Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Bipartisanship is best for Texas

Dade Phelan has survived a challenge to his role as speaker of the Texas House of Representatives … and for that I am glad he did.

Why? Because the challenge came from a fellow Republican who doesn’t much cotton to the way Phelan doles out House committee chairmanships. You see, Phelan — a Beaumont Republican — handed chairmanships to some of those dreaded Democrats with whom he serves in the Legislature.

The insurgency came from Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Tarrant County Republican, who sought to replace Phelan as speaker. The final vote was 78 to 6.

Phelan’s bipartisan handling of the speakership is not unlike so many of the individuals who preceded him. Speakers Joe Straus, Dennis Bonnen and Tom Craddick all handed chairman’s gavels to Democrats. The most recent Democratic speaker, Pete Laney, also was generous in sharing power with Republicans.

According to the Texas Tribune: In response to the vote Saturday, Tinderholt said on Twitter he is “undeterred in my fight to ensure we have strong conservative leadership this session” and added that he will “look forward to the floor vote on the first day of session.” The 88th Texas Legislature begins meeting on Jan. 10.

Texas House Republican Caucus endorses Dade Phelan for speaker | The Texas Tribune

The endorsement by the Republican legislative caucus only strengthens Phelan’s hand as the entire Legislature will vote next month to select the next speaker. Phelan needs 76 votes and the GOP endorsement would seemingly ensure Phelan has them.

Phelan merely is following a tradition set long ago in a legislative body that works best when Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on legislation that works for all Texans. Sharing some of the power in the manner Phelan has chosen is a step toward achieving that legislative success.


Yes! on money for training center

Mention the word “Uvalde” and you’re going to get a smorgasbord of responses. One of them should be what the Department of Public Safety is asking of the Texas Legislature.

DPS is seeking that it calls a $466 million “down payment” on a statewide training center aimed at refining law enforcement responses to situations such as what occurred earlier this year at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

The money hasn’t been officially requested as part of the DPS’s funding package. But it’s a must-spend, given what transpired in Uvalde.

You know the tragic story by now. Nineteen fourth graders and two teaches were slaughtered by a gunman. The response — or lack of response — by the Uvalde school district police force, DPS, county deputies and city police officers has been the subject of considerable discussion and debate in the months since the tragedy.

The Texas Tribune reports: The Texas Department of Public Safety wants $1.2 billion to turn its training center north of Austin into a full-time statewide law enforcement academy — starting with a state-of-the-art active-shooter facility that would need a nearly half-billion-dollar investment from Texas taxpayers next year.

DPS operates a training center in Williamson. The “down payment” request seeks to provide a dramatic upgrade to the DPS effort to prepare its troopers for future situations such as what occurred at Robb Elementary School. Make no mistake: there will be another explosion of violence.

As the Tribune reports: A “state-of-the-art” active-shooter facility would be built with the first round of funding next year and could be used “right off the bat,” independent of the rest of the proposed upgrades, to immediately enhance active-shooter response by Texas law enforcement, McCraw said in a brief presentation before the Texas Legislative Budget Board on Oct. 4.

Texas DPS wants $1.2 billion for academy, active-shooter facility | The Texas Tribune

I want to offer a hearty and heartfelt endorsement of what DPS is seeking from our Legislature. They are going to report for duty in January with a substantial surplus of funds. Here is a wise way to spend some of it … to help law enforcement protect our children from future madness.


Standard or Daylight?

Now that many millions of Americans have been told to “fall back” to Standard Time, I want to revisit an issue that comes up about, oh, twice a year … or about the time we go to Daylight Saving Time or back to Standard Time.

At issue is whether we ought to keep switching between DST and Standard Time. For me, I don’t care. It never has bothered me to change the clocks in my house twice annually. I don’t feel sleep deprived after losing the hour in the spring when we, um, “spring forward.” Nor does falling back in the autumn give me any grief.

However, if we were to cease the back-and-forth, my preference would be to stick with a permanent Daylight Saving Time, I like the longer daylight hours in the evening.

The 2019 Texas Legislature was set to ask Texas residents what we preferred: permanent DST, permanent Standard Time, or keep changing back and forth.  The Legislature, though, couldn’t prepare a statewide resolution in time and the measure died a quiet death that hardly anyone even noticed.

Now we hear about Congress possibly enacting a federal law.  Same thing, folks. If we’re going to keep a permanent time on the books, I would ask our federal lawmakers to stick with a permanent Daylight Saving Time.

Absent that, well, then just allow us to change our clocks in the spring and again in the fall.


How would Beto work with GOP?

Let’s suppose for a moment that lightning strikes and Beto O’Rourke is elected Texas governor in the midterm election.

O’Rourke is a Democrat who would have to work with the Republican-controlled Legislature. I have been rolling that notion around and have come up with a conclusion.

Given the obstructionist nature of the current GOP, I only can conclude that O’Rourke would have a huge hurdle to clear. That would be a vast difference from the previous time the state had a governor of one party and the Legislature controlled by the other party.

In January 1995, Republican George W. Bush took over as Texas governor. The Legislature that year was controlled by Democrats. The Senate’s lieutenant governor was the irascible Bob Bullock. The speaker of the House was the more amiable, but still fiercely partisan Democrat Pete Laney.

The two legislative leaders developed a tremendous working relationship with the newly minted, freshly scrubbed GOP governor. They became friends. Partners. Allies at times.

Legislative Democrats in 1995 seemed to have little appetite for fighting, fussing and feuding with Republicans, especially the one who moved into the governor’s office.

I am trying to imagine a Democrat such as Beto O’Rourke developing that kind of relationship with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dade Phelan. Both of those legislative leaders are wedded to the MAGA world view.

Oh, how I would love to be proven wrong. I fear, though, that a Gov. O’Rourke would not get anything resembling the kind of feel-good introduction to governing that greeted Gov. George W. Bush all those years ago.

Do I believe that will happen? I am afraid not. Then again, there’s always hope.


Recalling an astonishing first meeting

(By Michael Schumacher)

Readers of High Plains Blogger might recall a statement made on it that I am writing a memoir for members of my family.

The memoir is about two-thirds finished. It contains personal reminiscences of people I met during my career as a print journalist and recalls the more fascinating sights I saw and experiences that came my way.

I want to reveal one of the people I cite in this memoir. I won’t spill all the beans, but I do want to share one element of this individual’s character that I found most appealing.


The late Teel Bivins served as a Republican state senator from the Texas Panhandle from 1989 until 2004. I arrived at the Amarillo Globe-News in January 1995 to stand post as editorial page editor of the daily newspapers we published in Amarillo.

I knew a little bit about Bivins when I arrived, given that I had spent nearly 11 years at the Beaumont Enterprise. I had been watching the Legislature during my decade on the Gulf Coast.

My phone rang a few days after I arrived in Amarillo. It was Bivins’ office in downtown Amarillo. He wanted to meet with me. Good deal, I said. I’ll be right over.

I walked into Bivins’ office. Then he welcomed me to his desk. We shook hands, I sat down, exchanged a bit of small talk about this and that politician we both knew. He asked me about my family. I told him of my marital bliss and the pride we share in our sons who at the time were just completing their college studies.

Then it came.

Bivins at that point proceeded to tell me a tale of woe and a bit of horror at the condition of his wife. She suffered from alcohol and drug abuse, he said. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know whether he could stay married to her. Bivins said he was at the end of his tolerance with her. “I don’t think I can keep this up,” he said.

I mention this because in that moment, a politician I had known for, oh, about 30 minutes took the time to expose a part of his life that obviously caused him great pain.

I shall admit that in that moment, I didn’t realize what became clear to me a few days later. A legislative aide to Bivins informed that the reason Bivins wanted to tell that story about his wife was that he wanted to get ahead of a story I likely would hear … from someone else.

Do you get it? The man wanted to tell me his version of events before I heard someone else’s version.

It truly was an astonishing thing to reveal to a total stranger, let alone to someone — such as me — who was in a position to offer commentary on politicians’ personal lives.

I have retained a vivid memory of that first meeting with a prominent Texas politician. I do so on purpose, as it reminds me that politicians — of all people — indeed, can achieve a form of nobility.


City needs to wipe away annexation myth

Whoever leads the Princeton, Texas, citizens campaign to approve a home-rule charter will have to destroy a myth that doomed the city’s latest effort at winning voter approval of this proposal.

It’s the myth of annexation. More specifically, it is the myth that a home-rule charter gives a city carte blanche to seize property at will.

It does not.

The 2017 Texas Legislature enacted a law that requires property owners to grant approval of any annexation effort by a city. That includes, quite naturally, Princeton. Yet the city’s most recent election, which occurred after the law took effect, went down because property owners outside the city limits put the scare into residents over the annexation matter.

Well, the city has exploded in size since then. Thousands more people live in the city, which saw its population effectively triple from the 2010 census to the 2020 census.

Princeton long ago grew into a city that needs to govern its own future, rather than running as a “general law” city subject to laws enacted by the Legislature.

City Hall, of course, cannot campaign on behalf of this project. State law prohibits local governments from spending public money on political campaigns. That leaves the campaigning for this project up to a citizens panel.

My best advice is for the campaign committee to zero in on the annexation myth that — according to some City Hall observers — simply refuses to die.


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?