Straus annihilates Turner

The Texas Tribune reports that House Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County) has been re-elected, as expected, to a rare fourth term as speaker. He annihilated his competition, embodied in State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County), by unbelievably lopsided margins. The final tally was 127 for the speaker, 19 for Turner (two absences and two vacancies). While Straus, yet again, received the unanimous support of Democrats, there were 76 votes in the Republican column alone for him. This means that, contrary to the misleading claims made by Straus’ detractors, he did not require bipartisan support for his election.

Turner could obviously tell that his quest for the speakership was quixotic at best and delusional at worst as early as November. But unlike the other speaker challenges, which were abandoned before January, Turner soldiered on for very different reasons. He never expected to actually win the gavel (at least I hope not). The entire point of the challenge was to force a record vote for speaker, something that has not been done since the 1970s. Right-wing groups, such as the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Empower Texans, have pledged to recruit primary challengers for all the Straus loyalists. We’ll see how that works out, but color me skeptical.

Thanks to Empower Texans, we have a roll call of all nineteen of the Turner loyalists. State Representatives Dawnna Dukes (D-Travis County) and Tom Craddick (R-Midland County) were the two absences. While Dukes has intimated that she would have supported Straus, Craddick — a former Speaker who was deposed by Straus in 2009 — is tougher to pin down.

State Representatives Rodney Anderson (R-Dallas County), Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock County), Pat Fallon (R-Denton County), Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County), Mark Keough (R-Montgomery County), Stephanie Klick (R-Tarrant County), Matt Krause (R-Tarrant County), Jeff Leach (R-Collin County), Matt Rinaldi (R-Dallas County), Scott Sanford (R-Collin County), Matt Schaefer (R-Smith County), Matt Shaheen (R-Collin County), David Simpson (R-Gregg County), Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman County), Jonathan Stickland (R-Tarrant County), Tony Tinderholt (R-Tarrant County), Molly White (R-Bell County) and Bill Zedler (R-Tarrant County) all supported Turner.

Interestingly enough, Turner — a native son of the DFW Metroplex — garnered a significant chunk of the delegation from up there, but only one representative from Greater Houston and zero from both the San Antonio and Austin areas, respectively.

The House is still Straus’ fiefdom, that much is no longer up for debate. The question is what type of lower house he will command over the next 140+ days. Texas Monthly just published a lengthy interview with Straus, and I strongly urge you to check it out. Most pressingly, he appeared strangely tepid on Greg Abbott’s prospects as Governor. This led Breitbart Texas to explode and publish a real hit piece against Straus. Trouble in paradise already, evidently.

Catching up, Part III

Last week, we saw the brief rise and spectacular fall of the self-aggrandizing Texan believing their own delusions of grandeur. Specifically, I’m talking about Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), a Tea Party favorite who launched a last-minute challenge to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the two term incumbent. Gohmert, when all was said and done, received two other votes: Congressmen Randy Weber (R-Texas) and Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma). A grand total of 25 Republicans defected from team Boehner, allowing the speaker to still be easily re-elected.

The total shellacking of the right-wing by establishment Republicans lead Ross Ramsey at the Texas Tribune to openly wonder if it was a harbinger of things to come for the quixotic race to topple State House Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County). State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County), a Tea Party favorite, is challenging Straus for the gavel but will likely only garner two dozen votes or fewer.

Meanwhile, a great deal of attention has been placed upon the prospective 2016 Presidential candidates. Former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) have already taken official steps toward running, making a mainstream victory in the Iowa Caucuses highly unlikely. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and the party’s 2012 nominee, has begun assembling a new campaign team. The Washington Post reports he is “almost certain” to run for president once more. This coming the same day that Romney’s running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), announced he would not run himself.

On the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) continues making cacophonous rabble, but has done little to put together a real campaign. Grassroots activists continue pining for Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), no matter how many times she says, in no uncertain terms, that she will not run. That contest still looks like Hillary Clinton’s to win, lose or draw…almost certainly to win.

Catching up, Part II

When it comes to state politics, if something feels different in the last couple of days, it is because things have — indeed — changed. A new crop of officeholders have taken office, namely Attorney General Ken Paxton, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton and a few new members of the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. In the next week, Governor-elect Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick, respectively, will assume their offices at the top.

Despite not yet taking office, both men have already staked out positions both toward the far-right and toward the middle (leaning a little more to the former option). First, as the San Antonio Express-News reports, Abbott went on the offensive earlier this week on what he called the “Californization” (Californication?) of Texas. Specifically, he took issue with municipal bans on tree-cutting, plastic bags and fracking.

Evidently, Abbott finds municipal bans on cutting down large trees uniquely objectionable, and he openly compared the practice to “collectivism.” He similarly fumed over municipal bans on single-use plastic bags, enacted in cities such as Austin and Laredo. The bag bans have particularly drawn the ire of legislators and politicos since they must spend so much time in the state capital. Finally, Abbott took a firm stance against Denton’s recent referendum to ban fracking within its city limits. Since the enactment of the ban in November, numerous legislators have filed bills to prohibit such bans statewide, and Abbott now looks amenable to signing such a bill.

All this being said, perhaps there is something to be said for Abbott having at least one pragmatic side in office. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an editorial examining if Abbott is coming around on medicaid expansion. The statewide sentiment has recently turned against the opponents, but I’d still say true expansion is a longshot. Back in November, I opined in The Daily Texan that this was a possibility nonetheless, well before anyone else did.

Moving onto Dan Patrick, he recently outlined his legislative priorities in a series of interviews. The Texas Observer reports that Patrick would be fighting for an ambitious conservative agenda while in office. The topics outlined were garden variety right-wing ideas involving tax cuts, immigration and school privatization, but a few novel specifics stood out. Among them was a proposal to rescind state funding for the Public Integrity Unit within the Travis County District Attorney’s office. The PIU, always overseen by a Democratic DA hailing from Austin, is typically a thorn in the side of prominent Republican officeholder, be it former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, former Congressman Tom DeLay or Governor Rick Perry.

The Texas Tribune also looks at Patrick’s historically animosity toward the Senate’s 2/3rds rule. For those of you playing at home, the 2/3rds rule is an anachronism for the chamber stemming back to when it was comprised exclusively of Democrats. It requires the votes of 21/31 senators to advance any particular piece of legislation during the regular session. Patrick will likely get the needed votes to lower that threshold to 19 votes, conveniently just below the 20 Republican votes in the upper chamber.

However, as the Brownsville Herald reports, Patrick could have at least something of a mind toward bipartisanship. State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-Hidalgo County) has been selected as the President Pro Tempore of the chamber, meaning he would serve as the President of the Senate in the lieutenant governor’s absence.

Last but not least, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has dedicated his first official act in office to implementing so-called “cupcake amnesty.” About a decade ago, the Department of Agriculture (which has power over school lunches) opined against parents packing cupcakes and other sugary foods in their children’s lunches. The policy was quietly reversed last year, and now Miller is wishing to publicize the change. Miller also noted that he has set his sights on removing restrictions on sodas and fries.

“We’ve been raising big, strapping healthy young kids here in Texas for nearly 200 years and we don’t need Washington, D.C. telling us how to do it,” Miller said.

Glossing over the obvious problems with that statement, Miller made a lot of sense when he noted that local control should be trumpeted in these cases. Sadly, it seems that local control is not respected unless it is convenient for Republicans, as Abbott has clearly shown.

Catching up, Part I

In the last week, no shortage of big news has transpired down at City Hall. Coincidentally, I was down there three or four days of the past week, but mostly heard the big news secondhand. Perhaps most importantly, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Mayor Annise Parker has officially nominated her new City Attorney to replace David Feldman, who announced his resignation last month. The nominee is Donna Edmundson, who — if confirmed — would become the first woman to take the city’s top legal job. She has a lengthy and impressive career on the fourth floor, working there for nearly thirty years (straight out of law school).

Among Edmundson’s accomplishments in the past have been working tirelessly against gangs in high-risk neighborhoods, as well as being instrumental in reaching the 2013 deal between Parker and the strip club cabal. Needless to say, the City Attorney’s office will be in capable hands with Edmundson.

The announcement largely took the political community by surprise, as Edmundson was undoubtedly an under-the-radar pick. Many had expected either Lynette Fons, the First Assistant City Attorney, or Steven Kirkland, a Municipal Judge and former Civil District Judge, to be selected.

Standing besides Parker at the press conference that unveiled Edmundson’s selection were City Councilmembers Dwight Boykins (D-District D) and Jack Christie (R-At Large 5), respectively, who both voiced their support of the nomination. The bipartisan support is expected to continue, and Edmundson could easily be confirmed unanimously. The timing is somewhat important, as Feldman — whose last year in office was rocked over the controversial non-discrimination ordinance — is planning on testifying in the upcoming NDO trial.

For those unfamiliar, the NDO prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and a plethora of other demographics in employment (15+ employees) and places of public accommodation. Most of those categories (the notable exceptions being sexual orientation and gender identity) are already protected by state and federal regulations, but this ordinance makes legal options considerably easier/cheaper. Obviously, the protections for the LGBT community garnered those same trite homophobic reactions and blowback, although the Parker administration did foul up the roll-out of the ordinance. I contend that some of the ordinance’s strongest critics, such as Councilmember Michael Kubosh, could have been amenable to supporting the bill if Parker had not been so confrontational and divisive about the whole matter.

Anyways, opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on this topic, but the City Attorney’s office — going around City Secretary Anna Russell, who had certified the petitions — disqualified most of the signatures. Off the court the whole thing went, which brings us to the present.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the trial over these petition certifications will occur on January 20th in the court of Civil District Judge Robert Schaffer, a Democrat. This past week, arguments took place regarding whether or not the case should be a jury trial or a bench trial (decided by the Judge). At the City Council meeting on Wednesday, some members of the Council weighed in on the matter. Kubosh believed that the will of the people should be respected and, as such, a jury trial should be sought. City Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4), who is both an attorney and a supporter of the NDO, agreed that a jury trial would be ideal.

I tend to agree with their sentiment, but think that at the end of the day this is a legal and not a political issue. Schaffer is a very good judge, who checks his politics at the door. I think whatever decision he comes to will be a well-reasoned one.

Speaking of lawsuits, Friday hosted some other big news in municipal politics. Theodore Schleifer at the Houston Chronicle reports that a Federal Judge, Sim Lake (a Reagan nominee), has placed a preliminary injunction on Houston’s municipal fundraising rules, which disallow candidates from raising money before February 1st. Since nothing is expected to change in the next three weeks, the floodgates have officially opened for mayoral and council candidates to begin raising money.

Schliefer, in a subsequent Chronicle post, described the stampede of fundraising that is already abound and how, if the law is definitively declared unconstitutional later this year, it will change the dynamics of local politics. Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit will be heard tomorrow, initiated by former Congressman Chris Bell, a likely mayoral candidate. Bell, as I noted a few months back, has sued Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), another mayoral candidate, arguing that he violated the spirit of municipal regulations last year when he raised money for an all-but-obsolete legislative account, then later plans to dump all the money into a mayoral account.

As I said back then and still believe, the local campaign finance regulations tend to do more harm than good. But it will be interesting, to say the least, seeing how it will affect the mayoral candidate on the horizon.

What’s next for Texas Democrats?

A day after the 2014 election, when Democrats all across this country suffered what could generously be described as a shellacking, this publication ran a cover article with the headline “TEXAS WILL NEVER TURN BLUE.” Three months on, as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick stand ready to assume the offices of governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, that sentiment looks true as ever. State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, wishes to abandon the legislature and flee into municipal politics, specifically by attempting to become the next mayor of San Antonio (directly contradicting herself from July). Will Hailer, the longtime executive director of the Texas Democratic Party who was heralded as a prophet to lead them into the promised land, just left Texas. And then there’s Battleground Texas. Oh, Battleground Texas.

In February 2013, a gaggle of former Obama campaign staffers came together to create the organization, which promised to hastily turn Texas blue. Obviously, that was a bit of a stretch, but the idea nonetheless was that they would expedite the progress already underway to make the state politically competitive. Whatever they did, it didn’t work. Actually, that’s a gross understatement; they actively made things significantly worse.

Accordingly, when I saw the article in the Texas Observer entitled “Does Battleground Texas have a future?,” all I could think was “oh my gosh, I sure hope not.” Whatever they did in this election cycle, which is still a matter of open debate, was deleterious and had a net negative effect.

Before I get into this, there is an obligatory disclosure. There were countless people, from the top to the bottom of that organization, who undobutebly did yeoman’s work. Be that spending their whole days volunteering or making numerous sacrifices, there were hundreds — some of which I personally know — who put in a great deal of work striving toward, what I believe was, an honorable cause. But none of that discounts the fact that the strategy employed by Battleground Texas was indisputably awful.

As the Observer article delineates (I highly recommend reading it), Battleground Texas siphoned money away from other deserving beneficiaries, namely the Texas Democratic Party, and appears to have squandered it. Their top-down approach, with its over-reliance on rosy numbers and optimistic prognostications, is eerily reminiscent of the Chinese Communist Party’s bureaucratic management during the Great Leap Forward. Of course, I’m not trying to flippantly make light of a famine by comparing it to a tougher-than-expected loss suffered by Texas Democrats, but the principle is the same. These tactics lead to dishonesty and spin until some type of cataclysm unveiled the truth.

I noted, ahead of the election, that if Wendy Davis, who the Democrats nominated for governor, did not crack 40%, then Battleground Texas would disappear, merely becoming a lamentation of drunken staffers at Capitol Hill bars. Well, Davis didn’t crack 40 percent (she didn’t even make it to 39), and yet Battleground Texas is still here. I suppose it will limp along into the future for perhaps another year or two, but if it is ever taken seriously again, that would be a profound mistake.

With all that pleasantness out of the way, the underlying question pegged in the headline still remains: what should Texas Democrats do? To put it evocatively, give up. Wave the white flag. Forget about competing at a statewide level because, in most of the political class’ lifetimes, it simply will not happen. Rather, instead of humoring the delusions of grandeur within the Austin elite, the concerted effort among progressives in this state should be on grassroots building at the local levels. Specifically, this means turning Bexar (San Antonio), Harris (Houston) and Nueces (Corpus Christi) counties blue. The cornerstone of that is finding suitable candidates to run for all the open offices and then supporting them with money. Battleground Texas actively took money away from these local efforts, especially here in Harris County. Why didn’t they held the overworked and underfunded Harris County Democratic Party fill all the judicial offices?

As an aside, what should be next for Wendy Davis? A few days ago, The Dallas Morning News reported that her big flop back in February to support open carry was just a total lie that she fabricated in a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to curry favor from the pro-gun crowd in the election.  Still, as the Houston Chronicle reported, Davis intends to run for office in the future. Personally, my reaction is “thanks but no thanks.”

Davis has always struck me as a dedicated and effective public servant, but the truth is that she makes a lousy politician. She isn’t articulate, she isn’t especially charismatic in front of cameras and she doesn’t think on her feet very well or quickly. Sound bites are anathema to her, and debates are even worse. Worst of all, she appears to have been ordered around by misguided campaign staff, leading to a ship sailing along with anyone competent at the helm for much of 2014. But all of that pales in comparison to what makes Davis an atrocious future pick: she lost bad. Davis will always indelibly be linked to that 20-point whooping, and it will not do the Democrats any favors. They need to move on.

And they also need to move on from statewide politics, for the time being. Breitbart Texas recently accused the Democrats of “abandoning” said politics while “retreating” to municipalities. It evoked strong reactions from the usual suspects. But perhaps it isn’t that bad of an idea.

No matter how many marathons you participate in, if you only run marathons, you won’t ever do all that well. You have to start small, running shorter distances, and only moving on when you have mastered those simpler tasks. Texas Democrats need to do the same thing.

Kubosh for Congress?

kubosh

Texpatriate reports that a concerted effort has begun to draft City Councilmember Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3) into running for congress, specifically within the 7th District. Kubosh would challenge the incumbent congressman, John Culberson, in the Republican primary, if he were to run. Kubosh’s office did not immediately return a request for comment, but sources close to the councilmember confirmed that he is intently thinking over the decision to run and he has specifically not ruled it out.

Granted, the 2016 primary is still more than a year away, and a whole lot can happen between now and then. But Kubosh would instantaneously have the superb name recognition needed to run a credible campaign against Culberson, who is not exactly a sterling representative of his constituents.

Culberson, a former state representative first elected to congress in 1998, is an astonishingly lightweight politician. In most sessions, he introduces only a handful of pieces of legislation (sometimes none at all) and does little to nothing to see those bills through the process. His sole claim to fame is grandstanding against the proposed Richmond Avenue light rail line, which he has successfully blocked through bullying, intimidation and dirty tactics for many years. Even though the area in question is no longer in his district (it is in Congressman Ted Poe’s), he has gone to possibly unconstitutional lengths to deny federal funds for light rail expansion. He has also, more recently, set his sights on blocking a bus rapid transit line on Post Oak Road in Uptown.

Ostensibly, this is because of a dedication to property rights. But in literally any other instance, Culberson is a lousy defender of the people against claims of eminent domain, namely when the Katy Freeway was recently expanded. It is obvious he sheds crocodile tears on this issue. Sources close to Kubosh, on the other hand, intimate that he would be more amenable to light rail expansion, much like Poe.

All this is to say that Kubosh would be a remarkable improvement just as a result of not being the incumbent. But since taking office on council in January, Kubosh has served in his own right as an effective and well-intentioned officeholder. Whether or not you agree with him on specific issues, his dedication to the job is nearly unmatched among his colleagues.I have, overall, been a big fan of his tenure and would be most excited to see him run for congress.

A bail bondsman by trade, Kubosh first got his start in politics by organizing the successful referendum effort against red-light cameras. He later lead the charge against an asinine ordinance that criminalized feeding the homeless on public property. Historically associated with Republican causes, many within the political establishment feared that he would be a right-wing rabble-rouser on the council. However, his tenure has proven to be anything but, as he has become a steady, compassionate and articulate voice on the council.

I’d like to see Kubosh in Washington. But, given the choice between Kubosh and Culberson, I’ll pull out all the stops to retire the incumbent congressman.

Laurie Robinson to run for AL4

Texpatriate reports that Laurie Robinson, a local businesswoman, will run for the Houston City Council next year. Specifically, as Houston Chronicle reported Theodore Schleifer reported on Twitter, she will seek out At-Large Position #4. The seat is currently held by Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4), who is term limited. The seat, which was previously held by now-Controller Ronald Green, has historically been held by an African-American officeholder, and this recent history has been noted repeatedly in recent weeks as a plethora of Caucasian candidates have stampeded into At-Large Position #1 and only that position, the other open seat.

A number of other names have popped up for this seat in conversations taking place behind closed doors, but none with enough certainty to be written in ink. Thus far, as noted above, most activity has taken place around Position #1, currently held by the term limited Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), a likely mayoral candidate. As I noted in the article I linked above, Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis will run for the post, as will Jenifer Pool, Philippe Nassif, Trebor Gordon and Griff Griffin. All except Nassif have run for office a few times (Griffin in particular about a dozen times).

Robinson, for her part, is no political novice. Most notably, she ran for At-Large Position #5 in 2011 against both the incumbent, Jolanda Jones, and the eventual successor, Jack Christie. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of either, so Robinson was naturally my favorite candidate in that race. Now, I was 17 at the time of that election, but if I were of age, I would undoubtedly have voted for her. More recently, many attempted to recruit her to run for council in 2013, but she declined to do so at that time.

Speaking of Christie, that is the At-Large Position (No. 5) I have been the most curious about. A two-term incumbent, Christie is eligible to run for re-election once more, but he has been telling many throughout the city that he has opted to run for mayor instead. This would make the position open. Much like AL4, quite a few names have been tossed around for this post, from community leaders to newcomers to my own father (to my knowledge, he’s not considering it; though unlike George P. Bush, I would wholeheartedly endorse my dad if he chose to run), but none on the record. I have contended that Christie may end up running for re-election anyways, but the filing deadline (August) is still a long ways off.

What have you, readers? I won’t humor rumors in my post, but I’m not necessarily averse to seeing them in the comments section.