Tag Archives: Texas Tribune

Patrick gives Seliger, West Texas the shaft

I don’t care how you slice it, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is playing a game of revenge politics with one of the Legislature’s brighter lights, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

Patrick handed out committee assignments for the 2019 Legislature and managed to yank Seliger out of his longtime chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education Committee and removed him from the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. He also took Seliger off the Higher Ed Committee altogether, meaning that the veteran Panhandle legislator will have no input on the crafting of legislation involving public education at any level in the state.

To be fair, Patrick did appoint Seliger as chair of the Agriculture Committee, although I don’t recall Seliger demonstrating much of an “ag background” in his long career as a businessman in Amarillo. Still, a key Patrick adviser, told the Texas Tribune that if Seliger is unhappy with his Agriculture Committee chairmanship he could let Patrick know and the lieutenant governor could appoint someone else.

Revenge politics in play?

So, what do you suppose that’s all about?

I have an idea. It has to do with Seliger’s longstanding displeasure with the way Patrick runs the Senate. He also declined to endorse Patrick’s re-election effort, as he was the lone Senate Republican to not sign a letter of endorsement on Patrick’s behalf.

Patrick then returned the “favor” by refusing to back Seliger’s bid for re-election this past year. What’s more, according to the Texas Tribune, Patrick’s top political consultant, Allen Blakemore of Houston, managed the campaign of Amarillo businessman Victor Leal, one of two Republicans who lost to Seliger in the 2018 GOP Senate primary this past spring.

I am one Texan who is saddened to see Seliger’s voice removed from the discussion of education policy in the Legislature.

Having said that, I also must declare that I harbor warm personal and professional feelings for Seliger, a man I got to know immediately after moving to the Texas Panhandle in early 1995. I know him to be one of the brightest minds in the Legislature. He has shown a healthy bipartisan streak during his 14 years as a senator, which I consider an essential component of good and smart governance.

If only the guy who runs the Senate, Patrick, could muster up the kind of well-rounded legislative skill that Sen. Seliger has demonstrated.

Lt. Gov. Patrick in line for a job with Trump? Oh, let’s hope so

What little I know about Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune — and it’s really not all that much — I am inclined to believe he doesn’t toss rumors out there just to make a spectacle of himself.

So, when he wrote this in an analysis published by the Tribune, I kind of sat up a little straighter in my chair:

“(Lt. Gov. Dan) Patrick’s visit to Washington sparked a rumor that he might be in line for a post in the Trump administration — a rumor that prompted speculation about how the legislative session would go with senators choosing his replacement from among their own ranks. That hasn’t happened since George W. Bush became president and then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry succeeded him as governor. Senators made Bill Ratliff the lieutenant governor until the next election.”

Then Ramsey offered this: “Scratch all that.”

Read Ramsey’s analysis here.

Patrick met the president in McAllen earlier this week and offered to help him build The Wall along our border with Mexico. He said Texas could pony some of the $5.7 billion that Trump wants to spend.

So, what would that mean if Patrick gets whisked off to D.C. to serve in the Trump administration? That would allow senators to select a new lieutenant governor. I know one of those 31 senators pretty well: Republican Kel Seliger of Amarillo, who I believe would make an outstanding lieutenant governor.

He calls himself a “conservative,” but he sounds more, shall we say, moderate than some of the righties who populate the Texas Senate. That is fine with me. For instance, I cannot imagine a Lt. Gov. Seliger pushing a “Bathroom Bill” through the Senate to make some sort of statement to appease cultural conservatives within the Texas GOP Senate caucus.

I’ve known Seliger for nearly 25 years. He and I have developed a good relationship. I was editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News and he was Amarillo mayor when we first met in early 1995. He then left City Hall and was elected to the Senate in 2004 after the late Teel Bivins received an ambassadorial post from President Bush.

I have long supported Seliger’s work as a state senator.

Would he make a good lieutenant governor? Of course he would! I realize I am getting way ahead of myself. Lt. Gov. Patrick likely isn’t going anywhere.

Then again . . . my hope springs eternal.

Decency, reason prevail at Tarrant County GOP

Shahid Shafi still has his volunteer job, thanks to the reason and decency that prevailed at the Tarrant County Republican Party’s special meeting.

Shafi survived a vote tonight that sought to remove him from his post as county GOP vice chairman. Did he do anything wrong? Was there malfeasance? A hint of corruption? Did he steal money from the coffer? Is he guilty of any moral misbehavior?

Oh, no. He was targeted because of his Muslim faith by a group of malcontents, bigots, xenophobes and cretins who comprise a small, but vocal minority of the Tarrant County GOP.

Decency wins the day

The 133-49 vote to retain Dr. Shafi as Republican Party vice chair came after many local and state Republican leaders denounced the effort to have him removed. Among them were Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

One of the ringleaders of this idiotic effort was Dorrie O’Brien, a local precinct chairwoman who sought to make the case that Shafi, a trauma surgeon and Southlake City Council member, was unfit because of supposed support for Islamic terrorist organizations. She said it had nothing to do with his Islamic faith. What utter crap!

Gov. Abbott took pains to note that the Texas Constitution mirrors the U.S. Constitution by declaring that there should be “no religious test” for anyone seeking or holding public office.

The bigoted cabal that sought Dr. Shafi’s ouster should take heed. If they fail to grasp what both governing documents say, they have no basis for their own service.

They, not Dr. Shafi, should be shown the door.

Bathroom Bill is dead, but Lt. Gov. Patrick declares victory

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has found a curious way of declaring victory even when he clearly loses a key political battle.

Strange, but true.

Patrick said today he sees no need to resurrect the Bathroom Bill that died a much-needed death in the 2017 special legislative session. You remember this one, right? It would have discriminated against transgender individuals by requiring people to use public restrooms according to the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate.

In other words, if you were born a male but have changed your gender to female, you still have to use the men’s restroom; and vice versa. It’s a virtually unenforceable notion, but the Texas Senate approved it anyway. Thanks to the courage shown by then-House Speaker Joe Straus, the Bathroom Bill went nowhere in the special session.

But . . . Lt. Gov. Patrick has declared victory anyway!

“When you win the battle you don’t have to fight the battle again,” Patrick said in a press conference with Gov. Greg Abbott and the brand new Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Then, according to the Texas Tribune, he said that the school district “behavior that necessitated the action has stopped.”

So he declared victory!

Very good, Lt. Gov. Patrick. Except that you lost! Count me as a Texan who is glad that Patrick’s will didn’t become law in Texas.

The 2019 Legislature that just convened has many more important matters to ponder. They deal with taxes and human trafficking. How about water management? Or perhaps investing in alternative energy development? Then there’s public education and public higher education.

The Bathroom Bill need not return to the legislative agenda.

Not ever!

Hoping decency and reason prevail with Tarrant GOP

Shahid Shafi is a dedicated, committed Republican. He serves as vice chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party Committee. He believes in small government, lower taxes and, oh yes, border security.

Oh, but that’s not good enough for some within the Tarrant County GOP membership. They want him removed from his VP post because — get ready for it — he’s a Muslim.

They’re going to vote Thursday night on whether Dr. Shafi — a trauma surgeon and Southlake City Council member — gets the boot. This is a ridiculous, bigoted and shameful action that the Tarrant County GOP is considering.

It has drawn scorn and criticism from Republicans around the state. The critics call it what it is: an act of blind bigotry.

Tarrant County vote set

Those who want Shafi out contend that Islamic beliefs run counter to constitutional principles and that his faith doesn’t represent “most” Tarrant County Republican members. Shafi denies the allegation about Islamic tenets being in conflict with the U.S. Constitution. As for whether his faith represents most local GOP members’ own religious views: so what?

I keep returning to the argument that the United States of America was founded as a secular state. The founders proclaimed that there shall be no law passed that specifies a state religion. The upshot is all U.S. citizens are free to worship — or not worship — as they see fit.

It is my sincere and fervent hope that the Tarrant County bigots/Islamophobes get slapped down in their effort to remove Shalif from his post as party vice chair.

If the one-time Party of Lincoln purports to be a “big tent” operation, here is a local chapter’s chance to prove it.

Speaker Bonnen sets constructive legislative agenda

Texas has a new speaker of the state House of Representatives.

Dennis Bonnen of Angleton is a Republican who says he doesn’t believe in “sugarcoating” issues. He says he calls ’em the way he sees ’em. “I am direct and I am a problem solver,” Bonnen said.

A new legislative era begins

But he also apparently is more interested in substantive matters than he is in some of the more cultural issues that came out of the Texas Senate in 2017.

Public school finance is Speaker Bonnen’s first priority, followed by human trafficking and property tax collection reform.

Bonnen succeeds Joe Straus as speaker. Straus, a San Antonio Republican, decided to step aside and not seek re-election in 2018. I am one Texan who is grateful, though, for Straus’s resistance to the Senate approval of that ridiculous Bathroom Bill, which required people using public restrooms to use those facilities that comport with the gender on their birth certificate. It discriminated against transgender individuals and Straus would have none of it.

Speaker Straus managed to scuttle the Bathroom Bill during the Legislature’s special session in the summer of 2017, angering Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, under whose watch the Senate approved the bill.

The new speaker’s legislative agenda suggests he is going to travel along the same path as his predecessor — to which I offer a salute.

Good luck, Mr. Speaker. May the new Man of the House lead the legislative chamber with wisdom and reason.

Good news, bad news on Texas midterm election turnout

The Texas Tribune is reporting a classic good news-bad news story as it relates Texas’s voter turnout in the 2018 midterm election.

The good news? Texas is among the nation’s leading states in the increase in voter turnout over the 2014 midterm election. Texans boosted their midterm turnout this year by 18 percent, ranking No. 6 nationally.

The national increase in turnout was 13 percent, the Tribune reports. Hey, that’s good, right? Of course it is!

The turnout boost no doubt was fueled by the extraordinary interest in the race for the U.S. Senate, which Republican Sen. Ted Cruz won narrowly over Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Oh, but then there’s the bad news. You ready? Texas still voted below the national average. Total voter turnout percentage ranked us at No. 40 nationally. That’s bad, yes? Yep. I am afraid so.

The lack of competitive statewide races has helped drive down Texas voter participation. This year was remarkably different, as the increase over the 2014 midterm turnout illustrates.

Read the Tribune story here

However, we had a huge hill to climb from the near bottom of all the states in voter turnout.

Baby steps, though, are better than no steps. So we’ve taken some big steps toward improving our participation in this thing called “representative democracy.”

I’ll take the good news any day of the week.

Freedom Caucus loses a member . . . more to follow?

Jeff Leach has just emerged as one of my favorite members of the 2019 Texas Legislature.

The Plano Republican state representative has just bolted from the Texas Freedom Caucus, a cabal of far-right wing legislators intent on steering the Legislature toward ultra-conservative government policies.

Leach says his goal now is to “unite” the Republican majority in the House. The Freedom Caucus — which morphed from the TEA Party wing of the Republican Party — has fought with fellow Republicans through the past legislative session. It tangled with outgoing Speaker Joe Straus and other GOP moderates who want to chart a more reasonable and, yes, “moderate” course for the state to follow.

It’s too bad Straus won’t be around after January when the next Legislature convenes. The new speaker-to-be, Dennis Bonnen, R-Arlington, appears at first blush to be more in the Straus model of legislator than the Freedom Caucus model.

That’s fine with me.

It’s also quite fine with me that the Freedom Caucus’s numbers have been diminished by one; it’s down to just 11 members, a tiny fraction in the 150-member Texas House. These yahoos, ‘er, legislators do have an outsized influence on the rest of the legislative chamber.

The Texas Tribune reports that Leach’s departure from the wacky Freedom Caucus appears to be an amicable one: “There appears to be no hard feelings between Leach and caucus leadership, at least publicly,” the Tribune reports.

Even if there are hard feelings, my own sense is . . . too bad.

Welcome back to the real world of legislative moderation and good government, Rep. Leach.

Balance of power shifting in Texas delegation

Here’s a thought or two to consider, according to the Texas Tribune.

Texans who have occupied a lot of chairmanships in the U.S. House of Representatives might be set to bail on the House in the wake of the newfound status as the minority party in the lower congressional chamber.

Buried in the Tribune story analyzing that development is a mention of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, who might “make the upcoming term his last.”

That’s according to “many Republican operatives” on Capitol Hill, reports the Tribune.

Read the story here

Thornberry won’t be able to serve as “ranking minority member” of Armed Services; GOP rules mandate that he is term-limited out of that rank. So he’ll become just one of the gang of GOP members serving on the panel.

I have a special “bond” of sorts with Thornberry. He took office in the House in early January 1995, in the same week I reported for duty as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I covered his congressional career regularly until I left the paper in August 2012. He and I developed a good professional relationship.

I rarely agree with his voting record while representing the sprawling 13th Congressional District, although my position at the newspaper required me to write editorials supporting him, given the paper’s longstanding conservative editorial policy.

And, to be fair, Thornberry has been pilloried unfairly over his more than two decades in office because of the term limits issue. He was elected in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” team of GOP insurgents. The CWA called for term limits for members of Congress. Thornberry never pledged to limit his own service to three consecutive terms, but he did vote to approve it when the House considered it.

He took office in 1995. It’s now 2018. Twenty-three years after becoming a freshman member of the House, Mac Thornberry is about to become a former chairman of a key congressional committee. The Republican majority is set to become the GOP minority. That, according to the Texas Tribune, might be enough to send Thornberry packing and returning to the Texas Panhandle in 2021.

Yep, elections do have consequences. We’re about to see one of those consequences occur on the new day that is about to dawn over Capitol Hill.

Excellent outcome, flawed tactic to get there

A San Antonio state representative has pitched a marvelous idea, but I do not believe his tactic to get there is the right way to go.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, a Republican, has filed a bill to require the University of Texas and Texas A&M University to play a non-conference football game each year. Larson, an A&M graduate, has put his name on House Bill 412, which would require the teams to play that game some time in November.

Oh . . . my!

First of all, I applaud his intent. I, too, would love to see the teams play each other again. The Longhorns and Aggies last played a tackle football game in 2011, before Texas A&M bolted the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference.

The Longhorns and Aggies used to play on Thanksgiving Day. It used to be part of Texas’s holiday tradition. It was a home-and-home series, alternating between Austin and College Station.

It’s huge, man!

But now it’s history.

Should there be a legislative remedy? Umm. It’s unnecessary. The Legislature must spend more time dealing with issues that are infinitely more critical to Texans than requiring an annual UT-A&M football game. OK, I get that such a football game is about as important as it gets for some Texans. But, c’mon!

I would like to implore the athletic directors at both schools to consider scheduling such a game earlier in the season. Most of the nation’s top-drawer football programs schedule a series of non-conference games at the beginning of each season. Many of their non-conference opponents are of the “cupcake” variety; they bring teams representing smaller colleges and universities into their mammoth stadiums full of fans, giving those smaller schools a slice of a large revenue pie to take back home.

That, of course, is not the issue with either UT or A&M. Both schools are loaded with money. Their endowments are among the richest in the world. Their respective athletic budgets are among the priciest of any in the country.

The issue here is to have student-athletes from these universities play football. It is to give loyalists, alumni and just plain fan(atics) a chance to cheer for their favorite team. It enables one of them to achieve bragging rights for the rest of the year when they defeat the other guys.

I appreciate Rep. Larson’s desire to see the teams return to the field of competition.

However, we should take this battle straight to the schools’ ADs.