Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

Permanent Daylight Time?

Well, kids … we sprang forward overnight, an event that produced the usual ration of griping — some of it good-natured — about the loss of an hours’ sleep and showing up late for some appointment this morning.

To be honest, I’ll stipulate that the time change — from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time — doesn’t bother me. I’m manic about setting clocks the night before. So, when the alarm goes off on Day One of Daylight Time, I usually am ready to get the day started.

All that said, I am wondering if the Texas Legislature ever will finish the job it tried to finish in its 2019 session when it ran out of time before referring a time-change measure to Texans that fall.

You might recall that the Legislature was pondering a three-choice option for voters. We were supposed to get a chance to state whether we wanted to shift to permanent Daylight Saving Time, permanent Standard Time or keep it the way it is, with a twice-annual time switch.

I stated then that if given a choice, I would prefer to go to a permanent Daylight Saving Time. I like the extended daylight at the end of the day. A permanent Standard Time setup would put the sun down too early in the evening for my taste.

But … as I noted, switching back and forth is not a big deal for me.

There might be a congressional push to make it a federal law, simply taking this entire matter out of the states’ hands. A few states already have forsaken Daylight Saving Time, preferring to not monkey around with switching clocks.

This whole concept has been around for a while. Switching to Daylight Saving Time was intended to save energy, allowing Americans to avoid turning on their lights in the late afternoon. I’m fine with that, too. So, why not make it permanent?

Eschewing the time-switch would be a nod to those who dislike the government mandating such behavior. Switching to a permanent time system would satisfy conservatives; hey, we seem to agree on something! How about that?

This debate is likely to flare yet again in Congress. I say “flare” because that’s what always seems to happen in that sharply divided body. Maybe they can put their partisan differences aside — finally! — and agree on this simple idea.

Or, they can simply let the states decide. Well, Texas legislators? Will you do it?


Should we pay ’em more?

The reporting on three Texas legislators being eligible to collect a whopping six-figure salary after serving in the Legislature for a long time brings to mind an issue that has stuck in my craw for as long as I have lived in Texas.

Do we pay these men and women enough to serve in the Legislature?

State Sen. John Whitmire and state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Tom Craddick now are eligible to collect salaries totaling $144,000 annually, thanks to a law enacted in 2021 that rewards legislators for their lengthy terms of service. Whitmire turned it down; Thompson and Craddick haven’t disclosed their plans.

They earn normally just $7,200 per year, plus a per diem expense when the Legislature meets every other year for 140 days.

Is that enough to sustain these individuals’ interest in public service? I tend to think it’s a challenge.

Many legislatures put their members on full-time salary status. Yes, they become professional politicians. Then again, so do Texas legislators, even though we pay them a mere pittance to write laws. Even the lieutenant governor — as the Texas Senate’s presiding officer — draws the same measly “salary” as the senators over whom he presides.

This chintzy salary structure makes it nearly impossible for a working man or woman — someone with a regular job — to take time away, to spend five months every other year in Austin. How does that work for a guy who, say, sells shoes for a living at JC Penney? Have you seen any shoe salespeople serving in the Legislature? I didn’t think so!

What’s left? We get seriously rich men and women, such as heirs to family fortunes. A “citizen legislature” ought to be a place where working men and women can serve. I am not sure we have that now.

I am not suggesting a hefty six-figure sum is in order, but something a good bit more than the chump change they receive now is worth at least some serious discussion.


Double dipping = bad optics

Surely I am not the only Texan who is aghast at reports of three Texas state legislators being able to collect $144,000 annually in salary just because they’ve each been in office for more than 43 years.

Democratic Sen. John Whitmire, Democratic Rep. Senfronia Thompson, both of Houston, and Republican Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland qualify for a “double-dipping” perk to which they are entitled.

Wow! Talk about “bad optics!”

The Texas Legislature has long prided itself as being a collection of 181 “citizen legislators” who travel to Austin every other year to do state business for 140 or so days. Then they go home to suffer the consequences or reap the rewards of the laws they enact. They do so for just $7,200 per year, plus a per diem expense when the Legislature is in session.

They all say they don’t serve “for the money,” that they are driven by the desire for engage in “public service” to the state or the districts they represent.

Now we hear about this? The 2021 Legislature passed this law that enables senior lawmakers to haul in a huge salary.

The Texas Tribune reports: Jon Taylor, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio who has taught public administration ethics, said the arrangement has problematic optics.

Whitmire and Thompson both have served for 50 years. Craddick is the senior House member, with 54 years of service under his belt. Craddick and Thompson haven’t said whether they are collecting the windfall, according to the Tribune. Whitmire said he turned it down.

Why three Texas lawmakers are now eligible for an extra $140,000 a year | The Texas Tribune

This falls under a quirk in the Texas Employee Retirement System, which is a creation of the Legislature.

I will admit this law got past me in 2021 when the Legislature enacted it. It’s in full view now. I don’t like it. Not one little bit.


‘No!’ to using public money for payout

Dade Phelan is putting his foot down as speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and my hope is that the Legislature follows his lead.

Phelan opposes any notion of the Legislature appropriating taxpayer money to pay Attorney General Ken Paxton’s settlement with several lawyers who filed a whistleblower complaint against the state’s AG.

Paxton and the lawyers reached a settlement that requires Paxton to pay $3 million without admitting any guilt or issuing any apology for the complaint they filed. He will avoid any accountability for this latest (alleged) transgression.

Phelan told KTVT Channel 11 news that spending public money is an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ funds. I happen to stand with the speaker on that one. How does Paxton come up with the money he will have to pay? I don’t know, nor do I give a damn.

The settlement does spare the state from having to pay for an expensive trial, so in a significant sense the agreement is a win for Texans. That doesn’t justify spending public money to pay off the attorney general’s penalty for firing the lawyers who acted out of conscience to expose what they believe is corruption within the attorney general’s office.

My personal preference would be for a state trial jury to convict Paxton of securities fraud, a charge for which a Collin County grand jury indicted him back in 2015. Paxton has been skating around any accountability for that allegation almost since the day he took office.

My plea at this moment? Stand firm, Speaker Phelan … and don’t let the Texas House approve any public money to pay this settlement.


Partisanship rules in Texas Senate

My old buddy Kel Seliger’s departure from the Texas Senate is now becoming even more clear than it was when he announced his intention to forgo another term in the legislative body.

Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, had crossed swords with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick many times since 2015 when Patrick took over as the Senate’s presiding officer.

Now we see that Patrick has tossed aside a longstanding Texas Senate tradition by appointing just one Democrat to a committee chairmanship. That would be John Whitmire, a moderate from Houston who now serves as the Senate’s most senior member; Whitmire will chair the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Seliger has returned to private life in the Texas Panhandle, no longer having to tolerate Patrick’s petulance and his hyper-partisan approach to governance, neither of which is Seliger’s style.

Compare the Patrick method to that being practiced down hall the Texas Capitol hall in the House, where Speaker Dade Phelan — yes, another Republican — has resisted far-right-wing pressure to appoint only GOP House members to committee chairs. One of those right-wingers, state Rep. Bryan Slaton of Royse City, told me that Phelan is rewarding House Democrats unjustly because they do not hold a majority in the Texas House.

Phelan’s response. That’s just too damn bad … just live with it.

Patrick has tossed aside bipartisanship in running the Senate. As the Dallas Morning News stated in an editorial: Texas has serious business to get done to keep us moving forward as a state. Chances are the Senate will be hog-tied with business it shouldn’t be worrying about. That’s bad for Texans.

So it goes in the Texas Senate, which will be run by a lieutenant governor more interested in sticking it to Democrats than in welcoming them to cooperate in legislating matters that will benefit the whole state.

What a shame.


Texas GOP turns on one of its own

The late Texas state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo once lamented how Republicans have this way of “eating their own.”

I didn’t quite understand what he meant when he said that to me. Now I am beginning to get it.

The Texas Republican Party has sanctioned a radio ad lambasting GOP Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan for continuing a longstanding Texas legislative tradition, which is to appoint legislators of the minority party to committee chairmanships.

What the hell?

Phelan is a Beaumont Republican serving his second term as the Man of the Texas House. Is he doing something radical? Something so completely out of the ordinary? Is he capitulating to those dreaded Democrats on policy? No, no and hell no!

He is doing what speakers of both parties have done for a lot longer than any of the whippersnappers who oppose this concept have been alive.

The Texas Tribune reports: In the minute-long ad, a narrator says the speaker is “teaming up with Democrats to kill our Republican priorities.” 

What in the name of good government is that narrator talking about?

I spoke this week with one of the GOP insurgents, state Rep. Bryan Slaton of Royse City, about his vote against Phelan’s bid to retain the speakership. He said Phelan is rewarding Democrats unduly with legislative power they didn’t earn at the ballot box. Slaton is one of the fiery members of the Texas Freedom Caucus who seemingly doesn’t understand the longstanding Texas political culture.

Republican Gov. George W. Bush forged a tremendous relationship with Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney when he took office in January 1995. Their cooperation with the governor continued a hallowed Texas tradition of good-government compromise between the parties. Laney made sure to appoint Republican legislators to committee chairs, as did his GOP successors appoint Democrats to chairmanships.

The current GOP caucus seemingly wants to change all that. Many of them believe Democrats should be ostracized. Not all of them share that view, according to the Texas Tribune, which reported:

Texas GOP launches radio attack ads against Republican state House speaker | The Texas Tribune

That takes me back to an earlier point, which is that Phelan isn’t a closet progressive masquerading as a conservative Republican.

The Texas Republican Party has lost its mind.

Wherever he is, Teel Bivins is laughing out loud.


Mayors want ‘local control’

A cadre of big-city Texas mayors has delivered a critical message to state legislators who have gathered in Austin for the 88th Texas Legislative Assembly.

The mayors want to retain control of their cities’ destiny.

Man, what a concept!

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, president of the Texas Big City Mayors Coalition said the group’s battle to keep control at city hall will be central to their observance of the Legislature.

Too often, it seems that legislators purport to know how cities should govern themselves. From my standpoint in little ol’ Princeton, the most egregious example of that stemmed from the debate over whether cities should have the authority to install cameras at signaled intersections to combat those who disobey stop lights.

The Legislature grudgingly allowed the cities to enact such ordinances, then took that authority away. said at a conference Friday along with eight other members of the Texas’ Big City Mayors coalition.

“As mayors with the responsibility of managing services and operations that largely impact the daily lives of our residents, we believe we are best positioned to determine local policies,” Nirenberg said. Well, there you go. End of argument, right? Not even close!

As the Texas Tribune reports:

Texas mayors want to keep control of local issues | The Texas Tribune

“Boots on the ground.” There you go. Mayors don’t want — or certainly don’t need — politicians from faraway places telling them how to run their cities.

The message I gleaned from the Big City Mayors outfit?

Butt the hell out!


RIP, David Swinford

I am saddened to hear of the death of one of the more interesting and provocative public officials I had the pleasure to know and to cover while I worked as a journalist in the Texas Panhandle.

David Swinford of Dumas has left us. He died on the final day of 2022 at the age of 81.

I actually knew of Swinford, a Republican state legislator a good bit before I made the move from the Gulf Coast to the Caprock in January 1995.

He took his House District 87 seat in 1991 and almost immediately caused a ruckus with a proposal for the Panhandle to break away from the rest of the state. His stated reason was a doozy. Swinford reportedly didn’t like the fact that on most state highway maps, the Panhandle was relegated to “other side” of the map, forcing anyone interested in traveling to, say, Dumas, had to turn the map over to find it.

After moving to Amarillo to become editorial page of the Globe-News, I asked Swinford about that notion. He kind of gritted his teeth and admitted it was true, that he was irked at the “mistreatment” the Panhandle got from cartographers … but then said he was only half-serious about the pitch for the Panhandle to separate itself from the rest of the state.

Our relationship developed over time.

He was one of the first Texas officials to tell me he saw legislative battles turning on rural vs. urban lines, rather than partisan divisions. He was right. He fought for the rural constituents he represented, as well as those who lived in the Potter County portion of Amarillo — which straddles the line separating Potter from Randall County.

Swinford got sideways with the newspaper one time during my stint there. It was over his decision to undercut then-Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, a Democrat from Hale Center. The GOP took control of the Legislature and Swinford — who claimed a deep friendship with Laney — decided to throw his support behind fellow Republican Tom Craddick of Midland. Craddick would replace Laney as speaker in 2003, angering Laney to no end. He felt betrayed by his Panhandle pals, such as Swinford and fellow GOP Reps. John Smithee and Warren Chisum.

Our anger with Swinford didn’t last forever. I am happy to report that when he left office in 2011, he and I were on good terms and remained so until news arrived of his death.

He was a good man. May he rest in peace.


Hope continues to spring forth

My optimistic wellspring isn’t bottomless, but it remains quite full. Thus, I want to share briefly my holiday wish for two levels of government: state and federal.

Two new legislative assemblies are about to take office. The Texas Legislature and Congress will be seated soon after New Year’s Day. They’ll take oaths to protect the Constitution and defend it against enemies “foreign and domestic.”

My hope for them both is that every one of the 535 members of the U.S. Senate and House, along with every one of the 181 members of the Texas Senate and House remain faithful to the letter of those oaths.

Accordingly, my hope is that two chief political executives, one Democrat and one Republican, work to bridge the chasm that divides the major parties within those legislative chambers.

I am acutely aware of President Biden’s demonstrated ability to do so. He served in the U.S. Senate for 36 years before becoming vice president in 2009, where he served ably for two terms. He has boasted of his ability to work with even the most conservative members of Congress. In fact, he was able to do so while serving as VP during the Obama administration.

So far as president, his legislative acumen has produced limited results. Biden has had to rely on Democrats in the House and Senate to carry legislation through to becoming law.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s legislative skill is less pronounced and less demonstrable. He did not serve in the Texas Legislature before becoming governor. He cut his government teeth as a trial court judge, as a Texas Supreme Court justice and as state attorney general.

As governor, he has toed a sometimes-harsh party line. My hope for Abbott is that he finds it within himself to seek common ground with legislative Democrats. I am not going to wait breathlessly for that to happen, but I will retain a glimmer of hope that he’ll deliver the goods.

These are not ambitious wishes from some chump sitting out here in the cheap seats. What I am asking is pretty minimal. Sometimes, even minimal requests can produce monumental results.

So, my hope continues into the new year.


Legislator hires lunatic

Suffice to say that Texas has no shortage of loons sitting in public office, or a shortage of certifiable lunatics willing to work for them.

Get a load of this tidbit out of Arlington, just down the road a piece from your blogger’s home in Collin County: State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican, has hired a guy to run his district office who has called for the public execution of anyone who takes children to drag shows.

Jake Niedert is just 22 years of age. He now is going to be Tinderholt’s legislative director working out of the lawmaker’s Tarrant County office.

Niedert is a self-proclaimed “Christian nationalist” who once said this on Twitter: “You want to force kids to see drag shows, I want to ‘drag’ you to the town square to be publicly executed for grooming kids. We are not the same.”

Texas Rep. Tony Tinderholt hires Christian nationalist Jake Neidert | The Texas Tribune

Is this idiot going to say he was “joking” or he was being “sarcastic”? Wait for it.

Tinderholt is running for speaker of the Texas House against the current speaker, Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican. He wants the House to be even more right wing than it currently has become. God help us.

Well, Tinderholt isn’t likely to defeat Phelan, but he remains a dangerous character serving in a Legislature that is likely to quarrel and squabble beginning January over anti-LGBTQ and transgender legislation.

This dude is a freak … who hires freaks to work for him!