Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

No more red-light cams

This bit of news saddens me, even though I no longer live in the city I once called home for more than two decades.

Amarillo is shutting down its devices installed to protect motorists and pedestrians from those who disobey street signals that order them to stop. The city’s traffic department is dismantling its red-light cameras in accordance with a Texas Legislature mandate that prohibits cities from deploying them.

The Legislature had allowed cities that had the cameras in operation to keep using them until their current contracts expired. Amarillo’s contract has run out. The cameras are coming down.

It’s not that I want Big Brother involved in regulating our lives. It is only that in this instance, the cameras helped deter dipsh** drivers from breaking the law.

The most ridiculous argument against the cameras came from a lawyer friend of mine who argued that the cameras are an “invasion of privacy.” To which I reminded him that when you operate a vehicle in an unsafe manner on public streets, you surrender whatever “privacy” you thought you had.

I am reminded of what a former city council member, Ellen Green, once admonished critics of the cameras. “If you don’t want to pay the fine, then don’t disobey the light,” she said … or words to that effect.

I understand that the cameras did reduce the instances of red-light running in Amarillo. The city once thought they were important enough to install. I just wish the Legislature would have allowed cities to make these decisions for themselves.


Lucio deserves new trial

I cannot overstate the significance of the support that a woman condemned to die in Texas prison execution chamber is receiving from both sides of the great political divide in this state.

Melissa Lucio has received a stay of execution from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She was slated to die on Thursday for the death of her 2-year-old daughter 15 years ago.

I believe she deserves a new trial, given all the doubt about her conviction and the allegation that the state withheld evidence from her defense team.

What continues to amaze me is the support she is getting from tough-on-crime conservatives in the Legislature, led by Plano Republican state Rep. Jeff Leach, who had the honor of telling Lucio this week about the CCA decision to forestall her execution. Lucio’s reaction was to sob uncontrollably.

Leach is a former member of the ultra-conservative Texas Freedom Caucus; he resigned from the caucus a while ago, citing some issues with the hardline positions it was taking. He still is a conservative, but he appears to be a man with an actual heart.

I applaud the leadership he is taking in fighting for Melissa Lucio.

I happen to oppose capital punishment, but you likely know that already. I also oppose the partisan divide that too often splits politicians along party lines even when the issue compels them to seek common ground.

One of those issues is seeking justice for a prison inmate who might have been convicted wrongly.


Panhandle to get new Senate face

Get ready, my old friends in the Texas Panhandle. You are about to get a new brand of legislative representation in the Texas Senate. It will come in the form of a state senator who represents your interests but who lives way down yonder in Midland, more than 200 miles away.

Kevin Sparks will be the new state senator from District 31. He won the Republican Party primary election this past week.

I don’t much at all about Sparks, other than I believe he was recruited by Empower Texans — a far right political action organization out of Midland — to run for the seat vacated by longtime Republican Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo. Empower Texans is a toxic organization and I detest what it stands for and what it has done to try to undermine the political leadership in the Panhandle, where my wife and I lived for 23 years before moving away in 2019.

They have their guy now slated to take his seat in District 31.

My hope is that Sparks does as much to represent the entire district, which runs from the Permian Basin all the way to the Panhandle’s border with Oklahoma. Seliger was as fluent in Permian Basin-speak as he was in Panhandle-speak when he served in the Senate. So was his Republican predecessor, the late Teel Bivins, also of Amarillo, who served the region from 1989 until 2004, when he left to become U.S. ambassador to Sweden. The same can be said of Bivins’s predecessor, Amarillo Democrat Bill Sarpalius.

The Panhandle has essentially owned that Senate seat since the proverbial Flood. Thanks to the GOP’s efforts to reconfigure the state’s legislative boundaries, the district lost several Panhandle counties and added some more down south, thus shoring up the strength of whoever wanted to run for the seat from the Permian Basin region.

There was a time when we could call our state senator or run into him at a local restaurant. I lost count of the times I would be sharing a meal with Kel Seliger in Amarillo and his attention was diverted to whomever walked by and wanted to chat. I doubt that will be the case with Sen. Sparks dining anywhere in Amarillo or Canyon.

That makes it imperative that he elevate his presence in the “other end” of the sprawling Senate district, which now happens to be the Panhandle, which until January 2023 had one of its own representing its interests in the Texas Senate. That task now will fall to an outsider.

Don’t let ’em down up north, Sen.-to-be Sparks.


City fighting past failures

Princeton (Texas) Mayor Brianna Chacon has said that her belief in the city’s “changing demographics” will help the city forge a new governing path when it presents a home-rule charter to voters later this year.

I hope she is correct. A citizens’ panel formed to craft a home-rule document might be fighting the specter of past failures as it cobbles the draft charter together over the coming weeks.

The specter lies in the belief among some foes of home rule that the city can annex property at will. Wrong! It cannot do anything of the sort without the expressed approval of the property owners of the property being considered for annexation.

The 2017 Texas Legislature took the annexation matter off the table when it enacted a law requiring property owners’ permission. Thus, the issue that doomed previous efforts to approve a home-rule charter in Princeton has been shoved aside. Previous efforts (and there have been four of them) to oppose home rule rested on the objections of residents living in the “extraterritorial jurisdiction” just outside the city limits. They won the argument and the measure failed in previous elections.

The political action committee that will take shape when the document is approved and sent to the ballot will need to ensure that annexation is a non-starter.

Princeton currently is governed as a “general law” city, requiring it to follow rules set by state statute. Home rule gives cities greater latitude and freedom to make decisions affecting their communities. Make no mistake that the city’s “demographics” are changing dramatically, as it is one of Texas’s fast-growing cities. Its population virtually tripled from 2010 to 2020; Princeton is now home to more than 17,000 residents … and that number is being eclipsed almost daily as more residents set up homes.

Yes, I happen to favor home rule for Princeton and my hope is that voters approve it when they get the chance to vote on the matter. I also am hoping the PAC that will emerge to campaign for its approval makes the case in the clearest language possible that the city cannot annex property at will.

Pay attention … are we clear?


You tell ’em, Kel

Kel Seliger’s status as a lame-duck Texas state senator appears to have given the veteran Republican legislator some gumption as he has delivered a harsh reality to the state’s efforts at redrawing its legislative districts.

Seliger, who hails from Amarillo, said in a court deposition that the GOP-controlled Legislature broke the law in redrawing the boundaries in Senate District 10. “Having participated in the 2011 and 2013 Senate Select Redistricting Committee proceedings and having read the prior federal court decision regarding SD10, it was obvious to me that the renewed effort to dismantle SD 10 violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution,” Seliger said in his remarks to the court.

According to the Texas Tribune: Under the map passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, some Black and Hispanic populations previously in District 10 were split into two other districts with majority-white electorates. The Black and Hispanic voters who remain in the newly drawn District 10, in urban areas of south Fort Worth, were lumped in with several rural, mostly white counties to the south and west that drive up the district’s population of white eligible voters while diminishing the number of voters of color.

GOP Sen. Kel Seliger says Texas violated federal voting rights law | The Texas Tribune

Well … isn’t that what many critics of the Legislature have alleged against Republicans who control the body?

Now we have one of the Legislature’s top GOP senators saying that he agrees with the critics. Is that what I am reading? I believe that’s the case.

To which I say only that it would have been good to hear such candor coming when Sen. Seliger was still in the thick of the fight. As it stands now, he is on the sidelines and is heading for the exit at the end of the year.

I say this as a friend of the senator. I consider him to have been an effective representative for the Texas Panhandle, where I lived for more than two decades. Seliger and I go back a while and I have long admired him for his independent streak and his pluck while serving in the Senate.

I mean, any guy who can piss off fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, as Seliger has done, is OK in my book.


Legislative turnover on tap

Personnel turnover either freshens governing bodies or it poisons them, depending on who succeeds the members who are exiting the stage.

The Texas Legislature is on the cusp of seeing an astonishing turnover of veteran senators and House members. At last count, 28 House members are either retiring from public life or are surrendering their seats to seek another public office. Five Texas senators aren’t seeking re-election. As the story by Gromer Jeffers Jr. points out in the Tuesday Dallas Morning News, several “moderate Republicans” are among those who are leaving the Senate. They include, Jeffers wrote, my old pal Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Larry Taylor of Friendswood, as well as Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, who was described in the Dallas Morning News story as the “fifth-most centrist Republican in the Senate.”

Who will replace these individuals? Given the huge partisan divide in both legislative chambers and the radical elements in both major parties, it doesn’t necessarily bode well for the future of good government.

Retiring state Rep. John Turner, a moderate Dallas Democrat, said the significant turnover in the Legislature “just heightens the polarization.” He talked about Republicans becoming more conservative and Democrats “losing some of their moderates” and how the vacancies could be filled by those with more radical agendas.

Will there be a bipartisan battle between culture warriors as a result? Time will tell. Suffice to say that we remain concerned that the 2023 Texas Legislature is going to become an even more divided and divisive body than its 2021 version. That version was quite divided, indeed. Let us recall how House Democrats fled the state to prevent House Republicans from enacting a controversial bill that sought to restrict voter access for many Texans. Democrats called it “voter suppression,” but Republicans called it “voter protection” against possible future fraud.

Redistricting has played a part in the turnover. Some legislators are leaving because their colleagues created legislative districts that favored candidates from the other party. Some lawmakers are seeking higher office. Democratic state Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, for example, is now running for her party’s nomination for lieutenant governor; her House district now favors the Republican candidate. State Rep. Scott Sanford of McKinney is retiring for the same reason, as his newly redrawn Collin County district favors the Democratic Party candidate.

Legislative turnover isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing by itself. If the newly constituted Legislature takes over in 2023 with the state’s best interests in mind, then we well might benefit from an electoral cleansing. If we welcome more rigid ideologues into the Legislature, then we are in for a rough ride.


Why can’t they fix this electrical grid?

The Texas Tribune has written a story with a frightening lead paragraph, which states …

Electricity outages in Texas could occur this winter if the state experiences a cold snap that forces many power plants offline at the same time as demand for power is high, according to an analysis by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The outages could occur despite better preparations by power plants to operate in cold weather.

What the hell? I thought the Texas Legislature was going to repair those problems, that it was going to “invest” lots of money to ensure that ERCOT’s electrical system was winterized sufficiently to protect us against the misery that befell us this past February.

I am one Texas resident — who I am sure speaks for millions of others — who does not want to endure what we went through early this year. Our homes went dark. Many of our water pipes froze. Our water supply went down for a time.

ERCOT estimates show Texas grid vulnerable this winter, despite preparations | The Texas Tribune

I am not going to predict we’ll have sub-zero temperatures again this winter. I saw a forecast that suggested the La Nina current is going to create a warmer, drier winter for Texas in 2021-22. I hope it’s true.

If it isn’t, then that Legislature of ours ought to have hell to pay if ERCOT’s grid shuts down.


Texas’s newest residents get stiffed

Texas is going to get two more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Why? Because our state grew significantly during the past 10 years.

The population boom was fueled by more African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians flocking to the state. The word is that these folks generally vote Democratic. So, it was believed that the state’s changing demography was going to make the state more, um, divided politically.

Well, the Legislature took care of that by gerrymandering the new congressional and legislative districts to ensure that the Republican Party maintains its chokehold on power.

The Legislature takes command of the redistricting effort every decade. The 2020 census shows the state achieving additional power in Congress with those two new seats. However, Republicans are big winners, given the way the Legislature reconfigured all those boundaries.

Collin County, where I now reside, was turned into an even heavier GOP-friendly place; Collin County voted narrowly for Donald Trump in 2020, but would have voted significantly more for the ex-POTUS had the new borders been in effect.

I am scratching my noodle on this one. Is this the way “representative democracy” is supposed to work?

I think not.


Texas Democrats take another gut punch

Ryan Guillen no longer is a Democrat, having switched party affiliation to Republican.

That’s a big deal? You betcha. Especially  when the party-switcher is a longtime Democratic legislator from South Texas who told his former party leaders that the Democratic Party has abandoned him; so he is becoming a Republican.

This is grim news for Texas Democratic Party officials who keep telling the world about how the tide in Texas is turning from Republican Red to Democratic Blue. But … is it?

RealClearPolitics reports: While Guillen is a state lawmaker whose switch won’t impact which party holds power in Washington, there’s one sign that this may not be an isolated example: At least nine congressional House Democrats have  announced they are not seeking reelection next year. More are expected to follow.

As for the impact on the state’s political fortunes, Guillen’s switcheroo seems to portend something ominous for a party that contends the changing Texas demography suggests that Democrats are on the rise and Republicans are sinking.

I am not so sure about that. Just yet anyway.

Guillen is a Texas Latino who believes the Democratic Party has taken him for granted along with those who share his ethnicity.

Texas Party Switcher Is Latest Ominous Sign for Democrats | RealClearPolitics

I used to call the Golden Triangle home. The Triangle is in deep Southeast Texas, where Democrats until the early 1990s continued to occupy virtually every county elected office in sight. That began changing about the time I moved from Beaumont to the other corner of the state, in Republican-heavy Amarillo.

Republicans now occupy every statewide office in Texas and a heavy majority of the local offices as well. Dallas County, next door to us in our new home in Collin County, remains a heavily Democratic bastion.

So, if Democrats intend to regain any semblance of influence in Texas, they need to heed the admonition of one of its veteran former legislative representatives: stop taking your core constituency for granted.


How about cell phone ban enforcement?

My wife and I live in a house that is about 50 feet past a sign that marks the end of a “school zone” in Princeton, Texas.

I am mentioning that because of something I witness repeatedly: the sight of drivers using hand-held devices while they pass through a zone where such activity is illegal.

Indeed, using hand-held devices while driving a motor vehicle is against state law. The Texas Legislature made it so in 2019 and Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law. It was a long slog to get it enacted. Then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed an earlier bill on grounds that it infringed on driver’s “personal liberty.” Sheesh.

My point is that law enforcement officers surely have a headache trying to enforce this law. It’s one thing, I suppose, to pull someone over on a suspicion of illegal activity. Police officers I know have told me over many years they can act only when they witness a crime being committed.

So, does a police officer pull someone over when they witness that motorist yapping on a cell phone that he or she is holding up to his or her ear? I would hope that would be the case.

My witnessing of such law-breakers driving through my neighborhood, though, suggest to me that enforcement of this law isn’t a sufficient deterrent against motorists from fumbling with a cell phone while driving a two-ton motor vehicle … in a school zone!