Tue February 17, 2015 3:49 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

In a pointed moment of Greg Abbott’s State of the State speech, the governor called out freshman House member Will Metcalf. Abbott said the Republican from Conroe is the youngest member of the Legislature, having been born in 1984. “For his entire life, the State of Texas has been mired in litigation about school funding,” Abbott said. “I think we can all agree it’s time to put school finance litigation behind us. It’s time to stop fighting about school finance and start fixing our schools.”

Abbott was mostly correct. The only governor who has not had a school finance lawsuit hanging over his or her head since 1984’s Edgewood v. Kirby lawsuit was George W. Bush, also once known as Señor Suerte, Mr. Lucky. As Bush took office, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the so-called Robin Hood school finance plan adopted under Ann Richards was constitutional. Bush was free of the school finance headache. However, because of changing finances and demographics, no school finance funding formula remains intact for more than about ten years. So the school districts went back to court in 2003, and the state has been in litigation ever since, with a district judge ruling the system unconstitutional last year.

A decade of arguing has resolved little, and Abbott’s call to solve public school finance in Will Metcalf’s lifetime sounded like bold leadership. But like much of the rest of Abbott’s State of the State speech, he offered policies that polished the edges of Texas’ challenges without solving the bigger problems. For instance, the biggest problem of school finance is how to distribute money fairly and who has to pay for it. That is the detail that has bedeviled many of a state politician, and Abbott appears to be one more.

Read More
Mon February 16, 2015 9:27 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

During Rick Perry’s tenure as governor, finding the nexus between campaign donations and government contracts or public policy was about as difficult as finding a rock in a quarry. Along with a few others, I practically made a career out of seeing the dots and putting them together. The library of material was so extensive that when Sarah Palin started talking about “crony capitalism” during the 2011-12 presidential campaign there was little doubt that her remarks were aimed at Perry. Now that Greg Abbott has replaced Perry, we should start wondering what all the money that put Abbott in the governor’s office will or won’t buy. Although we can easily say Abbott will be conservative as governor, it is still too early to tell whether he will feel a necessity to reward those political donors beyond a few appointments as university regents or to the Parks & Wildlife Commission. At the same time, when the inaugural committee for Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released a list of donors to the $4.7 million party, I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was a report of the investment bank for would-be supplicants or a check list of special thank-you notes that Abbott and Patrick will have to sign.

Most of the first-glance news reports on the subject looked at the most obvious donors: Walmart, which wants a state liquor license or Charles and David Koch, who want government downsizing. There were questions raised about a state lottery vendor, Gtech, giving $50,000, and about how other donations came from gambling interests. The devil, however, often is not among the usual suspects who will turn up at the top of the list in almost every major Republican campaign in Texas. (Note, the Democrats have their list of regular donors as well, but I don’t care about them at the moment.) The story of how government operates often is in that second tier of donors, the unusual or the ignored. So I borrowed the list from the Texas Tribune and went through it to find some of the donations that aren’t regularly the scrutiny of media watchdogs. Here’s just a few:

Read More
Thu February 12, 2015 8:58 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe
Blame it on unease caused by the 2008 recession. Blame it on the election of Barack Obama, a Democrat, as president. Blame it on fears of terrorists slipping across the border. On Thursday, when the Senate State Affairs Committee took up SB 17—a measure which would legalize the open carry of handguns—its author, Craig Estes, said that the bill sought to right “an ancient wrong.” Maybe; as Estes noted, Texas has banned open carry of handguns since the 19th century. 
Politically speaking, though, open carry is a recent issue. And support for open carry has grown alongside an explosion in the number of Texans seeking the license required to legally carrying a concealed handgun. Texas legalized concealed carry in 1996, with the provision that to get a CHL, individuals would have to undergo training, proficiency testing, and background checks for criminal convictions and mental health problems. Over the next dozen years, there was a slow and steady increase in the number of licenses issued by the Department of Public Safety. Even after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there was no rush of Texans to obtain CHLs.
But since 2008 the number of licenses issued by DPS has exploded.
Read More
Tue February 10, 2015 4:03 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

During my care-free years in college, I owned a single-action, western style .357 magnum revolver that my buddies and I would take to the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. We’d sit, talk about the past, dream about the future and take potshots at whatever happened to float downstream. We were more likely to create geysers of water than to hit anything in the fast-flowing wide Missouri. Plinking with firearms was something I’d grown up with in the fields and streams on the outskirts of Dallas. As boys, we had BB guns, and then as teenagers we had more adult firearms. We shot tin cans along a railroad track, and once did battle with a v-formation of water snakes coming down the creek. Those days always come back to me whenever I hear John Prine’s song about a childhood of hunting pop bottles along the Green River in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.

Those fields of my youth are gone, replaced by tract housing and apartments north of the Addison Airport, and many of the creeks where we splashed as boys are just concrete culverts. But despite all the times I went plinking when young, I’ve never felt so threatened as an adult to think it was necessary to carry a handgun for self-defense. I’m not going to argue the merits or demerits of carrying pistols, open or concealed, because there are enough standard bearers on both sides of that issue to knee-jerk it to death. I merely want to point out that the sales job for the open carry of handguns is something of a misunderstood and misleading bill of goods.

First, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about exactly what open carry means, because there are two types.

Read More
Tue February 10, 2015 3:09 pm By Erica Grieder

BurkaBlog readers, I bring you good news. In light of my colleague Paul’s pending retirement, my colleague Brian Sweany’s promotion to editor-in-chief, and my apparent inability to write daily posts without shirking my other assignments or giving up my hobby of railing against Obamacare on Twitter, the blog itself has been a little short-staffed.

Thankfully R.G. Ratcliffe has agreed to join us for session. To rejoin us, that is; he was part of Texas Monthly’s politics team during the 2011 session, as many of you no doubt remember. And he’s covered the Lege since 1983, as a political writer for the Houston Chronicle, among other outlets, so he knows what he’s talking about.

R.G.’s official first day is February 16th, but you can’t keep a political writer from writing about politics, nor should you try, when faced with a Lege as irresistible as this one. So his first post of the session will be up later this afternoon. In the interim, please join me in welcoming R.G. back to BurkaBlog!