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September 1, 2015      3:58 PM

Bernsen: Perry, Hall, Nelson and the Politics of Intimidation

From the right: Conservative James Bernsen argues that the criminal justice system is being used in Texas to keep conservative elected officials from keeping their promises

Editor’s note: Earlier this year, our conservative columnist Eric Bearse moved on and Quorum Report is now on the hunt for a new voice on the right. James Bernsen now offers his thoughts for our readers’ consideration – SB

There are some people who just can’t accept the conservative ascendancy in Texas. And I’m not talking about liberals. No, it’s the interest groups on all sides who just can’t believe that there are conservatives who actually believe all this stuff about free trade, low taxes and limited government. What to do? If you can’t beat ’em, intimidate ’em.

There have been plenty of victims of late. Most notable is Governor Rick Perry, indicted for vetoing a bill, or more accurately, threatening a veto, then doing what politicians aren’t supposed to do, and actually follow through on a principle. The case was pushed by Texans for Public Justice, the group that took down Congressman Tom DeLay’s career. Never mind that DeLay’s conviction was overturned. In war, the point isn’t to kill the enemy, it’s to get him off the battlefield, and wounding him is good enough.

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By James Bernsen

August 29, 2015      10:29 AM

Smith: Celebrating Labor Day in Texas While Gov. Abbott Says Adios and Escapes to Mexico

From the Left: QR’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith urges us to celebrate the American worker and the accomplishments of the Labor Movement on Labor Day, even while Gov. Abbott abandons us for a weekend in Mexico.

When a Donald Trump supporter this week yelled “Get out of my country!” at a distinguished Latino journalist, who knew Texas Gov. Greg Abbott would say “okay” and make plans to head to Mexico? I don’t think he was talking to you, Governor.  

Of course, it’s another matter altogether that Abbott decided to plan his Mexican escape for the Labor Day weekend, thereby signaling to Texas and American workers just how much he thinks of them. I don’t remember another time a Texas governor scheduled a foreign trip for the weekend we celebrate the contributions of hard-working Americans.

Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September. You might wonder why it’s not celebrated on May 1, Mayday or International Workers Day, like it is in some 80 other countries. That’s because President Grover Cleveland didn’t want the holiday associated with the deadly Haymarket Riots in Chicago in early May 1886.

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By Glenn W. Smith

August 27, 2015      5:42 PM

Johnson: A GOP tax assessor-collector weighs in on the Austin property values lawsuit

In this op-ed, Galveston County Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl Johnson argues that the entire property tax system needs reform and a lawsuit against the Comptroller is not the right way to get change that is needed

This week’s news about the City of Austin filing suit over property values compels me to comment.

As an elected county tax assessor collector, former elected school board trustee, both voting and non-voting director on a county appraisal district AND former real estate appraiser, I am appalled by the action of the City of Austin with regard to the commercial and land property tax situation.

The property tax system is unfair – it has been from inception – but this action is not the proper one. Reform of the entire system is needed. The Texas Legislature and state leadership need to acknowledge the need and accept the responsibility.

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By Cheryl E. Johnson

August 21, 2015      2:48 PM

Smith: Cheap, Powerless Labor and the real consequences of Texas GOP Policies

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that income inequality and low wages in Texas are the intentional result of GOP policies. The GOP believes income inequality is the solution, not the problem.

Hard working Texans are justified in wondering why they have such a hard time making ends meet. Most feel they are underpaid for the work they do. They feel that way because they are underpaid.  

In 2014, 27.8 percent of Texans worked in jobs that don’t pay enough to keep a family of four out of poverty, according to SMU political scientist Cal Jillson, in his book Lone Star Tarnished. These workers have little chance of getting ahead, no matter how many jobs and hours they work every day.

Are growing income inequality and wage suppression accidents, unavoidable consequences of market economics beyond anyone and everyone’s control? Are Texans being slapped by the Invisible Hand, or are they held back by the all-too-visible hands of oligarchs who enrich themselves on the backs of the underpaid?

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By Glenn W. Smith

August 14, 2015      1:55 PM

Smith: The Brutal, Inhuman Health Care Policies of Texas

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the denial of health care to millions of Texans causes unnecessary illness and death and will one day come back to haunt the perpetrators."

A recent study found that Texas is the only one of the 50 states in which more than 20 percent of the population is without health insurance. That means millions of Texas do not have the quality of health care the rest of us take for granted. They get sick and die unnecessarily.

Most estimates say close to 2 million Texans could get health coverage if Texas’ Republican leadership agreed to the federally funded expansion of Medicaid. But former Gov. Rick Perry’s administration refused to do that. Gov. Greg Abbott refuses to do that. The GOP legislative leadership refuses to do that.  

This is third-world style bullying that borders on the criminal. It is hard to understand how actual human beings can callously throw other humans overboard just to earn political brownie points with some extremists. Because of this, people die. People die.

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By Glenn W. Smith

August 13, 2015      2:03 PM

Sen. Nelson: Accusation that I oppose the horse racing industry is horse hockey

In op-ed, Sen. Jane Nelson says that calls for an investigation into the Legislature’s funding decisions for the agency aren’t going to change anyone’s mind

Throughout my time in the Legislature, I have been an ardent supporter of the horse racing industry. Denton County is home to many thoroughbred breeders. I have represented Lone Star Park. I co-sponsored legislation to bring the Breeder’s Cup to Texas.

Unfortunately, there is a misguided effort under way to paint anyone opposed to slot machines as against the horse industry.

It is horse hockey, pure and simple, and it is making things worse – not better – for the Texas Racing Commission.

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By Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound

August 13, 2015      12:58 PM

Haynes: Cause for concern

In this op-ed, Texas Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association President Jan Haynes explains her reasoning for asking the Texas Rangers to investigate Sen. Jane Nelson’s actions surrounding funding for the Texas Racing Commission

This week I did something I never in a million years thought I would do:  I filed a complaint against a public official with the Texas Rangers. That public official is State Senator Jane Nelson, Chair of the Texas Senate Finance Committee.

While I have nothing personally against Senator Nelson, I believe she may be using undue influence and possibly illegal tactics to force the Texas Racing Commission (TRC) to harm the industry they are charged to oversee.

This needs to stop. 

As you may have read here and in other media accounts, the TRC is facing threats of closure, ostensibly because of uncertainty around a mysterious budget rider that withholds ten percent of the agency’s budget. The problem is that despite multiple queries, the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) has provided no guidance as to how the TRC can continue to be funded and nothing in the state’s budget explains why the money was withheld. 

And now, as they say, the rest of the story…

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By Jan Haynes

August 7, 2015      2:24 PM

Smith: On 50th Anniversary of Voting Rights Act, Not a Mention of It In GOP Debates

From the Left: QR’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith notes the battle for universal suffrage continues and calls for nationwide automatic voter registration. America automatically registered people for the military draft. We can automatically register people to vote.

You can be forgiven for having a “what just happened?” reaction to Thursday’s Fox News debates. The debates were physically startling, like witnessing a terrible car crash. I must have looked like the kid on the bicycle witnessing a deadly wreck in the AT&T “No Post is Worth a Life” anti-texting while driving ad.

After the dust cleared enough to see, I watched in dismay as multiple presidential candidates more or less promised, “Elect me and I’ll take you to war in the Middle East.” I can’t find a time in U.S. history when so many presidential aspirants used the prospect of war to promote themselves.

Many noted at the conclusion of the later debate that there had been no mention of the climate crisis. In fact, the word “environment” never came up unless I missed it because of one of those deafening, make-my-ears-ring Trumpian moments of triumph.

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By Glenn W. Smith

July 31, 2015      4:44 PM

O’Donnell: Time for some predictions on politics and public personalities

Quorum Report’s Curmudgeon in Chief Edd O’Donnell finds a way, yet again, to give everyone something to be angry about even during the happy, sunny, days of Summer

The 2016 election cycle has started and the preliminary lunacy promises a plethora of inanity, lameness and outright stupidity on every front. Pop culture will weave into the political process as never before. Here are some predictions and observations FYE (For Your Entertainment) because substance will be as hard to find as an Astros fan in Arlington.

The Republican National Committee will secretly send money to support the Trump campaign to ensure his antics continue to distract from the fact that party candidates don’t have any realistic, workable answers to the nation’s most intractable problems.

The Democratic National Committee will secretly send money to support the Trump campaign to ensure his antics continue to distract from the fact that party candidates don’t have any realistic, workable answers to the nation’s most intractable problems.

Donald Trump – The Donald will soar on in various polls until October when he will announce he is merging his empire with the Kardashian holdings. In November, he will pick as his running mate rapper Kanye West. In April he will end third party speculation and become chairman of the board for the Hair Club for Men.

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By Edd O'Donnell

July 31, 2015      1:56 PM

Smith: Welcome to the Videoverse

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues dash cams, body cams, phone cameras, ubiquitous security cameras bring both good and bad; good, in the case of exposing police violence and other injustices; bad in the case of citizen versus citizen spying and loss of privacy.

It is a new world as law enforcement dash cameras and body cameras reveal a level of police violence, especially against minorities, that has been invisible to the public for far too long.

At the same time, we have the news covering illicit videos made by liars who fraudulently pretend to be people they are not. They set out with hidden cameras to entrap their fellow citizens they consider their enemies. I’m speaking, of course, of the James O’Keefe video storm troops or O’Keefe-inspired dirty tricksters like those recently in the news with their heavily edited Planned Parenthood videos.

They are, in effect, little Nixons mainstreaming dirty tricks into a citizen-versus-citizen racket that destroys trust, weakens society’s bonds and somehow mysteriously captivates the press, which should know better. It’s a mistake to feed these anti-social subterfugers (Can I can coin that word? Maybe spoken with a hard “g”?). If I lied and misled the press as often as these dirty tricksters do, I doubt reporters would even return my phone calls.

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July 29, 2015      2:54 PM

Patterson: My response to the GLO audit

In op-ed, former Land Commissioner of Texas Jerry Patterson says “I can’t speak to the motive of the current Commissioner for apparently endeavoring to drop his predecessor ‘in the grease’ but I would suggest he put more focus on doing his job and less on covering his derriere.”

Audits are a good thing. State agencies always learn things that help them improve their ability to perform their mission, and the recently released audit of the Texas General Land Office is no exception.

The State Auditor’s Office is a credit to Texas government. If I were going to engage an auditor, I would pick John Keel and his extremely professional crew. They are the best.  

However, an audit should be a two way endeavor where both the auditor and audit subject are engaged in the process. It is the responsibility of the agency to provide the rationale for certain decisions when the auditor finds an apparent discrepancy.

At least in one part of the recent Texas GLO audit that I have personal knowledge of, that appears not to have been the case.

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By Jerry Patterson

July 24, 2015      4:02 PM

Smith: Tragedy and Tragicomedy in Texas

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the tragedy of Sandra Bland overshadows a tragicomic Texas week that saw Donald Trump in Laredo, an indictment against Rick Perry upheld three Republican judges, and a grand jury investigation of Att. Gen. Ken Paxton.

A grand jury is considering felony charges against sitting Attorney General Ken Paxton. Former Gov. Rick Perry’s one-time general counsel, Bob Pemberton, writes a unanimous opinion upholding one of the felony indictments – abuse of power – against Perry. That brings the total number of Republican judges finding merit in the charges to five, by my count. So much for the “partisan witch hunt” cries of Perry’s $2 million dollar legal team.

The accusations against Perry are obviously serious enough that a battery of Republicans, from the judge who appointed the special prosecutor to the judge who appointed that judge to the judges of the 3rd Court of Appeals, take them seriously, no matter how hard Perry and his team try to persuade malleable pundits in Texas and elsewhere that the charges have no merit.  

Since it was unlikely Perry would confess and plead guilty, I guess he and his team had no other route to take, though. So be it.  

But that’s not all the post-4th of July fireworks that exploded in Texas this week.

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By Glenn W. Smith

July 23, 2015      1:25 PM

Greenfield: From the Perry Period of Prosperity to the Abbott Growth Decline

Resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield says that while Texas continues to grow economically, revenue estimates for fiscal years 2016 and 17 will .likely not be nearly as rosy as had been estimated by the Comptroller

Yes, the state continues to prosper. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas projects economic growth will continue to be positive. But the rate of growth will be declining. Those with degrees in economics will tell you that the first derivative is positive while the second is negative.

This decline in state economic growth is already showing in the growth in state tax collections.

As Comptroller Glenn Hegar recently noted, the June state sales tax collections growth declined for the first time in 62 months. What was not mentioned by the Comptroller is that that the monthly growth rate in total tax collections has been negative for the past three months. 

This has resulted in the cumulative growth in state tax collections declining to 2.2 percent through June, as shown here in Figure 1.

The 2.2 percent cumulative growth rate through June is the lowest rate since August 2010.   While this rate of growth is greater than the 1.9 percent growth in the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) released in January, should the rate of growth (-2.2) experienced over the last four months continue for the remainder of the fiscal year, total tax collections will still be within 1 percent of the current estimate of $51.8 billion.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

July 20, 2015      2:38 PM

Ratliff: I stand by my numbers 100%

SBOE Vice Chairman Thomas Ratfliff says his point that charter schools are “politically connected” is proven by the fact that former Education Secretary Rod Paige and former Texas House Education Chairman Paul Sadler were eager to respond to his assessment of charters vs ISDs.

Editor’s note: A heated debated about charter schools began in the pages of QR when SBOE Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, last week offered this analysis of numbers comparing charter schools in Texas with ISDs. Former US Secretary of Education Rod Paige and former House Education Chair Paul Sadler took issue with that in this Quorum Report Op-Ed. Now, Ratliff fires back at Paige and Sadler, arguing that they’re helping him make his case.

First, Mr. Paige and Mr. Sadler must have missed my comment that there are good and bad ISDs and good and bad charters.  Some charters do a wonderful job, some not so much.  The same could be said for ISDs.  That's not the point.  This was a comparison of the total programs statewide.

More specifically, since Charters receive the "average" amount of state aid, they actually get more money than many schools districts in East Texas. 

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By Thomas Ratliff

July 17, 2015      1:08 PM

Smith: Life Under the Circus Big Top (And Where is the Jade Helm Invasion Anyway?)

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that we can't live on "circus candy" alone -- nonsense about Jade Helm, escaped cobras or anything Donald Trump ever says."

I have a sneaking suspicion that the U.S. military’s Jade Helm 15 exercise is already over. I think it was a psychological operation designed to test the reactions of various marginal groups to news that something like Jade Helm was underway. I’d say the experiment was a success.

So far, the paranoid paramilitary hobbyists who have fanned out to monitor the military exercise have seen nothing. Really. Nothing.

 Here’s how England’s Guardian newspaper described the embarrassing circumstance:

“A small town near Austin with a quaint Victorian downtown, Bastrop is supposed to be a hub of the vast US military training exercise that spans seven states and runs until 15 September. But Wednesday seemed to be a day like any other in Bastrop – which is to say not much was happening.

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By Glenn W. Smith

July 15, 2015      5:14 PM

Paige and Sadler: In response to Ratliff op-ed about charter schools

In op-ed of their own, former Education Secretary Rod Paige and former Rep. Paul Sadler take issue with SBOE Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff’s assessment of charters

We believe State Board of Education members should endeavor to present an accurate picture of public education in Texas, but Mr. Thomas Ratliff’s description of public charter school performance misses the mark.

As a former US Secretary of Education and as a co-author of the Texas Education Code rewrite (Ratliff-Sadler Act), we believe the 200,000-plus students in public charter schools and the 105,000 families waiting for a seat at a charter deserve the truth.

Every Texas student, their families, and even taxpayers without children in the public education system also have the right to expect our schools meet the constitutionally required “general diffusion of knowledge.” To do this, they must be fairly funded.

Texas public charter schools, like the vast majority of other public schools, have gone to court to claim their students receive insufficient state funding. The current funding system is unconstitutional, and all public education students suffer as a consequence. Mr. Ratliff fails to even mention that the funding gap between traditional public schools and charters is very significant. He makes no effort to factor in how this gap impacts performance.

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By Rod Paige and Paul Sadler

July 13, 2015      2:43 PM

Ratliff: Game, Set and Match

In op-ed, State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratfliff argues that when compared with charters, “ISD’s are not perfect but they graduate more kids, keep more kids from dropping out and get more kids career and college ready than their politically connected competitors.”

Every year the Texas Education Agency releases the “snapshot” of the prior school year’s academic and financial performance for ISD’s and charter schools. These are the facts from the 2012-13 school year (the most recently released report, which was released last week). Check them for yourself here.

I offer the following key comparisons between ISDs and charter schools:

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By Thomas Ratliff

July 10, 2015      4:28 PM

Smith: Let’s do the time warp again

From the Left: QR’s liberal columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that conservatives like Rick Perry will have to do more than pay lip service to African Americans and Hispanics if they expect earn their votes. Policies matter.

“It’s just a jump to the left,

And then a step to the right….”

--From “Time Warp,” in Rocky Horror Picture Show

 We are once again battling over battle flags of the Civil War (well, actually, the Confederate Flag is more a 20th Century symbol of racism and segregation, but still…). Xenophobes are busy calling all Mexicans “rapists” and criminals in exactly the same way earlier Anglo-Americans called the Irish, the Italians, the Polish, the Chinese, the Japanese and other newcomers such names.  

It’s long past time for the removal of the Confederate flag and government-sponsored memorials to the traitors who served the secessionists in the war to abolish slavery. It speaks poorly of us that it took an unspeakable tragedy like the murder of nine souls in Charleston to open our eyes to this need.

I’ve lived my entire life in Texas. It’s not exactly a Southern State. In fact, Gov. Sam Houston got thrown out of office for opposing secession. Texas is also a Western, or at least Southwestern State. This grants us benefits unavailable to the Deep South. Still, Texas culture has never really escaped its bigoted past. Talk of a post-racist culture is baloney.

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By Glenn W. Smith