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March 6, 2015      11:02 AM

Smith: A Separate, Special Criminal Justice System for State Officials?

From the left on Huffman plan: "It would take jurisdiction away from Travis County and replace it with a four-step, pre-charges-filed special criminal justice system available only to state officials"

I can understand that many Republicans find it vexing that Austin is the state’s capitol city. Austin is, after all, a tolerant, creative town with eyes always looking toward the future and not some imagined past in which Jesus wrote the U.S. Constitution.It should be noted, by the way, that a goodly number of these Austin-haters love certain of the town’s features: great downtown bars and steakhouses with convenient valet parking paid for by lobbyists, for instance.

Much of the ire toward Austin these days is focused on the existence of the Public Integrity Unit at the Travis County District Attorneys office. GOP-dominated state government finds it irritating that prosecutors from a very Democratic county might be empowered to look into their more suspicious behavior, of which there is no lack.

Never mind that former Gov. Rick Perry already vetoed the state appropriation for the PIU. He did so back in 2013 when his attempted threats and bribes of the District Attorney failed to let him handpick a prosecutor of his own. We now know that he had plenty of reasons to seek control of the office. Among other investigations involving his regime at that time, prosecutors were investigating the Department of Public Safety’s no-bid contract with a Virginia defense contractor. The veto killed the investigation.

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By Glenn Smith

March 3, 2015      3:07 PM

Greenfield: A tax relief plan that is more efficient and effective

Armed with the numbers to back up his argument, Dr. Stuart Greenfield says the Legislature should offer real tax relief for all Texans while making the entire system less regressive

From the halls of the Governor’s Mansion to the cubicles in the Texas Capitol, just about everyone has heralded that tax relief will be bestowed on overtaxed Texans.

Governor Greg Abbott has said he would veto a budget plan that doesn’t give businesses “genuine tax relief.” Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate specifying how both property and business taxes will be reduced. Governor Abbot has said any budget must have at least $4 billion in tax relief for him not to veto.

Not to be outdone, the Senate under the leadership of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has proposed tax relief totaling $4.6 billion for the next two years. Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dennis Bonnen, has said, “We can do better” than the upper chamber. All this adds up to an established $4 billion tax cut floor. One would assume that the ceiling is the $102.8 billion in tax collections in the Comptroller’s estimate.

A recent University of Texas poll found 54 percent of the respondents were dissatisfied with their property taxes. For the sales tax and the business margins tax, 33 percent and 32 percent, respectively, were dissatisfied with those taxes. Of those dissatisfied with the property tax and the sales tax, over 90 percent indicated these taxes should be reduced.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

March 3, 2015      3:00 PM

Bearse: Leadership Amiss

From the Right: With the Netanyahu speech to Congress as the backdrop, Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues leaders should use their political capital to take the right risks

I am watching Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to Congress as I write. He knows how to give a serious speech. He has gravitas. With a firmness to his voice and his gaze, we see a leader who knows the stakes of nuclear negotiations with Iran. The petty politics of the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats that preceded the speech are made smaller by the seriousness of his message. It’s a view the American People need to hear, and that members of both parties in Congress should welcome as part of their oversight role of the Administration’s foreign policy.

Netanyahu’s seriousness and resolve underscore the lack of both in our leadership today. The world quickly crumbles when America refuses to lead. Not only is there no over-arching premise to the Obama foreign policy, but there is a dangerous hollowing of our military that has taken place. The trillion dollars in defense spending cuts, forced by the sequestration, have left our Army 100,000 soldiers lighter, less than half our Air Force squadrons combat-ready, and devastated the readiness of our Navy and Marine Corps too.

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By Eric Bearse

February 27, 2015      4:33 PM

Smith: Salem's Senate

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith says Lt. Gov. Patrick could potentially cement an alliance between Gov. Abbott and Speaker Straus immediately with a fight over Abbott’s picks for the UT Board of Regents

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Senate may not burn Gov. Greg Abbott’s three nominees to the University of Texas System board of regents at the stake. But after yesterday’s Senate Nominations Committee hearing, it is tempting to think that the nominees’ ankles sure must be feeling warm.

Abbott’s appointees –David Beck, Sara Martinez Tucker, and re-appointee Steve Hicks – are subject to Senate confirmation. It’s unimaginable that 1) Abbott could be so inept that he would lose such an early battle to Patrick; 2) Patrick could be so short-sighted that he would try to win it. Patrick faces two other centers of power: The governor’s office and Speaker Joe Straus’s House. Acting early to cement an Abbott-Straus alliance is not in Patrick’s interests, to say the least.

Still, if yesterday’s hearing is any evidence, Patrick does have a rather unicameral, neutered governor vision of Texas government. He’s even called for the creation of an Army of Christ to advance his personal Crusade against… well, I guess against anyone in Texas who disagrees with him. It is possible that Patrick truly believes himself anointed to lead an Army of Christ, although I think he’s more cynical panderer than a Christian warrior.  But I won’t question his faith. The route from sports bar owner to the Texas Senate might have passed near Damascus after all.

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By Glenn W. Smith

February 25, 2015      3:53 PM

Bearse: Is Anyone Paying Attention

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse says President Obama is dangerously downplaying the threat from ISIS.

This is what happens when you elect an elitist college professor as the leader of the free world. Here we have a terrorist organization with a vision to return the world to the 7th Century, beheading reporters, filling mass graves with infidels, and vowing to rid the earth of Christians, Jews, and Muslims who don’t conform to their fanaticism, and our president denies both their religious roots and the severity of their threat.

They have declared a caliphate over land larger in size than the United Kingdom. The severity and religious nature of their threat is recognized by the leaders across the Muslim world, and yet the president lectures America about passing judgment when so much evil was done in the name of Christ some 800 years ago.

Worse than the president’s refusal to call the enemy by its name is his inability to articulate a plan to defeat them. But thank God for Undersecretary of State, Richard Engel, who is committed to winning the war against ISIS over twitter. He declared a few days ago, “these guys are not BuzzFeed; they’re not invincible on social media.”

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By Eric Bearse

February 23, 2015      5:01 PM

Greenfield: Money, Money, Money, It Just Keeps Rolling In

Number cruncher extraordinaire Dr. Stuart Greenfield says Comptroller Hegar’s estimate might not be optimistic enough. Among other things, he notes oil production for the fiscal year will exceed one billion barrels. That hasn’t happened since 1978.

Newly elected Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s Biennial Revenue Estimate – the BRE – has been called quite optimistic by many commentators, especially given the dramatic decline in the price of crude oil. But the release of revenue collections for January indicates his estimate might not be optimistic enough.

Chart 1 shows the year-to-date (YTD) growth rate in tax collections for FY10 through FY15, and both the estimated growth rates from the Certified Revenue Estimate (1.8 percent) released in December 2013, and the current BRE (1.6 percent).  Check out the fact that YTD growth in tax collections (6.8 percent) is 325 percent greater than the estimated rate (1.6 percent).  The YTD growth rate in total state revenue (8.1 percent) is 80 percent greater than the estimated growth rate (4.6 percent).  

The latest estimate of state tax collections are projected to grow by 1.6 percent in FY15 and then increase by 2.4 percent in fiscal 2016 (FY16) and 5.6 percent in FY17. Total net revenue is expected to increase by 4.6 percent in FY15, increase by 1.7 percent in FY16 and then decrease by 1.9 percent in FY17.  

Table 1 shows state tax collections through January have increased by $1.2 billion or 6.8 percent, a rate comparable to that experienced in FY14 (6.7 percent).

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

February 20, 2015      3:05 PM

Smith: The Voucher Con

From the Left: Quorum Report's liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that Texans are too smart to fall for claims from voucher proponents

As a cub reporter back in the mid-1970s I covered an attempt by some West Houston, Galleria-area people to secede from the Houston Independent School District. The move, which would have carved out an affluent, all-white district, came not long after the federally mandated desegregation of Houston schools.  

Over the course of the public debate, the leader of the school secession movement pledged that the “Westheimer Independent School District” would 1) Use what had been HISD facilities; 2) retain HISD teachers; 3) follow the HISD curriculum. So, I asked him during a live public television interview show, what’s the point of creating a new school district if you are going to operate exactly like the old one? The secessionist leader, an affable attorney, paused a moment before answering, “Esprit de corps.”  

Webster’s online dictionary defines “esprit de corps” as “feelings of loyalty, enthusiasm, and devotion to a group among people who are members of the group.” In this case, “members of the group” were exclusively white, wealthy, suburban families who didn’t want to share a little esprit or anything else with those not belonging to their exclusive group.  

I thought of this when I read an excellent op-ed opposing vouchers in the Houston Chronicle by Houston attorneys Kelly Frels and David Thompson. Back in the mid-‘70s when the Westheimer school district fight took place, Frels was a brilliant young attorney representing HISD in a high-stakes legal contest. The efforts of Frels and his colleagues were successful, and the Westheimer district issue all but disappeared into history.  

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By Glenn W. Smith

February 18, 2015      1:57 PM

Bill Grusendorf: It is time for The Legislature to correct a 40 year old wrong

The head of the Texas Association of Rural Schools argues that it does not take much money to help rural schools and the issue he raises will not be resolved by the school finance case before the Texas Supreme Court

The Gilmer Aiken school finance law of 1949 awarded classroom teacher units (CTU) for each 25 pupils in average daily attendance (ADA). If for instance you only had 10 or 12 students in a class, you were extremely underfunded and this is what we call the diseconomy of scale for small/rural schools.

In 1975 then-Governor Dolph Briscoe appointed a study group within his office called the Governor's Office of Educational Research (GOER) to explore and evaluate the school finance laws passed in 1949 and make recommendations for improvement. Among the many recommendations that this group made was to recognize and fund the diseconomy of scale in small schools. 

During the 1975 legislative session, there was indeed a formula put in place to meet the challenge of teaching a class of less than 25 pupils. This recognition was a great step forward for rural Texas. However, there were those who still believed more consolidation should take place and demanded that certain small schools, labeled "small by choice," should be funded less than other small schools. This line of thought came to the fore that year during conference committee deliberations between the Senate and the House conferees.

The Governor’s staff was asked to suggest a way of defining districts that were “small by choice.” The response was to define a district as “small by choice” if it encompassed fewer than 300 square miles within the school district boundaries. This arbitrary definition has continued to underfund small school districts for over 40 years and very few districts have consolidated since that time.

To this day, the pupils and taxpayers in 471 school districts are penalized by this arbitrary decision.

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By Bill Grusendorf

February 17, 2015      3:20 PM

Bearse: What is Old is New

From the Right: Among other things, Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues that when it comes to property taxes, his fellow Republicans have fallen into a trap of trying to solve a local problem at the state level

The more things change, the more things stay the same. This session brings back memory of past battles. Hopefully our current leaders have read the minutes from the previous generation's meeting.

The push for school choice, to include vouchers, led by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, takes me back to 1999 when then-Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry led a similarly charged effort to pass a school choice bill that included a pilot voucher program for children in our largest urban areas.  

Senator Luna, seriously ill at the time, famously asked Lt. Gov. Perry to give him 24-hours notice so that he could travel to Austin to fight it. It came close to a vote, but never materialized. Future sessions saw vouchers bills fizzle. Then the issue seemed to go away for a few years. Now it is back with a vengeance.

I am skeptical it will pass this time, though the threshold is a couple votes lower in the Senate. Lawmakers listen to their superintendents when they call. Rural Republicans are not too keen on the whole concept. I will reserve judgment when I know more about the particulars of the bill, but I suspect the movement conservatives will get rolled by the education machinery.

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By Eric Bearse

February 16, 2015      4:04 PM

Greenfield: Expansion through Contraction: How to Benefit All Texans Through Expanding Health Coverage

In his guest column, number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield lays out a way to expand health coverage in Texas through the ACA with a “private sector free market” approach. “I’m not sure one could ask for anything more.”

A news story published in the Houston Chronicle under the headline “Medicaid expansion supporters see sliver of hope in Abbott” included this statement from John Davidson, a health care policy expert at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation:

"Rebranding Medicaid expansion as 'The Texas Solution' or 'The Texas Way' doesn't actually change the fundamentals…it is Medicaid, and that means it's an entitlement, and there's not much you can do about that."

Fortunately for all Texans there is a way, “The Pareto Way,” to provide a conservative-style “private sector free-market approach” in extending coverage to a million Texans while reducing state Medicaid outlays and hospital uncompensated care costs. That last reduction should allow local hospital districts to reduce their property tax rates. We call it “The Pareto Way” because everyone is made better off and no one is made any worse off.

There were some lawmakers during the 83rd Legislative Session, primarily Republican doctors Rep. John Zerwas and former Sen. Robert Deuell, who prepared legislation for consideration for a Texas solution for Medicaid expansion.

The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) did prepare a staff estimate of the costs to participate in the Medicaid expansion. The LBB estimated that to cover 932,000 Texans through the expansion for ten years would increase Medicaid outlays by $49.2 billion of which federal funds would cover $45.2 billion (92 percent) and the state’s obligation would be $4.0 billion. The state’s return would have been over 1000 percent, a return that even Warren Buffett would find significant.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

February 13, 2015      3:23 PM

Smith: The Real Scandal in College Admissions

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues the actual scandal is that there isn’t a genuine debate over making a college education available to every kid in Texas

We’re all shocked, shocked, I say, to learn that political connections were used to get otherwise unqualified students admitted to the University of Texas at Austin. This is news?

A report released this week, commissioned by the University of Texas System and conducted by Kroll Associates, confirmed that strings were pulled to get some kids into the university. I don’t know what the report cost, but it was a waste of money. For a very modest fee I would have prepared a beautiful report with charts and graphs and bells and whistles, too. I would have confirmed that this has been a practice at the nation’s public and private universities since there were universities in the nation.

Let’s be honest. America is not a perfected meritocracy in which achievement is carefully measured and rewarded. We do not all start at the same starting line. Many people get ahead who have not earned their success. Many deserving folk fail. Few among the successful admit that a little head start and a lot of luck helped them succeed, but it’s true in many cases.

The real scandal should not be exclusively about privileged admissions at UT. The scandal is that at the very same time some are pulling those strings to get their kids into college, they are arguing publicly that success in America is, in an absolute sense, a matter of self-reliance and personal responsibility. Except when it isn’t. It’s our lack of honesty regarding how privilege begets privilege that needs public acknowledgment.

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By Glenn W. Smith

February 11, 2015      3:05 PM

Bearse: Screws on the Loose

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse says folks on the left, right and in between have been shooting themselves in the foot this week

There has been so much inanity in the political world over the course of the last week that it amounts to an embarrassment of riches for your right-of-center columnist. Let’s start with the easiest target: Brian Williams.

There is not much to say that hasn’t already been said. Twitter and Facebook mockery has now placed him with Washington crossing the Delaware, and as the SEAL who shot Bin Laden. But here is what is interesting to me: as the anchor of the NBC evening news, Mr. Williams had one of the best gigs not just in the media world, but in the entire global marketplace. He was both a celebrity and the sober voice of truth.

That is why it is a strange phenomenon that someone with such an outsized role in American public life would still feel so insecure about his own place in society that he had to make himself even more important. We are not talking about little fibs, but big ones. Not things you would forget with time, but things you would never forget – such as the moment your helicopter started taking incoming fire. When you have made it to the top, the key is to be understated, not overstated. It seems he didn’t realize how good he had it.

Then there is the moral equivocator-in-chief who leads our country. He used a national prayer breakfast to make the point that all religions are guilty of bad behavior – or at least their adherents. It’s a true point, but it rang hallow.

Because the context is a savage enemy that has taken a radical interpretation of Islam as justification for the beheading, crucifixion and rape of its enemy. To say, “hey they are bad guys, but we have some bad guys too” harkening back to the crusades for atrocities in the name of Christ was just so much pabulum that it is a reminder that we have elected a president who has a mixed opinion about the goodness and rightness of America’s influence in the world.  

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By Eric Bearse

February 6, 2015      12:29 PM

Smith: A Vaccine Against Selfishness: Maybe We Have One. It’s Called Education.

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues the controversy over vaccines could prompt the Legislature to take positive steps on vaccinations and education

It is something of an understatement to say that America and Texas are in a bit of a mess when it comes to the kinds of moral decision-making necessary to maintain a healthy democracy.

A healthy democratic social fabric requires concern for others, or at least tolerance of others. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is once supposed to have questioned whether something called “society” even existed. The individual was all, in her mind. Well, Thatcher’s Mini-Me followers this side of the Atlantic (and some situational liberals) often entertain similar narcissistic, desert island fantasies of their own.

Take, for instance, the measles vaccine crisis. There are parents on the right and the left who refuse to have their children vaccinated for a variety of mumbo jumbo reasons. This, they believe, is their right. No matter that measles, which can and does kill, is once again spreading throughout the country.  Real science, medicine and a universal vaccination program had eradicated it in the U.S.

But some are arguing that individual interests come first, even if those individual interests kill their neighbors. This is not too strong a way to put it.

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By Glenn W. Smith

February 5, 2015      1:32 PM

Coppedge: Two Guys Do it One Way, Two Guys Do it Another...Which way is best for you

East Texas sophomores trump more senior members in committee assignments

In the Texas House of Representatives, the Speaker, elected by his fellow members, holds great power.   One of the greatest  powers is the Speaker's control of the composition and leadership of the various committees that hold hearings and bring legislation up for a vote (or block legislation from ever seeing the light of day).  

While a few committee assignments are made on the basis of "seniority", the majority of them are made by and at the sole discretion of the Speaker.  And all of the CHAIR and VICE-CHAIR appointments are made by the Speaker.      

For the average citizen and voter this matters only in that it is better for you if your State Representative serves on good committees and can be effective in passing legislation that benefits you and your fellow citizen who elected that person in the first place.  Or alternatively, they are more capable of stopping legislation that is detrimental to you and your community.

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By John Coppedge

February 3, 2015      2:14 PM

Bearse: How we deal with Islam

From the right--"To any objective observer, no nation has done more to protect Muslim peoples in the last 25 years than the United States."

There are more than 1.6 billion Muslims living in the world, representing nearly a quarter of the global population, and we haven’t a clue how to deal with them.

Rep. Molly White says that despite reports, her staff did not ask Muslim visitors to pledge allegiance to the United States on Muslim Day. I will take her word for it. But there is some irony that she would express concern about Muslim loyalty to America while propping up the flag of Israel in her office that day. I am a supporter of Israel, but I don’t think I would display a foreign flag when questioning the allegiance of other Americans to our flag.

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By Eric Bearse

January 30, 2015      11:59 AM

Smith: It is the fear mongers we should fear most

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that this week’s disruption at the Capitol is indicative of other underlying discrimination in Texas.

Last summer we learned that Houston had become the most racially and ethnically diverse city in America, making Texas one of the most diverse states. But among the diverse are some who hate the diversity, and two dozen of the bigots came to the Texas Capitol on Thursday to snarl and scream at some peaceful Muslims there to promote peace, tolerance and understanding.

The bigoted idiocy became national news when freshman state Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, instructed her staff to disrespect any of the Islamic faithful who might stop by her office on “Muslim Day.” White demanded her staff make them say the pledge of allegiance. I like the pledge. But White’s demand wasn’t honoring America. It was bullying and it dishonored Texas and America. As the late Molly Ivins might say (and I wish she was here to say it!), “Beloveds, we gotta find more flattering ways to make national news in Texas.”

House Speaker Joe Straus was clearly embarrassed by White’s stunt. He said, pointedly, “…legislators have a responsibility to treat all visitors just as we expect to be treated.”

I’d like to remind readers in distant lands that not all Texans are like Molly White or the ugly band of bigots screaming at the Muslims. The protestors carried signs indicating they were Christian. Jesus wept.

We are, generally, a tolerant bunch here in Texas. We have to be to put up with ourselves.

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By Glenn W. Smith

January 27, 2015      1:13 PM

Bearse: Searching for William Wallace

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues that one of the greatest personal freedoms is the freedom to contradict yourself

I have yet to hear anyone campaign on an anti-freedom platform. But at the same time, I’m not sure there are very many William Wallaces in The Legislature. The concept of personal freedom is a sticky wicket.  

I have written ad nauseum about the nanny state caliphate established by the left. They want to force you to take your groceries home in salmonella sacks. They want to take your gas-guzzling cars away by jamming up downtown traffic at 5:00 p.m. Yes, I believe traffic is a state-sponsored conspiracy as evidenced by the reduction in car lanes and the proliferation of compact parking spots in the People’s Republic of Travis County. They now have a city ordinance in Austin that prohibits people from holding their cell phone while driving because distracted driving statutes alone have not stopped accidents caused by those who text while driving. And we all know, if we pass another law to prohibit certain behavior, people will obey it. LOL!

But this stuff doesn’t always fall nice and neat along ideological lines. A lot of Republicans are in on the texting while driving bans. People in both parties want to rid the poor of the consequences of taking out a payday loan because no one should be forced to read the small print.

If the left wants to protect people from themselves, I suppose the right isn’t doing much better. We believe you should keep more of what you make so you can spend your money as you see fit, unless it is on blackjack, or liquor after 2:00 a.m.

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By Eric Bearse

January 23, 2015      10:01 AM

Smith: How Scrapping the Two-thirds Rule Disenfranchised 5.3 Million Texans

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues “Democracy can die, and moves to disenfranchise millions of voters – however worthy the cause at stake may seem to the disenfranchisers – will ultimately kill it.”

When the Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick-led Texas Senate eliminated the democracy-enhancing two-thirds rule, it effectively silenced the voices of 8.8 million Texans represented by Democrats. Oh, let’s give the Senate the benefit of the doubt and say only 60 percent of those voters are Democrats (all are from very safe Democratic districts), so only 5.3 million Texans were disenfranchised.

Back in the late-1980’s when I worked for then-Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, he and others made it very clear to me that the two-thirds rule, requiring 21 votes to bring a bill up for a floor vote, was there to protect voters. At the time Democrats controlled a solid majority. But Republican senators, and more importantly their voters, were not silenced. The wishes of their voters were respected, their proposals heard, their votes on key issues counted.

By reducing that number from 21 to 19, the Senate is trying to make its 11 Democrats irrelevant and their voters non- citizens. Republicans argue this is necessary if the will of Texas’ statewide electorate is to be honored. But that is precisely where American principles of democracy are subverted. The Texas Senate is not elected at-large. Like congressmen, state house members, city councils, school boards and county governments, we elect representatives from districts to guard against just this “tyranny of the majority.” By the way, I think John Adams coined the term.

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By Glenn W. Smith

January 20, 2015      5:34 PM

Bearse: It is a new day

From the Right: QR’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse reflects on the truly historic nature of today’s inauguration

This has been a surreal day for me, starting with the fact we had an inauguration ceremony and Rick Perry wasn’t there. For fourteen years and one month, he served as our governor. Two classes of students enrolled in kindergarten with Rick Perry as governor, and when they graduated he was still governor. Even editorial pages that have been adversarial over the years have written nice tributes to his tenure. Whether you were for him or against him, all sides recognize the transformative nature of his longevity, and his survival skills as a uniquely gifted politician (for whom I still have the pleasure of writing speeches.)

But while the ceremony was noticeable for who wasn’t there, it was versed in the familiar pomp and circumstance that surrounds this great democratic ritual. The only real difference is the Aggie band wasn’t there. The Ross Volunteers once again performed the saber arch. A noted pastor still delivered the opening prayer. The 21-gun salute (I only counted 17) accompanied the oath of the new governor. And the speeches set the tone (disclosure: I had a very small part in the crafting of Governor Abbott’s remarks today.) 

Governor Abbott reached broadly, speaking to our diverse heritage and using his diverse family as an unspoken metaphor for Texas’s past, present and future. He spoke in stirring terms about his own journey, and for me it was most poignant when he spoke slowly about being in a hospital bed 30 years ago, and arriving on this stage today to become Texas’ 48th governor. Yes, governor: the improbable is possible in Texas.

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By Eric Bearse

January 16, 2015      10:54 AM

Smith: A Very Bad Time for State Officials to Attack the Public Integrity Unit

From the Left: QR welcomes Democrat Glenn W. Smith as he argues Lt. Gov.-Elect Dan Patrick is on dangerous ground to continue Gov. Perry’s battle to gut the state’s ethics watchdog

Lt. Governor-elect Dan Patrick picked a politically bad time to announce that the Texas Senate budget wouldn’t include money for the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, the state’s ethics watchdog. New facts emerge daily in the ugly mess at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The Public Integrity Unit, the FBI and the Texas Rangers are all investigating the growing scandal at an agency headed by Patrick’s close friend, Kyle Janek.

Gov. Rick Perry already vetoed the current appropriation for the PIU, and Patrick may simply be following Perry’s lead. Of course, where Perry wound up leading – to a grand jury indictment – might have flashed a caution light for Patrick. If it did, he ran the light anyway.

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By Glenn W. Smith

January 15, 2015      5:15 PM

Bearse: Farewell Governor Dewhurst

From the Right: QR’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse says Dewhurst is a “constructive conservative, with a business acumen that tries to solve problems. We need more leaders like him, not less."

This week we welcomed back the greatest show on earth – not the Ringling Brothers, but the Texas Legislature.

For the new folks, I say welcome to Austin – home of bike lanes bigger than vehicle lanes, compact parking spots made for motorcycles, and re-usable salmonella bags because liberal social re-engineering has decided plastic is almost as evil as the Koch Brothers. And don’t get caught on a cell phone while driving. Such has been declared an act of sedition – even the very act of fondling a phone with your hand while driving could land you in the klink. Take your personal freedom outside the city limits, thank you very much.

It’s time to say goodbye to a few folks too. Of course, we know about Governor Perry who has now bid his farewell with a final address. Then there are former members, also known as lobbyists. Many statewides have already bid adieu. And then there is Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst, who says goodbye after 12 years as the head of the Senate Chamber. His departure has been overshadowed by that of our governor, but I believe he deserves some final words.

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By Eric Bearse

January 12, 2015      4:30 PM

Stanford: We’re Under Attack From Within

From the Left – QR’s liberal columnist Jason Stanford: “What happened to those folks at Charlie Hebdo was an atrocity, but paying heed to that terrorist attack is not a reason to ignore the terrorist attack within our own borders.”

Since 9/11, 34 people have been killed in America by Islamic jihadist terrorists. Wait, did I say Muslim terrorists? I meant right-wing extremists.

For some reason, we’re better at recognizing threats from outside the castle walls than from within. I’m not saying that radical Islamic terrorists are not a threat to American lives and western civilization. After 9/11, only a fool would not recognize Al Qaeda as a clear and present danger to our national security. Since then, the Southern Poverty Law Center says right-wing extremists have killed more people in this country than have Islamic terrorists. Why then do we habitually consider those terrorists as aberrations?

Why do we not see that our country is being attacked from within by right-wing extremists?

Case in point: Paris. With all the attention focused for good reason on the terrorist attack in Paris, we forgot to worry about attack in our own backyard when a presumably homegrown terrorist bombed an NAACP office in Colorado. What happened to those folks at Charlie Hebdo was an atrocity, but paying heed to that terrorist attack is not a reason to ignore the terrorist attack within our own borders.

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By Jason Stanford

January 7, 2015      12:14 PM

Bearse: A House Divided

From the right -- "The politicians who quote Ronald Reagan the most are least likely to exemplify his “happy warrior” approach to governing."

Congress convened yesterday, and like the speaker in Texas, John Boehner faced opposition within his own party from the right. But that’s where the comparison ends. In the case of Joe Straus, he faces his weakest opposition yet (note: your esteemed columnist does political work for Straus).  Joe Straus has never had a free pass in a speaker’s race, and yet they get easier every two years. Straus’ power is ascendant in the House. One can’t say the same for Speaker Boehner.

With the election of a majority in the U.S. Senate, and the reality of having to compromise with Democrats in his previous two terms as Speaker, Boehner faces a growing movement of disenchantment in his own ranks. His election yesterday was never really in doubt, and the fact ten percent of House Republicans defected was in no way decisive. But his hold on the House is tenuous, and the formal opposition of decidedly unserious opponents nonetheless foreshadows serious problems for the speaker over the next two years.

Boehner can only hope that his Republican members come to embrace the realities of governing. Certain Republicans, who thrive off criticism and the fomentation of grassroots opposition to a Democratic President, will now have the more complex task of trying to pass a constructive agenda. Whether rank and file Republicans in Congress realize governing requires a conciliatory attitude, settling for half a loaf instead of a full loaf, and saying what you are for and not just what you are against will ultimately determine the extent of Boehner’s troubles. But my money is on a more orchestrated opposition effort two years from now.

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By Eric Bearse

January 6, 2015      4:03 PM

Craymer: Gold is Still Black in Texas

TTARA president warns not to underestimate impact of oil price plunge to both Texans and lawmakers

My friend and former colleague, Stuart Greenfield, recently offered his thoughts here that Texas will weather the current drop in oil and gas prices with nary a blip—a “slight negative impact” of a “few tenths of a percent” in his words.

He opines that our savings at the gas pump will fuel new consumer spending, generating an additional $350 million in new sales tax collections—a solid boost to state coffers. I don’t disagree with that, but it only tells the tale from one side.

The dramatic drop in oil and gas prices will indeed take a tangible toll on the economy, and that impact will be felt in the State Treasury. Texas does have a diverse and healthy economy, but oil is still our black gold. The words that I wrote decades ago when I was a revenue estimator for then-Comptroller Bob Bullock—“the oil well runs deep in the Texas economy”—still ring true today.

It’s easy to think otherwise. Since the bottom of the recession, Texas has added over 1.4 million jobs. More than 100,000 of those jobs are in oil and gas extraction—a small fraction of our gains. But those drillers need drill bits, pipes, chemicals, and other supplies that must be purchased from manufacturers—many of them in Texas. Those oil field workers are paid well, too. They spend those paychecks on new trucks, housing, meals, etc.—items critical to local economies.  Each oil and gas job supports multiple other jobs throughout the Texas economy. Overall, about a third of our recession recovery can be attributed to oil and gas.

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By Dale Craymer