Have to admit it: Sen. Davis may be flash in pan

For those who have stars in their eyes over state Sen. Wendy Davis’s boffo filibuster performance in the Texas Legislature this past week, they need to read Ross Ramsey’s excellent analysis in the Texas Tribune.


The bottom line, according to Ramsey, is that if Davis has thoughts of running next year for Texas governor, she needs to forget about it. She will lose.

Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat who stole the show at the end of the Legislature’s special session last week, made the talk-show circuit this morning. Everyone wants to know if she once more can filibuster the anti-abortion bill that drew such attention this past week. The media love her. And why not? She’s, um, “telegenic” – which is code for good-looking – smart (Harvard Law grad), articulate and she has a compelling life story. She’s quite qualified to discuss abortion rights, as she once was a single mother who chose to give birth to her child while she was unwed.

However, Davis is facing some fierce partisan headwinds if she has any thoughts of challenging whoever the Texas Republican Party nominates next year for governor. My hunch continues to be that Rick Perry will not seek re-election next year and that Attorney General Greg Abbott is a shoo-in for the GOP nomination.

Abbott is loaded with cash and he has something, Ramsey reports, that Davis wouldn’t have: a political party infrastructure equipped to run a winning statewide race. Despite all the brave talk among Democrats and their infatuation with Davis, the Texas Democratic Party is in sorry shape. The party hasn’t won a statewide race since 1994 and, near as I can tell, is still in the dumps over its inability to make any headway in this Republican state.

I’m wishing the best for Davis. I think she’s got a bright future in Texas politics. The one thing she has going for her is that she’s still young enough – at 50 – to make a name for herself, even as a Texas Democrat. She has to start, though, with rebuilding her party.

Let’s hope for a water-saving breakthrough

The Texas Panhandle has become a sort of testing ground for water conservation.
I consider that to be exciting news.
We’re in the third year of a crippling drought. Dryland farmers – those who depend on rainfall exclusively to irrigate their crops – are having the most difficulty of all. They can’t grow crops, earn income and then reinvest that income into next year’s crop.
Those who are irrigating their land are having to dig more deeply into the earth for groundwater. The news out of the Panhandle, though, is that scientists are experimenting with irrigation methods that enable farmers to irrigate their crops with less groundwater.
Time will tell, of course, whether these methods work. But the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District, which is overseeing the project, believes the time is now to start finding methods to conserve water.
I tip my hat to the North Plains folks for thinking proactively. I also should note they aren’t alone. Others throughout the Panhandle region have talked openly about searching for ways to save our water.
Farmers have to rely a good bit on faith that the Almighty will deliver more moisture eventually to the region. The reality, though, is that sometimes it’s best to get ahead of the issue in the hope that the rain comes. That’s what North Plains district officials are seeking to do with these experimental irrigation methods.
Sucking the aquifer dry is not an option.

Week of tumult awaits us in Texas

This next week could produce some of the most exciting political news in Texas that we’ve seen in, oh, maybe two decades, about the time a political neophyte named George W. Bush challenged Ann Richards for the governorship.

Gov. Rick Perry is going to announce whether he’s running for re-election to his zillionth term. I’m betting he’s not.

The next special session of the Legislature convenes Monday with three items on its agenda: transportation funding, juvenile justice reform and, oh yes, abortion. My hunch is that abortion is going to swallow up about 99.8 percent of everyone’s attention.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has announced his intention to seek re-election, but he’s already gotten a challenger awaiting him in the 2014 Republican primary, fire-breathing state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston. Dewhurst’s response to Patrick’s candidacy will be to tack even farther to the right, much as he tried to do unsuccessfully this past year in his losing bid to become a U.S. senator; he lost the GOP primary to another fire-breather, Ted Cruz.

Comptroller Susan Combs says she’s retiring from politics. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson also is running for lieutenant governor, for now, as is Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.

These all are Republicans, by the way.

With Perry bowing out of the governor’s race – and possibly running for president (God help us!) once again – that leaves the door wide open for Attorney General Greg Abbott, or so one might think, except for the sudden emergence of a Democrat as a possible gubernatorial contender. State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, the heroine of the abortion-bill filibuster, says she’s considering a run for statewide office. Hmmm.

And against this backdrop, we have the special session that is shaping up to be a huge donnybrook in Austin. Department of Public Safety and state officials are examining ways to control the mob that is sure to descend on the Big Pink State Capitol Building. Dewhurst vows to fight back against those who obstruct passage of the anti-abortion bill, which would criminalize an abortion after the 20th week of a pregnancy and shut down virtually every abortion clinic in the state.

I haven’t heard whether Davis is planning another filibuster. She might have run out of gas after the 11-hour gabfest she waged this past week. What’s more, Dewhurst likely will waive once again the Senate’s long-standing two-thirds rule requiring at least 21 votes for any bill to be brought to the floor, which all but ensures a filibuster – by Davis or anyone else willing to step into the limelight.

Let the fireworks begin.

Days of Senate collegiality coming to an end

Sound “Taps” for the era of collegiality and bipartisanship in the Texas Senate.

They’re all but gone.


State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor, vowing to bring “authentic conservative leadership” into the Legislature’s upper chamber. You know what means, yes? The two-thirds rule that used to govern the way the Senate did business is a goner, toast, road kill.

I know that because (1) Patrick opposes the rule and (2) the incumbent lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, is going to fight like hell to keep his job and one of the things he’s going to do to keep it is get rid of the rule himself.

The lieutenant governor can do that, as the Senate’s presiding officer. Dewhurst did so, in fact, prior to the start of the special session that ended this past Wednesday morning. He’ll do so again when the Legislature convenes Monday for its second special session, which Gov. Rick Perry has called to shove through an anti-abortion bill that was filibustered to oblivion by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

Republicans occupy 19 of 31 Senate seats. The two-thirds rule, established long ago, is meant to seek bipartisan support on legislation. That means bill sponsors would need 21 votes to bring any bill to a full Senate vote, which also means that at least two Democratic senators would need to sign onto a bill if it had full Republican support.

Such a rule helps breed at least a semblance of collegiality.

Patrick hates the rule. He vows to get rid of it. He’s a GOP firebrand who’s now taken the unusual – for Texas – step of challenging an incumbent within his own party.

Dewhurst was bloodied badly in the first special session as Davis took control of the floor at the session’s 11th hour and the Senate gallery erupted in cheers, hoots and applause near the end of her filibuster to help carry Davis across the finish line. Patrick and his Republican colleagues were steamed at what happened and so Patrick has decided to take matters into his own hands by challenging Dewhurst in next year’s Republican primary.

For his part, Dewhurst is talking tough – against Senate Democrats, the media (who he alleges helped foment the uprising in the jam-packed Senate gallery) and anyone else who stands in the way of enacting Senate Bill 5, the aforementioned anti-abortion legislation. Check this out:


The days of comity and collegiality in the Texas Senate aren’t long for this world.

This will be an ugly and sad spectacle to watch.

Justice Kennedy: right place at right time

It occurred to me the other day as I was pondering a key ruling from the Supreme Court that changed so many Americans’ lives that the critical vote came from someone who wasn’t supposed to there in the first place.

Justice Anthony Kennedy fulfilled his role as the “swing vote” on the court, tilting it 5 to 4 in overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that declared that marriage must be between a man and a woman. The court ruled that the law violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment by denying same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. The ruling produced dancing in the streets, literally, in cities across the nation.

Kennedy’s role was critical. But think of this: Were it not for the U.S. Senate’s rejection of one high court nominee and another’s withdrawal from being considered for the court, Kennedy wouldn’t have been there to change history.

Justice Lewis Powell retired from the court in 1987. President Reagan nominated former U.S. Solicitor General Robert Bork to replace him. Bork, brilliant constitutional scholar that he was, harbored some views about race relations, affirmative action and women’s reproductive rights that troubled many members of the Senate, which had the power to confirm or reject his appointment. Senators chose the latter and knocked Bork out of the race in a decisive 58-42 vote to reject his nomination.

Then the president turned to Douglas Ginsburg, who looked like a shoo-in – until it was disclosed that he smoked pot while in college. Oops, Mr. Justice-designate. Can’t have that spot on the record of a Supreme Court justice. A firestorm erupted over that chapter in Ginsburg’s life. He backed out of consideration.

Only then did the president turn to Kennedy, a fellow Californian, to take his seat on the high court bench. Kennedy sailed through Senate confirmation and joined the court in 1988.

It’s not that Kennedy is an accidental Supreme Court justice. He happened to be in the right place at the right time. Furthermore, he’s proving to be far from the ideologue that some thought he’d become after being nominated by the godfather of modern political conservatism.

Vive la independent judiciary!

Speaker spits into the wind

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has weighed in Gov. Rick Perry’s remarks about state Sen. Wendy Davis’s controversial – and in some circles highly acclaimed – filibuster of an anti-abortion bill.

Perry said Davis, D-Fort Worth, had failed to learned from “her own example” that children born into “unfortunate circumstances” can grow up and be successful, as she has done.

Straus told the Texas Tribune that Perry’s remarks damaged the Republican “brand.” He didn’t like their personal tone.


Well, I happen to agree with the speaker. Then again, I’m not a member of the Texas Republican Party’s extreme right-wing fringe, which includes Gov. Perry as its star member – and which has been highly critical of Straus’s speakership, not to mention his leadership style.

You see, Straus is a Republican as well, but he has this nasty habit of working across the aisle with legislative Democrats. Does he favor the restrictive anti-abortion bill that Davis filibustered into (temporary) oblivion? Yes. That’s not good enough to suit some within his party, who want him to be even more hard-nosed than he’s been. It kind of reminds me of liberals within the Democratic Party who didn’t much like former Speaker Pete Laney’s willingness to work with those dreaded Republicans, chief among them being then-Gov. George W. Bush. Laney, the Panhandle cotton farmer, wasn’t dissuaded by his critics and I’m guessing Straus won’t be deterred by his critics, either.

Straus still will be in the doghouse with righties within his party, even though he’s right to be critical of Gov. Perry’s big mouth.

Immigration reform effort reaches critical mass

Immigration reform by all rights should be halfway home, with a resounding “yes” vote in the U.S. Senate and one more roll call awaiting it in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Except for this little hitch: House Speaker John Boehner says a majority of Republicans who control the House need to favor it before he’ll even allow it to come a vote.

What he’s saying in effect is that a minority of the entire House of Reps is going to determine whether this important piece of legislation even gets to the floor.


And he calls that the “democratic process”?

The immigration reform bill approved by a 68-32 vote this week isn’t perfect, but it’s a dandy compromise. It allows a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people who are here illegally also while providing for more security along our borders and the completion of a 700-mile long fence along our southern border. There’s something in the legislation for liberals and conservatives, which is the essence of effective government.

But the speaker won’t have any of that. The tea party wing of his party is putting the arm on him to stop this thing, or approve an entirely new House bill.

Boehner’s strategy appeases one wing of his sharply divided House caucus. For him to insist that a majority of Republican members, along with a majority of Democrats, to favor this legislation before even allowing a vote sticks it in the eye of those who worked hard to craft a bipartisan compromise in the other congressional chamber.

What’s more, that tactic denies a majority of the entire House a chance to have its voice heard, as the speaker is deferring to the body’s vocal minority.

Boehner spoke grandly of the letting the “will of the House” determine the fate of immigration reform. He’s doing no such thing. He’s knuckling under to the will of knuckleheads.

Dreamliner or nightmare waiting to happen?

I’m beginning to think I might become – to borrow a Marine Corps recruitment phrase – “one of the few, the proud” to have flown on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.

If the plane keeps having many more problems, air carriers just might ground the bird for keeps.

Another Dreamliner flight was delayed in Tokyo because of problems with the power that runs the air conditioning on the aircraft.


It was the fourth incident in 10 days. Well, I’m telling you that the plane has experienced even more trouble than that.

On June 7, I was set to board a United Airlines Dreamliner at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. All the passengers were seated, the pilot came on to announce our impending departure – only to come back on later and tell us we had to get off the plane because of “mechanical issues.”

In other words, the plane wouldn’t start.

I gathered my gear, got off the bird and trudged down the concourse to another gate where – to my surprise – another Dreamliner awaited. We boarded the plane and the pilot informed us over the intercom that the aircraft was fit to travel and was “ready to go. No problems.”

We took off and the flight to Denver was smooth and glass.

I’ll say this about the Dreamliner: It’s a very nice aircraft on which to sit for a couple of hours, even in Economy Class. It’s spacious, with plenty of leg room. It’s quiet. The in-flight amenities – such as the video selections – are appealing.

I just worry that the shiny new aircraft is going to keep breaking down.

To borrow another phrase from a former U.S. president: I feel the latest passengers’ pain.

Attacks launched against Sen. Davis

Radio talk show host/gasbag Laura Ingraham has joined the Bash Wendy Davis Brigade on the right wing of the Republican Party.

Ingraham tweeted the following message: “Which kids that you see on the playground shouldn’t be there?”


Here is Example A of just one more perversion of the debate between those who favor retaining a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion and those who want to make it illegal.

You see, every woman who gave birth to those hypothetical children “on the playground” made a choice. They chose to give birth to those children. Indeed, it’s a choice most women who become pregnant do make. Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who led the filibuster against Senate Bill 5 in the Texas Legislature this week, made a similar choice when she was pregnant at the age of 19 with her first child. For that she deserves high praise, not the kind of condemnation she is receiving now from those who want to write laws that prohibit women from making the most heart-wrenching choice they’ll ever make.

Those on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate should not be construed as being “pro-abortion.” They merely want government to keep its mitts off a woman’s body; they want to enable women across America to make these choices themselves after consulting with their clergy, their families, their own souls.

Whether they choose to end a pregnancy or give birth to a child should be a woman’s choice … pure and simple.

That’s where Wendy Davis appears to stand. That’s where government at all levels – as well as Laura Ingraham and others on her end of the political spectrum – need to butt out.

Try to imagine Bullock getting rolled like this

Ross Ramsey’s analysis of Lt. David Dewhurst’s worst nightmare coming true this week reminded me a late, great Texas politician who once held that office.

Bob Bullock once ruled the Texas Senate like a tyrant. I’m trying to imagine the late Democratic lieutenant governor getting steamrolled in the manner that Dewhurst got trampled during the final hours of the fractious Senate debate over a restrictive abortion bill.

Ramsey’s piece in the Texas Tribune is linked here. It’s worth taking the time to read it.


A couple of key aspects about the way Bullock ran the Senate come immediately to mind.

I don’t believe he would have changed the Senate’s long-standing two-thirds rule merely because it was meeting in a special session. Here’s how it goes: The Senate needs 21 votes – out of 31 total senators serving in the body – in favor of any bill to bring it to a full floor vote. Senate Bill 5, the anti-abortion bill in question, didn’t have that many votes. The two-thirds rule is intended to ensure bipartisan support, meaning in this case at least two Democrats would have to cross over to support SB 5.

Dewhurst, a Republican, decided prior to the start of special session to waive the two-thirds rule. One of the results of that decision was the chaos we saw ensue on the Senate floor late Tuesday.

Bullock would have run the place with an iron fist. No, make that two iron fists.

The second factor I think of is Bullock’s deal-making skills. Although he was known have hard-headed – and some would say hard-hearted as well – the man knew how to grease the system with pols from the other side of the aisle. His legendary relationship with Republican Gov. George W. Bush has become the stuff of legend around Austin. Bullock knew how to schmooze the other side when it needed schmoozing.

In Dewhurst, I see a supreme policy wonk who knows the nitty-gritty of just about every bill under consideration in the Senate. His deal-making skills? Well, they seem to need lots of need work.

Rick Perry followed Bullock into the lieutenant governor’s office, but didn’t stay there long enough – just through one legislative session, in 1999 – to make his mark. He moved into the governor’s office in December 2000 after Bush’s election as president. Perry certainly has made his mark as the state’s longest-serving governor.

He’s going to seek to deepen his imprint on the office next week as he calls his second special session while trying to ram this punitive abortion bill into law. Will the lieutenant governor step up this time? I’m betting he won’t.

Wherever he is, Bob Bullock is laughing.