Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

A ‘new America’ awaits?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Take a long look at the picture contained in this brief blog post and I fear you are going to presume that this is the look of the new America.

It came to my Facebook page via Nancy Seliger, whose husband — Kel Seliger — reported for duty the other day as a state senator serving in the Texas Legislature.

The heavily armed individuals you see are on guard against potential violence at the Texas Capitol Building in Austin, where 181 members of our Legislature are meeting for the next 140 days to enact laws that govern us.

The riot that erupted Jan. 6 in D.C.? The one that killed five people and damaged the nation’s Capitol Building? The attack on our democratic system of government?

The terrorists who conducted that calamitous attack are vowing more of the same at capitols across the nation. That includes ours in Austin, ladies and gents. Thus, we have heavily armed security personnel on guard.

This is disgusting, reprehensible and is a vile statement of the nature of our political discourse in the Age of Donald Trump. Thankfully and not a moment too soon, that age is about to end. Trump will be gone from the White House.

I am saddened to presume that the anger he stoked for four years isn’t likely to subside just because Trump is no longer in power. Oh, how I hope to be wrong on this matter, but my fears continue to be fueled by FBI reports of alarm bells sounding. They could be hailing further spasms of uncontrolled violence.

Just as 9/11 spawned a new era of travel in this country and around the world, I fear that the Jan. 6 attack on our democratic system has produced a new era that requires such deterrence against those who would take political protest to these deadly extremes.

Let us pray for a return to sanity.

Might there be a new Texas legislative feud?

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Texas state Rep. Dade Phelan of Beaumont appears to be the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

If he wins the vote among his colleagues, he’ll get to cross swords — maybe, possibly — with the guy who runs the other legislative body, the Senate down the hall. That would be Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Patrick has a habit of picking fights on occasion with legislators. He got mad at my pal, state GOP Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, during the 2019 Legislature and stripped Seliger of his committee leadership posts. Why? Because Seliger spoke unkindly about a key Patrick aide.

Keep fighting the fight, Sen. Seliger | High Plains Blogger

During the 2017 session, Patrick wanted the Legislature to enact the infamous Bathroom Bill, the legislation that would have made it a requirement that folks use public restrooms in accordance with their “birth gender”; the bill was a clear act of discrimination against transgender individuals. The House speaker at the time, fellow Republican Joe Straus of San Antonio, would have none of that. He made sure the bill died during a special legislative session. My sense is that Patrick is still steaming over it.

Straus retired from politics. The next speaker, Dennis Bonnen of Angleton, served a single term and then got caught conspiring against fellow Republican lawmakers in a conversation with a far right wing political activist, Michael Quinn Sullivan. Bonnen bailed and is gone.

Now comes Rep. Phelan … apparently. I don’t know the young man, even though I once worked and lived in  Beaumont. I wish him well. I also hope he displays the kind of stones that Straus exhibited when Patrick tried to push him around over the Bathroom Bill.

Straus vs. Patrick: main event at special session | High Plains Blogger

Truth be told, I think Dan Patrick needs to be knocked a peg or three from his faux high horse. He offered to pay a reward to anyone who produced evidence of “massive voter fraud” in Texas during the 2020 presidential election; to date, he hasn’t handed out a nickel. Why? Because there was no fraud … the dipsh**.

Whatever happens during the Legislature that convenes Jan. 12, I look forward to watching it all unfold from my perch in Collin County. I just want the new House speaker — whoever emerges — to stand his ground against the bully who masquerades as the lieutenant governor.

Who is this Texas GOP chairman?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Who is Allen West?

I will answer the easy part. He is the current head of the Texas Republican Party. He’s also a one-term former congressman … from Florida! He moved to Texas a year or two ago I reckon to restart his political career.

He served in the U.S. Army, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was then discharged — I believe it was honorably — but only after facing a charge of “conduct unbecoming” an officer. He was involved in an incident involving an Iraqi prisoner who was treated harshly by U.S. service personnel.

West is a firebrand. While serving in the U.S. House, he accused his Democratic colleagues — all of them! — of being agents for communists around the world. Nice, eh? Hardly. It smacked to my ears of the kind of rhetorical crap spouted by the late, and infamous Sen. Joe McCarthy, the noted commie-hunter who became disgraced because of his witch hunting tactics.

West’s latest rhetorical barrage came at the expense of a young Texas legislator from Beaumont, Dade Phelan, who wants to become the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. It turns out that Phelan has been courting Democrats as well as his fellow Republicans, which according to West is a bridge too far. A GOP House speaker shouldn’t have to court the favor of Democrats, West said in criticizing Phelan.

Wait a second, dude. Texas has a long history of House speakers who have worked well across the aisle. Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, was one; then we had Pete Laney, a Hale Center Democrat, who worked well with Republicans.

Indeed, governors of both parties have been known to reach across the aisle to seek favors from the other side.

So, what is this intruder trying to do?

I had thought that Texas had enough dedicated Republican political operatives of lengthy Lone Star State standing to lead the party. Instead, it has turned to this guy who knows practically nothing of this state’s unique political climate.

Weird.

Didn’t miss this spot on the ballot

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My wife and I did our patriotic duty earlier this week and voted in the Texas general election.

Do you know what I did not miss? I did not miss the spot on the ballot that would have allowed me to vote for all candidates of just one party.

The Texas Legislature was bitten by the Bug of Wisdom when it eliminated the straight-ticket spot on our ballots. I normally am critical of the Legislature for this and/or that issue, but they got this one right.

This year I was forced to go down the ballot race by race, name by name. I’ve never voted straight-party in all my years living in Texas. I wouldn’t have punched that spot on the ballot this year were I given the chance.

I did leave a few ballot spots blank. I did, though, walk through each race and I looked carefully at several of the races before making my selection.

That’s the way all of us should vote. I long have detested straight-ticket voting and I have argued for years that it should be eliminated from the ballot in Texas.

I’m glad the Legislature finally listened to me. Therefore, I will take all the credit I deserve.

You’re welcome.

Straight-party voting needs to go

What happened to ‘local control is best’?

I am still steamed at the Texas Legislature for wrestling away from cities in the state the ability to enact ordinances aimed at protecting motorists and pedestrians who venture onto our public streets.

The 2019 Legislature decided it had earned enough griping from motorists bitching about a phony notion that they were unable to “face their accuser” and ordered cities to no longer deploy cameras at intersections to catch motorists running through red lights.

You know, of course, that red lights mean “stop.” Too many Texans choose to ignore that command, so they run through the intersections. They have in many cities produced spikes in “t-bone” crashes, resulting in serious injury and death.

An earlier Legislature decided to give cities that right. Many of them did. I lived in a city that deployed red-light cameras. Amarillo, though, was forced to take them down because of legislative edict. I now live in a city, Princeton, that doesn’t govern itself under a home-rule charter, so it must follow state law where it applies; absent a home-rule charter, Princeton couldn’t have activated red-light cameras even if it sought to do so.

My wife and I have just returned from a brief visit to Amarillo. Our visit there reminded me once again of the fight that ensued when the city council showed some serious courage in enacting the ordinance that resulted in red-light cameras. The city traffic engineer and police department had identified intersections where red-light runners had caused undue havoc, mayhem and misery. They deployed the cameras and, lo and behold, they found that the cameras deterred lawbreakers.

One of the chief complaints came from those who said the cameras denied motorists the right to face their accuser. Baloney!

The cameras snapped a picture of the license plate of the offending vehicle; the city then identified the owner of the vehicle and sent him or her a $75 infraction notice. It then fell on the owner of the vehicle to pay the fine, or get whoever was driving the vehicle to pay it or they could protest it to the municipal judge.

Well, that’s all history now. I recall fondly the statement made in public by then-City Councilwoman Ellen Green, who scolded red-light camera opponents by declaring in essence, that all they had to do to was “stop running red lights.”

Shameful.

Whatever happened to the noble principle that “local control is better” than big government?

Motorcyclists using common sense

I want to report a satisfactory finding I discovered this morning while running an errand into McKinney and then back to Princeton, Texas.

The other day I griped about Texas rescinding its mandatory motorcycle helmet law back in 1997. The Legislature decided, to its discredit, that requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets was intrusive, that Texans had some sort of constitutional right to injure or kill themselves in the event of a catastrophic traffic accident. Oh, never mind the cost of such debilitating injury on the overall health care system … which falls on the rest of us.

Well, while running my errand I decided to observe every motorcyclist I saw this morning and whether they were wearing helmets.

This is purely anecdotal, but I saw the following: 14 motorcyclists on the road; two of them had passengers on the rear seat. All of them were helmeted. 

I was reminded of a pair of quirky electoral decisions that occurred in Amarillo about a decade ago. Voters twice rejected citywide referenda mandating a ban on indoor smoking in public places. Unlike many cities in Texas, the city council declined to issue an ordinance requiring a ban, even though it is proven that breathing second-hand smoke is bad for our health. Today, though, it is nearly impossible to find a dining or drinking establishment that allows smoking, which tells me that business owners in Amarillo are doing the right thing … all by themselves.

So, too, it might be with motorcyclists, if my anecdotal finding is playing out in the rest of the state.

I still would favor a law requiring helmets on motorcyclists. However, absent a law, I want to give a shout out to those bikers who understand the foolishness of tempting fate by riding a crotch rocket through traffic without proper noggin protection.

Any chance Texas can restore sanity and reinstate helmet law?

I chatted the other day with a former colleague about someone else we both know, a woman whose son was grievously injured in a motorcycle wreck about a decade ago.

The young man was speeding along a street in Amarillo when he crashed his motorcycle. He wasn’t wearing a helmet. The young man suffered permanent brain damage.

The chat with my friend spurred a thought in my own brain: What was the Texas Legislature thinking in 1997 when it repealed the state’s mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists? I sniffed around a found an article that talked about how motorcycle wreck-related deaths have increased dramatically since the Legislature gave cyclists the option of endangering themselves.

Republicans took control of the Legislature and in 1997 took over as the majority party. The “limited government” crowd then saw fit to repeal a law that I always thought was a reasonable requirement for anyone who sat astride a “crotch rocket.” The motorcycle law is no more onerous that requiring every passenger in a car to buckle up for safety with a seat restraint.

Legislators saw the helmet law differently, I reckon. They made a mistake, in my humble view.

To be fair, children still must wear helmets if they’re riding a motorcycle with Mommy or Daddy.

What’s more, the state now requires motorcycle owners to have an accident insurance policy worth at least $10,000. That’s fine, I guess, except that one can go through 10 grand in about 10 minutes when you check into a hospital with a traumatic brain injury.

As we get through this coronavirus pandemic and the next Legislature convenes in January, I am somewhat hopeful that Democrats might retake control of at least the House of Representatives. Maybe a House chamber controlled by Democrats might seek to restore some sanity to our roads and highways by bringing back a helmet law. I know it still has to go through the Texas Senate and it still needs the signature of a Republican governor, Greg Abbott.

My hope does spring eternal.

Beginning to look past the pandemic

One of the ways I occupy my mind during this coronavirus pandemic is to consider what lies on the other side of this crisis.

Namely, I think about the issues I want to ponder once we are able to push the pandemic a bit toward the back of the shelf. Yeah, I know it sounds more than a little bit nerdy.

A few things come to mind.

  • The presidential election is probably Issue No. 1. I want to see a new president take office next January. It looks like my choice will be Joseph R. Biden Jr. He’s way ahead in the march toward the Democratic Party presidential nomination. He’ll get nominated somehow, even if it’s not in the standard way: going to a convention full of delegates, having them barter and bicker over campaign platform planks. Then I want to focus on ways to encourage Biden to defeat Donald John Trump.
  •  The 2021 Texas Legislature will convene in January. Democrats might be able to wrest control of the House of Reps from Republicans. Not so sure about the Texas Senate. Democrats need to flip just nine of the 150 House seats to become the new majority. Perhaps a new House majority can enact some smart laws that can survive a veto by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott.
  •  Climate change needs our undivided attention. I worry about what’s happening to our polar ice caps and the wildlife they nurture. Polar bears are in dire peril if they cannot hunt for seals on the Arctic ice. I want a robust debate on climate change, but I fear that won’t happen if Donald Trump gets re-elected.

I know there’s a wide range of issues to discuss once we “socially distance” the pandemic to a manageable problem. I don’t believe the virus is going to disappear until we find a vaccine and manufacture enough of it to inoculate every human being on Earth. I’ll say a prayer to the scientists who are working on that matter at this moment.

That would be the way I define “returning to normal.” I hope it’s not a pipe dream.

Speaker Bonnen comes clean … but he’s still a goner

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen messed up royally when he agreed to meet with a far-right-wing political activist and then offered to toss 10 of his fellow legislative Republicans over the proverbial cliff.

He finally has fessed up to the mess he created. It’s just that it is way too late to do him any good. Bonnen took many hits from his Texas Legislature colleagues and then decided he wouldn’t seek re-election from his Angleton House district after serving just a single legislative term as the Man of the House.

Why speak out now? Who knows? At some level, though, I do care.

Bonnen conspired with Michael Quinn Sullivan, the head of that far-right outfit Empower Texans. He committed a terrible mistake by agreeing to meet with Sullivan in the first place. You see, Sullivan recorded the meeting secretly, then sprang the trap into which he had snared Bonnen in the summer of 2019. He revealed what Bonnen had done; Bonnen at first denied it; then Sullivan released the recording and, by golly, he was right.

Bonnen had given Sullivan the names of 10 legislators. He also offered to provide media credentials to Empower Texans, enabling the PAC direct access to House members on the House floor when the Legislature was in session. Very, very bad call, Mr. Speaker.

Bonnen spoke recently to the Dallas Morning News in which he apologized to his House colleagues and admitted to turning his career into so much road kill.

I am hoping for all I’m worth that the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives will learn from Bonnen’s mess up … and trust Michael Quinn Sullivan only as far as he can toss him.

Do not seek to bring back straight-ticket voting!

I will get straight to the point with this blog post.

South Texas Democrats have rocks in their noggins if they intend to argue that the elimination of straight-ticket, partisan voting is unconstitutional and that it discriminates against minority voters.

Readers of High Plains Blogger know that I detest straight-ticket voting. The Texas Legislature finally — as in finally — saw the light in 2017 and eliminated the provision that allows voters to walk into the polling booth and punch straight “Democrat” or straight “Republican.” Wham! That’s it! Then you get to leave.

A lawsuit filed in Webb County by the Texas Democratic Party and Webb County Democrats seeks to bring the practice back. They didn’t like the long lines that slowed the voting process to a crawl in many urban areas. Many voters, namely African-Americans and Latinos, stood in line for as long as eight or nine hours waiting to vote.

How come? I guess because voters ahead of them were taking the time to examine the ballots carefully before casting their votes.

What is wrong with that? Nothing, I tell ya!

I have argued for years that if Texans want to vote straight ticket, then they should be allowed to do so only after they examine each ballot entry. I also have argued that straight-ticket voting has resulted in qualified office seekers and incumbents losing their election or re-election efforts simply because they belong to the “wrong” political party. In recent years it’s been Democrats who suffer the most. In earlier times, Republicans suffered the same fate.

Allowing straight-ticket voting in Texas, in my mind, contributes to the continued dumbing down of the electorate.

Texas Republicans who argued for a change in the law had it right when they argued that disallowing straight-ticket voting would produce a more enlightened voting public.

I happen to agree with that logic. The current system doesn’t require voters to study the issues and the candidates. It just gives them more incentive to do so. If they want to vote for every candidate of a single party, then they are still allowed to do so.

That is where the unconstitutionality argument breaks down for me.

Therefore, South Texas Democrats do have rocks in their heads.