Tag Archives: Texas Tribune

SBOE inches toward a coming to its senses

It’s difficult for me to refer to the Texas State Board of Education as a 15-member gang of nincompoops. The SBOE, though, is showing troubling signs of seriously dunce-like behavior.

It had decided to remove two pioneer women from public school curricula: Helen Keller, a disability rights advocate and (get a load of this!) Hillary Rodham Clinton, the nation’s first female ever nominated for president by a major political party.

Then the board thought better of it. It restored Keller to the state’s third-grade history curriculum.

Clinton’s restoration isn’t yet final; the SBOE will decide the issue on Friday. I do hope the SBOE makes the right call.

For the ever-lovin’ life of me I don’t understand what the SBOE — an elected board of partisan politicians who set academic curriculum standards for the state’s public schools — is thinking.

It’s the decision to remove Clinton from study in our public classrooms that baffles me in the extreme. She is a contemporary figure who’s still active in the nation’s political discourse.

It looks as though the SBOE is going to restore the former first lady, former U.S. senator, former secretary of state and former 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee to our public school textbooks.

As the Texas Tribune reports: In response to a motion by board member Erika Beltran, D-Fort Worth, to reinsert Clinton into the standards, fellow board member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, referenced “tons of public comment” that he’d received before Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t agree, obviously, with her politics,” Rowley said. “I just think she qualifies as significant.”

Do ya think?

Someone’s politics shouldn’t matter one damn bit when determining one’s significance to state or national history. I’m sure Rowley knows that. And, yeah, she “qualifies as significant.”

Indeed, Clinton and Keller both are hugely significant historical figures. So help me, I don’t understand why the SBOE considered dropping them in the first place.

It now appears the SBOE has come to its senses. I also want to offer a good word to Marty Rowley for responding to the “tons of public comment” that stood up for Hillary Clinton’s role as a historic American public figure.

Thank you for your service, Justice Johnson

It is with a touch of sadness and a bit of pride as well that I have just learned that a member of the Texas Supreme Court is retiring at the end of the year.

Justice Phil Johnson is calling it a career.

I’ve known Johnson for several years. I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News and Johnson was chief justice of the 7th Court of Appeals based in Amarillo. Thus, he became a source for me. We developed a nice relationship over the years.

Why the sense of pride?

Well, it goes like this. When the vacancy occurred on the state’s highest civil appeals court 13 years ago, I authored editorials for the newspaper urging Gov. Rick Perry to look past the I-45/I-35 corridor from where all Supreme Court justices hailed. I checked out the histories all the remaining eight justices and learned they all came from communities within that swath that runs through Central Texas.

The newspaper urged Gov. Perry to look westward. Johnson expressed an interest in getting appointed.

To his credit, Perry did appoint Johnson to the court.

Now, I am not going to take credit for the appointment. It’s likely no more than a coincidence. After all, Johnson did have one powerful friend in the Texas Senate, fellow Republican Bob Duncan — a former law partner of Johnson in Lubbock — who very likely made it known to the “right people” that Gov. Perry needed to appoint Johnson to the Supreme Court.

So, I’ll take all the credit I deserve for Justice Johnson’s appointment.

I also want to wish this good man well as he rides off into retirement.

Texas Democrats find the spring in their step

The just-concluded 2018 midterm election has produced a fascinating result in Texas.

The long-downtrodden Texas Democratic Party has rediscovered its mojo. Its members have a renewed spring in their step. They fell short in their goal of electing one of their own to a statewide office, but the fellow at the top of the ballot — Beto O’Rourke — came within 3 percentage points of defeating GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.

That’s not supposed to happen in blood-red Texas, which hasn’t elected a Democrat to a statewide office since 1994; the last Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate was Lloyd Bentsen, in 1988.

Now comes word out of Austin that the selection of the next Texas speaker of the House of Representatives will involve more Democratic votes among the 150 legislators.

Democrats carved into the GOP legislative majority. They’ll fill 67 seats in the 2019 Legislature; Republicans will occupy 83 of them.

That means Democrats will get to speak with a louder voice in determining who takes the gavel from Joe Straus, who didn’t seek re-election this year.

Democrats to join speaker fight

A Republican is a shoo-in to become the next speaker. That’s a given. My favorite for the speakership is my good friend Four Price, the Amarillo Republican who, in my view, would do a smashing job as the Man of the House. He is an ally of Speaker Straus, for whom I have high regard, given his torpedoing of the Bathroom Bill in 2017.

However, it’s good to see a semblance of two-party rule returning somewhat to the Texas House. The GOP remains the pre-eminent political party in a state that once was dominated by Democrats.

As for O’Rourke, I’m quite sure that Democratic Party loyalists and activists are getting way ahead of themselves by suggesting Beto should consider running for president in 2020. A better option might be to challenge John Cornyn for the U.S. Senate two years from now.

However, O’Rourke’s legacy for the state well might be that his presence on the ballot and his near-victory over the Cruz Missile has energized a political party that’s been in a hang-dog mood for as long as anyone can remember.

Preferring AGs who aren’t under indictment

If I might paraphrase Donald John Trump … I prefer attorneys general who aren’t under indictment.

Texas AG Ken Paxton is running for re-election against Justin Nelson. Paxton, the Republican, is favored to win a second term; he is, after all, a Republican running in Texas.

But here’s the thing about Paxton. He has been indicted by a Collin County grand jury on charges of securities fraud.

Paxton goes negative

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this case is that he was indicted by a grand jury in his home county. He represented Collin County as a state representative before he was elected attorney general in 2014. Paxton had a mediocre legislative career before he ascended to higher office.

Indeed, he carried Collin County with 66 percent of the vote on his way to winning the election four years ago. Still, the home folks thought enough of the complaint brought against their former lawmaker to agree to an indictment.

The case is tied up over procedural matters. Paxton hasn’t yet stood trial for the felony charges; if convicted, he faces a potential 99-year prison term.

I just find it weird — even with the presumption of innocence to which Paxton is entitled — that an indicted attorney general would be poised to win re-election. I doubt Nelson will be able to upset Paxton. But still …

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my state’s chief law enforcement officer to operate without the dark cloud of suspicion that hangs over the current attorney general.

Both sides take heart in early vote surge

I knew it! I said so, too.

It turns out that Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic challenger, and Ted Cruz, the Republican incumbent, are staking out positive results from the spike in early voting turnout in Texas for this year’s midterm election.

O’Rourke and Cruz are battling each other. O’Rourke is courting young voters, telling them their votes will make all the difference in his underdog effort to unseat Cruz.

Meanwhile, Cruz is banking on traditional Republican strength in the midterm cycle to carry him to another six-year term.

Both campaigns are calling the news of big early vote turnout a victory for their side.

I don’t know who’s right.

However, I do know this: We vote in secret for a reason. That reason is to protect voters from coercion or pressure. We get to cast our ballots, walk away from the polling booth and keep our little secret to ourselves.

I like it that way, even though I’ve spilled the beans on this blog who is getting my vote in the Senate contest.

And it isn’t the incumbent. Hey, I’m just one vote. The rest of you get to keep your preferences to yourselves.

Just be sure to get out … and vote!

Our votes matter a lot … always!

It looks as though there well might be a record voter turnout for a midterm election in Texas, based on the early vote totals being recorded across the state.

Does that diminish the individual value of Texans’ vote? Not in the least.

We all know about tiny jurisdictions where races for public office — say, school board or city council — are decided by a vote or two. A rural Texas community can elect governing councils from a total of perhaps 20 or 30 votes. You know your vote counts in that context.

Let’s broaden our horizon, shall we? Texas is going to take part on Nov. 6 in electing all 36 members of the House of Representatives and one of two members of the U.S. Senate. A number of those races are bound to be close, too close to call, within the margin of polling error. We’ll also have a number of state offices to decide.

The number of total votes cast in those races figures to be huge. That doesn’t diminish the value of our votes, yours and mine.

Then we have the county races and state legislative contests that voters will decide. Our votes count there, too.

Will there be runaways? Sure. The way I look at it, even if you cast your ballot for the candidate who loses an election by a huge margin, you still get to have your voice heard. To my way of thinking, that vote gives you an extra measure of credibility if you choose to gripe publicly about how the winner of that race is doing his or her job on your behalf.

The Texas Tribune reports that after five days of early voting, 2.14 million Texans have cast ballots. We have until the end of this week to vote early. Don’t expect the numbers to double the total of early votes, but we’re going to finish the early-vote period with a tremendous spike from the 2014 midterm election.

Do not think for an instant that the huge number diminishes the value of your individual ballot. Even statewide contests in a state as large as Texas can be decided by a single vote.

Early votes keeping piling up

Texas well might be on the verge of shucking a title I am quite certain Texans don’t want their state to hold.

The Texas Tribune reports that in several of the state’s most-populated counties, the 2018 early vote totals have surpassed the entire number of ballots cast during the entire early voting period during the 2014 midterm election.

Texas, sadly, is known to be one of the country’s most underperforming states in terms of voter turnout, particularly during these off-year elections. Is that going to change?

There appears to be no letup in store during this year’s early voting season leading up to Election Day on Nov. 6.

Democratic partisans suggest the huge spike in this balloting bodes well for their candidates. Republican partisans counter that their folks are energized, too, which will benefit the GOP slate of candidates.

I’m out of the loop. I haven’t spoken to party officials on either side in Collin County, one of the state’s larger counties. Collin County is known to be a heavily Republican bastion, although it’s not nearly as dependably Republican as Randall County, where my wife and I lived for 23 years before moving to the Metroplex earlier this year.

The question facing congressional candidates in places like Collin County rests with how “suburban women” are going to vote. We live in a suburban county populated by many thousands of such women who well might be turned off by the rhetoric that comes from those on the right and far right. The Senate hearings to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh brought many of their concerns to the fore, given the accusation leveled against Kavanaugh by a woman who alleges he assaulted her sexually in the early 1980s.

Does this represent a groundswell against Republican candidates for Congress — for the House and Senate? Democratic senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke’s supporters certainly hope so.

Oh, one more thing: I hope so, too.

Living near the center of the early-vote explosion

I reside in the sixth most populous county in Texas, which has 254 of them spread over 268,000 square miles.

I am pleased to report that Collin County has taken its place at the head of the parade of counties where early voting totals for this year’s midterm election has smashed prior records.

The Texas Tribune has published voter turnouts for the state’s 30 largest counties. The early vote response is astonishing.

In 2014, the previous midterm election year, 18.336 Collin County residents voted early after the first couple of days. This year, the total of early votes so far is 74,273. What’s more, the 2016 early-vote totals — in a presidential election year — totaled 68,241 ballots. So this year’s midterm, non-presidential election year, so far is exceeding the turnout for a presidential year. Astounding!

Early vote totals exploding

The early returns on the number of early votes is encouraging … if it means a commensurate spike in the overall turnout. I hope that’s the case. I’ve long lamented the state’s historically miserable voter turnout performance. Texas ranks near the bottom of the nation’s 50 states in that regard. We ain’t No. 1 there, folks.

Maybe when all the ballots are counted in less than two weeks, Texas can finish somewhere up the list of states. The early numbers ae encouraging.

As I’ve noted longer than I can remember, representative democracy works better when more of us take part in this fundamental right of citizenship in a free and liberated nation.

Beto backs off from an attack line against Cruz

As a former colleague and friend was fond of saying, “You can’t unhonk the horn.”

Beto O’Rourke is trying to unhonk the rhetorical horn by telling a CNN correspondent that his use of the “Lyin’ Ted” epithet against Ted Cruz perhaps is a step too far. He now sounds as if he regrets going quite so negative in his most recent debate with the Republican U.S. senator.

There’s a bit of charm in hearing the Democratic challenger acknowledge a case of weak knees in using the tag first hung on Cruz by Donald Trump when the men were competing in 2016 for the GOP presidential nomination.

Trump called him “Lyin’ Ted” and got huge laughs from campaign crowds. O’Rourke said in the men’s debate that the negative moniker sounded true to him, so he used it against Cruz.

Meeting in a town hall in McAllen with CNN’s Dana Bash, O’Rourke said he doesn’t feel “totally comfortable” taking what he called “a step too far.”

O’Rourke has second thoughts

The midterm campaign is drawing to a close. Cruz appears to be clinging to a lead of about 6 to 8 percentage points. O’Rourke is looking for any edge he can find. He has gone negative in his TV ad campaign in recent days. Indeed, he now joins Cruz, who’s been firing shots at O’Rourke for several weeks. We likely won’t hear any utterances of regret from The Cruz Missile over the tactics he has used to (mis)characterize O’Rourke’s policy pronouncements.

Do I believe O’Rourke went too far with the “Lyin’ Ted” reference? Aww … no. He didn’t. However, I don’t have to deal with any blowback from campaign rhetoric. O’Rourke believes he “may” have gone too far.

I would prefer O’Rourke to stay on the high road.

And … by the way … I still plan to vote for Beto.

Beto flush with cash, but will it deliver the votes?

Beto O’Rourke is raising lots of money in his quest to become the next U.S. senator from Texas.

Campaign finance records show that O’Rourke raised $38 million for the third quarter of 2018, a record for a Senate contest. His opponent, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz? About $12 million.

Here’s the question of the day: Will this prodigious fundraising by th Democratic challenger translate to votes in the fall? If it does, O’Rourke would become the first politician elected to a statewide office in Texas since 1994.

The Texas Tribune reported: “The people of Texas in all 254 counties are proving that when we reject PACs and come together not as Republicans or Democrats but as Texans and Americans, there’s no stopping us,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

I remain — much to my chagrin — skeptical at this moment that O’Rourke’s cache of cash is going to put him over the top. I keep seeing public opinion polls that put Cruz up by 4 to 6 percentage points. In a state as large as Texas, with its estimated 15 million registered voters, that remains a steep hill to climb, especially in Texas with its long-held tradition of electing candidates purely on the basis of their Republican Party affiliation.

I’ll stipulate once again that I intend to vote for O’Rourke on Nov. 6. I don’t want the Cruz Missile re-elected. I no longer want him representing my state. I am not a native Texan, but by God I’ve lived in the state long enough — more than 34 years — to declare my Texanhood.

My wife and I, after all, chose to live in Texas way back in 1984.

I do remain a bit dubious of candidates’ boasting of the amount of money they raise. O’Rourke is proud, as he declares, that the vast bulk of his campaign cash comes from individual donors. That’s highly commendable. Is it enough to put this young man over the top and into the Senate seat now occupied by Cruz?

What I don’t hear about is the so-called “ground game” that successful candidates deploy to win elections. A candidate with tons of dough need to invest that money in hiring individuals and groups of individuals to do the important work that needs doing, such as targeting the precincts where they see the greatest advantage.

Oh, and getting out the vote. Manning phone banks. Making calls constantly to Texans in those targeted precincts, encouraging them to get off their duffs to be sure to vote.

My hope is that Beto O’Rourke spends his money wisely and effectively, understanding full well that it shouldn’t burn a hole in his proverbial pocket.