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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

January 2, 2015      1:29 PM

Stanford: Surge Pricing is Price Gouging

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Jason Stanford argues that transportation is a public service even when provided by a private company, which makes regulation necessary

There are those who love Uber’s surge pricing because it reflects the law of supply and demand. While some complain about paying hundreds of dollars for what would otherwise have been an ordinary cab fare, defenders counter that charging much, much more when demand is high is just good old-fashioned market forces at work. But when it comes to providing basic services, such as housing, gas, and yes, transportation, surge pricing is just a nicer term for price gouging.

Let me admit that I like Uber. I’m a little tall and rarely feel comfortable in taxis. Besides, using the app is fun—I like seeing the little avatar of the car approach my location on the map—and the prices are usually cheaper than a regular taxi.

What gets under my skin is what Uber did during the recent terrorist attack in Sydney. As people fled the downtown area, Uber—responding automatically to higher demand—quadrupled its prices. The company argued that the higher prices would encourage more drivers to offer rides, but the practical effect was to charge people a lot more money to run for their lives. (The company later apologized.)

Uber doesn’t do surge pricing during emergencies in the United States, probably because it’s illegal. In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott sued a hotel for merely doubling its prices when 1.2 million Gulf Coast residents evacuated ahead of Hurricane Ike. Uber can charge several times the normal rate during surge pricing.

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By Jason Stanford

January 2, 2015      1:24 PM

Greenfield: Will Texas be the Next Detroit?

Economist Stuart Greenfield examines the impact of the sharp decline in the price of oil and makes the argument for cautious optimism about Texas’ finances

As we await the upcoming 84th Legislative session, concern has been expressed in a number of publications including the Wall Street Journal, Texas Tribune, and Austin American Statesman, that the “Texas Model” or “Miracle” so often touted by the departing Governor Perry will soon be over. The recent dramatic decline in crude oil prices has stoked fears that the state’s economy and state tax collections will suffer declines last experienced in the 1980’s. Yes, the decline in oil prices will have an adverse impact on both the state’s economy and state tax collections, but the impact will be minimal, as the following analysis will show.

While increased production and $100/barrel prices led to a significant increase in crude oil tax collections, from $835 million in FY07 to $3.9 billion in FY14, almost 65 percent of the FY14 receipts were transferred to the Rainy Day Fund and State Highway Fund. Also, even with the 363.9 percent increase in oil tax receipts between FY07 and FY14, the largest of any tax, this tax only accounted for 3.7 percent of total state revenue in FY14. Federal income ($34.3 billion) provides over nine times the crude oil revenue and six times total severance tax collections.

To examine and analyze what has transpired in the oil industry since the 1980’s, data from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) was used. While these data differ from the data on price and quantity compiled by the Comptroller of Public Accounts (CPA) and Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), the data on price and quantity are not readily available for an extended period of time from these agencies.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

December 31, 2014      1:18 PM

Bearse: 2015 If I Were King

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist lays out a few changes he’d like to see in 84th session of the Legislature

Man proposes, God disposes. Lincoln said that, or something like it. Nonetheless, I have some proposals for 2015.

First, let’s clean up the legislative lexicon. The high-falutin’ language in the Senate is verbal flatulence. Whenever one senator references their “distinguished colleague” in that august body, we all know they are about to shiv them. One of the things I love about communication is how we give away our real thoughts when we think we are saying the opposite. A distinguished colleague is code for a knuckle-dragging miscreant. It’s kind of like when a legislator says, “this is just a little clean-up amendment, members.” That’s when you should pay attention. In poker and CIA enhanced interrogation, it’s called a tell. Listen carefully to what a member says they are “not” doing to know what they are doing.

Second, can we ban the word “incentivize”? “This bill will incentivize government transparency.” I think someone just made it up in the ‘90s, and now it is in the dictionary. But it’s like we took a noun and made it into a hick-sounding verb, like “we nuclearized our weapons system.” Or as our current governor and previous one might say, “nucuelarized.” Let’s go with induce – it will make all the men uncomfortable because they will think it is about giving birth.  

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By Eric Bearse

December 29, 2014      11:20 AM

Stanford: The Republicans won. Now what?

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Jason Stanford argues Republicans rose to power through manufactured outrage and questions what they’ll do now

What happens when the dog catches the car? Now that the Republicans control the US Senate, will they continue to be the party of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories?

It’s no mystery how they got here. As Robert Draper documented in his criminally underappreciated book “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives,” the Republican strategy was to wrest power from Democrats by obstructing them every step of the way. If Republicans stalled Obama’s agenda, it would make the President look weak. Economic growth would crawl. Jobs would trickle. And his poll numbers would tank.  

Boy, did it work. They won the House of Representatives in 2010, but it took them six years to learn how not to say stupid stuff about immigrants, women, and immigrant women long enough to win back the Senate. As Hannibal from TV’s A-Team liked to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

But… there’s a plan, right?

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By Jason Stanford

December 23, 2014      3:28 PM

Bearse: The Airing of Gratitude

Instead of “From the Right” this time, our conservative columnist speaks from the heart about what he’s thankful for during this holiday season.

It was my intent today to honor the Season of Festivus, and I began writing out my grievances – which are many in this broken society of ours – but I just didn’t feel right about it. Santa will be here in two days, and he told me he had my wife’s present covered this year, so I figured I ought to have a spirit of gratitude. So instead of the airing of grievances, I give you a new tradition: The airing of gratitude.

I am grateful for Johnny the doorman, whose imposing figure strikes fear in the hearts of all common criminals who plot mischief in the 823 Congress Building. I also want to thank the guys in the parking garage across the street – it’s not their fault management oversold the lot, so when it is full they take my car and park it when a spot opens up, making my life easier.

I am grateful for my two wonderful children, whose childlike glee shakes me out of the adult fog of apathy all too prevalent even when I have had my coffee. I am thankful for my wife, who does not insult me for having no marketable skills around the house and didn’t even bother to ask me if I wanted to put up the basketball hoop. After she read a previous buyer’s comment about its installation – that he would rather give birth to a porcupine – she knew not to hand me a project that far exceeded my limited mechanical capabilities and my emotional maturity.

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By Eric Bearse

December 22, 2014      11:12 AM

Ratliff: Let the money follow the child

SBOE Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff argues any discussion of vouchers needs to be centered on accountability and transparency

In the current education debate over private school vouchers, we often hear the statement, “Let the money follow the child” but we never hear about exactly whose money is following that child.  Let’s dig a little deeper and see what we find.

Today, when a parent takes their child to a private school, the parents pay the school’s tuition.  The parents’ money follows the child.  Also, many public schools allow students from other districts to “transfer” and attend their school, so the state’s money (and tests, accountability, transparency, Common Core prohibition, etc.) follows the child based on the state’s funding formulas that are based on attendance. 

That’s pretty simple and straightforward, but under a voucher, or a “taxpayer savings grant” proposal, the money following the child is not quite as simple. 

Let me explain.

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By Thomas Ratliff

December 19, 2014      4:38 PM

Stanford: Point of schools is not more testing

From the left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Jason Stanford argues that standardized testing has only led to more standardized testing and not to better education for children

Imagine you’re a runner trying to beat your personal record in the mile. Is the point to get a better time or to actually run faster? Is the elapsed time the point of running, or is the real goal to run faster, to be stronger, to increase your endurance?

Don’t like sports metaphors? Fine. You’ve got a rib roast in the oven. Is it done because the meat thermometer reads 135 degrees? When your family chows down, does anyone congratulate the cook on the perfect thermometer reading or because the meat is tender, pink, juicy, and making me hungry as I write this?

So I put it to you again: What’s the point of data? We can treasure the marks on the door jam that inch up over the years, but the importance is in the growth of a child. You might think that in these cases the data and the actual result are the same, a difference without a distinction. And in that, you would fit right in with the data-driven education reformers these days who think test scores are the same thing as an education.

Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that the test scores are valid measures of classroom learning, something that the American Statistical Association has cautioned against. Last April, the ASA said “teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores” and that standardized testing should never be used as a tool to hold schools accountable. Basically, using test scores to gauge what happens in a classroom is like using that meat thermometer to measure how fast you ran a mile.

But no matter.

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By Jason Stanford

December 18, 2014      5:01 PM

Greenfield: The Revenue Estimate, The Prequel

Economist Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D., says that even though crude oil prices have steeply dropped, tax collections for this biennium should be higher than the FY12-13 biennium.

Prior to the 84th Legislative session the Comptroller of Public Accounts will present the Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) for the 2015-2016 Biennium. With knowledge of FY14 revenue collections and revenue collections through the 1st quarter of FY15, one should have a basis to evaluate how Comptroller Combs/Hegar’s estimate for FY15 is tracking.

Should tax collection growth continue at its current growth rate, we should expect $54.0 billion in tax collections in FY15.  This compares to the current FY15 estimate of $49.8 billion.  This will result in total tax collections for the FY14-15 biennium of $105.0 billion, $6.2 billion more than in the current estimate.  Total state revenue in FY15 should be $2.6 billion more than in the current estimate.

Below is an analysis of tax collections for FY14 and for the first three months of fiscal year 2015.  Also shown is the current estimate for FY15 from the 2014-15 Certification Revenue Estimate (CRE). 

One should note that except for the cigarette tax, every state tax collected in FY14 exceeded their FY14 estimate. In fact, except for sales tax and cigarette tax, receipts in FY14 for all other taxes exceed the current estimate for FY15.  Tax collections in FY14 exceeded the estimate for FY14 by $2.1 billion, and exceed the FY15 estimate by $1.2 billion.

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By Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D.

December 16, 2014      3:37 PM

Bearse: Left-wing Ideologues Hiding in Plain Sight

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues that liberals hide their own extremism while flogging conservatives for not being pragmatic

Why do liberals get a pass on the label “dangerous ideologue”? When Senator Ted Cruz implemented his strategy to shut down the federal government over ObamaCare – and more recently his strategy to defund the president’s executive order on immigration – he was vilified in the press, and the subject of disdain in cocktail parties across Washington. His ideology was extremist because he actually carried out the promises he made on the campaign trail.

But what about Elizabeth Warren? Here is a senator from Massachusetts who doesn’t really believe in capitalism. She is the preferred choice of the Obama ideologues, operatives, Occupy Wall Street zealots and Seattle anarchists. She is a hard-left ideologue whose efforts to stop the bill to keep government funded was done out of principle, according to the media narrative. Because Cruz’s principles disagree with press sensibilities, he is a dangerous ideologue. Warren’s ideological principles just make her palatable for president.  

One of the tricks liberals like to play is to pretend they don’t have an ideology, but instead are just about solving problems. In fact, they scorn ideologues on the right while denying they even have an ideology. This is the tactic employed at the blog formerly known as Burkablog, where politicians are divided into two camps -- people driven by ideology, and people who want to solve problems. The conservatives are ideologues, the moderates and liberals just want to solve problems. It’s how many on the left claim they are centrists – they deny their solutions have an ideological bent.

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By Eric Bearse

December 13, 2014      12:03 PM

Stanford: Primary Colors are Fading

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Jason Stanford argues that the way the 2016 primary is already playing out – on both sides – is bad for America

The 2016 presidential campaign hasn’t even started yet and I’m already bored.

On one hand, everyone’s ready for Hillary, but she doesn’t seem all that eager for everyone. She’s scheduled two paid speeches for early next year, which means she won’t be kicking off her campaign until the spring. This is seen in DC as alternately smart politics and evidence that she’s floundering.

Holding off is undoubtedly good tactics, but while Democrats are waiting for Hillary they’re not talking about America, and that’s a shame. There’s plenty of time for her to lay out a reason to run for president, but when the frontrunner doesn’t enter the race it leaves all the others stretching at the starting line, waiting for the starting gun. And voters learn nothing about how Democrats would lead this county.

On the other hand, approximately 17,000 Republicans are visiting Iowa and pretending that they’re not running for president yet either. And if you thought the clown car primary from 2012 was fun—we’ll always have Uzbekibekibekistanstan—then the 2016 Republican primary should be a rare case when the sequel is better than the original.

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By Jason Stanford

December 11, 2014      2:12 PM

Adams: Gov. Perry follows in Obama's footsteps with an immigration executive order of his own

Longtime GOP stalwart Norman Adams raises real world concerns of Texas business owners following Perry’s executive order on E-Verify

When President Obama could not get what he wanted from Congress on immigration, he simply issued an executive order that outraged many of my fellow Republicans. It seems Governor Rick Perry is following President Obama’s example.

The Legislature has on multiple occasions rejected mandatory E-Verify, a federal electronic system used to weed out foreign workers who are in the country without proper documents. Now Perry’s made an end run around them and mandated it on his own through an executive order. On December 3, Perry issued Executive Order RP80 requiring Texas State Agencies and private entities seeking state contracts to use E-verify, not only on new hires, but on current and prospective employees, including subcontractors.

Attorney General Greg Abbott is suing President Obama over his immigration executive order, so you have to wonder whether he will now sue Perry for bypassing the Texas Legislature. 

In 2011, the 82nd Texas Legislature defeated mandatory E-verify. They recognized that immigration reform at the national level must come first. Attempts to pass E-verify legislation in a special session were also unsuccessful. The 83rd Texas Legislature likewise refused to impose mandatory E-verify on Texas businesses.  

Why did Texas lawmakers refuse to adopt mandatory E-verify? Here just are a few reasons: 

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By Norman Adams

December 9, 2014      2:43 PM

Bearse: Passion, Perspective and Ideology

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse says the GOP must be “mature enough to welcome dissenting views even on the most difficult and passionate issues.”

All the passion in politics is on the ideological edges. Moderates are seldom viewed as passionate or ideological, but instead as temperate problem-solvers with no ideological soul. For this they receive the scorn of both political parties – especially among the grassroots – because they are seen as ideologically impure. I reject the notion moderates don’t have an ideology, they just don’t spend a lot of time articulating its defining characteristics.

But because elections in Texas are decided in the Republican Primary, and the most passionate primary voters are staunchly conservative, there is now a cottage industry of self-appointed conservative watchdogs who have made a living off agitating the rank-and-file conservative grassroots, and serving as ideological enforcers when legislators don’t walk a narrow line. If they were liberals, we might call these agitators community organizers. But that’s another column.  

While these groups have a surplus of passion, they have a deficit in people skills. They are often their own worst enemies, driving away their natural allies with tactics too focused on punishing apostates. As a southern lady might say, “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” But groups like AgendaWise are leaving a sour taste in the mouths of many of their ideological compatriots. And after five years of trying to drive members away from Speaker Joe Straus, they have driven more members toward him (disclosure: the Speaker is a client of mine).

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By Eric Bearse

December 5, 2014      3:36 PM

Stanford: Letter to the next generation

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Jason Stanford shares his thoughts on the protests here in Texas and around the nation following the deaths of unarmed blacks at the hands of police

Dear boys,

Dad here. I want to tell you about something that happened to me yesterday.

A friend of mine at the office, a black woman, asked me to join her at a protest about that unarmed 18-year-old getting shot by that police officer in Missouri. I felt a little funny about going, as if a white, 40-something dad had no place at a civil rights rally, but my friend asked, so I agreed to go, as did a bunch of us.

On the way over I ended up talking with a couple black men I work with. They’re in their twenties, which might seem old to you, but to me they seem close to your age, just kids really. And because we were already thinking about what happened to that boy in Missouri, they started talking about the times that police officers had pulled guns on them.

Times. Plural.

Like the time one of them was playing basketball with his white friend in a public park. No sooner did his friend go home to get them some Gatorade than a patrol car pulls up. A cop shouted questions about what he was doing in a park in a neighborhood where white people lived, then more cars showed up, and a gun was pointed at him. Then his friend returned, and eventually the cops left them alone.

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By Jason Stanford

December 2, 2014      3:22 PM

Bearse: Legislative Transparency

From the Right: Quorum Report’s conservative columnist Eric Bearse argues there should be a real “record of how important bills pass or die.”

We are in the midst of that great democratic tradition known as the transition of power, which in Texas only occurs among Republicans. The incoming governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, has to make a number of important decisions, starting with selecting staff. In his case, he must choose which talented people to bring along from both his campaign and state office, while ensuring there is enough institutional memory within the office to carry out important functions.

This is harder when the transition involves a change in parties. I am told the legislative process for Governor Ann Richards was in such disarray her first session that dozens of bills were simply lost, and became law without her signature. Having a bill clerk who knows what he or she is doing may seem like a small thing until it is not.

The Texas Senate, which has been the body most immune to change until recently, not only welcomes a new lieutenant governor, but a number of new senators on top of the inordinate number of new senators elected two years ago. There is a lot of discussion about the two-thirds rule, and whether Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick will try to scrap it or modify it. I am less concerned about that debate than other traditions I don’t like in the Senate and Texas House that fly in the face of transparency, and harm our democratic process.

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November 28, 2014      1:17 PM

Stanford: We are the world

From the Left: Quorum Report’s liberal columnist Jason Stanford argues that Americans shouldn't pick and choose when to be global citizens

If there is a geo-political equivalent of white privilege, it’s got to be American exceptionalism. It’s not that we don’t think the rules apply to us. It’s that we think we’re playing a completely different game and that the rules are for “the world” and have nada to do with our Empire-that-shall-not-be-named. Cosseted by the most polite people on the north and buffeted by our supply of drugs and cheap labor to the south, we think the world can be divided into US and them.

We are so married this unspoken idea that the United States can deal with the world as if the world is some separate entity that it took a president to point out our interconnectedness. It’s more than exporting jobs or importing electronics and cars. Americans still think in terms of “exporting” and “importing” when religion, disease, and money think our borders are charming relics.

We think we can engage periodically in the world, choosing not to address the Ebola crisis in Africa and then act completely bumfuzzled when someone imports the infection to Texas. And then we demand that all direct flights be ceased immediately from “Ebola countries” without betraying the slightest awareness either that there were no direct flights or that we now have become an Ebola country.

We arm the Afghan rebels to beat the Soviets and then leave, only to see the Taliban fill the vacuum and provide safe haven for a disaffected scion for Al Qaeda, except we didn’t see because we were disengaged.

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By Jason Stanford