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:


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)


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

Sat June 13, 2015 5:21 pm By Erica Grieder

The news that Greg Abbott will not call a special session on gay marriage should not have been a surprise to anyone. I wouldn’t even call this a “decision” on the governor’s part, really. In addition to the fact that Abbott has never cited gay marriage as the most serious issue facing Texas today, he is clearly a reasonable adult, and would therefore be unlikely to see it as such. Plus, the Lege had plenty of opportunities to pass anti-gay legislation, and declined all of them; that’s not a particularly ambiguous result, or one that seems like an accident.

Still, the news was a serious disappointment to some of Texas’s most ardent social conservatives in Texas, who are still reeling from the 84th Legislature’s total failure to advance this aspect of their agenda. Their dismay is not surprising: considering that both chambers and all major statewide offices are controlled by Republicans, who won the 2014 elections in a landslide, this was a pretty unproductive session from a socially conservative perspective. But looking back at the session, I don’t think socially conservative activists should be surprised. They’re the ones to blame, at least in part. And if they don’t realize that–which many of them clearly don’t–they’re bound to be disappointed again. 

In my assessment, social conservatives were stymied by circumstances this session, specifically guns; the seemingly endless open carry debate absorbed the time and muscle that otherwise might have been allocated to tackling right-wing priorities such as abortion, gay people, or the Texas DREAM Act. They were also thwarted by their usual bogeyman, Joe Straus, and the commitment to tackling real issues like roads and education that he and his affiliates represent. The latter factor is no doubt the one that conservatives will focus on during the next round of primaries; some of the RINOs have already drawn official challenges. The right wing may win a few seats, as they have in previous rounds.

But that approach helps explain how little social conservatives accomplished. The purges marginalize them in two predictable ways.

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