Catching up, Part II

When it comes to state politics, if something feels different in the last couple of days, it is because things have — indeed — changed. A new crop of officeholders have taken office, namely Attorney General Ken Paxton, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton and a few new members of the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. In the next week, Governor-elect Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick, respectively, will assume their offices at the top.

Despite not yet taking office, both men have already staked out positions both toward the far-right and toward the middle (leaning a little more to the former option). First, as the San Antonio Express-News reports, Abbott went on the offensive earlier this week on what he called the “Californization” (Californication?) of Texas. Specifically, he took issue with municipal bans on tree-cutting, plastic bags and fracking.

Evidently, Abbott finds municipal bans on cutting down large trees uniquely objectionable, and he openly compared the practice to “collectivism.” He similarly fumed over municipal bans on single-use plastic bags, enacted in cities such as Austin and Laredo. The bag bans have particularly drawn the ire of legislators and politicos since they must spend so much time in the state capital. Finally, Abbott took a firm stance against Denton’s recent referendum to ban fracking within its city limits. Since the enactment of the ban in November, numerous legislators have filed bills to prohibit such bans statewide, and Abbott now looks amenable to signing such a bill.

All this being said, perhaps there is something to be said for Abbott having at least one pragmatic side in office. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an editorial examining if Abbott is coming around on medicaid expansion. The statewide sentiment has recently turned against the opponents, but I’d still say true expansion is a longshot. Back in November, I opined in The Daily Texan that this was a possibility nonetheless, well before anyone else did.

Moving onto Dan Patrick, he recently outlined his legislative priorities in a series of interviews. The Texas Observer reports that Patrick would be fighting for an ambitious conservative agenda while in office. The topics outlined were garden variety right-wing ideas involving tax cuts, immigration and school privatization, but a few novel specifics stood out. Among them was a proposal to rescind state funding for the Public Integrity Unit within the Travis County District Attorney’s office. The PIU, always overseen by a Democratic DA hailing from Austin, is typically a thorn in the side of prominent Republican officeholder, be it former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, former Congressman Tom DeLay or Governor Rick Perry.

The Texas Tribune also looks at Patrick’s historically animosity toward the Senate’s 2/3rds rule. For those of you playing at home, the 2/3rds rule is an anachronism for the chamber stemming back to when it was comprised exclusively of Democrats. It requires the votes of 21/31 senators to advance any particular piece of legislation during the regular session. Patrick will likely get the needed votes to lower that threshold to 19 votes, conveniently just below the 20 Republican votes in the upper chamber.

However, as the Brownsville Herald reports, Patrick could have at least something of a mind toward bipartisanship. State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-Hidalgo County) has been selected as the President Pro Tempore of the chamber, meaning he would serve as the President of the Senate in the lieutenant governor’s absence.

Last but not least, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has dedicated his first official act in office to implementing so-called “cupcake amnesty.” About a decade ago, the Department of Agriculture (which has power over school lunches) opined against parents packing cupcakes and other sugary foods in their children’s lunches. The policy was quietly reversed last year, and now Miller is wishing to publicize the change. Miller also noted that he has set his sights on removing restrictions on sodas and fries.

“We’ve been raising big, strapping healthy young kids here in Texas for nearly 200 years and we don’t need Washington, D.C. telling us how to do it,” Miller said.

Glossing over the obvious problems with that statement, Miller made a lot of sense when he noted that local control should be trumpeted in these cases. Sadly, it seems that local control is not respected unless it is convenient for Republicans, as Abbott has clearly shown.

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Texpatriate endorses for Railroad Commissioner

The Texas Railroad Commission, despite its byzantine name, is responsible for the regulation of oil and gas throughout the state. It is an enormous responsibility for a state so inextricably linked with the creation of energy. With three commission members serving staggered terms, a sole commissioner seat will be up for election this year.

The incumbent, Barry Smitherman, has been a terrible commissioner in his limited tenure. Between focusing on red-meat social issues that have little to do with energy and neglecting his duties for an ill-fate run toward higher office, Smitherman has — as Chairman of the Commission — reduced the position to a rubber stamp for the oil and gas industry. With Smitherman retiring, Republican candidate Ryan Sitton looks certain to continue this legacy.

Now, in the midst of Texas’ biggest oil boom since the 1970s, being friendly to the industry is not necessarily a bad thing. The recent rev-up in production has the capacity to revitalize the lives of countless Texans and send our economy into overdrive. But the point of a regulatory body is not merely to be a cheerleader for the industry, but to protect the public and foster policies for the benefit of the entire community.

Sitton, an oil and gas engineer, appears complacent to continue along with business as usual. On the other hand, Steven Brown, the Former Chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, wants to ensure people are protected above all else. Though not classically trained in the industry, Brown has proven himself to have an impressive mastery of all the issues that the commission faces.

At issue here more than anything else is the dispute over hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as “fracking.” The process involves injecting high-pressure liquid into shale rocks that contain natural gas and petroleum, making previously unreachable resources available. Without a doubt, these processes have left a positive mark on Texas. They have helped expedite weaning us off of foreign energy sources, as well as enriching portions of the state and jumpstarting the economy.

But real concerns remain. Namely, the freshwater of these regions has been comprised and some evidence exists that these procedures can cause minor earthquakes. This has prompted many liberals and others affected to call for an outright ban, if not a moratorium, on the measure.

For Brown’s part, he has been more tempered. He wishes to end some fracking into those areas with serious earthquakes, as well as ban the use of freshwater for fracking, but he does not merely want to end the largely successful practice. This measured approach is far superior to Sitton’s mindset, which is to ignore the myriad complications that have arisen.

Additionally, we simply cannot take Sitton seriously as a candidate considering his serious ethical breaches throughout the campaign. As someone who has a significant interest in many oil companies, Sitton originally defiantly stated that he would not divest his interests if elected, despite the fact that he would have regulatory power over those same companies. Only much later did he reverse his stance in an insincere effort to carry favor with voters. This led us against endorsing Sitton in the Republican primary for the post, despite the fact that we agreed with him on policy more than his opponent in that election.

Thus, it would be an easy choice to support Brown in this election. But we also tend to agree with him more on policy choices and actual issues that the commission might face. He wants to be for the people, Sitton wants to be for the profits.

Accordingly, this board endorses Steven Brown for Railroad Commissioner.

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.

Bush the environmental realist?

The Texas Tribune published a fairly detailed interview with George P. Bush, the Republican candidate for Land Commissioner, yesterday. Most notable among its lengthy contents was that he had a rather pragmatic take on environmental issues, at least in comparison with his compatriots. Bush, of course, is the son of former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) and the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush (ergo, the nephew of George W. Bush).

Among the many examples of his perceived moderation on these issues is that he admits global warming is occurring, though the Tribune pointedly notes that he stops short of attributing it to humans. However, perhaps more importantly, Bush does note that something needs to be done about global warming and the deleterious effects it will have around the world, specifically in Texas. He laments the coming rise of the sea level, claiming it is something that “keeps him up at night.” This is a very different line of reason from most other Republicans who concede global warming occurs but still claim man does not affect it. Those arguments typically make a point of saying that people cannot do anything to affect global warming, so we need not alter our environmental policies.

Furthermore, Bush countered some of his colleagues by stating that he would not want to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, though he definitely strongly disagrees with most of their recent mandates. I, for one, am not impressed by this concession. Is it supposed to be impressive? Rick Perry claimed the EPA need not be abolished in the midst of his epic debate failure a few years back.

However, Bush appeared content –even tepidly supportive– with the reality that the EPA and other major players are trying to transition the consumption of energy away from fossil fuels such as coal, and onto cleaner sources such as natural gas, before moving onto full renewable sources.

In the full interview –which you can read here— Bush went on at length about how it is a good thing to wean the State off of oil (yeah, you read that right) and mitigate emissions of carbon dioxide. He even spoke quite favorably of Garry Mauro, a Democrat who was Land Commissioner for the four terms between 1983 and 1999, for similar initiatives. Mauro, for his part, said he was “shocked” upon learning of the compliments and the pragmatism.

Obviously, Bush’s views on many environmental topics, namely a support of increased fracking, are dangerous and short-sighted. But the shift to a more reality-based approach on these issues is very, very good news. Anyone with a half a brain can tell that Bush has ambitions for higher office, namely Governor either four or eight years down the line. In my opinion, Texas will be a swing state by then, so for the Republicans to nominate a partisan zealot at that time would be exceedingly unwise.

Historical conservatism, the type Bush’s great-grandfather (Prescott Bush) who served as a Senator from Connecticut subscribed to, was actually quite receptive to environmental issues. A terrific profile in The Atlantic recently explored this idea, noting how “Earth Day” was once derided by left-wing groups such as SDS as a type of elitism. Hopefully, attention to the earth could one day be restored to the GOP.

Additionally, I sincerely hope that otherwise liberal individuals, much like myself, do not continue griping at Bush about him not coming “far enough” on the issue. Make no mistake, any progress on this issue from Republicans is a good thing, and should rightly be celebrated. Hopefully we’ll be celebrating for many years to come…right from our beachfront properties in downtown Houston.

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!