In the shadow of the Tower

I have five classes on Tuesdays. Combined with some shuffling back and forward to my office at The Daily Texan (speaking of which, I recently received a new title there), this meant a full day of walking around campus. By my estimations, I walked past the Main Mall, just in front of the Tower, about a half dozen times. One such time was a little past 11:45 in the morning, as I was leaving Astronomy and (unsuccessfully) attempting to not be late to Japanese Politics. About 48 1/2 years ago, at that exact time, I would have been in the crosshairs of a psychopathic sniper named Charles Whitman, who had barricaded himself at the top of the observation deck and started shooting at random, murdering 17 people in all that day.

Now, as the Houston Chronicle reports, legislators are determined to liberalize gun laws on college campuses all around the states, including at UT-Austin. Specifically, 19 of the 20 Republicans in the state senate co-sponsored SB11, which would do exactly that (the one exception was State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County)). It would mainly allow concealed handgun license (CHL) holders to bring the weapons to campuses.

I wrote somewhat extensively about this topic throughout the 83rd Legislature. In a wonderful example of how much things can change in just two years, I was opining back then all the way from Boston, instead of actually on the 40 acres. At the time, the bill passed the House but got lost in the Senate. Since that does not look to happen again this time, I would say get ready for this horrendous proposal to get enacted into law.

The reason I reference the Tower sniper attack in my introduction is not to suggest that this will open the floodgates to more mass shootings. Rather, it is to demonstrate the futility of such a proposal. Say, for example, one of the students had a legally concealed handgun. The likelihood of him or her effectively firing at the top of the tower and subduing Whitman would have been quite low.

The Daily Texan has an editorial, coming to print tomorrow morning, that addresses most of the other points on “Guns on Campus” one way or another, but the main argument remains the same: this is a spectacularly bad idea. As time goes on, I will continue to closely follow these bills.

In other news, the Texas Tribune reports that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has announced that the “Open Carry” proposals currently do not have the votes to move the legislation. He also implied to the Tribune that other priorities would likely come first. This has drawn the ire of right-wing grassroots.

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.

Texpatriate endorses for the US Senate

We tend to swing back and forward on prioritizing issues and prioritizing experience & leadership skills when it comes to campaigns, elections and endorsements. Most of us agree that Senator John Cornyn, the Republican incumbent who has been in office for twelve years, is a strong choice in the leadership department while his Democratic challenger, David Alameel, beats him in the policy arena. All in all, though, this board believes its squabbles on policy with Cornyn outweigh our preferences with him on leadership, and we therefore will support his competitor.

In this era of Tea Party upstart leaders who come out of nothing rather abruptly, Cornyn has been an exception to the rule. He is a slow but steady growing leader for Republicans in Texas. Before he entered the Senate in late 2002, he served for one term as Attorney General and about one-and-a-half on the Texas Supreme Court. Originally, Cornyn’s experience was in the judiciary, as he started out electorally as a District Judge in his home of San Antonio. Furthermore, Cornyn has spent his years in the Senate somewhat productively, moving up the food chain ever-so-efficiently until he recently became Minority Whip, the second highest ranking Republican. The country faces the distinct, though very real, possibility that Cornyn could even be the Majority Leader of the Senate come January.

All this is to say that, if Texas voters choose to repudiate Cornyn in his quest for a third term, the state would lose a lot. But it would also lose a consistent voice against everyday Texans, one indubitably without their best interests at heart. Despite what Cornyn’s many extreme Republican primary challengers may have suggested earlier this year, the incumbent is indeed a true conservative. So true, in fact, that his positions should not continue to have a home in the United States Senate.

Cornyn continues to be a driving force behind the asinine movement to amend the constitution in order to ban same-sex marriages. Once, he likened the idea to a man loving a box turtle. He also has stood against even the most reasonable gun regulations or bipartisan accommodations designed to keep the government afloat when Tea Party zealots were extorting Washington into austerity. After vanquishing rightist challengers in this year’s primary, you would think that Cornyn could move toward the center, but instead he has sadly doubled down on the very same type of partisan rhetoric.

David Alameel, the Democratic challenger, is not a strong candidate. His considerable largess allowed him to bully the state’s top political brass into supporting him over more qualified and more interesting candidates in the Democratic primary, with the ultimately false assumption that he would be amenable to spending some of his fortune during the campaign. Unfortunately, he has been missing in action from heavy politicking for many months now. We’re not holding our breaths for a sudden reversal.

We have some serious reservations about his qualifications, temperament and other characterizations. But on policy, there is a night and day difference. Alameel is pro-LGBT rights, wants to end neoconservative foreign policy elements and supports reasonable gun regulations.

It is still an open question as to if Alameel would make an effective Senator. But Cornyn has, without a doubt, lost our confidence as one, so we are willing to take a chance on a replacement, specifically one who we agree with on principle. Accordingly, this board endorses David Alameel for the United States Senate.

A dissent to the Editorial was also published
I largely agree with the platitudes espoused by the remainder of the editorial board, and their assessment of strengths and weaknesses among the candidates. We just disagree on which one should be prioritized.

Cornyn’s positions likening bestiality with reptiles to marriage equality are offense and indefensible. Similarly, his general demeanor on the issues as a member of the Senate is somewhat poor. But our friends, we fear, drastically understate the value of Cornyn’s leadership positions. The Senate is not a collection of fiefdoms. One freshman Senator would not be very effective in shaking things up. Texas is much better served by a tried-and-true statesman like Cornyn, with what he could affect for the people.
–Andrew Scott Romo

Noah M. Horwitz also published an individual addendum
I agree with the editorial’s positions, but I would like to clarify the role of experience. Being in the Senate is not very hard, it’s not a job that requires a lot of advanced brain power; anyone who ever met Dan Quayle could testify to that. Obviously, David Alameel is no LBJ, and neither is John Cornyn. It’s useless to try and romanticize or aggrandize their power or influence. The most important thing a Senator can do is to write and advocate for her or his bills. And, for that, it is beyond debate in our circle that Alameel would do a superior job.

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 are comprised of a majority opinion of the voting board.

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.

Trouble in paradise

About a week ago, I made a point of harshly castigating those who brazenly display their long guns in public. At that point, Chipolte had made waves in publicly prohibiting firearms at their locations. In recent days, as a direct result of more silliness from the Open Carry advocates, both Chili’s and Sonic announced that they too would prohibit guns. As a result of the increasingly heated rhetoric coming from the advocates, even the National Rifle Association stepped in as a voice of reason. Strange times indeed. Of all the news articles that summed up the situation, I thought that the Dallas Observer had the most comprehensive summation.

“Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself,” the NRA wrote on one of its online publications of open carry. “More to the point, it’s just not neighborly, which is out of character for the big-hearted residents of Texas.”

Strangely enough, the NRA post did not mention anything about private property rights, which is –in my opinion– the most convincing argument for the restrictions on firearms. As I have explained previously, even though a right to bear arms is protected, much like any other right protected under the Constitution, it does not extend into private businesses. You cannot bring a soapbox and give a soliloquy about your strange political views at a Chili’s, so you should not be allowed to it symbolically with an assault rifle.

Click here to read more!

In re Open Carry

This has been getting some major press coverage recently, though it does not especially involve an ongoing political dispute. The point of open carry is that proponents want to be allowed to carry their handguns exposed on their hips wherever they go. To illustrate this point, many of these types have taken their big, clunky semiautomatic weapons into restaurants and other establishments (this type of open carry is currently legal in Texas).

State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee for Governor, has absurdly come out in favor of open carry, as has Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for Governor. That being said, the issue I want to hone in on, open carry of long guns such as the firearms pictured above, has long been legal in this State.

These firearm enthusiasts, to say the least, have now been making a habit of taking their heavily weaponry into private businesses and blowing their tops (figuratively, of course) when denied service. Chipolte and Jack in the Box, specifically, have seen the highest profile incidents. Now, Chipolte is firing back by publicly announcing these long guns are no longer welcome.

Click here to read more!

Senate runoff election?

Texpatriate has learned that Gravis Marketing commissioned a telephone poll 729 likely Republican primary voters and found a shocking result: Senator John Cornyn could be heading into a primary runoff against Rep. Steve Stockman, his most high-profile opponent. Senator Cornyn, the Senate Minority Whip (2nd highest ranking Republican), is seeking a third term in the upper chamber and has been challenged by a whole slew of candidates for allegedly being insufficiently conservative.

Specifically, Rep. Stockman has challenged Sen. Cornyn’s recent tepidness towards the idea of “Open Carry,” that is allowing otherwise capable CHL holders to furnish their handguns in plain sight. He has also been criticized for allegedly betraying the values of Texas’ other Senator, Ted Cruz. Particularly in the case of October’s government shutdown and this month’s kerfuffle over the debt ceiling, Sen. Cornyn was one of the Republicans who took the high road and vowed not to let the United States default on its debt. This made the hard-right (read: Rep. Stockman) livid, and fostered an odd primary, to say the least. Most people have assumed that Sen. Cornyn would be safe, but a new poll casts doubts on such predictions.

Click here to see the Poll Results!