Texpatriate endorses for Land Commissioner

The Commissioner of the General Land Office, commonly known as the Land Commissioner, has broad powers over relatively random portions of state government. Public land (including beaches), education and veterans’ affairs round out their duties. It is a job that requires both political acumen and considerable policy knowledge. In these categories, the choice that is best for Texas is clear.

Republican candidate George P. Bush is about far, far more than a continuation of a political dynasty. The son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, he has a lot to live up to in arguably the most visible conservative political dynasty in the country. But unlike the partisan excesses pushed by his family members, Bush is pragmatic in his outlook. And standing in stark contrast to his uncle, the last member of his family in Texas politics, Bush has demonstrated considerable mastery of the issues at hand for the Land Commissioner office.

A former teacher, Bush has a special place to understand the plight of many within the public school system. Overseeing the moneys that would go to many schools, Bush has no power to change standards or increase funding, but he does have the capacity to ensure that funds are spent efficiently and responsibly. We have every reason to think he would capably do this.

On veterans, Bush pushes a plan that is both realistic considering the powers of his prospective office and has the capacity to greatly improve the lives of many veterans affected by debilitating conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder. It’s relatively simple; he would publicize and tout the myriad programs Texas already has in place to assist veterans, such as low-interest loans and subsidies involving healthcare. For all our reputation of being a no-frills state when it comes to social welfare programs, Texas already ostensibly does a great deal regarding veterans; we just do a lousy job advertising that fact. Bush would change that.

Most importantly, regarding public land, Bush would push for programs that respect the integrity of our parks and reserves while still allowing the responsible exploitation of the resources underneath the ground. It’s a win-win situation.

Contrary to many in his party, Bush is an environmentalist. One of the mantras of his campaign is that there is no “false choice between protecting the environment…and promoting job creation.” He acknowledges the reality of climate change, as well as the terrifying phenomenon of rising sea levels. Texas would do well to have such a pragmatic steward of both positions in office.

The former Mayor of El Paso, John Cook, is also running as a Democrat. He is a passionate candidate, but his criticisms are far more pointed at the incumbent Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, than they are directed toward Bush. To put it bluntly, Bush commands a mastery of the issues regarding the office that Cook simply does not possess. Despite an impressive resume, he has largely dropped the ball on a serious campaign ahead of the general election.

Educated by the best institutions of higher learning in the state, Rice University and UT Law, Bush is obviously smart. But he is also a passionate and comprising politician as well. Such qualities make him stand apart in Texas politics to most of his compatriots in the Republican Party, much less his family. Texas voters have an easy decision to make, so as long as they do not blame one candidate for the sins of his father.

Or his uncle.

Accordingly, this board endorses George P. Bush for Land Commissioner.


 

Noah M. Horwitz dissented from this editorial, and wrote his own addendum.

My colleague makes some good points in his editorial that urges support of George P. Bush for Land Commissioner. He is, indeed, a pragmatist compared to those within his party, believing in things such as climate change and the need to allocate resources protecting both schoolchildren and veterans from the perils of austerity. Such beliefs were also somewhat evident back in February, when I joined with my colleagues in unanimously selecting Bush as the best choice within the Republican primary. But the points just don’t hold water when Bush is challenged by the reasonableness of John Cook, a Democrat vying for the position.

While it is true, for example, that Bush recognizes the very real danger presented by climate change, he is still willfully ignorant regarding the source of these dangers. Bush still officially doubts the idea that people are the main source of climate change, despite the fact that 97% of pertinent climate scientists agree on that point. Why? The reason is that, like nearly all of the high profile figures within his political party, he has to mollify a zealous, extreme and anti-intellectual faction that dominates primary elections.

What good is a steward of public lands if he does not acknowledge the driving source behind the greatest danger to them? Recognizing that climate change exists merely means you are not delusional as to present realities, but if you think humans are not causing it, there is little you can do besides wring your hands and lament the conundrum while you refill the oversized gas tank in your hummer. He is without any type of actual strategy to deal with the rising sea levels that threaten to eviscerate our beaches.

Speaking of beaches, Bush supports an abominable ruling of the Texas Supreme Court that guts the state’s venerated Open Beaches Act. While the law mandates that all of Texas’ beaches are state parks, to be used by anyone, the high court has adulterated the state constitution to fit their bizarre interpretation that an exception may be carved out if a property owner’s previous non-beachfront land becomes the “first in line,” so to speak, as a result of erosion. With the state’s rapidly eroding coastline (which, not to keep beating the same point, is not a result of mysterious circumstances, but the obvious byproduct of the rising sea levels and increased tropical activity that come with man-made climate change), this terrible ruling will affect more and more parcels of land in the forthcoming decades.

Bush supports this misguided ruling. On his watch, Texas beaches could easily find themselves like the northeast, where the rich and powerful monopolize all the good locations, hogging these pristine landscapes from the public. Now, Bush can just go to his family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. But for most honest Texans, the state beaches are all we got.

John Cook opposes this silly ruling, and recognizes the very real threat that man-made climate change poses to the state’s beaches and other public land. With years of experience as both the Mayor of El Paso and a member on the El Paso City Council, Cook is not a political novice. Since my colleagues evidently values policy acumen so highly, it should be worth mentioning that Cook also knows the nitty-gritty intricacies that this office faces remarkably well. Cook doesn’t have Yankee family money underwriting his travels around the state, so he may not be quite so ubiquitous of a presence around our humongous state this general election. But that just should not be important.

Be it the editorial board of this publication, or those of just about any newspaper in the state, it appears everyone has lost sight of their priorities this election. Obsequious adulation is directed toward Bush for his passion, campaign skills and the size of his war-chest, as if those are things any articulate person would prioritize in an endorsement. We’re better than that, we’re better than the sophomoric illogic used in picking the student council candidate with the prettiest posters; at least, I think we are.

What far, far too few people have done is actually look at the policy disagreements between the two, albeit well-qualified, candidates. Bush ascribes to the fairy tale that climate change is not caused or affect by people, whereas Cook thinks we should be vigilant in trying to stop it. Bush thinks the One-Percent should be entitled to steal state parks along the ocean from the average Texan to ensure their million-dollar second homes are protected from eminent domain; Cook thinks this 55 year-old law is valid and should remain enforced. Most importantly, Bush simply will go through the motions of this office for four years while he plots his campaign for Governor, as everyone in this state fully expects him to do. Cook actually wants to get into the weeds and leave his mark on the General Land Office.

I don’t punish Bush for the sins of his father, or his uncle. I punish him for his own. Respectfully, but sternly, I urge you to disregard the majority’s opinion and vote for John Cook for Land Commissioner.
—Noah M. Horwitz

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.

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Texpatriate endorses for the Texas Supreme Court

At a recent judicial panel at the Texas Tribune Festival featuring seven incumbent Justices, many on the court lamented the shifts that have occurred in the high court in the last quarter-century. Ostensibly, the nine justices –all Republican– serve as the court of last resort for all non-criminal cases (including, strange as it may sound, juvenile criminal cases). Nearly in unison, the justices seemingly bemoaned the transition the court has faced from an arbiter of common law to merely an interpreter of statutes and a State Constitution that is absurdly long and still growing.

And while the court’s docket has been steadily shrinking, there are still some high-profile issues that have been left pending; chief among them, the rights of gays and lesbians. Specifically, a pair of cases regarding the ability of same-sex couples to divorce within the State. There is also a case, sure to reach the court one day, regarding the constitutionality of Texas’ amendment against such same-sex marriages and “similar unions.” For those and other cases, this board simply believes that Texas’ highest court should be composed of advocates for equality between the sexual orientations. For these reasons, we have simply felt more comfortable with the Democratic candidates. However, we still have concerns about experience and the like from Justices and prospective Justices on this most important court.

Regarding the four elections up this year on the Texas Supreme Court, we endorsed two Democrats and two Republicans.

PLACE 1 (CHIEF)
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has honorably served on the Court longer than any other justice. About a year ago, Governor Rick Perry elevated him to the Chief Justiceship, the culmination of a long and noble career. Most scholars on the court agree that he is arguably the intellectual leader, especially of the more conservative clique.

But Hecht is not without his weaknesses. In years past, he was admonished and fined by the Texas Ethics Commission for impropriety regarding using his office for personal purposes. He also tacks heavily to the right on many of those aforementioned important social issues.

For these reasons, we cautiously will support the Democratic candidate, Bill Moody. A State District Judge out of El Paso County, Moody has a history seeking high offices, including a seat on the Supreme Court once before. He espouses an inclusive view of the constitution, one that sees the document as a living creature subject to evolving standards of decency, rather than a strict originality view. Such philosophies lend themselves to a more inclusive idea of who should be covered by the equal protection clause of the constitution, such as gays & lesbians. Still, we have some doubts as to Moody’s need for “on the job training,” so to speak, upon assuming the office of Chief Justice. Still, we think he would be a welcome change of pace.

Accordingly, this board endorses Bill Moody for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 1 (Chief).

PLACE 6
Justice Jeff Brown is the newest member of the court. Appointed last year by Governor Rick Perry, he previously served as a member of the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. Without a doubt, he is a more than capable jurist who has the experience needed to be an effective member of the court. However, like Hecht, we have some major disagreements with Brown on contentious legal disputes, particularly those involving the expansion of equal protection rights. That being said, we have some hope that Brown is more level-headed on certain disputes than some of his colleagues. He cut his teeth in the law as a clerk for former Justice Jack Hightower, one of the last great Democrats on the court.

Though despite our qualms with Brown, we think he is night-and-day better than his opponent. The Democratic candidate, Larry Meyers, has served on the Court of Criminal Appeals since 1992…as a Republican. In a rather strange turn of events last year, he switched parties right at the filing deadline in order to run for this post. We have absolutely no problem with party-switching; in fact, with good reason, we actively encourage it. But Meyers has been a ghost since his filing. He didn’t make a statement then, nor throughout the primary, nor throughout the general election. He boycotted the State Democratic Convention and has been a no-show at newspaper editorial screenings. And Meyers was no reliable liberal –or even moderate– voice on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Thus, we have no idea why Meyers is running or what he stands for, and –judging by his record– we don’t think he would improve upon Brown’s record. Therefore, we will defer to the incumbent, albeit reluctantly.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jeff Brown for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 6.

PLACE 7
Justice Jeff Boyd was appointed by Governor Rick Perry in 2012 and now will be seeking his first full term on the court. We think he has been a reasonable jurist but, like the other incumbent justices, we have some similar concerns regarding his opinions on constitutional interpretations. Much like his colleagues, we are naturally skeptical of his ability to extend basic civil rights to gays and lesbians.

Boyd’s Democratic opponent, meanwhile, not only has a much more ideal philosophy, she is tremendously experienced. Gina Benavides, a Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals (Corpus Christi), has served in an appellate position for more than eight years. Previously, she had a long and illustrious career within private practice. Unlike the other Democratic candidates, Benavides has been very detailed platform and online presence. She has also been a persistent force campaigning throughout the State. Unlike others, we are totally sure that Benavides will not need any “on the job training,” so to speak, if she wins office. She would make a capable, more and qualified Justice, a great addition to the court.

Accordingly, this board endorses Gina Benavides for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 7.

PLACE 8
Justice Phil Johnson, first appointed by Governor Rick Perry to the court about nine years, will be seeking his second full term on the court. He is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War and longtime veteran of the Court of Appeals in Houston. Beyond dispute, he is a very qualified and experienced Judge. Though, and not to sound like a broken record here, we have some of the same qualms with Johnson as we do with the other justices; namely, that he has an originality view of many constitutional issues and opposes extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians.

But Johnson’s only opponents, Libertarian RS Koelsch and Green Jim Chisholm, are spectacularly unqualified for this high office. They have little political credentials, and even fewer judicial ones. Simply put, they are unfit for the post they seek. Johnson, despite political disagreements, is indisputably qualified and capable to hold this position. We think he is a much better choice than his competitors.

Accordingly, this board endorses Phil Johnson for the Texas Supreme Court, Place 8.

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.

NDO petition fight heads to Texas Supreme Court

The Houston Chronicle reports that opponents of the local non-discrimination ordinance passed by the Houston City Council have taken their case to the Texas Supreme Court. Specifically, they are seeking an emergency order to force the issue onto this November’s ballot, following a contentious referendum petition effort.

As I recently explained, a controversy has erupted over the NDO –which codifies existing Federal and State anti-discrimination statutes (protecting against race, sex and religion, for example) onto local law, as well as extends new protections for LGBT individuals– following an effort to override the City Council, which approved the ordinance 11-6 last May. Under city law, such an ordinance could be placed upon the ballot for a referendum if enough signatures are gathered within 30 days. Opponents claimed they acquired more than enough signatures, but most of them were disqualified, either for not being properly registered to vote or not living within the city limits of Houston. City Secretary Anna Russell originally determined the signatures to pass the threshold, just barely, but a subsequent independent investigation by City Attorney David Feldman reversed this ruling. Feldman specifically challenged the validity of any signatures on a petition page circulated by an improperly registered circulator.

This is the crux of a legal argument made against the initial decision by Feldman and Mayor Annise Parker to not humor a referendum on this topic. Originally, the opponents filed in State District Court, and received a temporary restraining order by ancillary Judge Jeff Shadwick (R-55th). However, this order was lifted when the case went to the court of Judge Robert Schaffer (D-152nd), and mandamus was denied by the Court of Appeals. As I had understood the mutually agreed upon result to be, a longer hearing would be held on the matter in January 2015, and the issue would not be on the ballot this year. City officials have even stated that the full deadline to place things on a November ballot is August 18th, which is now in the past.

Evidently, plaintiff Jared Woodfill did not get the memorandum. He is seeking, as expedited as possible, mandamus from the Texas Supreme Court, ordering the City to certify Russell’s –and not Feldman’s or Parker’s– petition decision, thus placing this matter on a ballot. Woodfill, a former Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, evidently is not sold by the whole “deadline to place on the ballot” idea. Go figure.

Those sagacious followers of this publication I always reference will indubitably know I am skeptical of the life of the NDO if it is ever put up on a referendum. Young people and other socially liberal cohorts just don’t get off their butts on go to a voting booth. They’re just lazy, come election day; there’s no way around it. Opponents of this ordinance, though, and other broadly Tea Party aligned groups, would figuratively walk over hot coals in order to vote.

I had thought, however, that the best chances the NDO would have would be if the referendum were held this November, as opposed to next November or next May. However, its chances would be based on an aggressive and effective campaign to save the NDO. Given that it’s nearly Labor Day and such a campaign is not existent, those bets would surely be off.

All in all, my main point is that this is a mess, and while the Texas Supreme Court may be unpredictable, there is nothing to say the partisan nature of the court should lead it to intervene. The two Courts of Appeals in the Houston area are, sans one Democrat, completely filled with Republicans, and they pointedly denied mandamus. Thus, there is no reason necessarily to think that anything rash will occur. But I’ve been wrong before.

Wendy runs an ad! (and other updates)

On multiple occasions, I have stuck my neck out to say that State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, needs to run television ads. Among the reasons I gave was that her name recognition is already high, but it is mostly negative. Accordingly, she needs to run out of the gate and hit back hard at her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott. Detractors (also known as those happy campers complacent with mediocrity) retorted that Davis does not need to waste her money before Labor Day, because no one pays attention. My counterargument was that she does not need to buy much air time, but rather run an evocative ad that garnered her a great deal of earned media.

It looks like the Davis campaign took my advice, because that is exactly what happened.

The commercial, a 60 second spot entitled “A Texas Story,” tells the tale of a Texas Supreme Court case in the 1990s in which Abbott wrote the dissent. The case, Read v. Kirby Vacuum, was filed after a door-to-door salesman contracting with Kirby “brutally raped” a woman in her home after being invited inside to demonstrate one of his products. The woman, Dena Read (Editorial note: It is the editorial policy of Texpatriate to not print the names of victims of sexual assault, though Mrs. Read has previously volunteered her name to the press because “she believes she can have a bigger impact that way”), sued the vacuum company after realizing that the salesman, Mickey Carter, was on probation for a sex crime that should have disqualified him from the job, but the company did not “perform a routine background check.”

The case went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, where six justices (4 Republicans and 2 Democrats) ruled that, despite Carter merely being an independent subcontractor, Kirby was still negligent for not providing a background check because he used the Kirby name to get into Read’s home.  Two dissents were penned (both by Republicans), and one of them was by Greg Abbott, who has an Associate Justice on the Texas Supreme Court at the time. Abbott’s dissent was joined by yet a third Republican Justice.

The Associated Press summed up this case remarkably well back when it occurred in 1998. You can also read the majority opinion (penned by one of the Democratic Justices) here.

The ad is powerful for the obvious reasons, and Abbott’s campaign has already fired back claiming it was either irrelevant or untrue. I suppose the former claim has some weight, but PolitiFact stepped in yesterday and rated the factual claims in the ad as “mostly true.”

The Houston Chronicle provides fodder for some of the more legitimate criticisms of the ad, however. Namely, that the Davis campaign did not notify Read before launching the ad. And while the commercial did not mention Read by name, the specifics of it were unmistakeable. While a spokesman for the Davis campaign did say that Read was warned about this earlier this year, that is not sufficient.

Political scientists contacted by the Chronicle ranged from calling the revelation “political malpractice” to “a risk.” I honestly do not think it will cause too much of a ruckus for the campaign overall, but it is still in horrendously bad taste to exploit the victim of such a tragic purpose without her consent for political purposes.

Other than that, I thought the ad was a very effective political tool. Like I have said before, Davis needs to do two things: 1) get on television; and 2) go negative. This ad accomplishes both. A columnist in The Washington Post recently took Davis to task for the negative tone of the ad, shying away from substantive policy discussion, and I have only one response to the author: go cry me a river far, far away in your Ivory Tower. I would love more than anything to live in a peaches and cream and unicorns world where voters actually cared about substance or issues, but our reality is far different. Even if you have a sterling record to run on, fear is probably always better tactic; Annise Parker proved that last year.

And Davis isn’t Parker. She doesn’t have years of experience leading one of the biggest cities in the country out of the red and into the promised land. She’s a liberal State Senator. Her climb is significantly harder, and it is unclear how much this strategy will pay off. But it is undoubtedly preferable to the safe solution.

Speaking of which, the Houston Chronicle also notes that Rasmussen Reports has polled the Texas gubernatorial election once more. Davis’ deficit has actually decreased. She now trails 40% to Abbott’s 48%. Rasmussen meanwhile, now pegs the race as “Leans GOP” rather than “Safe GOP.”

rasmussen

The poll actually represents the first momentum in any poll that Davis has had since last summer. Back in March, Rasmussen estimated the race as “Abbott 53, Davis 41.” Accordingly, not only did Abbott’s lead shrink by 33% from 12 points to 8 points, but Abbott fell below the invaluable 50-percent mark in polling. Rather than Davis actually “closing the gap,” so to speak, in fact, the change had much more to do with Abbott’s support eroding faster than Davis’. While Davis actually lost 1 point of support, Abbott lost a whopping 5 points.

This poll was taken before the ad in question. I am truly eager to see what the numbers stand at as of next week!

…Nevermind! Drugs stay secret

Two days ago, I noted that a Civil District Judge in Austin ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to disclose the source of composition of the new execution drugs they planned to use starting next week. As a pertinent Texas Tribune article at the time had noted, the State quickly appealed the case to the Third Court of Appeals and asked them to intervene. Early yesterday, the State Appeals Court simply rejected the request for the Writ of Mandamus in a one-page order. Without flinching, the State then asked the Texas Supreme Corut to intervene in the matter. For the record, this case revolved around a civil –not a criminal– dispute, so the Supreme Court and not the Court of Criminal Appeals ended up hearing the final appeal.

The Texas Supreme Court then, near end of business yesterday, issued yet another one-page order that simply stayed the original Trial Court’s ruling. As best as I could figure out, the Associated Press compiled the best summary of the issues therein.

Click here to read more!

Texpatriate endorses in Supreme Court primary

There will be four seats on the Texas Supreme Court up for election this year. In three of those seats, the Republican nomination will be contested, though all feature a GOP incumbent. Three Democrats will be running as well, though each faces no intra-party opposition in their respective contests. We endorse the incumbents in all three races. Though this board, admittedly, has some major issues with the way the Texas Supreme Court conducts business, we believe each Republican incumbent is a far better choice than the primary opponent.

CHIEF JUSTICE
 Nathan Hecht is a bit of a wild card, and we were definitely not all that thrilled about his ascent into the Chief Justice’s chair. An unabashed conservative, Hecht differs substantially from his predecessor –Wallace B. Jefferson– in style and pragmatism. From being excessively cozy with special interest and Conservative zealots to ongoing ethical quarrels, we have some serious doubts about Hecht’s tenure on the court. But no one could deny he is a remarkable jurist, as he continues to be the leading Justice on this powerful court.

Additionally, we find the choice between Hecht and Robert Talton to be unbelievably easy. Talton, a former State Representative, has graced Texas Monthly’s list of the worst before, and for good reason. He is a homophobic bigot, to say the least. Monthly called his obsessions extreme and said his agenda “makes the Patriot Act look like the Bill of Rights.” Indeed, he has not provided any specifics for this most recent campaign of his, and we are not impressed. Vote for Hecht.

Click here to read more!

Pidgeon case moved to Federal Court

Texpatriate has learned that the case of Pidgeon v. Parker, in which local Republican sued to block a recent City policy that extends full spousal benefits to same-sex spouses of municipal employees, has been removed to a Federal Court. The case, which was initially filed in a local Family District Court, resulted in the granting of a temporary restraining order by a Republican Judge (Lisa Millard), blocking the enforcement of the measure until a hearing next month. This meant couples that had already signed up under the new policy would be out of luck, prompting one such couple to sue the City of Houston in Federal Court themselves.

The Pidgeon case’s initial complaint dealt with Mayor Parker allegedly violating the Texas Constitution, Texas Family Code and the Houston City Charter. Thus, its placement in the Family District Court, as opposed to a Civil District Court that typically deals with constitutional complaints. City Attorney David Feldman has now responded by filing a notice of removal to place the case in Federal Court since it deals with substantial federal questions, including guarantees of equal protection and due process. Parker and Feldman first extended the aforementioned spousal benefits in response to the US Supreme Court’s decision invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act.

Click here to read more about the implications of this lawsuit!