My Christmas list for the Lege

 

Dear honorable Representatives and Senators of the 84th Legislature of the State of Texas:

These are the items I wish to see introduced in the next regular session of the Texas Legislature. Some, I have opined on or suggested in the past. For others, the idea may seem comparably novel. Some of the ideas may appear rather logical common-sense approaches, while still others rather quixotic and far fetched. All in all, I think all these ideas would greatly benefit the people of Texas. There are some ideas, such as expanding Medicaid or recognizing gay marriage, with which I obviously agree with but did not include because they are trite and not original. I will leave those suggestions to the professionals.

  • HB1: A bill to simplify out-of-county voting for public college students.” I have discussed this idea in the past with some detail. Basically, it would allow those students at the state’s largest public colleges (UT-Austin, A&M, UH and Tech) who are from the state’s largest counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis, Tarrant, El Paso) to vote early in their home counties at special voting booths erected at their colleges. This would avert the often-uncertain and complicated absentee process for these young students, who are notoriously unreliable in their dedication to voting.
  • HB2: A bill to simplify graduation standards for public college students.” This one should be self-explanatory. The legislature rightly removed asinine core requirements for high school students, now they should do the same for college students. Sorry, UT, but it is a disgusting waste of everyone’s time that I have to take FIVE science classes in order to get a degree in Government. If we remove silly Liberal Arts mumbo jumbo, more students could graduate in as little as two years, saving lots of money and time while still providing the same grand education for degrees.
  • HB3: A bill to raise the gas tax.” I know, ‘raising taxes’ is the third rail of Texas politics, but this is just long overdue. The department of transportation does not have the money it needs to maintain the roads in this growing state. The approval of Proposition 1 last Tuesday was a good step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
  • HB4: A bill to strengthen the Texas Open Beaches Act.” Reiterating that the beaches of the State of Texas are public parks belonging to, and exclusively to, the people. Not even erosion of the coastline may negate that fact.
  • HB5: A bill to protect the integrity of the death penalty.” This bill would increase the burden of proof for convicting someone of death-qualified capital murder from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “beyond the shadow of a doubt.” Thus, only in cases where the people are indubitably convinced of guilt may the death penalty be applied.
  • HB6: A bill to abolish ‘environmental zones’ on Texas interstates.” Currently, a regulation exists that lowers the speed limits on Interstates from 75 to 65 in the rural areas immediately outside of Dallas and Houston. Ostensibly, this exists to lower emissions, but no convincing evidence exists that it does not. It should be done away with, and speed limits should only be lowered from 75 when the traffic data would suggest it should.
  • HB7: A bill to repeal the state’s unconstitutional sodomy statute.” This law, which criminalizes gay sex, has not been in force for more than 11 years since the US Supreme Court struck it down. But it’s still on the books, which is a terrible embarrassment for the state. Clean up the books.
  • HB8: A bill to ban corporal punishment in schools.” Most school districts in Texas already ban the barbaric practice, but some do not and still unbelievably beat students. The Legislature should rather expeditiously correct that wrong.
  • HB9: A bill to reduce drug penalties.” This bill would lessen the penalty for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana to a Class C Misdemeanor. It would also lessen the penalty for possession of trace amounts of cocaine to a Class A Misdemeanor.
  • HB10: A bill to eliminate the statute of limitations on reporting rape.” Wendy Davis proposed this on the campaign trail, I see no reason it should not get bipartisan support.

I might likely still add more ideas, so consider this a work in progress.

Thank You,

Noah M. Horwitz

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Texpatriate endorses for Land Commissioner

The Commissioner of the General Land Office, commonly known as the Land Commissioner, has broad powers over relatively random portions of state government. Public land (including beaches), education and veterans’ affairs round out their duties. It is a job that requires both political acumen and considerable policy knowledge. In these categories, the choice that is best for Texas is clear.

Republican candidate George P. Bush is about far, far more than a continuation of a political dynasty. The son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, he has a lot to live up to in arguably the most visible conservative political dynasty in the country. But unlike the partisan excesses pushed by his family members, Bush is pragmatic in his outlook. And standing in stark contrast to his uncle, the last member of his family in Texas politics, Bush has demonstrated considerable mastery of the issues at hand for the Land Commissioner office.

A former teacher, Bush has a special place to understand the plight of many within the public school system. Overseeing the moneys that would go to many schools, Bush has no power to change standards or increase funding, but he does have the capacity to ensure that funds are spent efficiently and responsibly. We have every reason to think he would capably do this.

On veterans, Bush pushes a plan that is both realistic considering the powers of his prospective office and has the capacity to greatly improve the lives of many veterans affected by debilitating conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder. It’s relatively simple; he would publicize and tout the myriad programs Texas already has in place to assist veterans, such as low-interest loans and subsidies involving healthcare. For all our reputation of being a no-frills state when it comes to social welfare programs, Texas already ostensibly does a great deal regarding veterans; we just do a lousy job advertising that fact. Bush would change that.

Most importantly, regarding public land, Bush would push for programs that respect the integrity of our parks and reserves while still allowing the responsible exploitation of the resources underneath the ground. It’s a win-win situation.

Contrary to many in his party, Bush is an environmentalist. One of the mantras of his campaign is that there is no “false choice between protecting the environment…and promoting job creation.” He acknowledges the reality of climate change, as well as the terrifying phenomenon of rising sea levels. Texas would do well to have such a pragmatic steward of both positions in office.

The former Mayor of El Paso, John Cook, is also running as a Democrat. He is a passionate candidate, but his criticisms are far more pointed at the incumbent Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, than they are directed toward Bush. To put it bluntly, Bush commands a mastery of the issues regarding the office that Cook simply does not possess. Despite an impressive resume, he has largely dropped the ball on a serious campaign ahead of the general election.

Educated by the best institutions of higher learning in the state, Rice University and UT Law, Bush is obviously smart. But he is also a passionate and comprising politician as well. Such qualities make him stand apart in Texas politics to most of his compatriots in the Republican Party, much less his family. Texas voters have an easy decision to make, so as long as they do not blame one candidate for the sins of his father.

Or his uncle.

Accordingly, this board endorses George P. Bush for Land Commissioner.


 

Noah M. Horwitz dissented from this editorial, and wrote his own addendum.

My colleague makes some good points in his editorial that urges support of George P. Bush for Land Commissioner. He is, indeed, a pragmatist compared to those within his party, believing in things such as climate change and the need to allocate resources protecting both schoolchildren and veterans from the perils of austerity. Such beliefs were also somewhat evident back in February, when I joined with my colleagues in unanimously selecting Bush as the best choice within the Republican primary. But the points just don’t hold water when Bush is challenged by the reasonableness of John Cook, a Democrat vying for the position.

While it is true, for example, that Bush recognizes the very real danger presented by climate change, he is still willfully ignorant regarding the source of these dangers. Bush still officially doubts the idea that people are the main source of climate change, despite the fact that 97% of pertinent climate scientists agree on that point. Why? The reason is that, like nearly all of the high profile figures within his political party, he has to mollify a zealous, extreme and anti-intellectual faction that dominates primary elections.

What good is a steward of public lands if he does not acknowledge the driving source behind the greatest danger to them? Recognizing that climate change exists merely means you are not delusional as to present realities, but if you think humans are not causing it, there is little you can do besides wring your hands and lament the conundrum while you refill the oversized gas tank in your hummer. He is without any type of actual strategy to deal with the rising sea levels that threaten to eviscerate our beaches.

Speaking of beaches, Bush supports an abominable ruling of the Texas Supreme Court that guts the state’s venerated Open Beaches Act. While the law mandates that all of Texas’ beaches are state parks, to be used by anyone, the high court has adulterated the state constitution to fit their bizarre interpretation that an exception may be carved out if a property owner’s previous non-beachfront land becomes the “first in line,” so to speak, as a result of erosion. With the state’s rapidly eroding coastline (which, not to keep beating the same point, is not a result of mysterious circumstances, but the obvious byproduct of the rising sea levels and increased tropical activity that come with man-made climate change), this terrible ruling will affect more and more parcels of land in the forthcoming decades.

Bush supports this misguided ruling. On his watch, Texas beaches could easily find themselves like the northeast, where the rich and powerful monopolize all the good locations, hogging these pristine landscapes from the public. Now, Bush can just go to his family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. But for most honest Texans, the state beaches are all we got.

John Cook opposes this silly ruling, and recognizes the very real threat that man-made climate change poses to the state’s beaches and other public land. With years of experience as both the Mayor of El Paso and a member on the El Paso City Council, Cook is not a political novice. Since my colleagues evidently values policy acumen so highly, it should be worth mentioning that Cook also knows the nitty-gritty intricacies that this office faces remarkably well. Cook doesn’t have Yankee family money underwriting his travels around the state, so he may not be quite so ubiquitous of a presence around our humongous state this general election. But that just should not be important.

Be it the editorial board of this publication, or those of just about any newspaper in the state, it appears everyone has lost sight of their priorities this election. Obsequious adulation is directed toward Bush for his passion, campaign skills and the size of his war-chest, as if those are things any articulate person would prioritize in an endorsement. We’re better than that, we’re better than the sophomoric illogic used in picking the student council candidate with the prettiest posters; at least, I think we are.

What far, far too few people have done is actually look at the policy disagreements between the two, albeit well-qualified, candidates. Bush ascribes to the fairy tale that climate change is not caused or affect by people, whereas Cook thinks we should be vigilant in trying to stop it. Bush thinks the One-Percent should be entitled to steal state parks along the ocean from the average Texan to ensure their million-dollar second homes are protected from eminent domain; Cook thinks this 55 year-old law is valid and should remain enforced. Most importantly, Bush simply will go through the motions of this office for four years while he plots his campaign for Governor, as everyone in this state fully expects him to do. Cook actually wants to get into the weeds and leave his mark on the General Land Office.

I don’t punish Bush for the sins of his father, or his uncle. I punish him for his own. Respectfully, but sternly, I urge you to disregard the majority’s opinion and vote for John Cook for Land Commissioner.
—Noah M. Horwitz

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.

Straus vs. Turner

The Austin American-Statesman wrote about State Representative Scott Turner’s (R-Rockwall County) rather quixotic challenge against State Representative Joe Straus (R-Bexar County) to be the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Turner, a Tea Party-backed Republican, is being supported by the conservative group Freedom Works, and is running a rather direct, grassroots campaign in an attempt to topple Straus.

As I explained at length a couple weeks ago in a lengthy briefing on Straus, there is some bad blood between the Speaker and the Tea Party. Straus, a comparatively moderate Republican, rose to power in 2009 after hobbling together a coalition of other moderate Republicans and the Democrats to knock off the incumbent Republican Speaker. Since then, he has governed the House somewhat responsibly, but surely not as the supposed liberal that many on the right paint him to be.

However, as the Austin American-Statesman alternatively reported tonight, Turner’s right-wing bona fides have not always been quite so apparent. When Turner –who is a former NFL player– first ran for Congress in California in 2006, he evidently answered on a questionnaire that he was a fan of earmarks in some circumstances. He also reportedly held some anathema political positions on both education and immigration reform.

That being said, Turner is still trucking along –full steam ahead– in his bid to become the next Speaker. A few Tea Party affiliated Representatives have challenged Straus in the past, State Representative Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County) and State Representative David Simpson (R-Gregg County) to name a few. However, both Hughes and Simpson dropped out of the race before voting. The Speaker of the House, obviously, is only voted upon by the members of the Texas House. However, according to the platform of the Texas Republican Party, it should be a statewide elected position. Turner, for his part, has pledged not to drop out of the race before the end.

When I sent out TEXPATRIATE questionnaires to Houston-area State Representative candidates, I included a line about the Straus/Turner contest, but have hitherto received little feedback. If I had to predict, I would guess that Straus will retain his position rather handedly, though he may lose some legitimacy from his party if he receives a minority of Republican support.

All over things being equal, I would assume the 84th Legislature has a similar partisan makeup to the 83rd in the House; that is, about 55 Democrats and 95 Republicans. When push comes to shove, I can only assume the Democrats will hop onto the Straus wagon, leaving a need for about a quarter of the Republican caucus to join in. Such a conclusion, most observers would imagine, is highly likely. Realistically, Sraus will probably clear north of 100 votes.

What do you think?

Civil Affairs: Pragmatism

CIVIL AFFAIRS

For those who did not hear, I was on television last night. Specifically, on the program “Red, White and Blue” on the local PBS affiliate. Among the many topics that we discussed was just how the Statewide Democratic slate might do well in November. Jay Aiyer, a law professor at Texas Southern University and one of my fellow panelists, opined that Democrats should move to the center and embrace causes typically not associated with contemporary liberalism. As you may have noticed if you watched the program, I also suggested that some embrace of social issues, specifically gay rights and abortion, might end up benefiting the Democrats. I also noted that Aiyer’s suggestion and mine were not necessarily mutually exclusive, as evident by a political persona such as Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo, the Governor of New York, is likely the type of Democrat that candidates in Texas should strive to emulate. Unapologetic in his embrace of liberal social positions, though overwhelmingly business friendly, Cuomo has marked out of position on the political spectrum that transcends the typical constraints of dichotomous opposition.  Most important of all, Cuomo possesses a trait that I call “ruthless pragmatism,” not necessarily in the style of Frank Underwood, but maintaining a healthy alacrity to changing issues and conventions nonetheless.

However, a true of pet peeve of mine would be when the idea of pragmatism is misused or otherwise adulterated by someone who is just weak willed. Not to be too cliche, but the word is defined as practically, realistically or otherwise sensibly dealing with issues. Pragmatism is not tantamount to equivocation. Just because something might be popular does not mean that it is necessarily pragmatic, particularly if there are other negative implications.

Click here to see how this all connects with the Statewide elections!

Wendy Davis’ new stances

First off, a twofer from the Houston Chronicle. First, the announcement that State Senator Wendy Davis, the presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor, supports both the approval of medical marijuana and its decriminalization for general use. This position would be seen as remarkable for a Texas Democrat who has a history of somewhat overly cautious behavior on these contentious issues. However, a couple of weeks ago, Governor Rick Perry announced his support for limited decriminalization, thereby making the issue much less toxic in the general political landscape. It is worth noting, however, that Attorney General Greg Abbott –the likely Republican nominee for Governor– has not reflected the Governor’s opinion, and those Republicans vying to be the next Lieutenant Governor are actively opposing it.

Davis also said she lacked any “philosophical” objections to legalization, but she did say wanted to “see how this experiment plays out in other states is probably advisable before I could tell you for sure.” The comments were made in an on-the-record interview with the Editorial Board of The Dallas Morning News. It is a good example that, no matter what positions Davis may take that are incongruous with the base, she still has a few tricks up her sleeve.

Click here to read more about stances on Pre-K & abortion!

Texpatriate endorses in Land Commissioner primary

In the race for Land Commissioner, voters must choose a new steward over the vast public holdings of the General Land Office, managing acres upon acres of land both rich in minerals and value. The Commissioner must figure out how exactly to do this, but he also is tasked with presiding over a plethora of important State Boards, specifically a pair managing broad issues relating to Education and Veterans, respectively.

First, this board examined George P. Bush, an attorney from the Dallas area. However, what readers will most notably know Bush from is his extended family pedigree. His father, Jeb Bush, was the Governor the Florida. His uncle, George W. Bush, was the 43rd President. His grandfather, George H.W. Bush, was the 41st President. We have serious misgivings about a political amateur running for such a powerful, Statewide post, and we do not think Bush makes up for these weaknesses because of his family (whom this board has never been so fond of in the first place).

However, our strongest objections with Bush end at his short resume. We believe that he has run a great campaign, especially when juxtaposed against his compatriots in the Republican party. Whether this has been his strong mastery of educational issues or those affecting our veterans, or finding a reasonable voice in those disputes of environmental concern, Bush has continued to surprise us as a new leader in perhaps a more centrist wing of the party, one we so desperately long for.

Click here to read the full endorsement!

Texpatriate endorses in Lt Gov primary

Cartoonist Nick Anderson at the Houston Chronicle recently depicted the four candidates in the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor as neanderthals. Indeed, the candidates have incessantly one-upped each other in a desperate race of conservatism to the extreme. Whether this has been on the issue of abortion, creationism or the role of the government funding, each and every candidate has espoused dangerous political positions that have the capacity to turn back the clock on the progress of a healthy society.

However, instead of focusing on the drawbacks of the candidates, this board will focus on their strengths. Among the four candidates –incumbent David Dewhurst, State Senator Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples– this board has found two distinct categories that we have rewarded those running. First, there is the capacity for effective leadership demonstrated in the past. Second, there continue to be those bright spots –albeit few and far in between– wherein some candidates have let their pragmatism and common sense shine through, often to the detriment of their standing with the hard-right primary voters.

When it comes to leadership, Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst is the hands down winner. For over eleven years, Dewhurst has led a State Senate that has retained a club-like, easy going attitude, often in sharp contrast to the petty bickering both in the lower house and in Washington D.C. This is chiefly due to the retention of a safeguard against the tyranny of the majority, a dilatory tactic known as the “two-thirds rule,” which allows a union of at least 11 Senators to hold up legislation. Additionally, Dewhurst has historically heralded bipartisanship by appointing nearly a half-dozen Democrats to lead some of the most important Committees in the chamber, including those in charge of Criminal Justice, Education and Veterans.

Click here to read the full endorsement!