Why I am backing Sylvester Turner

Since Texpatriate went dormant, I’ve realized a few things. One of them is that I no longer have to keep my cards close to the vest, so to speak, with respect to municipal elections until October. With that in mind, I want to explain some of my picks to lead Houston sooner rather than later (in this case, much sooner). By far the easiest pick, and one I basically determined a year ago, is State Representative Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, for mayor. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, he is the right person for the job. Briefly, I would like to explain why.

A little over a year ago, I had the privilege of sitting down with the frontrunners for mayor in lengthy interviews regarding city issues. What I noticed is that Turner and former Congressman Chris Bell, D-Houston, his main competitor, have totally different visions as mayor, despite not really diverging from one another too much in their political positions. Bell is obsessed with policy, whereas Turner is obsessed with the process. One might not think that a benefit for Turner, but his track record in the state legislature speaks for itself.

Turner has a wealth of experience that none of his opponents can even approach. With more than 25 years in the legislature, he has repeatedly proven himself to be a master of the rules and procedures that govern the State House. As the Vice-Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, he wields a disproportionate amount of power for a member of the minority party, but he puts it to good use. Last session, he was particularly instrumental in killing a bad water bill and bringing about a much better, bipartisan alternative.

If elected, Turner would bring all that knowledge and experience to the 3rd floor of city hall, where he would no doubt be able to form an inclusive and more effective coalition to lead the city.

Perhaps most important, Turner would be the perfect successor for Mayor Annise Parker, who I think has been an overall positive mayor but has certainly had some hiccups along the way. The other candidates tend to characterize her as either infallible or the cause of everything wrong in the city, both of which are pretty silly overgeneralizing assertions.

Specifically, Turner would not only double down on Parker’s positive steps in the right direction on things such as LGBT rights, he would address the issues Parker did not, such as our crumbling roads or the impasse on the firefighters’ pensions. On the latter front, Turner has already been instrumental in brokering a good first step in that long process.

Accordingly, Turner is already being supported by not only some of Parker’s historical base, including parts of the LGBT community and inner-loop business Democrats, but by historical enemies as well. The Firefighter’s Union, obviously no friend of Parker’s, has already endorsed him, as have both the Police Officer’s Union and HOPE, the municipal employee’s union. Expect a plethora of other organizations to soon follow.

Furthermore, I’m not especially impressed with Turner’s competition. Given the growing polarization of politics and the toxicity of some state Republican principles, I do think it is important to have a Democrat as mayor. I also think that Turner, a native Houstonian, has a better connection to this city than some who, for example, was previously the mayor of another town. Turner is also brilliant; aside from his legislative accomplishments, he’s a gifted attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School.

Now, I wasn’t alive (even by Dan Patrick’s definition) in 1991, so I don’t have a personal recollection of the shenanigans that surrounded that election. Sadly, much of the electorate does. Channel 13 libeled Turner in such a slimy way back then, and it would cause me to lose all my respect for any of the other mayoral candidates if they brought up those discredited lies at some point throughout the campaign.

One of the biggest things I have learned about politics in the last year is that, in the absence of other skills and capabilities, being a policy wonk will not get you very far. That and a dollar will get you a coke. A successful mayor needs to also be an expert at the procedures and processes of government. The big stuff will follow, as I’m sure it will with Turner.

Accordingly, I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly endorse Sylvester Turner for mayor!

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In the shadow of the Tower

I have five classes on Tuesdays. Combined with some shuffling back and forward to my office at The Daily Texan (speaking of which, I recently received a new title there), this meant a full day of walking around campus. By my estimations, I walked past the Main Mall, just in front of the Tower, about a half dozen times. One such time was a little past 11:45 in the morning, as I was leaving Astronomy and (unsuccessfully) attempting to not be late to Japanese Politics. About 48 1/2 years ago, at that exact time, I would have been in the crosshairs of a psychopathic sniper named Charles Whitman, who had barricaded himself at the top of the observation deck and started shooting at random, murdering 17 people in all that day.

Now, as the Houston Chronicle reports, legislators are determined to liberalize gun laws on college campuses all around the states, including at UT-Austin. Specifically, 19 of the 20 Republicans in the state senate co-sponsored SB11, which would do exactly that (the one exception was State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County)). It would mainly allow concealed handgun license (CHL) holders to bring the weapons to campuses.

I wrote somewhat extensively about this topic throughout the 83rd Legislature. In a wonderful example of how much things can change in just two years, I was opining back then all the way from Boston, instead of actually on the 40 acres. At the time, the bill passed the House but got lost in the Senate. Since that does not look to happen again this time, I would say get ready for this horrendous proposal to get enacted into law.

The reason I reference the Tower sniper attack in my introduction is not to suggest that this will open the floodgates to more mass shootings. Rather, it is to demonstrate the futility of such a proposal. Say, for example, one of the students had a legally concealed handgun. The likelihood of him or her effectively firing at the top of the tower and subduing Whitman would have been quite low.

The Daily Texan has an editorial, coming to print tomorrow morning, that addresses most of the other points on “Guns on Campus” one way or another, but the main argument remains the same: this is a spectacularly bad idea. As time goes on, I will continue to closely follow these bills.

In other news, the Texas Tribune reports that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has announced that the “Open Carry” proposals currently do not have the votes to move the legislation. He also implied to the Tribune that other priorities would likely come first. This has drawn the ire of right-wing grassroots.

Texpatriate supports Proposition 1

The average Harris County voter will be confronted with about 100 unique elections, come November. Many of them will be hard choices, many will likely be quite simple. One of the simplest decisions, undoubtedly, should be to VOTE YES on Proposition 1.

Prop 1 was prompted last summer by the State Legislature as a proposed constitutional amendment to withdraw more than $1.2 Billion from the State’s rainy day, in order to fund transportation infrastructure projects. Much like the $2 Billion similarly withdrawn from coffers last year to pass Proposition 6 (for water infrastructure projects), Prop 1 only makes a nominal dent in Texas’ figuratively overflowing surpluses in order to provide real solutions for long-term hazards.

But its importance truly cannot be understated. Many civil engineering firms have contracts contingent on passage of the referendum; this isn’t about their bottom line, it’s about desperately-needed work to update and care for the roads and highways that everyone takes for granted every single day. Roads cost money, bridges cost money and maintenance costs money. This money will be used for precisely that purpose. If you –like every Texan who has attempted to transverse a major city while the sun is up– have ever sat in traffic or lamented the declining state of roads and highways, this is an awfully good way to make a dent in it. Texas’ highways were once the envy of the world. It wasn’t because of courteous drivers of good weather, it was because the State went out of its way after repeated oil booms to leave some money to the side for the future.

Today, we have been graced by yet another oil boom. However, there are still some small-minded ideologues who would merely squander the returns, and not invest it in our future. There are also some naive, starry-eyed dreamers who will always bemoan the “if only” ad nauseum. Be it education, water or roads, depriving the next generation of a workable state is not just naive, it is downright cruel. Fortunately, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, the leadership from both the Democrats and the Republicans, have come together on this issue in order to formulate solutions that are satisfactory for the future. Governor Rick Perry, never known for any modicum of liberalness on fiscal affairs, spearheaded this issue so strongly that he called a third special session of the State Legislature last year in order to pass the proposition after it had failed in a previous session.

Still, this board has its reservations about the proposition. Predominantly, we are concerned that it does not go far enough. Reporting at the time from the pertinent sources as the Texas Department of Transportation, more than $4 Billion was originally requested in order to fully accomplish their goals. Furthermore, considering the rapid growth that Texas is expected to undergo in the coming years, the deterioration of our roads will only compound in the future if a more comprehensive solution is not reached. Personally, we think the ideal solution to such a quandary is to raise the State’s Gas Tax, which has remained steady for more than two decades, but that is neither here nor there right now.

Right now, the imperative is to pass Prop 1, doling out the invaluable money needed in order to maintain Texas’ roads at their current congestion rates. Hopefully, it can be a foundation for future goals, so that we may  –once more– have roads that are the envy of the world.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Is Joe Straus a liberal?

My friend Paul Burka at Texas Monthly pegs this question, rather facetiously, in response to a recent blog post at Forbes Magazine. Spoiler alert, the answer is a total and resounding NO! The original post, entitled “Meet the Harry Reid of Texas,” is a ludicrous attempt to paint the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, State Representative Joe Straus (R-Bexar County), a bona fide Republican, as some type of closet Democrat. It is penned by a gentleman named Patrick Gleason, who (a cursory background search will reveal) is a staffer for Americans for Tax Reform, otherwise known as Grover Norquist’s group.

The post, which Burka notes “has all the earmarks of a Michael Quinn Sullivan put-up,” delineates the pragmatic background of Straus. For those not familiar, he was first elected Speaker in 2009. At that time, a coalition of eleven moderate Republicans banded together with the Democrats to topple the regime of Speaker Tom Craddick. The anger against Craddick was not necessarily based on politics, but on leadership style. Craddick was brash, and railroaded over other Representatives in an attempt to wield absolute power.

Because Straus and his band of allies dealt with Democrats, his underlying loyalty has been suspect by the most extreme Republicans ever since. He has a steadfast dedication to the important issues, such as roads and infrastructure. Meanwhile, he openly calls for the lower house to not focus too intently on controversial, us-versus-them social issues.

For his part, Straus is better than his predecessor, and has always cooperated in good faith with Democrats on many important issues. However, at the end of the day, he is still a Republican. I would still prefer him to be replaced by a Democratic Speaker. And, in what should be most important for the Tea Party, he will –albeit reluctantly– bring up those controversial social issues when pushed by his members and State Leadership.

For example, the Texas House, under Straus’ stewardship, passed a Voter ID act. They also passed “Guns on Campus” last year, though the Senate did not. Ditto with onerous abortion restrictions last summer.

Accordingly, why do these right-wingers loathe Straus so much? For one, his rise to power is disquieting to party orthodoxy. But, in my opinion, it is far more than that. This is about distrust of a pragmatic Texas Republican, one of the last ones left in high office, and his honest effort to run a better State. Not a more conservative State, just a better State.

Burka, for his part, agrees at least one piece of sentiment expressed in the Forbes article; right-wing pipe dreams passed out of a Texas Senate controlled by a Lieutenant Governor named Dan Patrick would almost certainly go nowhere in Straus’ House. The post also referenced State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County), a vocal Straus ally and one of the few –perhaps the only– openly moderate freshmen GOP Representatives. Villalba predicted that these pipe dreams, such as anti-Common Core bills, would be “put on the back burner” and eventually aged to death on the calendar committee.

In other places on the anti-Straus front, the Speaker has actually garnered some real opposition from among the House’s ranks. State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County) has announced a public campaign against the Speaker, though he still appears to be receiving only minimal support from usual suspects. Previous attempts against Sraus’ speakership have been spectacularly unsuccessful. Failed candidacies by both State Representative Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County) and David Simpson (R-Gregg County) were both aborted prior to actual voting.

I still maintain a good amount of respect for Straus, but my opinion is that Burka gives him far too much credit to stand up to the powers to be on contentious topics. It was a lot easier for Straus to be a moderate when his companions were Rick Perry as Governor (pre Presidential campaign) and David Dewhurst as Lieutenant Governor. Next session, in all likelihood, his companions will be Greg Abbott as Governor and Dan Patrick as Lieutenant Governor. Three full steps to the right, maybe more.

Straus folded like a cheap card table last summer when Perry began exacting pressure on him to pass the abortion restrictions. I have little doubt that he will fold once more when the time comes for Abbott to lay out his ambitious right-wing agenda. Just wait. Straus will, thankfully for him, largely placate his right-wing detractors. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it will be because of the dreaded 84th session.

Perry indicted

In case you haven’t checked the internets in the last two days, it is worth repeating once again that Governor Rick Perry has been indicted by a Travis County Grand Jury for two felonies, abuse of politicaal office and coercion of a public servant. Two big questions come to mind immediately. First, how did we get here? Second, where do we go from here? I will attempt to briefly answer both below.

In April of last year, the Travis County District Attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested for drunk driving. She was nearly four times the legal limit, belligerent and tried to use her influence to get out of the charge. Normally, when an official screws up this publicly, a quiet resignation occurs and everyone will continue on their merry way. The problem with this, however, is that Perry would have appointed Lehmberg’s –a Democrat– replacement. The Travis County DA, additionally, is especially powerful because it oversees the Public Integrity Unit (PIU), which oversees alleged impropriety on the part of state officials.

Lehmberg was charged with a first-time misdemeanor, plead guilty and accepted a 45 day sentence in jail. The sentence was called by the Austin American-Statesman “without a doubt, the harshest sentence for a first-time drunken driving charge in the history of Travis County.” About a month later, she was back at work. Of note here is that the Travis County DA only prosecutes felonies, so her charged was not included. The Travis County Attorney prosecutes such misdemeanors.

But in June of that year, Perry stepped in around  veto time. He publicly threatened to cut off funding for the PIU unless Lehmberg resigned. The San Antonio Express-News recent reported last May that Lehmberg was offered a job in exchange for the resignation. When Lehmberg did not comply, he followed through and cut the funding.

This, in its simplest form, is the issue. Perry has attempted to frame it in a way that makes him look like a valiant moral crusader fighting against drunken DAs, but the controversially is completely separate. Perry had the unquestioned power to veto the PIU’s funds, but he did not have the power to publicly threaten to take or not take the action based on another person’s deed.

For what it’s worth, the PIU did not directly prosecute this case. A special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, was called in for this. I’ve even heard he is a Republican, but don’t care too much about that.

I think, when all is said and done, the only real affect of this issue is that it will sink whatever presidential prospects Perry may have had. He will have long left office before this goes to a trial. My inclination is that Perry will be convicted at least on the coercion of a public servant charge by a Travis County Jury, but the charges will be thrown out on appeal.

This case is all about the law, the grey. The facts are not in dispute. The only question is if Perry’s little diatribe to the media before line-item vetoing the funding constituted coercion.

In the past, I made comments suggesting that Lehmberg should not resign. Those were wrong, I should not have taken a hard position on this issue given that I am not one of Lehmberg’s constituents nor is she part of a deliberative body that directly affects me, such as the State Legislature. But whatever your position on Lehmberg and her drunkenness (to be fair, a trial designed to get her kicked out of office last year went nowhere quite expeditiously), it does not justify what Perry did. It does not make it any less illegal, nor less serious. It is a complete, 100% red herring.

No matter what Lehmberg could have been guilty of, it would not have justified what Perry did. He is not her boss, he just cannot micromanage like that while staying within the boundaries of the law.

I’ll likely have more when Perry gets his mug shot next week!

One year later

Yesterday, State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee for Governor, underwent her famous (or infamous, based on your political persuasions) filibuster. At issue was a bill then-known as SB5, an omnibus anti-abortion rights piece of legislation that did four main things. First, it banned all abortions at 20 weeks, as opposed to the 24 week cutoff ordered by the Supreme Court for many years. Second, it required that all doctors providing abortions hold admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Third, it required that a pill taken as part of a standard per-procedure the night before be administered directly by the physician. Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, the bill required all clinics to adhere to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, a bar only six clinics reach (two in Houston, one in San Antonio, one in Austin, one in Fort Worth and one in Dallas).

I go to excruciating lengths to delineate all of the components of the bill because what Davis did has been the cause of some debate over the last year. The Democrats, in my opinion, have been terribly ineffective in combating the narrative presented by Republicans: that the bill was all about the 20 week ban. Indeed, that part was not even challenged in the lawsuit and Davis has stated her personal support for the provision. Make no mistake, the ambulatory surgical center requirement is the crux of the bill, which necessitated Davis’ action.

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Still no Special Session

It’s still a bad idea. The Texas Tribune reports that State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee for Governor, has officially asked Governor Rick Perry to convene a fourth called special session of the Texas Legislature to deal with border security. As I noted last week, many in the Legislature had been clamoring for Perry to call the session as a result of a deteriorating situation along the border regarding masses of undocumented migrants who are underage. However, these calls came initially from far-right members of the Legislature. I was skeptical back then, and I still am, about the effectiveness of such an action. As I opined last week, I am very concerned that any special session would immediately be hijacked by social conservatives seeking to implement an ambitious agenda such as an Arizona-style immigration policy.

In the next couple of days, Perry announced a huge influx of money to the Department of Public Safety’s resources along the border (The Border Patrol is financed exclusively by the Federal Government). This had been thought to largely placate concerns, but Davis and others have soldiered on nonetheless.

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