Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Bush's Revealing Choice in Memorial Day Company

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
1 Corinthians 15:33

At 10 a.m. Monday, there will be a livestream of a ceremony at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, near Fort Hood. Bush will speak, with retired Navy admiral William McRaven giving the keynote address.

McRaven retired as a four-star admiral and is credited with organizing and overseeing Operation Neptune Spear, the raid in May 2011 that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. He was the ninth commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, from August 2011 to August 2014. He served as chancellor of The University of Texas system from 2015-18.

Bush is the eldest son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and is a former Navy Reserve officer. He has served as land commissioner since January 2014.
There isn't much to add.  We spent several years of our life detailing how Bill McRaven is an aggressive partisan who weaponizes his military service to silence critics.  It's just a shame so many of Texas' allegedly Republican elected officials were cowed by the Admiral's stars for so long.

One of the odder unintended consequences of Trump's presidency has been the degree to which Republicans have gotten wise to Bill McRaven.  We'll leave the federal stuff to others, except to say that most Republicans no longer see Bill McRaven as politically advantageous.  Except, apparently, George P. Bush.

Bottom Line:  Don't you dare interpret this cynically...why do you hate veterans?!?

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Real Austin Experience

"Even in laughter the heart may sorrow,
And the end of mirth may be grief."
Proverbs 14:13

From Alexander Strenger (the Former Mayoral Candidate):

Bottom Line; Honestly, it speaks for itself....

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Harris County MESS a Textbook Example why the Public Doesn't Trust Elections

"Do not remove the ancient landmark
Which your fathers have set."
Proverbs 22:28

A Texas Democrat Party official is now in charge of administering elections in Texas’ most populous county.

On Tuesday, Harris County appointed Chris Hollins, a personal injury attorney and vice chair of finance for the Texas Democrats, as county clerk—the county’s chief election official.

In addition to qualms about his official party connections, residents have raised questions about potential conflicts of interest involving lucrative contracts Hollins has with the county.

Hollins steps into the position June 1, just weeks before early voting in the July 14 primary runoff begins on June 29, and with little time to learn the ropes before November’s high-turnout presidential contest. Harris is home to over 2.2 million registered voters.

Hollins takes over from Diane Trautman, who announced May 9 she was resigning after less than 18 months in office, citing “personal health concerns.”

We don't follow Harris County particularly closely. We'd by lying if we said we were intimately familiar with the specific details of this specific case. We do know, however, that between last year's municipal elections and this year's primary the Harris County clerk has recently had...rather significant issues.

Add the news story quoted above to performance of the office during the last two elections, and it doesn't take a genius to see why people assume the worst.

We've seen chatter on social media about the GOP taking a serious run at this seat.  That might be appropriate (it probably is).  But, even if it's the least bad realistic solution, nobody should pretend that putting a different set of partisans in charge will actually fix the problem.

Remember: It was the GOP counting the votes during last year's debacle in Midland.

Bottom Line: We don't blame the public for their lack of confidence.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Facing Record Unemployment, Abbott Misdirects to Football

"Good and upright is the Lord;
Therefore He teaches sinners in the way."
Psalm 25:8

At first glance, this looks really good:
Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday that Texas is working to have the college football season start on time, with at least some fans in attendance, as the state continues to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Abbott, speaking during a TV interview, said there are still a few factors that remain to be seen, such as stadium capacity, the availability of medical treatment for the virus and the overall status of the outbreak in Texas. Abbott said he expects to know more about those issues around mid-July.
Until you realize:
The state’s April jobless rate was 12.8% — Texas’ worst monthly tally on record.

That number, included in the Labor Department’s monthly report released Friday, is the government’s clearest and most comprehensive look at the economic devastation in Texas since the coronavirus pandemic first swept the state in March.

Previously, the state’s worst-ever monthly unemployment rate was 9.2% in November 1986, as Texas reeled from the last big oil bust. Now, with more than 2 million Texans who have filed for unemployment during the outbreak, the contracting oil industry is only part of the state’s economic problems.
Abbott could have made that announcement about football at any point in the past few weeks.  Yet, he waited.  Gee, we wonder why.

Could it have had anything to do with the fact that Abbott knew today's unemployment numbers were going to be really bad...and that he wanted to change the subject?!?

Nah, too cynical.

Bottom Line:  Nobody wants a somewhat normal college football season more than this author.  That's certainly welcome.  But let's not kid ourselves about the real news today.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

#TXLEGE: Royce West a Textbook Example of Petty Legislative Enrichment

"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight."
Proverbs 11:1

There was a story a few months back that we meant to highlight.  Not so much because of it's own merits, but because it was a great vignette into how the lege operates.  Unfortunately, we didn't have time.  Well, now it looks like the same player is back on a different story.
Next week, Dallas’ city council will vote on a special development deal for the son of a Democrat U.S. Senate candidate and state senator. City staff keeping elected officials in the dark, as well as questions about the developer’s competency, were among the issues raised during a meeting on Monday—further heightening similarities with Fort Worth’s Panther Island boondoggle.

Interstate 345, located in southeast Dallas in the Deep Ellum district, is a stretch of highway constructed in 1973 that has been blamed for the decades-long economic downturn of the area.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) owns the land but has leased it to the City of Dallas with an agreement that they can use it to build parking lots. As previously reported, there are two proposals for the future of I-345; one calls for tearing it down to allow for new economic development, and the other calls for Roddrick West—son of Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate and Texas State Sen. Royce West (DeSoto)—to build soccer fields beneath it. Texas Scorecard received the plans for the fields as part of a response to an open records request sent to TxDOT.

On Monday, the City of Dallas’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussed amending the agreement with TxDOT to allow West’s soccer fields to be built, whereby the city would surrender control of the area to TxDOT. West told the committee he could have the project up and running in three to four months, and the fields won’t be full size and will be for recreation only—despite the claims of one state bureaucrat who talked about the World Cup coming to Dallas.

Emails secured by Texas Scorecard reveal that, in an attempt to push through the agreement, a swap has been proposed where TxDOT will not stand in the way of Dallas redeveloping Carpenter Park. Critics say tying the soccer field with other deals is a classic tactic used to make projects harder to oppose. When asked at Monday’s meeting why development for Carpenter Park has been put together with West’s soccer field, Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry replied, “For the benefit of consolidating everything.” He also said council could separate the projects if they wished.

“We strongly support moving forward with additional parking,” said Matt Tranchin, president of Coalition for a New Dallas, which supports tearing down I-345. He also said West should not have the contract awarded to him without first having to compete against other bidders. “Let’s have Roddrick compete with world-class institutions.”

“How did you get this contract?” District 9 Councilwoman Paula Blackmon asked.

“There’s no open bid,” West replied. “I can’t speak to [TxDOT’s] process.”

“We polled and talked to a hundred different stakeholders involved,” said Jon Hetzel, president of the Deep Ellum Foundation, which has continuously opposed West’s soccer fields. “Nowhere on that strategic plan did people bring up that we don’t have enough soccer facilities … in the neighborhood.”
On its own, this may or may not be a big deal. It certainly looks shady. But, if this is a one off deal, who knows.

However, as this Texas Tribune story from last year (which we had meant to discuss at the time) makes clear, this isn't a one off deal:
For years, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) has raked in millions in legal fees representing governmental entities such as the Dallas and Houston independent school districts, metropolitan transportation agencies and major Texas cities, sparking criticism that he is using his influence as a state lawmaker to score business deals average citizens can’t get.

Until now, it was nearly impossible for voters to quantify the number of governmental contracting deals or estimate how much he’s personally making from his private business interests.

But because he’s running for the U.S. Senate, a federal office that requires far more robust disclosure than the state of Texas, the Dallas Democrat is finally pulling back the curtain on his considerable wealth. A recently implemented tweak to state ethics rules also requires him to provide more detail than ever about his government contracts.

In a U.S. Senate campaign disclosure filed last month, which includes all of 2018 and this year through mid-August, West reported that he made over $1 million in earned income, and that he’ll be eligible to draw a state pension exceeding $80,000 a year — or more, depending on when he retires.


West lists contracts between his law firm and seven public entities: the public school districts of Houston, Dallas and Crowley; the cities of Houston and Fort Worth; Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority; and the Sunbelt Freshwater Supply District in Houston.

He also reports serving, via his law firm, as bond counsel for multiple governmental entities, including Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas County Community College, the North Texas Tollway Authority and several school districts and cities.
There you have it.

Like we said, we had actually intended to discuss this story months ago.  Royce West is a great example of the various ways legislators (in either party) can skim off the top.  A little bit here, and a little bit there, and all of a sudden you're talking real money.

And that's before your family members get in on the scam.

To be fair, Royce West is hardly the only legislator who does this.  Royce West is just the guy who chose to run for office at the Federal level (thus triggering more robust disclosure).  But lots of legislators do similar things.

Bottom Line: If you want to understand why things in the lege are the way that they are, Royce West (and family's) personal finances are a good place to start.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Texas GOP Reaping Predictable Consequences of Multi-Decade State/Federal Election Law FAILURES

"The princes of Judah are like those who remove a landmark;
I will pour out My wrath on them like water.
Hosea 5:10

As Democrats across the nation use fear of the Chinese coronavirus as a pretext to push for more mail-ballot voting, a process ripe for fraud, Texas is fighting back to preserve the state’s voting laws and election integrity.

Since March, the Texas Democrat Party has been pursuing two separate lawsuits targeting vote-by-mail limits set by the legislature—one in state court and one federal.

They aim to force county election officials to disregard state statutes and accept every mail-ballot application marked “disability” for the remainder of 2020, and possibly beyond.

The Texas lawsuits are part of a nationwide litigation strategy by Democrats using courts and the coronavirus crisis to push universal vote-by-mail and other election policies they sought well before COVID-19 emerged but weren’t able to win in state legislatures.
We recommend reading the whole thing...but you get the point.

Here's the real question: Why should anyone expect anything different?!?

Because it's not like the Texas GOP has ever made tightening our election laws a real  priority.

The state level failures are well documented.  Likewise, this website has been castigating Texas' Congressional Delegation for years.  At both levels, the core problem is that the relevant laws are poorly written and vague.  Poorly written, vague, laws invite creative lawyering.

Now, lo' and behold, we have a whole new round of lawsuits at both levels.

To be fair, the coronavirus offers a new set of circumstances.  And new circumstances offer their own inducements to creative lawyering.  Nevertheless, those new circumstances occur on top of laws that are poorly written and vague.

The only reason why those laws are that way is because the Texas GOP has failed to change them.

Bottom Line: Actions have consequences.  Likewise, lack of action.  Current circumstances are a tangible example.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

#atxcouncil: Annnnnd in the LEAST Surprising News of the Year

"If a ruler pays attention to lies,
All his servants become wicked."
Proverbs 29:12

The annual point-in-time count of people who are homeless showed an 11% increase in people experiencing homelessness in Austin and Travis County in 2020, including more than 1,500 people who were unsheltered.

The point-in-time count of the homeless population took place on Jan. 25, with 886 volunteers fanning out through the city and county to survey people living on the streets, in shelters or transitional housing units.

In total, volunteers counted 1,574 unsheltered people living outside, in tents or in cars, marking a 45% increase in the number of unsheltered homeless people over the 2019 count, which tallied 1,086. Meanwhile the number of people in shelters or transitional housing was 932, a 20% drop from 2019.
There really isn't a lot to add.  This was completely predictable.  Suffice to say, this is terrible for BOTH this vulnerable community and those with whom they interact.

Also, considering that the count was done in January, there's no way this isn't an undercount.  Homeless encampments have grown visibly larger since the Coronavirus showed up.  There are probably a number of reasons why this is the case, although the fact that the state has stopped enforcing its areas of jurisdiction certainly doesn't help.

Bottom Line: What else could you expect?!?

Monday, May 18, 2020

#TXLEGE: Texas Municipal League EXPLOITING CRISIS (to push tax increases)

"By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber."
2 Peter 2:3

[Note: Obviously, since this so-called Coronavirus kerfuffle took over the news, this website has a whole bunch of new readers.  For those of y'all who weren't previously aware, it's completely legal in Texas for local governments to hire lobbyists at the state legislature.  A longer discussion of taxpayer funded lobbying is outside the scope of this blog post, but new readers can learn the history of this sordid practice here and here.]

We probably shouldn't be surprised, but still:
A new law passed last year restricts local governments’ tax rate increases to 3.5%. But it also appears to let them bypass that cap in the case of a state or federal disaster declaration in their area.

The Texas Municipal League, which represents city governments, argues that Abbott’s disaster declaration due to coronavirus triggers that section of the property tax law. Cities can increase taxes by 8% and most will not need to hold an election to significantly raise taxes next year, if they are raising money to respond to the disaster, according to TML.

[Note: Emphasis added]

Obviously, we get it.  It's who they are.   It's what they do.

That doesn't make it any less disgraceful.

Two million (plus) Texans unemployed in the past two months, but the Texas Municipal League gotta protect their cut.

Bottom Line: We never thought "Everything's bigger in Texas" included the loopholes used for tax hikes. Apparently, we were mistaken. We regret the error.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

#TXLEGE: Who does Leach think he's kidding?!?

"And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?"
Apparently, Chip Roy was (correctly) raising heck in D.C. yesterday:
O.K. Good deal Chip Roy. Ghost/proxy voting is a wretched procedure.

Then this happened:

You're joking, right?!?

Case in point:

From last session:
But this isn’t a ghost story. It’s a story of representatives helping each other via an informed courtesy involving pushing their voting buttons when they’re away from their desks. Lots of votes are cast on a long day in the House. And lots of times members are elsewhere in the chamber when votes come up. They often leave instructions with desk neighbors on how they want to be shown voting, though they have to be in the chamber to vote.

But sometimes those votes are cast when a member is not in the chamber nor in the building nor even in Austin. That’s not supposed to happen.

But sometimes it changes the outcome of a close vote on an important matter.
You get the point, but there's a wealth of additional examples here.

Bottom Line:  For a member of the Texas house to decry ghost/proxy voting is quite something.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Robert Morrow, Lani Popp, and the education establishment (It's a little funny)

"Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:"
Luke 18:9

There's a thought we've been having, off and on, for awhile.  It reoccurred to us yesterday.  We suppose now is as good a time as ever to say it.
Under anything remotely resembling normal circumstances, a strong conservative like Lani Popp is the type of State Board of Education candidate the educrat crowd would be desperate to stop.  Normally, they hate conservatives.  This time, however, they have no choice.

Former Republican board member Thomas Ratliff was not alone in his simple summation of the race: “Anybody but Robert Morrow will be fine.”
Facing the reality of a Robert Morrow candidacy, all of a sudden you have Thomas friggin' Ratliff [Hint: This guy] endorsing a conservative.


Bottom Line: Only a prude fails to see the humor in this one.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

#TXLEGE: Jane Nelson Gives Us an Idea

"There is desirable treasure,
And oil in the dwelling of the wise,
But a foolish man squanders it."
Proverbs 21:20

A leading lawmaker has announced the state budget process will require every agency to utilize zero-based budgeting in the wake of a projected shortfall due to the Chinese coronavirus and government-ordered shutdowns that have devastated the Texas economy.

“As I meet with each agency to review their appropriation requests, I will begin at zero,” said State Sen. Jane Nelson (R–Denton), the head of the Senate Finance Committee which will prepare the state next budget.

Requiring zero-based budgeting—a powerful tool to rein in expanding bureaucracy and administrative bloat—for every agency in every budget has been a legislative priority of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility for years.
Yes. Absolutely. One Hundred Percent. Plus one.

However, even if Nelson is successful, this won't be the last time we need this level of fiscal cleansing.  Unfortunately, this level of fiscal cleansing is difficult to achieve.  It only ever seems to happen during major economic downturns.

It needs to become a regular thing.

This gives us an idea: Why not make zero-based budgeting part of the sunset process?!?

Agencies already have to go through sunset.  They already have to review their operations.  They already have to dedicate the resources.  While they're at it, why not make them build their budget from scratch?!?

Bottom Line: Nelson's directive is a worthwhile response to the current crisis.  But the current crisis will certainly not be the last crisis.  Zero-based budgeting as part of the sunset process will inevitably make us stronger whenever next time inevitably shows up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

TPPF's election integrity proposal a good start

"Do not remove the ancient landmark
Which your fathers have set."
Proverbs 22:28

TPPF Outlines SAFE Elections Agenda to Improve Election Integrity in Texas 
AUSTIN— Today, the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Election Integrity Project released the “Secure, Accountable and Free Elections” agenda outlining reforms to ensure Texas is a model for accurate and reliable elections throughout the country. The SAFE Elections agenda targets six specific areas to safeguard the rights of Texans, improve the integrity of the elections process, and promote better participation and understanding of our election system. 
“Voters should understand their rights and the rules of voting, they should be free to choose, and the voting system should preserve the integrity of each ballot,” said TPPF’s Director of the Election Integrity Project Francisco “Quico” Canseco. “The SAFE Elections agenda ensures that every citizen’s basic democratic right to vote is protected from intentional fraud and inefficient bureaucracy. As a fundamental feature of keeping our public officials accountable and our society free, our voting rights must be defended vigilantly.” 
The Secure, Accountable and Free Elections agenda proposes reform in the following areas: 
  • Require all voters for all offices to be United States citizens and require proof of citizenship at voter registration. 
  • Remove all non-voters from voter-registration lists after a set number of missed cycles, following a given notification period. 
  • Require the Texas Secretary of State to perform a full audit of all county voter-registration lists every five years. 
  • Improve Texas’ vote-by-mail system by conducting all operations within the Office of the Secretary of State, including all counting and storage, and strengthen qualifications, such as implementing a defined disability-verification process. 
  • Strengthen coordination between the Texas Secretary of State’s elections division and Texas counties through measures such as standardized voter-registration information and communication. 
  • Increase criminal penalties for persons committing voter-assistance fraud, and prohibit certain persons from soliciting voters to provide voter assistance.
The part about mandatory audits of voter rolls to remove the ineligible is huge.  Likewise, the enhanced criminal penalties.  That being said, last year's debacle in the Midland ISD bond election illustrates why we need paper backups.

Bottom Line:  All of this should have happened a year ago.  But hope springs eternal.  Better late than never.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Elected Judges are the ONLY reason Shelley Luther isn't still in Jail

"Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him.' "
Deuteronomy 1:16

Last week SCOTX ordered Shelley Luther released. Obviously. Since then, however, several folks have made an important observation to us.

The only reason why Shelley Luther isn't still sitting in jail in Dallas county is because the Justice of the Texas Supreme Court have to face the voters.

This is important because there's been a lot of talk about changing the way Texas selects judges:
This summer, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law creating a commission to study the issue — signaling that the GOP-led Legislature could overhaul the system as soon as 2021. That move comes after Democrats killed a sweeping reform proposal that Abbott had quietly backed.

In Texas, one of just a few states that maintains a system of partisan judicial selection all the way up through its high courts, judges are at the mercy of the political winds. They are required to run as partisans but expected to rule impartially. They are forced to raise money from the same lawyers who will appear before them in court. And in their down-ballot, low-information races, their fates tend to track with the candidates at the top of the ticket.
Any system of appointed and/or allegedly "non-partisan" judicial selection would inevitably be dominated by legal insiders.  There are any number of reasons why you don't want that.  In a case like Shelley Luther's, however, there's no way that sort of legal insider wouldn't side with the government.

Bottom Line: Voters are a highly imperfect check on the judiciary.  But they are a check.  Last week's SCOTX ruling was a tangible example of how that works.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Musk threatens to move to state...where his business model is illegal?!?

"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight."
Proverbs 11:1

This is...kinda interesting.  We don't doubt Mr. Musk's sincerity in deriding state and local officials in California.  But is Elon Musk truly prepared to reward the legislators who have been keeping Tesla out of Texas for (at least) five years.

In Texas, we have something called "auto dealer franchise laws."   These protectionist measures disallow automobile sales without a middle man and a physical retail location.  This is a problem considering that Tesla's entire business model is based around direct to consumer sales.

For those who follow the Texas legislature, this was kinda a big deal in both 2015 and (especially2017.

Obviously, it's not illegal for Texas residents to own a Tesla.  There's even a few showrooms.  But all of the financial/paperwork aspects of any transaction must occur in another state.  Is Musk really prepared to overlook that?!?

Bottom Line: For as much fun a this narrative might be, there are a lot of unresolved questions before it materializes.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Direct Results of Dickey's Candidate Recruitment Effort

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

We wrote about Jessica Voyce Lewis, the GOP candidate running against the judge that imprisoned Shelley Luther, on Wednesday.  As we explained in the original post, we looked into that race on a hunch.  It just so happened to be the case that that hunch panned out.

Things got more interesting, however, when we saw this Facebook post from James Dickey:

We spoke with a knowledgeable source today.  Except for the fact that this effort began in January 2019, there isn't much to add.  Dickey's post pretty much speaks for itself.ad

Back in January, we observed that RPT's candidate recruitment efforts this cycle were actually pretty good.  That doesn't excuse the chronic underperformance of 98%(+) of the GOP's elected officials.  But, in terms of things RPT can actually control, that level of candidate recruitment is pretty spectacular.

This random judicial race, which wasn't on anybody's radar screen last year (or even last week) is a tangible example of that effort bearing fruit.

Bottom Line: Sometimes incumbents really do step in it.  When that happens, it helps to have an opponent on the ballot.  Kudos to those who had the foresight in this instance.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Mark Cuban Deploys His Own Private Stasi (for YOUR Health and Safety)

"For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ."
Jude 1:4

Hang on...what?!?
I wanted to get an understanding of what opening meant to businesses around Dallas. Were they opening? What precautions were they taking? Were employees in safe environments? And bigger picture, I wanted to know if these are places that I would feel safe taking my family to.

So I hired a company that specialized in this type of project, https://shiftsmart.com/, and asked them to let me know how Dallas businesses were responding to the Open Order for Texas.

We will do this again a couple more times so we can learn what the trends are and try to learn from it.
Cuban continues:
96% of businesses were non-compliant across all mandatory protocols and all locations.
Sounds scary, doesn't it?!?

Until you dig deeper.

According to Cuban's findings:
  • The overwhelming majority of businesses are practicing so-called "social distancing."
  • The overwhelming majority of businesses use masks.
  • The overwhelming majority of food service establishments are complying with everything.
    • Ok, fine, some of them aren't in perfect alignment over how to distribute condiments.
  • The alleged "non-compliance" stems from things like retail establishments not micromanaging their lines in the way that Mark Cuban and Greg Abbott deem prudent.
Taken as a whole, the overwhelming majority of businesses are taking sensible precautions.  But they're having trouble complying with every jot and tittle of Abbott's edicts.  Some of us predicted this weeks ago.

Beyond the fact that Cuban's findings don't show what Cuban and his media sycophants suggest, however, there's another aspect that's more disturbing.  It's just creepy.  Who asked Mark Cuban to spy on his fellow citizens?!?

That Cuban put the most negative spin possible on his "data" strengthens the case for interpreting his actions cynically.

Bottom Line: We don't need grandstanding NBA team owners to know that the overwhelming majority of citizens are taking sensible precautions, but that it's very difficult to comply with every jot and tittle of these government edicts.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Abbott's Continuing, Contorted, Game of Illegal, Unilateral, Whack-A-Mole

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

Soo...this happened:

First things first, notice the use of the words "if," "may," and "should."  That tells you what you need to know about the enforceability of this so-called "order."  Abbott's basically channeling his inner Hans Blix.

 Nevertheless, between Abbott's posturing and SCOTX's (actual, legally enforceable) order, Shelley Luther is probably gonna be fine.  Likewise, the two ladies in South Texas.  From a practical perspective, the final outcome was reasonably unterrible.

But let's not pretend the core issue has been solved.  The process that led to this place remains in place.  There's every reason to expect future abuses.

To recall that process:
  • Greg Abbott put lobbyists and campaign contributors in charge of the state's "re-opening."

    • Note: It's not going to be out for awhile, but Abbott's July 15 campaign finance report is going to be very interesting.
  • Following the advice of those afore mentioned lobbyists and campaign contributors "the experts," Greg Abbott issued an arbitrary, vague, order.
  • Local officials take Abbott's order to its logical end point.
  • Fox News notices.
  • Abbott starts getting bad press on Fox News.
  • Abbott issues arbitrary, vague, modifications to his previous arbitrary, vague, order.
Rinse, lather, repeat

The problem, fundamentally, is that the government is acting illegally.  Neither the Governor, nor these local officials, have the legal authority to behave as they have been.  At both the state and local levels, government needs to get back to solid legal footing.

Nothing in Abbott's "modification" from this morning gets government back to solid legal footing.  Even if it leads to a better practical outcome (this time), it's still lawless.  Hair of the dog, etc.

Expect more abuses...

...even if Shelley Luther's one specific case turns out ok.

Bottom Line:  Shelley Luther ain't gonna be the last of these stories....

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Apparently, this Judge in Dallas has an Opponent in November

saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man."
Luke 18:2

UPDATE: Jessica Voyce Lewis' campaign website is here; you can donate to her campaign here.


Original Post:

We've already said our piece about the travesty of Shelley Luther's imprisonment.

However, we decided to check something else on a hunch:


The judge in this case does have a general election opponent.

We know nothing about Jessica Voyce Lewis beyond the fact that she's not Eric Moye.  Apparently, she's a lawyer in Dallas who specializes in bankruptcy law.  You can read her law firm bio here.

Nobody should be under any illusions about this race.  Jessica Voyce Lewis doesn't even have a campaign website.  That's why we had to link to her bio from the law firm.

Still...she filed...and her name is on the ballot.

That's not a bad start.

Jessica Voyce Lewis doesn't need to defeat the incumbent.  She just needs to raise enough money to make the incumbent's actions widely known.  If she can do that, she's likely to outperform the rest of her ticket.

If she can make the incumbent's re-election campaign unpleasant enough, that will likely alter future behavior.

All she needs to do is play this video (over and over):

Bottom Line:  Whatever ultimately happens, this is a great platform to publicize the incumbent's misdeeds.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Abbott ABSOLUTELY Needs to Pardon Shelley Luther

"The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit."
Psalm 34:18

A Dallas salon owner who has refused to close her shop despite multiple court orders has now been sentenced to a week in jail. A judge on Tuesday called Shelley Luther's open defiance of social distancing orders "flagrant and intentional" and said she felt no "remorse or regret" for her actions.

According to court documents, Luther was sentenced to seven days in jail for violating a temporary restraining order to close her business and fined $500 each to the county's criminal and civil courts for every day the salon remained open. She openly violated the governor's stay-at-home order, an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Luther, the owner of Salon À la Mode and Hot Mess Enterprises, gained national attention for opening her salon in April after her city and county ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses in March. She has said she opposed the stay-at-home order for financial reasons and publicly ripped up one of the court orders at a protest with more than 100 others.
It gets crazier.

This is the judge on some straight up Ayn Rand villany:

Shelley Luther's response:

It's quite something.

Which begs the question...what comes next?!?


There's a lot more grassroots sentiment beyond this one Facebook post. We aren't in the mood to cut and paste a bunch of embed codes.   Empower Texas has more here.

Pardoning Shelley Luther is a simple, unilateral, action Greg Abbott can take right now.

He doesn't need to consult with lobbyists and campaign contributors "experts."

He won't.  Unless it becomes politically untenable to not do so.  Then he will.

The open question is whether or not there's sufficient grassroots will to make it politically untenable.

We'll see.

Bottom Line:  The next few days could be very, very, interesting for public perceptions of hat to cattle ratio....

Good Riddance to Ryan Sitton

"He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will be destroyed."
Proverbs 13:20

Government-mandated production limits are dead in Texas (for the time being), but gol-ly did some true colors get revealed:
But the discussion about prorationing amounted to hardly anything other than politics, Sitton said. Before Tuesday's meeting, Sitton wrote a post on his personal website titled "Politics win, Texans lose." He expressed similar sentiments on Twitter.

"I wish I could explain why so many Texans will lose their jobs while oil production drops in the US worse than anywhere else," Sitton tweeted, "but politics beats data, so there are no answers. Just 'free market.'"
Sitton's full piece is here.  We recommend you read the whole thing.  Relevant sample:
Instead, the discussion at the RRC devolved into a philosophical “free market” discussion versus a fact-based, data-driven discussion. I worked to focus on the data, follow the law, and quantify the reality of hundreds of thousands of Texas energy workers losing their jobs and businesses. Political groups, representing oil interests from all over the world worked to keep the debate from even happening.
The whole thing sounds like Franklin Roosevelt, circa 1935.

But here's the funny thing: We've never actually supported Sitton.  He was the establishment guy in 2014.  We voted for Mark Miller that fall.  While we certainly did intend to vote for him this fall, that became moot after he lost his primary.

Apparently, he didn't lose that primary a moment too soon.

Adios muchacho.

Bottom Line:  Honestly, it's astonishing we even had to have this conversation.  Government mandated crude oil production caps help nothing.  But at least the elected official who pushed this policy will be out of office soon.

Monday, May 4, 2020

#TXLEGE, #atxcouncil: Casar recognizes he's unelectable (at least outside his council district)

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

Bullet dodged: Blah, blah, blah.

This can only mean one thing: Casar polled the district.

And the results weren't to his liking.

The results could have shown one of two things:
  • Casar would lose the runoff to a Republican.


  • Casar wouldn't make the runoff.
The former is bad for the entire local Democrat machine.  The latter is bad for Casar's agenda.  Either way, the smart play is to avoid getting embarrassed.

Bottom Line:  He can do plenty of damage in his current position, but his political ceiling is very low.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

#atxcouncil: Austin City Limits...and the Saudi's?!?

"Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil."
Proverbs 3:7

This is pretty crazy:
The Saudi Arabian government now effectively owns a piece of the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

An April 27 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that the government-run Saudi Public Investment Fund purchased a 5.7 percent stake in Beverly Hills, California-based concert giant Live Nation Entertainment Inc. Live Nation owns a majority stake in Austin-based concert promoter C3 Presents LLC, which runs ACL.

Media reports peg the value of the Saudi deal at $500 million. In picking up nearly 12.4 million shares of stock in publicly traded Live Nation, the Saudi fund now ranks as the company’s third largest stockholder.

In 2014, Live Nation bought a 51 percent stake in C3. With that purchase, reportedly valued at $250 million, Live Nation added ACL, Lollapalooza, and other music festivals to its roster.
 (h/t. MediaATX Newsletter...sign up here.)

We need to start this post off with a confession: Last night, when we first saw this story, we thought there were major implications for Texas at a time of low oil prices.  Having had a chance to sleep on it, we don't really think that's the case.  Most of the Texas-specific stuff is tangential and through multiple degrees of separation.  Texas is really only relevant to this story to the degree that Texas is part of the United States.

That being said, the geopolitical and international implications are mind-boggling.  If we were a policy maker at the national level, we would scrutinize that particular Saudi transaction very closely.  But geopolitics is no longer our bag.

However, there is a local angle here.

Every year, the C3 Events LLC gets to put on a for-profit event (ACL fest) using a city owned asset (Zliker Park) without compensating taxpayers.  C3 events LLC then hoards most of the profits.  That's been the case for a long time, and it's always been wrong.

But Saudi involvement takes the level of wrong to a different level.

Wahhabism and all that.

Bottom Line: Private entities shouldn't receive sweetheart deals to use public assets to produce for-profit events.  That's a basic principle and has always been the case.  When the private entities in question suddenly suddenly morph to include Saudi wahhabists, however, it raises the stakes.  C3's longstanding preferential treatment really ought to receive a fresh look.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Texas Sales Tax Revenue Down ALMOST 10%

"Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it."
Ezekiel 14:13

HOLY SHI[well, you know]:

Wow, that's bad.

Obviously, this website doesn't really care about government revenue. We generally support government having less money. Wasteful spending and all that.

Unfortunately, sales tax revenue is a pretty good proxy for total economic activity.  A 9.3% drop is bad.  Really bad.

There's no easy way out of this.  At a minimum, we need to return decision making to businesses, families, and individuals.  Blunt government force will only make a bad situation worse.  Also, having lobbyists pick winners and losers probably isn't a good way to manage this alleged "re-opening" process.

Bottom Line: Buckle up....

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Christian completely correct about allowing free market to work re: Energy Prices

"Consider the work of God;
For who can make straight what He has made crooked?"
Ecclesiastes 7:13

Apparently, with the recent dip in oil prices, some really bad ideas are making a comeback.

Wayne Christian addresses one:
One solution proposed to my agency, the Texas Railroad Commission, is to “prorate” or limit the production of crude oil in Texas. That proposal will be considered at the May 5 meeting. The Commission adopted “prorationing” in the late 1920s, but abandoned the practice after 1973.


Over the last few weeks, I have thought long and hard over whether this is a direction Texas should take. A lot has changed since our state last prorated oil production. For example, in 1950, Texas controlled over 20 percent of the world's oil supply, today we control roughly 5 percent. Given this, a government mandate cutting oil production twenty percent across the board would not have a significant impact on worldwide oil supply. Furthermore, industry is already reducing production on its own. By allowing the free market to work, producers can determine for themselves what level of production is economical.

Virtually every major trade association has come out against this policy from the Texas Oil and Gas Association which represents small to large companies spanning every sector of the industry. The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers stated in its testimony against proration that a vast majority of its 2,600 members "employ 20 people or less." Diamondback Energy credited the competitive free market in allowing it to grow from 10 to 700 employees since 2007, and said it would halt all drilling in Texas if the state implements proration.


[T]he truly bold decision in governance is to not give in to pressure and to say no. Implementing an antiquated policy simply because it exists is not bold. I refuse to do something just to say I took action, because taking the wrong action can actually make things worse.
A few thoughts:

  • We weren't previously aware that this was even under consideration.
  • Over the long run, this would only handcuff Texas producers while helping all of the various petroleum producing global bad guys.
  • Most of the production cutbacks are already taking place, so-called "proration" would only make ramping back up in the future more difficult.
  • So-called "proration" removes the incentive to innovate.
  • We don't know with 100% certainty that this is the case, but we've heard that some of the bigger producers have escape clauses in some of their contracts that would kick in if the state took this action.
    • Note: Like we said, we don't know this with 100% certainty...but it would explain a lot.
Bottom Line: This would seem fairly obvious.  Yet, apparently, it isn't.  Kudos to Commissioner Christian for sticking to his guns.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Did Eric Johnson just throw Clay Jenkins under the bus?!?

"If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed."
1 Timothy 4:6

Well, this is certainly an interesting development:

Not sure what to make of this. Obviously, it would be easy to read too much into it. But still.

For infighting to break out between local officials in the same geographic area seems noteworthy.

Then there's this:

Bottom Line: This remains a fluid situation. So standard disclaimers obviously apply. Still, this degree of infighting is very, very, interesting.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Will Abbott Ultimately be a Dead Armadillo?!?

"So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither [a]cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth."
Revelation 3:16

While he is very liberal, former Texas Ag. Commissioner/Syndicated Columnist Jim Hightower once wrote a book about whose title we've been thinking in recent weeks:
There's nothing in the middle of a road but yellow stripes and dead Armadillos.
That's some advice Greg Abbott would be well advised to consider has he moves forward with this rather underwhelming "re-opening."

Because Abbott's already pissed off the stay-home-forever crowd.  Now, he's pissing of a not-insignificant part of his base.  He's creating a rather difficult needle to thread for himself.

If the virus stays reasonably contained, and the Texas economy bounces back in the second half of the year, Abbott might be able to maneuver through.

If both of those things don't happen, however, look out.  Cuz' Abbott's certainly planted a number of seeds in recent months that could germinate over time.  And that's before you get into what Abbott's passivity indicates for next session.

Bottom Line: The thing about trying to be all things to all people...is that you often end up becoming nothing to none.

Monday, April 27, 2020

#TXLEGE: This is what happens when you put Lobbyists in Charge

"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight."
Proverbs 11:1

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday said he will let the state’s stay-at-home order expire at the end of the month, and allow businesses to begin opening in phases in May.

First to open on Friday: Retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls. But they will only be allowed to operate at 25% capacity. Museums and libraries will also be allowed to open at 25% capacity, but hands-on exhibits must remain closed.

Abbott's order supersedes local orders saying those businesses must remain closed. But the reopenings are optional. Businesses can stay closed if they wish, Abbott said.

At the same time, Abbott said he is holding off on reopening certain businesses for the time being, including barbershops, hair salons, bars and gyms. He said he hopes those businesses can open "on or no later than mid-May."
Blah, blah, blah.

You're welcome to read the Trib's write up in full. There's more discussion on Twitter. But the TL,DR version is that Abbott's so-called "reopening Texas" order is a confused muddle.

Some businesses will be allowed to open under one set of standards this weekend.  Others will be allowed to open in two weeks under another set of standards.  Some businesses that were allowed to open last Friday under one set of standards, will have to adopt another set of standards this coming Friday, and might have to adopt a third set at some point in the coming weeks.  It's all quite confusing.

Of course, this is what happens when you put lobbyists in charge.  Some industries benefit.  Others, not so much.

On a very practical note: We pity anyone in the hospitality industry who has to navigate the line between "bar" and "restaurant."

But hey, as long as it props up the Governor's poll numbers.

Bottom Line: Chronic underperformance cannot continue indefinitely....

Saturday, April 25, 2020

West makes (half of) a good point

"Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes;
But by a man of understanding and knowledge
Right will be prolonged."
Proverbs 28:2

Allan West has a blog post about the Dennis Bonnen/Drew Darby/Mary Gonzalez triangle of the past few days:
Republicans in Texas Sucking up to the Left?

We have a Republican legislator, who is in a “leadership” position here in Texas, in dire need of our dubious “Stuck on Stupid” recognition. His name is Dennis Bonnen. What he has just done is most egregious in nature, and is the reason for the question posed as the title to this missive.

[Long description of Mary Gonzalez that can summarized by saying she's very liberal.]

This goes beyond being stuck on stupid, it is a special kind of stupid, and dangerous at that. Let me pose a question, does anyone believe that in California, their State Assembly Speaker would appoint a solid conservative to a major committee, such as Budget? Does anyone believe that in any blue controlled state legislative body, let’s say Virginia, that they would appoint a conservative to a key committee?

So, why is it here, in Texas, the preeminent constitutional conservative red state in America, that we have a Texas House Speaker taking this action?
West isn't wrong to ask the question.

It's about time somebody did.

If Texas' alleged incumbent "leadership" cares a whit about the long term future, that is a question for which they ought to have an answer.

That being said, the post also illustrates why we can't get too excited.  West is correct that placing Mary Gonzalez on LBB illustrates that the leadership of the Texas house has bad priorities.  But would Allan West really be happy with Drew Darby.

Because, if you're content with Drew Darby over Mary Gonzalez, that ain't gonna get Texas where it needs to go.

As we explained on Thursday, the biggest difference between Drew Darby and Mary Gonzalez is honest.  Yes, it's certainly true that Mary Gonzalez likes to spend taxpayer money for lots of dubious causes.  But Mary Gonzalez will at least tell you that to your face.  Drew Darby, on the other hand, will tell you what you want to hear to your face while undermining your position behind closed doors.

It's the difference between spending money on unions in El Paso vs. spending money on good ol' boys in San Angelo.

Neither is good.

Still, kudos to Allan West for breaching the subject.

It certainly warrants discussion.

Bottom Line: It's certainly the case that the so-called 'leadership' in the Texas house doesn't have the best priorities....

Friday, April 24, 2020

Why Abbott Can't Meet his Fundamental Challenge

"A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor,
But he who hates covetousness will prolong his days."
Proverbs 28:16

The Dallas Observer has an interesting write up about regulatory issues related to alcohol sales during the current government mandated shutdowns.  The whole thing is worth your time.  But one passage stands out:
April 17, the governor issued what he touted in national media as the first order reopening any state. He seemed very proud of being first. But as he has done with many issues, such as his alcohol and church service orders, he issues a bold press release that is followed with substantially less than was promised.

[Note: Emphasis added.]
The underlined part is the Greg Abbottest thing that Greg Abbott ever did Greg Abbott.

[Note: Especially because Greg Abbott put lobbyists and campaign contributors in charge of the so-called "re-opening."]

Beyond the specific regulatory issues related to alcohol sales, however, that half-sentence is interesting because it gets to the heart of what's plaguing Abbott: There's no way to make everyone happy.

At no point, certainly as Governor (and probably not as A.G. either), has Greg Abbott ever had to tell anybody "no."  Abbott has been able to give the good ol' boy/bidness-as-usual crowd most of the policy stuff they want, while using Fox News to toss his base empty calories flavored to resemble red meat.  We're rapidly learning that this strategy only works during times of plenty.

During times of scarcity, however, any decisions you make will inevitably piss someone off.  And, at least to this point, Abbott hasn't shown any willingness to do that.  So Abbott punts, and punts, and punts....

But here's the thing about punting: It only works as long as the defense holds up.

Abbott's defense, at least to this point, has always been a strong economy.

He doesn't have that anymore.

Bottom Line:  The diversionary tactics Abbott has used in the past seem, at least so far, to be poorly suited to a bad economy.  Time will tell if that holds up.  If it does, Abbott could be in for a very rough ride over the next few years.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

#TXLEGE: Bonnen replaces Dishonest, Unlikeable ,Liberal with Honest, Likeable, One

"Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another."
Ephesians 4:25

AUSTIN – On Monday, Speaker Dennis Bonnen appointed Representative Mary González to the Legislative Budget Board. “Thank you Speaker Bonnen for entrusting me with this opportunity to serve as a member of the Legislative Budget Board. I am humbled to carry on the work of Representative Drew Darby as a valued member of the Board and trusted voice for our rural communities,” Gonzalez shared.

“Our state’s budget at its core is a reflection of the values of all Texans. In the face of our current health and economic crisis, we will have an even bigger task to provide resources that prioritize working families, our seniors, and our children’s future. I look forward to joining the Board and continuing the work to achieve a fiscally sound budget that puts Texas families first.”

The Legislative Budget Board is a committee of ten legislators responsible for working with state agencies to form the preliminary state budget in advance of each legislative session.
There's been a decent amount of ink spilled about this move.  Texas Scorecard has a good summary of Gonzalez's record.  Likewise, Kyle Biedermann.

The criticisms tend to revolve around Bonnen replacing an alleged Republican with an open Democrat.  That's certainly true.  Bonnen really did do that and it's very valid to criticize him for so doing.

It's also very much the case that Darby was on Bonnen's list during this Michael Quinn Sullivan episode, and that Bonnen continues to play those games.

Still, it's hard to get too upset.

She's replacing Drew Darby.

Historically, Darby supported high property taxes until doing so became politically untenable.  He's never lifted a finger on spending.  Darby's career record on fiscal policy has been smoke and mirrors interspersed with occasional intervals of doing the bare minimum.

While it's absolutely true that Mary Gonzalez will pursue a pretty liberal fiscal policy, she'll also tell you the truth about that that's what she's doing.

That's not nothing.

Bottom Line: Neither one would be our first choice for this position, however...we understand the arguments.