Tag Archives: Texas Tribune

‘No’ on ‘constitutional carry’

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

They’re calling it “constitutional carry” legislation.

I will call it foolishness that carries some dire peril for many Texans.

The Texas House of Representatives has voted along partisan lines for a bill that will allow any Texas resident to carry a handgun around with them even without a permit issued by the state. Yep, the House – led by its Republican Party majority – wants to liberalize (if you’ll excuse that verb) the state’s concealed-carry law to enable anyone to pack heat on their person.

House Bill 1927 passed on an 84-56 vote and now goes to the Texas Senate, where it might meet some needed resistance, particularly from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate’s presiding officer and a politician who has expressed serious reservations about the bill.

I can’t believe I am going to say this, but I concur with Lt. Gov. Patrick’s squeamishness.

Texas’ concealed carry law has proven to be nothing close to the monster that many of us thought it would be when the 1995 Legislature enacted it. I opposed it then but grew to accept it over time. I feared an outbreak of road-rage violence involving those who were licensed to carry weapons. That hasn’t happened. For which I am glad and grateful.

Now this new law might be on the horizon. Texas does not require stringent knowledge of firearms to issue a concealed carry permit. Applicants need to take a brief course on firearm safety and pass a proficiency test with the firearm while of course clearing the necessary background check to ensure they lack a criminal record.

Why in the word, then, do legislators feel the need to allow everyone who lives here to pack heat without so much as a rudimentary test to acquire a permit?

As the Texas Tribune reports: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick … has previously expressed hesitation over the measure, saying in 2017 … that “with all the police violence today we have in our state … law enforcement does not like the idea of anyone being able to walk down the street with a gun and they don’t know if they have a permit or not.”

I hope Patrick hasn’t swilled the gun-toting Kool-Aid and become a convert to the cause championed by gun-rights activists. Indeed, he ought to heed law enforcement officials who oppose this nutty notion. Newly hired Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia was among those speaking against the legislation, along with members of the clergy and veterans.

https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/15/texas-constitutional-carry/

Texas has more than enough guns out there already. We already have a concealed-carry law that seems to work well enough.

The U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantees our right to “keep and bear arms.” The state’s provisions requiring Texans to take a test to demonstrate that they know how to handle a firearm ought to be enough to help keep these weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.

NOTE: A version of this blog was published originally on KETR.org.

GOP = voter suppression

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Honest to goodness, this is the truth, which is that I do not want to believe Republicans favor limiting Americans’ access to voting.

However, it is clear to anyone with a working brain that the GOP is aligned with those who want to restrict many Americans’ rights as citizens of this great land.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sharpened his political long knife in endorsing a Republican plan to limit access to voting while the state is fighting the pandemic. He targets one of the state’s largest Democratic leaning counties, Harris County.

The Texas Tribune reports: At a press conference in Houston, Abbott served up the opening salvo in the Texas GOP’s legislative response to the 2020 election and its push to further restrict voting by taking aim at local election officials in the state’s most populous and Democratically controlled county. The governor specifically criticized officials in Harris County for attempting to send applications to vote by mail to every registered voter and their bid to set up widespread drive-thru voting, teeing up his support for legislation that would prohibit both initiatives in future elections.

“Whether it’s the unauthorized expansion of mail-in ballots or the unauthorized expansion of drive-thru voting, we must pass laws to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process,” Abbott said on Monday. Harris County planned to send out applications to request a mail-in ballot, not the actual ballots.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott backs bills that restrict efforts to expand voting | The Texas Tribune

Texas is not alone. Other states where Republicans command power are taking similar actions.

“These kinds of attempts to confuse, to intimidate, to suppress are a continuation of policies we’ve seen in this state since Reconstruction,” Democratic Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. “It is a continuation as well of the big lie that’s being peddled by some far-right elements that the election in 2020 was somehow not true and should be overturned.”

What troubles me is that the phony charge of vote fraud is being used as political cover for more nefarious motives designed to prevent racial and ethnic minorities from being able to vote. My goodness, I hate thinking that is the real reason, but the actions of Texas Republican legislators — as well as Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — leave me with no choice but to assume the worst.

It sickens and saddens me.

Stay the pandemic course

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

When does a year seem like a lifetime, or even several lifetimes?

When it has been consumed by disease, death and dysfunction.

So it has been around here for the past year living under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s only been a year but to my sensibility it seems as though it’s been with us for a whole lot longer than that.

Too much has happened in Texas during that year, but it’s worth remembering how it tracked here, just as it has throughout much of the rest of the nation.

In just one year 45,000 or so Texans have died from the virus. Do you remember when the president of the United States told us when it would “disappear, like magic” when we had just a handful of reported cases? Yeah, it didn’t work out that way.

Our governor, Greg Abbott, was whipsawed by politics as he sought to find a strategy to help us battle this disease. He placed statewide mandates, closing businesses, ordering us to stay away from each other, ordering us to wear masks when we went indoors. Then he relaxed those orders. Oops! Then the virus spiraled upward, forcing Abbott to put the orders back into effect.

Ahh, but now we’re back to opening up again. Abbott says Texans know enough to follow the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that we don’t need to be told to wear masks while indoors. Actually, too many of us still need to be told to do the right thing. With that I am going to hope that Abbott hasn’t jumped the gun prematurely yet again.

The Texas Tribune has published a fascinating chronology over the past year, charting the ups and downs of the virus as it has affected Texas.

COVID-19 killed more than 45,000 in Texas in the last year | The Texas Tribune

Where do we go from here? That remains to be seen. We’re getting vaccinated now at an increasing rate. My wife and I are among the Texans who have been “fully vaccinated” and for that we are grateful. Are we shucking our masks and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers at the grocery store? Hardly. We’re continuing to do what we have been advised to do for the past year and our intention is to keep doing it until we are certain the coronavirus has been eradicated.

The Texas Legislature is meeting for the next several weeks to deal with pressing issues of the day, chief among them is electrical infrastructure that needs repair. You remember that monstrous winter storm, yes?

Legislators also must chart a healthier path for Texans moving forward. Yes, there remains a state option to complement the federal strategy being implemented by President Biden and his medical team of experts.

Overall, though, is the belief among us all that we shouldn’t lose faith, nor should we lose patience as we continue to fight through this pandemic. It’s not over. I will not say for certain whether it’s close to being over. We might still have to live through yet another lifetime to welcome that day.

NOTE: This blog was published initially on KETR.org, affiliated with KETR-FM public radio at Texas A&M University/Commerce.

Legislature’s storm response agenda takes shape

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

The 181 men and women who serve in the Texas Legislature are talking at least about how they intend to repair the state’s electrical infrastructure.

One hundred fifty of them serve in the House of Representatives; 31 serve in the Senate. I wish them all the best, not because I care about their political standing. I want them to take measures that keep our lights on and the heat flowing the next time our temperatures plunge to zero or below.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, has unveiled the House’s legislative agenda that deals with the infrastructure. It’s not long on specifics just yet, given that many of the measures haven’t been filed as legislative proposals.

One of them, House Bill 10, seeks to overhaul the structure of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, like requiring that all of ERCOT’s board members live in the state. You’ll recall what happened to us a month ago, with the state freezing and ERCOT decision makers living far away.

House Bill 11, according to the Texas Tribune, is a bit more complicated. The Tribune reports: Some other ideas could prove challenging. House Bill 11, for instance, would order the PUC to require power generators to implement measures to avoid service outages during extreme weather events, including winter storms and heat waves. But retroactively equipping power plants and the state’s energy system to withstand cold temperatures is likely to be difficult and costly, energy experts have said. Building energy infrastructure that from the start is designed to perform in winter conditions is easier and cheaper, they have said.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan lays out seven bills after power outage | The Texas Tribune

Ah, yes. Winterization could be “difficult and costly.” Do ya think?

I want the Legislature to do what it must do to avoid the near calamity that could have befallen our energy grid. ERCOT said it was just minutes away from the grid imploding on itself during the coldest portion of the winter storm.

Many communities throughout the state were left to deal with the power outages and the failure of water systems. It hasn’t been pretty. Princeton, where my wife and I live, managed to get through the mess and mayhem in fairly short order. But … we did not appreciate living in a frigid house even for the short period of time our city was dark.

The Legislature needs to spend no time considering, for instance, foolishness such as requiring the playing the “Star Spangled Banner” at public events. Not while we have valuable heating and cooling infrastructure that needs the state’s immediate attention.

What about small towns?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

A headline in the Texas Tribune speaks loudly about some mayors’ response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to pull back his mask-wearing mandate.

It said: Texas’ largest cities will keep requiring masks in municipal buildings even after statewide mandate ends

I have no problem with what those mayors are doing, saying and how they are reacting to what I believe is a premature decision by Gov. Abbott.

My question is this: What are small-town and smaller-city mayors doing? Are they going to have the same reaction?

I live in a small town. Princeton, Texas, is home to about 13,000 residents, give or take a few hundred. We are perched along U.S. Highway 380 between McKinney to the west (population 200,000) and Farmersville to the east (population 5,000). I am acquainted with the mayors of Princeton and Farmersville. My strongest hope is that they, too, will invoke mask mandates in municipally owned buildings.

The Texas Tribune reports: Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso’s leaders announced Wednesday and Thursday that masks will be required to enter city-owned indoor spaces like libraries, police and fire department headquarters, convention centers and transportation hubs.

“I am going to issue an order mandating masks at all city-owned buildings. We have to do what we are legally allowed to do to get people to wear masks,” Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said on Twitter Thursday morning. “We also still need to practice social distancing. And we still need to avoid taking unnecessary risks. The pandemic is not over.”

Texas’ largest cities will require masks in municipal buildings | The Texas Tribune

No. It is not over. It is not yet close to being over. I will acknowledge, though, that the arrival of a third vaccine — from Johnson & Johnson — means that the end of this horror might be approaching.

Given that our smaller communities don’t get the kind of media attention that the big cities get, I want there to be a significant push by those city halls to get the word out immediately to their constituents. They need to let them know through any means necessary.

Of course, this strategy should apply to small cities and towns all across our vast state. Gov. Abbott can declare, I suppose, that state-owned buildings need not carry “Mask Required” signs. A state governed by politicians who adhere to the “local control is best” mantra should have no trouble allowing city halls to set their own rules regarding the best way to battle the COVID virus.

Let us not forget that President Biden has ordered masks and social distancing in all federal buildings at least for the first 100 days of his administration. My gut tells me he likely will extend that mandate well beyond that artificial deadline.

I will await word from my mayor, Brianna Chacon, on what she intends to do. I hope she stays the mask-wearing course.

ERCOT hardly ‘reliable’

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is angry.

He can join millions of other Texans who share his dismay, his disgust with a major supplier of electrical energy to the vast state he governs.

We are going through massive, widespread power outages while the state battles an unprecedented winter freeze. We are going through it in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Millions of us lost power for days. It’s back on at our house in Princeton, but to be brutally honest, I continue to fear it could go sideways in an instant.

Abbott and several state legislators want to launch a thorough investigation into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas; I emphasize the term “Reliability” because ERCOT has been anything but a “reliable” provider of electrical energy.

The Texas Tribune reports: “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott said in a statement. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable.”

ERCOT is a non-profit organization that manages the electrical grid that covers about 90 percent of Texas. Hmm. Let’s see, Texas comprises about 269,000 square miles, which means ERCOT manages electricity for about 242,000 of that vast real estate.

It hasn’t done too well as the provider of electricity for a state facing the crises it encountered when the Arctic blast blew in from points way up yonder.

The Tribune reports further: The governor’s latest announcement came hours after Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, asked two committees in the lower chamber to hold a joint hearing later this month to review the outages. Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, requested the House State Affairs and Energy Resources committees convene for the hearing on Feb. 25.

“We must cut through the finger-pointing and hear directly from stakeholders about the factors that contributed to generation staying down at a time when families needed it most, what our state can do to correct these issues and what steps regulators and grid operators are taking to safeguard our electric grid,” Phelan said in a news release.

Texas power outage prompts calls for investigation into ERCOT | The Texas Tribune

I’m just a consumer, a taxpayer, a longtime Texas resident who has come to rely on “reliable” energy to heat my home and to protect my family. ERCOT has failed us.

Listen up: Texas cannot secede!

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Is it OK to presume that every state legislative body has a wacky caucus in its ranks? If so, then Texas isn’t alone in the legislative wackiness that presents itself from time to time.

Consider this from a Republican state representative, Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg, who has pitched a resolution calling for a statewide election to determine whether Texas can secede from the Union.

Yes, the secessionists have returned! Oh, my. When does the madness stop? Don’t answer that. I know that it will never stop. It will never end.

The Texas Tribune reports what many of us know already, that the state cannot secede legally. The Civil War took care of that, right?

Texas seceded once already, joining the Confederacy in trying to break apart the United States of America. It went to war against the government, against fellow Americans. The issue? Slavery. The Civil War ended correctly, with the Union prevailing.

The Tribune wrote this about Biedermann’s idea:

“It is now time that the People of Texas are allowed the right to decide their own future,” he said in a statement announcing the legislation.

The bill d oesn’t appear to have much of a chance. And even if it did, experts say, Texas can’t just secede.

“The legality of seceding is problematic,” Eric McDaniel, associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Texas Tribune in 2016. “The Civil War played a very big role in establishing the power of the federal government and cementing that the federal government has the final say in these issues.”

Texas can’t secede from the U.S. Here’s why. | The Texas Tribune

Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836. We joined the Union in 1845, adopting a resolution that contained language that said the state could partition itself into four parts if it wanted. Indeed, a former Texas Panhandle legislator, David Swinford of Dumas, once pitched the notion as recently as 1991. I asked Rep. Swinford whether he meant it as a serious proposal … and he did not say he was joking. 

Secession, though, is a non-starter. The Tribune cites a bit of wisdom offered by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “The answer is clear,” Scalia wrote. “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede. (Hence, in the Pledge of Allegiance, ‘one Nation, indivisible.’)”

Good luck, Speaker Phelan

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

The Dade Phelan Era has commenced in the Texas House of Representatives and — wouldn’t you know it — he already is taking some incoming fire from those on the far right wing of his Republican Party.

Phelan is the newly elected speaker of the House. He is a Beaumont Republican who had the temerity to suggest he wants to work well with Democrats who comprise a substantial minority of the 150-member legislative body.

One of the two House members who voted against Phelan happens to be freshman GOP Rep. Bryan Slaton of Royse City, who said in a statement that he voted against Phelan because the new speaker is someone “who has refused to articulate to Republicans whether or not he believes we should have a true conservative session.”

Dade Phelan elected speaker of the Texas House | The Texas Tribune

What the hell does that mean? Is Slaton suggesting that Phelan’s more bipartisan approach will result in more dreaded “liberal policies” that Slaton and other right wingers cannot support? Slaton is parroting the language used by Texas GOP chairman Allen West, the transplanted Florida fire breather who moved to Texas and got elected party chairman this past year. West doesn’t much like Phelan’s approach, either.

I want to remind everyone here that bipartisanship has worked well for previous speakers of the Texas House. My favorite example of the success of that approach involves former Speaker Pete Laney, the Hale Center Democrat who hardly  legislated as a flaming liberal when he served as the Man of the House. He reached across the aisle frequently and governed on the policy of letting “the will of the House” do its job.

“We must all do our part — not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Texans and Americans,” Phelan said. “Let us unite in one common purpose to do what is right for the people of Texas.”

Wow. That’s hardly lifted from the Communist Manifesto.

I want to wish the new speaker well as he takes the gavel. It likely will be a difficult session that will demand that everyone search fervently for “one common purpose.”

Texas AG sues city and county for toughening rules? Weird!

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Surely I am not the only Texas resident who finds this legal squabble disturbing.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued Austin and Travis County for — and this is pretty strange — invoking get-tough rules designed to protect residents from getting a killer virus.

Paxton says Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown lack the authority to go beyond the order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott.

But … wait! Adler and Brown are concerned about the pandemic outbreak that is occurring in their community, so they are taking measures to fight it. Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that what local officials are charged to do?

According to the Texas Tribune:

Paxton filed a petition for temporary injunction and a temporary restraining order in Travis County District Court targeting orders made by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown. Citing an increase in COVID-19 cases, they announced that dine-in food and beverage service must be restricted indoors and outdoors from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., starting Thursday and ending at 6 a.m. Sunday. The measure did allow drive-thru, curbside pick-up, take out, or delivery services.

“Mayor Adler and Judge Brown do not have the authority to flout Gov. [Greg] Abbott’s executive orders by shutting down businesses in Travis County and our state’s capital city,” said Paxton in a statement. “The fact that these two local leaders released their orders at night and on the eve of a major holiday shows how much contempt they have for Texans and local businesses.”

Huh? Eh? What the … ?

Is this another one of those Republican vs. Democrat disputes where one side places greater emphasis on safety measures than the other side? If that is the case, then we are in a hell of a pickle as we try to fight this damn disease.

FBI now probing Texas AG? Wow!

(Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

The hits just keep coming.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who’s been indicted and is awaiting trail on charges of securities fraud, is now under investigation by the FBI for allegedly doing favors for a political donor.

Good grief! The AG should resign! His credibility is in tatters. Several of his top legal eagles filed a whistleblower complaint against him, urging the feds to examine what they contend are a series of transgressions, which happen to include bribery.

Now we hear from The Associated Press that the FBI is taking a hard look at what Paxton allegedly did.

As the Texas Tribune has reported: Two unnamed sources told the AP that the bureau was examining claims made by the whistleblowers that Paxton broke the law by intervening several times in legal matters involving Nate Paul, a real estate investor and friend who donated $25,000 to Paxton’s campaign in 2018.

Oh, man! Don’t we deserve to have a chief state law enforcement officer who is clear of any sort of question or suspicion of wrongdoing? I happen to believe we do deserve better than we’re getting from this Republican attorney general.

I stand by my call for Ken Paxton to resign. I don’t much care about his future. I do care about the questions that have sullied the high office he occupies.