Tag Archives: Texas Senate

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.

Speaker Straus to Lt. Gov. Patrick: Listen more, talk less

Joe Straus is now officially the lamest of ducks in Texas politics and government. The midterm election is over. The speaker of the Texas House didn’t run for re-election and voters in his San Antonio House district have selected a successor.

That doesn’t mean he is keeping quiet. He has offered Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the garrulous politician from Houston, some cogent advice: Patrick should “listen more and talk less” during next year’s Texas legislative session.

Patrick, not surprisingly, is having none of it. He responded in an interview with the Texas Tribune: “(Straus) decided he wanted to continue to poke a finger in the eye of Greg Abbott, the president, myself and conservatives as he goes out the door and I find that disappointing. I wish him the best and I thank him for his public service, but at the end of the day, it’s clear he’s not much of a conservative — and it’s beginning to look like he’s not much of a Republican.”

Read Texas Tribune story.

I suppose if Patrick’s view of a true Republican rests with some of the harsh, nutty notions that came out of the Texas Senate this past year, then perhaps he’s right about Straus. It sounds to me that Patrick is still miffed that Straus killed the Bathroom Bill that the Senate — over which Patrick presides — sent to the House. The Bathroom Bill required individuals to use public restrooms that comported with the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. .

It clearly was a discriminatory measure aimed at transgender individuals. Straus called it a non-starter, along with police chiefs and other law enforcement officials across Texas.

Straus made sure the bill would die in a special legislative session during the summer of 2017. He said it was virtually unenforceable; he said it would harm businesses in Texas. He wanted no part of it.

The soon-to-be-former speaker is a reasonable man. He is as much of a Republican as Patrick, without the stridency that Patrick brings to his high-profile position.

To be candid, I’ll miss Straus’s leadership as the Man of the Texas House. As for Patrick, he ought to take Straus’s advice and listen more and talk less … a lot less.

Bathroom Bill looms over Patrick candidacy

I cannot forget or forgive the effort to legislate a patently discriminatory policy regarding the use of public restrooms.

And I put the responsibility for that effort right at the feet of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is running for re-election against Mike Collier.

Spoiler alert: I plan to vote for Collier.

Patrick managed to engineer a Texas Senate approval of a bill that would have required people to use public restrooms in accordance with the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. It’s known now as the Bathroom Bill.

The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and is arguably the state’s most powerful elected official. The Senate approved the Bathroom Bill at Patrick’s insistence. Then it ran into House Speaker Joe Straus, another Republican, but one with common sense and the belief that Texas should not discriminate against transgender individuals, which is what the Bathroom Bill would have allowed.

Straus, who isn’t seeking re-election, blocked the Bathroom Bill, much to his credit. The House never approved it in its special session in the summer of 2017.

The Bathroom Bill remains an indelible scar on Lt. Gov. Patrick’s tenure as the Man of the Senate.

Collier is a former Republican who switched to the Democratic Party. The Houston Chronicle, which has endorsed Collier’s candidacy, likens him to another former lieutenant governor, Republican Bill Ratliff, one of the state’s great statesmen.

The Chronicle’s endorsement notes that Collier doesn’t look for simple solutions to complex problems.

Patrick, meanwhile, is quick with the quip — owing to his days as a radio broadcaster — and simplistic demagoguery.

The Bathroom Bill died the death it deserved in 2017. I don’t know what’ll happen when the 2019 Legislature convenes. My hope is that the next Texas Senate will be run by someone who won’t seek to demonize transgender individuals by resurrecting this patently hideous legislation.

Debates do matter, Lt. Gov. Patrick

The word is out: Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick doesn’t want to debate his opponent before Election Day.

That’s too bad. Actually, it’s a shame. Hey, I’ll even say it’s a disgrace to the cause of learning all we can about the individuals who want to represent us at the highest levels of state government.

Patrick, the Republican, is running against Democratic challenger Mike Collier, who has been needling Patrick for weeks about debating.

I cannot quite fathom why Patrick is so reticent. He comes from a media background; he was a radio talk-show host before entering politics as a state senator from Houston.

The Texas Tribune reports: “It’s no secret Lt. Governor Patrick relishes debates, but since his opponent shows no sign of grasping even the most basic rudiments of state government, our campaign has no plans to debate him,” Patrick strategist Allen Blakemore said in a statement to the Tribune. “There isn’t anyone in the Lone Star State who isn’t absolutely clear about where Dan Patrick stands on the issues. He told us what he was going to do, then he did it. That’s why Dan Patrick has the overwhelming support of the conservative majority in Texas.”

OK, I’ll come clean: He doesn’t have my support. He has sought to yank the state into far-right territory that makes me uncomfortable. The Bathroom Bill he sought in 2017 is the example of what I’m talking about. He sought to make it illegal for transgendered individuals to use public restrooms in accordance with their current gender; he intended to make the use restrooms that matched their birth certificate gender. The bill died in a special session.

That’s out of the way.

He should debate Collier. GOP Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez are likely to debate each other, even though Abbott is going to be the prohibitive favorite to win re-election.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican, will likely debate his Democratic foe, Beto O’Rourke. That contest figures to be a whole lot closer.

So, the lieutenant governor isn’t likely afraid to meet his challenger head to head. Why not just quit playing games, Lt. Gov. Patrick?

Step onto the stage and have it out with your challenger and make the case on why you should be re-elected.

And, yes, if that’s what happens on Election Day, it will be in spite of the ballot I will cast.

No-brainer: Don’t vote on husband’s salary

Angela Paxton is a solid favorite to be elected to the Texas Senate this fall, representing the suburban region north of Dallas.

She won the Republican Party primary earlier this month. Given the state’s heavy GOP leanings, that puts her on the inside lane en route to the Senate.

Her husband happens to be Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who’s likely to be re-elected in the fall general election.

Ahh, but here’s a potential quandary facing a Sen. Paxton: Does she vote on budget matters that set her husband’s salary as the state’s top legal official? There appears to be some gray area here, with ethics experts debating it.

To me it’s a no-brainer. No matter what the Texas Constitution allows, Paxton shouldn’t vote on her husband’s salary. Let her 30 Senate colleagues determine how much the attorney general should earn.

For the life of me I don’t understand why this is even under discussion. According to the Texas Tribune: “She’s going to have to think about what she does before she does it. If they’re doing [increases] for everyone, I don’t think that’s a conflict because everybody’s getting the same raise,” Hugh Brady, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said. “If it’s something special for the attorney general, I think she should step back and pause.”

I disagree with the professor. I don’t think a lawmaker casting a vote that materially affects his or her income passes the smell test, no matter if it’s a vote for all officials or if the vote affects an individual.

Paxton wouldn’t be the first lawmaker to face this issue. GOP State Rep. Tom Craddick’s daughter, Christi, serves on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission. Rep. Craddick has voted through three legislative sessions in favor of state budgets that include salaries for the RRC. I believe that, too, constitutes a conflict of interest, although it would not be as blatant if Angela Paxton were to vote to approve her husband’s salary, given that she and the AG share the same home.

I’ll fall back on a truism that should govern elected officials’ conduct: Just because it’s legal doesn’t always make it right.

Did you oppose it, governor?

How about this? A Texas legislator says Gov. Greg Abbott opposed that idiotic Bathroom Bill and didn’t want it to show up on his desk.

So says the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Byron Cook, a Corsicana Republican. Cook’s panel managed to block the Bathroom Bill from clearing the House of Representatives during this past summer’s special legislative session.

You will recall that the Bathroom Bill would have restricted the use of public restrooms by transgender individuals; it would have required them to use restrooms in accordance to the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. So, if you’re a man who was born a woman you would have had to use the women’s restroom … and vice versa.

Republican legislators determined the Bathroom Bill was “bad for business,” according to the Texas Tribune. That’s only part of the problem with this hideous piece of legislation. It was discriminatory on its face.

Yet the Texas Senate insisted that the state should enforce a public restroom use provision. Sheesh!

Most of me is glad the Legislature threw this bill — and please pardon the intended pun — into the proverbial crapper. A smaller part of me, though, wishes it had gotten to Abbott’s desk if only just to see if the governor opposed the bill enough to veto it.

I want to believe Chairman Cook is right, that Gov. Abbott disliked the Bathroom Bill. However, I still wonder …

Here’s an idea. Maybe the governor could set the record straight and tell us himself whether he would have signed it or canned.

Speaker candidates are lining up

Tan Parker has become the third Texas House of Representatives member to file for the race to become the next speaker of the state House.

He hails from Flower Mound; the other two are Phil King of Weatheford and John Zerwas of Richmond. They’re all Republicans.

OK. That’s all fine.

I’m wondering if we’re going to hear an announcement from another up-and-comer in the Texas House. He hails from Amarillo. He’s also a Republican, who also delivered a serious pounding to a candidate favored by Empower Texans, a far right wing political organization that sought to topple this fellow in the GOP primary this week.

Rep. Four Price? Are you listening?

Here’s what I have to say to this young man, who happens to be a friend of mine and who also has done a stellar job representing House District 87 since 2011.

Becoming speaker of the House essentially turns the office into a full-time endeavor. Price will have to come to grips with the idea that he no longer would be a part-time “citizen legislator.” He also has been a strong ally of the current speaker, Joe Straus of San Antonio, who isn’t running for re-election to the House.

Straus distinguished himself mightily by ensuring the death of the infamous Bathroom Bill that passed the Texas Senate in 2017. The Bathroom Bill would have required transgender individuals to use public restrooms in accordance to the gender assigned on their birth certificate.

It is discriminatory on its face. It had no business becoming Texas law. Straus saw it for what it was.

So, would a Speaker Four Price follow that lead? I would hope so.

I also believe that Rep. Price would make an excellent speaker candidate, giving the Texas Panhandle a strong voice in legislative matters, as it did when Democrat Pete Laney of Hale Center ran the House of Representatives.

Hey, I’m just a single voice here in the wilderness.

Still, my desire is to see my friend go for it.

Seliger’s GOP win was big, really big

I cannot overstate the significance this week of state Sen. Kel Seliger’s victory in the Texas Senate District 31 Republican Party primary.

It’s significant on at least two levels.

One is that he faced — count ’em — two GOP foes in this primary. Empower Texans, a far-right political action organization, decided to “primary” Seliger because its leadership wanted someone who’s “more conservative” than Seliger has demonstrated during the 14 years he has represented West Texas.

Empower Texans sought to outflank Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor, on the right. His response was to remind voters that he’s conservative. His voting record is mainstream — but he’s a conservative. He proclaims his pro-life, pro-gun rights voting record as demonstrable proof of his conservatism.

The second level of significance deals with this fact: Unlike in 2014, when he faced just one foe in the GOP primary, this year he had two of them. One of this year’s opponents was Mike Canon, the former Midland mayor who Seliger beat four years ago by just 4 percentage points.

Let’s throw in a second right-wing opponent, Amarillo businessman Victor Leal. Between them, Canon and Leal garnered 49.5 percent of the vote. Seliger finished with 50.5 percent, or one-half of a percent more than he needed to avoid a runoff.

I have been unable to analyze the vote as it developed from top to bottom of District 31. My first glance at the vote totals tells me that Canon and Leal battled between themselves for the TEA Party wing vote, leaving the rest of the West Texas Republican voting bloc open for Seliger to harvest.

Canon’s first run for the state Senate in 2014 revealed to me that he spoke mostly in TEA Party slogans when the lights came on. In private, I found him to be personable, intelligent and articulate.

As for Leal, he spent much of his effort accusing Seliger of alleged nefarious relationships and too little of it explaining in any detail how he planned to represent West Texas differently than what Seliger has done.

Thus, Canon and Leal fought for the Republican fringe vote that exists out there. Critics of the senator are liable to say he “barely” won the primary. However, I look at it differently: He beat Canon by nearly 20 points and Leal by more than 30 points.

I would call that a serious drubbing.

Sen. Seliger beats back demagoguery

I had hoped to call it last night. I had to wait until this morning to find out that Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger is returning to the Texas Legislature.

His victory in the Texas Republican primary is a win against demagoguery. Seliger had faced a stern challenge from two far-right opponents: former Midland Mayor Mike Canon and Amarillo restauranteur Victor Leal.

Canon ran against Seliger in 2014. Leal decided to run as well this year. My first thought was that Leal might peel off some Texas Panhandle votes from Seliger, tossing the contest into a runoff. Hey, guess what happened! Seliger piled up a significant majority in this three-way race, guaranteeing his re-election, given the absence of any Democratic candidates.

This is important for Senate District 31 voters for a couple of important reasons. One is that Seliger has established a stellar reputation among voters at both ends of the sprawling district; he is as fluent in Permian Basin-speak as he is in Panhandle-speak, and tailors his remarks according to the audience that hears them. The other is that he is a mainstream Republican conservative who is not prone to talking only in cliches and platitudes.

He knows the legislative process. Seliger has risen to a position of leadership among the 31 senators in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

All of that hasn’t been good enough for Empower Texans, a political action group that opposed his re-election. Seliger, for his part, has no good will to fling at Michael Quinn Sullivan, the fellow most associated with Empower Texans. Sullivan’s favorite legislator is Lt. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate. Seliger and Patrick aren’t exactly best buds, either, even though Seliger has been able to hold on to his chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education Committee. Given the presence of West Texas A&M University and several community colleges throughout District 31, it is critical that we have one of our own handling the gavel on this committee.

I am delighted to awaken this morning to news that my pal Sen. Seliger will get to continue to serving West Texas.

He has done a good job since 2004. However,  the job of legislating is never finished.

Conservatives are winning the labeling war

Let’s give a sort of shout-out to the conservative media and the politicians they are backing.

Those on the right wing of the spectrum are winning the war of epithets, labeling and name-calling. They have turned the term “liberal” into a four-letter word.

I see it daily as I watch the political debate swirl and churn across the land. To be called a “liberal” in Texas — which is run by Republicans at every level of government — is to be called the son of Satan himself. A candidate for the Texas Senate who is running against state Sen. Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, has called him “liberal” and “corrupt” — in that order. Do you get it? The implication is that to be liberal is to be corrupt. By the way, Seliger is campaigning for re-election as a dedicated conservative, which he is.

It’s gotten so bad among liberals that they no longer are even identifying themselves with that epithet. Oh, no. The operative word now among those on the left is “progressive.”

Admission time: As one who tilts to the left, I find myself using the this new P-word when describing myself. Have I gotten, um, self-conscious about what liberalism? Oh … maybe.

Liberals, er, progressives, haven’t yet been able to turn the right wing’s labeling against them. I suppose they could shorten the word “conservative” to, oh, “con,” which of course brings up another connotation altogether. I mean, liberals are called “libs” on occasion. But I digress.

The political debate often becomes a contest of sorts. One side seeks to demonize the other with words that sound a bit jarring. Republicans back in the early to mid-1990s began using the term “Democrat” as an adjective, referring to “Democrat politicians,” which doesn’t sound quite the same as “Democratic politicians.” That word usage was part of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s strategy to label “Democrats as the enemy of normal Americans.”

If I were wearing a cap at this moment, I would tip it toward Republicans, conservatives and those in the right-wing media for the success they have enjoyed in this rhetorical battle with those on the other side.

However, as a dedicated political liberal, I offer my salute as a form of damning them with faint praise.