VDP hops on the Highway Fund bandwagon

Yesterday, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, released an ad that touted his big plan for improving the state of transportation infrastructure in Texas. After crunching the numbers, I was simply not impressed. Now, the Texas Tribune reports that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, has hopped on the bandwagon and is now touting that plan as a cornerstone for her transportation infrastructure (with a few notable difference) platform.

Last night, I noted that such a proposal could likely raise about $1 Billion per biennium, a statistic confirmed by The Dallas Morning News. Of that, the News notes that more than 80% go to law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Public Safety (DPS), while about a dozen million dollars even go to the Attorney General’s office. Accordingly, while transportation would surely be given a great deal of extra cash, it would be at the expense of other –very important– spheres of government expenditures. Thus, unless more money is withdrawn from the rainy day fund or taxes are raised, the hurt will merely be shifted elsewhere. Last night, I opined hiking the Gas Tax modestly, something that has not been done in nearly 25 years despite an exploding population, higher prices and more more fuel-efficiency.

Van de Putte, according to the Tribune article, was somewhat murky on how exactly she wold make up the lost money, not only for DPS, but also for programs such as Veterans. She did pledge, however, not to divert money earmarked for education.

Luckily, Van de Putte does admit that her meager proposal (which Abbott, House Speaker Joe Straus and even her Republican opponent, State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), have preceded her in backing) will not do enough. Incorporating the whole Highway Fund will likely only raise a fraction of the $5 Billion that state bureaucrats have suggested will be necessary to keep our roads in top shape.

For this, Van de Putte acknowledged the tough realities involving an unchanged gas tax, but stopped short of endorsing any action regarding it. Shortly thereafter, the Tribune noted that a spokesperson unequivocally ruled out raising taxes. Too bad.

Unlike some Democrats, I am not masochistic on the subject of taxation. I abhor the idea of creating a State Income Tax, and hope property taxes can one day be cut in a sizable manner. But roads cost money. As a frequent commuter between two major cities, and the venerable State Highway 71 that connects them, I rely particularly strongly on state-funded roads. They are built, maintained, repaired and expanded with tax money. And in the past 25 years, as gas mileage has shot up remarkably, the average individual has consumed far less gas. Meanwhile, as prices have risen from $1.10 in 1990 to about $3.00 today, the tax rate has stood steady at $0.20-a-galloon.

I get that being seen as pro-taxes is a poison pill in today’s political environment, so I do not fault Van de Putte’s campaign for the omission. But as the rhetoric approaches complacency regarding this issue, I hope Van de Putte and others know that, next session, they need to put every option on the table –including raising the gas tax– in order to not just repair our crumbling highways, but make them the envy of the world once more.

Staples to resign, lead TXOGA

The Texas Tribune reports that Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who was slated to leave office in January at the conclusion of his second term, will resign his post early to become the President of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, the statewide trade association of the burgeoning energy industry. Staples, a Republican who has extensive ties to both ranching and the oil industry, reportedly will be in place before the commencement of the 84th Legislature, prompting an exit from his position before the end of his term, at the beginning of next year.

Staples, who has served in both chambers of the Texas Legislature, took office in 2007 and has served for the two terms since. Overall, I would say he was done an adequate job as Agriculture Commissioner, but his tenure still leaves plenty to be desired. A few years ago, he revealed his intention to run for Lieutenant Governor, back when incumbent David Dewhurst was considered a shoe-in to be Texas’ next Senator. Of course, Ted Cruz came out on top in the Senate election, so Dewhurst ended up running for re-election as Lieutenant Governor. Still, Staples (as well as Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson) soldiered on anyways with his candidacy. That primary ended up being one by none of them, but by State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), a late entrant into the campaign. All this is to say that Staples, who has held a six-figure government job for eight years, would be unemployed come January.

In remarks sent out to the press, Staples confirmed that he would be resigning within the next two months, but stayed away from any specific. He’ll likely call it quits in short order after the November election. He insinuated that the Deputy Commissioner, Drew DeBerry, will act as Commissioner in the interim between then and January, when a new Commissioner would have taken over anyways following a regularly scheduled election.

Former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), the Republican nominee, is almost beyond the shadow of a doubt assured victory. He only faces the ghost Jim Hogan as his Democratic opponent, as well as fringe party opposition. While many in the political intelligentsia (including myself) will end up voting for the latter, namely Green nominee Kenneth Kendrick, the general public will be unmoved and Miller will be the new Commissioner undoubtedly come January.

Accordingly, Rocky Palmquist –the Libertarian nominee for the post– opined that Governor Rick Perry would appoint Miller in the interim, a dubious claim that was quickly debunked.

For all my political troubles with Staples, he always struck me as an easygoing and nice guy, and I wish him luck in his future endeavors. Particularly, I always loved that ad of him riding around on a horse, explaining all the duties of the Agriculture Commissioner. All other things being equal, it’s a pretty detailed and accurate picture of what the Agriculture Commissioner does.

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.

State Senator Creighton

 

In the special election for District 4 of the State Senate, vacated by Tommy Williams, the results are in and it is a decisive victory. State Representative Brandon Creighton (R-Montgomery County) has defeated State Representative Steve Toth (R-Montgomery County). The seat is remarkably conservative, centered around The Woodlands and its surrounding right-wing neighborhoods. As such, in the original preliminary election in May, all four candidates were Republicans. When it comes to special elections in Texas, a blanket primary is used, so Creighton and Toth advanced into tonight’s runoff election. Creighton will serve out the remainder of Williams’ term, which stretches until the end of 2016.

Williams, for his part, had always been far more moderate/pragmatic than his Republican constituents may have been. He fought tirelessly time and time again in recent sessions on behalf of bipartisan legislation, and he was an infamous Dan Patrick-hater. Thus, when he revealed last year that he was resigning the State Senate to take a job at Texas A&M University, most observers assumed the chamber would take a rightward tilt irrespective of who his opponent might be.

At the time of Williams’ resignation, Creighton was in the middle of a bid for Agriculture Commissioner. Interestingly enough, when Creighton announced his candidacy for that post in August (Texpatriate was on hand for the event), Toth was among the dignitaries who supported his candidacy. However, once Williams resigned in October, Creighton switched races. Toth soon followed suit.

While Creighton is not nearly as centrist as his predecessor, he is still leaps and bounds above his opponent. While both are undoubtedly beholden to Tea Party and nativist groups and are significantly more conservative than I am familiar therewith. But only Toth is mean hearted about it.

Creighton, at heart, is a representative for his constituents. His support, at its core, is grass roots and reflects the same neighborhoods he grew up in and has worked in. I saw this last year when he held his kickoff event for the Agriculture Commissioner run. Myriad local officials were present, and the cheerleaders from the local high school even held an event. He is a man of the people, albeit very conservative people. Toth, on the other hand, is just all about ideology. His support is astroturfed.

This was the same sentiment expressed by State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County), a freshman who is quickly becoming the most renowned moderate Republican in the Legislature.

No surprise that Empower Texans endorsed against the Reagan Republican, Brandon Creighton, who is winning by 72% tonight,” Villalba wrote on his Facebook. ” Empower Texans and it’s leadership have no credibility whatsoever.”

No Special Session

The Texas Tribune reports that a joint agreement between Governor Rick Perry, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus has been reached to immediately augment funding for the Department of Public Safety in order to beef border patrols. Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for Governor, also backed this plan.

As the sagacious will surely recall, there have been thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the Texas-Mexico border in recent weeks, reportedly migrating –at least in part– in response to the US’s lenient policy toward undocumented minors. Obviously, the key folly with this line of reasoning is that everyone –minor or not– apprehended at the border is slated for deportation immediately. Anyways, as a direct result of this recent flareup, some prominent Republicans have begun clamoring for a special session of the Texas Legislature to address the issue. Most notably, State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor, pushed his nativist rhetoric hard, even giving a hat-tip to previous controversial statements made about immigrants and “third world diseases.” I pushed hard a couple of days ago about just how bad of an idea that it would be to accept such a proposition, as an innocuous border protection session could very easily morph into a right-wing think tank producing Arizona-style immigration policies.

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It’s a trap!

The Texas Tribune reports that a gaggle of Republican politicians, lead by State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the GOP nominee for Lieutenant Governor, have began pushing for Governor Rick Perry to call a fourth special session of the Texas Legislature to deal with border security.

The Washington Post provides the needed background on this issue. There have been tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors illegally crossing the border, with some evidence that they are coming here because of deferred action programs delaying the deportation of minor undocumented immigrants. Anyways, the powers-to-be have quickly realized that something needs to be done. Breitbart notes that Perry has said that, given current budget constraints, he can do little over the issue.

Accordingly, enter State Reps. Jonathan Strickland (R-Tarrant County) and Steve Toth (R-Montgomery County). The two pushed for the Governor to call a fourth special session specifically devoted to border security. By the end of the day, Patrick had publicly signed onto the matter. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, now a lame duck but still President of the Senate for the time being, also supported the measure via his Facebook page.

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Terrible, terrible poll

The Texas Tribune has released its newest poll, and the results continue to paint a bleak picture for the campaign of State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. The poll has her down 12 points to Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate. The poll also examined Statewide races up and down the ticket and found that Democrats were doing miserably bad in all of them. Most all of these polls included Libertarian and Green candidates, for what it is worth. Additionally, undecideds boasted pretty good showings in all of these races, and the number only got bigger the further down the ballot one traveled.

As many will remember, the Tribune commissioned an extensive poll in February that was not worth the non-existent paper that is was not printed upon. Among the many terrible predictions it made was that Kesha Rogers and Debra Medina led the plurality in their respective primaries. Rogers barely squeaked into a runoff and Medina came in a distant last place in a race where one candidate (Hegar) won outright. I went after the Tribune with a wrench in the Daily Texan a couple days after the preliminary primary completely discredited their polling, noting that we should not waste our breath analyzing something so unreliable anymore.  As my friend Charles Kuffner noted yesterday, the Tribune polls should be “in time-out,” meaning that we have to very look at what they have to say quite critically.

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