The Speaker’s race that wasn’t

State Representative Joe Straus (R-Bexar County), the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, is a dying breed. A comparably moderate Republican, he runs the chamber based on the consent of its members (a novel concept). Instead of groveling to the whims and caprices of the majority of the majority, like Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) or soon-to-be-former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)  in Congress, Straus actually gives a voice to all proposals with majority backing. Often times, these are red-meat conservative proposals, like solving the non-existent problems of voter fraud and unsafe abortion clinics, but they have sometimes been realistic and sensible ideas to solve the state’s problem.

Straus, of course, came to power by aligning himself with the Democratic caucus, and has remained in office largely through their toleration. In 2009, after three disastrously controversial sessions under the stewardship of Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), Straus overthrew the incumbent and has been distrusted by the most extreme factions of his party ever since. Some have a pathological hatred of anyone who work with Democrats and some are just anti-Semites (Straus is Jewish), but the main point is that the Tea Party and Straus go like water and oil.

A few names have popped up over the succeeding sessions to challenge Straus, but they have — without exception — dropped out before the actual vote came up. State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County), who is challenging Straus ahead of the 2015 session, says he will stay in until the bitter end to demand a vote.

However, the evidence is just not there that Turner can mount anything close to a credible campaign. If he gets more than 25 votes, I will legitimately be shocked.

First, let’s do some simple math. There are 150 members, meaning roughly 76 are needed to secure the gavel. We can put the 52 Democrats in as a given for Straus; they’ve supported him before and will be sure to do so again when the only other option is Turner, arguably too cozy with moneyed right-wing interests. Granted, one Democrat, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County), has resigned and his seat will not likely be filled by early January. Thus, for the sake of argument, there are 51 Democrats.

Then we can toss in 7 Tea Party-affiliated Representatives from the DFW portion of the state, who recently signed an open letter (Letter 1) stating their support for Straus. They are State Representatives Myra Crownover (R-Denton County), Giovanni Capriglione (R-Tarrant County), James Frank (R-Wichita County), Phil King (R-Parker County), Tan Parker (R-Denton County), Ron Simmons (R-Denton County) and Drew Springer (R-Cooke County). Capriglione, a true Tea Party darling, publicly announced and defended his support for Straus at the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, one of the most infamously anti-Straus organization. It was quite the spectacle. Anyways, that brings the total up to 58.

Today, a further 7 State Representatives and State Representatives-elect publicly backed Straus, in yet another open letter (Letter 2). They are Trent Ashby (R-Angelina County), Cecil Bell (R-Montgomery County), Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches County), John Otto (R-Liberty County), Chris Paddie (R-Harrison County), Dade Phelan (R-Jefferson County) and Gary VanDeaver (R-Bowie County). The two open letters, respectively, touted Straus’ conservative credentials (first accessed via Quorum Report, though the letters themselves are open). This now brings the total up to 65.

Straus can be counted upon to vote for himself, as can be some of his closest lieutenants: State Representatives Byron Cook (R-Navarro County), Charlie Geren (R-Tarrant County), Jim Keffer (R-Eastland County) and Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County). That brings us to 70.

Now, I’m just spit-balling here, but if I had to name six more supporters, they would be State Representatives Drew Darby (R-Tom Green), Sarah Davis (R-Harris County), Kyle Kacal (R-Brazos County), J.M. Lozano (R-Kleberg County), J.D. Sheffield (R-Coryell County) and John Zerwas (R-Fort Bent County). They have not made official statements, but I would be very surprised if they voted the other way. Your mileage may vary.

That’s just math, folks. But the good news is that, at the end of the day, Straus will still be in charge for the 84th Legislature. In all likelihood, another faction of six or seven conservative Republicans will rally to Straus’ side tomorrow or the next day, and make my guesses moot. Scott Turner just will not win. Full stop.

I obviously think Straus is more moderate and pragmatic his opponent, but that is not really the reason I am supportive of him. Lest the liberals think he will secretly go along with their agenda, like many on the far-right believe, Straus will put up disastrously extreme pieces of legislation this next session, for the simple reason that they will pass easily in the heavily Republican chamber. But he will do so as a result of the consent of the members, not because of any despotic proclivities or loyalties to outside parties. By that standard alone, he is better than Craddick, Turner or anyone else Michael Quinn Sullivan might prop up next.

Texpatriate endorses in HD134

State Representative Sarah Davis (R-Harris County) has now concluded her second session in the Texas Legislature, representing one of the strangest house districts in Texas. It combines the affluent neighborhoods of Bellaire, West University and River Oaks, among others, with the cosmopolitan and LGBT-friendly Montrose area. It also includes most of the heavily Jewish middle class neighborhood of Meyerland. The result is a district that favors Republicans on economic issues, ever so slightly, but is extraordinarily socially liberal. Thus, a Representative such as Sarah Davis is chosen by its voters.

Davis, a Republican, is pro-choice and broadly in favor of gay rights. Last summer, she was the only Republican to stand against the onerous restrictions placed on a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion. The only one, of about 100. She caught a great deal of flak for the brave position, including being publicly derided by Jared Woodfill, the then-Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. She even drew a socially conservative primary challenger who incessantly lambasted her for her pro-choice viewpoints. As it turned out, Davis handily defeated her primary challenger, Bonnie Parker, amid tremendous support for her convictions from her constituents.

This board has no doubt that Davis will, in the upcoming legislative session, continue to be a tireless advocate for women’s rights and healthcare. Be it standing against HB2 or fighting against devastating cuts to Planned Parenthood and other healthcare sources, Davis has never backed down from a fight. We also expect her to continue “evolving” on the issue of LGBT rights, leading a small but growing caucus of pro-gay marriage Republicans in the next few years.

Still, there are some serious issues we take with Davis’ platform. She voted for an ill-designed bill that would have allowed for university students to bring their concealed weapons onto college campuses, obvious hotbeds of tempers and bad decisions. And, all too often, she followed in lock-step with a Republican budget philosophy still intent on minimizing invaluable services.

Of course, Davis’ only opponent, Democratic candidate Alison Ruff, has been a functionally worthless challenger. She has no online or public presence. Nobody has ever seen her, nobody has ever heard of her. Without anything to say or do, a candidate might as well not exist.

But Davis, on the other hand, has more than plenty to say, even if he disagree with some of it. Still, no one can deny that Davis is an absolutely perfect representative for her unique, economically centrist and socially liberal, district. We look forward to her being one of the venerated voices of reason in her party.

Accordingly, this board endorses Sarah Davis for the Texas House, District 134.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board of 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 board.

A few initial thoughts

Just to sum up the results for those of y’all who have not been paying much attention to things, I will recap some of the big things that have happened. First, the expected winners were, by and large, the winners on Tuesday night in Statewide elections. Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis won their respective bids for Governor, John Cornyn easily beat back challengers for another nomination to the Senate, George P. Bush got the GOP nod for Land Commissioner and Stephen Brown got the Democrat nod for Railroad Commissioner. All three incumbent Supreme Court Justices who saw right-wing primary opponent were able to easily prevail.

In a few other races, the expected result happened, but in a very different manner. This was largely due to the fact that the Texas Tribune poll released about a week ago was total garbage. It was not worth the fictional paper it wasn’t printed on, to quote a friend. In these races, David Alameel and Kesha Rogers indeed will proceed into a runoff for the US Senate Democrat primary, as will David Dewhurst and Dan Patrick for the Lieutenant Governor Republican primary. However, the Tribune poll seriously miscalculated who would come in first and by how much. Instead of Rogers holding a commanding plurality lead, she hovered near 20% while Alameel was just a few perilous points so close to winning outright. Instead of the preconceived notion that Dewhurst would receive 40-something percent compared to Patrick’s 20-something, the roles were reversed.

Click here to read more!

Predictions and hopes

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that I am not much for predictions. Well, to be fair, I used to predict things all the time, but I was notoriously wrong too many times to count. Accordingly, in an effort to save face, I will  not field my own electoral predictions, which are only slightly less reliable than the Tribune polls.

Rather, I want to note what I am looking for and what I am hoping for; admittedly, they are nearly mutual exclusive categories. Within those categories, I would like to look most specifically at both the Republican & Democratic primaries, as well as both Statewide races and those in Harris County. Within these four categories, there are quite a few overlapping key points, however.

1. HOW BIG IS THE STUPID VOTE?

This is one for the Democratic primary. I am using the official academic term, of course, to describe these so-called stupid voters. They are the voters who will cast their lots for Kesha Rogers (US Senate), Lloyd Wayne Oliver (District Attorney) and Lori Gray (115th District Court), in that order. Albeit, plenty of otherwise unintelligent voters may coincidentally vote for the non-egregious candidates, but there is no way to discern them from Adam.

Click here to read all my other points!

Texpatriate endorses in State House primaries

There are quite a few open or otherwise contested seats in the lower house of the State Legislature, particularly among Republican seats at the outskirts of town. This board has discussed fielding endorsements in these races, be it HD23, HD129 or HD132, but ultimately decided against it, given their removal from the City of Houston. Sagacious followers of this publication will know our incessant insistence on being a follower of Houston affairs, first and foremost.  Therefore, instead, we have made our picks in three races, the Democratic primary in HD131, the Democratic primary in HD145 and the Republican primary in HD134. We endorse the incumbent in all three.

HD 131 
The 11th commandment does not have much reverence in this district. Located at the southwestern outskirts of the beltway, the seat was long held by Ron Wilson, featured a considerably intense Democratic primary in 2004 when the 27-year incumbent lost his seat to a woman named Alma Allen. Among the complaints Allen employed in this primary was that Rep. Wilson was too cozy with the Republican majority.

Accordingly, eight years later, when an attorney named Azuwuike “Ike” Okorafor challenged Rep. Allen in the primary with similar complaints, we took him seriously as we hope the constituents of the district did as well. Despite his criticisms of Rep. Allen’s lack of leadership on educational issues, however, we have seen few other specific critiques of the incumbent. Further, unlike Mr Okorafor, we believe that Rep. Allen has a good track record in politics and for the constituents of her district. Accordingly, we endorse Alma Allen in the Democratic primary for HD131.

Click here to read our other two endorsements!

The Harris County GOP Chairman race

The Houston Chronicle reports that County Judge Ed Emmett has endorsed Paul Simpson in his race for chairman of the Harris County GOP, against incumbent Jared Woodfill. Emmett, a Republican, is the highest ranking member of the county party, holding the de facto executive leadership role over Harris County.

The news was broken last night on Quorum Report, where it was also reported that Emmett had donated a generous $10,000.00 to Simpson’s campaign. As the astute may recall, this is Simpson’s –a local attorney– third bid against the incumbent chair. However, unlike a previous race, this year’s election simply features the two candidates, making Woodfill somewhat more vulnerable. Emmett blasted Woodfill as being out of touch and implicit in the recent losing streak of the party. Ronald Reagan would probably not be welcome in today’s Republican Party. I would like to see the base in Harris County to be 400,000, not 150,000,” Emmett says.

Today, Jared Woodfill hit back by announcing some big name supporters of his own. Two of the three Republican Harris County Commissioners (Jack Cagle and Jack Morman) endorsed Woodfill’s candidacy, as did both Emmett’s predecessor (Robert Eckels) and the Tax Assessor (Mike Sullivan). Given that Woodfill is the incumbent, it would be a waste of time to really dig in too deep as to why an officeholder might support him. Simply put, it is far safer to support an incumbent out of habit then warm up to the challenger (if [s]he wins) than to support the challenger then face a victorious incumbent.

Click here to read more!

The election in HD134

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I live in House District 134. Despite having a Democratic rep for two terms, the district swung Republican in 2010 and was gerrymandered in the following year’s legislative session to become something of a Republican stronghold. Sarah Davis, the Republican incumbent, defeated her Democratic opponent by 10 points in 2012 as opposed to less than 1 point in 2010.

Accordingly, I have felt it to be less-than-newsworthy to bring up that a Democratic named Alison Ruff has signed up to challenge Davis in the 2014 election, given she has not created a website, Facebook page or Twitter account at press time. Charles Kuffner has met —and been impressed by— her, though I cannot say that I have done the same. Given that I am in a Boston dormroom (for now), lacking an online presence assures one will not interact with me.

I have no doubt that Ms Ruff is a qualified and impressive candidate, just as Ann Johnson was last year, but that does not change the demographics and politics of the heavily gerrymandered district. It will be a cold day in hell before a Democrat wins in HD134 as currently configured. The real news, therefore, is in the Republican primary, which (like most other contests in Texas) is tantamount to election nowadays. The primary will be competitive this year.

Click here to read about Sarah Davis’ primary challenger!

Lege update 7/9

First and foremost, I want to discuss the events that took place today resulting in the possibility of productive, meaningful legislation. And by that, I mean, the stuff that will not almost certainly be struck by a Federal Court.

As the astute followers may recall, exactly one week ago the Senate unanimously approved SJR1, a Transportation funding  bill, and SB2, a “Miller compliance” bill. Both bills passed the committee somewhat under the radar.

Today,  both of those bills came up for consideration in the equivalent Senate committees. HB4, the Miller compliance bill, passed 4-1, with Rep. Terry Canales being the sole dissenter. The Houston Chronicle reported its passage, and insinuated it was somewhat different from SB2, the Senate equivalent. For the life of me, I read HB4, and cannot find any meaningful difference between it and the Senate’s bill. Both bills provide a mandatory sentence of life with parole, or forty years, for 17 year olds convicted of capital murder.

Then, the House Appropriations Committee took up the Transportation bill, and was less successful. A companion piece of legislation to SJR1,which would have diverted a significant amount of cash from the rainy day fund into highway maintenance, HJR1, was set for a vote. However, the Texas Tribune reports that Sylvester Turner, who is the Vice-Chairman of the Committee, raised a variety of concerns with the measure. These included the fact that SJR1/HJR1 sets a maximum amount to be withdrawn from the rainy day fund. Turner was concerned that this would raise too little money for transportation. A competing bill was also considered by the committee. That bill, HJR2, was the brainchild of Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso). That bill would have eliminated the diversion of fuel tax money into education. Instead, all of the money would go to transportation. The educational setbacks would presumably be offset by rainy day fund withdrawals.

Personally, I find SJR1/HJR1 to be the favorable bill. All Pickett’s bill does is pass the hot potato to students and teachers. That isn’t fair, they’ve been the ones messed with recently. I would rather see a problem down the road for highways than high schools, but that’s just me.

Now the big news. The Texas Tribune reports that HB2, the House’s omnibus anti-abortion bill, has passed on second reading 98-49. The day was a long one for the House, coming into session at 10AM and immediately bringing up the bill.

The Democrats –and one Republican, Rep. Sarah Davis of Harris County– brought up 22 amendments. One after another, every single one of them was tabled. They would have provided exemptions for rape and the health of the mother. Not important, in the GOP’s mind. They would have struck everything but the 20 week ban, since that seems to be all the Republicans keep bringing up. Lots of good amendments, including ones for sex ed, but to no avail. The Republicans are not interested in compromise, they are only interested in appeasing their primary voters.

Ryan Guillen (D-Starr County), Abel Herrero (D-Nueces County), Armando Martinez (D-Hidalgo County), Sergio Munoz (D-Hidalgo County) and Joe Pickett (D-El Paso County) were the five Democrats to brake ranks and vote yes on this obscenely unconstitutional legislation. None of them have been or ever will be pregnant. Funny how those things work. I will do everything in power, financially and politically, to make sure none of these men ever win another Democratic primary in my Texas. These men ought to be ashamed of themselves, for it is their constituents, the poor population in El Paso, Corpus Christi and the Valley, who will be hundreds of miles away from the nearest sage, legal abortion.

Kudos to Sarah Davis, however, for doing what is right. Also, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, whose father is the one Democratic Senator supporting the asinine bill, voted against it. Good for him.

The House adjourned slightly after the vote and will reconvene at about 10AM tomorrow for third reading. Once again, Senfronia Thompson stood at the front mike with a wire coathanger. The eyes of the world are still upon us, and I will have more on what to do from here tomorrow when I fly back to Houston.

Anti-abortion bill passes House

This is still breaking news, so I will not really cite articles for all of this, but I will try my best.

Per the Houston Chronicle, at 3:23 this morning, the House passed SB5, the omnibus anti-abortion bill, in 2nd reading. Around noon today, they passed it on third reading. The vote was largely along party lines, though Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Harris County) voted against it. The measure will now be taken up in the Senate, where a variety of issues still exist.

First, however, I would like to briefly discuss some of the highlights of last night. Hundreds, if not thousands, of orange shirt protesters packed the gallery in opposition to these arcane measures. They were repetitively shut down by security for expressing any bit of opinion on the pending bills. Literally any show of emotion.

Jessica Farrar started off the evening by making an impassioned speech against the measures. Then, after Points of Order relating to the time the bill was being considered delayed the bill a few hours, the amendments started being heard. A few amendments in, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County), in one of the most dramatic incidents of the evening, pulled out a wire coat hanger and proclaimed: “I don’t want women forced to use these.”

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In an exceedingly odd and ignorant response, the main cosponsor of the bill, Rep. Jodie Laudenberg (R-Collin County) confused what the purpose of a rape kit is. “In the emergency room, they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out,” Laudenberg said. The asinine comment drew hisses from the crowd and prompted this fabulous little article in Salon Magazine. It even prompted a hashtag, “#OtherThingsRapeKitsDo.” 

Finally, at around 3 in the morning, the House passed SB5 on second reading. The kicker is that it included the 20-week ban, meaning it must return to the Senate rather than go straight to Perry’s desk. In other news, the House also approved SJR2, the Transportation funding measure. After getting to all of the non-abortion legislation, the House adjourned at 4:30 in the morning.

At 6:30AM the House reconvened and considered SB5 on third reading. Democrats once again delayed and slowed down such that it was 10:40 before final passage was ensured. Under Senate rules, 24 hours must pass before they can take up the legislation. However, this is complicated by both Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who is at her father’s funeral, and Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), who is a pro-life anti-woman Democrat. Republicans plus Lucio-the-traitor put total numbers at 20. That is 64.5% of the chamber, less than the 66.7% required for suspension of the rules.

Around Noon today, the House granted final approval to the Transportation bill. As of 4PM, the Senate has just gaveled back in. Senator Van de Putte is on her way back to the Capitol, so all eyes are on her impending arrival. Lucio is voting no on suspensions of the rules until Senator Van de Putte can arrive. This means the Senate will not begin discussion of SB5 until 11 tomorrow. Then, there will be at least a meager amount of time spent debating the merits of the amendments concurred in the House. The net result is a 12 hour filibuster, which is doable. Senator Wendy Davis has already announced her intention to do just that.

The Houston Chronicle reports, however, that David Dewhurst has told them that a Second Special Session is “likely” if SB5 doesn’t pass. Accordingly, I am starting the “Buy Bus tickets to New Mexico for 11 Senators” fund. There will be more to come on this tonight. I recommend not following Texpatriate for the breaking news, but rather following Stace Medellin’s twitter (https://twitter.com/2centavos) or the Texas Tribune’s live feed. Good night and good luck.

Soda ban: Texas edition

Michael Bloomberg has a new ally in Texas. Who, you ask? Senator Carlos Uresti. I am being somewhat facetious, of course, but the legislature has just given final approval to a bill that would ban sugary drinks, such as Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper, from public elementary and junior high schools.

HB217 completely flew under the radar. It passed the House on May 10th by an official vote of 95-44. However, a lot of members later complained that their votes were incorrectly attributed. Taking into account all of these errors, the real roll call was 92-49. All of the opposition came from Tea Party Republicans. Among the moderate Republicans voting in favor was Sarah Davis. I have heard for a while now that her close call election has moved her into the centre, and now I am really starting to see it.

At press time, the journal hadn’t gone up, but this article by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram states the roll call at 24-6. I can guess who the half-dozen Senators are, but I am positive as to their political party.

A few months ago, I penned an op-ed about how, by and large, Soda bans like the one in New York are silly, stupid and unneeded. However, I do see some good in this legislation. There is a big difference between a consenting adult and a little kid (14 and younger). This legislation would not apply to High School students.

The bill is not especially contentious, with most beverage associations as well as Coca-Cola itself supporting it. Time will tell if the Governor does too.