Patrick finalizes Senate committees

The Texas Tribune reports that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has finalized committee assignments in the senate for the 84th Legislature. Making good on two longstanding committees, Patrick both consolidated the number of committees and significantly reduced the number of Democratic chairs for those committees that remained. Three committees (Government Organization, Jurisprudence and Open Government) got the ax, and a further two committees (Economic Development and Natural Resources, respectively) were merged. This had the overall effect of slashing the total number of committees from 18 to 14.

All three folded committees had been chaired in the 83rd session by Democrats, as did a further three committees. Thus, 1/3rd of the committees had Democrats at the helm, roughly the proportion of the chamber controlled by the minority party. Patrick kept State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County), the dean of the chamber, in charge of the Criminal Justice Committee, a position he has held for many years. He also tapped State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Cameron County) as the chair of Intergovernmental Relations, a rather low-ranking post. Reportedly, this was an olive branch extended to the upper house’s most centrist Democrat. Lucio was the one Democrat this past week to vote for the elimination of the 2/3rds rule, as well as for the omnibus anti-abortion bill HB2 (the one Wendy Davis filibustered) in 2013.

Among other important picks and retentions was State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Potter County) staying on as the chairman of the Higher Education Committee. Seliger has been, according to the Tribune article, an “occasional critic” of the Lieutenant Governor. He also is especially pro-Bill Powers and anti-Wallace Hall, for what it’s worth. State Senators Robert Nichols (R-Cherokee County) and Kevin Eltife (R-Smith County), respectively, also retained their chairmanships (Transportation and Business & Commerce, respectively).

State Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita County), a two-time chair in the 83rd (Agriculture & Rural Affairs and State Affairs), was stripped of both titles. Harvey Kronberg at Quorum Report opined this could be because Estes was the sole Republican against the 2/3rds rule’s demise. Estes was replaced at Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs by State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock County), a freshman. I found it somewhat interesting and telling that the one freshman tapped was not a right-wing activist like State Senators Don Huffines (R-Dallas County), Konni Burton (R-Tarrant County) or Bob Hall (R-Van Zandt County), to name a few.

Finally, all eyes were on the Senate Education Committee, of which Patrick previously chaired when he served in the upper chamber. He selected State Senator Larry Taylor (R-Galveston County) as the replacement, which garnered a wide variety of responses. Breitbart Texas appears particularly stoked. Many observers prognosticate that Patrick — now flanked by Taylor — will pursue a wide variety of educational reforms, including a more extensive use of vouchers for charter and private schools.

Say what you want about Patrick, but his first few days in office have featured nothing but him staying true on his word. Unfortunately, that means he was not bluffing on the campaign trail about implementing a very conservative agenda if sent to high office.

This is just a preview of things to come. Patrick is looking more and more like a boisterous and powerful lieutenant governor (the anti-Dewhurst, if you will). Meanwhile, Abbott looks as though he may not continue Perry’s mega-powerful theme. Texas politics may very well regress back to the mean, with a more powerful lieutenant governor and a less powerful governor. Still, don’t be surprised if Patrick runs for governor (and wins) in 2018.

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San Antonio mayoral update

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As the astute will recall, Julian Castro, the longtime Mayor of San Antonio, left his post over the summer in order to become the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Washington. The San Antonio City Council settled on Ivy Taylor, one of their own, to serve as the interim Mayor until the next regularly scheduled general election in May 2015. One of the reasons for her appointment was that she strongly hinted that she would not run herself next year. This has prompted a wide open field for those interested to take the helm at the country’s seventh biggest city.

If you are left wondering exactly what relevance this has to state politics, the growing list of prospective candidates should clear things up. In addition to a couple of incumbent City Councilmembers, namely Ray Lopez and Ron Nirenberg, names with statewide followings have either already tossed their hats or are thinking intently about the subject.

First up, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County), who has been openly running for Mayor since the summer, announced today that he would be resigning his legislative seat shortly in order to fully focus on the election as well as allow Governor Rick Perry to call a special election as early as December. The Texas Tribune has the full story on that.

Not to be outdone, the San Antonio Express-News reports that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County) is now also seriously considering a mayoral bid. Back in July, when this subject first came up, she unequivocally denied the rumor. “Under no circumstance will I be running for Mayor of San Antonio,” she told the Express-News at the time. Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor who was handed a 19 point loss last Tuesday, appears to have now had a change of heart.

“Recently, many business and community leaders have asked me to play a new role in service to San Antonio, as Mayor,” Van de Putte tweeted. “I am humbled by their confidence and support. At this time, I am enjoying my family and praying for guidance.”

Van de Putte, the only statewide Democrat to carry Bexar County, is immensely popular in her hometown. If she chose to run, the contest would immediately be transformed into her race to lose. And while she wouldn’t necessarily have to resign her State Senate seat for the run, if it became apparent that she would likely be victorious, an expeditious resignation and succeeding special election would probably occur. Expect individuals such as Villarreal to seriously consider switching to the State Senate race in that case.

Now, I think Van de Putte would make a phenomenal Mayor. She would serve the people of San Antonio competently and courageously. But, selfishly, I desperately do not want her to run, and do not want her to leave the Legislature. Van de Putte, as the individual who went head-to-head with Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick, would be in a unique position to serve as a bombastic and effective Leader of the Opposition next session. Now that Wendy Davis, Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, will no longer be in the legislature, Van de Putte has the best name recognition of any Democratic State Legislator. If Democrats lose her too, they will be seriously lacking in the brain trust department.

Additionally, if the 2/3rds rule is preserved in any way, shape or form, the Democrats will only be able to use it if they stay completely unified. Van de Putte’s resignation would only leave 10 Democratic Senators, one short of the requisite third. Of course, Patrick will likely do away with this tradition altogether, making this worry a moot point.

Perhaps Van de Putte sees the writing on the wall. Conventional wisdom was that Van de Putte could perhaps run a competitive — even successful — statewide bid in 2018, but the shellacking that Texas Democrats experienced this cycle likely put those aspirations to bed. I’m sure some pundits more crass than myself will make a variation of the “rats jumping off a sinking ship” joke.

Make no mistake, the loss of Van de Putte from the State Senate would be a devastating blow for Democrats in the state; indeed, it would be debilitating for all those Texans not looking forward to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s reign of terror.

Castro confirmed by the US Senate

The San Antonio Express-News reports that Julian Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio, has been confirmed by the US Senate to serve as the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The Senate vote was overwhelming, 71-26, and Castro will take office upon his resignation from the Mayorship, which he has held since 2009. I wrote extensively on this topic back in May when President Barack Obama first nominated Castro for the post, and suffice it to say I was not really a fan of the move. But more on this later.

First things first, the obvious question is who will be the next Mayor of San Antonio? The City Charter holds that the Mayor Pro Tem, currently Councilmember Cris Medina, would immediately become Acting Mayor in the case of the Mayor’s death, resignation or removal from office. However, in San Antonio, the Council would then choose a new permanent Mayor from amongst its ranks until the next regularly scheduled election, which is in May 2015. A number of Councilmembers have expressed interest in the appointment, and a couple outside actors –namely State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County)– have also announced their tentative candidacies. I am not very well-versed in any of the inside politics of San Antonio, so I cannot offer any truly educated predictions about what will happen. Just expect fireworks.

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Castro vs. Patrick

This evening, the Texas Tribune streamed a Univision debate between State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the likely Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor, and Mayor Julian Castro (D-San Antonio), seen as a future Democratic candidate for high office. The debate, moderated by the Tribune’s Evan Smith, centered around immigration policy. It was sparked a few weeks ago, after a series of confrontational tweets on the parts of Patrick and Castro.

As some have already commented, the debate quickly focused upon political disputes and not too many issues of substance. Much to Castro’s chagrin, Patrick was also successful in infusing his favorite subject –abortion– into the mix. However, overall, the debate saw Castro figuratively wiping the floor with Patrick. Frankly, it was a beautiful sight, considering how long it has been since I have seen a Democrat do well in a debate. I attribute this success in equal parts to Castro, Patrick and the organizers of this debate. Most notably, the format allowed for the candidates to swiftly respond to each others’ points. All too often, the simple and elegant grace of the Lincoln-Douglas debate has been replaced by an ugly abhorrence consisting of sound bite after sound bite. Fortunately, the format of tonight’s debate allowed for Castro to call out Patrick on his –admittedly copious– taradiddles.

Please click here to read my full analysis!

Horwitz on ‘going Blue’

For some reason, there are a large number of people in this State who think that, if Wendy Davis runs for Governor, she will win. Personally, I find that statement to be utterly ridiculous, but admire the optimism from those who believe it. Even more Texans believe, once again foolishly, that Julian Castro can win the Governor’s mansion in 2018. Once again, the optimism is admired from this tired, old cynic. But I do not want to talk about how long our road to victory still is, the Editorial Board has already done that. I would like to talk about how, once Democrats break the losing-streak we’ve had since 1996, serious challenges will persist. Indeed, as long as the road to our first Democratic victory will be, the road to a Texas that is as blue as California will be even longer.

As much as I would love the peaches & cream belief that a single Democratic victory ushers in an unprecedented era of Democratic dominance, it simply won’t happen. Here’s why:

Let us assume, arguendo, that Julian Castro is victorious in his campaign to deny Governor Greg Abbott a second term in 2018, the same year his twin brother, Joaquin Castro is elected to the United States Senate by defeating first-term Senator Ted Cruz. The election will be quite notable, because while the pundits and Democratic activists had been saying it all along, the real establishment had been far more pessimistic about the entire ordeal. Accordingly, Democrats ran really poor candidates against the Agriculture Commissioner, Brandon Creighton; the Land Commissioner, George P. Bush, and; the Comptroller, Harvey Hilderbran. All these officeholders crushed the mediocre, placeholder Democratic opposition. Meanwhile, some of the Statewide spots on the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals lacked even a single Democratic opponent.

Democrats made only meager gains in the State Legislature, though one bright spot was Texas Democratic Party Chairwoman Wendy Davis defeating Konni Burton and winning back her old Senate seat.

Democrats wouldn’t make such a mistake more than once, so they will probably start running competent candidates in all the Statewide seats thereafter. They won’t win, though, for at least a few more election cycles.

The other reason a Democratic governor’s election in 2018 would be invaluable is that she or he could veto the redistricting plan. Under current maps, it would be almost impossible for Democrats to win more than 65 seats in the House, and I cannot image them winning many more than that by 2021. Accordingly, a heavily Republican Legislature will draw the maps for the 2020s. For these reasons, I cannot image Democrats taking over the State Legislature until the 2030s.

Another problem is something that the Democrats will surely face in their first defensive position, say 2022:

By 2022, the national mood will have turned against the Democrats in full force. Despite President Clinton’s re-election just two years earlier, the nation had grown weary of the 14 years of continuous Democratic rule in Washington. The frustration was taken out on the local level as Land Commissioner George P. Bush soundly defeated Governor Castro in the 2022 midterm elections. Republicans, still controlling back majorities in the State Legislature, pushed for another mid-decade redistricting plan–the second in the past three decades.

Things still hadn’t turned around by 2024, when Republicans take back the White House after 16 years, and the new Republican President’s coattails sweep a creationist into the Senate, denying Joaquin Castro a second term.

Once the Democrats start taking Statewide positions, they will be fighting hard with the Republicans to keep them for the foreseeable future. To give some background, Illinois has voted Democratic in the past six Presidential election, but the Land of Lincoln will probably elected a Republican governor next year. To this Bostonian, need I say more than Scott Brown?

So make absolutely no mistake, Texas is not going blue any time soon. The State will go purple at some point in the next 10-15 years, but I will have grey white hair before the pigment is blue.

Darkest before the dawn

About two months ago, the Editorial Board wrote that “it’s going to get worse,” that Democrats and progressive politics will continue taking blows, instead of the conventional wisdom that we have already reached the bottom. Simply put, we haven’t reached the bottom yet, and I have found some evidence of this continued decline.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an op-ed this morning discussing the plight so-called “moderate” Republicans like David Dewhurst have been along. My colleague summarized Dewhurst’s recent saga yesterday, but he by far not the only such official to find himself in such a predicament.

Avid readers of the Texas Tribune would have noticed that Jim Pitts, the only Republican to ever chair the House Appropriations Committee, is retiring. Pitts is often remembered as not-the-worst of the Republicans, being willing to work across the aisle and being able to go after Rick Perry, especially his regents. I would not be surprised if Pitts was deathly worried about facing a primary challenge from the Tea Party. This is because, after two insurgent-fueled Tea Party-dominate primary cycles, 52 of the 95 (55%) Republicans in the State House were elected in either 2010 or 2012. A mere 15 Republicans are left who take office before 2003, when Republicans took over the lower House. Of those 15, two (Hilderbran & Pitts) are already not seeking another term. Considering the rural areas these individuals represent, they will no doubt be replaced by far-right Tea Party types.

Kennedy’s opinion piece at the Star-Telegram continues by mentioning the sour place Senator John Cornyn was put into after Ted Cruz refused to endorse his re-election bid. The Dallas Morning News has the full story on that. The hypothetical primary opponent for John Cornyn at this time would be Louie Gohmert, the foul-talking Congressman with birther-tendencies. Again, the Morning News covered the issue in greater detail, as did Off the Kuff.

The op-ed uses the general theme of cynicism and doom & gloom I have been talking up for years. The night is always darkest before the dawn, and it is certainly still getting darker.

As much as I dislike David Dewhurst, Dan Patrick will almost certainly be worse in an executive position. As poorly as John Cornyn serves this State in the U.S. Senate, Louie Gohmert would be exponentially worse. The place where I break with Kennedy’s op-ed is at the end, where he has the bodacious temerity to assert the sun may be rising sometime soon:

The danger for the GOP,” he wrote, is that by the time Republicans realize they have swung too far, “it will be too late, and [Democratic San Antonio Mayor] Julian Castro will be celebrating his election as governor.”

That might be in 2018.

That’s three House election cycles away.

2018 is a very long five years away, but unless a lot of things go very right, it still won’t be a competitive election.

Annise Parker is not running for Governor

In case you were wondering. The question has been coming up, first in January and later in July, after her name popped up –along with that of Julian Castro, Wendy Davis and Bill White– in PPP polls for upcoming Statewide elections.

Somehow, amidst the rancor over HB2 and the drama over Campaign finance reports, I missed a tweet by the Mayor stating:

“LOL. I appreciate the encouragement to run for Governor, but I have the best job already and hope to keep it for 2 more years.-A.”

This does not come as a surprise to me, nor should it to really anyone. Parker is very obviously running for re-election, a race that will last until the middle of December if there is a runoff. If she were to run Statewide, it would require filing the signatures for the primary ballot about the same day as her third inauguration. There are some pretty outlandish politicians in Houston who would have the unmitigated temerity to do something like that, but Parker is not one of them.

I would feel like a bit of a schmuck if I wrote an entire post on how Parker isn’t running for Governor, because it is sort of like those headlines which triumphantly state that rain causes flooding: this shouldn’t be news to anyone. Instead, I’d like to read the tea leaves for what Parker’s future will look like.

I tend to think there is a very good chance (+90%) Parker will be re-elected, so this occupies her through January of 2016. She will be 59 at that point, and in no hurry to retire. The timing gives her a variety of options going forwards. First, as I predicted long ago, I think there could be a chance Parker will run for the House of Representatives, specifically Sheila Jackson Lee’s seat (though I doubt the two would actually run against each other). SJL will have been serving for 20 years by that point, though she will still be comparatively young.

The Congress option would probably be the only option where Parker would go straight into something else, politically speaking. Otherwise, she would most likely spend at least a year on a private company’s payroll, doing consulting or what not. She will have been on a civil servant’s salary for 18 years by 2016, she may want a change of pace.

Second, if Hillary Clinton runs (which I think she will) and wins (which I also think she will), Parker could easily get a job in the new Administration doing something. Again, this would be a good end-path for the Mayor.

Third, there is certainly still a chance Parker would run Statewide in 2018. Governor is probably not the most likely possibility, as I would put my money on Comptroller. The only problem with this, as I wrote back in August, is that Parker is liberal and lesbian, not the old, White, moderate man that Democrats in this State love to nominate. The African-American Democratic political community in this State has an unfortunate homophobic streak, which could complicate primary efforts. It would be a stretch, to say the least, to find Parker doing well on a Statewide ballot any time soon.

But the biggest priority right now is 2013.