Jeb Bush 2016

The New York Times reports that former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) has taken the first decisive step toward running for president in the upcoming 2016 election. Bush created something called a “leadership PAC” that actively explores the possibility of running for president. It is tantamount in all but name to an Exploratory Committee, and few — if any — serious observers contend that there is a realistic chance he would not follow through and run at this time.

Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, is largely seen as the continuation of a quintessential Republican establishment dynasty. While the family may have been, in some circles, considered on the rightward periphery of the party in 2000, times have markedly changed since that time. Specifically, since the advent of the Tea Party, Bush has been lambasted by the base of his own party as insufficiently conservative on immigration-related issues. Earlier this year, he even suggested unauthorized border crossings were an “act of love,” drawing the ire of the right-wing. Bilingual and the husband of a Mexican-immigration (additionally the father of Land Commissioner-elect George P. Bush), Bush is seen as a uniquely formidable Republican opponent for Democratic presidential contenders, namely former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Prompted by Bush, a few other names have clamored to reiterate their longstanding almost-campaigns. The serious politicians who belong in that category include Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Governor Scott Walker (R-WI), among other less glamorous options.

Last month, I prognosticated that Cruz has the best chance of the pack to be nominated, and I reiterate that comment again tonight. Make no mistake, the ultra-conservatives (Tea Party) are in firmer control of the party now than they were four years ago. They have only been enraged over the years as their preferred candidates have been cast aside in favor of comparable-pragmatists, such as John McCain and Mitt Romney, who then fell in the general election. Bush — or Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), for that matter — will be shunned because he will be seen as a continuation of the “play it safe” strategy.

Of course, the success of a presidential candidate has little to do with ideology, because the American public does not care enough to understand said ideology. They care about the charisma and soundbites of the messenger. That is why Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in a way that Gerald Ford likely would not have, even though Reagan was significantly more conservative.

Much in the same respect, Cruz is a phenomenal messenger in a way that none of the other candidates are. Not since Joseph McCarthy have the Republicans had a national figure so comfortable with making things up and completely disregarding the truth without so much as a modicum of shame. The only difference is that the media is so impotent and feckless nowadays that there is no Edward R. Murrow to call him out. Cruz is confident, assured and smart, so the base in his party goes along for the ride, even though I think it is fairly obvious he would sell them out in an instant to further his own interest. When the time comes, I believe, the general public will similarly fall for him.

If the Tea Party is looking for a knight in shining armor, they will be sorely disappointed just about any way. Cruz may be appealing, quoting Cicero and all. But in the end, his most rapid supporters will just be muttering “Et Tu, Theodore?” At least Bush puts his cards on the table.

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.”

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.

Abbott’s strange doublespeak

Yesterday, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, released a new 30-second commercial on border security. Ordinarily, this would not be much for news, but a tidbit within the ad caught my attention. Overall, the ad is a garden variety conservative attack on President Barack Obama for apparently not doing enough to manage immigration into this country, while bemoaning the supposed influx of Mexican cartels into this country. I don’t want to really get into the weeds of all that, because it is a very different issues that drew ire from me.

Around the 12-second mark, the ad claims that Abbott would double the budget of the Department of Public Safety. This doesn’t sound that unreasonable, especially considering most of the DPS’ functions involve things like highway patrol and motor vehicle bureaus. The only problem is that the DPS is largely funded out of the State Highway Fund. Since the DPS obviously is different from a highway, the moneys it receives from the fund are considered diversions. And Abbott, in a commercial last month, pledged the end diversions from the fund.

All this begs the question of how Abbott would pay for his projects. Obviously, he — like everyone else in the Republican Party — is pathologically opposed to raising taxes. And yet, drastically expanding money for transportation, public safety and the border, he is proposing a fairly significantly upping of the state’s expenditures. And yet, with no plan to pay for it. I suppose that Abbott could just slash a little more from schools, but at this point he’s writing cheques the State just cannot cash.

Abbott wants to have his cake and eat it too. Sadly, I have not found anyone else around the state that has honed in an this strange doublespeak. The state media has completely abdicated its responsibility to call out bad candidate plans. State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, rightly received immense derision for her outlandish education plan, which likewise lacked a sensible pricetag. It’s only fair that Abbott should be subjected the same.

On another note, I find it strange that Abbott would be wading into this divisive of an issue, especially without attacking Davis by name. The jab at Obama appeared a little misplaced, especially considering his last Obama-centric ad went well out of its way to connect Davis to him.

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: Refugees

CIVIL AFFAIRS

Thousands of children, fleeing violence and deplorable conditions in their home countries, escape their own countries and arrive at the periphery of this one. They freely turn themselves in to the proper authorities, not seeking to evade the law but rather face the direct consequences of their own action. These children are convinced that even perpetual detention is preferable to the egregious state of affairs from which they came, in Central America.

Under normal circumstances, this humanitarian crisis would be treated exactly for what it is. Resources would be spent trying to assuage the suffering of these migrants, and ensuring that they are cared for, with all their needs met. Instead, partisan squabbles have bled over into this issue, with Democrats using the opportunity to score points with pro-Immigration Reform. More seriously, the Republicans have attempted to placate Tea Party concerns by adopting a hardline stance on this topic, threatening deportations for unaccompanied refugee children and eviscerating any semblance of humanity on the matter.

This cruelty came to a head today when Governor Rick Perry announced he was deploying approximately 1000 members of the Texas National Guard to the border region. The Washington Post has the full story on this topic, including the revelation that Perry wants his State Guard to patrol the border personally, a serious dereliction of duty and usurpation of the Federal Border Patrol’s responsibility. This much did not surprise me, what surprised me was the muted reaction from many of the serious rank-and-file in the Texas Democratic establishment.

“If the federal government won’t act, Texas must and will,” Wendy Davis, a State Senator and the Democratic nominee for Governor, said. “However, we should be deploying additional deputy sheriffs to the border like local law enforcement is calling for.”

Notice that Davis did not necessarily criticize the rapid buildup at the border, a stark departure from most of her contemporaries and colleagues on the slate. State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, took a different approach.

“To strictly militarize the border won’t help us meet this unique humanitarian challenge,” Van de Putte said. Similar points of view were also echoed by State Senators Sylvia Garica (D-Harris County) and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso County), as well as a few prominent State Representatives.

They are children. Say that again….out loud. Jockeying these poor kids around like some sort of partisan political football is not constructive, nor does it assist us in solving the obvious humanitarian crisis. Van de Putte and others get that, but evidently, Davis does not. This issue should specifically transcend whatever our simplistic policy disagreements on immigration reform and the like may be. I, for example, believe in largely open borders for all those willing to wait in line at a designated crossing and provide identification. I assume that most in politics would not take such an audacious stand on the topic, but I should share their opinion on this issue nonetheless.

It does not truly matter if you think these refugee’s adult parents, for example, should be allowed expeditious entry into this country with ease. The refugees are still figuratively knocking at our doors without shelter or the means to obtain it. It is our moral duty to absorb all such migrants.

But even humoring some of Perry or Davis’ points, what should this increased presence along the border do to assuage the humanitarian crisis in the Valley? Stand on one side of the Rio Grande with semiautomatic guns? I fail to see how one can adequately intimidate away these children, who are already freely turning themselves into the authorities.

This issue, perhaps more than any other domestic issue this summer, deserves a brave response from our political leaders, not muted and impotent replies. This is not mundane policy, these are people’s lives.

Brains & Eggs and Dos Centavos have more.

 

Assorted Immigration Thoughts

I couple of days ago, I opined on the crisis of unaccompanied minors at the border. Since then, a number of updates have transpired, which I feel are compelling enough to discuss one by one. First and foremost, President Barack Obama recently concluded a two day visit to Texas (Dallas and Austin, respectively). Governor Rick Perry originally tried to snub Obama by refusing to meet him on the tarmac of DFW when Air Force One arrived, prompting a little brouhaha of its own (for what it’s worth, Perry later acquiesced and met him on the tarmc).

Perry theoretically blew off Obama at first because he so desperately wished to discuss the situation along the border. The two held a brief meeting, where they sparred over broad platitudes but avoided specific details. The New York Times has a longer article on that topic, if you want to read a few hundred words on the matter. Perry, for his part, joined forces with Sean Hannity and began patrolling the border in a boat with a built in machine gun. Call me old fashioned, but I had always thought that we spend much of the 20th century tearing down militarized borders. Perhaps we should not spend the 21st propping them back up on our margins.

Obama, for his part, attended a few fundraisers, BBQ joints and gave a speech on the economy in Austin. UDems from UT, of which I was formerly a member, were featured prominently in the audience of the speech, pictured behind the President. I’ve attached a picture of the event, with the people I know circled in red. If you know them too, write on their Facebook walls to congratulate them or whatever the kids do nowadays. Something with the Instagram?

POTUS

Click here to read more!

Unaccompanied Minors

First things first, there are a few items in need of stipulation. Over 50,000 unaccompanied young people have illegally crossed the US-Mexico border, for a multitude of reasons. While a key rationale surely has been a humanitarian crisis throughout Central America (where the migrants have originated therefrom), and it is worth noting that many of these migrants have sought out asylum in other nations such as Mexico, part of the problem has been exacerbated by lenient deportation rules for those who illegally come to this country as minor children.

Second, and this stipulation is probably the most significant, my own personal philosophy on these matters is to welcome these children into this country with open arms. Asylum seekers should always be welcomed in this country, particularly those who strive out to seek a better life. As I have said many times in the past, I believe in generally reforming the immigration system to provide for open borders. When you look at actual science –and not the right-wing conspiracy theories– one will see that the civilized world is facing an unparalleled demographic disaster. The “Greying of Europe” or the “Greying of Japan” is threatening to tear those regions apart at the seams as the nations face the prospect of a rapidly declining population. The only reason that the United States does not face the same grim fate is because of healthy and vivid immigration. Furthermore, because of an awesome thing called “the Melting Pot,” our immigrants are largely assimilated into the culture after one generation, and their children are full-fledged American citizens. Heck, one of them could even become President.

With all this in mind, I find myself walking a very narrow line on this issue. On one hand, I have been very disappointed by President Barack Obama’s response to this issue. On the other, I hate myself for seemingly agreeing with such reactionaries on this issue as Governor Rick Perry. To be perfectly clear, I’ve come to the same conclusion as Perry –that Obama has screwed up– for a very different reason.

The Austin American-Statesman highlights some background on the spat between Obama and Perry. Later this week, Obama will visit Texas. In a lengthy statement released to the press, Perry noted that he would not give a “quick handshake on the tarmac” to the President, which he stated would “not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.” As an alternative, he gave a suggestion for Obama and him to have a heart-to-heart on serious solutions to the matter.

Perry’s points are very valid, but they are not much use given his insincere alternative. If you actually think that Perry wishes to foster a collaborative and productive conversation with Obama, given Perry’s inane hatred and presidential aspirations, I would like to sublet my ocean-front apartment in Austin to you! A wolf in sheep’s clothing, indeed.

The valid points, however, deserve repeating. As The Dallas Morning News reports, when Obama comes in town, he will attend fundraisers in Austin and Dallas, but will not visit the border. Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), a denizen of Laredo who represents much of the border, berated Obama for his aloofness and unfavorably compared him to former President George W. Bush.

“I hope that this doesn’t become President Obama’s Katrina moment,” Cuellar said, referring to the infamous incident in 2005, when Bush merely flew over a flooded and desperate New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, rather than coming to help.

In a bipartisan effort by Texans of all stripes, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) joined in on the critiques of Obama. “The problem speaks for itself when the president, who would prefer to hang out with campaign donors and other political supporters, would decide not to have any interaction with those that are directly affected by his failed policies,” Cornyn said.

Make no mistake, Obama has seriously erred in not taking a decisive stand on this issue. Coming to that conclusion is not necessarily a Democratic or a Republican position. It is merely the acceptance of a reality on the ground. Doing nothing earns you no accolades from the left or the right.

Convention recap

Editorial note: I apologize for this getting out a day late–Wordpress has been absolutely terrible, corrupting over 2500 words of meticulously well-crafted opinions that I put together yesterday. This is my second stab at it. In the meantime, please give me a suggestion of a blogging software that is not completely worthless.

On Saturday, the 2014 Texas Democratic Convention came to a close after a number of productive days. I drove up to Dallas, where it was held, after work on Wednesday and stayed until late afternoon on Saturday. What I found, first and foremost, was a party that had the lights turned back on, one that was significantly more optimistic about the future than it had been in the past. That being said, there were number of things that I truly took exception to, which I will definitely delineate here. But for the most part, the convention was a rousing success.

I was absolutely overjoyed to see the excess of young people there, which felt significantly more numerous than my first convention experience, back in 2012. This could be for a number of reasons, among them that this a gubernatorial election cycle as well as one where refocused attention has been applied on Texas Democrats. The first convention after the formation of Battleground Texas as well as the Wendy Davis filibuster was bound to bring some more young people to the table. Finally, it may be that the last biennium has seen me expand my idea of who a “young person” was, so while a 25 year old might not have sufficed as a contemporary when I was 18, they would at 20.

From UT Democrats, Kirk Watson Campaign Academy, Davis campaign interns, Battleground Texas fellows to Texas Democratic Party staffers, I felt like the convention was literally filled with young people. It was not a rare sight at all to see people obviously younger than me, and my own Senate District (SD17), a ferociously suburban district where the median age is easily in the 50s, boasted over a dozen young people, including a couple who had just graduated High School. My point on all this is that the demographics, just on age alone, continue to work in the Democrats’ favor. Of course, there was racial and ethnic diversity, but that is not a new item at State Democratic Conventions. The young people were, though.

The only serious politics that transpired on Thursday was one last meeting of the State Democratic Executive Committee before new elections were called during the convention to fill it. While most of the SDEC’s acts that day were rather mundane, they did get to some pretty controversial business involving VAN. For those unfamiliar, VAN (Voter Activation Network) is a program run by the Democratic Party and used by Democratic primary candidates in order to ascertain the partisan affiliation of a specific voter.

In case you didn’t know, whether or not you voted, and which primary (if any) you voted in, are both public knowledge. Thus, in a State like Texas where Democratic primary campaigns are very, very specific, it is of great advantage to selectively campaign with certain people, thus not wasting money sending your direct mail to a registered Republican.

This brings us to the SDEC resolution. A number of members, led by former State Representative Glen Maxey (D-Travis County), pushed to disenfranchise certain Democratic primary candidates from VAN. Specifically, those who have voted in the most recent Republican primary or donated at least $1000 to GOP candidates or causes would be excluded.

Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa objected to this  proposal because he felt it was detrimental to rural Democrats. Hinojosa explained that, in many smaller, rural counties, the Democratic Party is virtually non-existent, so there is no Democratic primary to vote in. Accordingly, many otherwise very liberal people there would have no choice but to participate in the GOP process if they wished to remain politically active, as it would be tantamount to election.

The SDEC narrowly overruled Hinojosa and adopted the proposal. I agree with the Chairman’s comments, but I thought there was a greater issue at play that no one thought to talk about. As I have said countless times in the past, what type of message are we sending moderate Republicans and Independents if we do not welcome them to our parties. Beggars can’t be choosers, and these are the exact type of people the Party needs to attract in earnest to win elections.

Of course, the inconsistency advanced by the small-minded ideology is noted as well. Wendy Davis, David Alameel, Mike Collier, Jim Hogan, Larry Meyers; the Democratic slate is quite literally filled with former Republicans. I am not being facetious when I say that I truly do not understand the arbitrary standards used by the Austin intelligentsia to determine who gets a pass into the Sapphire City and who is left at its gates. Do you understand?

If, for whatever reason, you want more of my opinions on this controversy, check out the column I penned in this morning’s issue of The Daily Texan!

When it came to the platform, rules, credentials, etc, there were not very many actual surprises. As many will remember from 2012, the platform took a huge step to the left two years ago, endorsing gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization, as well as calling for the abolition of the death penalty. Those three planks still got some press two years later.

Dos Centavos notes that the immigration plank was kind and humanitarian, as opposed to the cruel, Hobbesian planks advanced by the GOP. While they nixed a guest worker program, the Democrats remained steadfastly supportive of comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship. However, one of the interesting new tidbits was a provision calling for the end of the “287g program,” which has been implemented in cities such as Houston. The program calls for law enforcement officials to look into the immigration status of all those arrested –not convicted– within the jurisdiction.

I have always been somewhat disappointed by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s support of this program, given that he is a Democrat. Back when it truly flared up, in 2010, I was working at City Hall. One of the most heated debates I ever had there was on this program. My opinion back then was the same as it is now, and it still points back to my rather laissez-faire view of immigration. Thus, I’m happy that this plank was inserted.

Other new items of note included an unequivocal call to ban on so-called “reparative therapy,” which the GOP endorsed in their own convention. The Republicans have received an astounding amount of bad publicity for this, including from their own Chairman.

However, the biggest item involving the platform that I could find was that the party offered no leadership on the issue of marijuana legalization. At a time when two States have already legalized marijuana (Colorado and Washington), Texas Democrats truly made a mistake of not taking a bold stand on this issue. The sluggish reaction of the old guard is troubling, and eerily reminiscent of all the resistance to gay rights. To me, the biggest issue is that the platform still includes sentences such as “Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.”

Marijuana is actually far less dangerous than either of the other drugs. Alcohol directly kills something like 80,000 people a year, while Tobacco kills over 400,000. Marijuana has directly killed ZERO people since time immemorial. As far as hallucinogenics go, it is the safest option out there. Once again, I’m just disappointed with the lack of leadership that was shown on this issue.

Then, of course, there is the mandatory discussion over the Chairman’s race. The astute will surely remember that I did work on the campaign of Hinojosa back in 2012, though I did not work for any candidate this year. Hinojosa, a former Judge from the Rio Grande Valley, was re-elected with over 95% of the vote, winning at least five Senate Districts unanimously, including my home district, SD17!

Texpatriate endorsed Hinojosa for reelection, and for good reason. To borrow a line from Racehorse Haynes, one of my father’s old legal mentors, I would like to plead in the alternative. First, I think that the Texas Democratic Party is on the right track. Second (if I did not think the TDP was on the right track), I do not think that changing the Chairman would have a significant effect. Third (if I did think changing the chairman would have significant effect), I do not think that Hinojosa’s opponent, Rachel Van Os, would be a suitable replacement.

Van Os’ speech was an exercise in “not ready for prime time” if I ever saw one. Woefully unprepared and scarce on specifics, Van Os failed to give me a good reason why Hinojosa did not deserve a second term and she definitely failed in demonstrating why she would be any better.

As unbelievably harsh as I often am on Democrats and the Democratic establishment, individuals often find it surprising that I am such a resolute supporter of leadership, be it TDP Chairman Hinojosa or Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis. As my friend Carl Whitmarsh says about such leadership positions, they are the jobs “that everyone wants, but no one wants to do.”

It is remarkably easy to criticize someone in the leadership positions, and I will be the first to admit that I have criticized those local party leaders countless times, but it is significantly harder to actually change things in a meaningful way. Constructive criticism should never be misinterpreted for a lack of support, and I got the feeling that most delegates agreed with such sentiment.

I tried to find someone –anyone– from the general public who would go on record supporting Van Os, but I was unsuccessful. My friend Perry Dorrell, of Brains & Eggs fame, was a supporter of hers, but I have a policy not to interview other members of the press–it’s too insidery.

The race for Vice-Chair, however, had significantly more sparks. Under a gentleman’s agreements, given the demographics of the current Chair, the Vice-Chair must be an African-American woman. I’m not necessarily sure that I’m comfortable with those types of requirements, but that is a discussion for a later day. Accordingly, the battle was fought at the Black Democrat Caucus, where incumbent Tarsha Hardy –first elected in 2012– would run for a second term.

Challenging her were Fredericka Phillips, a Houstonian, and Terri Hodge, a former State Representative from Dallas. Some may recall that Hodge resigned under scandal in 2010, following allegations of impropriety and bribery. Under a plea deal reached with prosecutors, Hodge accepted a charge of tax evasion and spent one years in prison. After working on a number of campaigns since getting out, she finally threw her hat into electoral politics once again this past weekend. That being said, she got clobbered in the running, coming in a lonely and distant third place.

Phillips was the eventual winner, defeating Hardy by just two votes. Graciously, the two stood on stage together at the Convention and pledged to work with one another for not only a smooth succession of power, but for the betterment of the entire party. The respectful tone of the entire event was truly a sight to see and one that I was proud to witness.

The speeches themselves were a whole other amazing event. Speaking to many people in the know, I was told time and time again that the convention was the first time since the Ann Richards era that all the speakers had so invigorated the crowd for such a long period of time. From the small time-filling speakers to the headliners, the convention hall was FULL and people were on the edge of their seats. That simply did not happen in 2012, and I was told it did not happen in the years before either.

When it came to specific speeches, I thought State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, and Mike Collier, the Democratic nominee for Comptroller, delivered the best presentations by far. State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee for Governor, and Daivd Alameel, the Democratic nominee for Comptroller, meanwhile, also delivered speeches worthy of examination.

First, Alameel’s speech struck me as good on the writing but a little iffy on the delivery. His speech, more than any other I heard, was literally filled to the brim with one-liners. Alameel, a veteran, lambasted his opponent, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), as a draft-dodger who sought deferment after deferment. That was probably the most intense attack line of the weekend.

However, his delivery is still lacking. Alameel, an Israeli-born immigrant of Lebanese ancestry, still has a very heavy accent. His speeches at the podium seem almost unnatural and somewhat forced. While his intentions are certainly good, I fear that this may not play out very well for him on the stump. The general public does not devote much time to trying to normally comprehend a politicians’ words, but definitely does not do so through a thick accent.

When it came to Davis, meanwhile, I similarly liked her speech but –as usual– was disappointed in the delivery. As I have said many times in the past, Davis is famous for dedication and perseverance, rather than any specific oration abilities. That same point of view was definitely put on display this weekend in Dallas, when she truly poured her heart out in a speech that blasted the “insiders” and “good ol’ boy” culture of Texas, both of which she referenced to slam her opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Mike Collier, moving on, probably had the second best speech of the weekend. Collier, a very pragmatic Democrat who was a Republican as recently as a couple years ago, could easily be my favorite downballot candidate on the Democratic slate. As an aside, there were these funny T-shirts being sold by the TDP that said “Nerd out with Mike Collier.”

Anyways, Collier’s big push the entire campaign has been about taxes. His opponent, State Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Harris County), made some news earlier this year when he said that the property tax should be abolished and replaced with an upped sales tax, probably around 25-30%, to be exact. I wrote a column in The Daily Texan back in April about how absurd this is, and about how spot-on Collier’s reaction has been. Rightly so, Collier has blasted Hegar as a Big Government tax-and-spender, even deriding him with the nickname “The Tax Man” in a recent campaign commercial.

Accordingly, when Collier went on stage and expressed his disgust for taxes, saying that he thought it would be wrong to hike up any margins, I was on the edge of my seat seeing how the crowd would react. There might only be 2000 people in Texas who support a State Income Tax (all of them living in Austin, obviously), but they were probably all in that room at the Dallas Convention Center. But Collier explained how we can provide many of the services this State needs simply be closing loopholes and accurately forecasting revenue. He was very specific and yet casual in his speech, reminding me of a less comely version of Bill Clinton on the stump.

Last, but certainly not least, there is Van de Putte. What can I say that has not already been said in obsequious adulation of the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor. But in all seriousness, she gave hands-down the best delivery of any of the speeches, combined with some darn good speechwritng. More than anyone else, Van de Putte had everyone on the edge of their seats.

Some other miscellaneous points to note included the personalities who went above and beyond to let themselves be known. Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-Bexar County), colloquially known as TMF, both set up huge booths in the convention hall and the latter even hosted one of the three official afterparties. I thought the vulgarity in his speech was an unforced fumble, but there were far worse things that could have happened.

Also, there was exceedingly spotty wifi at the convention, or you could choose to pay $13 for nominally less awful internet connection. This was rather annoying, but worse things could have happened I suppose. An anonymous source at the Democratic Party told me that it would have cost over $6000 to furnish free wifi at the convention, and it was a charge they simply could not come up with.

Finally, it was truly a pleasure to see fellow TPA Bloggers there, including (but not limited to) Harold Cook (Letters from Texas), Perry Dorrell (Brains & Eggs), Vince Leibowitz (Capitol Annex), Trey McAtee (McBlogger), Ted McLaughlin (Jobsanger) and Karl-Thomas Musselman (Burnt Orange Report). Interacting with these fellow bloggers made the entire trip worth it in and of itself.