Tag Archives: Bob Bullock

Recall the old ways, legislators

As the Texas Legislature prepares to commence its 88th legislative assembly next month, I would like to offer this brief admonition.

It is that Texas state government works best when legislators from both major parties find common ground, work under rules that give the minority party a slice of power and find compromise whenever possible.

I have a nagging feeling that today’s legislative leadership is going to heed the saber-rattling that comes from the Freedom Caucus, the TEA party, the MAGA crowd and assorted right-wing fruitcakes as they prepare to legislate their way through this 140-day session.

It need not be that way.

We once had a Republican governor, George W. Bush, who worked tightly with the likes of Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney. Democrats controlled the Legislature in 1995 when Bush took over as governor after defeating Democratic Gov. Ann Richards. Bush was new then to elective politics, but he turned out to be the quickest study imaginable as he grasped instantly the need to work with the other guys under the Texas state capitol dome.

He would later, of course, be elected president, handing the governorship over to fellow Republican Rick Perry, who didn’t quite grasp the Bush formula for legislative success.

It’s different these days. Republicans control the governor’s office and both legislative chambers. There still is a sizable Democratic minority in both the state House and Senate, some of whose members remember how it used to be in Austin.

House Speaker Dade Phelan appears slated to another term as the Man of the House. If he follows form, he will appoint House Democrats to committee chairs. I don’t have as much faith in Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate. But 
 bipartisan cooperation in one out of two legislative chambers is better than none.

The session will be busy. Legislators need to fix our electrical grid. They keep yapping about reducing property taxes. Our highways need repair.

I just want them all to keep their eyes on the prize and not worry about offending the fire breathers who make up both of their bases.


‘W,’ Clinton showed us how divided government can work

Since I’ve already noted the arrival in Washington this coming January of a form of “divided government,” I feel the need to offer a two brief examples of how it works.

One party controls one branch of government, the other party controls the other. Such a circumstance doesn’t guarantee gridlock or incessant bickering, bitching and backbiting.

Donald J. Trump is going to report for work in January with Democrats controlling the U.S. House of Representatives; his fellow Republicans will retain control of the Senate. It won’t be a fun time to govern. It doesn’t need to be this way.

I give you two examples, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Before he became president, Bush was governor of Texas. He was elected in 1994. The Republican governor took office with a solidly Democratic Legislature in power. Unlike the man who now is president, he didn’t insult, defame or denigrate legislative Democrats. He learned quickly how to forge alliances — even friendships — with those on the other side.

Two men became his BFFs — before the term became widely accepted. They were the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, the crotchety, curmudgeonly Democrat who controlled the Texas Senate and House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center, the affable Democrat who ran the People’s House.

They formed a trio who respected each other’s skill and who managed to notch some notable legislative victories among them. They sought to give public school teachers a pay raise and increase test scores among students, they dipped into the state’s budget surplus to enact a tax cut, they furthered the push to invest in renewable energy resources.

Two Democrats learned to work with a Republican governor who, after all, had defeated a Democratic incumbent, the late Ann Richards, in a bitter campaign.

But “W” didn’t denigrate his legislative foes. He worked with them, understanding the need to cooperate when possible. To their credit, Bullock and Laney  understood precisely the same thing.

Bill Clinton watched the Democrats lose control of Congress in 1994, two years after his election to his first term as president. Newt Gingrich became the speaker of the House, Bob Dole rose to majority leader in the Senate.

Did the president let that loss of congressional power dissuade him? Hardly. He, Gingrich and Dole managed over time to work together to accomplish a budgetary miracle: a balanced federal budget, the first one of them in about 30 years.

They understood each other, just as “W” understood his legislative partners in Austin.

What lies ahead for the next Congress and the president as they embark on the second half of the president’s term? The indications are that it’s going to be a rough and rocky ride. It doesn’t help that Donald Trump doesn’t have the political chops needed to navigate and manage a political agenda with discipline and finesse. Nor does it help that he has bruised and battered so many congressmen and women with his insults and nasty pronouncements on Twitter.

Oh, and he’s that got that “Russia thing” hanging over his head.

I wish it were different. I fear we’re headed down the slipperiest of slopes. It need not be this way.

Bob Bullock would be proud of this one

AUSTIN — Wherever he is, I am quite certain Bob Bullock — the late and legendary Texas lieutenant governor — is a happy man.

Why? Because a museum built and dedicated in his memory is a sight to behold. Its artifacts are educational in the extreme. Its ambience is welcoming, as are the docents scattered on all three of its floors willing to explain the whys and wherefores of Texas history.

I pledged to go to the Bullock Museum of Texas History upon visiting the Texas capital city. Today I did so.

Planning for an education on Texas history

It is so very interesting.

The museum opened in 2001, two years after Bullock’s death. He had lobbied hard to get a history museum built. He managed to persuade the powers that be to erect the museum not far from the University of Texas and the State Capitol where Bullock toiled for the last part of his lengthy public service career.

It is a marvelous tribute to someone I didn’t know well, but someone about whom I had learned a great deal upon arriving in Texas in the spring of 1984.

I learned that he was one tough son of a bi***. He was irascible, a bit of a grouch. He didn’t suffer fools at all — let alone lightly. He was a classic conservative Texas Democrat, which meant that he favored the working man and woman but didn’t take up the cudgel often for progressive social causes.

He also worked well with Republicans. Bullock and a fellow Democrat, former House Speaker Pete Laney, developed a constructive — and productive — working relationship with Republican Gov. George W. Bush. They worked as an effective team until 1999, when Bullock left office; he would die later that year of cancer.

The Bullock Museum tells the story of Texas in multiple parts. It tells visitors about the wreck of the LaBelle (the remains of which are pictured above), a French ship that sank in Matagorda Bay in 1684 after sailing to the New World from Europe, a mission it wasn’t even designed to complete.

It walks visitors through the fight to gain independence from Mexico, Texas’s nine-year existence as an independent nation and then its annexation into the United States in February 1845.

I won’t go through all that the museum contains.

I’ll just add this takeaway: As much as the state celebrated the sesquicentennial of its independence from Mexico, while giving relatively short shrift to the 150 years since its annexation into the United States, so does the Bullock Museum.

I say this not as a criticism, per sue, but merely as an observation.

I am thrilled to have finally seen this sampling of Texas’s rich history.

‘SECEDE’ has been replaced with …

I once had this neighbor who had plastered on the rear bumper of his pickup a sticker I found a bit amusing.

It said “SECEDE.” Yes, the letters were in all caps.

He also had another sticker on the bumper that said he had served “proudly” in the U.S. armed forces.

Do you see the dichotomy here? I wrote about it once before, just before Christmas in 2012.

Love it or ‘secede’ from it

The “SECEDE” bumper sticker has been replaced by another one.

It says “God Bless Texas.” I noticed it right after the 2016 presidential election. My strongest hunch is that the election turned out the way he wanted it.

There’s another bit of irony, though. The fellow who coined the “God Bless Texas” slogan was a proud Democrat. He was crusty ol’ Bob Bullock, a former Texas lieutenant governor and state comptroller who died some years ago.

I cannot help but wonder if Bullock would be as glad as my neighbor is with the election outcome.

Patrick fills the chairs; now let's watch

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is the Man of the Texas Senate and his first serious act as the No. 2 man in state government is complete: He’s filled Senate committee chairs.

By the looks of it, he more or less made good on a campaign pledge by putting almost all Republicans in those chairs. Two of the chairmanships went to Democrats — John Whitmire at Criminal Justice and Eddie Lucio at Intergovernmental Affairs.

Patrick had suggested during the 2014 campaign he might go all-Republican if he was elected.


The tradition of past lieutenant governors has been to sprinkle chairmanships a bit more liberally — if you’ll pardon the expression — to senators from the opposing party. Patrick doesn’t much adhere to Senate tradition, though, as Texans soon will learn.

Patrick’s immediate predecessor, David Dewhurst, followed that lead, as did his immediate predecessor, Bill Ratliff, and the man before him, Rick Perry, and the man who preceded Perry, the late Bob Bullock.

Lucio, I should add, got the chairmanship after voting with Republicans to do away with another Senate tradition — the two-thirds rule that required at least 21 votes in the Senate to send any measure to a full vote. What the heck, you do what you gotta do, correct?

As for payback in reverse, longtime GOP Sen. Craig Estes was denied a chairmanship after he abstained on the same vote. Did one thing have to do with the other? Well, I’m just askin’.


Perhaps the most closely watched chairmanship selection focused on the Education Committee. Amarillo’s Republican Sen. Kel Seliger has wanted to chair that panel. He sought it actively. However, he and Patrick aren’t exactly close, so the Education gavel went to Larry Taylor of Friendswood. Seliger’s consolation prize was to retain his chairmanship at Higher Education.

I guess that will be enough to sustain Seliger’s interest as the Senate slogs through its business.

But the place won’t be as friendly as it has been for, oh, most of the past century.


Texas Democrats take it on the chin

The Texas Democratic Party has just been knocked out … cold.

All that brave talk about upsets in the making, about how the state was on the verge of returning to its Democratic roots, of Texas becoming a “battleground” upon which Democrats would wage combat with Republicans … well, you can toss it into the trash can.

Greg Abbott is going to be the next governor and, worse still, Dan Patrick is going to become the next lieutenant governor.

If I were Abbott, I’d start plotting my renomination strategy — let alone my re-election plans — right now.

The fight is going to commence probably quite soon for the seat Abbott is about to assume. It well could be between the new governor and the new guy who’ll be lieutenant governor.

Abbott vs. Patrick. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

As for the Democratic Party, well, back to the drawing boards, folks.

Battleground Texas, the phony political action group that crowed about pumping juice into the Democratic Party, has been shown to be bogus. It didn’t do nearly the job it claimed to have done in registering voters.

See you around, hucksters.

Meanwhile, the GOP stranglehold on every statewide office continues.

As for the Texas Senate, let’s just say it’s going to be a good bit crazier than it’s been. Patrick is likely to toss aside all the bipartisan niceties shown by predecessors of both parties. He isn’t likely to appoint any Democratic Senate chairmen or women, which David Dewhurst and Rick Perry did when they held the office. Indeed, the late Democrat Bob Bullock selected Republican allies to chair committees when he ran the Senate prior to Perry taking over in 1999.

I’ll say this, though. Watching the Texas Senate will provide plenty of grist for folks like me.

As for the rest of the state’s political lineup, they’re all likely to march to the cadence that Dan Patrick is going to call once he takes office.

Get ready, Texas.



From 'Worst' to the top of the ladder?

Dan Patrick might be poised to become Texas’s next lieutenant governor.

If that’s the case — and the betting is that he will — then the Texas Senate, where this guy now serves, is going to become a certifiable loony bin.

Texas Monthly, which takes pride in a reasonable, studious and careful analysis of legislators’ performance, rated him among the worst of the 31 men and women who serve in the state Senate. To think, then, that Patrick now aspires to be the man running the state’s upper legislative chamber, which is what the lieutenant governor does.


I know what you might be thinking: Oh, yeah. Texas Monthly’s nothing more than a pandering mouthpiece for them nutty liberal Democrats.

The magazine, though, has routinely heaped plenty of praise on Republican lawmakers over the years. Former Sen. Bob Duncan of Lubbock? One of the magazine’s favorites. Former Sen. Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant? He, too, has received plenty of praise. Why I that? Because these are reasonable men who knew how to legislate, how to work with Democrats, who worked and studied hard on key issues of the day.

Patrick isn’t cut from that cloth, according to Texas Monthly, which wrote this about Patrick’s service in the 2013 Legislature: “There are few types of lawmakers less helpful to the legislative process than bullies and ideologues. Unfortunately, Dan Patrick too often seemed to be both in his first session as the chair of the Senate Education Committee. The Houston radio host fell into a habit of lecturing his fellow legislators, interrupting witnesses, and accusing those who disagreed with him of simply not understanding his bills. In short, he ran his committee like he runs his talk show, where the only opinion that really matters is his own..”

This is the guy who figures to ram his own ideas down the throats of the individuals who will serve in the Senate.

While chairing the Education Committee, he decided to badger Education Commissioner Michael Williams — himself no shrinking violet — about end-of-course exams that students need to take to graduate from high school. Williams sought to “respectfully disagree,” but before he could, Patrick cut him off and berated him.

It utterly amazes me (a) that this guy won the Republican Party nomination over a sitting lieutenant governor and (b) is favored to win the office over another state senator, Democrat Leticia Van de Putte, who happens, shall we say, to be more interested in legislating than showboating.

As the late lieutenant governor, Bob Bullock, might say if he were around today: God help Texas.



Wishing to know how pols actually vote

Early voting for the Texas mid-term election starts Monday and it brings to mind something that’s been on my mind of late.

It’s my wish that I could learn how people in high public political places vote for their peers … other high-profile political figures.

I pose the notion with state Sen. Dan Patrick in mind. Patrick is the Republican candidate for Texas lieutenant governor, who I believe has as many foes on his side of the aisle as he has on the other side.

It’s just a hunch.

I must stipulate that I’ve never met Patrick. I know about him based only on what I’ve read in the media. What do I know about him? That he’s mercurial; he’s a fiery conservative who’s all but acknowledged he doesn’t care about any public official who doesn’t share his philosophy; he is quick with the quip and short on compassion.

So I wonder whether he’s going to get the full-throated support of Texas senators from within his own party.

Yes, we vote in private. I cannot in good conscience ask a state or Panhandle public official whether they actually are going to vote for someone such as Patrick. We call them “secret ballots” for a reason, even though such secrecy hasn’t stopped the critics over in Kentucky from wondering why Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes won’t say whether she voted for Barack Obama for president.

In 1998, George W. Bush was running for re-election as governor. He came to the Amarillo Globe-News to meet with its editorial board for the purpose of obtaining the newspaper’s endorsement. Gov. Bush was affable, talkative, well-versed on the issues and we had a thoroughly engaging and sometimes-frank discussion of his candidacy.

Then I asked him this question: “Governor, who are you supporting for lieutenant governor?”

Before the final word of that sentence came out of my mouth, he blurted out: Rick Perry!

Why bring this up? Well, it struck me odd at the moment that Gov. Bush didn’t elaborate on why he backed his fellow Republican over Democrat John Sharp. He didn’t say, “I’m supporting Rick Perry because he’ll continue the tradition of working across the aisle, as Bob Bullock has done,” or even that “Rick Perry is a friend of mine and he and I share the same conservative values that most Texans hold dear.”

No. He said, “Rick Perry” — and not a single word more.

I’ve long had this notion that despite that public pronouncement that Gov. Bush well could have voted differently when he stepped into the voting booth.

Dan Patrick’s fiery reputation has me wondering the same thing now about those who proclaim their support for him.

Split the power in Texas government

An acquaintance asked me the other day about my thoughts regarding the upcoming election for Texas governor.

“Does Wendy Davis have a chance?” he asked. I had to think about it for a moment. “Well, she has a chance, but not much of one,” I answered. The Democratic nominee for governor is likely to lose to Republican nominee Greg Abbott — if the election were held today.

My concern about Davis is that she doesn’t yet have a message that resonates with voters. For that matter, Abbott hasn’t yet found a theme, either, other than he’s a Republican running in a heavily Republican state.

Then the talk turned to the lieutenant governor’s campaign between Republican Dan Patrick and Democrat Leticia Van de Putte. “That race,” I suggested, “presents the Democrats a better chance.” Why? my acquaintance asked. “Because Patrick is more likely to self-destruct than Abbott,” I replied.

Will the fiery GOP candidate for lieutenant governor implode? Beats me.

But the effect of two-party control of the top of the state government would do the state well. It might produce some pretty good governance, as it did during the time when Republican George W. Bush was governor and Democrat Bob Bullock served as lieutenant governor.

Democrats still controlled the Legislature and Bush developed good working relationships with Bullock and House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center. There was no running over the other party the way we’ve seen in recent years — and when Democrats held all the power in the state prior to the state’s shift to GOP control.

I’m intrigued by the notion of a Democrat presiding over the Senate and a Republican serving as governor, although a Lt. Gov. Van de Putte would have limited influence over a body that is likely to comprise mostly Republicans after the November election.

Well, I guess we can look at the election in a certain way: A week is a lifetime in politics and since we’re still about three months away from the next election, anything can happen.

In Texas, “anything” has been known to occur.

Senate bipartisanship may be on the ropes

Ross Ramsey has written an excellent analysis of what might lie in store for the Texas Senate if Dan Patrick is elected lieutenant governor.

It’s not pretty.


Patrick is locked in a tense Republican Party runoff with the current lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst. If Patrick is nominated in May and then defeats Democrat Leticia Van de Putte this fall, he might abandon the practice of putting minority party senators in charge of key committees.

According to Ramsey, Patrick should perhaps think long and hard before going through with that possibility. The last Democratic lieutenant governor, Bob Bullock, tried it and it didn’t work out too well for him with the 1991 Legislature, Ramsey writes.

Bullock failed to place any of the nine GOP senators in committee chairmanships. Republicans responded by gumming up the legislative works in the Senate. They knew how to tie the process in knots. They did exactly that, Ramsey writes.

Dewhurst has talked about possibility scrapping the Senate’s two-thirds rule if he’s returned to office; the rule requires at least 21 votes out of 31 to bring any measure to a vote on the Senate floor. With just nine Democrats serving in the Senate, the two-thirds rule builds in bipartisan support for any bill to be considered by the full Senate.

That’s as far as Dewhurst has been willing to go. Patrick might take the fight even farther if he declines to put any Democrats in charge of Senate committees. Senate Democrats aren’t without their own legislative experience, much as Senate Republicans weren’t lacking it in 1991 when they hamstrung Lt. Gov. Bullock.

As Ramsey writes: “The Democrats can be a pain in the neck, and like the Republicans of 1991, they are not helpless. Look at what idle hands can do. (Ike) Harris had been in the Senate since 1967 when Bullock handcuffed him. Experience won the day. The dean of the Senate, John Whitmire, D-Houston, has held his seat since 1983 and served for a decade in the House before that; he witnessed Harris’s rebellion and could find himself in the situation that led to it. Other Democrats in the Senate have the chops to cause problems if they have nothing else to do. Patrick has children; he ought to know that people get antsy when they don’t have anything to do.”

Ramsey also notes that Van de Putte won’t be a pushover in the fall election. She’s a savvy legislator herself and she’ll give whoever wins the GOP nomination all he can handle in the fall campaign. If Patrick is the nominee and he wins the election this fall, Van de Putte will return to the Senate ready to give the new lieutenant governor fits.

This will be fun to watch play out … don’t you think?