Tag Archives: Texas Tribune

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.

State prison unit to get A/C … more to come?

Texas’s massive prison system is no stranger to lawsuits.

An inmate, David Ruiz, once sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on grounds that the crowded prison conditions violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The federal courts took over the prison system and a massive prison unit construction boom ensued to relieve crowding.

Now it appears that another lawsuit has forced the TDCJ to install air conditioning units at its Pack Unit southeast of College Station. It’s too damn hot there and inmates deserve air conditioning in their living quarters. I support the state’s decision to cool off this unit.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “It’s a big day for the inmates who suffered through those summers at the Pack Unit,” said Jeff Edwards, attorney for the prisoners. “They’re not going to be in fear of dying from heat stroke anymore.”

Edwards said the agreement details that the department will install temporary air conditioning for the coming summer, with permanent units in place by May 2020. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed an agreement, adding that the department and plaintiffs would be working to finalize details in the coming weeks.

The agreement is awaiting federal court approval.

This brings to mind something I learned not long after I arrived in Amarillo in 1995. I received a tour of the William P. Clements Unit northeast of the city. The assistant warden at the time walked me through the unit and made quite a point of telling me that Clements did not have air conditioning. To cool the place off during the summer, it had large fans to blow the air around and provide some semblance of relief from the heat.

Amarillo, though, is a different kind of place from the region near College Station. It not only gets damn hot in Aggieland, but the humidity can stifle even the stoutest of individuals.

I moved to the Panhandle from the Golden Triangle, where the humidity is overpowering. I don’t know if the Mark Stiles Unit in Jefferson County has air conditioning; if it doesn’t, I believe it should.

I do not buy the notion that our prison units are “country clubs,” which some critics have contended for too many years. They’re tough places to exist.

Air conditioned prison units do not turn them into posh resorts. They merely create a semblance of livable conditions for individuals who would rather not be there in the first place.

Now the governor calls for GOP ‘unity’

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is trying to recover from some of the political wounds he suffered this week in the state’s Republican Party primary.

You see, the governor took a most unusual step in endorsing three challengers to Republican legislative incumbents. It’s highly strange for politicians to take sides within their own party. Abbott sought to get rid of three legislators who oppose many of his policies.

Oops! It didn’t work … mostly. State Reps. Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson won their primary races. Rep. Wayne Faircloth lost his primary contest.

So now the governor wants the party to “unify” behind its slate of candidates running against Democrats this fall.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “Now that the primary’s over, I think it’s very important that the Republican Party come together as one and work together all the way through the November to make sure that we win the elections in November,” Abbott said.

We live in politically contentious times. The Republican Party is being redefined at the very top of the food chain, by the president of the United States. Donald Trump has imposed protectionist trade tariffs that run totally counter to traditional GOP orthodoxy.

That tumult has splashed over state politics as well. Consider the intraparty battles that occurred throughout Texas during this primary season. Popular incumbents received GOP primary challenges in all corners of the state, including in rock-solid Republican Texas Panhandle legislative districts.

This tells me that the “unity” that Gov. Abbott seeks might be a bit more difficult to obtain that it might be in a “normal political climate.”

Ain’t nothing “normal” about what we’re watching transpire within this once-great political party.

Empower Texans had its head handed to it

Empower Texans had a bad week.

The result of the rest of us is that Texas voters — primarily Republican primary voters — had a good week. That means Texas had a good week.

Empower Texans is a right-wing advocacy group that lowered its sights on a number of incumbents around the state. State Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo was one of them. Seliger managed to fend off a GOP primary challenge and skate to virtual re-election to another term; he does face a Libertarian challenger in the fall, but don’t bet the mortgage on Seliger losing that one.

Empower Texans — led by Michael Quinn Sullivan (pictured) — believes Republicans and other conservatives need to toe a strictly drawn line. It is based downstate, yet it poured lots of money into the far reaches of the vast state. The Panhandle got its taste of Empower Texans’ penchant for distortion and outright lies.

Seliger survived. So did state Rep. Four Price, another Amarillo Republican, who thumped challenger Drew Brassfield by about a thousand percentage points in the race for House District 87, which Price has represented well since 2011.

The Texas Tribune reports: “The forces of extremism, like Empower Texans … overplayed their hand, turned voters off and experienced significant losses in the March primaries,” said GOP consultant Eric Bearse, who helped (state Rep. Sarah) Davis and three other candidates win amid an onslaught from Empower and other critics. “It started to become clear in some of these races that it really was a choice between our local representative and someone who is wholly owned by outside groups and outside money.”

I love the irony of that assessment.

Conservatives are supposed relish local control over the interests of others. Isn’t that what they say?

Yet we have Empower Texans tossing that dogma out the window with its strong-arming of political discussion with money and power that derives from some centrally located source.

Seliger and Price — along with a host of other Texas incumbents — were able to persuade sufficient numbers of Texans to see through this sham.

It’s bad for Empower Texans. Good for the rest of us.

Empower Texans: It’s hitting the fan

Texas may become competitive, if not yet ‘blue’

The “blue wave” that some folks thought was getting ready to wash over Texas didn’t quite build into an epic event on primary election night.

Despite some reported “surge” among Democratic early voters in 10 of the state’s largest counties, the primary election produced a Republican lead over Democrats in the number of total ballots cast.

The verdict? Texas remains a Republican state.

The Texas Tribune reports that about 1.5 million votes were cast in the Republican primary, compared to about 1 million Democrats ballots being cast.

If you’re a Democrat, that’s the bad news.

The good news? Texas might be more competitive this year than it has been for the past couple of decades. Democrats are banking much of their party’s fortunes on a young congressman from El Paso, Beto O’Rourke, who’s going to face GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the general election this November.

I won’t predict that O’Rourke will beat The Cruz Missile this fall; nor will I predict that he’ll even give Cruz a legitimate case of the nervous jerks as this campaign unfolds.

The serious uptick in Democratic Party primary votes, though, does suggest that the predicted flip from Republican to Democrat might be starting to take shape. Has it taken full form just yet? I won’t say that, at least right now.

Political analysts suggest that the state’s changing demographics, with more Latinos living in Texas, mean the state well could become much more Democrat-friendly than it has been since the 1990s. Republicans likely can lay the blame at the man in the Oval Office, whose campaign and governing rhetoric has managed to enrage many Americans with Latin American heritage.

The talk concerning a reported Democratic “surge” among early voters, though, didn’t translate to a surge among all Texans who voted this week. Maybe that will occur later this year.

Or … maybe it won’t.

Texas pols stay quiet about Trump gun talk

Barack Obama sought to legislate some remedy to the senseless slaughter of school children and other innocent victims.

The Texas Republican political leadership’s response then? They went apoplectic! They accused the president of seeking to repeal the Second Amendment, disarm law-abiding Americans and toss their firearms into the ocean … if you get my drift.

Donald Trump has just pitched an aggressive set of proposals to regulate gun purchases, make it more difficult to purchase assault weapons and raise the minimum wage for those who can buy these weapons.

The Texas GOP response? Nothing, man! Zip. Zero. Nada.

Hey, what gives here? Isn’t the president a Second Amendment champion? Doesn’t he believe its words are sacred, that they shouldn’t be tinkered with?

The president has gotten the attention of gun enthusiasts, although it’s not at all clear that the president is going to hold firm to what he is pitching. I am struck by the silence of key GOP politicians on this matter.

I happen to believe the president has presented a reasonable start to a serious discussion. I want to offer a full-throated endorsement of what he is pitching — except, of course, for the nutty notion of arming school teachers with firearms.

It is fascinating in the extreme to watch politicians from within the president’s own party remain silent as he fires off these proposals. If they had come from former President Obama, why, they’d be going nuts.

Do they stand behind a principle, or do they stand behind the man … who doesn’t seem to have any consistent political philosophy?

Mexico president shelves visit to DC … who knew?

I am shaking my head, laughing out loud and slapping my hand against my forehead. All at once, man!

Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, has called off a planned visit to Washington to meet with Donald John “Build That Wall” Trump Sr. Why do you suppose the Mexican head of state would do that?

Well, he and the president of the United States can’t seem to agree on POTUS’s ridiculous assertion that Mexico should pay for the cost of a wall along the border that separates the two long-standing allies.

Can you simply believe that? Of course, I am joking.

Trump has vowed to “put America first.” He has pledged to “make America great again.” He has said Mexico — a nation that is as sovereign as the United States — should foot the bill for a wall.

Pena Nieto, to no one’s surprise, has said, in effect, “Ain’t no way, Mr. President.”

So this is how our president intends to foster good relations with one of our most important international allies? By hectoring Mexico’s president to pay for a wall. What utter and absolute crap!

As the Texas Tribune has reported: The two presidents’ public posturing over the wall — Trump demands that Mexico pay for it; Peña Nieto insists that it will not — has harmed their personal relationship and jeopardized the alliance between their neighboring countries.

I am not terribly concerned about the presidents’ personal relationship. What is most concerning, though, is what their continued bickering will do to an alliance that has been among the strongest in the world.

From what I’ve observed it’s Donald Trump who keeps poisoning that bilateral relationship by insisting that Mexico do something that the United States cannot force it to do.

This is putting America first? This is how you “make America great again”?

I don’t think so.

More money: Does it equal more votes?

Beto O’Rourke is raising more campaign money than Ted Cruz.

Yes, that is correct, according to the Texas Tribune.

The Democratic challenger for the U.S. Senate is outraising the Republican incumbent … in heavily Republican Texas!

I know what many Texans are thinking about now: This means Beto is going to win the election this fall; Cruz is toast; he’s a goner; he’s done.

Not so fast, dear reader.

I’ll stipulate that I am no fan of The Cruz Missile. He has p***** me off plenty during his six years in the United States Senate. Cruz is the latest version of former Sen. Phil Gramm, of whom it used to be said that “the most dangerous place in Washington is between Gramm and a TV camera.” Replace “Gramm” with “Cruz” and you get the same punchline.

As the Tribune has reported: Over the first 45 days of 2018, O’Rourke raised $2.3 million — almost three times more than Cruz’s $800,000. 

Hurray for O’Rourke, right?

The Tribune also notes: While this is a sign of momentum for O’Rourke, it’s worth considering that this race, in a state as big and expensive as Texas, could cost into the tens of millions. Moreover, Cruz is likely to have a deep well of super PAC money to help him in the fall, while O’Rourke early on in his campaign pledged to not accept corporate political action committee money.

Hey, I want O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso, to win this fall as much the next guy.

It’s good to remember that Texas Republicans are a dedicated bunch. They go to the mat for their candidates no matter what.

It is true that O’Rourke has spent a lot of time at town halls, talking to folks at plant gates, grange halls, saddle and tack shops, shopping malls — you name it — he still is campaigning in a state that hasn’t elected any Democrat to statewide office for two decades. He also has familiarized himself with the expansive landscape of the Texas Panhandle, which is Ground Zero of the Texas Republican political movement.

Now that I think about it, this might be the year for that lengthy streak to come to an end.

Maybe. Perhaps.

Status quo ‘unacceptable,’ says Abbott; do ya think?

I guess we can now count Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as one who is beginning to see a glimmer of daylight in the search for some way to curb gun violence in this country.

Abbott has called for repairing the background check procedure and for ways to improve mental health screening on those who seek to purchase firearms.

The governor’s remarks today were his first public comments since the Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 people.

According to the Texas Tribune: “It’s clear that the status quo is unacceptable, and everybody in every state must take action,” Abbott told reporters in Austin after voting early in the GOP primary.

The governor said Texas gun safety standards should be reviewed to see whether they need updating. He added that government leaders need to empower local law enforcement to recognize “red flags.”

It appears to me that we are witnessing some fissures appearing in Republican politicians’ reluctance to speak publicly about gun safety reform and other potential legislative remedies to curb the spasm of gun violence that has taken far too many lives already. For far too long we have witnessed GOP politicians back away from offering governmental solutions, seemingly out of fear at how the gun lobby might retaliate against them.

Not this time. Maybe. Perhaps.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said “everything is on the table” regarding gun violence legislation immediately after the massacre; then came Donald Trump’s directive to the Justice Department to draft regulations that would end bump stocks; then, today, Gov. Abbott weighed in with a call for stricter background check and mental health screening.

Are these massive, landmark steps that signal a sea change? Probably not. They are baby steps. They are welcome nevertheless.

At minimum we are witnessing an important discussion that is commencing one state at a time. I’m glad to know that Texas’s political leadership has joined in.

OK, Sen. Cornyn, let’s start by talking about guns

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn wants to “talk about gun policy.”

The Texas Republican has accepted a challenge by a California Democrat with whom he serves in the Senate, Dianne Feinstein, to start some discussion about what to do to prevent future slaughters such as the one that occurred on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Fla.

Now, is this the start of a move toward legislating a solution to gun violence? I am not yet holding my breath.

Seventeen people died in the carnage. High school students who survived the slaughter have risen up to issue direct threats to politicians who block efforts to legislate a remedy.

As the Texas Tribune has reported: At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, brought the issue to the fore.

“Let’s take some action,” she said. “We cannot see this continue on.”

She then mentioned two areas where compromise might be reached. The first was a “Fix NICS” bill Cornyn sponsored last fall that would hold government agencies accountable for uploading relevant information to the federal background check system.

The second was related to bump stocks, which are legal firearm enhancements that allow shooters to operate firearms as if they were automatic weapons. Several Texans said last fall that they would consider banning bump stocks after the devices were found on the guns of the man who shot dozens on the Las Vegas strip. No law has since passed.

“Nobody likes these devices. You can’t have automatic weapons on the streets,” Feinstein said. “It’s easy to fix. Why don’t we do it?”

Cornyn hasn’t been much of a friend to those who oppose the gun lobby. However, there might be the tiniest of cracks beginning to appear in the armor that has surrounded politicians who resist any effort to legislate some remedies to the type of carnage that erupted once again.

It would be a near miracle if Sen. Cornyn would help widen that crack and start to deliver some sensible legislation that doesn’t destroy the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

But, you know … stranger occurrences and alliances have taken shape atop Capitol Hill.