behalf of Abbott have drawn considerable attention from those who oppose the loudmouth and those who endorse him. Count me, of course, as one of the former.


Nugent — aptly nicknamed The Motor City Madman — is prone to say some highly disgusting things about his political foes. He has called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” — and that’s just one of the things he’s uttered.

He was in Denton this week and introduced Abbott to a crowd as “my friend.” Friend? Really?

I’ve known and covered Abbott for a number of years. I have interviewed him in his capacity as a candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, as a sitting justice, candidate for attorney general and as the incumbent. I’ve always considered him to be a gentleman.

It utterly astounds me that he would align himself with the likes of Nugent, the flaming pro-gun rights advocate who seems to take great personal pride in offending as many people as he can with his horrendously hyperbolic hysteria.

Why the alliance? Political observers think Abbott is trying to energize his GOP “base,” as if it needs energizing these days, particularly from someone who’s reprehensible rhetoric drowns out whatever message he’s trying to deliver.

Texas politics has long been considered a contact sport. If the Madman is going to stay on the campaign trail with his good friend Greg Abbott, we’d all better put on plenty of armor.

Waiting for Stockman to come clean

I’m waiting anxiously for U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman’s revelation as to where he’s been hiding out the past few weeks.

The goofy Texas congressman is running for the Senate against incumbent Republican John Cornyn. He made his announcement with a bit of a splash. Then when the ripple disappeared, so did he.

The tea party favorite really doesn’t — or shouldn’t — have a chance in Hades of winning the Republican primary this coming March. But with Texas politics being as volatile as it is — especially on the GOP side — nothing would totally surprise me.

Stockman has been MIA for some time. He has canceled campaign appearances amid some questions about whether he has the endorsements he claims.

Late this past week, he tweeted something about an announcement as to where he’s been. I’m hoping he’ll tell an anxious public where he’s going, such as whether he’s going to keep running for the Senate.

A part of me wishes he’s been hiking along some mysterious trail, a la former Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who had his staff lie about his whereabouts, only to have it revealed he was cavorting in Argentina with a woman other than his then-wife Jenni.

But we’ll see come Monday where Steve Stockman’s been hiding.

Welcome back to the spotlight, congressman.

I hope.