Friday, June 5, 2020

Backlash to Abbott's so-called "Contact Tracing" Boondoggle is still Growing


Add caption

"David said furthermore, 'As the Lord lives, the Lord shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish.'"
1 Samuel 26:10

Ouch:
HHS Office of the Inspector General
P.O. Box 85200
Austin, Texas 78708

Dear Inspector General Kauffman:

I request of you, in the strongest possible way—and for a multitude of sound reasons—to begin an investigation into the handling of the contact tracing contract process and procedures before the Health and Human Services Commission moves forward with the proposed contact tracing program.

I am requesting the following questions be investigated:

  • The efficacy of the selected contractor, MTX Group. 
  • The newly discovered, possibly misleading, and undisclosed information of some board members that may have had undue influence on final contract award. 
  • There are reports citing its failure to fulfill the terms of previous agreements. How could a company with a questionable performance record have been rigorously vetted in such a short acquisition period? 
  • How do we expect a company that has only had a few small, $1 to 2 million contracts to manage a nearly $300 million contract that requires rapid mobilization? 
  • What proof is there that a company with only a couple hundred employees, located mostly in India, can recruit, train, and manage over 4,000 tracers to do something that has never been attempted on this scale?
As time is of the essence, I do ask for a speedy resolution and ask that the contract is halted until a deep investigation may be conducted.

Thank you,

Senator Bob Hall
Hoo boy.

If Abbott's smart, he'll cancel the contract as a Friday afternoon document dump later today.

Bottom Line:  This contract has become a political albatross.  It WILL get cancelled.  At this point, the only real question is how much pain Abbott wants to put himself through before he surrenders to the obvious.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Roy makes so-called "Paycheck Protection Program" meaningfully less useless


"He who despises the word will be destroyed,
But he who fears the commandment will be rewarded."
Proverbs 13:13

We just noticed this today, although apparently it happened a week ago:

The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed legislation Thursday to ease rules on small-business owners who are participating in a loan program meant to mitigate the economic complications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new legislation was a bipartisan effort, spearheaded by two freshmen — including U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin. The goal is to give business owners and operates more flexibility in the rules small businesses must follow in order to have their loans forgiven. The bill now moves to the Senate, where Roy has said he expects it will pass. (Update: The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the bill on June 3, and it will head to the President Trump's desk for signature.)

"We want to make sure that money is being targeted and focused in ways that's best for those businesses in order to stay alive," Roy said in an interview last week as he was shepherding the bill through the chamber. "That's the concern, that businesses are unable to get through this and stay alive."

The legislation made significant changes to the Paycheck Protection Program, a fund aimed at keeping afloat small businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. In this program, small-business owners secured loans that will ultimately be forgiven if they play by the law's rules. Roy's bill loosened those rules for small business owners by:
  • Allowing recipients to defer payroll taxes. 
  • Extending the time in which business owners can use the loans from June 30 until Dec. 31. 
  • Reducing the ratio of loan funding that must be allocated to payroll from 75% to 60%. 
  • Extending the period in which small-business owners who are not eligible for forgiveness can pay back the loans to five years.
 This is interesting for a few reasons:
  1. The so-called "PPP" program was basically useless as originally passed.  Roy's modifications make it less so.  This is welcome news to anyone using it to navigate the government-mandated shutdowns.

  2. The knock people love to make on Chip Roy is that he's more interested in "hollow posturing" than substance.  This development kicks that argument to the curb.  That Roy build overwhelming bipartisan consensus at a time when his party is in the minority is icing on the cake.
Bottom Line:  This will probably be the most meaningful accomplishment of this session of Congress; kudos to Chip Roy for making it happen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

#TXLEGE: Paxton sets up lege to do something Amazing (they probably won't)


"Understand, you senseless among the people;
And you fools, when will you be wise?"
Psalm 94:8

Wall St. Journal yesterday:
The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, plans to release an advisory opinion soon that could help free public employees who are fed up with their union. In 2018 in Janus v. Afscme, the Supreme Court said that union fees couldn’t be deducted from the paycheck of a government worker who didn’t “affirmatively consent.”

The question is what flows from this logic. Last fall Alaska Governor Michael Dunleavy, citing Janus, signed an order to let state workers quit the union anytime, instead of only during 10 enchanted days once each year. Union members also would have to refresh their consent forms periodically. Those changes are on hold pending a legal challenge.

Mr. Paxton’s advisory opinion takes a similar tack. In Texas, it explains, public unions “serve as a middleman” by circulating and then submitting the dues authorizations for state workers: “State agencies appear to have no independent method of confirming that an employee knowingly and voluntarily consented to the payroll deduction without any coercion or improper inducement.”

One solution, the opinion says, would be for the state to take fee authorizations directly from each employee. Mr. Paxton evaluates some suggested waiver verbiage, under which a public worker would certify: “I recognize that I have a First Amendment right to associate, including the right not to associate. . . . I am not compelled to pay a labor organization any money as a condition of employment, and I do not have to sign this consent form.”

Even then, Mr. Paxton says, a waiver can’t be presumed to last forever: “A one-time, perpetual authorization is inconsistent with the Court’s conclusion in Janus that consent must be knowingly and freely given.” The expiration date for such consent is an open question, the opinion says. But if the waivers were made valid for “one year from the time given,” a court would probably agree that’s “sufficiently contemporaneous to be constitutional.”
This sounds AWESOME...unfortunately:
Mr. Paxton’s advisory opinion isn’t binding....The Legislature, which ultimately controls the deduction framework for state and local workers, should heed Mr. Paxton’s call, too, once lawmakers convene in January.
Yeah, that won't happen.

But it's a nice thought.

Bottom Line: Paxtoni's certainly correct on the legal argument, but if the lege had any intention of addressing union dues, they would have done so EONS ago.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

#TXLEGE: Abbott facing first Sustained Revolt Re: "Contact Tracing" Boondoggle


"David said furthermore, 'As the Lord lives, the Lord shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish.' "
1 Samuel 26:10

I would like to make one final point which concerns contract tracing. The MTX contract must end promptly. It is a gross invasion of personal liberty and privacy. I also have serious concerns it violates HIPPA and other medical privacy laws. Why is Texas spending nearly $300 million of taxpayer money on tracking Texans for two years over this? Though it may be federally funded, every dollar spent by local, state, or the federal government either comes from current taxpayers or the children or grandchildren of taxpayers through debt service. Therefore, we could have forgone the federal funds, saved taxpayer dollars, and not conducted privacy-infringing tracing.
[Note: While the scope of this blog post is limited to the so-called "contact tracing" boondoggle, Tinderholt's full letter is brutal.]

“Contact tracing is technically wrong, as it may be an effective tool to trace slow moving deadly viruses such as Ebola or Tuberculosis, but not for a fast-moving virus with a low death rate that is primarily spread by asymptomatic people.

“Contact tracing, for COVID-19, is a colossal waste of money which could be better spent on resources to protect the elderly and immune-compromised populations that are the most affected. Contact tracing will shred our constitutional rights to privacy.

“Texas must stop contact tracing and change course by adopting new policies consistent with the facts as we now know them...."



James White:


It's not a full statement, but this retweet from Donna Howard's certainly suggests discomfort with the contract.

All of which is really, really, interesting.

Obviously, we've been around the block several times.  We know that the legislature often talks a big game during the interim, then fails to follow through once they get the chance.  Still, this is not a good place for a Governor to be heading into the most difficult session in awhile.

If Abbott's smart, he'll cancel the contract (and fire Mike Toomey).  Whether or not he is smart remains to be seen.  That being said, it wouldn't surprise us to see that announcement as a Friday afternoon document dump this week or next.

Bottom Line: The long term fallout remains to be seen, but the bloom is certainly off the rose in a way it hasn't been previously.

#TXLEGE: No, really, who hired the right lobbyists re: "reopening?!?"


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

PushJunction yesterday:


Obviously, PushJunction is tracking reopening in the macro sense. Equally obvious, in that macro sense, is that Texas' alleged "reopening" falls far short of claims made by politicians. We noticed something else.

That chart is a guide for how Mike Toomey, using the authority Greg Abbott delegated to him, is picking winners and losers.

It's tough to know exactly what  to make of this.  It's a snapshot in time.  Except that this is what happens when you put lobbyists in charge of the 11th largest economy in the world.

Equally obvious, the path of least resistance for Abbott is to fire Mike Toomey and lift the remaining restrictions.

Bottom Line:  Next round of campaign finance and lobby reports gonna be fascinating....

Monday, June 1, 2020

#TXLEGE: Shelby Slawson Shows How It's Done


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

[Note: Shelby Slawson is J.D. Sheffield's runoff opponent.]

This is, easily and by far, the best piece of political communication we've seen in ages:



Highlights:
  • For eight years, one of the most conservative state rep districts in the country has been represented by "the most liberal Republican in Texas."
  • "How can this have happened?!?"
  • Discussion of Sheffield's relationships with campaign consultants and lobbyists.
    • Note: It's too long to type, but it flows really well in the video.
  • J.D Sheffield, lobbyists, and campaign consultants are basically a giant money laundering operation.
  • "You don't really have to be pro-Life, you just have to send a mailer with a beautiful mother and a cute baby...that's what J.D. Sheffield does."
  • Sheffield's new strategy: Ignore his record and overhype the fact that he's a doctor...even though it's irrelevant to the job of state rep.
  • J.D. Sheffield is a Doctor...Doctor Democrat.
Bottom Line: Well done, there needs to be a lot more communication like this.

Friday, May 29, 2020

#TXLEGE: Rove and Straus weaseling into redistricting


"The king establishes the land by justice,
But he who receives bribes overthrows it."
Proverbs 29:4

JOE STRAUS (former Speaker of the Texas House) and Karl Rove (former top-tier strategist) got some love yesterday as they weasel their way back into Texas politics ahead of 2022.

The two appear to be manufacturing energy; they can parlay into more control of the GOP in 2021 (redistricting) as they plot a liberal Republican renaissance.
This is both interesting...AND something into which it's easy to read faaar too much.

It's interesting because it shows Rove and Straus returning to an old playbook.  In 2011, Joe Straus' Texas house drew a redistricting map that, while it favored Republicans, boosted liberal R's at the expense of conservatives.  Wayne Christian and Ken Paxton were the primary targets.  Many of the challenges conservatives have faced in that chamber this decade are rooted in the fact that the last redistricting map elevated rural school board members.

That being said, let's not build this effort up unnecessarily.  It's true that current district boundaries favor rural school board members.  But it's truer still that there have been a long list of failures and missed opportunities since.  While this reality deserves consideration, it's an excuse for nothing.

Bottom Line: How big of a role they play remains to be seen.  They're still has-been's.  Nevertheless, it's worth keeping this effort in the back of your mind over the coming months.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

#TXLEGE: Hunter confirms something we've LONG Suspected


"For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life."
Galatians 6:8

TEXAS COMPETES, a “pro-business” group, is promoting a fringe LGBT normalization agenda while roughly 50% of the state's economy remains shuttered.

Yesterday, Democrats joined by two Republican-ish members of the House Sarah Davis, and Todd Hunter promoted an LGBT bill months way from the 2021 session. Davis, if she manages to win shouldn't be allowed to caucus with the GOP, she's a Democrat. 
The bill's cabal claims it will bolster business, but our state's current circumstances beg the question if there are no businesses open who is there to discriminate against? Texas Competes has not issued a call for the state to reopen and did not respond to a message asking for a position on the matter.
Most of this isn't surprising.  Left-wing Democrats pushing left-wing social policy is to be expected.  Likewise, Sarah Davis.

Todd Hunter's presence, however, is more interesting.

Unlike Sarah Davis, who needs to pick up crossover votes in West University Place, Todd Hunter represents a safe Republican district.  Thus, Hunter's motivation goes beyond naked politics.  What gives?!?



If you weren't aware, Todd Hunter is a trial lawyer.

Now...who gets rich suing people over alleged violations of so-called "non-discrimination" law?!?

That's right: TRIAL LAWYERS!!!

We've suspected for several years that the push in recent sessions to label everything under the sun as "discriminatory" was a sop to trial lawyers.  We just couldn't prove it.  While it's not iron clad, Hunter's ascension on this issue certainly lends credibility to the hypothesis.

Bottom Line: More lawsuits over alleged "discrimination" certainly means more business for trial lawyers.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

#TXLEGE: Republicans "Shocked" to find local officials Exploiting Loopholes (That THEY Created)


"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."
Galatians 6:7

DALLAS - Home and property owners in Dallas may pay for the pandemic with higher taxes.

The Dallas City Council is considering an increase of up to 8%.

That would make up for the loss of millions in sales tax revenue this year and next year, especially after many businesses shut down.

The state law that limits property tax increases has an exception for emergencies like natural disasters.
[Note: They've yet to make it official, but Austin is widely expected to follow.]

The Galveston County judge is calling on the governor to freeze 2020 property appraisals at 2019 levels because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mark Henry, the county judge, wrote Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday requesting the property assessment freeze “so local families don’t get hit with an additional economic burden” during the global pandemic. Galveston County Central Appraisal District officials said the vast majority of county properties saw an increase in value in 2020, which would lead to higher property taxes.
Of course, this is "outrageous." And you should be "outraged." Just like Texas' statewide GOP "leadership" is outraged:


Lest we forget:
County Judge Mark Henry, who recently asked Gov. Greg Abbott to use his disaster powers to freeze property values at 2019 levels, was quoted in the Galveston County Daily News as saying Bonnen has been “hiding behind his keyboard.” Henry added that he’s glad the speaker chose to not seek reelection. That was after Bonnen said Judge Henry’s property values proposal is a “horrible idea.”

There’s apparently been bad blood between the two of them for some time, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given the escalating tensions between state and local governments. Bonnen, as quoted in the Daily News, said “My valuation doesn’t cost me one penny in property tax, his tax rate does.”
To be fair, the Dallas and Galveston county stories are kinda/sorta different.  What ties them together is that local officials are raising taxes within the bounds of state law as currently written.  Like it or not, the law is on the locals side.

This is especially true in the case of what Dallas is doing:


[Note: The phrase "in the manner provided for a special taxing unit" is the part that permits them to go up to 8 percent.]

Both of these situations were completely preventable.  Abbott, Patrick, and Bonnen chose to not prevent them.  To hear the Texas GOP caterwauling now, however, does remind us of a movie reference:


Bottom Line: They have nobody to blame except themselves.

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.”
Yikes.

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.

Lolz.

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

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight:
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.