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June 26, 2015      3:48 PM

Smith: Here is "Days of Miracle and Wonder?"

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that recent progressive victories on health care reform, marriage equality and the Confederate flag should not fool us into thinking that Injustice doesn't remain at large in America

The Rev. William Barber, president of North Carolina’s NAACP and organizer of the Moral Mondays movement, had this to say about the tragedy in South Carolina and the removal of Confederate flags from Southern government buildings: “The perpetrator has been arrested but the killer is still at large.”  

Barber was referring to the deeply ingrained institutional racism, private bigotry and government-enforced economic inequality that remain across the land. While we applaud the recognition that racist symbols such as the Confederate flag have no place in America, much remains to be done to erase the root injustices.  

A day after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, the Court held bans on gay marriage to be unconstitutional. Like Paul Simon sang in different circumstances, “these are the days of miracles and wonder.” 

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By Glenn W. Smith

June 23, 2015      3:15 PM

Coppedge: Statewide Judicial races under way

Longtime observer of Texas judicial races Dr. John Coppedge takes a look at who is already running and speculates a bit on how it all might play out

The 2016 election season has begun. Candidates are already raising money and campaigning for the six statewide judicial spots in Texas – three Texas Supreme Court seats and three Texas Court of Criminal Appeals seats.

And once again the Republican Primary will determine the outcomes. Democrats will continue their electoral drought in statewide races that now extends over two decades.

The three incumbents on the Texas Supreme Court whose terms expire soon are, of course, all Republican and are all running for re-election. Justice Eva Guzman and Justice Paul Green will get universal support from those who historically take an interest in this court from the conservative side. To date, no potential Republican challengers have emerged for them.

It remains to be seen whether the personal injury bar mounts an effort to remove these two Justices like they tried to do in 2014 in an expensive but doomed attack on Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Justices Phil Johnson and Jeff Brown.  

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By Dr. John Coppedge

June 19, 2015      2:54 PM

Smith: By ‘Freedom’ the Right Means “Obey Our Commands”

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the Right's complaints about attacks of religious liberty turn the Constitution on its head

A white man walks into an African American church in Charleston, says he wants to shoot black people and then kills nine black people.  But FoxNews and other hard Right sources claim it’s an attack on Christianity, not blacks. Is there anything more pathetic than Republican politicians being afraid to offend the racists in their base?

Yes, all of America is now marching on Christianity, according to the extremist Right. What a convenient argument to turn out the gullible at election time. But let’s move on to their more subtle “war on Christianity” arguments. Well, subtle is a charitable characterization because it’s rather brazenly bald-faced.

The hard Right’s corruption of the constitutional separation of church and state is hard to miss, though sadly many miss it. Their current argument: Opposition to their efforts to put their sectarian beliefs into public law is an attack on freedom of religion.

Their opposition to same-sex marriage and absolute bans on abortion, for instance, are based in their religious beliefs. They spring from particular Christian denominations that are at odds with many other Christian denominations and other faith traditions.

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By Glenn W. Smith

June 9, 2015      6:20 PM

Villalba: Together we are strong

Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, argues that outside forces trying to divide the Texas House have only served to bring real leaders together

As the dust settles from the tumult of another Legislative Session and as the punditry class begins to opine on the winners and losers of our grand, biennial, Texas conversation, it seems clear to me that when we work together, find consensus and abandon our rigidly-held ideological proclivities, we are able to strengthen, fortify and enhance the Great State of Texas for the betterment of all Texans.

My father is an airplane mechanic, with access to all kinds of interesting tools and materials that are necessary for his craft.  I was always fascinated by epoxies – which he often brought home to fix a broken chair leg or a cracked dish.  Epoxies are essentially two benign resins that, when mixed together, cure into an extremely strong bonding agent.  The cast of characters for this year’s session reminded me a little of my Pop’s epoxies.    

At the beginning of the 84th Legislative Session, there was a palpable sense that the internecine squabbles between the newly empowered, movement conservatives and the business-focused, establishment wing of the GOP would limit our ability to advance the agenda of Texas.  Based on the harsh rhetoric of a divisive election cycle and the vestigial animosity that permeated the early days of the Session, there was real concern that Republicans would be unable to work together to address the many challenges that our state faces.

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By Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas

June 3, 2015      1:28 PM

Bearse: Sine Die

From the Right: In his final regular column for QR, our conservative columnist Eric Bearse bids you adieu with some thoughts about the future of the GOP

You are reading my final column as a regular opinion columnist for Quorum Report. As George Strait would say, “Goodbye, farewell, so long, Vaya con Dios. Good luck, wish you well, take it slow. Easy come, girl, easy go.” Or as Rick Perry might say, “adios mofo.”

I started this venture around Memorial Day of last year. It has been a heck of a run. With the conclusion of the legislative session, I believe it is time for fresh voices with a different perspective. I am thankful to Harvey and Scott for the opportunity to splatterpaint their page with my random thoughts, blurts and incoherent ramblings.

I am not going anywhere – well, except to Dallas tomorrow for a speech that I helped Rick Perry write. It’s just a small announcement about his future. But I will remain the master of my domain here in Austin, which means I will continue to grumble about downtown streets missing car lanes, back-in parking and chicken salmonella bags.

And I will continue to ponder the direction of my own party. It hasn’t exactly left me, but there is a live hijacking being attempted. Soon enough, we shall know more about its destination.

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By Eric Bearse

May 29, 2015      2:49 PM

Smith: It is the Democrats Who Are Champions of Economic Freedom

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the 84th legislative session makes it clear that it's the Democrats and not Tea Party Republicans that are the true champions of economic freedom

As the curtain begins its descent on the political burlesque known as the 84th session of the Texas Legislature, some obvious if impertinent questions need asking.

How, for instance, does the Tea Party-dominated Legislature justify turning down billions in federal Medicaid dollars and condemning millions of Texans to unnecessary illness and death because of lack of health care?

About all you ever hear by way of an excuse for this callous and cold-hearted failure is something like, “Medicaid is broken.” Well, not quite as broken as the backs of Texas’ poor and middle class, you know, the people that actually do the work of building Texas’ future.

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 26, 2015      4:38 PM

Bearse: Sense and Sincerity

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues that conservatives should be careful not to fall for delusional thinking when it comes to making sure foster kids are placed in loving homes

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney has filed an amendment to Senate Bill 206, the Department of Family and Protective Services Sunset bill, that would allow child welfare agencies to refuse to place children in certain homes based on religious beliefs. It is widely understood that the amendment takes aim at gay couples trying to adopt a child or provide a foster home.

I believe legislators should tread carefully when exercising the awesome power of the state to so fundamentally impact or altar families. I have no doubt the amendment is offered based on a sincere belief. I suspect that belief has less to do with the conscientious and religious objections of child welfare workers as it does a widely held belief among some conservatives that children benefit most when raised in a family with a mother and a father. The amendment is tailored to the former, but the beliefs of child welfare workers are secondary to the health and welfare of children and families. It would seem this comes down to an argument about the health and welfare of children raised by gay couples.

I criticize liberals frequently for social engineering, and for policies steeped in idealism that ignore practical reality. A perfect example is the notion that gun laws will keep firearms out of the hands of criminals. It is an idyllic notion, and a false one. Conservatives should be careful not to fall for the same kind of delusional thinking.

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By Eric Bearse

May 22, 2015      4:42 PM

Smith: Medical Marijuana and a Lesson in Political Morality and Courage

From the Left: QR’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that lawmakers too often treat real people as bureaucratic abstractions and recalls a lesson in political courage from 35 years ago that should give us pause.

The Texas Legislature – yes, that legislature – passed a limited medical marijuana bill that will give epilepsy sufferers access to cannabis oil. It is a small but important progressive step forward.

The passage of this bill reminded me of a 1980 story of judicial compassion and political courage I was lucky enough to break as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle.

Moved by the suffering of a cancer patient in Trinity, Texas, State District Judge Erwin “Ernie” Ernst ordered the Walker County sheriff to retrieve confiscated marijuana from the sheriff’s vault and give it to the cancer sufferer. Marijuana was known to relieve the extreme nausea of chemotherapy – but it’s use for even that purpose remained outlawed.

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 22, 2015      1:54 PM

Hammond: Let’s Get All Drivers Permitted and Insured

The Texas Association of Business would be happy to co-sponsor a debate about the issue between Norman Adams and Michael Quinn Sullivan

State Rep. Byron Cook has shown real leadership this session for pursuing a bill that would provide a conditional driving permit for undocumented workers.  He should be applauded for these efforts, not criticized. This legislation is critical for Texas, but there has been a lot of misinformation thrown around about the idea.  It is time we look at the facts and set the record straight.  

The ability to get a permit to drive legally in Texas is essential to make our roads safer and reduce insurance costs.  The ability to get a permit will not cause more undocumented workers to cross the border.  They come for economic and social reasons, not for the ability to legally drive a car in Texas.

A permit is not a driver’s license, but the requirements to get a permit are very similar.  Applicants must pass a test proving that they know the rules of the road in Texas, and they must show financial responsibility, meaning they must have insurance.  Applicants also would have to show a proficiency in reading and writing English, because the driving and written tests would be in English.

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By Bill Hammond

May 20, 2015      11:23 AM

Bearse: Survivor Austin, Slow-witted, Slow-played

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative Republican columnist Eric Bearse wants to know whatever happened to simply defeating your political opponents on the merits of the issues

I don’t know why the American Phoenix Project is spending some rich guy’s money to secretly videotape lawmakers, when there is so much good material on the House Floor each day for all the public to see.

You could film a “Survivor: Austin” episode right here in the Texas Capitol in the final weeks of the session, with the slogan: “Slow-witted, Slow-played…” (dang it, slow-lasted is not a word!)

You can tell the slow-witted ones by a telltale sign: the ones that open their mouths. Not all of them of course. And I am not about to name names. Those who slow-play, that’s easy: check and see if they have a D by their name.

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By Eric Bearse

May 18, 2015      1:54 PM

Greenfield: Tax cuts or state services, that is the question

Quorum Report’s number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield says Comptroller Glenn Hegar is wise to emphasize critical infrastructure and services while lawmakers have tax cutting fever

Following the release of revenue and expenditure data for April, sine die is fast approaching and critical decisions concerning both expenditures and taxes need to be decided. A conference committee is now figuring out how the state will spend and what tax reductions should be enacted. 

Comptroller Glenn Hegar sent a letter to the state’s leadership in which he said wanted to “emphasize that in addition to tax cuts, it is also important to consider the long-term challenges affecting the state's balance sheet and credit ratings."

One would expect that underlying Hegar’s concern is the substantial decline in the growth rate in state tax collections. With the most up-to-date information on state revenue, lawmakers can set priorities and allow the rest of us to look over their shoulders.

Information on tax revenue collections through April is important not only for this fiscal year (FY15), but they also influence estimated revenue for the coming biennium. The positive growth (1.2 percent) in sales tax collections continues for the 61st consecutive month.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

May 18, 2015      11:09 AM

Richardson: BP Rider offers $1 billion train wreck for Coastal Texas

In op-ed, Quorum Report founding Editor Tim Richardson argues that Texas could do best if Gov. Abbott is allowed to operate with BP funds

A rider to HB 1 intended to grant allocation authority to the Legislative Budget Board, the Texas Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House over BP’s Deepwater Horizon fines received by Texas misconstrues how 80% of the oil fund funds will awarded.

Rider Sec. 6.24 “Deposit and Approval Requirement for Certain Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Funds” would create a special account in the Texas Treasury overseen by the State Comptroller and used for intended purposes by state agencies after proposed project expenditures are studied by the LBB (no time limit is set on the study) and approved by the chairs of Senate Appropriations, House Appropriations the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor after review for 30 business days (which is 6 weeks if there are no holidays).

The biggest problem with this scenario is that only about 20% of all BP funds will seem like a “grant to Texas” that can be mulled over and allocated. Eighty percent of the funds will be either competitively awarded among the five states (each voting in real time at RESTORE Council meetings) or overseen by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in the case of the criminal settlement funds.

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By Tim Richardson

May 15, 2015      4:54 PM

Allred and Simpson: Myths of revenue caps and appraisal caps

In op-ed, Don Allred of the Texas Association of Counties and Terry Simpson of County Judges & Commissioners Association of Texas argue that local officials should make local decisions

Revenue caps and appraisal caps are again being touted by some legislators as a solution to increases in property tax appraisals and revenues.  These misguided restrictions have been tried in California, Florida and Colorado with disastrous results. 

Let’s look at the real driver of property taxes in Texas.

First, Texas is a low-tax state, ranking around 45th among the states in total state and local taxation.  However, Texas is a high property-tax state.  Why?  Because Texas has no state income tax, and the state has mandated that local governments (schools, counties and cities) perform functions and services that are state-funded in other states. 

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By Don R. Allred and Terry Simpson

May 12, 2015      5:28 PM

Bearse: Spygate, Legislative Edition

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues this whole secret surveillance thing is obviously a hit on Speaker Straus. “Those who publicly relish the role of smut-peddler may hind behind the thin veneer of “citizen-journalism”, but only if The Enquirer is journalism.”

Spygate, Legislative Edition became news last week, becoming the talk of the Capitol Community. Like the New England Patriots, the guys with the hidden cameras have been secretly taping the enemy. They just aren’t being upfront about whom they consider to be the enemy. They claim they are looking for hypocrisy across then political spectrum. But we all know this is a far-right hit on Speaker Straus and his lieutenants.  

The absolutists, who misleadingly identify themselves as movement conservatives, deny complicity in this project, but with a little too much glee. The senators who have ties to the candid camera crew are all movement types, and have ties to the same consultant. Said consultant has a history of working against Straus. The dots connect whether you want to see it (and yes, I still do work for Straus, but these are merely my observations.)

The fact that Basel/Beria are being about as forthcoming as Tom Brady about his deflated balls doesn’t mean we don’t know what it is happening. We do. So what are we to make of it?

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By Eric Bearse

May 11, 2015      6:56 PM

Senate Tax Negotiators: In Support of the Senate's Property Tax Relief Package

In this Op-Ed, Senators Jane Nelson, Robert Nichols, Carlos Uresti, Brandon Creighton, and Paul Bettencourt argue the Senate’s plan will offer lasting property tax relief to Texans.

That collective gasp you hear is the sound of sticker shock as homeowners across Texas open up their new property tax bills. Assessments are up at staggering rates, including an average of 15 percent in Houston, 11 percent in Austin, 11 percent in San Antonio and nine percent in Dallas. Homeowners are being gouged for more and more every year, and we believe enough is enough.

The Texas Senate has taken strong action to help property owners, who are shouldering an unfair, disproportionate amount of the overall tax burden. The Senate has approved SJR 1, SB 1 and SB 1760 that together provide $2 billion in immediate, meaningful, and lasting property tax relief.

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By Senator Jane Nelson and others

May 8, 2015      3:52 PM

Smith: Night Crawlers Invade Capitol

From the Left: Quorum Report's liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that surreptitious taping of members and other dirty tricks threaten our civil lives and work against getting anything done.

While some of the top elected officials in the state were worrying about a U.S. military takeover of Texas, we now know it was a few oily night crawlers that invaded Texas. I refer, of course, to the worms at the American Phoenix Foundation, a group that has been secretly taping Texas lawmakers they don’t like.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Joseph Basel founded this particular box of night crawlers. Basel pleaded guilty in 2010 to entering the federal building offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu under false pretenses. He was a colleague of the notorious James O’Keefe.

The headline of a 2014 report from Texans for Public Justice captures the group’s character quite well. “Huffines Top Consultants are a Wire Tapper and a ‘Hooker.’ Basel and his wife, Hannah Basel, worked in state Sen. Don Huffines’ successful effort to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. John Corona. The headline refers to Joseph Basel’s guilty plea. He and three others got caught sneaking into Landrieu’s office hoping to tap her phones. His wife Hannah, then named Hannah Giles, acted the role of hooker to O’Keefe’s pimp in a 2009 stunt aimed at embarrassing the now-defunct ACORN.

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 5, 2015      3:52 PM

Bearse: Imposters in the Temple

From the Right: Quorum Report's conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues that the term "conservative" has been hijacked by libertarians and it's time for that to be challenged.

It occurred to me, as I was watching the debate about Rep. J.D. Sheffield’s immunization transparency bill, HB 2474, that there is a certain movement within the Republican Party that has redefined conservatism without ever really being challenged on it. Rep. Jonathan Stickland is viewed as the loudest, most brash conservative, Tea Party voice in the Texas House. As Rep. Myra Crowner might say, “I challenge that.” At least the conservative part.

Leading a flanking movement against Sheffield’s immunization bill, alongside Rep. Bill Zedler, Stickland asked Sheffield how much privacy he was willing to sacrifice “in the name of public health.” Perhaps the proper retort would have been, “how many lives, Rep. Stickland, are you willing to sacrifice in the name of privacy?”

Here is a conservative principle for you: your right to privacy ends where my harm begins. Here is a second, more over-arching conservative philosophical principle: government doesn’t exist to protect me from myself, but from you.

Stickland and company would have us believe conservatism means an absolute right to not vaccinate your children, and more importantly, to not allow schools to report to the state the number of children that are not vaccinated. This requirement itself protects confidentiality, and therefore privacy, but that is not good enough for the absolutists.

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By Eric Bearse

May 1, 2015      4:11 PM

Smith: Once More Unto the Breach

From the Left: Quorum Report's liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith suggests that pandering to extremists has gone beyond pandering. Texas is held hostage by the most extreme amongst us

Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to put the Texas Military on alert because federal troops will hold exercises in 17 counties is comical, but it is also sad, troubling evidence that our state is now held hostage by the most extreme, deluded and paranoid among us.

The story has received a good bit of embarrassing national media attention. The U.S. Army this summer will hold training exercises dubbed Operation Jade Helm. Locals in Bastrop and elsewhere – assisted by extremist websites – freaked out. This was clearly a case of black, Kenyan Commie usurper Barack Obama launching the first phase of a military takeover of Texas, they claimed.

Okay, there are always the crazy and the paranoid among us. But why in the world would a governor pander to them? What’s next, I told one national reporter who called about the incident. Will Abbott call out the troops to protect us from Big Foot or an invasion of Big Feet?

Well, one reason for Abbott’s pandering is obvious. For years the Republican Party has manipulated these folks, stoking all kinds of fears to win elections. Creating fears that Obama is launching a military takeover of Texas is not that much more ridiculous than alleging a war on Christianity or freedom of religion. More on that in a moment.

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By Glenn W. Smith