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.

Eltife defends Two-thirds rule

Patricia Kilday Hart at the Houston Chronicle expands upon an issue I lightly touched upon last week: if and how Dan Patrick and recent primaries might move the general temperament of the upper chamber significantly to the right. Specifically, she noted at least three examples of those Republicans most amenable to maintaining the current balance of order in the chamber.

As I have expanded upon in the aforementioned previous post, the venerable 2/3rds rule in the Senate has been incessantly under attack by both State Senator Dan Patrick or Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. I wrote about this issue at length in The Daily Texan, but the gist of the matter is that some of the Republican top brass want to make the Democratic minority powerless to stop the proposals of the Republican majority. This would run hand-in-hand with the oft-controversial Patrick taking the helm of power as Lieutenant Governor, which also serves as President of the Senate. However, as I mentioned in my other article (which, I insist, you should really read), a majority of the Senate may strip the Lieutenant Governor of his power. This majority (16 Senators) would require 5 Republicans join with the Democrat caucus, assuming Wendy Davis’ seat falls into Republican hands.

Click here to read more!

Civil Affairs: Judges

CIVIL AFFAIRS

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Noah M. Horwitz published a weekly column, “Civil Affairs,” in a Boston newspaper from 2012-2014He has since transferred the column’s home to ‘The Daily Texan’ in Austin.

The first time I voted in a general election (2012), I was shocked at just how long the ballot was. The presidential election had obviously garnered a fair amount of coverage, as did local races for Congress, sheriff and the state Legislature. However, what took up the vast majority of the ballot were the myriad judicial contests. Pages upon pages of district and county benches were to be filled by the voters, in partisan elections. Democratic and Republican nominees had been selected in their respective parties’ primaries to run for the posts: civil, criminal, family, juvenile and probate courts.

Read the whole op-ed in The Daily Texan!

Senate votes to allow Online Voter Registration

From the San Antonio Express-News. The Senate has voted 21-10 to pass SB 315, which would allow online voting registration.

The bill, proposed by Senator Carlos Urseti (D-San Antonio), would only be applicable to those with Texas Driver’s Licenses, and individuals would register online on a DPS website, and would enter lots of specific, government-issued numbers to prove identity. All of this would take effect on September 1st.

The ten holdouts, you can guess which party they were, were not quoted by any of the news articles as to why they opposed the measure. Among the Republicans that joined all 12 Democrats in support was Joan Huffman. Among those opposed were Dan Patrick and Larry Taylor.

No clue as to what the chances of survival are in the House of Representatives. I have always been big on making it much easier to register to vote, and I know that online registration has been a great success in the states it has been enacted in. Personally, I never found it all that hard to register when renewing your license (I registered on my 18th birthday while renewing my license at the DPS), but I guess people forget about that.

BOR has more.

One step closer to nixing Algebra II

Fresh off the press from the Tribune. The Senate Education Committee has voted 7-2 (Y: Dan Patrick (R-Houston), Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), Ken Paxton (R-McKinney), Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood); N: Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) and Royce West (D-Dallas)) to advance the Curriculum reforming bill. Now, the bill just needs to pass the whole Senate before it is sent to Perry’s desk (the Tribune article insinuated this is an identical bill to the House; If it is not, there will be a conference committee requirement).

The bill, which recently passed the house, essentially does two things. First, it lowers the number of standardized tests from 15 to 5 (Biology, U.S. History, Algebra I and a pair of English exams) that are required in order to graduate. That is probably a good thing, as those pesky little tests got a little overwhelming, when you are literally sacrificing valuable teaching time to prepare kids for the dreaded TAKS test. However, second, the bill lowers the standards needed in order to earn a diploma. Instead of four years of most core concepts, the requirements are lowered to three, and certain benchmark classes, most notably Algebra II, are nixed from the requirements. The new diploma would be from a much more remedial track, whereas the old track (the college preparatory one) would be considered “honors.”

In order to qualify for the coveted top 10% program at UT or A&M, one would need the honors diploma. I would imagine it would be a biggie for most colleges’ admissions, too. I have two big problems with this legislation: the whole idea of a remedial diploma plan in general, as well as, more specifically, the idea of nixing Algebra II.

First, I fear that, especially since this remedial track seems like it would be the default, many poorer students will be tricked into completing this track in order to more easily graduate from high school. Little will they probably know, however, that the “fast track” diploma is not the ticket to college the regular, vanilla diploma of the past was. Second, I actually do think that Algebra II is a valuable skill that our future workforce should be equipped with.

For the record, I loathed math class while I was in High School, and I sure as heck am not using any complex math currently in my life (it never really goes beyond calculating gratuity when going dutch), but I can see that Algebra II was a good investment of my time. Pre-Calculus/Trigonometry was probably lost on me, but Algebra II was good. And besides, it isn’t like it is that advanced of a subject for High School. Most public school students take it their Junior, and not their Senior, years. I went to a Private School, so I took it in the 10th grade (my brother went to St. John’s, so he took it int he 9th grade), as does anyone in the AP/IB programs in HISD.

Watering down our school’s graduation requirements has never been a good idea. I was happy to see from legitimate Democratic opposition to this measure in the upper chamber.

Tax breaks for yachts

Well, it happened once again. The Chron reports that John Davis and Larry Taylor have bills in both houses of the legislature being debated about, well, an important topic. The two want to give tax cuts for big yachts. Just a note here, the descriptor of “big” is the Chronicle’s wording, not mine. Evidently, this is specifically a tax cut for the extra-super-rich who own the big yachts, not the just normal super-rich who own the regular size yachts. You know, “working-class job creators.”

Evidently, the state does not have enough money to fund Medicaid expansion, but it has enough for this garbage. Words cannot express how unbelievably ridiculous this. I try to at least sound unbiased and fair in some of my articles, so I apologize as I come off as a little bit ticked off about this–because I am. Republicans claim that this is to compete with the State of Florida, who has lower taxes on yachts. So the argument goes, the extra-super-rich who own the big yachts will choose to keep their boats in Florida, therefore keeping all this yacht-inspired money & jobs out of Texas’s economy.

There is only one problem with this. The amount of money saved by the average yacht owner would probably be negligible for someone who would buy a TWENTY-MILLION DOLLAR BOAT. Additionally, having to relocate your seafaring point of departure to Miami from Galveston would probably be a serious investment, especially considering how much your private jet would have to fly in between (although your jet might get a tax break of its own).

I am reminded what Mike Villarreal said of this bill, back in 2011 when it was considered as well. As quoted by The Wall Street Journal: “Have you considered turning this into an omnibus bill, and including limousines and fur coats and other luxury items? Because you know, we haven’t cut education enough this session, and there apparently aren’t enough nursing homes on the verge to close. What else can we do to bleed the state?”

Make no mistake, this is the priority of the TX GOP: yachts over youngsters.

Texpatriate endorses Sylvia Garcia for SD06

It is with a heavy heart, and much contemplation, that I decide, against some of my better judgment, to weigh into this election. I vote in SD17, so I don’t really have a dog in this fight, thus I decided, at first, to stay out of the election. Before the initial election, I made no picks, and simply hoped that a Republican would not meander his way into the runoff. Well, that didn’t happen, and now, we have the ultimate runoff election on Saturday.

The two candidates, Carol Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia, are both Democrats, and most voters, counting myself at one time, thought of them as indistinguishable. Alvarado, as a State Representative and former City Councilmember, had the backing of larger proportion of the Hispanic community, including the deathbed endorsement of the late Senator Gallegos. Garcia, meanwhile, a former County Commissioner and City Controller, has the heavy support of much of the City establishment, as well as a few State Reps that must be dissatisfied with Alvarado.

Anyways, I didn’t see much in the part of differences between the candidates–that is, until today. Today, I read a startling article in BOR about Alvarado and Garcia’s donors. Naturally, I am dubious of anything coming out of an Austin blog, so I double checked. It’s legit. Alvarado’s money is coming from Bob Perry, the GOP mega-donor; Tort-reformers, and; loan sharks (aka payday lenders). Garcia’s money comes from typical Democratic sources, the Mostyns and Unions.

This reminds me of the 2008 Democratic Primaries, when Barack Obama was being underwritten by the big banks and insurance companies, but that is neither here nor there. Anyways, this, along with the fact that anti-Semite Larry Taylor is block-walking for Alvarado, is enough to turn me off from her completely.

If I lived in SD06, I would gladly vote for Garcia, to keep another elephant in donkeys’ clothing out of the Senate. It is my hope enough people agree with me.