The Rick Perry legacy

Tomorrow, Governor-elect Greg Abbott will take the reigns from Rick Perry and officially become just ‘Governor Abbott.’ For the first time since the Clinton administration, Texas will have a new governor. Indeed, Perry has served in office for more than 14 years, shattering all the old records set by his predecessors.

I’ve been putting off writing about this, because I do not necessarily feel qualified to editorialize about political events that transpired in 2000 or 2001. I was six years old when Perry assumed office, so opining on some of Perry’s first acts would be a lot like my father talking about his experience in observing Dwight Eisenhower or Allan Shivers’ respective tenures in office.

Perry, of course, took office on December 21st, 2000, the day that George W. Bush resigned the governorship in preparation to become president. Perry had served as the Lieutenant Governor since 1999, and previously served two terms as Agriculture Commissioner from 1991 to 1999. He also served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives, from 1985 to 1991, the first two of which as a Democrat.

I’m not going to meticulously go over the ebbs and flows of his time in office, others have done a much better job at that. Rather, I want to examine two ideas about Perry that have always stayed with me from his time in office. Contrary to what some may expect from me, they are actually quite positive.

If this makes sense, Perry is an ideologue –but in a good way. When he first took office, his co-leaders were quite different. The Speaker of the House, Pete Laney, was a Democrat, and the acting Lieutenant Governor, State Senator Bill Ratliff (R-Titus County), was a tremendously moderate Republican who could absolutely not succeed in one of his party’s primaries today (think Nelson Rockefeller, except from East Texas). After the conclusion of the 77th Legislature in 2001, Perry vetoed a record number of bills. Even when compared to Ratliff’s successor, David Dewhurst, Perry was right-wing.

Today, however, Perry is seen as an establishment figure. Bud Kennedy at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram opined that he could run for president as the “anti-Cruz,” a more pragmatic establishment type. Compared to, as of tomorrow, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick or Attorney General Ken Paxton (or even Abbott), Perry is on the moderate side of his party. Obviously, the governor did not tack to the left in an era when so many others zoomed the other way. On the other hand, Perry has a firmly planted set of core beliefs, which does not change because of partisan winds. Love him or hate him, that’s an admirable quality, one that is less and less common in successful politicians.

Second, Perry — at his core — always appears to have all of Texas at heart. Sure, there was the rampant cronyism/corruption. But any even rudimentary student of Texas political history knows that is the rule and not the exception. Unlike Abbott or Patrick, in my opinion, Perry genuinely believed what he was doing would be good for the average Texan (as much as he may have been mistaken in some instances), not the average Republican primary voter.

I have found myself agreeing more and more with the band of Democrats who feel that Perry’s successors will be considerably worse than him, and we will one day covet the comparable pragmatism in the Perry administration. There is certainly some truth in this, but it is important to not get carried away.

Perry pushed through venal so-called “tort reform” that lobotomized much of our court system, including the resurgence of cruddy legal jurisprudence typically only found in Great Britain. He was instrumental in the horrendous gerrymandering scheme that reduced 90%+ of legislative districts to uncompetitive backwaters. More recently, he vigorously pushed the omnibus anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered and he attempted to coerce an unfriendly prosecutor into resigning by threatening (and following through) to veto funding (this is what he was indicted regarding).

Obviously, Texas can’t get much worse off on many fronts, but on others it surely can. Perhaps most horrifying about Abbott and his ilk is that they have no central moral principles, nothing preventing them from grandstanding and demagoguery in the face of an increasingly extreme minority that monopolizes the political process. When they start demanding book burnings or the rescinding of the bill of rights, Perry would have rightly put his foot down. Abbott and Patrick, to the contrary, I’m unsure about.

Adios, mofo. We’ll miss you (sort of).

Texpatriate endorses in CD2

Editorial note: A previous version of this editorial inadvertently misspelled Mr Letsos’ first name. We have fixed the typo with apologies to Mr Letsos.

Texas’ 2nd Congressional District is a remarkably unique creature. Historically situated in deep East Texas, it has been occupied by some of the great behemoths of Texas politics, namely Jack Brooks and Charlie Wilson. In 2004, under the stewardship of Tom DeLay, the Texas Legislature gerrymandered the district into an entirely new creation, combining swaths of East Texas with not only northeastern Harris County, but the working class neighborhoods of Beaumont. A prominent Criminal District Judge from Houston, Ted Poe, received the Republican nomination and handily defeated Congressman Nick Lampson, the Democrat who had represented the Beaumont area for many years.

This board has always been cautious about Poe’s tenure as a Congressman. All in all and most generously, it is best characterized by relentless adherence to majoritarian principles and interests of constituents. Still, we have historically been impressed by his steadfast dedication to justice. As a District Judge, overseeing felonious cases, Poe was renowned for handing down bizarre sentences that “fit the crime,” including requiring thieves to march around the establishments they store from with signs notifying the public of their crimes.

Perhaps most importantly, Poe has been a tireless advocate against human trafficking. Specifically, this board has been wowed by his introduction of the Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act in this most recent session of Congress. The bill increases appropriations for Federal law enforcement agencies to fight the heinous crimes and increases penalties for all those involved with the despicable practice. It has unanimously passed the House of Representatives, under Poe’s guidance, and is now waiting for action in the Senate.

Furthermore, Poe has incessantly been a valued representative to his constituents, even in areas not necessarily prone to voting for him. During 2011 redistricting, the 2nd District was rearranged once again, with the East Texas and Beaumont precincts being swapped out for inner-city Houston, namely Montrose and Timbergrove, two Democratic neighborhoods. This board has been particularly impressed with how Poe has been receptive to his new constituents desires, unlike their previous Congressman, John Culberson.

While Culberson continues to be at the behest of special interests trying to stymie an invaluable expansion of Light Rail throughout Montrose, Poe calmly polled his constituents and –upon learning they overwhelmingly supported expansion– began fighting for their interests. Poe sets an example for all his contemporaries, Democratic or Republican.

Of course, we are not without our criticisms. Poe is sadly somewhat right-wing on many social issues, and his views on immigration and foreign policy are sadly out of touch. However, even in representing these poor positions, Poe manages to successfully channel the desires of his constituents.

While we like Poe’s Democratic opponents, Niko Letsos, we believe he simply lacks the experience for Congress. The job requires someone without the need for on-the-job training, as well as an individual with a complex grasp of the myriad issues facing this State and this Country. While we may give Letsos the benefit of the doubt on the former, even a cursory glance over his website will show a somewhat superficial grasp of the issues. We likely agree with Letsos on some issues over Poe; predominantly those aforementioned social issues. However, this election ultimately comes down to a decision on experience and engagement. This board believes Poe decisively possesses both.

Noah M. Horwitz wrote an individual addendum to this editorial
I share my good friend Andrew’s views on the positive qualities Poe brings to his district, as well as the concerns over Letsos’ inexperience in the realm of politics. However, I do believe that he undervalued the importance of issues themselves.

Poe is a great representative for his people, but should this publication merely validate what is popular and not what is right? I disagree with Poe on abortion, on gay marriage, on Obamacare, on immigration reform, on taxes and on the general way that Congress should be run. These are significant points for me and, if I were to live in Poe’s district, they would make voting for him difficult.

Obviously, it would be easy for Letsos to say that he disagrees with Poe on the flashpoints while sharing his commitment to ending human trafficking. All the members of the House ostensibly shared that commitment, but it took Poe to actually craft a bill that attempts to solve a very terrible problem. Poe’s go-getter attitude on this issue and others is, in my opinion, his strongest attribute.

I don’t know how I would vote if I lived in Poe’s district. I honestly cannot see myself voting for the Republican in good faith, given their position in national politics. Alas, I don’t live in the 2nd district. My good friend Andrew does, though, so I will listen to what he has to say.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Primaries will not be delayed

The Texas Tribune reports that the 2014 Texas primaries will be scheduled normally; they will occur at the beginning of March. The decision was undertaken by the Federal Judges in San Antonio (the closest district court to the capital), who noted that, while litigation would continue against the constitutionality of the Legislature drawn maps (which are identical to the Court drawn maps from earlier), it would not affect the regularly schedule 2014 election, including the unreasonably early primary election.

One may recall that the Chronicle noted the possibility of another delayed primary last month. This was discussed as something that could adversely affect David Dewhurst in his upcoming contentious primary fight.

This is important for Democrats as well. While today’s Houston Chronicle article on the topic discusses the horrible setback that Democrats have suffered, I must beg to differ. The article notes that Texas has an exceptionally early primary and, therefore, a very short campaign season (only about the two months from New Year’s to March 4th).

All of this is true, but the article conflates the present situation with a far different one: a regularly scheduled primary in May. While a May primary, that has been planned in May in advanced, would offer a great respite for challengers –both Democrats and Tea Party– and help their campaigns, the same is not true of what happened in 2012.

In 2012, the primaries were delayed without much warning, and the new primary election date was up in the air for a long amount of time. As the Court-ordered maps and the Legislature-drawn maps differed significantly, a plethora of candidates were unaware of which seat they would actually be running in.

This utter chaos, this pandemonium on the ground, is not good for challengers. It creates disorganized campaigns that waste far too much of their time and money on extraneous details. Such scenarios ultimately benefit the incumbent, as the incumbent is always at default to win an election because of superior name recognition and funding.

Accordingly, Democrats should be happy that the primary will be on the normally scheduled day in districts we are already familiar with.

Off the Kuff has more.

Another delayed Primary?

The Houston Chronicle reports that continued legal fights over redistricting may very well delay the 2014 Primaries again, similar to what happened in the 2012 primary election season.

That is about all of the substance the article talks about, as following the brief news item, the Chronicle goes on a long tangent about how a delayed primary could impact incumbents in a negative away. This, of course, is a less-than-subtle way of prophesying doom for David Dewhurst, since he both was the only incumbent officeholder adversely affected in the 2012 primary and the only incumbent running for re-election next year (though, if one were comfortable calling Dewhurst “incumbent” in a 2012 Senate election, I suppose Abbott, Patterson, Staples, et al are incumbents too).

For the life of me, I can’t find any hard proof as to this happening. The Chronicle seems to just be guessing/assuming it since there is ongoing legal action. It is probably a pretty good assumption, but let’s not forget there is not actual proof as to this occurrence.

Delaying a primary to May wreaks havoc on the entire schedule of events moving forward for the election. Most notably, it means that the runoff does not take place until July, thus placing party conventions square in the middle of the two elections, as was the case last year. This doesn’t really matter in the Democratic convention because it doesn’t matter who we nominate because they don’t win. To play the devil’s advocate, though, it is quite an impediment to the Republicans’ convention, as their primaries are what actually choose our officeholders. For the sake of party unity, it is devastating to not have some of the top tickets filled at the convention.

Now, I suppose there is something to be said about the fact that there are never competitive Statewide Democratic primaries in Texas, so we will have our spots picked earlier and it will give us the advantage. That hasn’t ever really been the case, nationally or locally, so I have very little faith in it making a difference next year.

Just something to keep in mind moving forward.

Redistricting bill signed

You can tell how bad it is gotten for advocates of equity in redistricting that I am actually relieved about this. The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that the Governor has signed SB2, SB3 and SB4. The three bills were the only thing to get out of the 1st Special Session and they codify the temporary court-drawn State House, Senate Senate and US House redistricting bills as the permanent maps. These are the maps being used through the 2020 elections now.

As you may recall, I attended & testified at both of the redistricting hearings in Houston. As expected, the Republicans on the committee didn’t listen to a word we said (to be fair, most of the Democrats didn’t too) and rubber stamped all of these maps. All along party lines, the bills passed the legislature and made their way to Perry’s desk.

Now, this is actually important because it could be a whole lot worse. After the Shelby case, observers noted that the injunction against the 2011 Legislature approved maps had technically been struck. Accordingly, there was some speculation that Perry would veto the court-drawn maps and attempt to revive the 2011 ones. This event closes the door to such speculation.

Off the Kuff has more.

Citizens’ Filibuster and more

Most notably, after holding a largely successful “Citizens Filibuster” into the wee hours of the morning yesterday, the House State Affairs Committee adjourned without voting on the Omnibus Abortion restriction bill. However, the committee quietly reconvened today and voted out the bill.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the hearings on HB60, the equivalent of the Senate’s anti-abortion bill but also including the 20 week ban, extended until 3:40 in the morning last night as nearly 2000 women showed up to testify against the burdensome regulations. I was in meetings all day today, so I never had a chance to be on the first people writing on this. Off the Kuff, Texas Leftist and Brains & Eggs (who spelled my name right, yea!!!) have much more on the topic of the filibuster.

The bigger issue, unfortunately, is that it didn’t really mean much. The Texas Tribune reports that the State Affairs Committee approved the bill anyway. However, there is actually quite a lot to discuss on the actions by this committee. The committee not only approved HB60, which is different than the Senate’s bill (SB5), but they also rubber-stamped SB5 itself. This means the legislation goes straight to Perry if the full House votes favorably upon it. However, in one shining glimmer of hope, the Tribune article notes that there may have been a Point of Order violation when Chairman Bryan Cook cut testimony short.

From the Tribune article: “Farrar and reproductive rights advocates allege Cook’s decision to end testimony could endanger the legislation. House members may be able to kill the bill on a point of order if the committee did not follow proper legislative procedures when they ended testimony. If approved, advocates could also sue the state and seek to overturn the legislation, arguing the state ignored democratic processes by denying them the opportunity to speak on the bill.”

If Turner and his gang can P.O.O. the bill, that would be fabulous. I have always maintained that this bill would be unconstitutional and summarily thrown out in Federal Court. Last but not least, I thoroughly recommend watching Rachel Maddow’s thoughts on the matter. Jessica Farrar joins her as the guest (TX @ 6 min; Farrar @ 14 min).

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/26315908/#52280296

Though I can’t find an article for it, I know that the House third-read passed the redistricting maps. It’s a done deal now.

Finally, in an exceedingly bizarre series of events, the Austin American-Statesman reports that Sen. John Whitmire alleged that Governor Perry vetoed one of his bills, SB1234/Truancy Reform, by mistake. The article opened the idea of Perry calling a mea culpa on the matter, and the Legislature summarily re-approving the legislation in the final days of the Special Session. However, in the recent update to the article, Perry reaffirmed it was not by mistake. Even if it was (it probably was), there is no way he would ever admit to it, it would make him look too bad. Whitmire claims he had some good sources, but as our Editorial Board says, he isn’t always to be trusted.

I was supposed to meet with Dan Branch today, but Special Session needs came calling. I did get to see, in unrelated news, a mock trial being put on by Dallas County. It was the hypothetical “Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.” After a very, very, very short trial for Capital Murder (three hours), a jury of Dallas’ judges deadlocked 9-3 in favor of guilt. It will be in the news soon enough, and you will probably see me in the video (I’m in the second row).

Lege update 6/20

There are a few other things that have happened at the Capitol in the last two days that I have missed. So, briefly, I will attempt to explain and discuss these two actions.

First, reports The Texas Tribune, the Senate is moving towards approving SJR2, which would amend the constitution to allow for the the rainy day fund to be partially depleted in order to fund transportation infrastructure projects. I talked about this bill at length a few days ago, when it passed a Senate panel. 
Off the Kuff has more about the topic.

Next, the San Antonio Express-News reports that the House has taken up the Senate’s bill to apply life-with-parole to 17 year-olds who commit Capital Murder. I talked at length about this bill when the Senate passed it. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee unanimously approved the Senate’s bill. The House, however, discussed alternative proposals, preserving the possibility that the Senate may retake up the measure.

Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County), never really especially progressive, pleasantly surprised me by offering up a better solution to this problem: allowing juries to choose a range of punishments ranging from 25 years to life-without-parole. As a reminder, the Supreme Court said that life w/o parole for 17 year olds is not unconstitutional, per se, but rather only when they are the mandatory sentence. Accordingly, a greater consensus existed in the House to preserve the penalty as an option, allowing juries to choose between life with parole and life without parole. This presents an interesting conundrum, because, in Texas, prosecutors and defense attorneys generally do not discuss parole options before a jury takes up a sentencing matter. When a jury convicts for life with parole, they usually just think they are convicting for “life.”

Third, the Austin American-Statesman discusses the building momentum in the House to override Perry’s line item veto of Public Integrity Unit funding. Sylvester Turner, recently named the “Bull of the Brazos” by Texas Monthly, is leading a coalition to override the veto. This will be interesting to watch. Obviously, Turner can get the votes of all the Democrats. Thereafter, he will still need about 45 Representatives and 9 Senators. I think that is possible, though. Perry ticked off a lot of Republicans when he vetoed their bills (Kel Seliger and Dan Patrick, anyone?), so they may be easy pickings for payback. Just a theory, though.

Last, but certainly not least, and this is fresh off the press, the House has voted to rubber stamp the Redistricting bills. The Houston Chronicle  states that these are second readings, with final approval expected tomorrow. At that point, it will just be the Governor’s signature standing in the way of these vile maps being adopted.

I’m up in Dallas for the next few days on official business. Saw/met Ken Starr and Justice Samuel Alito today, so I guess you could say it was a success.  I’ll probably have more to talk about tonight.