Fire Union President resigns

The Houston Chronicle reports that Bryan Sky-Eagle, the President of the Houston Firefighter’s Union, has prematurely resigned his position. Sky-Eagle was elected to the post in October 2013 to what was ostensibly a three year term. However, not even one year into the position, he has called it quits, citing the irreconcilable difficulties he had with his membership. To put it bluntly, he was seen as too cozy with Mayor Annise Parker by the rank-and-file members of the union, whom he was quite unpopular therewith.

The Firefighter’s Union has recently been in the news due to a long standing argument between its members and the City of Houston on the topic of pensions. Firefighter’s pensions are considerably more sizable than those for other municipal public servants (Bureaucrats and Police Officers, respectively), and while they have been reduced and modified for others at City Hall in recent years, the same has not happened for the firefighter’s. This is mainly due to an arcane State Law that allows the Legislature to directly oversee the firefighter’s pensions.

Over the summer, there was a tentative agreement reached between Sky-Eagle and Parker on future firefighter contracts, specifically curtailing overtime benefits. Sky-Eagle unilaterally reached this agreement, and when it was supposed to be confirmed by union membership (typically a mere formality), a whopping 93% of members voted it down. Furthermore, there have been other examples of Sky-Eagle going at it alone and without the proper authorization of his membership. The Chronicle article even notes a few examples where he was sternly rebuked by the International Union association.

Specifically, on one occasion, Sky-Eagle made a point of not reimbursing union members for their attendance at a conference. The International Association of Firefighters specifically ordered him to reverse the action. This, among other actions, led to a lawsuit between the local and international entities. The only problem with this is that Sky-Eagle went gunboat on the lawsuit, without seeking the requisite approval from the union membership.

Sky-Eagle, for his part, said that he has been receiving anonymous threats of violence, and decided that it all just wasn’t worth it anymore. I am angered to hear that someone personally went after him, as it cheapens the validity of actual criticisms against him.

As for the underlying issue, I’ve opined broadly on both sides of this issue before, and haven’t necessarily made up my mind about the philosophy of it all. I didn’t actually think the compromise reached between Parker and Sky-Eagle was that bad, but I suppose this was more a comment on how he went about it all.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Kenneth Kendrick

Editorial note: This is the tenth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

Kenneth Kendrick, Green candidate for Agriculture Commissioner

Texpatriate: What is your name?
KK: Kenneth Kendrick

T: What office are you seeking?
KK: Texas Agriculture Commissioner.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
KK: Proud to say none, nor do I intend to seek a higher office upon winning this one.

T: What is your political party?
KK: Green Party

T: What is your position on hemp production in Texas?
KK: Initially, before seeking office, I was not 100% sure I was for hemp production. Once I became a candidate and started really researching the subject, I am now 100% for the production of hemp and legalization of marijuana for several reasons.

1) It requires less water to grow than many other crops and we are in the middle of a drought, with many more to come due to climate change.

2) Many people have turned to using the deadly “synthetic pot” and have died or suffered permanent brain damage.

3) Hemp requires less pesticide that other crops, thus helping save water contamination.

4) Economically it would be a big boost to the Texas economy.

5) Legalization would reduce our overcrowded and expensive prison population, and make room for real criminals.

6) Recent studies aired on CNN and many other networks showed that states that have legalized pot have seen a reduction of pain killer overdoses, where they have never seen and over dose of marijuana.

T: What changes, if any, do you believe Texas should make to its School Lunch program?
KK: I would like for the schools to have more local control over the program and for them to “buy Texas” so to speak (meaning buy as much food as possible from Texas.) I would also like to see a much stronger focus on the nutrition education aspect of the Program.

T: What is your position on the ongoing efforts to improve water conservation in the State?
KK: I support the EPA’s plan on wetlands conservation (unlike the Republican Party) as this will ensure water for Central and West Texas, as the saying goes, “we all live down stream.”

Although many on the conservative side say that there land rights are being impeded as they own everything under their property, I find that does not make sense. For example the aquifer that waters the cotton where I live starts in Colorado, so using that logic, if the 1st person who owns land at the upper end of the aquifer wants to use all that water and leave nothing for downstream that would be OK under the Republican theory. Many cities have water conservation in place such as watering lawns only during late evening to early morning, which I believe should be statewide. I also support the Environment Texas legislative agenda (hyper linked) which has many real specific ideas. I also oppose hydraulic fracking as it both drains out water and pollutes our water.

T: What do you think the role of the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture should be?
KK: As this Department has 10 divisions, this is a multi-role Executive Branch position. The Commissioner’s role should include promoting what I would like to see as a “buy Texas” program as the Commissioner should be promoting buying Texas Agriculture products for economic development. The Commissioner also should ensure that the entire Dept (and should set the example) is fairly ensuring consumer protection in all weights and measures (such as gas pumps.) Current employees tell me this is not being done fairly depending on the size of the company! I will not list all 10 areas, but in Summary the Commissioner should be promoting Texas business, ensuring consumer protections, and leading Dept. employees to ensure the laws are enforced ethically.

T: What is one thing that you would continue over from Commissioner Todd Staples’ administration? What is one thing you would not or change?
KK: I believe the author meant for the 2nd part of the question to be what is the one thing you would not change? I disagree with Mr. Staples on many things, but I do like his Go Texan marketing program and would like to enhance or continue that marketing strategy.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
KK: Well when it comes to Mr. Hogan, who knows? He has said very little to nothing and made a mockery of the office. Mr. Miller is talking about issues that have nothing to do with TDA. For example on his web site he proclaims “Fighting for families and religious freedoms Sid Miller cut $64 million dollars from Planned Parenthood and passed the Sonogram Bill. He also list “Protecting our 2nd amendment rights an avid rancher and hunter, Sid Miller believes in the Constitutional right to bear arms.” It does not matter if you agree or disagree with these issues; they have nothing to do with being AG Commissioner. I do not know if it is because he is seeking higher office, or if it is that Mr. Miller just wants to avoid dealing with the issues that are pertinent to the office. Why me? Unlike all my opponents, I do not own any business that would benefit me personally when elected (such as being a rancher,) Of course someone who owns a business wants to be the one in charge of the laws that over see that business. I am not a career Politian, I am known for my integrity as a Whistle Blower, and I will bring strong ethical values back to the office, and will not have any conflict of interest that would cloud my judgment as the Commissioner has to balance economic development with consumer protection. I am the only candidate talking about multiple issues that are relevant to the office. I also worked for the TX. Dept of Human Services for 8 year, working my way up to Assistant to the Program Manager. I have a better understanding on how to run a State agency than my opposition. I have also worked as a Pest Control Tech. and a Food Testing lab, areas my opposition is not as familiar with. It is one thing to own your own ranch, it is much different to head an executive branch agency.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
KK: 1) Food Safety – I want Texas to be known as the safest place for producers to buy from thus not only keeping people safe, but also increasing our economic viability.

2) Corporate Accountability- After Blowing the Whistle on Peanut Corp of America, it was discovered that 355 facilities had never registered with the Dept of Health, thus breaking the law, none were fined. All Agencies must work together to ensure this does not happen again (Peanut Corp had TX Dept of Ag Organic Certification, but was not even Registered with the Texas Dept. of Health. Had the Dept. of Ag had done its job properly on any one of its three inspections, lives would have been saved. Here is a Hyperlink to the Story.

3) Finding, stopping, and referring for prosecution those that commit fraud waste and abuse in both Government and Corporate settings. Employees will have an open door straight to me on that issue, and I have already heard plenty of employees tell me, in confidence, that these problems exist. As far as what I have done. Since being known as a Whistle Blower I have traveled the country with the Government Accountability Project speaking at Universities on Ethics and Whistle Blowing all over the country. I have tried to keep the public up to date via social media on food recalls, and worked closely with the FDA to ensure Peanut Corp of America went to trial.

Romney 2016?

About two months ago, I wrote a featured five-part series about the 2016 Presidential election, specifically all of the politicians (Democrat and Republican) who have been discussed as prospective presidential candidates. (If you don’t want to navigate through five different articles, I have abridged the entire thing onto one post here). I pointedly only considered candidates who had openly discussed the prospect of running for President, and not those who have unequivocally ruled it out of the picture or remained silent. Among those individuals was Mitt Romney. I wrote, back in July, that “There is still an active draft movement for Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts and the Republican Presidential nominee in 2012,” but no more. I kept my comments rather concise because, hitherto that article, Romney had been quite adamant with his intention to not run for President again. Romney, of course, was the Governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, and then ran for President twice, in 2008 and 2012.

Last week, POLITICO reported that Romney’s tone had changed, ever so slightly, on his future Presidential prospects. The previous rhetoric regarding the future had changed from “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no” to “circumstances can change.” That’s a big change, and it’s the milquetoast, political way of telling the world you have somewhat changed your mind on the matter.

A few days later, POLITICO also reported on a Gallup poll out of Iowa that shows Romney decisively leading the pack for the 2016 Republican Iowa Caucuses. Romney received 35% of the vote in the survey, whereas the next-highest recipient was Undecided with 10% (number three was Mike Huckabee with 9%). When Romney was omitted from the survey, Undecided hops up to 17%, and Huckabee leads the humans with a pitiful 13%. Needless to say, Romney sure looks a panacea for Republican primary voters.

And, irrespective of one’s political orientation, you would be hard-pressed to not admit some of his comments in the 2012 election were rather prophetic. Specifically on the topic of foreign policy, what was once ridiculed as absurd conjecture on the instability of Iraq and the nefariousness of Russia, Romney has largely been vindicated.

That all being said, I’m not so sure that –even if he were interested– Romney would be an ideal candidate for the Republicans in 2016. While many polls have, indeed, shown that the American people have some buyer’s remorse vis-a-vis Romney and Obama in 2012, the same polls still show that Romney would not outdo Hillary Clinton in a 2016 match-up.

Let me be clear, speaking purely objectively, Romney would be a terrible choice for the Republicans in 2016. He lost last time not because he was outgunned by a superior candidate, but because he was such a lousy one himself. He lost an election against a vulnerable incumbent in a bad economy. The reason why was quite simple: he offended the American people by espousing extreme political positions and repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth. There is no reason to think he will not do the same thing once more.

Bush the environmental realist?

The Texas Tribune published a fairly detailed interview with George P. Bush, the Republican candidate for Land Commissioner, yesterday. Most notable among its lengthy contents was that he had a rather pragmatic take on environmental issues, at least in comparison with his compatriots. Bush, of course, is the son of former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) and the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush (ergo, the nephew of George W. Bush).

Among the many examples of his perceived moderation on these issues is that he admits global warming is occurring, though the Tribune pointedly notes that he stops short of attributing it to humans. However, perhaps more importantly, Bush does note that something needs to be done about global warming and the deleterious effects it will have around the world, specifically in Texas. He laments the coming rise of the sea level, claiming it is something that “keeps him up at night.” This is a very different line of reason from most other Republicans who concede global warming occurs but still claim man does not affect it. Those arguments typically make a point of saying that people cannot do anything to affect global warming, so we need not alter our environmental policies.

Furthermore, Bush countered some of his colleagues by stating that he would not want to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, though he definitely strongly disagrees with most of their recent mandates. I, for one, am not impressed by this concession. Is it supposed to be impressive? Rick Perry claimed the EPA need not be abolished in the midst of his epic debate failure a few years back.

However, Bush appeared content –even tepidly supportive– with the reality that the EPA and other major players are trying to transition the consumption of energy away from fossil fuels such as coal, and onto cleaner sources such as natural gas, before moving onto full renewable sources.

In the full interview –which you can read here– Bush went on at length about how it is a good thing to wean the State off of oil (yeah, you read that right) and mitigate emissions of carbon dioxide. He even spoke quite favorably of Garry Mauro, a Democrat who was Land Commissioner for the four terms between 1983 and 1999, for similar initiatives. Mauro, for his part, said he was “shocked” upon learning of the compliments and the pragmatism.

Obviously, Bush’s views on many environmental topics, namely a support of increased fracking, are dangerous and short-sighted. But the shift to a more reality-based approach on these issues is very, very good news. Anyone with a half a brain can tell that Bush has ambitions for higher office, namely Governor either four or eight years down the line. In my opinion, Texas will be a swing state by then, so for the Republicans to nominate a partisan zealot at that time would be exceedingly unwise.

Historical conservatism, the type Bush’s great-grandfather (Prescott Bush) who served as a Senator from Connecticut subscribed to, was actually quite receptive to environmental issues. A terrific profile in The Atlantic recently explored this idea, noting how “Earth Day” was once derided by left-wing groups such as SDS as a type of elitism. Hopefully, attention to the earth could one day be restored to the GOP.

Additionally, I sincerely hope that otherwise liberal individuals, much like myself, do not continue griping at Bush about him not coming “far enough” on the issue. Make no mistake, any progress on this issue from Republicans is a good thing, and should rightly be celebrated. Hopefully we’ll be celebrating for many years to come…right from our beachfront properties in downtown Houston.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Sam Houston

Editorial note: This is the ninth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

Sam Houston, Democratic candidate for Attorney General

Texpatriate: What is your name?
SH: Sam Houston

T: What office are you seeking?
SH: Attorney General

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
SH:
N/A

T: What is your political party?
SH: Democratic Party

T: What do you think of the effectiveness of suing the Federal Government? Is this a good or a bad thing in your opinion?
SH: The job of the Attorney General is to represent the people of Texas and to uphold the state constitution. I will vigorously defend our people and laws but sometimes a lawsuit is not the best solution.  Too many of these lawsuits drag on for months and years with no resolution in sight and are a drain on the Attorney General staff’s time and taxpayer dollars. I will work effectively to resolve issues, filing lawsuits only when necessary to protect the interests of the state of Texas.

T: How would you effectively go after deadbeat parents and other violators of Child Support laws in an efficient manner?
SH: While it is important to pursue Child Support violators, it is critical that we focus time and resources on getting the child support paid as well as punishing the violators.

T: What do you think the role of the Attorney General should be?
SH: The role of the Attorney General is to represent the people of Texas and to uphold the state constitution. The AG must have the trust of the people and should conduct all business in a transparent manner.  The AG should not use the office to protect members of a political party or to promote a political philosophy.  The AG must serve all the people, not just those of his/her political party.

T: What is one thing that you would continue over from General Greg Abbott’s administration? What is one thing you would not or change?
SH: One thing I would change is the AG’s ruling allowing the state Health Department to keep secret information about the storage of dangerous chemicals. That opinion is wrong. This information on chemicals stored at corporate facilities has been available for decades under state and federal law. I will act to put the safety of our families and children first and require that the state provide that information.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
SH: I have 26 years as a partner in my own firm, Shepherd, Scott, Clawater & Houston.  I am an accomplished attorney and have ethically represented clients for years.  I have traveled across the state, visiting with Texans in large cities and small towns.  I have spoken to reporters, editors and editorial boards and will continue to do so for the duration of this campaign. My opponent Ken Paxton recently accepted a $1,000 fine for a violation from the Texas State Securities Board for selling securities for a firm without properly registering with the state, which is a felony. A complaint about this securities violation has been filed against Paxton with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office by a watchdog group.  Another watchdog group has filed a grievance against Paxton with the Texas State Bar, saying Paxton broke four ethics rules on conflict of interest. The Texas Attorney General must have the trust of the public.   The AG also must be transparent in all his efforts. Paxton has refused to speak to the media and answer questions about his ethics and possible criminal violations for more than four months.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
SH: The single most important issue in the race for Attorney General is the issue of trust and integrity.  As Attorney General, I will come to work every day and apply Texas values to meet the challenges of our great state.  I pledge to the people of Texas to be an Attorney General they can trust — an Attorney General with professional integrity.

What’s next for HB2?

The Texas Tribune reported, last Friday, that HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill famously filibustered by State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County) (who is now the Democratic gubernatorial candidate), has been struck down once more by a Federal Judge. This is somewhat old news, so I want to deal with a few pieces of the puzzle that have not been adequately covered by the mainstream press.

First, this news should ideally sound like deja vu if you have been paying attention. About 10 months ago, the same Federal Judge out of Austin –Judge Lee Yeakel (a George W. Bush nominee)– struck down other parts of the law. That ruling has since been reversed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, otherwise known as the Federal Appellate Court with jurisdiction over Texas. The most recent action in that case was a request by the law’s opponents for the entire Court, as opposed to a three-Judge panel, to consider the case. This was filed back in April, and is the most recent action taken on the case.

Accordingly, one may be confused as to how two concurrent lawsuits can be going forth on the same law. I’m glad you asked! The law was divided up into four separate provisions. The first and second provisions require inducing drugs to be taken at a clinic and require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, respectively. They took effect on September 1st of last year, and were challenged in the lawsuit from last year. The third provision, which would not have gone into effect until tomorrow, requires all clinics to adhere to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, universally considered among pertinent professionals to be a wholly unnecessary regulation designed to drive clinics out of business. And, by all counts, it would have been.

The ASC requirement was the one challenged –and ruled unconstitutional– in the most recent court case. The fourth provision, which went into effect last year and bans abortion past the twentieth week, was never challenged.

Now, as long as we’re being realistic, it should be noted that this ruling will likely be stayed by the Fifth Circuit, much the way the previous one was. At some point in the future, the Fifth Circuit will fully overturn it. A little further down the line from that, the Supreme Court will step in, and likely consolidate the two cases, then make a ruling. It’s really anyone’s guess at that point.

As I have stated in the past, if the Supreme Court were to truly examine all the pertinent precedent in this case, the law would indubitably be going down in flames. But that simply is not a given anymore.

Abbott’s bad weekend

Perhaps this is old news by now, but on Friday the Houston Chronicle reported that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, would be pulling out of one of two scheduled debates for the gubernatorial election, and the only televised one. Immediately, he was castigated by the usual suspects, prime among them State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. He also received some derision from Libertarians as well.

The debate was scheduled for September 30th at WFAA, the ABC affiliate in Dallas. However, after criticism from around the State, Abbott reversed course. In a somewhat cringeworthy about-face, Abbott announced he had accepted a nearly identical offer to participate in a televised debate on the same date at KERA, the NBC PBS affiliate in Dallas. A separate debate, schedule for September 19th in Edinburg, has always remained on the table.

Ostensibly, the excuse given by the Abbott campaign was that he had some anonymous concern with formatting. A weak excuse, by any stretch. Rightly so, as I just mentioned, he was bombarded by criticism from both the left and the right (granted, with more cacophonous critiques coming from the former). The 2010 gubernatorial campaign between Rick Perry and Bill White was arguably best defined by Perry setting the terms of the entire process. Perry came up with some exceedingly lame excuse to not debate White (and now, of course, the entire country knows why), and the entire State’s political intelligentsia (not to mention its at times obsequious-to-Perry press corps) did not bat an eye. Granted, there is something worse about chickening out after making a commitment, but at its core, Abbott committed the very same transgression. Except –and rightly so– he was almost universally chastised for this action.

This leads me to the bombshell that was opened up this morning on the front page of The Dallas Morning News. The report sheds light on a perilous raid that Abbott’s office ordered about four years ago for a group called “Houston Votes.” Accused of “voter fraud,” which the astute will recall just does not exist in meaningful numbers in Texas, Abbott’s office directed a SWAT team to burst into the offices of the group, heavily armed with guns drawn, for a raid to uncover any evidence of voter fraud. They didn’t find any, but they did succeed in destroying the organization. Abbott himself, for his part, claims total ignorance of the entire action. I suppose you could call that “Pulling a Reagan.”

The Morning News article then goes out of its way for a long discussion on the background of the issue. They discuss how immense pressure was first put on Abbott’s office to investigate by a Tea Party group called the “King Street Patriots.” They have, sadly to say, historically been a hothead of racial animus, and this controversy has proved to be no exception. The article notes reports from the KSP meetings that attempted to improperly tie Houston Votes with both ACORN and the New Black Panther Party, despite absolutely no evidence that any of the three were interconnected. Specifically in Houston, right-wing bashing of the New Black Panther Party is typically used as a catch-all dog whistle for blatant racism.

The full account provides some really fantastic background, and I cannot recommend enough reading the entire article; at this point, it’s all free online. But, in my opinion, this tidbit is particularly more troubling than the debate reversal. The connotation revealed is not necessarily anything that the well-read political class did not already know, but it is a good thing that the media can state once more unequivocally that Abbott is wholly beholden to Tea Party interests, many of whom are not –shall we say– “kosher” in their intentions.

At its core, in my humble opinion, groups such as the KSP are uncomfortable with Black people voting and becoming part of the civic process. This is the same group that sent “poll watchers” to minority neighborhoods, ostensibly in an effort to maintain the “integrity of the process,” but realistically as a way to intimidate prospective participants using Klan-era tactics.

The two options here are that either Abbott knowingly spearheaded this cluster of epic proportions (and then lied about it), or that he was asleep at the wheel. In both instances, be it negligence or malice, grave doubts should be installed in any voter of this man’s capability to be a lawful and effective Governor.

Brains & Eggs has more.