Thursday, January 31, 2019

#TXLEGE: Big 3 look serious on Property Taxes (while Democrats could be worse)


"But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God."
Nehemiah 5:15

[Note: We're having formatting issues putting them on this website, but both press conferences can be viewed via the Trib.]

This morning, the Governor, Lite Guv, and Speaker held a press conference to announce their joint property tax proposal.  The most important takeaway is that the House and Senate are beginning with identical bills.  That'll dramatically simplify negotiations down the line.

The unity means local governments will no longer be able to to play off the House vs. the Senate.  Speaker Bonnen specifically said, "those days are over."  Locals can engage productively, but they can no longer derail the process.  While nobody said it out loud, the contrast with the previous speaker is obvious.

The bill would require voter approval for all tax hikes over a 2.5% threshold alongside transparency enhancements.  Obviously, it's not everything we'd have liked.  But it's a gigantic step in the right direction and should be treated as such.  Nothing from today's press conference precludes using school finance reform to produce further property tax relief.

Another interesting nugget: Speaker Bonnen suggested appraisal reform was "easily deliverable to the Governor's desk."  He expected such reforms to pass with "overwhelming bipartisan support."  Good Deal.


Following the Big 3 press conference, Trey Martinez Fischer and Eddie Rodriguez held one for the Democrats.  Representative Fischer promised to ask "tough questions" about revenues.  He also stated his willingness to "agree to disagree" with the Speaker's starting position.  Coming from Trey Martinez Fischer, that could have been a lot worse.

Representative Rodriguez said he "wants to know how it will impact school finance" before committing to the Governor's plan.  That's not unreasonable.  Representative Rodriguez also announced that he was working on his own bill.  As a constituent, we're eager to see Representative Rodriguez's counteroffer for the property tax relief East Austin desperately needs.

Bottom Line: A lot of work remains to be done, but today's signs are encouraging.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

TXLEGE: Only difference between Empower Texans and the press corps is that the former is honest about what they're doing....


"Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets."
Matthew 23:31

Apparently, Dan Patrick recently issued press credentials to Empower Texans.  We're not sure why they want them.  Press credentials deliver nothing of value but restrict your range of motion.

Nevertheless, Patrick's decision has produced some hilariously over-the-top hand-wringing:
It’s become a common scene in the Texas Legislature. A bill comes up for a vote — caps on property tax rates, maybe, or a referendum on “sanctuary cities” — and a text goes out. Lawmakers are told they will be graded on this one, and low marks, they know, could launch a primary challenge from the right.

The sender, the scorekeeper and the eventual challenger is often Empower Texans, a Tea Party-aligned group formed in 2006 with millions in oil money that has worked to replace moderate Republicans with hardline conservatives. For the last decade-plus, the organization and its PAC — which blur the bright lines between newsroom, lobbying firm and political action committee — have aimed, with on-again-off-again success, to upend the Texas political scene with pricey primary challenges, by-the-minute scorecards of lawmakers’ votes and a lawsuit aimed at gutting a state agency.

This year, instead of watching from the sidelines, two employees of Empower Texans’ reporting arm, Texas Scorecard, sit for the first time at the press table on the Senate floor, feet away from the lawmakers their organization has helped bring to power and the lawmakers their organization has failed to swat down.

Curious observers are welcome in the halls of the Texas Legislature, but in the House and Senate chambers, they have long been relegated to the upper-floor galleries. Lobbyists, who are paid and who pay out large sums to boost or bust legislation, are barred from the floor. Aside from lawmakers, staff and special guests, only journalists are allowed on the floor of the chamber, where they have closer access to elected officials.

The media credentials make way for a group that tries to thumb the scales — influencers, not observers, of the political game.
 Shut up.  Does anyone, seriously, think that the capitol press corps aren't trying to "influence" "the political game?!?"  Anyone?!?

We don't have a dog in this fight.  We get along well with Empower Texans.  We also get along (with two exceptions) with the press corps.  Both are useful for what we do.

But the idea that the capital press corps isn't trying to "influence" things is preposterous.

See there history of one of their more flagrant attempts here.

Then there's this:
Traditional media organizations, of course, report on how measures hurt or help everyday taxpayers; one even produces a list of “best” and “worst” legislators.
We discussed this several years back, but the only difference between Empower Texans' index and the various "best/worst" lists from other Capitol publications is that Empower Texans bases their index on objective criteria instead of subjective opinions.

Bottom Line: If anyone believes the Capitol press corps isn't trying to "influence" "the political game," we have some mineral rights in South Texas we would love to sell them....

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

#TXLEGE: Chickens of RECKLESS #2A advocacy come home to roost


"Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me."
Nehemiah 4:18

Last week, when committee assignments came out, we said the following:
  • Poncho Nevarez at public safety is an obvious message the more overzealous Second Amendment types.
Of course, those who most needed to hear that message were the most oblivious:
Speaker Bonnen's Betrayal of Texas Gun-Owners
Published on Wednesday, 23 January 2019 13:18 
Newly elected Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Republican Dennis Bonnen, campaigned as a pro-Second Amendment candidate. However, actions speak far louder than words and we now see he lied.

[Note: Over the top, BRIGHT RED HEADLINE, very much in original.]
Blah, blah, blah....  They're not wrong in their substantive criticisms of the committee chairs.  It's just that, displaying the trademark lack of self-awareness for which they've become known, they engage in exactly the type of behavior that got them there in the first place.

Then there's this piece of silliness:
[G]un owners must start working now to ensure that Dennis Bonnen never again holds the Speaker’s gavel.
Shut up.  Dude, you can't back that threat up.  If you actually think you can back that threat up, you're even more delusional than we thought.

Eventually, Bonnen weighed in:
In other words: CHILL.

One of the problems constitutional carry has faced in recent sessions is that its advocates act like assholes tend to be unnecessarily aggressive and hostile (especially with staff).  This behavior has alienated many members who otherwise don't object to the policy.  That is the dynamic that, unfortunately, Dennis Bonnen has to manage.

Like it or not, it's a completely self-inflicted wound.

That's what Dennis Bonnen is trying to explain to you.

It's up to y'all whether you want to heed this advice (you won't).  But if you don't (which is what will happen), don't be surprised when nothing changes (which, somehow, you will).  When that happens, you'll have no one to blame but yourselves (which is the last person you'll blame).

Two options moving forward:

  • Operate Within Reality:  Understand that this issue carries a lot of baggage.  A certain amount of fence-mending is in order.  You've gotta start somewhere....
  • Pointless Hostility:  No, really, keep threatening legislative staffers.  That's been super effective.  At least you're a big shot in the comments section.
Bottom Line: You may not like hearing it, but the self-inflicted wounds need to stop....

-------

Note: This topic probably deserves a full blog post, but Bonnen may have unintentionally put Poncho Nevarez in a very awkward general election position by making him the face of killing constitutional carry.

New UT system Chancellor just said...WHAT...about free speech?!?


"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,"
1 Peter 1:3

[Note: Learn more about the Chicago Statement on Free Expression on university campuses here.]

Chancellor Milliken spoke with the Trib last week; we weren't expecting this:
During audience questions, biochemistry senior Saurabh Sharma, chairman of UT’s Young Conservatives of Texas chapter, asked Milliken about potential changes to the UT System’s free speech policy. Milliken said he was considering adopting a policy like the Chicago statement, a set of principles that condemn restrictions of all speech on college campuses.

[Note: Emphasis added.]
It's a good thing we weren't drinking anything as we read that; if we had been, we would have probably spit it out.

But...yes...thank you.

Obviously, their follow through and implementation will need to be monitored.  But for the system Chancellor to endorse this position is unimaginably HUGE!!!  We'll see what happens.

Good deal.

Bottom Line:  Time will tell whether the new management is different from the old management, but this is an undeniably good start....

Monday, January 28, 2019

#TXLEGE: The Texas Senate needs to STOP giving the Austin Chronicle easy material


"God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
John 4:24

Longtime readers know there is no media outlet this author despises more than the Austin Chronicle; which is why it kills us that they got this one 100% correct:
Sex and the Senate
What will it take to curb sexual harassment at the Texas State Capitol?
BY MARY TUMA, FRI., JAN. 25, 2019

Not more than two days into the 86th Texas Legislature, the 150-member House of Representatives approved a new, stronger reporting process to secure justice for victims of sexual harassment at the Capitol. The unprecedented (at least in recent history) move comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which ousted abusive male figures from their perches in politics, journalism, and Hollywood. And it follows a string of shocking media reports from last session that alleged harassment in the halls of the Capitol building from Democrats and Republicans alike over several years. Those reports ignited conversation within both legislative chambers on how best to respond to inappropriate behavior moving forward.

However, one body is noticeably working more steadfastly – and openly – on the issue than the other.

The House Committee on Administration acted quickly, proposing a first draft in December 2017 that was seen as a solid start that needed more work. Former Speaker Joe Straus then created a working group in May 2018 to examine the Texas House's sexual harassment policy and recommend ways to improve it. The 10-member group, led by Reps. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and Linda Koop, R-Dallas (who lost her re-election bid in November), was tasked with researching best practices in other states to "prevent and eradicate" misconduct in the Legislature. The latest iteration, approved as a resolution by a unanimous vote of the House on Jan. 9 after months of review, moves misconduct complaints to a House investigating committee with subpoena power, adding real teeth to a once-feeble policy.

Meanwhile, the Senate – recently encumbered by allegations of lewd behavior against one of its most powerful members, Georgetown Republican Charles Schwertner, has taken a slower approach. While the Senate elaborated its misconduct policy from one to six pages some five months after the House released its first draft, it has no plans to hold hearings or take a formal vote as the House did. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, never as engaged on the issue as Straus, also opted not to conduct a Senate investigation into Schwertner, instead taking the wait-and-see route as a University of Texas investigation played out. Both the Senate's weaker policy and its inaction in the Schwertner case have drawn criticism on the state's editorial pages, including a piece penned by former Sen. Wendy Davis.

During the few months of the current regular session, the Senate has the power to strengthen and codify its rules, but will it? Or does the upper chamber hope the issue of sexual misconduct – and public complaints against its members – gradually falls by the wayside?
The article goes on to discuss everything we already know.  We recommend reading the whole thing, but you already know  the names.  Carlos Uresti, Borris Miles, Craig Estes, Charles Schwertner....

The Chronicle then contrasts the reaction between the two chambers.  While we think they give both Joe Straus and the house more credit than they deserve, at least the House is trying.  The Senate, meanwhile, hasn't done anything meaningful.

The Texas Senate's political opponents have noticed.

Unfortunately, they're not wrong.

It gets better:
The Senate's inaction prompted Wendy Davis, who served two terms in the chamber representing Ft. Worth, to pen a critical editorial in the Statesman earlier this month demanding that the upper house get its act together. Among her chief complaints: There remains no legitimate recourse for people who are sexually harassed by legislators; there is no independent, third-party investigator to whom such complaints can be made; the Senate policy fails to define consequences for violations and has not extended its subpoena power, which could have compelled Schwertner (or others) to testify or provide information.

"What happened after the credible allegations against Sen. Schwertner – and also Sens. Miles and Uresti – starkly highlights how broken the system is," Davis told us. "I found myself feeling very upset and frustrated after reading the UT report. I was angry on behalf of the young woman and on behalf of many others who have endured sexual harassment at the Capitol. It's disappointing that the Senate appears disinterested in further investigating the incident."

....

Davis slams the policy as "a little more than window dressing, but not a whole lot more." She notes the "glaring differences" between Straus' leadership and Patrick's. "Straus supported the effort in an authentic and sincere way, with an open process and a work group," said Davis. "On the Senate side, there is more of an appearance of a process, but without any real desire to hear from experts and people who may have been on the receiving end of sexual harassment at the Capitol. To me, the process looked more like a kangaroo court."

There appears to be a "greater interest in protecting the body than in protecting young women working at the Capitol," says Davis. "It's often part and parcel of the way elected bodies function – if you protect your members, you gain their loyalty." Sexual misconduct at the Capitol is an open secret among members, she says, and she had her own brush with harassment as a freshman senator. During a social, UT-affiliated event, a House member, clearly inebriated, touched her inappropriately. She says it took that member three years to apologize; she never reported the incident because the Senate's policy did not make clear where or who to report to. Even if there had been a direct path, there was no hope that anything would come of it because there were no defined consequences, she says.

"We need to apply continued pressure on the Senate," said Davis. "We cannot give them a pass on this."
You know the situation is bad when you're getting hammered by Wendy Friggin' Davis...and she's completely right.

It's pathetic.

Bottom Line: You can't blame the other team for swinging the bat when you're the one lobbing softballs down the middle of the plate....

Saturday, January 26, 2019

SCOTX validates Pressley's concerns


"Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong."
1 Corinthians 16:13

SCOTX released its ruling in Laura Pressley's election challenge:



You should read the whole thing for yourself; the TL,DR version is that the Supreme Court said Pressley raised very valid questions in her election challenge, but that they whole thing is so far in the past that they're not going to do anything about it.

It's similar to the ruling in the Wallace Hall case: validate the argument, then hide behind a technicality.

Non-lawyer opinion: SCOTX's reasoning seems less farcical here than the Hall case.  The term of the seat for which the election contest was originally filed really did expire two years ago.  Refer all your other questions to lawyers.

Casar and his buddies will spin this as a win.  But it's not.  Their macro-strategy is to smear people asking difficult questions as lunatics.  And SCOTX did them no favors there.

Bottom Line: Not everything we wanted, but it's a useful building block....

Friday, January 25, 2019

#TXLEGE: Greg Abbott should appoint Seliger to the UT Board


"Can a man take fire to his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?"
Proverbs 6:27

As the Dan Patrick/Kel Seliger feud worsens, one conclusion becomes increasingly obvious: Greg Abbott is the only person who could maybe negotiate a settlement.

The TL,DR version is that Patrick and Seliger both trust Abbott.  Both like Abbott.  Other things being equal [note: they aren't, but hear us out], both would prefer to make the Governor happy.

A humble suggestion: Greg Abbott has four appointments to the UT Board of Regents to make very soon...and Greg Abbott ought to offer one of those appointments to Kel Seliger.

Obviously, that's a less than ideal solution.  But it's a face-saving exit for the involved parties.  In the current crisis, that's more important.

Sources have suggested there's no chance Seliger takes that offer.  We're not convinced.  Abbott should still try.  There are ways to structure a deal.

Furthermore, Greg Abbott did people like Kel Seliger some gigantic favors not very long agoFavors related to the University of Texas Board of Regents.  Without dwelling on the (recent) past, Kel Seliger owes Greg Abbott.  That is a fact about which Greg Abbott ought to politely, but quite firmly, remind Kel Seliger.

Bottom Line: If anyone has a better idea, we're open to suggestion....

Thursday, January 24, 2019

#TXLEGE: Hot Mess continues to get Hotter


"Can a man take fire to his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?"
Proverbs 6:27

Apparently, Dan Patrick thought it would be a good idea to go run his mouth to the Dallas Morning News.  Patrick's interview consisted of rationalization filled verbal diarrhea mixed with Olympic level mental gymnastics.  Aka. Not good.
  • Patrick: "Senator Seliger, on this particular radio show, has called out Senator Buckingham and Senator Kolkhorst and Senator Perry by name, criticizing them. He, I’m told, and you’ll have to check the facts, but I’m told by them he called them, called Lois and Dawn, ‘gutless,’ you know, selling out to the conservative movement."

    Except, apparently, that never happened.
  • Patrick: "He, I’m told, and you’ll have to check the facts, but I’m told by them he called them, called Lois and Dawn, ‘gutless,’ you know, selling out to the conservative movement. That does not go down well with members. He’s had a very sharp showdown on the floor with a female senator, dropping the f-word, because he was unhappy with the senator’s vote. These were things, Lauren, I just kind of heard about but I discovered in the last couple of days."

    Dan Patrick being oblivious to the Texas Senate not being the best working environment for women...you don't say!
  • Patrick: "So it wasn’t his votes. It’s the, it’s the, what’s the word I’m looking for? It was just the way he went about it on the floor and putting amendments on the bills that put members in a very difficult situation."

    That's called politics.
  • Patrick: "So I didn’t take him off Finance or off Higher Ed because of his votes. I need people – we have a lot of serious business to do and I need people who are on the team, pulling together."

    He literally just said one thing then contradicted himself in the next sentence.
  • Patrick: "I didn’t see moving him from Higher Ed to Agriculture as a demotion, by the way."

    That's preposterous.  It's also insulting to the intelligence of anyone who hears it.  If Patrick genuinely believes this, he's deeper in denial than we thought.
  • Patrick: "Finance — I told senators when I became lieutenant governor, ‘I think every senator should have the chance to serve a session or two on Finance’ because until you serve on Finance, you don’t have a complete view of how the process works."

    That's not a bad idea in terms of running the chamber, but doesn't change the fact that leaving Seliger on Finance was a face-saving solution to keep him out of the way.
  • Patrick: "Uresti had been in the Legislature for 20 years and never been on Appropriations or Finance...."

    Polka dot thong.
  • Patrick: "You know, this particular senator told me, this female senator, she’s never had a man talk to her in her entire life anywhere like he talked to her on the floor."

    This coming from a guy who missed the first day of session to hang out with Donald Trump.
  • Patrick: "You know, Lauren look, if somebody said that about you, I would take the same position. It’s just inappropriate. It doesn’t matter. We just went through an hour, an hour and a half training on sexual harassment. Lois Kolkhorst worked all the interim to look at this issue and to be that, you know — Sherry Sylvester is a 30-year plus professional. She’s not ‘some lady.’ She’s not a ‘messenger,’ which I also thought demeaning. I mean, you’re a professional writer. I wouldn’t talk to you in that way."

    Guy who 5 paragraphs earlier was bragging about putting Carlos Uresti on the Finance committee now wants female reporter to give him kudos taking for an hour and a half long class.

    It's a shame the phrase 'mansplaining' has been so badly abused over the years, because if it were ever appropriate....
  • McGaughy: I have to bring up the Sen. Schwertner issue because it’s been an issue that’s been raised in light of all of this. We haven’t seen a similar statement from you that perhaps he should he removed from his vice chairmanship, or, he says he didn’t send this text to this young lady –

    Patrick: No, I think you saw me act very clearly. He asked for a lighter schedule.

    McGaughy: I’m sorry?

    Patrick: He asked for a lighter schedule.

    To use the phrase "He asked for a lighter schedule" in describing this situation is, at best, an extremely poor choice of words.
  • Patrick: "They are two totally different issues. The one issue he was accused of something where there was no finding and no one has come forward. There is no place for us to go with that. This is a separate issue. This is something said in public on a radio station about a professional woman that every senator – I haven’t talked to every senator – but Democrats and Republicans alike, men and women, were appalled."

    You're not seriously trying to rationalize this Seliger situation as being worse than the one with Schwertner in terms of treatment of women...are you?!?
  • McGaughy: "Sen. Seliger also said you’ve sent a message to other senators. You’ve talked about being a team player. He’s a free agent now. He can do whatever he wants. Do you have a concern about him going rogue?

    Patrick: No.

    WELL.  YOU.  SHOULD.  (See what we said above about Patrick being deeper in denial than we thought).
  • Patrick also compared himself to Tom Brady.
Bottom Line: Dan Patrick didn't do himself any favors in this interview.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

#TXLEGE: Bonnen's committee assignments are tangible progress


"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
But when a wicked man rules, the people groan."
Proverbs 29:2

House committee assignments are out:



Thoughts:
  • It's been widely noted that Bonnen got these out quickly.  Obviously, that means he's not playing the same games with the clock.  But that would have been true even if Bonnen had gotten committees out next week.

    By getting them out this quickly, Bonnen also indicates a level diligence in the speaker's office that was...lacking...in the previous occupant.

    An intellectually serious speaker's office is a very welcome development.
  • (At least) Two previous committee chairmen who were widely rumored to have engaged in sexual funny business are no longer committee chairmen.
  • Clear demotions for Drew Darby, Todd Hunter, and Sarah Davis.
  • Zerwas keeping Appropriations is unfortunate...but by adding Matt Schaefer, Cole Hefner, and Steve Toth, Zerwas has a significantly more conservative committee to manage.
  • Business and Industry has been a committee where they've stuck Democrats for several sessions.  Don't read too much into Ferdinand Frank Trey Martinez Fischer as chair.  That being said, LOL on "vice-chair Drew Darby."
    • Note: Giving TMF this committee was actually a savvy move on Bonnen's part.  It could, potentially, cut down on the degree to which he's difficult down the line.  Worst case scenario, this is a neutral trade.
  • Four Price at Calendars isn't necessarily great.  But Calendars has nowhere to go but up.  Price is a likely upgrade on personal conduct alone.
    • Note: If there has to be a Travis County Democrat on the Calendars committee, we'd much rather have it be Eddie Rodriguez than Donna Howard.
  • Dan Flynn is harmless at Defense and Veterans Affairs.
  • Elections is a GIGANTIC all-around upgrade.  Stephanie Klick is exactly the type of member you want chairing a committee like this.  Adding Briscoe Cain and Valoree Swanson means this committee has a strong majority to pass strong bills.
  • Putting Chris Paddie, Darby, Ernest Bailes, and Charlie Geren on Energy Resources is another savvy move.  Energy development is an issue where big business types and conservatives agree.  This allows those members to do productive work while keeping them out of conservatives' hair.
  • Chris Turner at Higher Ed. is not good.  That being said, by adding Matt Schaefer and Terry Wilson, the committee membership is significantly more conservative.  Hard to know where things will land.

    Ending tuition increases is an issue for which there OUGHT to be overwhelming bipartisan support.

    You will know everything you need to know about the degree to which Chris Turner is a serious chairman by how he handles the tuition issue.
  • Poncho Nevarez at public safety is an obvious message the more overzealous Second Amendment types.
  • Charlie Geren at House admin means there will be plenty of booze in the members' lounge.
  • Jeff Leach at Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence is a great opportunity to head off potential damage from the Democrat judges elected last fall.
  • That Tom Craddick is only now getting a chairmanship tells you everything you need to know about the pettiness of the previous speaker.
  • Licensing and Administrative procedures looks pretty awful.
  • Local and Consent has a Republican chair!!!
  • Public Ed. looks like an educrat's wet dream.  This committee will have to be watched very closely.  We encourage the Governor to start warming up his veto pen.
  • Senfronia Thompson at Public health is strange.  She's never shown interest in the subject.  Precludes major reforms, but how it impacts smaller ball issues is less clear.
  • State Affairs is a LIGHT YEARS improvement.
  • Urban Affairs looks AMAZING and that's all we're going to say about publicly.
    • Note: Take THAT City of Austin.
  • See our previous comment about State Affairs and likewise apply it to Ways and Means.
Bottom Line: It's a solid list on most issues.  There's lots to like.  That being said, they are going to have to be watched like a hawk on education.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

#TXLEGE: Patrick escalates JUVENILE Conflict with Seliger


"Can a man take fire to his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?"
Proverbs 6:27

We said what we said on Saturday.

Today we're here:



Which begs the natural follow up question:


Followed by this:



Followed by this:



And this:


via GIPHY


It would have been one thing if Patrick and Seliger had had a falling out over a policy issue. Instead, it's over personality.  And the worst part is that Patrick both started and escalated it.

Historically, Dan Patrick has been pretty good at managing the more moderate members of both the R and the D caucuses.  The key is that you allow the moderates in question to pass a lot of small, relatively, inconsequential bills.  Then the moderate either supports Patrick, or stays out of the way, on Patrick's major priorities.  Case in point: Kevin Elitife two sessions ago.

But for some reason, even though it's the obvious play to make with Seliger, Patrick chooses this route.

It's mystifying.

That being said, even at this late date, 3 facts remain the case:
  • Dan Patrick needs Kel Seliger more than Kel Seliger needs Dan Patrick.
  • Kel Seliger still needs Dan Patrick badly enough that it's in Kel Seliger's interest to find a way to stay on the reservation.
  • The price of keeping Kel Seliger on the reservation goes up each time you have one of these public blowups.
Unfortunately, it remains an open question whether anyone in a position of authority recognizes the afore mentioned facts.

Bottom Line:  These are unforced errors.  They need to end.  Right now.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Shelia Jackson Lee, Harris County D's, Need to Answer VERY Serious Questions


"He who covers his sins will not prosper,
But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy."
Proverbs 28:13

ICYMI, late last week:
WASHINGTON — A former staffer for Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee claims in a new lawsuit that the lawmaker retaliated against her and fired her because she was planning to pursue legal action over an alleged rape by a former employee of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

The woman, identified in court papers by the pseudonym Jane Doe, alleges she was raped in October 2015, when she was a 19-year-old intern for the CBCF, by the foundation’s intern coordinator at the time, Damien Jones. The woman said she reported the alleged rape to police and told several people, including Rep. Terri Sewell, her former boss and a distant relative of her mother’s, but did not pursue legal action at the time.

Several years later, when Jane Doe was working for Jackson Lee, the woman decided she did want to pursue legal action, and told Jackson Lee’s chief of staff Glenn Rushing in early March 2018. The woman alleges that she asked to speak with Jackson Lee about it, but a meeting never happened, and several weeks later she was fired. Jackson Lee is chair of the board for the CBCF.

Jones did not return requests for comment. After leaving the CBCF in late 2015, he continued to work in Democratic politics and recently served as the regional political director for former representative Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign. Chris Evans, a spokesperson for the O’Rourke campaign, said in an email to BuzzFeed News, “The Beto for Texas campaign was absolutely not aware of these allegations until today and no longer has a relationship with Damien Jones.”

Rushing told BuzzFeed News in a phone call that “We had nothing to do with any of the actions that have been cited and the person was not wrongfully terminated.” He declined to answer additional questions.

Jackson Lee's office later released a statement pointing to the congresswoman's record on civil rights and non-discrimination measures, and saying that the office "adamantly denies the allegations that it retaliated against, or otherwise improperly treated, the plaintiff. It is against office policy to discuss specific details about internal personnel matters."

"Although the Congresswoman is eager to respond substantively, she will do so only at the appropriate time, as the court docket dictates. The Congresswoman is confident that, once all of the facts come to light, her Office will be exonerated of any retaliatory or otherwise improper conduct and this matter will be put to rest," Jackson Lee's office said. "While we still deny the allegations, we are especially concerned about Ms. Doe and only want the best for her and the many, many young people that the Congressional office has supported, encouraged, and provided opportunities for over 20 years."

Marc Banks, a spokesperson for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview that he did not know whether there had been any communication between the foundation and Jackson Lee's office about the rape allegation against Jones or Jane Doe's plan to sue the foundation. But he said that a decision to fire a congressional staffer was "outside the purview of the foundation."

"We would have no reason to harm the former intern," Banks said.

Banks said that the foundation took "immediate and swift action" to fire Jones after investigating Jane Doe's allegations, but he was "not privy" to what the foundation learned in the course of that review.

....

In late 2017, Jane Doe took a job in Jackson Lee’s congressional office. Soon after she was hired, according to the lawsuit, Jane Doe learned that Jones might be hired in Jackson Lee’s office, and she told Rushing that she had a “prior situation” with Jones and would not be comfortable working together. Rushing allegedly told her that he understood and didn’t end up hiring Jones “because he had a situation with CBCF and they could not have him working in the office as a result.”

In early March 2018, Jane Doe told Rushing that she had learned “more about her case involving Mr. Jones and CBCF” and was planning to go forward with legal action, according to the complaint. Jane Doe said she asked to speak with Jackson Lee, and Rushing agreed, but no meeting took place. On March 29, she said she was told she was being fired because of budget issues.

Jane Doe’s lawsuit describes times she said she spent driving Jackson Lee in her personal car she and alleges she was pressured by Jackson Lee and Rushing to get a new car after her car was damaged in an accident. When she was fired, she said that in addition to being told it was because of budget issues, that Rushing also told her, “It didn’t help that you lied about the car.” It was not immediately clear from court filings what that was a reference to.

Jane Doe alleges that the budget-related explanation was a pretext and that Jackson Lee retaliated against her for planning to take action against the CBCF related to the alleged rape.
Over the weekend:
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is refusing demands to step down as leader of the Congressional Black Caucus’ nonprofit arm amid claims she fired one of her congressional staffers over rape allegations.

Jackson Lee was told by the CBC Foundation’s board to resign during a lengthy call on Thursday night, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation. Jackson Lee resisted those demands, and the call abruptly ended as other board members were trying to figure out how to continue the conversation without the Texas Democrat.

Jackson Lee has also been pressured by leadership within the CBC to step down from her position with the foundation, according to one of the sources. The foundation’s board was expected to have another emergency call Friday night to assess the situation.

....

Following Jackson Lee’s refusal to step aside, at least one board member stepped down, and sources with knowledge of the situation say more are expected to follow if Lee remains. Cathy Hughes, a media executive and entrepreneur, resigned from the board, according to the two sources. Hughes, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Wow.

This looks like a very serious situation.  Obviously, we don't know all the facts.  But some early questions are unavoidable.

 Among them:
  • What was the nature of the alleged "budget issue" that caused Shelia Jackson Lee to fire Jane Doe?!?
  • Why the heck would Sheila Jackson Lee hire someone with this much baggage in the first place?!?
  • Did Shelia Jackson Lee ever inform the O'Rourke campaign about the accusations against Damien Jones?!?
That last question is especially relevant given that Damien Jones is accused of raping a young woman who was his direct professional subordinate.

The best case scenario is grotesque negligence mixed with an awfully big coincidence.  Not impossible...but the odds seem long.  Possibilities get worse from there.

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O'Rourke:



National conservative media outlets are trying to make this about O'Rourke.  That's a mistake.  While things could change, we believe Shelia Jackson Lee bears significantly more culpability than O'Rourke.  It was Lee's responsibility to inform O'Rourke, not vice versa.

Except...for Borris Miles.

During the campaign, we made a big deal out of the fact that O'Rourke held a campaign event with Borris Miles [Note: THIS Borris Miles].  We didn't remark upon it at the time, but Shelia Jackson Lee was the third elected official at that event.  Given what we've just learned about Damien Jones being the link between O'Rourke and Shelia Jackson Lee, to also include Borris Miles at that event seems...newly significant.

The Texas Observer has more:
At a block-walk event on Houston’s South Side earlier that day, Damien Jones, Beto’s political director for the Houston area, laid out the stakes. “Two years ago,” Jones pronounced in his red Chucks and a black-and-white “BETO” trucker hat, “many of us had many regrets about what happened — that we didn’t do enough. This is the time to leave it all on the field. We can’t have any regrets this time.”

O’Rourke has assembled perhaps the most impressive ground game of any statewide Democrat in a generation — and the campaign is trying to reach deep into black communities.
In other words, the O'Rourke campaign was trying to "reach deep into black communities" by hiring Damien Jones to work with Borris Friggin' Miles.

"Reach deep into" indeed.

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Other Harris County Democrats (especially Sylvester Turner):

As the de facto leader of the Democrats in Harris County, Mayor Turner could clean up this activity if he wanted.

Instead, from Friday night:

Earlier Today:


In other words, in light of what we learned last week, the de facto leader of the Democrats chose to attend 2 events with Shelia Jackson Lee (one of which also included Borris Miles).

Furthermore, consider that in the picture with O'Rourke shown above, Rodney Ellis is the third person in the photo.

So you've got Rodney Ellis hanging out with Damien Jones at the same time you've got Sylvester Turner doing events with Shelia Jackson Lee and Borris Miles.

With this much smoke, imagine the fire.

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Bottom Line: There seem to be an awfully high number of awfully big coincidences surrounding this story.  Most, though certainly not all, seem to surround Shelia Jackson Lee.  She's certainly the best place to start....

Saturday, January 19, 2019

#TXLEGE: Patrick, Seliger, and Playing with Fire....


"Can a man take fire to his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?"
Proverbs 6:27

Yesterday, we said "time will tell" as it relates to Seliger's committee assignments.  Initial reports are in.  They're not good:
Seliger said he looks forward to championing agricultural issues and that education legislation will remain a top priority. But the senator, who’s back in his Panhandle-area district for the long weekend, said many in the area are feeling “dismayed and disrespected.”

“It’s not what I desired,” Seliger said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “There’s a negative reaction in this district, because [the finance committee] is a good position to try and do the things that are important in an area in West Texas that seems to have to fight for everything, from a budgetary point of view.”

“I know exactly what motivated the change. It was a couple of ‘no’ votes for the lieutenant governor’s priorities in 2017,” the longtime higher education chairman said. “It was a very clear warning to the Republicans that if you get off the reservation, you better be careful.”
Hoo boy.

Patrick's staff replies:
"If Senator Seliger believes serving as Chair of the Agriculture Committee — a critical committee for West Texas and all of rural Texas — is beneath him, he should let us know and the Lt. Governor will appoint someone else," said Sherry Sylvester, the Patrick advisor.
Yowza.

This is bad; if it's not resolved quickly, it will consume the session.

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Understand something: Dan Patrick needs Kel Seliger's vote (during the regular session).

It takes 19 votes to pass a bill in the Texas Senate (during the regular session).  There are 19 Republicans.  If Patrick loses Seliger, he has to find a Democrat.

Depending on the issue, it might not be impossible to find some Democrats, but it's a lot easier to pass bills with Seliger on board.

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There's nothing wrong with removing Seliger from higher ed.  While we had no complaints about his chairmanship last session (he passed the two bills we wanted passed), there's a fairly obvious case for replacing him.  Furthermore, now that his wife is head of the Texas Exes, one could argue it's a conflict of interest.

But tossing Seliger from Finance was STUPID.

Finance is a gigantic committee.  One member's vote doesn't change anything (esp. now that property taxes have been moved to a separate committee).  Keeping the Finance appointment as a courtesy pick to a senior member Senator have been a no-brainer.

Instead, Dan Patrick just gratuitously insulted that senior Senator at a time when the Senator in question has a lot of leverage.

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The worst part is that there was an obvious path to placate Seliger; it should have at least been tried.

Kel Seliger is a legislator who, every session, has about a zillion priorities.  Obviously, many conflict with conservative priorities.  But a decent number of them don't.

It doesn't take a genius to envisage a deal where Seliger gets all of his lower profile stuff in exchange for supporting Patrick's high profile stuff.

As cooler heads prevail, here's hoping that still happens.  But the cost for Seliger's cooperation just went up.  And it will continue to rise as long as this conflict festers.

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Let's not overlook the potential nightmare of Seliger on Nominations.

Evan Smith hasn't:



Kel freezes over indeed.

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For all that, remember one other thing: Kel Seliger also needs Dan Patrick.  Not as bad as the other way.  But bad enough.

For as much leverage as Seliger possesses during the regular session, it evaporates in a special.  The Texas Senate operates under completely different rules during a special.  This is something Seliger already knows, but it's something about which he should be reminded.

If Kel Seliger is the only reason for a special session, he should get nothing.

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Bottom Line: Dan Patrick and Kel Seliger can both accomplish more by working together than by feuding.  That's still true.  Hopefully, cooler heads prevail.

Friday, January 18, 2019

#TXLEGE: Initial Thoughts on Senate Committee Assignments


"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
But when a wicked man rules, the people groan."
Proverbs 29:2

Senate Committee assignments are out:



Thoughts:
  • Schwertner out, Kolkhorst in, at HHS -- Given what we just said, to see Lois Kolkhorst take over for Charles Schwertner is...to put it mildly...ironic.

    Beyond that aspect, however, this is a strange assignment.  Kolkhorst's background is in Oil and Gas, not health care.  Why her?!?  Why here?!?

    It's not like there's a shortage of Doctors in the Texas Senate.
  • That being said, good precedent on Schwertner -- We've been arguing for over a year that loss of committee chairs was the most important sanction we could impose on legislators who engage in funny business.  However bizarre that route it took to get to this place might have been, that precedent is now established.
     
  • Seliger to chair new Ag. committee -- Tough to know what to make of this one.  On the one hand, it's easy to view it as a demotion.  On the other hand, it's also easy to see how this is a good fit with Seliger's district.

    Only time will tell.

    If it is a demotion, however, beware the wrath of Seliger down the line.
  • Solid Conservatives on Education
  • Creighton in at Higher Ed. -- Ummmmmm?!?

    We've never known Brandon Creighton to have any particular interest in Higher ed. issues.  So this is...odd.  On the one hand, Creighton has historically tended to vote solidly.  On the other hand, he's not somebody who likes to upset the apple cart.

    Tough to know how that breaks on Higher Ed. issues.

    Longhorn.
  • Buckingham in at Nominations -- This could be interesting.

    Last session, Dawn Buckingham was the only Senator who even showed a pulse during the UT regent confirmation process.  We have no idea if they will be, but Regent confirmations should be an even bigger issue this session.  None of them are great, but Buckingham's record on this subject is less bad that most of the others.

    That being said, if Buckingham puts down her foot on regent confirmations, Watson, Seliger, and Alvarado will go BALLISTIC.  We have no idea how that plays out.  But it would be really entertaining to watch.  If nothing else, it would be a healthy debate to have in public.

    We've also signed onto the coalition letter related to the Sec'y of State confirmation.
  • Plum assignments for Flores
  • Business as usual for Borris Miles -- Obviously, he doesn't have a chairmanship to lose but Economic Development and HHS are...not bad.
Bottom Line: No obvious roadblocks on any major issues.  Couple interesting personnel moves.  We shall see.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Paxton forces Travis County (Democrat) Judge to rebuke LAWLESS City of Austin!!!


"Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me."
Nehemiah 4:18

Gnarly:
The City of Austin violated state law by banning licensed handgun holders from entering City Hall with firearms, a Travis County District Court judge ruled today.

Judge Lora Livingston of the 261st Civil District Court fined the city $1,500 for each of six instances in which investigators with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office were denied entry to City Hall. The total fine was $9,000.

Paxton's office sued after Central Texas Gun Works owner Michael Cargill filed a complaint with the AG's office saying he had been denied entry to city hall on several occasions.

Livingston cited a provision of Texas law that bans any state agency or political subdivision of the state from prohibiting license holders from carrying handguns in government buildings with a few exceptions, including at open government meetings or in government courts. The city had argued it should be allowed to ban guns from the building because it “maintains office space for court personnel.”

....

“The city of Austin cannot violate the open carry law or any other law the Texas Legislature has enacted simply because they disagree with it,” Paxton said in a statement after the ruling.
Bottom Line: You know the violation of the law is FLAGRANT when a Travis County judge is forced to side with Ken Paxton and Michael Cargill over the City of Austin!!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

#TXLEGE: Mary Gonzalez adopts Top YCT Priority


"I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh."
Galatians 5:16

This session keeps getting curiouser and curiouser:



Followed by this:


Gonzalez's bill would repeal the horrifically misnamed so-called tuition 'deregulation' scheme the legislature passed in 2003.  Gonzalez would freeze tuition at the rate of this coming fall semester.  After that, tuition increases would require an affirmative act of the legislature.

Repealing so-called tuition "deregulation" has been a priority of this website for at least five yearsJust last week, we identified it as an important forward looking reform.  So yeah

Bottom Line: This was not something we expected, but we'll take it.

#TXLEGE: Nelson's teacher pay proposal **MIGHT** be a good start


"Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6

We've seen conflicting chatter about the teacher pay bill introduced yesterday in the Senate.  So we decided to so something crazy.  We read the bill:

SB 3 -- Nelson teacher pay ... by on Scribd



Thoughts:

  • Nelson's bill doesn't do anything obviously bad.  It's a simple, straightforward, state level expenditure for a specific purpose.  None of the shenanigans the educrat lobby sometimes likes to play.
    • Note: So far.
  • Any state expenditures authorized under this bill will, by definition, go into the classroom.
  • State provides a long term funding mechanism.
  • That being said, it's certainly not cheap.  It's very valid to fear Nelson's proposal will be expensive and ineffective.  Across the board raises don't incentivize good performance.
  • Section 1 (c) of the bill specifically leaves room for a merit pay program along the lines of what the Governor has proposed.  That's probably coming soon.  Still, we'd rather see the money that's going for this proposal going to that one.
  • One the other hand (ie. counting votes in the Senate), if an across the board teacher raise is what takes to pass a merit pay system, that might not be the worst trade.
  • Like it or not, this proposal is a reflection of the current political reality.
Bottom Line: Obviously, all the standard disclaimers about it being early and the devil being in the details still apply, but this isn't the worst proposal we've ever seen come out of the legislature.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

#TXLEGE: House budget proposed CUTTING health care (plus other notes)


"Every prudent man acts with knowledge,
But a fool lays open his folly."
Proverbs 13:16

The House released their budget proposal yesterday.  Obviously, the headlines have been all about the education number (more on that below).  But we noticed something else quite interesting:
Notably, the House budget decreases state funding for health care and human services by about 3.2 percent. Education and health care make up the vast majority of state spending.

[Note: Emphasis added.]
This is interesting.  Medicaid/health care has been the fastest growing component of the state budget for decades.  Getting Medicaid under control could, conceivably, free up money for other items.  This is something for which we've been advocating for years.

At a minimum, it suggests that the House is willing to set priorities.  Yes, they plan to spend more state funds on education.  But, in order to get there, they're going to take the money from elsewhere in the budget.  That would never have happened under the previous house leadership.

As for the education number: It's the beginning of a negotiation.  They asked for a (very) big number.  Don't read too much into this (at least for now).

For now, that the House is willing to cut Health Care is much more important that whatever the final education number might be.

Then there's this:



Obviously, it should take more than a single tweet from a DMN reporter before people blow a gasket.  But this warrants monitoring.  We'll certainly see.

Bottom Line: Obviously, it's early.  Obviously, we'll have to wait and see.  But for the House to take this type of a stand, this early, over health care is new....

Monday, January 14, 2019

#TXLEGE: National educrats go BALLISTIC over Texas school finance commission


"And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”
Mark 5:7

We've haven't read the school finance commission report, but this piece in the Washington Post is nuts:
But perhaps the most startling feature of the report is its recommendation to use outcomes-based funding as a critical component of the school funding system. Outcomes-based education funding is highly controversial. It is ineffective and can make inequities worse. And this Texas version, which is especially bad, will result in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer with funding going to students who need it the least, not the most.
This piece goes on to paint an overwrought, inaccurate, picture of "outcomes based funding as some sort of boon to the rich.

Enter random Houston Chronicle reporter on Twitter:















Now...look...this website is not going to support a school finance proposal just because they slap the phrase "outcomes based" on it. The devil in such a plan would most certainly be in the details.  It's doesn't take a genius to see how "outcomes based" education funding could devolve into a standardized testing boondoggle.

It is, however, interesting to note the educrat lobby reacting this way.

Finally, check out the WaPo author's bio:
Burris is a former New York high school principal who serves as executive director of the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy group. She was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013, the National Association of Secondary School Principals named her the New York State High School Principal of the Year. Burris has been chronicling problems with modern school restructuring and school choice for years on this blog.
Bottom Line: So-called "outcomes based" funding may or may not be a good idea. We need to know a lot more details before we can decide about any specific programs. That being said, for this crowd to be this apoplectic about it this early in the process is intesting.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Castro launches campaign (for Governor in '22)


"There are many plans in a man’s heart,
Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand."
Proverbs 19:21

We spent today in meetings related to session, but apparently this happened:
SAN ANTONIO — Juli├ín Castro made it official Saturday: He is running for president.

The former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor made the long-anticipated announcement at Plaza Guadalupe, near where he grew up on the city's West Side. It came a month after Castro formed an exploratory committee, a mere formality on his way to unveiling a 2020 bid that for months appeared likely.

"I'm running for president because it's time for new leadership, it's time for new energy and it’s time for a new commitment to make sure that the opportunities that I had are available to every American," he said.
Blah, blah, blah...

Understand something: Julian Castro will not be the Democrat presidential nominee.  The only elections in which Julian Castro has ever run have been municipal elections in San Antonio.   A municipal campaign anywhere in Texas is, to put it mildly, a different animal from a presidential campaign.

For those unaware: Most Texas cities hold their municipal elections in May.  That means dramatically lower turnout than a November general election.  Heck, that usually means dramatically lower turnout than March primaries.

Consider Castro's three elections as mayor.

2009:


2011:

2013:


This is a guy who has never gotten more than 43,000 votes in an election.  Furthermore, his vote totals plunged as San Antonio got to know him better.  Castro was widely expected to lose his 2015 campaign, which was why Obama offered him the golden parachute at HUD in the first place.

And we're supposed to believe that a guy who's never gotten more than 43,000 votes is going to wage a successful national campaign?!?

Riiiiiiight....

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...however.

That does not mean his campaign lacks long-term implications.  A presidential campaign boosts Castro's name ID to the point where he's a viable candidate for Governor.  And 2022, as a six-year itch election, could get really dicey.

[**COUGH, COUGH** Especially with this president ** COUGH,COUGH]

That's not to say that Julian Castro is currently planning a gubernatorial run.  We have no doubt that Julian Castro believes in his own mind that he can win the current race.  But it is to say, however, that a Governor run is Castro's logical next play.

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A few thoughts on Castro, in case opposition researchers are reading.

Julian Castro has been playing "the game" in Texas for close to 20 years.  During his time as mayor, he was surrounded by a miasma of crony capitalism.  Nothing ever stuck but, as we said above, there's a reason why Obama gave him the golden parachute prior to the 2015 election.

[Note: We don't have the time or interest to do it ourselves, but if an enterprising blogger/oppo researcher/reporter were so inclined, it could be very interesting to read Castro's campaign finance reports from his mayoral runs and cross reference those against zoning changes made by the SA city council during Castro's tenure.]

Speaking of dirty San Antonio politics, there's also this:


Specifically this:


See here for more.

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Bottom Line: Castro's presidential campaign likely won't amount to much, but it could still have long-term implications.