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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The Rick Perry legacy

Tomorrow, Governor-elect Greg Abbott will take the reigns from Rick Perry and officially become just ‘Governor Abbott.’ For the first time since the Clinton administration, Texas will have a new governor. Indeed, Perry has served in office for more than 14 years, shattering all the old records set by his predecessors.

I’ve been putting off writing about this, because I do not necessarily feel qualified to editorialize about political events that transpired in 2000 or 2001. I was six years old when Perry assumed office, so opining on some of Perry’s first acts would be a lot like my father talking about his experience in observing Dwight Eisenhower or Allan Shivers’ respective tenures in office.

Perry, of course, took office on December 21st, 2000, the day that George W. Bush resigned the governorship in preparation to become president. Perry had served as the Lieutenant Governor since 1999, and previously served two terms as Agriculture Commissioner from 1991 to 1999. He also served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives, from 1985 to 1991, the first two of which as a Democrat.

I’m not going to meticulously go over the ebbs and flows of his time in office, others have done a much better job at that. Rather, I want to examine two ideas about Perry that have always stayed with me from his time in office. Contrary to what some may expect from me, they are actually quite positive.

If this makes sense, Perry is an ideologue –but in a good way. When he first took office, his co-leaders were quite different. The Speaker of the House, Pete Laney, was a Democrat, and the acting Lieutenant Governor, State Senator Bill Ratliff (R-Titus County), was a tremendously moderate Republican who could absolutely not succeed in one of his party’s primaries today (think Nelson Rockefeller, except from East Texas). After the conclusion of the 77th Legislature in 2001, Perry vetoed a record number of bills. Even when compared to Ratliff’s successor, David Dewhurst, Perry was right-wing.

Today, however, Perry is seen as an establishment figure. Bud Kennedy at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram opined that he could run for president as the “anti-Cruz,” a more pragmatic establishment type. Compared to, as of tomorrow, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick or Attorney General Ken Paxton (or even Abbott), Perry is on the moderate side of his party. Obviously, the governor did not tack to the left in an era when so many others zoomed the other way. On the other hand, Perry has a firmly planted set of core beliefs, which does not change because of partisan winds. Love him or hate him, that’s an admirable quality, one that is less and less common in successful politicians.

Second, Perry — at his core — always appears to have all of Texas at heart. Sure, there was the rampant cronyism/corruption. But any even rudimentary student of Texas political history knows that is the rule and not the exception. Unlike Abbott or Patrick, in my opinion, Perry genuinely believed what he was doing would be good for the average Texan (as much as he may have been mistaken in some instances), not the average Republican primary voter.

I have found myself agreeing more and more with the band of Democrats who feel that Perry’s successors will be considerably worse than him, and we will one day covet the comparable pragmatism in the Perry administration. There is certainly some truth in this, but it is important to not get carried away.

Perry pushed through venal so-called “tort reform” that lobotomized much of our court system, including the resurgence of cruddy legal jurisprudence typically only found in Great Britain. He was instrumental in the horrendous gerrymandering scheme that reduced 90%+ of legislative districts to uncompetitive backwaters. More recently, he vigorously pushed the omnibus anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered and he attempted to coerce an unfriendly prosecutor into resigning by threatening (and following through) to veto funding (this is what he was indicted regarding).

Obviously, Texas can’t get much worse off on many fronts, but on others it surely can. Perhaps most horrifying about Abbott and his ilk is that they have no central moral principles, nothing preventing them from grandstanding and demagoguery in the face of an increasingly extreme minority that monopolizes the political process. When they start demanding book burnings or the rescinding of the bill of rights, Perry would have rightly put his foot down. Abbott and Patrick, to the contrary, I’m unsure about.

Adios, mofo. We’ll miss you (sort of).

Supreme Court blocks HB2

The US Supreme Court has ruled in emergency fashion that invaluable components of HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that Wendy Davis famously filibustered, may be stayed until appeal. Specifically, a provision that required all clinics to adhere to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers was put on hold, as was another in part. The provision that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was set aside specifically for clinics in McAllen and El Paso, though not the rest of the State.

The ruling was 6-3, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the four liberals. The three arch-conservatives, meanwhile, dissented from the order. As most will remember, a Federal Judge struck down these provisions a couple months back, but a Federal Appeals Court lifted the stay while it considered the appeal. The Supreme Court today merely reapplied the stay of the Federal District Judge in Austin who originally ruled the law unconstitutional, Lee Yeakel. Last year, Yeakel also ruled other provisions of the law unconstitutional, in a suit that similarly was reversed by the Appeals Court, although the Supreme Court pointedly chose not to reapply the stay in that case.

The implications here are, in a word, huge. As noted above, the Court has decidedly not stayed previous decisions, often 5-4 and along party lines. The two moderate conservatives on the Court, Roberts and Kennedy, have for some reason decided to shift views on the topic. Perhaps it is because the full effect of the case would reduce the number of clinics in Texas to just 5 or 6, a horrifying lower number per capita than other states included Mississippi, which has only one. Whatever the rationale, the implications of this decision are rather significant. For the first time, I am even cautiously optimistic that the law could be struck down by the Supreme Court upon final appeal (which is still likely years off).

Additionally, this development will likely take everyone’s mind off of that silly Wendy Davis ad, which has been eating up a significant portion of the 24/7 news cycle recently. As unfavorable to Davis as talking about abortion might be, I would still reckon it is leaps and bounds above the fallout over her wheelchair ad. Anyways, that’s my two-cents.

As for the clinics closed by this law, they can now re-open. Sagacious followers of the press will be familiar with stories of clinics closing overnight and cancelling dozens of appointments along with it. Those clinics can now re-open and, hopefully, women can continue receiving the healthcare options they need.

Texpatriate endorses in HD134

State Representative Sarah Davis (R-Harris County) has now concluded her second session in the Texas Legislature, representing one of the strangest house districts in Texas. It combines the affluent neighborhoods of Bellaire, West University and River Oaks, among others, with the cosmopolitan and LGBT-friendly Montrose area. It also includes most of the heavily Jewish middle class neighborhood of Meyerland. The result is a district that favors Republicans on economic issues, ever so slightly, but is extraordinarily socially liberal. Thus, a Representative such as Sarah Davis is chosen by its voters.

Davis, a Republican, is pro-choice and broadly in favor of gay rights. Last summer, she was the only Republican to stand against the onerous restrictions placed on a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion. The only one, of about 100. She caught a great deal of flak for the brave position, including being publicly derided by Jared Woodfill, the then-Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. She even drew a socially conservative primary challenger who incessantly lambasted her for her pro-choice viewpoints. As it turned out, Davis handily defeated her primary challenger, Bonnie Parker, amid tremendous support for her convictions from her constituents.

This board has no doubt that Davis will, in the upcoming legislative session, continue to be a tireless advocate for women’s rights and healthcare. Be it standing against HB2 or fighting against devastating cuts to Planned Parenthood and other healthcare sources, Davis has never backed down from a fight. We also expect her to continue “evolving” on the issue of LGBT rights, leading a small but growing caucus of pro-gay marriage Republicans in the next few years.

Still, there are some serious issues we take with Davis’ platform. She voted for an ill-designed bill that would have allowed for university students to bring their concealed weapons onto college campuses, obvious hotbeds of tempers and bad decisions. And, all too often, she followed in lock-step with a Republican budget philosophy still intent on minimizing invaluable services.

Of course, Davis’ only opponent, Democratic candidate Alison Ruff, has been a functionally worthless challenger. She has no online or public presence. Nobody has ever seen her, nobody has ever heard of her. Without anything to say or do, a candidate might as well not exist.

But Davis, on the other hand, has more than plenty to say, even if he disagree with some of it. Still, no one can deny that Davis is an absolutely perfect representative for her unique, economically centrist and socially liberal, district. We look forward to her being one of the venerated voices of reason in her party.

Accordingly, this board endorses Sarah Davis for the Texas House, District 134.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board of 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 board.

Texpatriate endorses in SD17

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State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County) was first elected in a December 2008 special election, succeeding the longtime Senator, Kyle Janek, who had just been selected to run the State’s Health and Human Services program. The longtime prosecutor had originally been elected within Harris County as a Criminal District Judge, before being elected to represent the strangely gerrymandered district, which stretches from inside-the-loop Houston to the gulf coast, and once went all the way to the Louisiana border.

Unfortunately, be it in her many years on the bench or her three sessions in the State Legislature, Huffman has apparently never shed her mindset as a prosecutor. This became all too evident early last year, when Huffman butted heads with colleagues at an important Criminal Justice Committee meeting. Huffman repeatedly insensitively interrogated victims of wrongful imprisonment, and was a driving factor behind the death of a bill to create an Innocence Commission in Texas. She also grandstanded at one time against the venerated “Michael Morton Act,” which has been lauded by both sides of the aisle as an effective tool to prevent indefensible miscarriages of justice. But, to Huffman, still in the prosecutorial mentality, the Texas criminal justice system is infallible and she’ll have no part of its denigration.

These actions landed her a spot on Texas Monthly‘s list of WORST SENATORS; they called the acts in questions “Behavior Unbecoming of a Senator.” It also caused her to receive a similar dishonor from Texpatriate. Perhaps, as this board opined back last June, it is –as Corey Session famously testified in one of the innocence commission hearings– time for Huffman to find another job.

In fact, it is not just Huffman’s atrocious record on criminal justice matters that we take issue with. She stood idly by last summer when the Senate approve draconian anti-abortion restrictions, designed to shutter most of the State’s clinics and force women seeking a constitutionally-protected right to either jump state lines or retreat into the back alley. She even voted against an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill that reiterated the role of the State to provide free breakfasts to impoverished children. We guess, in Huffman’s world, poor kids should just go hungry.

Thankfully, unlike her easy re-election in 2012, Huffman faces serious opposition this year. Rita Lucido, an attorney from the Houston area, is the Democratic candidate for the position. A longtime activist in the politics of the locale, this board thoroughly believes that Lucido will be qualified and ready on day 1 to take over the complex and intense responsibilities of being a State Senator.

She understands the criminal justice system, flawed as it may be, and its pressing need for reform. She was also on the board of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood, a position that we believe will give her valuable insights.

The voters of Senate District 17 have a fairly easy choice to make, given the contentious tenure of the incumbent, Huffman. Either they can stick with her for another term, complete with her complacency with the criminal justice system and philosophy against helping the underprivileged. Or, they can choose to repudiate those ideas. For us, the choice is clear.

Accordingly, this board endorse Rita Lucido for the State Senate, District 17.

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.

Wendy Davis’ personal decision

The Houston Chronicle reports that State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, acknowledged in her upcoming memoir that she has terminated two pregnancies. Both of which occurred in the 1990s for medical reasons, when Davis was married to Jeff Davis. They occurred after the birth of two previous daughters.

The first occurred as a result of an “ectopic pregnancy,” wherein the embryo lodges in a fallopian tube instead of the uterus. In most all of these sad occurrences, the baby dies before term and the mother often dies during the pregnancy as well. The termination occurred in the first trimester. The second such occurrence happened in 1997, when Davis was 34. The second-trimester procedure occurred after testing showed the baby would be born with severe defects and abnormalities; it would have almost certainly been in a permanent vegetative state for the duration of her short, suffering-filled life. Davis would have likely faced significant health concerns as well. Excerpts from Davis’ memoir published in the newspaper note in heartbreaking detail how she delivered her daughter, already named Tate Elise, after the procedure via c-section. It also recounted how the baby was wrapped in pink, and brought to Davis and her husband so that they could have her baptized.

Longtime readers of this publication will obviously know my position on abortion rights issues. It is a woman’s personal decision, and as such should not be subjected to the whims and caprices of public examination. If this revelation would have been first published by anyone other than Davis herself, I would have pointedly refused to acknowledge it. But she was the first to release this information (in the middle of a gubernatorial election), which tells me that she is amenable to the press corps far and wide remarking on this topic.

First, it should be noted that while Davis’ courage in coming forth publicly with this part of her life is certainly unique, her experience itself is not. Studies have shown that about 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime.

Granted, Davis’ personal experiences are not like many abortions. The two babies that she lost were not, in any way whatsoever, “unwanted” or “unintended.” But at the root of all of these difficult, personal decisions is that a woman should make her own decision, free from shame, guilt or ridicule. While her political positions, most notably those espoused during his famous filibuster, support legalized abortion on-demand, her procedures were a result of actions significantly more popular among the public, specifically in Texas.

While polls have generally found Texans split about half-and-half on the whole “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” thing, a recent UT/Tribune poll (which, granted, have a bad track record) show a whopping 79% of Texans support abortion in times of danger to the mother. As Mark Jones, the resident political pundit at Rice, opined in the Chronicle article, the only people that would actually be opposed to the choices that Davis personally made are so conservative that they would have never voted for her in the first place.

However, there have been some who have, in appallingly ugly fashion, derided Davis for her choices. In horribly bad taste, my colleague at Rhymes with Right gleefully used the phrase “Abortion Barbie” in the title of his post. Others have attacked her for ostensibly using the revelation as a campaign issue. I’m sorry, but I truly have no patience for such misogyny. There is something to be said for it not being appropriate to write and release a memoir in the midst of a gubernatorial election, but those critiques should have been aired many months ago. The criticisms I am hearing today revolve around how Davis should not have revealed a HUGE personal decision in her life in a book about her life, that somehow it was inappropriate for a woman to discuss personal, private details from her past in a way men always do.

Brains & Eggs has more.

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.