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Barry Smitherman

On succeeding, and defending, Ken Paxton

Ross Ramsay:

Best mugshot ever

While Ken Paxton fights to avoid convictions and jail time on indictments alleging securities violations — and to keep his job as Texas attorney general — a muted and unofficial conversation about who will succeed him is already underway.


That considerable legal predicament opens the conversation about whether Paxton can survive politically. Any felony conviction, whether it involves prison or not, would cost him his law license and probably whatever remains of his term. And that could set up an appointment of his successor by Gov. Greg Abbott — his predecessor as attorney general.

That leads to this: There is a political fluster underway that most people know nothing about.

Names of possible Paxton successors are floating around in Republican circles: Supreme Court Justices Don Willett and Eva Guzman; former Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson; current and former first assistants to the AG Chip Roy and Daniel Hodge; [Dan] Branch and [Barry] Smitherman, the two also-rans in last year’s Republican primary. It goes on, picking up Education Commissioner Michael Williams and state Rep. Jason Villalba of Dallas.

The people in the preceding paragraph have a few things in common. They are Republicans. They are lawyers. They are not openly campaigning for Paxton’s job. Some support Paxton and hope he emerges without a mark. And they make up a pretty good list of viable candidates for state office, whether it turns out to be this one or something in the future. They’re from different parts of the GOP, and the infighting, should an opening occur, could be fierce.

I hope Paxton digs his heels in deep and hangs on to run for re-election even if he’s been convicted. What does he care what a bunch of insiders and establishment figures think about his “effectiveness” or “ability to govern?” They’re not the ones who elected him in the first place, and they’re not the ones who are steadfastly supporting him against all comers and all evidence. Scott Braddock explains.

Employees of Tim Dunn’s Empower Texans, a self-proclaimed conservative group, have tried to make the case that Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is somehow to blame for the legal problems Paxton now faces.

As Quorum Report publisher Harvey Kronberg has pointed out, this alleged swindling of investors amounts to the same kind of shenanigans that helped give rise to the Tea Party in the first place back in 2008 following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent Wall Street bailouts.

What’s gotten less attention is the company at the heart of the Paxton indictment, Servergy, received government economic incentives that are strongly opposed by Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and others who claim to be as conservative as they come.

Sen. Ted Cruz – one of Paxton’s biggest supporters and the man who more than anyone put his political capital behind him in the GOP primary runoff against Rep. Dan Branch – regularly rails against government interference in the marketplace.

In his crusade against the Export-Import Bank, a top priority of many Texas employers, Cruz has called the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar and has repeatedly used the word “cartel” to describe lobbyists who represent job creators in his home state and elsewhere.

At the time Paxton was rounding up investors for Servergy, allegedly without disclosing his financial interest in the firm, the company was getting government incentives to move to his hometown. Among the details of Paxton’s situation is the fact that Servergy received rental assistance from the City of McKinney so that it could relocate to North Texas from California.


Many of those same folks in the business community are understandably unaware of the way in which scorecards created and promoted by Empower Texans are reverse-engineered with the goal of aiding GOP politicians who have been adversarial toward Speaker Straus. Sen. Burton and AG Paxton have been beneficiaries of those tactics.

Paxton was also the recipient of at least $1.4 million in Empower Texans political money in the form of a $1 million loan and $400,000 cash as he ran for the Republican nomination.

As far as we know, Paxton is the only one of their allies who possibly gained from government economic incentives that went to a company from which he stood to profit financially.

If consistency or conservatism were the priorities of Dunn, his spokesman Michael Quinn Sullivan, and Sen. Burton they would likely be among the loudest critics of Servergy’s rental assistance.

But the name of the game for this particular cartel is control, not consistency.

Indeed, and that’s why I think any talk of who might succeed Ken Paxton is premature. Paxton knows where his bread is buttered. Until that support dries up, or until the voters actually do boot him out, I don’t believe he’s going anywhere.

Fracking ban on the ballot in Denton

This has the potential to be even bigger than the HERO repeal referendum.

Voters will decide whether this North Texas college town will become the state’s first city to ban hydraulic fracturing.

After a public hearing Tuesday night that stretched into Wednesday morning, the Denton City Council rejected a proposal to ban the method of oil and gas extraction inside the city, which sits on the edge of the gas-rich Barnett Shale. The 5-2 vote kicked the question to the city’s November ballot, the next step in a high-profile property rights clash that will likely be resolved outside of Denton.

“It’s a high-stakes game,” said mayor Chris Watts, who said he voted against the proposal so that citizens would have a say. “This issue is going to be decided in one of two places: the statehouse or the courthouse.”

Fracking opponents forced the council’s vote after gathering nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban. The proposal would not prohibit drilling outright; it would apply only to fracking, which involves blasting apart rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water.

Denton, population 121,000 and pockmarked with more than 270 natural gas wells, is one of several Texas cities wrangling with questions about where to allow drilling and how strictly to regulate it.

As drilling increasingly moves into urban areas, tension is growing between property rights above ground and sub-surface mineral rights. States, along with the federal government, regulate most aspects of drilling, including well integrity, pipeline safety, and air and water impact. Cities, however, have sought to regulate noise and to control the location of wells or related sites like compressor stations.

No Texas city has tried to ban fracking, and the prospect of a ban in Texas prompted state officials and energy industry representatives Tuesday to join an overflow crowd at city hall.

“The whole world is watching Denton, Texas,” said Chris Faulkner, CEO of Dallas-based Breitling Energy, who urged the council to reject the ban.

I think that’s fair to say. It’s also highly likely that there will be a ton out outside interest and money in this referendum, and if it passes you can be sure there will be litigation.

A Chron story from Tuesday morning set the scene.

“I think everyone all along assumed this was going to go to a citywide vote, given the uncharted waters we find ourselves in,” Councilman Kevin Roden said in an interview. “My guess is there’s comfort in letting it go to an entire city vote as opposed to seven of us trying to decide this.”

Denton sits over the Barnett Shale, one of the nation’s largest natural gas fields.


Barry Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, sent a 4-page letter to the mayor and council members blasting the ban proposal as “extremely misguided.”

“Increased production of natural gas, natural gas liquids and crude oil has greatly enhanced the Texas economy,” Smitherman wrote. “Over 400,000 Texans work in the oil and gas industry and the average wage per employee is a staggering $128,000.”

Smitherman [didn’t] attend Tuesday’s public hearing because of a prior commitment, but asked that his written comments be considered.

Although Roden, the councilman, declined to state his position on the ban, he was unimpressed with Smitherman’s letter.

“We’ve been struggling with how to make natural gas drilling compatible in residential areas and largely because of the regulatory environment we find ourselves in, the state is pulling the shots and we’re not able to regulate from a local perspective,” he said.

“For him to write us a letter in the 11th hour with no policy suggestions on how to get better, only advocating for an industry he’s supposed to be regulating, I found it pretty out of touch.”

Here’s Smitherman’s letter. Perhaps if the RRC had any credibility as a watchdog, this sort of advocacy would not have arisen. State Rep. Myra Crownover, who represents Denton, is quoted in the Trib story saying that she will work with Sen. Craig Estes “to find a finely crafted fix for these issues”, but again, I don’t know how much credibility that carries. We all know whose interests come first around here. The Observer, Unfair Park, and Texas Sharon, one of the leaders of the petition effort, have more.

The UT/TT primary polls were completely useless


I expressed my contempt with the UT/Texas Trib’s Democratic primary poll result for the US Senate race last night, which they richly deserved. Sure, pollster Jim Henson admitted that “the first person to raise some money and run some ads could really move this”, and that’s largely what happened, but that got lost in all the national attention that was paid to Kesha Rogers being proclaimed the frontrunner in a poll where basically nobody had an initial preference. They had a “result” that was guaranteed to get them a ton of attention, and that’s what they got even though their track record in past Democratic primaries was shaky at best.

Well, now it’s time to pay them a bit of negative attention, because their Republican primary polls, which I originally noted had a decent track record based on previous results sucked eggs, too. Let’s take them one at a time and assess the damage. I’ll even be generous and start with the one poll they basically nailed, just to give them credit where it’s due. Here’s the poll story from which I’ll be quoting:

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, facing a field of seven other Republican primary candidates in his bid for re-election, won the support of 62 percent of the likely Republican primary voters, followed by U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, who got 16 percent. Support for the rest was in single digits: Linda Vega, 7 percent; Dwayne Stovall and Ken Cope, 4 percent each; Reid Reasor and Chris Mapp, 3 percent each; and Curt Cleaver, 1 percent.

Actual result: Cornyn won with 59.44%, Stockman came in second with 19.13%. Dwayne Stovall was actually in third with 10.71%, but I won’t crime them for that. From here, it’s all downhill.

In the heated Republican primary for lieutenant governor, incumbent David Dewhurst leads the pack with 37 percent of likely Republican primary voters at his side, followed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, at 31 percent; Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples at 17 percent; and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson at 15 percent.

Actual result: Dan Patrick led the pack with 41.45%, followed by incumbent David Dewhurst with 28.31%. Staples had 17.76% and Patterson 12.47%, not that it mattered. That’s a pretty big miss, but it’s not their biggest.

The Republican primary for attorney general is a statistical dead heat between state Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas, at 42 percent, and state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, at 38 percent — a difference smaller than the poll’s margin of error. Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman got 20 percent. When they were initially asked about the race, 47 percent expressed no preference between the candidates.

Actual result: Paxton 44.44%, Branch 33.49%, Smitherman 22.06%. They did get Smitherman’s level of support correct, but they had the wrong frontrunner and the race wasn’t as close as they said. Oh, well.

In the race for comptroller, that group of initially undecided voters accounted for 54 percent, perhaps an indication of continuing flux in the race. Debra Medina, the only candidate who has been on a statewide ballot (she ran for governor in 2010), got 39 percent after voters were asked whom they would support in an election now, followed by state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, at 26 percent; state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, at 24 percent; and former state Rep. Raul Torres, R-Corpus Christi, at 11 percent.

Actual result: Hegar came thisclose to winning outright, with 49.99%. He was 151 votes short of a majority with four precincts still uncounted. Hilderbran was second with 26.01%, Medina third with 19.30%, and Torres last with 4.68%. I’m sorry, but that’s just embarrassingly inaccurate.

So in all three downballot Republican races as well as the Democratic Senate race, they incorrectly identified the frontrunner, with the extra indignity of having the almost clear winner of the Comptroller’s race not in the cut for a runoff. Well done, fellas. Well done.

Now you may say “c’mon, polling primaries is especially tricky”, and if you did I would agree. I’d also say that maybe their self-selected-sample-plus-secret-sauce methodology is especially poorly designed for polling in these specialized races, and I’d point to these very results as proof of that. You may also say that no one else was providing poll information on these races so at least they were telling us something, and I’d say we would have been better off with no information than we were with their badly wrong information. I’d also say they owe us an explanation for why they were so wrong, and a public examination and reconsideration of their methods given how badly wrong they were. If they can screw these races up so badly, why should anyone believe their general election polling? The ball’s in your court, guys.

I should note that I’m saying all this as someone who likes the Tribune and who thinks they generally do a good job. On this, however, they did a terrible job, and I’m not the only one who noticed. They should be embarrassed by this, and they should want to figure out where they went so far off track. I would advise them to be quick about it. Steve Singiser has more.

On succeeding Abbott as AG

The next Attorney General will inherit a lot of Greg Abbott’s unfinished fights, some of which he instigated and some of which were thrust upon him by the Lege.

Still not Greg Abbott

Defending the constitutionality of the state’s controversial public school finance system before the Texas Supreme Court will be a tall order for the person elected to replace Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Three Republicans and one Democrat are running for the position.

Houston lawyer Sam Houston thinks there are problems with the way Texas funds its schools, but an attorney general is bound to defend the state law whether he or she agrees or disagrees.

“That’s the job,” Houston said in an interview.

And backing Abbott’s current defense of the school funding system are all three Republican attorney general candidates: State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas; state Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; and Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman.

“All of the candidates are campaigning on the idea that they would carry forward the Abbott agenda on standing firm against federal overreach and the expansion of government,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.


During his tenure, Abbott has used the position to champion socially conservative positions on gay marriage and abortion as well as to launch political attacks against the Obama administration and federal agencies.

His defense of the school finance system became campaign fodder for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who filibustered against the 2011 cuts in the Texas Senate. Abbott has responded that he was acting in his capacity as attorney general to defend state laws.

Houston, the lone Democrat in the race, said in an interview that he questions what advice Abbott gave to members of the Legislature during the 2013 session regarding the system’s constitutionality.

He’s also questioned the advice Abbott gave the Lege about redistricting. I don’t think that comment Prof. Jillson made above applies to Sam Houston, at least not in the same way. Being tasked with defending the state against litigation doesn’t preclude one from seeking a settlement if one reasonably concludes that the state’s position is a loser and it’s going to get its tuchus handed to it in court. There’s already an argument being made by the Lone Star Project that Abbott can and should be seeking a settlement in the school finance case. A much more contentious question will arise with the state’s defense of its Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage law. The initial hearing to determine if there needs to be an injunction against it will be soon, but it’s very likely the appeals process will still be ongoing in 2015. The precedent exists for an Attorney General to decline to defend a state’s ban on same sex marriages. Houston may come under a lot of pressure if it’s his job to do that for Texas next year. The Supreme Court could possibly render that decision moot, but this is something to keep in mind going forward.

We’ll always have Kinky

Like cicadas on a four-year cycle, he keeps coming back.

Bi-polar and tri-partisan

Kinky Friedman doesn’t know if he’s ready to jump back into Texas politics.

But the cigar-chewing humorist and musician — known for the black attire and cowboy hats he normally dons — said he may soon create an exploratory committee to help him decide whether to run for office again.

And if so, for which one.

“Maybe I should do what Rick Perry does and pray for an answer on what to do,” Friedman, 68, said with a chuckle Tuesday during a telephone interview with the Star-Telegram.

Some political observers say they wouldn’t be surprised to see Friedman throw his hat into the ring for nearly any statewide office.

“A comedian needs an audience,” said Harvey Kronberg, editor and publisher of the Austin-based Quorum Report, an online political newsletter.

Friedman said he probably will run for office as a Democrat, as he did during his unsuccessful 2010 bid for Texas agriculture commissioner, rather than as an independent, as he did in his failed 2006 gubernatorial bid.

“I’m keeping my options open,” said Friedman, a self-proclaimed Jewish Cowboy who lives in the Hill Country.

Yes, well, what else is new? If you need a reminder why Friedman is rather less than beloved among Democrats, read this blast from the recent past. Of course, he went from that to being a Wendy Davis for Governor cheerleader, which I suppose at least shows he’s capable of learning. I’m tired of bashing Friedman all the time, so let me make him a deal. If he promises to run for Railroad Commissioner, or Land Commissioner if John Cook decides against it, I’ll shut up about him through next November, assuming he doesn’t say anything too stupid. Hell, he can run for Attorney General if he wants to, on the premise that even a non-lawyer jokester like him would do a better and less detrimental job than a blinkered partisan hack like Greg Abbott, and I’ll be okay with that. Just stay the hell out of the Governor’s race, and don’t go up against a better Dem in anything else, that’s all I ask.

On Tuesday, he outlined his top two political priorities if elected to office: Legalize marijuana use and casino gambling in this state.

“Texas is going to do all this in the next ten to 15 years,” he said. “But by then, he will be the caboose on the train.”

Making his top two priorities reality, Friedman said, will provide a key boost for Texas’ economy.

Legalizing casinos in Texas would “stop the bleeding from all the billions of dollars that are walking out of the state for gambling,” he said.

And making marijuana use legal in Texas, he said, “would put a real crimp in the Mexican drug cartels — and make Willie Nelson very happy.”

I admit, Railroad Commissioners don’t have much to do with either of these things. He’d have to learn some actual policy stuff to be RR Commish, not that that was a prerequisite for the likes of David Porter or Elizabeth Ames Jones. But he could possibly get elected to the Railroad Commission, and that would give him a real platform to advocate for these things. Best I can do, sorry.

On a side note, since I mentioned the office of Attorney General, I’ll note that State Rep. Dan Branch announced his intention to run, a move that was almost as widely expected as Greg Abbott running for Governor. In doing so, Rep. Branch did his best Abbott impersonation, promising to protect the right of unborn babies to carry assault weapons so they can defend themselves from a rapacious federal government, or something like that. I might be a bit fuzzy on the details. I’m not sure if it’s more a pity or just pathetic that a generally low-key legislator who’s built a fairly solid reputation as a policy wonk has to spout such pablum – I suspect he didn’t sound much more genuine in saying it than I would have – but these are the times we live in. And as a result, and because Branch’s main competition is people like the more ludicrous and less substantive Barry Smitherman, you can see why Kinky for AG isn’t such a crazy idea after all. It’s not that hard to sound sensible opposite the likes of that. Kinky is downright statesmanlike in comparison.

Patrick and Williams keep squabbling

Just as a reminder that Senate Republicans don’t need Democrats to stir up trouble, here’s a flare-up of an earlier kerfuffle. Fire one.

In this corner…

In a recent interview with The Texas Tribune, my colleague, state Sen. Dan Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, attempted to explain his vote against our no-new-tax balanced state budget that was approved by a supermajority of Republicans.

In part, Patrick, R-Houston, said he opposed the budget due to his concerns about specific public education programs not being funded.

The problem with these comments is that Patrick was directly responsible for these same education programs not being funded. Such revisionism cannot go unchallenged.

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I appointed Patrick to lead the committee’s public education workgroup. The full committee adopted, in whole, his public education budget recommendations. These recommendations did not include funding for PSAT/SAT/ACT tests. Supplemental pre-K funding of $40 million was included in the adopted recommendations. Conference committee actions reduced the supplemental pre-K funding by $10 million, which was partially offset by an overall increase in public education formula funding.

Additionally, Patrick lamented in his Tribune interview that the new state budget lacked sufficient Career and Technical Education (CTE) funding. But he failed to acknowledge that he offered the Senate floor amendment that eliminated new CTE funding in House Bill 5.

Patrick was the Senate’s lead negotiator on that bill’s conference committee. I also served on the HB 5 conference committee, along with Sens. Robert Duncan, Kel Seliger and Leticia Van de Putte. I specifically told Patrick I would fund eighth-grade CTE (at a cost of $36.1 million) in the budget if he could get the House to agree. Ultimately, he asked me and the other conferees to sign a Conference Committee report which did not include new CTE funding.


Every member of the Legislature has the right and the duty to vote the interests of their district and their conscience. Patrick consistently supported virtually every decision made during the process of writing the appropriations bill. His unannounced opposition to the final version of Senate Bill 1 was a betrayal of every member of the finance committee who worked in good faith to prepare this budget.

I can only conclude he was looking for an excuse to distance himself from our good work to advance his own political interests.

Fire two.

And in this corner...

Patrick said Friday that he read Williams’ column “with amusement.”

“His attack on me is a classic example of a politician who has forgotten that we represent the people first and foremost,” Patrick said in a statement. “I don’t have to explain my vote to Tommy Williams. I have to explain my vote to the people and I’m happy to do that.”

Patrick described Williams’ arguments in his column as “wrong … or disingenuous at best.” He specifically refuted Williams’ suggestion that Patrick’s vote on the budget was unexpected.

“He had no reason to be surprised by my ‘no’ vote,” Patrick said. “I told him I would be a ‘no’ vote on the budget several days before the bill came to the floor.”

Patrick said Williams’ column is in line with the Senate finance chairman’s recent “attacks” on groups that have criticized the budget, including the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Following the regular session, Williams also tried to strip Patrick of his chairmanship of the education committee.

“His attacks have been personal in nature and offensive,” Patrick said.

See here for the opening salvo. I have two thoughts about this. One, Dan Patrick is probably going to run for Lite Guv – he has a press conference scheduled for today to discuss his 2014 electoral plans – and in a field with David Dewhurst, Todd Staples, and Jerry Patterson he’s got to have a decent chance to make a runoff. Given how many intramural fights he’s gotten into lately, I have to wonder if stuff like this helps him or hurts him with the seething masses of the GOP primary electorate. Being “anti-establishment”, even as a multi-term incumbent, is generally a positive in those races, and that’s been his brand. Do these quarrels help fire up his base or does it drive people who might otherwise agree with him away? I have no idea, but perhaps the reaction to Patrick’s announcement, if it is what we think it might be, will give us a clue.

Two, I wonder if these high-profile personality clashes between people who have little ideological distance between them is a sign of healthy debate for a party that hasn’t been greatly challenged at the state level, or a sign of an impending fall by a longstanding hegemon that may be getting a tad stale because it hasn’t needed for years to talk to voters who don’t participate in their increasingly parochial primary elections? In other words, is this further evidence that the Texas GOP of 2013 looks a lot like the Texas Democrats of 1983? (This is the flip side of Colin Strother’s thesis.) I wasn’t around for much of the Texas Dems’ fall, and I wasn’t paying close attention for the time that I was here, but I do remember how nasty the Jim Mattox/Ann Richards primary of 1990 was, and as I recall it went beyond the usual nastiness of politics. Williams/Patrick is on a smaller scale than that – among other things, they’re not both running for the same office – but it’s still pretty similar. They’re also not the only ones talking to a small subset of the electorate to the exclusion of anyone else – everyone from empty suits like Barry Smitherman and longstanding ideologues like Greg Abbott to people with more balanced records of policy and engagement like Dan Branch and Jerry Patterson are doing it. I know, everyone has a primary to win, but does anyone expect anything different after the nominations are settled? I don’t. Like the Dems of the late 80s and early 90s, the inability to talk to voters who aren’t already on your side – and may not be if someone else manages to get through to them – will come back to bite these guys. The question is when. Harold makes a similar point in discussing the SB5 debate, and Burka has more on Patrick v Williams.

Smitherman says he’s in for Attorney General


Barry Smitherman

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman is running for the 2014 Republican nomination for Attorney General, he confirmed to the Tribune. Public announcements via social media are planned for Monday.

Smitherman told the Tribune he hopes to continue the “great work” of current Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has yet to declare his own political intentions but is widely believed to have his eye on the Governor’s Mansion.

“In particular,” Smitherman said, “I am focused and interested in continuing to prosecute the federal government, in particular the [Environmental Protection Agency].”

In his capacity as chair of the Railroad Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry, Smitherman has signed on to multiple lawsuits Abbott has filed against the EPA.

Asked about other priorities, the candidate-to-be highlighted second amendment rights, saying he would fight any federal attempts to ban assault rifles or extended ammo clips, and also immigration. “We have got to do everything within the power of the AG’s office to stop illegal immigration, and I think there are some things to be done there,” he said.

Smitherman grew up near Houston and spent the early part of his career as an investment banker. He later served briefly in the Harris County district attorney’s office before being appointed to the Public Utility Commission, which regulates the electric and telephone industries, in 2004 by Gov. Rick Perry. He was appointed to the Railroad Commission in 2011 and was elected to a full term in 2012.

My aunt worked in the OAG for a number of years before retiring in the late 90s. Do you know what the main function of the AG’s office was back then? Pursuing people who failed to pay child support, and enforcing child support agreements. Pretty quaint, no?

I presume Smitherman’s announcement is predicated on the belief that Greg Abbott is in fact running for Governor. Everyone still thinks that’s what he’s going to do, and while everyone concedes that nobody really knows what Rick Perry is up to or what the decision about his future that he’s supposedly going to make on July 1 will be, the assumption continues to be that the AG’s office will be open. With the announcement of Special Session 2 to begin on July 1, it is possible Perry’s announcement, and thus Abbott’s, may be delayed a bit. Still, barring anything unexpected at this time, we’ll just be trading one grandstanding empty suit for another, and that will be true whether Smitherman wins the GOP nomination or not. I wonder how the child support collections are going these days.

Perry goes on a veto spree


Here’s the full list. Among the victims are the omnibus ethics bill HB217, thus giving Allen Blakemore his fondest wish; two bills aimed at reducing the number of standardized tests some students must take, one of which will make William McKenzie happy; SB15, which would have placed new limits on the power of the University of Texas System Board of Regents to fire campus presidents; a Dan Patrick gun bill (!); the Lilly Ledbetter bill as previously noted; a bill that would have allowed voters to pick an interpreter of their choice, within certain limits, while voting, a bill that Perry either misread or misrepresented; and quite a few others, not to mention the funding for the Public Integrity Unit.

Here are some reactions to the vetoes from the Chron:

Friday, the Austin-based Texans for Public Justice filed a legal complaint that Perry’s threat amounted to official coercion so he could win an appointment and short-circuit the unit’s investigation into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

“No surprise Perry would act to de-fang the state’s corruption watchdog. It’s a watchdog that might bite him and his cronies,” said Craig McDonald, TPJ director. “Our legal complaint against his bullying tactics remains in play, however.”

McDonald and Tom Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, also faulted Perry’s veto of a bill reforming the Texas Ethics Commission. “Perry’s office is an ethical black hole,” said McDonald. “Reforms go in. Nothing comes out.”

Smith pointed out that the bill would have required Railroad Commission Barry Smitherman, a Perry appointee, to resign his office before running for attorney general. “It is stunning that the governor is so intent on protecting one ambitious politician that he would veto a bill that drastically improved enforcement at the Texas Ethics Commission.”
Whether any of this represents Perry reasserting himself (again) in preparation for his next election or just a last middle finger to the rest of us before he rides off into the sunset on the wingnut welfare wagon I couldn’t say. Texas Vox bemoans the veto of the omnibus ethics bill, and I’m sure there will be plenty of other reactions, just in time for Perry to gallivant off to New York. What bills on the veto list – or not on the veto list – surprised you, one way or the other?


Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairman of the Senate Higher Education committee, filed Senate Bill 15 after a February dust-up over whether University of Texas System regents had micromanaged or maligned the character of UT Austin President Bill Powers. UT Regents Chairman Gene Powell has denied those allegations.

“Limiting oversight authority of a board of regents … is a step in the wrong direction,” Perry wrote in his veto. “History has taught us that the lack of board oversight in both the corporate and university settings diminishes accountability and provides fertile ground for organizational malfeasance.”

Seliger expressed frustration that Perry vetoed the bill, saying he had accepted all changes suggested by the governor’s staff.

“It is duplicitous,” he said.

In vetoing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, Perry wrote that “Texas’ commitment to smart regulations and fair courts is a large part of why we continue to lead the nation in job creation. House Bill 950 duplicates federal law, which already allows employees who feel that have been discriminated against through compensation to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

“I thought Gov. Perry always wanted us to do things the Texas way and not the federal way, but apparently not in this case,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said in a statement. “Now, Texas women will have no choice but to rely on the federal government to protect their rights. The governor took office at the dawn of the 21st Century, but you wouldn’t know it from his actions today.”

Rick Perry does what is best for Rick Perry. There are no other considerations. Whether all this is a sign of him asserting his power in preparation for his next campaign or just a parting middle finger to the rest of us as he prepares to ride off into the sunset on the wingnut welfare wagon, I couldn’t say.

Other reactions to Friday: Texas Vox bemoans the veto of the omnibus ethics bill. Grits is bewildered by the veto of one de-incarceration bill, and games out the ploy to defund the Public Integrity Unit. Burka is relieved that things weren’t any worse. Texas Watch applauds the signing of three bills designed to improve transparency for Texas home and auto insurance customers. Juanita is spitting mad at the veto of the Lilly Ledbetter bill. Texpatriate summarizes the whole day’s activity. Egberto Willies talks to Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the author of the Lilly Ledbetter bill, about Perry’s veto. She vows to bring the bill back next session. What vetoes and signatures surprised or didn’t surprise you?

Why stop at one veto of an ethics bill?

Why not veto them all?

Allen Blakemore has launched an effort to recruit about 30 fellow Republican political consultants and their clients to push the governor to veto the omnibus ethics bill.

Blakemore, who lobbies for the Conservative Republicans of Texas and Houston conservative crusader Steven Hotze, said his concern is a requirement to disclose who paid for the message on political ads.

By his reckoning, the disclosure announcement at the end of a recording amounts to about six seconds of a 30-second ad. Most ads already require some disclaimer, but the proposed new law would also apply to Internet ads, automated phone calls and ads from political action committees.

“It’s unnecessary and is nothing more than a ‘government taking’ from political campaigns,” Blakemore wrote in his email.

Bill author Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said Blakemore is mistaken and that there are no new audio requirements for candidates to say they authorized the ad. That language was stripped from the proposal in the last days of the Legislature.

Bonnen said having lobbyists oppose his bill doesn’t bother him.

“It’s only aggravating when it’s not based on fact,” he said.

Campaign watchdog Texans for Public Justice said there is nothing partisan or ideological about the bill. “Disclosure is good for everyone,” said director Craig McDonald. “All voters deserve to know who is paying for the political message appearing before them.”

I believe the bill in question is SB219, for which Bonnen is the House sponsor, not the author. As we know, Perry has already vetoed the so-called “dark money” bill, which was also about disclosure. This bill was a lot less controversial, however. The friction appears to be over the resign-to-run provision that it includes for members of the Railroad Commission; as an update to the story notes, Blakemore represents RR Commish Barry Smitherman, who is eying the Attorney General job in the event Greg Abbott heads for greener pastures. Nothing says “in the public interest” like a campaign consultant lobbying on behalf of a client, am I right? Perry has till June 16 to make his decision on what to sign and what to veto.

Legislative quick hits

This is the time of the session where there’s lots happening, and there isn’t always the time or space to stay on top of it all. So here are a few quick updates on things that are happening in an attempt to at least not be too far behind.

A bill to give Tesla Motors an opportunity to operate in Texas moves out of committee in the House.

The House Business and Industry Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would allow Tesla Motors to circumvent the state’s franchise dealer system and sell cars directly to Texans, giving a shot in the arm to the company’s efforts to operate in the state.

Tesla says an exemption from the franchise dealer system is the only way the company can operate successfully in Texas, but the owners of state auto dealer franchises have objected, saying the effort weakens a business model that has been key to their success.

House Bill 3351, by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, was replaced by a committee substitute that offered auto dealers another layer of protection: If Tesla ever sells more than 5,000 cars a year in the state, it will become subject to existing regulation and must start to franchise its operations.

With Tesla projecting sales of only a few hundred cars a year in the state, the bill’s supporters, including Diarmuid O’Connell, the vice president of business development for Tesla motors, called this a workable approach.

“This would give us the space we need to introduce our technology in the state,” he said.

See here for the background. I’m rooting for this one.

A bill to allow online voter registration has passed the Senate.

[Tuesday] afternoon, the Texas senate approved SB 315, a bill proposed by State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) to allow holders of unexpired Texas driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs to register to vote online.

Currently, registered voters in Texas may change their addresses online if they move within the same county but must complete a paper application if they are registering to vote for the first time or have moved to a different county.

In testimony on the proposed bill, election administrators said the legislation would both save significant money by reducing the need to manually enter information and eliminate transcription mistakes that happen with the current process.

The version of the bill approved by the Texas senate differs slightly from the original filed version in that the passed bill no longer requires voters to use the address listed on their license or ID as their voter registration address.

A similar bill – HB 313 – by State Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) is currently pending in the state house.

See here for the background. Another bill I’m rooting for. BOR has more.

Sen. Dan Patrick’s charter school expansion bill had its hearing in the House

Lawmakers didn’t let on too much of their feelings about the bill—but Killeen Republican Jimmy Don Aycock, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he didn’t consider the bill watered-down, because it allows the state’s charter network to grow. Charter school officials seemed to agree.

The bill still gives charter schools priority access to unused public school facilities, which Kathleen Zimmerman, executive director of NYOS Charter School, said is the bill’s most important improvement. Zimmerman said she has to give up her office for tutoring sessions because unlike public schools, charters don’t get facilities funding.

Under the Senate version, the education commissioner would revoke charters of schools that performed poorly in three out of five years.

Zimmerman said she didn’t focus on those higher standards because she wanted to highlight the positives. But, she said, “as a charter operator, I don’t want poor performing charters either.”

Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) said she’s concerned that charters may have a hard time getting loans because some banks want them to plan to be open for more than five years.

Charles Pulliam, chief development officer of Life School charter in Dallas, said that prospect would undermine the flexibility charters need to test out innovative education strategies.

“It scares me a little,” Pulliam said. “To have one blanket way of determining if they are successful is a mistake.”

The bill is SB 2, and it easily passed the Senate after adding a bunch of mostly Democratic amendments. It is pending in the House Public Ed committee.

Speaking of charter schools, a bill to limit the role ex-SBOE members can play at one has advanced.

A measure to bar former State Board of Education members from taking a job at a charter school or related foundation within two years of serving on the board is headed to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 1725 by state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, is intended to close the revolving door between the SBOE and charter schools.

An amendment by Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, would allow former board members to take a job at a charter school within the two-year period so long as that member did not vote to create that particular school.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill 6-3 late Tuesday.

The three nays all came from Republicans, which suggests this bill could have problems getting any farther.

The Lege has been trying to change the name of the Railroad Commission to something more reflective of reality for as long as I can remember. They’re still trying, and working on some other reforms as well.

The bill, SB 212 by State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, embodies a previous Sunset review of the Railroad Commission that didn’t pass in the last legislative session that would forbid certain campaign contributions. For instance, commissioners could not accept donations from a party involved in a contested case hearing. It would also limit campaign contributions to the 17 months before an election and 30 days after. Commissioners are elected to six-year terms.

A contested case hearing is the way citizens protest against an oil and gas company permit or action.

Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Railroad Commission, said during testimony that the campaign restrictions were “tricky” because the commissioner position is elected statewide, the state is big, travel is necessary and commissioners must raise money.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sits on the committee, said the Sunset Commission had thought hard about how to put reasonable limits on the campaign financing.

“Sitting there for a six-year term, being able to raise unlimited amounts of money from the industry that they regulate, there clearly is a perception problem,” said Ellis.

The Railroad Commission should be subject to restrictions that differ from other statewide elected officials, like senators and representatives, because the nature of the commission is unique, Nichols said, because the commissioners have six-year terms, they regulate a specific industry and they set rates.

Similar Sunset legislation for the commission originating in the House, HB 2166 by State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, recently passed out of committee, but largely stripped of the campaign and ethics reform, according to Texas Energy Report. That bill could end up competing with the Senate bill discussed Tuesday.


No one testified specifically against the name-change provision. [Commissioner Christi] Craddick suggested the more succinct Texas Energy Commission. State Sen. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, who worked on the Sunset review that failed to pass in the last legislative session, also suggested a new name.

“I’d like to change it to Texas Department on Oil and Gas because it sounds cool … TDOG,” Hegar said.

The official name in the bill is Texas Energy Resources Commission. But I like Sen. Hegar’s suggestion.

We close with two from the inbox. First, from Equality Texas:

Moments ago, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence advanced House Bill 2403 by Rep. Mary González of El Paso on a committee vote of 5-3.

HB 2403 would remove existing inequity in Texas’ “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense law. The “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is a logical approach to the reality that adolescents sometimes make sexual decisions that adults wish they had not made, but that adolescents have been making since the beginning of time.

Under current law, if teen sweethearts are of opposite sexes, consensual intimate contact remains a matter between parents and their children. However, the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is not currently available to dating teens of the same gender. The state should not intrude on the right of parents to instill their values about sex into their children. Nor should the state interfere if teenage sweethearts make decisions that their parents believe are not what is best for them.

This needs to be a conversation between parents and their children. Not between parents, their children, an arresting officer, a prosecuting attorney, and a trial judge. That is why the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense exists.

HB 2301 will ensure that it applies equally to straight & gay teens.

Today’s House committee action follows advancement of identical legislation by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. On April 9th, Senate Bill 1316 by Senator John Whitmire of Houston was advanced by the committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 1316 is on the Senate Intent Calendar for Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

See here for more. As far as I can tell, the full Senate has not taken up SB1316 as yet.

Last but not least, a non-good bill from Empower the Vote Texas:

HB 148 by Rep. Burkett is scheduled to be voted on by the full House tomorrow, April 25th. Please contact your State Representative and tell them to vote NO on this bill. If you are not sure who is your State Rep, you can use the “Who Represents Me” lookup tool. Emails addresses for all House members are firstname.lastname @, however phone calls are much more effective.

Attached are the letter ETVT sent to all Representatives opposing this bill along with supporting documents. The original text of the bill as introduced, the new text of the committee substitute, witness list, and bill analysis can be found here.

A copy of the letter is here. The hearing is today, so we’ll see how it goes.

Did Ted Cruz do better in Latino areas than other Republicans?

Lisa Falkenberg drops the following tidbit in her post-election column on why the GOP in general and in Texas needs to figure out how to appeal to Latino voters.

In Texas, the best data so far show a 70-30 split for Obama among Hispanic voters, according to Rice University political science chairman Mark Jones. Romney performed several points worse than Sen. John McCain did in 2008. At the same time, Jones points out, Hispanics became a larger share of the vote in Texas, going from 20 percent in 2008 to 25 percent in 2012.

Republican Ted Cruz, who will become the first Hispanic U.S. senator from Texas, may have received a boost linked to his surname. Exit polling showed he outperformed Romney and Republican congressional candidates by 6 percent.

In the long run, Republicans can’t rely on surnames to appeal to Hispanics, although a few more on the ballot wouldn’t hurt.

“They’re going to have to reach out and do more than say that ‘Hispanics have values that are similar to ours.’ That’s an old refrain, which apparently is not bearing any fruit with the Hispanic population,” says Tatcho Mindiola, associate sociology professor and director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston.

Falkenberg doesn’t say what exit polls she was looking at. The Latino Decisions poll of Texas only asked about the Presidential race and Democrats in general, so it’s of no help here. Be that as it may, we can approach this question by comparing how Cruz did in heavily Latino counties to how Romney did. Here’s how he fared in the five counties I looked at last week.

County Obama Romney Sadler Cruz ========================================== Cameron 49,159 24,955 41,930 27,881 El Paso 112,273 56,517 101,467 59,237 Hidalgo 97,879 39,786 88,316 41,591 Maverick 8,302 2,171 6,550 2,674 Webb 37,592 11,074 30,431 14,943

Some of Paul Sadler’s dropoff in votes from President Obama can be attributed to the usual downballot effect, but clearly Cruz outperformed Romney, and given his higher vote totals there had to be some Obama/Cruz voters in each of these counties. In fact, if you look at all of the counties in Texas where Cruz received more votes than Romney, you get the following list: Webb, Cameron, Ellis, Hidalgo, Maverick, Willacy, Starr, Zapata, Zavala, Dimmit, Kleberg, Jim Hogg, Brooks, Jim Wells, Frio, Culberson. So yes, he did do better in heavily Latino areas, and I’m sure I’ll find the same effect in Harris County when I get precinct data.

There’s a bit more to this, however. It wasn’t just Cruz who benefited from being Latino and having a non-Latino opponent in these counties. For example, the Libertarian candidate running against Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman was a Latino. Take a look at how he did versus how other non-Latino Libertarians did in statewide races where the Republican had no Democratic opponent. Here’s Cameron County, for example.

Railroad Commissioner - Unexpired Term Barry Smitherman REP 25,866 48.72% Jaime O. Perez LIB 23,875 44.97% Josh Wendel GRN 3,347 6.30% Justice, Supreme Court, Place 2 Don Willett REP 32,963 62.76% Roberto Koelsch LIB 19,555 37.23% Justice, Supreme Court, Place 4 John Devine REP 30,797 58.42% Tom Oxford LIB 17,212 32.65% Charles Waterbury GRN 4,707 8.92% Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 7 Barbara Hervey REP 32,107 61.09% Mark W. Bennett LIB 20,448 38.90% Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 8 Elsa Alcala REP 36,619 68.72% William Strange LIB 16,664 31.27%

The same pattern holds for El Paso, Hidalgo, Maverick, and Webb counties. In the latter two, Libertarian candidate Perez scored a majority of the vote against Smitherman, which just blows my mind, and you will see the same effect for Latino Democratic candidates for the Fourth Court of Appeals, all of whom wound up winning. These were all low-profile, low-information races – even the Senate race was mostly below the radar, with Cruz avoiding debates and not running many ads, while Sadler barely had the money to do any advertising – so it’s not too shocking. Because of all this, I’d be careful about drawing any firm conclusions regarding Cruz and Latino voters. Latino voters have a stronger belief in the role of government and by a sizable majority support the Affordable Care Act and believe that the federal government should ensure that all people have access to health insurance. Needless to say, these views are incompatible with those of Ted Cruz. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait till 2018 to see how these voters will behave when they have a fuller understanding of what Ted Cruz is about.

UPDATE: Latino Decisions did ask about the Senate race specifically, and you can see the result here, which shows Sadler leading Cruz 65-35. I didn’t see that at the time I wrote this post.

2012 Republican primary runoffs

All the results are here. In the end, Ted Cruz won a pretty solid victory. I’ll note that in the last two publicly released polls, PPP had Cruz up by 10, whereas Baselice & Associates claimed Dewhurst was up by 5. Oops. The latter poll sampled people who hadn’t actually voted in the May primary, which sure seems like a stretch now. By the way, Baselice & Associates is the pollster that did that first Metro poll. Two completely different universes, and one silly poll result doesn’t cast a shadow on another, it’s just a reminder that polling isn’t destiny.

In the Congressional primaries of interest, Randy Weber in CD14 and Roger Williams in CD25 won easily, while Steve Stockman won a closer race for CD36. Multiple incumbents went down to defeat, most spectacularly Sen. Jeff Wentworth in SD25. Am I the only one who thinks that he might have been better off switching parties? Hard to imagine he could have done worse in November than this. Nutjob John Devine won himself a spot on the Supreme Court, which like the Senate just got appreciably more stupid. I will console myself with the thought that Devine, who is in many ways a huckster, is highly likely to run afoul of the code of judicial conduct at some point. Speaking of party switching, former Democrat Chuck Hopson is now an ex-Representative, as are Sid “Sonogram” Miller and Jim Landtroop. The only legislative incumbent to survive was the other party switcher, JM Lozano, who now faces a tough race in November. The runoff was even hard on former incumbents, as Warren Chisum lost his bid for the Railroad Commission. However, Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman did survive, and former SBOE member Geraldine Miller got her spot back.

In other races of interest, Rick Miller won the nomination in HD26, thus likely delaying the de-honkification of the Fort Bend County delegation for at least another two years. By my count, of the eight Parent PAC candidates in the runoff, all but Wentworth and Hopson won, which is a pretty impressive result. Maybe, just maybe, the Lege will be marginally less hostile to public education next year.

Finally, in Harris County, it took awhile for the results to come in, but Louis Guthrie won the right to face Sheriff Adrian Garcia in the fall. That will be one to watch. Did any of these results surprise you? Leave a comment and let me know.

UPDATE: Make that five of eight for Parent PAC. When I went to bed, Trent McKnight was leading in HD68, but by the time I got up this morning he had lost.

In case you were wondering why we have bad air quality in Texas

Ever wonder why we have such lax enforcement of environmental regulations here in Texas? One reason is because the people who head up the agencies that have the power to enforce those regulations are mostly charlatans and industry apologists. Go read Forrest Wilder’s account of a farcical “Cap and Trade Summit” at which the speakers and the audience was basically energy industry lobbyists, right-wing hacks, and the state officials who are supposed to be the ones responsible for making sure they all follow the law. You couldn’t make a stronger case for more federal involvement if you tried.