Catching up, Part II

When it comes to state politics, if something feels different in the last couple of days, it is because things have — indeed — changed. A new crop of officeholders have taken office, namely Attorney General Ken Paxton, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton and a few new members of the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. In the next week, Governor-elect Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick, respectively, will assume their offices at the top.

Despite not yet taking office, both men have already staked out positions both toward the far-right and toward the middle (leaning a little more to the former option). First, as the San Antonio Express-News reports, Abbott went on the offensive earlier this week on what he called the “Californization” (Californication?) of Texas. Specifically, he took issue with municipal bans on tree-cutting, plastic bags and fracking.

Evidently, Abbott finds municipal bans on cutting down large trees uniquely objectionable, and he openly compared the practice to “collectivism.” He similarly fumed over municipal bans on single-use plastic bags, enacted in cities such as Austin and Laredo. The bag bans have particularly drawn the ire of legislators and politicos since they must spend so much time in the state capital. Finally, Abbott took a firm stance against Denton’s recent referendum to ban fracking within its city limits. Since the enactment of the ban in November, numerous legislators have filed bills to prohibit such bans statewide, and Abbott now looks amenable to signing such a bill.

All this being said, perhaps there is something to be said for Abbott having at least one pragmatic side in office. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an editorial examining if Abbott is coming around on medicaid expansion. The statewide sentiment has recently turned against the opponents, but I’d still say true expansion is a longshot. Back in November, I opined in The Daily Texan that this was a possibility nonetheless, well before anyone else did.

Moving onto Dan Patrick, he recently outlined his legislative priorities in a series of interviews. The Texas Observer reports that Patrick would be fighting for an ambitious conservative agenda while in office. The topics outlined were garden variety right-wing ideas involving tax cuts, immigration and school privatization, but a few novel specifics stood out. Among them was a proposal to rescind state funding for the Public Integrity Unit within the Travis County District Attorney’s office. The PIU, always overseen by a Democratic DA hailing from Austin, is typically a thorn in the side of prominent Republican officeholder, be it former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, former Congressman Tom DeLay or Governor Rick Perry.

The Texas Tribune also looks at Patrick’s historically animosity toward the Senate’s 2/3rds rule. For those of you playing at home, the 2/3rds rule is an anachronism for the chamber stemming back to when it was comprised exclusively of Democrats. It requires the votes of 21/31 senators to advance any particular piece of legislation during the regular session. Patrick will likely get the needed votes to lower that threshold to 19 votes, conveniently just below the 20 Republican votes in the upper chamber.

However, as the Brownsville Herald reports, Patrick could have at least something of a mind toward bipartisanship. State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-Hidalgo County) has been selected as the President Pro Tempore of the chamber, meaning he would serve as the President of the Senate in the lieutenant governor’s absence.

Last but not least, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has dedicated his first official act in office to implementing so-called “cupcake amnesty.” About a decade ago, the Department of Agriculture (which has power over school lunches) opined against parents packing cupcakes and other sugary foods in their children’s lunches. The policy was quietly reversed last year, and now Miller is wishing to publicize the change. Miller also noted that he has set his sights on removing restrictions on sodas and fries.

“We’ve been raising big, strapping healthy young kids here in Texas for nearly 200 years and we don’t need Washington, D.C. telling us how to do it,” Miller said.

Glossing over the obvious problems with that statement, Miller made a lot of sense when he noted that local control should be trumpeted in these cases. Sadly, it seems that local control is not respected unless it is convenient for Republicans, as Abbott has clearly shown.

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2015 Mayoral election

Since the beginning of the year, I have been intermittently trying to sit down with the prospective candidates for Mayor in 2015. Mayor Annise Parker, of course, is term-limited at that time, meaning that the election will be an open race. At this time, there is only one candidate openly running for Mayor, complete with signs and social media presence, and that is City Councilmember Oliver Pennington (R-District G). However, there are typically about nine other names that keep coming up as likely Mayoral candidates. These individuals range from being completely ready to go, to simply intently looking into the situation. Additionally, there are about two or three other people I have heard mentioned in passing as possible candidates, but never by anyone willing to go on the record. I will only be discussing the former category.

The eight other candidates, in addition to Pennington, are former Congressman Chris Bell (D-TX), City Councilmember Jack Christie (R-At Large 5), Eric Dick (R), City Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-AL1), METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia (D), City Councilmember Ed Gonzalez (D-District H), former City Attorney Ben Hall (D), City Councilmember Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3) and State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County). Among those I have heard passing on the race are Sheriff Adrian Garcia (D), City Controller Ronald Green (D), Laura Murillo and County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez (R).

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL FEATURED ARTICLE!

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.

What I sent to The New York Times

Regarding the indictment of Governor Rick Perry, which has been covered remarkably well by the Texas press corps, a plethora of otherwise reasonable media outlets –The New York Times chief among them– were quick to lambast the indictment as nothing more than political theater. In doing so, they ignored the serious legal background and precedent underlying this case. I drafted up about 950 words on why I disagreed with their editorial positions, and why the indictments are not overly frivolous or litigious. The Times said that their reserve the right of exclusive publication, but to feel free to assume they would not publish after three days, so I waited. I have now sent the article to a couple of sites which do not demand exclusivity (The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Times and the Los Angeles Times). I’m aware that no one will publish it, so I decided to share my thoughts here.

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I’m big on Texas politics. I love it so much that I transferred from college at Brandeis University in Boston to the University of Texas at Austin so that I could return to my native State and follow the twists and turns of the full-contact sport known as our political process. And though I consider myself a left-of-center Democrat, I have a big problem with people who rag on Texas in general.

But more than my indignation at detractors of the Lone Star State, I maintain a pet peeve against the dilettante; he or she who feels entitled to write and judge what is going on south of the Red River, despite not being familiar with our laws, our traditions or our history. Sometimes the judgment happens without the author even visiting the State. I have seen this in action a disappointing number of times in the immediate aftermath of Governor Rick Perry’s indictment at the hands of a Travis County (Austin) grand jury.

Alan Dershowitz, David Alexrod, The Atlantic. A plethora of progressive mouthpieces have inexplicably defended Perry against what they foolishly call an unsubstantiated allegation, one that may be frivolous or overly litigious. Rather, the only thing frivolous is these parties’ understanding of the way Texas does business.

This is not about political blowback, it is not about any ongoing investigations into the Governor’s office and it is not even about any specific veto. It is about a threat. Perry threatened a public officeholder, the Travis County District Attorney, with leverage —the denial of funds for her office— unless she did a specific official act: resign.

The DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, has broad power over the entire State because her office, which maintains jurisdiction over the State Capitol and the Governor’s mansion, commands the Public Integrity Unit, best known for an unsuccessful trial against former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and a successful conviction against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (that one is still tied up in appeals). Lehmberg herself is no saint; she was caught driving drunk last year in a videotaped incident that recorded her belligerent and discourteous attitude toward law enforcement. For her part, she pleaded guilty and served about a month in jail, the toughest sentence for a first-offense DWI in Austin’s history.

But this simply is not about the actions committed by a District Attorney. A DWI is not a felony, nor is it a crime of moral turpitude that would necessitate removal from office. She has been no-billed by a grand jury looking into the matter, and a civil trial to determine if she should be removed from office for dereliction of duty ended with a resounding NO.

Perry is not the King of Texas; he is merely the State’s Chief Executive in a system with the separation of powers, not only between branches, but constituencies. The Governor is not the District Attorney’s boss. When Perry says that Lehmberg has “lost the public’s confidence,” where is he getting his information? She has been convincingly elected by her constituents twice, and remains somewhat popular—at least when the alternative is a Perry appointee. It is also worth noting that the Travis County District Attorney’s office only prosecutes felonies (the County Attorney handles misdemeanors), so Lehmberg’s office did not even control the process over her own crime, as many critics have falsely charged.

At the end of the day, however, what Lehmberg did is a complete red herring. It has absolutely no basis for justifying what Perry did or changing the pertinent law or precedent on the matter. This issue is not about her, it is not about the veto, it is about threat. That very simple fact bears repeating because it appears that no one in the ostensibly credible national press can remember that.

To better illustrate this point, the same principle of Perry’s illegal act should be taken to an absurd extreme. Take the ongoing spat between Perry and William Powers, the President of the University of Texas at Austin. What if Perry demanded Powers’ resignation, perhaps using the cover of the phony scandal embattled Regent Wallace Hall supposedly uncovered regarding law school admission, or else he would cut off funding? What would the State do then? Thankfully, there is a precedent.

Texas impeached one Governor nearly 100 years ago for eerily similar circumstances: James “Pa” Ferguson, a populist Democrat. Ferguson, who like the current Governor was a fervent opponent of the University of Texas, vetoed virtually all of the University’s appropriations after unsuccessfully trying to fire Regents and Professors at UT-Austin. Once again, it was not the veto so much as it was the threat. Ferguson used his power inappropriately in order to meddle in another public official’s business. This should sound familiar.

This has always been —and is— what the scandal centers upon. The legal basis is sound and holds lengthy precedent. When prominent legal minds attempt to chime in on this issue without being familiar with the underlying case, it hurts everyone who is exposed to misinformation.

The Travis County DA’s office’s public integrity unit, it should be freely stipulated, can sometimes generously be described as partisan hacks. Lehmberg’s predecessor, Ronnie Earle, engaged in a witch hunt with very little proof against Hutchison, and the office has been a bit trigger-happy investigating every misstep taken by Perry. But since this controversy has revolved around the DA’s office which normally investigates these cases, Lehmberg and her office recused themselves from all proceedings.

A Republican Judge out of San Antonio, Bert Richardson, appointed a non-partisan Special Prosecutor, Michael McCrum, last year to investigate the complaints lodged against Perry. Call it what you will, this is not a partisan witch hunt. Indeed, it is far from it.

DeLay’s conviction overturned

The Texas Tribune reports that Tom DeLay, the former US House Majority Leader who fell from grace in a money laundering scandal seven years ago, has finally seen his conviction overturned by Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals.

Federal investigations into DeLay’s unsavory dealings, particularly with lobbyist Jack Abramoff (who served four years in Federal Prison), led to his indictment and resignation from Congress in 2006. The case was a huge victory for the lonely Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office, then led by Ronnie Earle. They prosecuted the case, which eventually led to a 2010 conviction by a Travis County jury for money laundering.

Today, a three judge panel of the 3rd Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 (also the partisan composition of the court) that the State was not able to prove that the money allegedly laundered had come from an illegal source. Melissa Goodwin, writing for the two justice majority, wrote:

“Based on the totality of the evidence, we conclude that the evidence presented does not support a conclusion that DeLay committed the crimes that were charged…The fundamental problem with the State’s case was its failure to prove proceeds of criminal activity.”

Justice Woodfin Jones, the lone Democrat on the panel, begged to disagree. He saw judicial activism at play in overturning the will of 12 Travis County jurors for insufficient reasoning.

Prosecutors from the Travis County DA mentioned that they would appeal the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. However, given the partisan composition of that body, the chances of a reversal are somewhat low. It looks like DeLay will get away with all his deeds.

Burnt Orange Report has more.

In re Lampson

In re Lampson

What can I say about Nick Lampson, that hasn’t already been distorted and twisted by his opponents: Ted Poe, Tom DeLay, Pete Olson, and Randy Weber. Well, I can repeat some truths, but this isn’t about yesterday it is about tomorrow.

Lampson, a Beaumont native, is now running again to represent Beaumont, along with Galveston and Brazoria County. A recent poll shows Lampson leading 47% to 45% against his opponent, Randy Weber. Now, while this is indeed the 14th district, the same district Ron Paul currently represents, it is a very different district now. Paul’s hometown of Lake Jackson is still in the District, but the vast majority of the District, the coastal region stretching from Brazoria to Rockport, is gone. District 14 now stretches to the east.

This is a great district for Lampson, perhaps the best opportunity he has. Lampson is not a Houstonian politician, nor will he ever be, his chances for success lay outside the city limits. So if you said, “Noah, design a district in East Texas for Democrats without using any of Houston”, this is pretty much exactly what I would come up with. Jefferson County, with its heavy African-American population, is still strong for Democrats and is Lampson’s hometown. Galveston, despite heavy losses in 2010, will still be a reliable post for Democrats in a presidential year. Brazoria is a pretty strong Republican stronghold, but the want is for Lampson to cancel out the influence by strong showings in the east.

The 14th District will not vote for Obama, but depending on how well Obama does in the district could make or break Lampson, who despite doing better than the President will still be inevitably connected to his performance. Minorities and the Poor, those disproportionately affected by the Voter ID Law (which has struck today), will need to show up in droves in both Beaumont and Galveston for success. For our sake, I hope they do.