Tag Archives: Texas Tribune

Reduce access at schools? No thanks

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has tossed out an idea worthy of discussion in reaction to the Santa Fe High School massacre of nine students and a teacher by one of the students at the school near Galveston.

The discussion, though, should be brief.

Patrick believes schools are too open, that they contain too many doors. Access is too easy. Gunmen can walk in and blast away, according to Patrick.

His solution? Let’s “harden” the schools, reduce the number of doors.

According to the Texas Tribune: “We may have to look at the design of our schools moving forward and retrofitting schools that are already built. And what I mean by that is there are too many entrances and too many exits to our more than 8,000 campuses in Texas,” he said, citing security at office buildings and courthouses. “Had there been one single entrance possibly for every student, maybe he would have been stopped.”

OK. That’s enough of that.

Schools need those doors to enable students can escape in case of fire and, oh yes, in case someone does open fire in classrooms or in the halls.

Patrick’s idea appears to be well-intentioned. I’ll give him that much. However, it is entirely impractical, given the myriad other hazards that can confront students, teachers and school staffers.

At least, though, Lt. Gov. Patrick has started the discussion.

Lawmaker to lobbyist: an unfair advantage

Blake Farenthold has left one job in Washington, D.C., and has immediately cashed in with another one.

It makes me wonder as I have in the past: Why can’t there be a built-in revolving door clause that requires former lawmakers to spend some time on the outside before they become lobbyists?

Farenthold left Congress amid a sexual harassment scandal that took him down. He dipped into a taxpayer-funded cache of money to shell out $84,000 to settle some of the sexual harassment claims.

It was not a graceful end to this man’s congressional career.

What does he do now? He lands a job as a “legislative liaison” for the Port of Port Lavaca, near Corpus Christi, which is where he represented in Congress.

Why does this stink? Because it allows an immediate past member of Congress to parlay his contacts, relationships and friendships with members of Congress on behalf of interests he is representing.

It gives him a leg up or an unfair advantage over other lobbyists.

I have nothing against lobbying, per se. It provides special interests with valuable access to those who can benefit them tangibly. I get it, man! It’s the American way.

However, I’ve never liked this idea of legislators or members of Congress instantly becoming lobbyists after their public careers have come to an end.

I would prefer a two- or three-year required waiting period. It enables some additional congressional turnover to occur, which might tend to level the playing field for all the lobbyists who hound, harangue and hassle members of Congress on behalf of their clients.

As the Texas Tribune reported: In a statement provided to the Caller-Times, the Calhoun Port Authority, which oversees the Port of Port Lavaca-Point Comfort, confirmed that Farenthold would serve as the port’s full-time legislative liaison. The port did not return a phone call from the Texas Tribune requesting comment Monday.

“Blake has always been a strong supporter of the Calhoun Port Authority and is familiar with the issues facing the Port,” the statement said. “The Board looks forward to the services Blake can provide in assisting the Port with matters in Washington, D.C.”

Yeah. Do ya think?

Aww, what the heck. Maybe with his new source of income, he can pay back that 84 grand he took from taxpayers to settle those bad conduct lawsuits.

Driverless car service? Umm, no thanks!

As a soon-to-be resident of a North Texas community, I believe I shall declare here and now that I have zero intention of ever partaking of a new service that a neighboring community will allow.

Frisco is going to allow a driverless service. Yep. Get into a motor vehicle and let it take you where you want to go.

No-o-o-o thank you!

The Texas Tribune reports: The service, reported Monday by The Dallas Morning News, will first be accessible in July for roughly 10,000 employees working in a bevy of corporate offices located less than a mile away from The Star, a retail and dining area that also serves as headquarters for the Dallas Cowboys. The service will also be free for the first six months.

The service reportedly will expand beyond this limited accessibility … eventually.

Until the day comes when there can be an ironclad guarantee that this technology is absolutely, unequivocally fool-proof, I always will sit in a motor vehicle with a fellow fallible human being sitting behind the steering wheel.

The idea of an even more -fallible “Drone Car” mingling on our streets and highways with the rest of us scares the bejabbers out of me.

There. I’m out.

Farenthold chooses to stiff his former constituents

So much for doing the right thing … yes, Blake Farenthold?

The former Corpus Christi congressman had a chance to pay back his constituents for the disgraceful way he exited public office, but has chosen to ignore the request from a fellow Republican politician, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott had demanded that Farenthold pay for the cost of a special election to replace him. You see, Farenthold quit Congress amid allegations of sexual harassment. He made matters even worse by dipping into a taxpayer-funded pool of money totaling $84,000 to pay off settlements leveled against him by former staffers.

Abbott said he is disappointed in Farenthold’s decision. He ought to feel worse than that. Let’s try “outraged,” or “insulted,” “mad as hell.”

Abbott’s letter to Farenthold noted that his disgraceful conduct was the sole reason for having the special election in the first place and that the former congressman owed it to his former constituents to pay for the election in full.

The Texas Tribune reported: A spokeswoman for Abbott called the decision “disappointing,” but said “it’s not surprising that his last act would be to stick taxpayers with the bill at the worst possible time.”

“While Mr. Farenthold may consider this resolved, we’re not closing the case on this issue,” said Ciara Matthews, Abbott’s deputy communications director.

Farenthold said he planned to repay the fund, but hasn’t yet done so. Any bets on whether he’ll deliver on that pledge? Don’t hold your breath.


Let’s look for a baggage-free VA boss

Ronny Jackson called a halt to his nomination to become the next secretary of veterans affairs.

The active-duty Navy admiral and the current White House physician pulled out after allegations on several fronts piled up: hostile work environment, over-prescribing of drugs and drinking on the job.

Admiral Jackson called it a “distraction.” He denies the allegations.

And of course, Donald J. Trump, stands by his man. He also said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who serves as ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, will pay a “big price” because Tester had the gall to raise the questions about Jackson’s conduct.

According to the Texas Tribune: While a respected physician, many in Washington have questioned whether Jackson has the skill-set and managerial experience to run one of the most sprawling and troubled government bureaucracies. Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs officially delayed Jackson’s confirmation hearing earlier this week.

How about starting over, Mr. President? Trump has said that qualified individuals are breaking down the White House doors looking to work in his administration, even though there is evidence to the contrary. Are any of them qualified to lead a huge federal agency charged with caring for our nation’s 20 million veterans?

What’s more, let us all hope as well that the president can find someone who doesn’t have the baggage that Admiral Jackson was lugging around.

Why push the panic button on the border?

Donald Trump has an itchy panic-button finger.

The president is prone to pushing that button at the slightest provocation, such as his decision to order National Guard troops to the southern border with Mexico.

He contends there’s a tidal wave of illegal immigrants pouring over our border with Mexico. However, as the Texas Tribune reports, the federal government’s own figures show such crossings are at historic lows.

So, again the the question must be asked: Why the rush to essentially militarize a border with one of this nation’s closest and strongest allies?

As the Tribune reports: ” … U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s own statistics indicate that despite the uptick in March, the total number of people apprehended or turned away since October, when the federal government’s fiscal year began, was lower than during the same six-month time frame in the previous fiscal year. This year, there have been about 237,000 apprehensions, compared to 2017’s 271,000.”

This appears to be Trump’s modus operandi. He prefers sowing seeds of fear. Remember his inaugural speech in which he declared “this American carnage” is going to stop? That became the signature statement from a dreary and frightening speech that is usually intended to appeal to Americans’ noble instincts.

Not from this guy.

I keep circling back to the notion that we have plenty of assets to deploy — local law enforcement, customs agents, Border Patrol — to accomplish what the president wants.

Texas teachers don’t lack political clout

Teachers are protesting in several states, some of which are among the most reliably Republican-red in the nation, such as Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Texas teachers won’t join them, as they are barred from doing so according to a 1993 law that forbids such demonstrations.

I am essentially neutral on the issue of whether teachers should be allowed to strike. However, I would prefer, as state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, told the Texas Tribune, that they remain in the classroom. “The goal is to ensure we don’t have the sort of stoppages that would constitute a detriment to the school day and the school year. So the focus is on the students,” Seliger said. “Teachers need to be in the classroom. The public expressions of opinion are very important. … If teachers want to demonstrate, they should absolutely demonstrate but it shouldn’t interfere with the school day.”

Still, the lack of the ability to strike doesn’t leave Texas teachers powerless. They can exercise their power at the ballot box. They can organize in favor of candidates who are favorable to their needs, such as better pay and retirement benefits, better insurance coverage to enable them to protect their families.

According to the Texas Tribune: “What we’re focused on are the elections. We’re urging our members, and all other educators, to get out and vote and to vote for education candidates,” said (Clay) Robison, the Texas State Teachers Association spokesman. “Vote for candidates who will vote to increase funding, decrease testing and vote against vouchers.”

“What the Legislature will listen to this year is votes,” he added.

This is not a simplistic solution. It is meant to reveal that ballot-box power can be an effective means to achieve political ends.

We’ve got an election coming up this fall. If teachers are concerned about the future of their profession and the children they serve, then they have the power to make it more right.

Census Bureau throws in a trick question

Counting more than 300 million U.S. residents is difficult enough.

Now comes word that the Census Bureau is going to toss in a ringer of a question. It’s going to ask residents if they are American citizens.

The outcry from so-called “blue states” — those states that tend to vote Democratic — has been loud and expected. But then there’s this from the Texas Tribune: Texas could suffer, too, even though Texas remains a solid “red state” that favors Republicans.

The Census Bureau appears to be on the hunt for illegal immigrants. Asking the citizenship question is likely to dissuade residents from filling out the Census questionnaire, thus depriving states with large numbers of undocumented residents of the representation they have in Congress.

The House of Representatives is apportioned every decade based on states’ population. Texas has been one of the country’s fastest-growing states. Thus, its House representation has exploded along with its population.

As the Texas Tribune reports: Hispanics and poor people are already harder to count — whether there’s a citizenship question in place or not. Census tracts with lower-than-average response rates tend to have higher Hispanic and/or poor populations. Opponents to including a question on citizenship contend it will further increase chances of an undercount — particularly in areas with higher numbers of poor and Hispanic Texas residents.

I guess I should note as well that the citizenship question isn’t required by the U.S. Constitution, which does spell out the need to count U.S. residents every decade to determine each state’s congressional representation. This added question is an add-on that is going to diminish many states’ representation in the halls of power.

That many of them happen to vote Democratic suggests that the GOP-run executive branch of the government is putting the screws to “blue” states. This punishment is likely to make officials see “red.”

Tillerson for UT chancellor? Hey, why not?

This will sound like I’m damning someone with faint praise, but that’s not my intent. The Texas Tribune is reporting that Rex Tillerson, the soon-to-depart secretary of state might be under consideration to  become chancellor of the University of Texas System.

To which I would add: Why not pick Tillerson? He’s worked already inside arguably the most dysfunctional government system on Earth; that would be the executive branch of the U.S. government. He’s cut his teeth on chaos, confusion and controversy. So, whatever troubles afflicting the UT System Board of Regents would be easy for him to handle.

The UT Board of Regents has had its fill of its own brand of chaos of late. One of the regents had been targeted for possible ouster because of alleged meddling in the affairs of the UT-Austin campus. The board at times has seemed as though its members don’t get along, don’t work cohesively.

The current chancellor, William McRaven, is set to retire for health reasons. I wish McRaven could stay on. I like the man’s background: U.S. Navy admiral, SEAL, former commander of the U.S. Special Forces Command. He’s a no-nonsense flag officer, who happened to oppose legislation approved last year to allow guns on college and university campuses.

Tillerson bleeds burnt orange. He graduated from UT before heading off to pursue a highly successful business career that culminated in his becoming CEO of ExxonMobil. Then he got the call from Donald Trump to become secretary of state. That gig didn’t work out too well.

I don’t blame Tillerson so much as I blame the president for the dysfunction that highlighted (or lowlighted) Tillerson’s tenure at State.

A Texas university system chancellor’s main job is to raise money for the system. Tillerson is well-positioned to fatten the UT System’s already bulging cache of endowments. Plus, he’s been baptized already in a system that exudes dysfunction.

Hey, the UT job would be a piece of cake!

Will this young man enter the speaker’s race?

The Texas Tribune has listed five state legislators who either have announced plans to run for Texas House speaker or are interested in joining the fray.

I looked the list over and was expecting to see a name from Amarillo. He wasn’t among the five of them.

So, with that I’ll offer this on-the-record request for state Rep. Four Price, the Republican representative from House District 87: Go for it, young man! Join the field of legislators who want to be the next Man of the House!

Price will see this blog post. He already knows that I have great personal regard for him. I am acknowledging my bias, OK?

Rep. Price brings some political muscle to this contest, were he to run for speaker.

First of all, Texas Monthly rated him among the state’s “Ten Best Legislators” in 2017. TM’s editors like his commitment to mental health issues.

Second of all, Price beat back a challenge from a guy who had some serious financial backing from Empower Texans, the far-right-wing political action group that had targeted a number of incumbent legislators. Price rolled up 79 percent of the vote in the March 6 Republican Party primary race. The way I see it, a victory margin of that size has purchased Price a good bit of political capital that he can spend while campaigning for speaker.

Third of all, Price would give the Texas Panhandle an important — and loud — voice in the Legislature at a time when it is experiencing a diminishing level of clout in Austin. It’s part of the state’s shifting population trend, with Central and North Texas growing at a much more rapid rate than the vast reaches of West Texas.

Price told me some months ago that he was part of current Speaker Joe Straus’s legislative team in the House. He endorsed the leadership that Speaker Straus brought to the lower legislative chamber. It follows, then, that a Speaker Price would follow the lead established by Straus, who’s not running for re-election.

I say all this knowing that this decision rests exclusively with Four Price and his family. Were he to run for speaker and then be selected by his House colleagues, he would be elevated immediately from a part-time citizen-legislator to a full-time political leader — even though the job won’t pay him accordingly.

It’s a sacrifice to run for speaker and to subject oneself to the abuse that goes with the territory.

Still, I hope Four Price goes for it.