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John Cook

Change Research (Land Commissioner): Bush 41, Suazo 36

From the inbox:

Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo, the Democratic nominee for Texas Land Commissioner, is within 5 points of incumbent George P. Bush. The poll was conducted shortly after Suazo was endorsed by former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican.

The poll shows the two major party candidates within 5 points, with the Libertarian taking an unusually high percentage:

Suazo (D): 36%
Bush (R): 41%
Pina (L): 13%

Bush is clearly being hurt by his handling of the Alamo, a landmark that is overseen by the General Land Office. Managed by a handful of non-profits, it’s left many people wondering: who’s in charge over there?

“The Alamo has experienced nothing short of a failure of leadership under George P. Bush,” said Miguel Suazo. “While true Texans want to remember the Alamo, George P. Bush wants to reimagine it. This is unacceptable and it’s just one of the many areas that the General Land Office is demonstrating a lack of competency.”

The poll was conducted by Change Research from September 19-21 among more than 1,700 registered voters in Texas.

This is literally all I know about this poll, which came out before the recent Senate polls, so I’m not going to get very deep. As you might imagine, we don’t have much history of Land Commissioner polling, mostly because most people know nothing about the General Land Office or the candidates for it. We do have this result from June 2014, in which then-candidate George P. Bush led former El Paso Mayor John Cook by a 36-25 margin, in a poll where Greg Abbott led Wendy Davis 44-32. (Here’s where I say that I sure wish this poll also included a Beto/Cruz number, for comparison purposes.) In some sense, this is probably akin to a generic R/D poll result, and I will note that the UT/Trib poll from this June had a “generic Congress” and “generic Lege” question, in which Dems were even closer than this. Does any of this mean anything? I don’t know. But now you know what I do know.

Interview with John Cook

John Cook

John Cook

The office of Land Commissioner is often overlooked, but it has a role to play in a whole lot of aspects of state government. From state parks to beaches to mineral rights, from the Alamo to veterans issues to the Permanent School Fund, there’s a whole lot the Land Commissioner does. Outgoing Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson was and is generally well regarded for his stewardship of the office. Aiming to succeed him is former El Paso Mayor John Cook. Cook, like Patterson a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, had a long career as a Manager of Network Operations with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company followed by time as a school teacher before being elected to El Paso’s City Council. As Mayor of El Paso, he helped pass a domestic partner benefits law, and survived a subsequent recall effort over it. He’s also an accomplished musician, officially making him the most well-rounded candidate on the ballot this year. Here’s what we talked about:

Barring anything unforeseen, this is my last candidate interview (though not my last interview; there will be one more next Monday) for the 2014 cycle. As noted before, the judicial Q&As will continue through the end of the week and possibly beyond, depending on whether I get more responses or not.

More on the Denton fracking referendum

I think everyone agrees the Denton anti-fracking referendum will wind up in court if it passes. It’s just a question of how wired the courts will be for the plaintiffs.

Voters will decide whether the city will become the state’s first to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – the method of oil and gas extraction that has led to a domestic energy boom. But passage of a ban would probably trigger another fracking fight: a legal clash over a city’s power to regulate for health and safety and the rights of mineral owners to develop their resources. The outcome could reshape Texas law at a time when drilling is causing tension in some of its urban areas.

“It’s going to be one of those first-time tests, and I don’t think there’s a clear answer out there in Texas law,” said Jim Bradbury, a Fort Worth-based lawyer who focuses on environmental and energy issues.

The Denton measure would not prohibit drilling outright; it would apply only to fracking, which involves blasting apart rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water hauled in by trucks. After gathering nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban on fracking, opponents forced the City Council to vote on it. Council members rejected the proposal last week, leaving the decision to voters.

Denton, a city of 121,000 with more than 270 gas wells scattered among its neighborhoods, is one of several cities that has tried to ban fracking. That includes towns in New York, whose highest court last month upheld local ordinances banning the practice. The state of Colorado has sued its cities that have banned fracking and is pushing back against ballot measures that would toughen regulations. The prospect of such a ban in Texas – a leading oil and natural gas producer — has put Denton in a bright spotlight, rankling industry leaders and the state”s Republican leadership.

“If one community after another continues to say ‘Not in my backyard,’ then before long, a tsunami of exclusion will jeopardize our freedom as a country profits as a corporate entity,” said Chris Faulkner, the chief executive of Breitling Energy in Dallas, one of many industry representatives who spoke at City Hall before the Council”s vote.

I fixed your quote for you, Chris. The debasement of the word “freedom” is one of the great travesties of the 21st century so far.

Though Texas courts have occasionally considered cities’ drilling regulations, they have yet to see a case of such size and scope, legal experts say.

Texas law says the state intends its mineral resources to be “fully and effectively exploited,” but courts have said the power is not absolute. The Railroad Commission has jurisdiction over all oil and gas wells in the state, with authority to adopt “all necessary rules for governing and regulating persons and their operations.” Local governments have the right to impose reasonable health and safety restrictions, and the Legislature has granted most Texas cities, including Denton, the power to “regulate exploration and development of mineral interests.”

The state has long regulated most aspects of drilling, including well integrity, pipeline safety, and air and water impact, while cities have typically controlled noise and authorized the location of wells or related facilities like compressor stations. Now, a key question is where fracking falls in that spectrum.

Tom Phillips, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court from 1988 to 2004, said he would expect courts to side with the energy industry — by ruling that the ban unconstitutionally supersedes state law or that it makes gas beneath the city too difficult to tap and amounts to a taking.

Phillips, now a lawyer with the firm of Baker Botts, who was asked to review the proposal for the Texas Oil and Gas Association, said state law gave cities less stringent options for protecting health and safety at well sites, and that Denton “can’t just say no” to fracking.

Other legal experts acknowledge that state high courts tend to favor oil and gas interests, but say that Denton could make a compelling argument that a fracking ban would not wipe out all options to drill.

“To say that this is a slam dunk, it’s a taking, I think that’s painting with an overly broad brush,” said Terrence Welch, a lawyer who has helped write drilling ordinances in several Texas cities. “The property — the mineral estate isn’t left valueless. You can drill, but you just can’t frack.”

See here for the background. It’s hard to be optimistic about how the courts might rule if you’re a ban supporter, but I suppose anything is possible. And I’ll say again, if the Railroad Commission wasn’t such an utter lapdog for the industry and people in places like Denton had any reason to believe that true regulatory oversight with actual enforcement was in place, this referendum would not exist. There would be no need for it.

One more thing:

Jerry Patterson, Texas’ outgoing land commissioner, warned in a letter last week that the state would “pursue any available remedy to ensure the right to develop” those minerals.

George P. Bush, the Republican nominee in this year’s election to succeed Patterson, said he supported that stance. “We don’t need a patchwork approach to drilling regulations across the state,” he said. But John Cook, Bush’s Democratic opponent, disagreed, saying that “local communities need to have a say” in quality-of-life issues.

Know who you’re voting for this fall, people of Denton.

Convention coverage

Wendy and Leticia and a whole host of others rally the crowd in Dallas.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte shared the spotlight at the Texas Democratic Party convention on Friday night, promising to change the direction of the state, ripping their Republican opponents and imploring Democrats to break the GOP’s two-decade grip on state government.

Davis attacked her Republican opponent, matching his attacks at the GOP convention in Fort Worth earlier this month, and talked fighting insiders in Austin.

“I’m running because there’s a moderate majority that’s being ignored — commonsense, practical, hardworking Texans whose voices are being drowned out by insiders in Greg Abbott’s party, and it needs to stop,” she said.

Davis spoke about her background, her kids and her grandmother, all as a way of establishing her Texas roots and values.

She talked about what she would do if elected, promising full-day pre-K “for every eligible child,” less testing in public schools, less state interference with teaching, more affordable and accessible college. She also implied she would end property tax exemptions for country clubs as part of property tax reform, and end a sales tax discount for big retailers who pay on time.

She took some swipes at her opponent, too.

“Unlike Greg Abbott, I’m not afraid to share the stage with my party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, my colleague, mi hermana, Leticia Van de Putte,” she said. When the audience hooted, she cautioned them: “Now you guys don’t clap too much or Greg Abbott will sue you.”

The insider slam on Abbott was woven into Davis’ nine pages of prepared remarks. “You see, Mr. Abbott cut his teeth politically as part of the good old boys network that’s had their hands on the reins for decades,” she said. “He’s been in their service and their debt since he ran for office, and as a judge and a lawyer he’s spent his career defending insiders, protecting insiders, stacking the deck for insiders and making hardworking Texans pay the price.”

Davis said Abbott accepts large contributions from payday lenders “and then clears the way for them to charge unlimited interest rates and fees.” She blasted him for taking contributions from law firms that handle bond deals approved by the office of the attorney general, and for saying state law does not require chemical companies to reveal what they are storing in Texas communities.

“He isn’t working for you; he’s just another insider, working for insiders,” she said.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Van de Putte, who spoke immediately before Davis, promised not to back down from the fight against Dan Patrick, her opponent for lieutenant governor. She said she would instead fight to “put Texas first.”

When she ran for student council president in junior high, she said, she was told she could not run because she was a girl.

“Well I did, and I won,” she said.

She said that lesson remains relevant now. “I need to run, not just because I am a girl, but because I want the responsibility. Because I know what needs to get done. And I know I’m the right person for the job.”

I love it when they talk tough. I’m not up in Dallas, though several of my blogging colleagues are. So far the reports I’ve heard are positive – lots of energy and excitement. One person even compared it to 2008, which is music to the ear. Obviously, the folks who take the time to go to a party convention aren’t the ones that need to be inspired to go vote, but they are the ones that will be doing a lot of the work to inspire others, so the more enthusiastic they are, the better.

As I said on Friday, the best thing you can do is work to help get the message out and get the voters to the polls. The next best thing you can do is pitch in financially. Democrats have done phenomenally well in grassroots small-dollar fundraising of late, which is both great and necessary since the other guys have a lot more megalomaniac billionaires on their side. Monday is the last day for this fundraising period, and while we can’t do much about the polling narrative right now, we can at least make sure that one part of the story is that our candidates will be in good shape to take the fight to their opponents this fall. So with that in mind, here’s where you can park that loose change that’s burning a hole in your pocket:

Wendy Davis

Leticia Van de Putte

Sam Houston

Mike Collier

John Cook

Steve Brown

If you can only give to one, I would advise you to donate to Leticia Van de Putte. Wendy Davis has already demonstrated that she can raise a ton of money, but Leticia needs to post a big number in July to ensure that every story written about her doesn’t contain a disclaimer about her ability to get her message out. Sam Houston and then Mike Collier are next in line. Those two plus John Cook and Steve Brown will have less effect on the ultimate outcome than the ladies will, but they are still very important.

“You just work with what you have rather than complaining that you don’t have it,” said John Cook, the land commissioner candidate. “That’s what our campaign is all about.”

Cook said he will focus less on the General Land Office and home in on the GOP’s controversial platform on social issues, which touts reparative therapy for gays and lesbians, among other measures.

“My job now is to point out the shortcomings of the Republican Party and the inclusiveness of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Brown, running for a seat on the state board that regulates oil and gas, has campaigned on increasing the Railroad Commission’s environmental stewardship and improving the agency’s fairness. He said he would work on communicating that to delegates at the convention.

Houston, vying to become the state’s chief lawyer, said he wants to depoliticize the attorney general’s office, saying that under Greg Abbott it too often has focused on fighting the federal government rather than finding solutions.

Collier said he intends to paint the tea party – and the Texas GOP, by extension – as anti-business for failing to support fully funding key state programs, such as public education, that ultimately aid business.

“If you understand business, you understand that you’ve got to invest to plan for the future,” Collier said.

The badness of the Republican statewide ticket doesn’t end with Dan Patrick. It’s rotten all the way down. Don’t forget about these guys, who will be working as hard as Wendy and Leticia with far less attention being paid to them.

John Cook mentioned the party platform, so let’s talk about that.

Roughly 7,000 delegates have converged on the Big D this weekend, two weeks after Texas Republicans met at the Fort Worth end of the Metroplex to hammer out a platform that drew national attention for its controversial planks on immigration and support for so-called “reparative therapy” to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality.

“All they did was talk about hating people,” Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said at a Thursday night reception. “This week, we’re in Dallas, Texas, talking about love, right?”

The Democratic Party platform will reflect that feeling, said Garnet Coleman, the Houston state representative in charge of leading the drafting committee for the last decade.

“Our platform is designed to include, not exclude,” Coleman said on Friday, the day before the draft document is viewed, debated and voted on by the permanent platform committee. “And I think their (the Republicans’) platform is an expression of values that are, quite frankly, outside of the mainstream.”

Coleman predicted the Democrats’ platform will not spark the heated debates of the Republican convention, where delegates fought over planks on immigration, medical marijuana and homosexuality, because of a “set of values” the party approved in 2004 and on which they have been building since.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of change,” Coleman said of the 2014 draft compared with its 2012 predecessor. The party will remain opposed to a guest worker program in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and the issue of child detainees on the border likely will not be included in the platform.

[…]

The most significant departure from previous years’ platforms likely will be the inclusion of a new plank regarding women’s issues, said Coleman. The section will focus on issues that affect women beyond family planning and abortion, such as wage disparity and other workplace challenges.

The transportation section also will see some additions, addressing what Coleman called the “non-sexy” issues of toll roads and highway building and maintenance funds.

“There’s not enough money to just maintain the highways we have, so that affects the ability for Texas to grow,” Coleman said, adding he would like to see a gas tax. “(Gov. Rick) Perry has made Texas highways into franchises for toll roads.”

As I’ve said before, no candidate is bound by their party’s platform, but I doubt you’ll find too many Democrats trying to back away or distract from the TDP platform. That especially includes the provisions on immigration.

Contrasting the GOP positions to their own, Democrats said it boils down to matters of inclusion and respect.

Like the Republicans, Democrats see immigration as a key to motivating voter turnout for the November general election.

In speech after speech Friday, Democratic Party luminaries ranging from Van de Putte to U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro to party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa bashed the GOP platform for its tough-on-immigrants, secure-the-border stance.

And when the Democrats approve their platform on Saturday, party officials said the result will feature most everything the Republicans’ did not.

“We are very supportive of a path to citizenship because there are people who are here and are very productive and have committed no crime and are adding to our economy,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, chairman of the party’s platform committee. “We are not for a guest-worker program, because that can become a form of indentured servitude.”

Throughout caucuses and forums on Friday, Democrats spent time focusing on the GOP platform that calls for tightening immigration enforcement, a position underscored in recent weeks by an unprecedented influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied apprehended after crossing the Mexican border.

“The Republicans have gone backward on immigration,” Castro told reporters. “You have a candidate in Wendy Davis that appreciates the contribution of immigrants throughout Texas history, and you have Republican candidates who use the border as a bogeyman. They use it to stoke fear. They use it to divide Texans, to turn Texans against each other and to win elections and the people of our state are tired of that.”

Stace seems to be pleased with developments so far, which makes me happy. There’s a lot more to come, but let’s stay focused on what’s important. Keep organizing, keep talking to the voters, and keep moving forward.

January finance reports for Democratic statewide candidates

BagOfMoney

With the exception of a stray missing report here and there, all of the January campaign finance reports for state office holders and seekers are up on the Texas Ethics Commission webpage. Here’s a brief look at the reports filed by Democratic candidates for statewide offices. I already have reports for the candidates in contested primaries on my 2014 Election page, so this is a chance to look at the uncontested candidates as well.

Governor

Wendy Davis
Wendy Davis SPAC
Wendy Davis GPAC

Ray Madrigal – No report

As you’ve probably read by now, Wendy Davis filed three campaign reports – basically, the first one is her previously existing Senate account, to which people were contributing before her official announcement that she was running for Governor; the second is her special purpose PAC account for her gubernatorial campaign, similar to the “Friends Of” or “Texans For” PACs that Republicans often use; and the joint Battleground Texas PAC that has gotten every Republican’s panties in a wad. I’m not going to rehash any of that, I’m just going to note with amusement that her total must have really freaked them out to have reacted so strongly instead of just pointing to Greg Abbott’s bottom line, which is enough to make Switzerland salivate. Davis certainly answered the question about her ability to raise the funds she’ll need, but once won’t be enough. She’ll need to post similar, if not better, numbers for July. But we’ll worry about that another day.

Lt. Governor

Leticia Van de Putte
Leticia Van de Putte SPAC

As with Wendy Davis, the first account is the pre-existing Senate account, and the second is for the Lite Guv race. Here are the details from each:

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Senate $154,087 $177,799 $235,084 LG SPAC $290,514 $ 21 $251,756 Total $445,601 $177,820 $486,840

I presume all of the expenditures came out of the Senate account, which makes sense. The SPAC was created on November 23, so basically it represents five weeks’ worth of fundraising, which isn’t too shabby. I didn’t go through its contributions, but I did go through the expenses for the Senate account, and I did not see any transfers from the one to the other, so that $290K figure is accurate and as far as I know doesn’t include redundant funds. For five weeks during the Thanksgiving/Christmas period, that’s a decent total, which would project to $1.5 million to $2 million at that pace for the July report. Not bad as I say, but not really enough, either. LVdP doesn’t need to be in Wendy’s league, but she does need to have enough to do some real statewide outreach. If she doesn’t raise at least $5 million for July, I’d be concerned she won’t be able to do that. On the plus side, she can hit up Wendy’s supporters, including and especially the big-dollar ones. I feel confident that she is more than up to this challenge, but if you’ve donated to Wendy and not to Leticia, you need to rectify that.

Attorney General
Comptroller

Sam Houston
Mike Collier

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Houston $184,595 $ 41,216 $153,678 Collier $213,518 $170,791 $439,015

I put these two together, because they’re the only other candidates to report significant fundraising totals. Houston’s report begins in October, whereas Collier had the whole six month period in which to raise money. Both did pretty well, with Collier’s totals being boosted by $400K in loans ($250K from himself, $150K from his company; Houston reported $10K in loans as well). Collier spent $30K on video production, and $50K on “website design and video advertising”; he also spent many thousands on consultant fees, which I didn’t add up. As Van de Putte needs to kick it up by an order of magnitude this period, so do these two. I’d be happy with $2 million raised from each. We know the base is big enough to support Wendy’s campaign, and I’m confident that support will extend to LVdP. Will it reach this far? I hope so.

Ag Commissioner
Land Commissioner
Railroad Commissioner

Kinky Friedman
Hugh Fitzsimons
Jim Hogan

John Cook

Steve Brown
Dale Henry

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kinky $26,416 $ 4,256 $22,159 Fitz $27,200 $ 6,549 $74,401 Hogan $ 0 $ 3,750 $ 0 Cook $13,153 $17,010 $ 0 Brown $ 4,455 $ 5,661 $ 0 Henry $ 0 $ 0 $ 0

Not a whole lot to say here. Fitzsimons had $50K in loans, and Cook, the former Mayor of El Paso, had a bit more than $19K in loans. I’m not exactly sure why neither Cook nor Brown reported any cash on hand, but it’s not that important. With the exception of Kinky, none of these folks will have much in the way of name recognition in November, but then neither will any of their opponents other than Baby Bush. From this point on, it’s all about the top of the ticket.

Supreme Court
Court of Criminal Appeals

William Moody
Larry Meyers
Gina Benavides

John Granberg

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Moody $ 7,500 $ 9,358 $ 4,037 Meyers $ 1,000 $ 3,750 $ 441 Benavides $ 2,500 $ 3,750 $ 0 Granburg $ 780 $ 5,296 $ 780

Again, not much to say here. I thought Larry Meyers might have a few bucks stashed away just due to his longevity, but apparently not. He does have about $94K in outstanding loans, presumably money he has already spent. In case you’re wondering, that $3,750 figure you see is the filing fee. Again, these races are determined by the top of the ticket more than anything else. Maybe the state party will raise some money to campaign for the slate as a whole.

That’s it for these reports. I’ll look at others as we go along.

Dems have a Comptroller candidate

BOR introduces us to Mike Collier.

Mike Collier

Earlier this month the Burnt Orange Report wrote about a “Mystery Houston-Area Democrat” who was building a statewide team, it turns out that man is Mike Collier, and he wants to be the next Comptroller for the state of Texas. The Houston businessman believes our state government needs an experienced CFO to handle its complex accounting and to hold our current elected officials accountable.

Collier not only wants the job, but believes he is the most qualified. He says Texas needs a Comptroller with a professional financial background and one who is not using the position as a stepping stone for higher office.

“For too long, the people we’ve hired to mind Texas’ tax dollars have been more interested in their political ambition than in holding politicians accountable. Texas needs a Comptroller who has the courage to tell taxpayers the truth and who has the know-how to hold the Texas legislature accountable.”

Collier says his business experience will be attractive to conservatives but that, “the Comptroller shouldn’t be beholden to the Republican party,” instead they should offer an independent view of the state’s finances. He served as executive assistant to the world chairman of Price Waterhouse, the world’s largest professional services firm with over 100,000 employees. He was a partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers for a dozen years and for a time served as a Merger and Acquisition consultant for their major energy clients. He left PWC to become Chief Financial Officer for an energy company. He then met a crossroads after he helped sell the company two years later — take a lucrative job in the private sector or step up and run for public office.

[…]

He is encouraged by the crowded field in the Republican primary which could leave the emerging candidate bloodied and broke. Another reason he cited was the “Wendy Davis factor”. He looks forward to her campaign energizing the donor base and spearheading an effective effort to get out the vote, but says that it’s her polling with anglos that could give Democrats the best opportunity to win that they have had in a very long time.

I am not yet acquainted with Mr. Collier, but I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to meet him soon enough. Collier joins John Cook in the potential Democratic field for 2014, though of course we’re all just waiting for Sen. Wendy Davis’ announcement and to see what follows from there. I have heard about some other candidate recruitment going on, but nothing that I can say out loud just yet. I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about once we know what Sen. Davis’ decision is. In the meantime, welcome to the race and best of luck to you, Mike Collier.

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.

We may have our first Democratic statewide candidate

And it’s John Cook, outgoing Mayor of El Paso.

Former El Paso Mayor John Cook will seek the Democratic nomination for Texas land commissioner in 2014, he told the El Paso Times Wednesday night.

“I think it’s an embarrassment to the city of El Paso, being one of the largest cities in the United States, that we’ve never had a candidate elected to a statewide office,” Cook said after attending a talk at the Wyndham Hotel by the Rev. Barry Lynn of Citizens United for Separation of Church and State.

There’s a brief video clip at the link, in which Cook adds that other than Judge Bill Moody, there have basically been no candidates for statewide office from El Paso. I’m glad he has decided to change that. Among the things Cook was known for as Mayor of El Paso was passing a domestic partner benefits ordinance, which led to a recall effort against him and two other Council members that he ultimately survived after a court threw out the petitions. The HuffPo had a great story about Mayor Cook and the fight he led for domestic partner benefits in El Paso.

John Cook

Deep in the heart of Texas, Cook has taken a stance on rights for gay and lesbian couples. And the former Catholic seminarian and Brooklyn native is arguing with his opponents in the words of a man who’s unafraid of a fight.

“To me this was always about bigotry,” Cook said. “Intolerance is bigotry.”

The path toward the recall efforts began in 2009, when the city council approved benefits for domestic couples — both gay and straight. Religious leaders quickly caught on, and in the ensuring firestorm they proposed a referendum to ban those benefits. It passed with 55 percent of the vote in 2010. But Cook wasn’t done just yet — with the help of most of the city council, he had a different partner benefits ordinance approved.

[…]

Cook said he is willing to fight — and in terms that might surprise some. He noted that “all of my education in New York City, all the way up through Saint Francis College, was in Catholic school.” He even spent a year in seminary after college.

“I read the Bible every day,” he said. “I’m challenging the argument that the other side is using, which is trying to make this a moral and spiritual issue. And if they want to argue on that basis, I’m very capable of doing that, too.”

More than 50 percent of El Pasoans do not have health coverage, he noted, and it would violate everything he stands for if the number of people who do have coverage decreased. And the government, he added, has no business enforcing an Old Testament moral code on its citizens.

“Where do I stop?” he asked. “Do I all of a sudden say … when you call 911 when you’re divorced, committing adultery, you ain’t going to get no ambulance or fire truck? And don’t expect me to pick your trash up, because that would be condoning sin?”

“It’s time for elected officials to start taking what they believe in and make it popular, not taking what’s popular and making it what they believe in,” Cook said.

I don’t know about you, but I could sure get behind that. Cook would of course be running against Republican cover boy/dynast George P. Bush. I wish Mayor Cook all the best and hope that he soon has plenty of company on the ticket. Texpatriate has more.

More on the domestic partner benefits fight in El Paso

The Trib covers the fight over domestic partner benefits in El Paso.

Pastor Tom Brown wants homosexuals to repent and turn to Christ. He certainly does not want them to be given taxpayer-financed health benefits.

Brown, the charismatic leader of Word of Life Church, an independent evangelical congregation of about 1,500 members, is on a mission to ensure that the domestic partners of city workers no longer get health insurance. He is spearheading an effort to oust the mayor and two City Council members who supported an ordinance allowing the city to pay for the health benefits of unmarried employees’ domestic partners — gay and straight.

“They want to reward fornicators, and they want to reward homosexuals,” Brown said in an interview, his voice booming with indignation as he occasionally pumped his fist for emphasis.

The bitter battle over the ordinance and the resulting campaign to get rid of Mayor John Cook, along with the council members, Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega,is dividing a city that prides itself as a liberal Democratic stronghold. For some, it is a symbolic struggle over El Paso’s identity. For others in this deeply religious, and largely Latino community, the fight is one that city leaders brought upon themselves and have badly bungled.

“These are the things that define a city, and they’re worth fighting for,” Byrd said.

See here for more background. I’m sympathetic to the argument that a City Council should not re-pass an ordinance that had been repealed by popular vote. I agree that the remedy for those who have been aggrieved by such a Council is at the ballot box. I don’t have a problem with the process here. My problem is a moral one. I am unfamiliar with a definition of Christianity that is consistent with the beliefs of Pastor Brown and the actual teachings of Jesus. Putting that aside, he’s just wrong. And I hope he loses his wrong-minded, immoral fight.

Keep an eye on El Paso

While we celebrate the advancement of civil rights in San Antonio, we must keep in mind that these fights are never truly over. The El Paso City Council voted to extend health insurance to domestic partnerships in 2009, but that was overturned at the ballot box last November. Undaunted, Council passed another ordinance in June, with Mayor John Cook (who proposed the ordinance) casting a tiebreaker vote in favor. One of the leading opponents of the domestic partner benefits threatened to initiate a recall effort against those who supported the new ordinance, and last week he and his cohorts turned in their petitions, with (apparently) enough legal signatures to recall Mayor Cook and the two returning Council members who voted with him. There are still legal matters to be decided before a May recall election can go forward, but it’s clear that this matter is far from settled. I for one will not be surprised if there is a similar effort to turn the clock back in San Antonio as well. We’ve come a long way, but there is no finish line. Wherever we are, there’s still a long way to go.