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FUBAR-Cam Update: Capitol evacuation possible due to dangerous disturbance in the space-time continuum

Capitol-watchers were disturbed and confused last night when it became apparent that even though it was 11:58 p.m. in the East side of the Capitol, it was simultaneously 2 a.m. on the West side of the Capitol.

Those in proximity to the House chamber noticed nothing amiss. However, those observing the Texas Senate noted that several Senators seemed to appear to be getting younger. Witnesses were primarily going by the behavior of the Senators working on the floor.

Dr. Albert Einstein was unavailable for comment.

The following two pictures taken of action in the House and Senate chambers were taken at the same time, only moments ago.

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Republicans challenged to a Deuell

Conservative Republican state Senator Bob Deuell said something that raised eyebrows on the floor of the Texas Senate yesterday. After losing Republican votes for a measure he supports to provide for a needle exchange program for drug addicts, thus saving lives, his amendment was stripped from the bill. His reaction:

I think it’s time, especially for you Republicans, that if we’re to remain a viable party, we need to start looking at medical facts and dealing with reality and not dealing with black helicopters and other myths that are out there by the right wing extremists.

Deuell’s frustration is not without merit on many issues. In this case, for the sake of those extremists, people will die. And oh yeah, did I mention that Senator Deuell is also a medical doctor – the only one in the Senate?

It also works in public education: when Republicans support extremists for positions of authority who pretend that creationism has any basis whatsoever in science, children don’t get well-educated.

It also works in public health: when Republicans fail to support CHIP expansion, or eliminating waiting lists for Texans with disabilities, or expanding Medicaid eligibility, all for the sake of fighting “big government” on behalf of extremists, people suffer, people get sick, and people die.

I could go on and on, on policy position after policy position, in almost the entirety of government functions.

Senator Deuell’s frustration yesterday provides a rare glimpse into Republican fears that Texans are noticing what is being done, and not done, in their names. But it’s not for average ordinary Texas families that these public policy priorities are pursued, but rather for a couple hundred thousand faithful Republican primary voters’ whims.

We’re about to witness this partisan suicide attempt on a National level, with President Obama’s nomination of a Hispanic woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. Everybody in politics knows that conservatives would have strongly opposed whoever Obama picked – it’s their job. But since Obama picked a woman and a Hispanic, Republican U.S. Senators, in their never-ending efforts to suck up to the ever-shrinking Republican ultra-conservative base, are about to alienate women and Hispanics from coast-to-coast for the next few months.

The good news for everybody else: if Republicans keep representing only a few elite extremists, at the expense of the rest of us, their base will shrink so small that they won’t even be able to fill up that black helicopter with their supporters.

Senator Deuell’s Republican colleagues didn’t listen to him yesterday. Someday, they’ll wish they had.

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She stopped by, but didn’t have an appointment

Last week, attention here and elsewhere turned to Shanda Perkins, one of Governor Perry’s appointments to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Perkins’ claim to fame is that she contributed to a woman getting arrested for selling sex toys (courts later dismissed the charge, and overturned the state law it was based on). She’s also a Republican Party operative, most recently spotted handing out anonymous fliers attacking Kay Bailey Hutchison on behalf of Perry.

With those stellar qualifications, Perry appointed her to the board that decides whether people live or die, and whether people remain imprisoned or are set free. Perkins said it’s where her passion is. That, plus the $90,000 salary, I’m guessing. Did I mention that Perkins is unemployed?

They didn’t count on Senator John Whitmire.

Whitmire is the most senior member of the Texas Senate. As chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, other Senators of both political parties defer to his expertise on such matters. Whenever Dean Whitmire decides to act on something, he can be a one-man wrecking ball.

When Perkins’ nomination hit the Senate floor for confirmation Wednesday, Whitmire moved to sever it, then moved to recommit Perkins to the nominations committee, effectively killing the appointment. By the time Whitmire was done with her, all the Democrats and many of the Republicans – apparently including some who had voted for the nomination in committee – voted to help bust this appointment.

None of the above should be big news. The reason it is news is because yesterday, Perkins became the first gubernatorial nomination in decades to be busted on the Senate floor.

The Texas Constitution says that all key gubernatorial appointments must get Senate confirmation, then sets a high bar of support for it – a two-thirds vote. Yet, for years the Senate has been merely rubber-stamping governors’ appointments. These appointees run state government on a day-to-day basis.

That Perry thought he could appoint someone to a highly-paid position who has absolutely no qualifications for the job isn’t Perry’s fault, in light of the fact that nobody can remember an appointment being busted on the Senate floor for the last 25 18 years. Legislators, through their inaction, have been signaling to a generation of governors that they can do anything they want on this front.

Legislators are prone to calling in state agency heads and grilling them on the mis-deeds of their agency. Many times, those agency executives are the same people who were appointed by the Governor and confirmed by those same legislators, with little oversight or due diligence during that important hiring process. Then those same legislators are shocked – SHOCKED – when the result is mismanagement at the agency, or when the agency doesn’t have the best interest of Texans as its highest priority. The same legislators might put a moment of thought into whether they had the best interest of Texans in mind when they opted not to make confirming those appointments a priority in the first place.

The Senate acted yesterday in a way which should make all Texans proud, Republicans and Democrats alike. Please take a moment to thank them, and ask for more of the same.

I’ll start: on behalf of those who believe that the criminal justice system plays the key role in keeping folks safe, who believe it’s crucial that dangerous people not be set free prematurely, who believe it’s a moral imperative that those who serve their time and who are not a continuing danger to society not be imprisoned longer, and who believe that those wrongfully convicted and imprisoned are worth fighting for – thank you John Whitmire.

And oh yeah, also spend a few minutes today photoshopping the picture of Perkins. You know you wanna.

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Inquiring legislative minds want to know…

Which two Senators called Leticia Van de Putte “Babydoll?” And were these two separate incidents, or was it a group thing?

Who’s been calling Lois Kolkhorst “Sweetie?”

What’s the untold story on Judith Zaffirini’s hem line and stiletto heels?

Who tried to get a little too affectionate with Florence Shapiro?

And most of all, who the hell is “cutie patootie” and why weren’t Wendy Davis and Joan Huffman in this story??

Tune in next week, for our next episode of Texas Legislature: Like High School, But With Lots More Money.

UPDATE: As a service to you, the crap-reading public, feel free to click on either of the following buttons, print onto adhesive label paper, and wear in the Capitol today.

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Thanks for coming, do you have an appointment?

Interesting doings in the Texas Senate yesterday.

Among the Senate’s duties is the confirmation of the Governor’s appointments to various state boards and commissions. In other words, these appointees run state government.

Yesterday, the nomination of Dr. Bryan Shaw came up, to continue as one of three commissioners over the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Most of the Senate Democrats opposed the confirmation, based on the silly notion that the state agency charged with protecting the environment should…well, you know…do a little of that from time to time.

During the course of that debate, Republican Senator Mike Jackson, who chairs the Senate Nominations Committee, the first stop for all these appointees, remarked in defense of Dr. Shaw that the Senate needs to look beyond policy differences, and instead cast their votes based on a particular appointee’s qualifications, experience, and expertise.

Fair enough, Chairman Jackson. Let’s talk about Shanda Perkins. Ms. Perkins is pending in Jackson’s Nominations Committee, as a Perry appointee to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Her committee hearing is today.

What are Shanda Perkins’ qualifications? Well, she led a revolt against sex toys.

Her holy quest to rid Planet Earth of the scourge of people doing whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes landed one woman in jail, and the whole mess ended up in Federal Court. The courts eventually ruled that Ms. Perkins’ goal, and the law that goes with it, is unconstitutionally illegal.

Perkins’ only other qualification for appointment by Perry seems to be that she was caught passing out anonymous fliers attacking Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison at Republican events.

So what’s it gonna be, Mr. Chairman? Is the talent bar in Texas so low these days that we’re going to entrust decisions, regarding who remains in prison and who is set free, to a political hack anti sex toy crusader who is unconcerned with the U.S. Constitution?

The appointment is an embarrassment. Jus’ sayin’.

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Funny thing happened on the way to the legislative dumpster

Irony reigned supreme in the Senate yesterday, involving my new best friend Dan Patrick.

Senator Patrick’s SB 357, which is a bill I’m not so sure I’m in favor of dying because it has such a catchy bill number, went down in flames in a vote in the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee yesterday morning. The vote was a tie, 4-4, and a tie is a fail, since it doesn’t have a simple majority of those voting. Since there is no way to revive a bill once it goes down unless one of the Senators voting “no” quickly changes his or her mind and moves to reconsider, SB 357 is deader than my granddaddy’s dog.

But wait, not so fast. Later in the day yesterday, 47 days after the Constitutional deadline for filing new legislation, Senator Patrick filed a shiny new bill, SB 2568, a duplicate of the bill which already failed. On one single day, the bill was filed (requiring suspension of the state constitution), referred to committee (in record time), announced for consideration by the committee (requiring Senate rule suspensions), and considered in committee, again.

Oh yeah, by the way, Patrick, who is bypassing all kinds of Constitutional and Senate rules because he didn’t muster up a simple majority vote on his bill, is the Senator who fought to raise the bar for debating legislation up to a 3/5’s super-majority.

And incidentally, the bill is anti-immigrant, and anti-small business.


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Dear Texas Senate:

While you were busy doing all that Senatoring, what was the House doing? Entertaining my favorite comedian, of course. What did you think they were doing, passing your bills?

[thanks for the video, Statesman]

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The Vice Chair of Vice

The Texas Legislature has always been focused on your sins, and this session is no exception.

So as a service to you, the crap-reading public, Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters herein presents the LFT Sin Legislation Search Engine.

Click here for pending bills regulating sex.

Clink here for pending bills regulating gambling.

Click here for pending bills regulating smoking.

Click here for pending bills regulating drugs.

Click here for pending bills regulating alcohol.

(if any of the results generated seem a bit off-topic, don’t blame me – it’s what comes up in the applicable Legislative Council bill search)

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The Incredible Shrinking Political Party

About that Rick Perry guy.

He’s been pummeled from all fronts lately; from daily newspapers and the blogs, to the political satire shows such as Colbert Report; because of the dust-up regarding secession.

He’s been pummeled from all fronts, that is, except for the only front that matters to him. In the process, he’s in a better position than ever to win his race for the Republican nomination for Governor. In the process, he also stands to further erode the Republican brand in Texas, puts in danger his own election in November, and makes more tenuous the political positions of down-ballot legislative Republicans across Texas.

I’ve spent the last few months as a voice of dissent, explaining to those who asked why I think Kay Hutchison could, indeed, beat Perry in the Republican primary. On paper it makes perfect sense. The economy sucks. As a result, people feel threats which are very personal to their families.

With that background, it is easy to imagine that the hotbutton issues which usually drive conservative voters when times are good – abortion, prayer in schools, taxes, immigration, that sort of thing – would take a back seat to pocketbook issues. like the jobs these voters are losing, the health care their families lost along with the job, the resulting cash crush which prevents them from paying the notes on the houses they live in, and the cars they drive.

The traditional Republican hotbutton issues are to Perry’s benefit. The pocketbook issues may not be. And with the economy in a shambles, I believed for a while that the timing was right for Hutchison to find a solid base, even among ultra-conservative Republican primary voters in Texas.

Perry’s secession comments completely changed the game.

Perry’s comment (in reality, little more than a failure to refute) tapped into a deep-seated frustration among libertarian and ultra-conservative activists, and has put him solidly back into the game. But at what cost?

Let’s back up. The last time a Democrat won state-wide was in 1994. Through long years littered with losing Democrats, Republican pollsters have advised their clients on how to win their next election: by teaching them that general elections don’t matter. They’ve told their candidates that if they want to be successful as a Republican, they must win their Republican primary, period. Which means that the only voters one must be popular with – are Republican primary voters.

And for 15 years, fair enough – and true enough. Statewide Republicans following those instructions have all taken office.

What those instructions haven’t accounted for, however, is how to grow a political party. In fact, over time it shrinks it.

If all you do as a political party is have a discussion with the relatively small group of primary voters, about the issues most important to them (and in some cases, only to them), by definition you ignore all other voters. Sure, in the short term you win the election, and you take office. But, as a statewide Republican, you also become more irrelevant and out-of-touch to all but about 900,000 voters in a state with 25 million people.

Those at the top of the majority party’s ticket always have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. They have a responsibility to themselves to win their own election, but they also have a responsibility to their party to ensure that the brand remains strong, so that their supporters – and not their opposition – win elections down-ballot. It’s the only way to further their policy agenda. It’s also the only way to avoid the personal blame if and when the majority party suddenly isn’t in the majority anymore.

There are Republican members of the Texas Legislature who won their last election by less than 4 percentage points in the last election. They’re running in the same real estate which elected Republicans by 14 percentage points a decade ago, and they’ve watched as their electoral advantage has eroded further in every subsequent election.

If I were one of those Republicans, I would be very upset with Governor Perry right now. Perry, in his zeal to attract those ultra-conservative voters, is alienating virtually all of the voters those legislators need. Perry’s pollster would call those voters “extraneous.” Down-ballot candidates call them “the winning margin.”

For those Republican candidates, consultants, and activists who would dismiss this, thinking that somebody like me doesn’t understand Republican Party politics: how the hell do you think we Democrats found ourselves in the minority in the first place? Did you think it was because you’re brilliant?

And for those voters who have been casting votes for Republicans for a decade or more, who increasingly believe the Republican Party is out of touch: they’re not out of touch at all – they’re just not in touch with you. They’ve been too busy sucking up to protesters.

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Politics makes for strange studio-fellows

Add your snarky opinion to the comments section on what you think Texas Senator Dan Patrick and I may have been discussing when this photo was snapped at the KXAN studio this morning.

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Letters From Texas News Flash

Capitol watchers were shocked Wednesday when Lt. Governor David Dewhurst discovered Senator Florence Shapiro making out with Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy.*
*this entire post is complete fiction. My apologies to all involved. But holy crap Dewhurst has great posture.

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200 years of misery

Texas Senator Rodney Ellis has been fighting the good fight for years on ensuring that the innocent are not convicted and sent to prison. And when the system fails and the innocent are convicted, Ellis fights to ensure that the errors are corrected, and that lessons are learned.

Earlier this week on the floor of the Senate, Ellis introduced several men, later found to be innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted, who had spent more than a collective 200 years in prison.

It escaped no one’s attention that all but one of the men is African-American. It was a moment which made all but the most hard-assed in the Senate stop and think.

But not everybody. Related legislation currently pending in the Senate on this subject is meeting with resistance. Why, I can’t imagine, but the shortcomings in our society, as reflected in our justice system, are obvious, highlighted here as only The Onion can.

As ridiculous as the parody is, it’s one of those “laugh to keep from crying” situations, which through humor shines a light on a very real and serious problem. That day in the Senate, Ellis talked about one man who was innocently convicted who was not present. The man couldn’t make it – his death while in prison made that impossible.

We all know that if you’re a conservative Republican legislator, you’re supposed to be tough on crime, even if it’s not a personal priority for you. We get it. Your failure to do so would result in a backlash against you from your Republican primary voters.

So fine, be tough on crime – but also realize that in the case of those sent to prison for crimes they did not commit, the real crime was committed by the State of Texas, and the real victims are sitting in jail.

And that combined 200 years those innocent men spent in prison? That’s longer than the combined service in the Texas Senate of Senators Wentworth, Shapleigh, West, Gallegos, Carona, Duncan, Fraser, Shapiro, Ogden, Jackson, Van de Putte, Estes, Averitt, Hinojosa, Deuell, Williams, Eltife, Seliger, Uresti, Hegar, Nichols, Patrick, Watson, Huffman, and Davis.

Those Senators worked hard to get where they are. Those innocent men worked harder, and longer, to get out of where we put them.

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Irony of the Day so far

Does anybody else find it interesting that the legislation deemed so crucially important, which would require more paperwork of voters, was held up today because of…wait for it…wait for it…paperwork?

Maybe this “paperwork” business isn’t quite the simple thing some legislators would lead us to believe it is.

This has been your Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters Irony of the Day.

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Q. How do you even begin to discuss what’s wrong with this?

A. Beats me.

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Legislating with the Stars

Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters, Time Machine Division, has fast forwarded to May. By then, the Texas Legislature’s daily deliberations could be on statewide T.V. every day. Let’s look in on the Texas Senate to see if Senator John Whitmire’s worry of additional grand-standing turned out to be justified:

Off-camera announcer: Welcome to today’s deliberations of the Texas Senate, brought to you by Tampax! (this offer void where prohibited; substantial penalty for early withdrawal)

Lt. Governor Dewhurst, from the President’s Desk: [slams gavel] The Senate will come to order; the Secretary will call the roll. But before that, I’d like to sing you a little number…this one kills ’em in the Catskills…a-one and-a-two and-a….

Off-camera director: Cut! Bring in the stunt Lt. Governor!

Senator Whitmire: Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute here, Mr. President, with all due respect, can we just get to the business at hand?

Senator Shapiro: Mr. President, respectfully, I agree with my good friend John Whitmire, who despite being a total liberal whose legislation my staff is trying to kill even as I speak, is still a good friend. We should get to the people’s business, which incidentally can be found on my website, www-dot-Florence-Shapiro-For-U.S.-Senate-dot-com. Texans can go to this very tasteful website to get a complete review of the high priority issues, and also a few recipes my family enjoys, which are both good and good for you, and….

Senator Patrick: Mr. President, may I be recognized for a motion to recess until such time as the Texas Senate cable channel may be viewed only by born-again Christians?

Dewhurst, taking a break from wrestling the stunt Lt. Governor from the podium: Senator Patrick, you are not recognized for that purpose.

Senator Patrick: In that case, may I be recognized to ask why Senator Gallegos is wearing a firefighters uniform, complete with helmet and air tank?

Dewhurst: Sorry, no. Senator Shapleigh, for what purpose do you rise?

Senator Shapleigh: Mr. President, I rise to explain to all Texans, wherever they may be, why the great City of El Paso is the greatest place on earth, and also to mention that we always get screwed, no matter what, despite the fact that I think we’re just great.

Dewhurst: So noted. Senator Van de Putte?

Senator Van de Putte: Mr. President, I’d like to be recognized to speak on my legislation stressing the importance of family planning.

Dewhurst: After raising about 23 kids, it’s about time you figured that out. [cue rim shot/audience laugh track] But, no. Instead, at this time the Chair lays out S.B. 20. The Secretary will read the bill.

Senate Secretary: S.B. 20, by Lucio and Hinojosa, sending every last red cent to the Rio Grande Valley.

Dewhurst: The chair recognizes Senator Lucio to explain the bill.

Senator Lucio: Thank you Mr. President. Mr. President and members, Senator Hinojosa’s and my legislation is good for Texas. And I will explain why in just a moment, but first, I would like to honor each citizen in my district, by name, alphabetically. First, Mr. Aaron Aardvark is a fine American and a close friend, who has distinguished himself by….

Whitmire: Mr. President, honestly – when are we going to get on with it??

Dewhurst: The Senate will stand at ease, pending these important messages from our sponsors. [slams gavel]

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