Thu June 18, 2015 2:06 pm By Erica Grieder

Earlier today R.G. and I sat down with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune for a live conversation about our picks for Best & Worst Legislators. The discussion covered some of the questions that commenters have raised since we announced the picks, so if anyone else is wondering about Jane Nelson, you might want to take a look. 

The video is available here. I enjoyed the discussion overall, but a particular highlight from me was the question, around the 43-minute mark, from an audience member who asked about the untimely demise of HB 984, which would give adult adoptees the option of tracking down their original birth certificates. Really, it was an assassination: the measure, by Joe Deshotel, received unanimous support in committee, and passed the House on a 138-1 vote. It then received unanimous support in the Senate State Affairs Committee, and would almost certainly have passed on the floor– the Senate sponsor, Brandon Creighton, had lined up 14 co-sponsors, ranging across the ideological spectrum from Jose Menendez to Brian Birdwell—if it hadn’t been taken off the intent calendar for reasons that were never specified.

At the time, I had heard the reason: Donna Campbell is against the idea, and this year scuttled the effort by asking the lieutenant governor to remove it from the intent calendar. She succeeded, apparently, and no one really noticed: the bill hadn’t attracted much attention in the first place, and it was removed from the intent calendar in the final days of session. Still, taking a bill off the intent calendar as a favor to a pal is a total breach of process values, and it was obviously unfair to the bill’s many supporters and the advocates who had worked to build support for the issue. And, as it happens, I had heard about the episode from my sources; it helps explain why Campbell appears on the worst list. But as you’ll see in the July issue, it’s not mentioned in her write-up–all of the write-ups are too short to be comprehensive–and it hadn’t come up during our discussion with Evan. The questioner, however, turned out to be an advocate for adoptees, and therefore one of the people who had been trampled by Campbell. If she hadn’t been there, this probably would have been one of the many episodes of any legislative session that are lost to the shifting sands of time.

All this by way of saying that we really do appreciate those of you leaving thoughtful comments, and all the sources we talked to over the course of the session. The list can’t cover everything that happened, or address every legislator’s involvement, or corroborate and relay every good observation. We are paying attention, though—so thanks, and thanks for reading.  

Thu June 18, 2015 1:56 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

If the legislation to move the prosecution of state officials in ethics cases from Travis County to their hometowns becomes law, it could usher in one of the greatest eras of public corruption in the state since gamblers controlled Galveston and Dallas and the political bosses ruled in South Texas.

Republican lawmakers—apparently afraid of the heavily Democratic grand juries and petit juries of Travis County—sent Governor Greg Abbott HB 1690 by Representative Phil King and Senator Joan Huffman to move the Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County district attorney’s office and into the Texas Rangers, with any resulting prosecutions occurring in a state official’s home county. The bill is awaiting Abbott’s signature or inaction to become law, or his veto.

While HB 1690 would apply to members of the Legislature, a proposed state constitutional amendment on the November ballot, SJR 52, effectively would extend this to statewide officials. Since 1876, they have been required to live in Austin under the state Constitution, but the new language would allow them to live anywhere in the state—in other words, in any county where they would not face a hostile, partisan grand jury. 

If you think I am exaggerating when I say this will lead to political corruption, then I will point you to the cases of former state Representative Ismael “Kino” Flores and former state Senator Carl Parker. Flores, a South Texas politician known as “Mr. Ten Percent,” was brought to the bar of justice for failing to fully comply with state financial disclosure laws. Parker was an innocent politician who had two sets of indictments brought against him by grand juries under the control of a vindictive local prosecutor.  

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Thu June 18, 2015 9:59 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the State of Texas power to reject a request for a state vehicle license plate that includes an image of the Confederate battle flag. The request had been made by the Sons of Confederate Veterans as part of the state’s specialty plate program. The court ruled the plates are government speech and not individual free speech. We discussed this at length back in March on Burkablog.

Wed June 17, 2015 10:34 am By Erica Grieder, Dave Mann, R.G. Ratcliffe, Brian D. Sweany

Ever since its founding, Texas Monthly’s coverage of the Legislature has culminated in a biennial list of the Ten Best and Ten Worst legislators. This year was no exception, although the Eighty-fourth Legislature was marked by transition at the Capitol—the leadership nearly entirely turned over—and at our office—senior executive editor Paul Burka retired this year. Despite big changes, some things remain the same, like our committment to holding our legislators accountable for their actions throughout the session. So, without further ado, here are our picks, in alphabetical order:

BEST

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen)

Rep. César Blanco (D-El Paso)

Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton)

Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler)

Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth)

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio)

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio)

Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton)

Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound)

Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston)

WORST

Rep. Cecil Bell Jr (R-Magnolia)

Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)

Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston)

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston)

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)

Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso)

Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler)

Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown)

Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford)

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton)

The Best & Worst Legislators 2015 includes write-ups for each of these picks—and in some cases, the reasons may surprise you. The feature also includes honorable and dishonorable mentions; Furniture; assessments of Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus; and a look at Representative Charlie Geren, our biennial Bull of the Brazos. All of that, plus Brian Sweany’s post-session interview with Abbott, is in the July issue of Texas Monthly, which will start appearing in mailboxes over the weekend and on newsstands next Thursday.

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Sun June 14, 2015 11:44 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

State Senator Kevin Eltife, who often was the conscience of the chamber’s Republican majority, has told his hometown paper that he is not seeking re-election in 2016.

“After 23 years, I have to honestly say I need to take a step back, spend more time with my family and friends and recharge my batteries,” Eltife said during an Editorial Board meeting with the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “I will continue to be involved and volunteer at the local and state level to try to help others.”

Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, are hard-working, well-intentioned people who sacrifice time from their families and lives to try to make Texans’ lives better, he said.

“I’m going to stay plugged in,” he said. “I want to make sure northeast Texas voices are heard, and I don’t have to be in public office to do that.”

State Representative David Simpson, a libertarian Republican, quickly jumped into the race Sunday morning with this statement:

“My family and I have spent much time praying and considering what we should do in 2016. Advancing liberty and promoting prosperity in Texas will take conservative leaders who are ready to tell the truth. We are excited to announce our campaign for Senate District 1 and intend to officially launch our efforts on June 22.” stated Simpson.

UPDATE: Representative Bryan Hughes is entering the race as well:

After a lot of prayer and counsel from family and friends, today I’m announcing my candidacy for the Texas Senate.  I’ve had the privilege of representing much of East Texas already in the House, and I’m looking forward to visiting with old friends and meeting new ones all across this corner of Texas.  In the House I’ve gained a reputation as a conservative, independent voice for East Texas, and I want to continue that work in the Texas Senate.

Hughes’ release includes endorsements from Attorney General Ken Paxton and social conservative leaders