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.

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).

Straus annihilates Turner

The Texas Tribune reports that House Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County) has been re-elected, as expected, to a rare fourth term as speaker. He annihilated his competition, embodied in State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County), by unbelievably lopsided margins. The final tally was 127 for the speaker, 19 for Turner (two absences and two vacancies). While Straus, yet again, received the unanimous support of Democrats, there were 76 votes in the Republican column alone for him. This means that, contrary to the misleading claims made by Straus’ detractors, he did not require bipartisan support for his election.

Turner could obviously tell that his quest for the speakership was quixotic at best and delusional at worst as early as November. But unlike the other speaker challenges, which were abandoned before January, Turner soldiered on for very different reasons. He never expected to actually win the gavel (at least I hope not). The entire point of the challenge was to force a record vote for speaker, something that has not been done since the 1970s. Right-wing groups, such as the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Empower Texans, have pledged to recruit primary challengers for all the Straus loyalists. We’ll see how that works out, but color me skeptical.

Thanks to Empower Texans, we have a roll call of all nineteen of the Turner loyalists. State Representatives Dawnna Dukes (D-Travis County) and Tom Craddick (R-Midland County) were the two absences. While Dukes has intimated that she would have supported Straus, Craddick — a former Speaker who was deposed by Straus in 2009 — is tougher to pin down.

State Representatives Rodney Anderson (R-Dallas County), Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock County), Pat Fallon (R-Denton County), Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County), Mark Keough (R-Montgomery County), Stephanie Klick (R-Tarrant County), Matt Krause (R-Tarrant County), Jeff Leach (R-Collin County), Matt Rinaldi (R-Dallas County), Scott Sanford (R-Collin County), Matt Schaefer (R-Smith County), Matt Shaheen (R-Collin County), David Simpson (R-Gregg County), Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman County), Jonathan Stickland (R-Tarrant County), Tony Tinderholt (R-Tarrant County), Molly White (R-Bell County) and Bill Zedler (R-Tarrant County) all supported Turner.

Interestingly enough, Turner — a native son of the DFW Metroplex — garnered a significant chunk of the delegation from up there, but only one representative from Greater Houston and zero from both the San Antonio and Austin areas, respectively.

The House is still Straus’ fiefdom, that much is no longer up for debate. The question is what type of lower house he will command over the next 140+ days. Texas Monthly just published a lengthy interview with Straus, and I strongly urge you to check it out. Most pressingly, he appeared strangely tepid on Greg Abbott’s prospects as Governor. This led Breitbart Texas to explode and publish a real hit piece against Straus. Trouble in paradise already, evidently.

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.

What’s next for Texas Democrats?

A day after the 2014 election, when Democrats all across this country suffered what could generously be described as a shellacking, this publication ran a cover article with the headline “TEXAS WILL NEVER TURN BLUE.” Three months on, as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick stand ready to assume the offices of governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, that sentiment looks true as ever. State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, wishes to abandon the legislature and flee into municipal politics, specifically by attempting to become the next mayor of San Antonio (directly contradicting herself from July). Will Hailer, the longtime executive director of the Texas Democratic Party who was heralded as a prophet to lead them into the promised land, just left Texas. And then there’s Battleground Texas. Oh, Battleground Texas.

In February 2013, a gaggle of former Obama campaign staffers came together to create the organization, which promised to hastily turn Texas blue. Obviously, that was a bit of a stretch, but the idea nonetheless was that they would expedite the progress already underway to make the state politically competitive. Whatever they did, it didn’t work. Actually, that’s a gross understatement; they actively made things significantly worse.

Accordingly, when I saw the article in the Texas Observer entitled “Does Battleground Texas have a future?,” all I could think was “oh my gosh, I sure hope not.” Whatever they did in this election cycle, which is still a matter of open debate, was deleterious and had a net negative effect.

Before I get into this, there is an obligatory disclosure. There were countless people, from the top to the bottom of that organization, who undobutebly did yeoman’s work. Be that spending their whole days volunteering or making numerous sacrifices, there were hundreds — some of which I personally know — who put in a great deal of work striving toward, what I believe was, an honorable cause. But none of that discounts the fact that the strategy employed by Battleground Texas was indisputably awful.

As the Observer article delineates (I highly recommend reading it), Battleground Texas siphoned money away from other deserving beneficiaries, namely the Texas Democratic Party, and appears to have squandered it. Their top-down approach, with its over-reliance on rosy numbers and optimistic prognostications, is eerily reminiscent of the Chinese Communist Party’s bureaucratic management during the Great Leap Forward. Of course, I’m not trying to flippantly make light of a famine by comparing it to a tougher-than-expected loss suffered by Texas Democrats, but the principle is the same. These tactics lead to dishonesty and spin until some type of cataclysm unveiled the truth.

I noted, ahead of the election, that if Wendy Davis, who the Democrats nominated for governor, did not crack 40%, then Battleground Texas would disappear, merely becoming a lamentation of drunken staffers at Capitol Hill bars. Well, Davis didn’t crack 40 percent (she didn’t even make it to 39), and yet Battleground Texas is still here. I suppose it will limp along into the future for perhaps another year or two, but if it is ever taken seriously again, that would be a profound mistake.

With all that pleasantness out of the way, the underlying question pegged in the headline still remains: what should Texas Democrats do? To put it evocatively, give up. Wave the white flag. Forget about competing at a statewide level because, in most of the political class’ lifetimes, it simply will not happen. Rather, instead of humoring the delusions of grandeur within the Austin elite, the concerted effort among progressives in this state should be on grassroots building at the local levels. Specifically, this means turning Bexar (San Antonio), Harris (Houston) and Nueces (Corpus Christi) counties blue. The cornerstone of that is finding suitable candidates to run for all the open offices and then supporting them with money. Battleground Texas actively took money away from these local efforts, especially here in Harris County. Why didn’t they held the overworked and underfunded Harris County Democratic Party fill all the judicial offices?

As an aside, what should be next for Wendy Davis? A few days ago, The Dallas Morning News reported that her big flop back in February to support open carry was just a total lie that she fabricated in a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to curry favor from the pro-gun crowd in the election.  Still, as the Houston Chronicle reported, Davis intends to run for office in the future. Personally, my reaction is “thanks but no thanks.”

Davis has always struck me as a dedicated and effective public servant, but the truth is that she makes a lousy politician. She isn’t articulate, she isn’t especially charismatic in front of cameras and she doesn’t think on her feet very well or quickly. Sound bites are anathema to her, and debates are even worse. Worst of all, she appears to have been ordered around by misguided campaign staff, leading to a ship sailing along with anyone competent at the helm for much of 2014. But all of that pales in comparison to what makes Davis an atrocious future pick: she lost bad. Davis will always indelibly be linked to that 20-point whooping, and it will not do the Democrats any favors. They need to move on.

And they also need to move on from statewide politics, for the time being. Breitbart Texas recently accused the Democrats of “abandoning” said politics while “retreating” to municipalities. It evoked strong reactions from the usual suspects. But perhaps it isn’t that bad of an idea.

No matter how many marathons you participate in, if you only run marathons, you won’t ever do all that well. You have to start small, running shorter distances, and only moving on when you have mastered those simpler tasks. Texas Democrats need to do the same thing.

Texpatriate’s Person of the Year 2014

If one were to scour the bars of downtown Austin last year, 2014’s election would have sounded like the big one, the year when Texas Democrats would show they were truly a force to be reckoned with. At the very least, the year they continue what had been incremental progress toward competitiveness. Of course, that did not happen, as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee lost by more than any of her predecessors in this century.

But to characterize this year merely as one of Democratic failure would be a gross oversimplification, and would ignore the impressive independent successes of Republican campaigns this year. Long chastised as technologically backwater, Republicans closed the digital gaps all around the country, but especially so within Texas. Governor-elect Greg Abbott’s campaign in particular functioned as a well-oiled machine. Lamented by many as politically untested, Abbott was cautious and — for the most part — outwardly reasonable on the campaign trail (despite whatever far-right position he espoused away from television cameras).

However, caution did not permeate the entire ticket. Specifically, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick appeared content to continue the ultra-conservative, divisive rhetoric he used to win the Republican primary, reiterating it without shame throughout the general election. In the end, he only won by marginally less than Abbott, despite such a very different strategy. Patrick, more than anyone else, embodies the current realities of Texas politics; the state is controlled, with an iron fist, by the few percent that bother to vote in Republican primaries. And Patrick echoes their voice louder and with more certainty than any of his colleagues.

Historically, lieutenant governor has been the most powerful position in the state, even more than the governor. The roles have only been reversed for the best decade or so because of a uniquely audacious governor and a strangely milquetoast lieutenant governor. But Patrick, previously a State Senator with no adversity to controversy, does not have a single timid bone in his body.

Since being elected, Patrick has exhibited no signs of slowing down his charge to change the state. He has already begun holding hearings on education matters, and a radical restructuring of the system — likely involving the extensive use of charter schools and vouchers — looks slated for the next session. With Patrick holding almost despotic power over the upper chamber, his word will carry more weight than just about anyone else.

As an editorial board, we aren’t much for Patrick’s extreme political positions. Be it education reform, guns, immigration reform or environmental factors, we disagree with him quite strongly and repudiate many, if not most, of his tactics. Throughout both his lengthy primary campaign against incumbent David Dewhurst as well as Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson & Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and general election campaign, Patrick demonstrated a working unfamiliarity with telling the truth, which earned him the honorific of “pathological liar” from one such opponent (Patterson). We endorsed his Democratic rival for lieutenant governor earlier this year in about the strongest way we knew how civilly.

But one would have to be delusional to deny the huge impact that Patrick already has, and will continue to have, on Texas politics. His defeat of Dewhurst, simultaneous with similar primary battles for Attorney General and Agriculture Commissioner, signaled a transition for control of the Texas Republican Party (and, in effect, the State of Texas). Make no mistake, the Tea Party is not a faction within the party, there are the party; and Patrick is their prince.

In the next session of the legislature, Abbott may very well play it safe and push a rather non-controversial agenda from a technocratic point of view. But no one expects Patrick to do the same. If/when the legislature passes big measures such as so-called “School Choice,” “Open Carry,” “Campus Carry,” and the end of concepts castigated as “Sanctuary Cities” or the “Texas DREAM Act,” we will have Patrick to thank/curse for it. He will quickly and hugely make his mark on Texas.

Accordingly, we denote Dan Patrick as our Texpatriate 2014 Person of the Year. Previous recipients include ANNISE PARKER (2013), LANE LEWIS (2012), ANDREW BURKS (2011), THE HOUSTON MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEE (2010) and ANNISE PARKER (2009). Criteria for recipients has changed over the years.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of George Bailey of Boston, Noah M. Horwitz of Austin and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials comprise a majority opinion of the board.

Give us your tired, your poor

Statue_of_Liberty_-_New_York_Harbor_-_21_Sept._2012_-_(1)

The New York Times reports that President Barack Obama, impatient waiting for Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform, has gone out on his own to address the issue unilaterally in any way he can. By executive order, he will temporarily shield roughly four million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States through the use of prosecutorial discretion, a valid exercise of the executive branch’s constitutional authority. The criteria used will protect those immigrants who are the parents of American citizens, meaning that their child was born in this country, even if the parents entered the country illegally. Additionally, the Times prognosticates that about one million more such immigrants will  be saved by the elimination of the so-called “Secure Communities Program,” which mandates local law enforcement agencies must check immigration status of all those arrested and accused of crimes.

The secure communities program, in particular, has been a pet peeve of mine. When I worked at City Hall, I debated my colleagues on municipal television arguing against the validity of its predecessor, known only as 287-g. In a recent editorial for The Daily Texan, it was described as “Orwellian,” a “brazen violation of due process” and a continuation of the “criminalization of immigrants” as the editorial board opined for its abolition. Basically, this part of the proposal took me by surprise, in a good way. The Times notes, rather stuffed away in the middle of their writeup, that “Local police will no longer be asked routinely to detain immigrants without papers.” That is a rather huge point.

As for those with citizen children, the roughly four million undocumented immigrants protected under the crux of the plan, the mechanisms are rather simple. They must pay back taxes, pass a background check and register with the Federal Government, but after that time, they can “come out of the shadows,” as Obama put it. Complete with Social Security Cards and everything. However, without congressional approval, there is no way that these individuals may be on a pathway to citizenship.

Finally, the actions expand Obama’s previous mark on the immigration program, the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), first implemented in 2012, which allowed for individuals brought into this country illegally as children to similarly be shielded from deportation. Under the new standards, anyone brought over illegally before 2010, as opposed to 2007, may be covered. Additionally, there would be no requirement that applicants be below a certain age anymore.

As expected, these actions enraged the Republican Party, which has been quick to castigate Obama as some type of malevolent dictator. This, despite that, as an editorial from The New York Times put it, “Presidential precedent, the law and Supreme Court affirmation all favor Mr. Obama” in his fight against Republicans. Simply put, the Times is right, as a plethora of Presidents, including Ronald Reagan, were all too eager to use presidential decrees for similar purposes.

However, as the Texas Tribune reports, Governor-elect Greg Abbott, who until next January will also serve as Attorney General, has sued the Federal Government anyway over the matter. However, as the Tribune notes when interviewing constitutional scholars on the topic, Abbott’s suit is largely frivolous and — whether or not you like the politics behind it — Obama’s actions are well within his legal rights.

All in all, I am quite supportive of Obama’s actions. They are the right thing to do, they will have profound impacts on the day-to-day lives of millions and they represent an audacious action on the part of the president. That three-part cocktail has been nonexistent throughout Obama’s tenure, as he has largely opted instead of the safer options that don’t rile people up.

When Republicans assume control of the US Senate in January, the 114th Congress will — not doubt — redouble its efforts to block Obama’s actions. He repeatedly noted throughout his remarks that Congress should, in his words, “pass a bill.” They most definitely will, but it won’t be one that he likes. They will pass a bill that seeks to undo all his actions, in a unified way, ending Obama’s argument that he is acting alone because Congress is dysfunctional.

History shows us that Obama will capitulate and fold like a cheap card table when that happens, and will likely largely reverse his program in some desperate effort to reach a compromise with Republicans. Contrarily, I strongly urge that he would push back nonetheless. Opinion polls show the public divided over Obama’s specific actions, but when polled in the abstract about the ideas, they are overwhelmingly popular. When push comes to shove, so to speak, Obama needs to appeal directly to the American people. If he sticks to his guns and doesn’t waffle, they just might have his back.

This is a nation of immigrants, as Obama also repeatedly mentioned in his speech. Now, I have fairly radical libertarian views on immigration, which may or may not include the phrase “open borders,” but I recognize that most others do not share my sentiment. Simply put, a continued influx of people who are eager to assimilate would be a godsend to any other practically any other developed country in the world. The United States, much like Europe or east Asia, faces a precipitously dropping birth rate. We would be condemned to the demographic disaster these other regions are facing, if not for our ever-expansive pool of prospective immigrants. And because this nation ascribes to the melting pot ideal, E Pluribius Unum, immigrants’ children mostly become completely  assimilated members of society. This, in addition to the principle of birthright citizenship enshrined in the 14th Amendment (jus soli), sets us apart so much from the rest of the world, and it allows immigration to really be something with few drawbacks.

No families nefariously scheme about crossing the desert and sneaking past border guards because they don’t want to pay taxes. It’s because our legal immigration system is broken, something individuals on both sides of the aisle will freely stipulate. If you want to be Americans, and you have the means to provide for yourself once you enter, this country should welcome you with open arms.

As the statue of liberty says on its plaque, an homage to the poet Emma Lazarus, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Texas Senate changes

The Texas Tribune reports that Comptroller-elect Glenn Hegar, also a member of the State Senate, has resigned his seat in anticipation of assuming high office. Governor Rick Perry has called a special election for December 6th, which will likely have to be resolved by a runoff election some point after the 84th Legislative session convenes at the start of next year.

The three candidates for the State Senate district, which stretches from Katy (Hegar’s hometown) to Corpus Christi to the outskirts of Austin (map here), include Gary Gates and Charles Gregory of Fort Bend County as well as State Representatives Lois Kolkhorst (R-Washington County). Needless to say, the huge district will continue to be dominated by its Greater Houston subdivision. No Democrats have, at print time, announced their interest in the district, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that none will run (the last time the district held an election, in 2012, Hegar ran unopposed).

Perhaps the bigger piece of news is some convincing evidence that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), this year’s unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, will in fact resign her senate seat to run for Mayor of San Antonio. I went over most of the odds-and-ends involving this possibility last week, when I emphatically opined against the decision. Selfishly, I think Van de Putte could continue being an asset for Democrats in this state as an articulate and highly-visible leader of the opposition against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in the next session.

The source for this is Robert Miller, a lobbyist in Houston who has a history of breaking these types of stories via Twitter. The tweets were immediately confirmed by former staffers of Van de Putte. Miller, as you may remember, correctly pointed to Wendy Davis running for Governor in August of last year (Back when I thought she would only lose by eight-to-ten points, how naive of me).

With Van de Putte out, another special election would have to be called. The Houston Chronicle has suggested that both State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer and State Representative Jose Menendez, both San Antonio Democrats, would throw their hats in the ring to succeed Van de Putte in heavily gerrymandered (for the Democrats) district. Meanwhile, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County), who recently resigned his House seat to run for Mayor of San Antonio, may still end up switching races.

The San Antonio Express-News has a great profile out that discusses the “friction” between Van de Putte and Villarreal. In 1999, Villarreal had succeeded Van de Putte in the State House when she was first elected to the senate, defeated her hand-picked successor in the process. Ever since, the relationship has been tense. Accordingly, the two might have a nasty campaign ahead of them, though I would think Van de Putte (the only statewide Democrat to carry Bexar County) would be heavily favored.

But the optics about candidates and what not can wait until we have more information. Perry and Governor-elect Greg Abbott, when he takes office, are just petty enough to purposefully drag their feet on a special election to ensure the Democrats start the session with one fewer voice, short of the 1/3 needed to block legislation. Although, as I have previously mentioned, the 2/3rds rule is likely doomed anyways.

Off the Kuff has more (regarding Hegar).

So far, so centrist

Governor-elect Greg Abbott, fresh off a 20-point decisive victory in the gubernatorial election, looks like he may govern from a less divisive point-of-view than his predecessor, Governor Rick Perry. Yesterday, the Texas Tribune reported that Abbott had made a pick for his Secretary of State, arguably the most powerful appointed executive office in the state. The secretary has broad powers over the legal and election portions of the state bureaucracy. Abbott selected Carlos Cascos, the County Judge of Cameron County (Brownsville). Cascos, a Republican, was first elected to the powerful county executive position in 2006, defeating the incumbent judge, Gilberto Hinojosa, who is now the Chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Re-elected both last week and in 2010, Cascos has proven himself a rather middle-of-the-aisle pragmatist. The four County Commissioners that Cascos works alongside on the Commissioner’s Court are all Democrats. Abbott lost the county by 13 points and Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick lost it by about 22. Needless to say, Cascos is not a right-wing, red-meat conservative.

This is fairly significant, especially in light of recent appointments to the position. The incumbent Secretary of State is Nandita Berry, a lawyer from Houston who is perhaps better known as the wife of conservative shock-jock and former City Councilmember Michael Berry. Cascos, unlike Berry, is not a pick designed to fire up the Tea Party. Rather, he is a choice who is meant to court support from Hispanics and independents.

In comments made after announcing his nomination, Abbott honed in on innocuous issues such as water conservation, mostly straying from divisive issues. In recent days, however, Abbott — who currently also serves as the Attorney General — has noted that he may sue the Federal Government in the near future is President Barack Obama takes any unilateral action on immigration reform. Fortunately, this type of talk has been the exception and not the rule in recent days from the Governor-elect.

I briefly talked about all this last Friday in The Daily Texan, noting that Abbott has been placed in an extremely important position to guide the politics of the state throughout the next biennium.

“While a Senate run by Patrick and packed with his friends would likely pass these measures, they could easily find themselves slowed in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Joe Straus, a comparatively moderate Republican, still reigns supreme,” I wrote. “Straus, left to his own devices, is not much for divisive social issues.”

The Daily Texan Editorial Board also examined what Abbott might do specifically for UT. An alumnus of the university, Abbott will not likely be so damaging for the Longhorns as the incumbent.

“Unlike Perry, Abbott is not so ideologically opposed to the humanities,” we wrote. “His campaigns have not been so heavily underwritten by, nor as closely associated with many of these individuals with a stake in dismantling the University.”

Now, I will freely admit that I am largely grasping at straws here. Abbott has made one appointment, and a whole lot can change when push will come to shove, so to speak, in the near future. But his general demeanor in the past eight days as the Governor-elect, including an apparent willingness to eschew Perry’s controversial Texas Enterprise Fund, should serve as promising signs that perhaps Texas’ 48th Governor will be more centrist than its 47th.

Filing bills for the 84th

The Texas Tribune reports that bill filings have begun for next year’s session of the State Legislature. When all was said and done, about 350 proposed laws and constitutional amendments were proposed today. Oddly enough, all this commotion conspicuously occurred amid the silence of Governor-elect Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County). Most of the loudest initiatives came from Democrats and Tea Party Republicans, with both leadership and centrists mostly ducking away from the limelight.

For whatever reason, the Tribune as well as the Associated Press have been harping about a new proposed ban on texting-while-driving. The usual suspects, including former Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), have been pushing the measure once again, cautiously optimistic that the new Governor would consider the idea; a far cry from Governor Rick Perry, who infamously vetoed the bipartisan measure in 2011. However, Abbott noted in the course of the campaign that he too would likely veto a measure. Accordingly, it’s a dumb point to focus upon.

Most notable were three major Tea Party aspirations, all of which very well may get a vote in this upcoming session. First, three concurrent pieces of legislation (HB 106 by State Representative Dan Flynn (R-Van Zandt County); HB 164 by State Representative James White (R-Tyler County) and; HB 195 by State Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Tarrant County)) were all introduced that would have the effect of ushering in “open carry” in Texas, meaning that all CHL holders could openly show off their deadly weapons in any location its hidden counterpart would be welcome. Abbott has implied he would sign such a law.

Second, Stickland also introduced HB 209, which would do away with the Texas Dream Act, the bipartisan policy nearly unanimously passed at the start of Perry’s tenure that allows undocumented students brought into this country in their infancy to attend UT and other public universities at the “in-state” rate. Abbott would also sign this proposal.

Third, State Representative Jim Murphy (R-Harris County) introduced HB 193 while State Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita County) introduced SB 105. The bills would repeal Texas’ unpopular franchise tax, the closest thing to taxes on corporate profits in the state.

That’s more or less what’s important, but I included a list below of the other assorted bills that piqued my interest one way or another:

  • HB41 by State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-Bexar County) would raise the minimum wage to about $10, while HB 174 would do the same for state contractors.
  • HB 53 by State Representative Ruth McClendon (D-Bexar County) would raise the age at which offenders are tried as an adult from 17 to 18, all other things being equal.
  • HB 68 by State Representative Robert Alonzo (D-Dallas County) would allow for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
  • HB 70 by State Representative Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso County) would provide for penalties for bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in school districts.
  • HB 71 by Gonzalez would create a “Romeo & Juliet exception” for same-sex partners.
  • HB 76 by State Representative Ceila Israel (D-Travis County) would allow for online voter registration.
  • HB 78 by Gonzalez would provide for comprehensive sexual education in schools.
  • HB 81 by State Representative Ryan Guillen (D-Starr County) as well as HB 170 by State Representative Carol Alvarado (D-Harris County) would regulate e-cigarettes throughout the state, as well as prohibit their sale to minors.
  • HB 89 by Gonzalez would regulate tuition at public universities.
  • HB 91 by Flynn would create a legal marketplace for the sale of raw milk.
  • HB 92 by White would legalize possession of the “Bowie knife,” among other changes to the state’s knife laws.
  • HB 93, HB 107 and HB 110 by White would greatly reform and generally liberalize laws pertaining to truancy. Specifically, the fine would be reduced from $500 to $20, among other provisions.
  • HB 97 by Guillen as well as HB 189 by State Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County) would end the statute of limitations on sexual assault.
  • HB 108 by Guillen would retain the right of lottery winners to be anonymous.
  • HB 111 by Fischer would allow for voters to register to vote on election day.
  • HB 113 by State Representative Allen Fletcher (R-Harris County) would criminalize aborting a fetus based on its gender.
  • HB 116 by Fischer would expand Medicaid in Texas.
  • HB 124 by Fischer would expand free, universal Pre-Kindergarten throughout the state.
  • HB 130 by State Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas County), as well as other pertinent joint resolutions, would legalize gay marriage in Texas.
  • HB 135 by Flynn would require High School students to take a civics class on the US Constitution.
  • HB 138 by Flynn would require the 10 Commandments be posted in schools, in clear defiance of the Supreme Court.
  • HB 142 by Stickland would prohibit the use of red light cameras for traffic citations.
  • HB 147 by State Representative Jose Menendez (D-Bexar County) would require merchants to receive photo identification for major purchases involving credit cards.
  • HB 150 by Flynn would nix day light saving’s time in Texas.
  • HB 161 by State Representative Lyle Larson (R-Bexar County) would allow prisons to house inmates in tents.
  • HB 176 by State Representative Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lee County) would somehow “allow” the state to not follow Federal laws involving guns that they did not fancy. The ignorance here is astounding.
  • HB 204 by State Representative Jeff Leach (R-Collin County) would shorten summer break for public schools by about two weeks.
  • HB 213 by State Representative Angie Button (R-Dallas County) would require ex-legislators to wait four years before lobbying under the dome.
  • HB 215 by State Representative Patricia Harless (R-Harris County) would do away with the fees for fishing licenses when it came to fishermen 65 years and older.
  • HB 216 by White would lower the minimum wage for a concealed handgun license from 21 to 18.
  • HJR 31 by Gonzalez would require the Attorney General to be an attorney.
  • HJR 37 by Larson would require legislators to resign from office before running for something else.
  • HJR 38 by Larson would impose term limits on state offices.
  • SB 54 by State Senator Jane Nelson (R-Denton County) would drug test welfare recipients.
  • SB 76 by State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Harris County) would prohibit insurance discrimination on the part of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • SB 81 by Ellis would create a commission to further research wrongful convictions, particularly for capital offenses.
  • SB 82 by Ellis would greatly expand the availability of probation for drug-related offenses.
  • SB 86 by Ellis would allow for no-excuse absentee voting.
  • SB 135 by State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County) would reform grand jury systems by transitioning from “pick-a-pal” systems in which the grand jurors are chosen by an intermediary to one in which the District Judge directly selects the participants.
  • SB 139 by State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock County) would end diversions from the State Highway Fund to the Department of Public Safety, among other recipients.
  • SB 141 by State Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Harris County) would increase voter education for high school seniors.
  • SB 148 by State Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso County) would repeal the unconstitutional ban on “homosexual conduct.”
  • SB 150 by State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Potter County) would appropriate about $3 Billion for university construction around the state.
  • SB 158 by State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas County) would grant funds for local police departments to purchase body cameras, then require officers wear them throughout their interactions with the public.
  • SB 173 by State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County) would deem synthetic marijuana a “controlled substance.”
  • SJR 10 by State Senator Donna Campbell (R-Comal County) would invalidate municipality’s non-discrimination ordinances.