Thu March 5, 2015 10:34 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

The Senate Nominations Committee today gave its blessing to the confirmation of controversial University of Texas System Regents Sara Martinez Tucker, Steven Hicks and David Beck.

 

Wed March 4, 2015 9:54 pm By Paul Burka

Among Dan Patrick’s less desirable qualities is his monumental ego. A case in point. Patrick wrote a letter to President Obama in an attempt to get the federal government to agree to certain things Patrick wanted them to do for Texas. What’s wrong with that? Well, the person who is authorized to communicate with the federal government is not the Lieutenant Governor, it’s the governor. If anyone were going to write the feds seeking concessions, it should have been Greg Abbott, whom, you may have heard, is the actual governor of Texas.

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Wed March 4, 2015 6:25 pm By Erica Grieder

This morning Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, joined by Senators Jane Nelson, Chuy Hinojosa, and several others, unveiled a proposal that can only be described as craven.

Aman Batheja, at the Texas Tribune, summarizes the idea: the Senate’s budget writers are suggesting that money spent on paying down state debt and lowering property taxes not be counted towards the spending cap. This is an alternative to the current options: spend less money, or voting to bust the cap. Patrick’s explanation is telling:

“We have more money on hand than we believe any Legislature has ever had at one moment in time dealing with budget issues,” Patrick said. “There is no support for exceeding the spending cap but that also means that when we leave, we will have approximately $4.5 to $5 billion in the state’s checking account.”

Well…yes. That is, as it happens, how the spending cap is designed to work. It’s also why voters amended the Texas Constitution to include a spending cap in the first place. As Batheja notes, the spending cap has often been redundant, historically: the Texas Constitution’s pre-existing pay-as-you-go provision means that the Lege doesn’t necessarily have enough money to write a budget that would bump up against the cap, which is set by the Legislative Budget Board based on projections about population growth, incomes, and inflation. Sometimes, however, the state coffers are flush; in those cases, the purpose of the spending cap is to keep the government from going on a spending spree.

The fact that we have such a provision in the Texas constitution is a measure of the state’s longstanding commitment to fiscal discipline. Do you remember back in the olden days, which ended about six weeks ago, when Rick Perry spent years as governor saying, ad nauseam, “Don’t spend all the money”? That’s the concept behind the spending cap. It was literally Perry’s first principle of governing. It’s not a hard concept. Some Republicans still remember it, like House Speaker Joe Straus, who issued an icy statement about the rambunctious Senate: “For 36 years our state spending cap has helped enforce fiscal discipline, and we should be very cautious about any attempt to weaken it.”

Democrats, who generally would like Texas to spend more money on things like schools, may disagree; they have often called on Republicans to override the spending cap when the state has enough money to do so. And overriding the spending cap isn’t unduly arduous, in theory: it just requires a simple majority vote in both chambers, the same as passing the budget itself does. To put the previous point differently: the fact that we have a spending cap reflects the state’s historic commitment to fiscal discipline, and the fact that Republicans have resisted overriding it suggests that the commitment remains. In 2013, for example, Patrick was among the senators standing for fiscal discipline, despite being sympathetic to priorities such as school funding: “I cannot vote to break the Constitutional spending cap. If we do that then we will be on the same road to financial disaster that our federal government is on.”

Just two years ago, in fact, Republicans were so committed to maintaining fiscal discipline that a number of them went to the mattresses to fight a “spending spree” that wasn’t even real. So the proposal unveiled this morning is quite a change of tune. Let’s break this down:

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Wed March 4, 2015 3:57 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

As Texan George W. Bush’s eight years as president wound down in 2008, Bush told Politico that there was one thing he was looking forward to in a return to private life:

“Emailing to my buddies. I can remember as governor I stayed in touch with all kinds of people around the country, firing off emails at all times of the day to stay in touch with my pals One of the things I will have ended my public service time with is a group of friends. And I want to stay in touch with them and there’s no better way to communicate with them than through email.”

Bush, the email addicted Texas governor, had gone cold turkey on taking office as president, knowing his email accounts would be public record and thus fodder for reporters and opposition researchers to pore over looking for material that could be used to embarrass him.

Apparently, rather than follow the path of this Texas governor, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to follow the path of another Texas governor, Rick Perry, and engage in removing emails from public scrutiny. While each used different techniques, Clinton and Perry both found ways to make public disclosure of their emails difficult. When it comes to the public’s right to know what their government officials are doing, Clinton and Perry seem to be birds of a feather.

 

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Wed March 4, 2015 3:09 pm By Erica Grieder

This afternoon, Jose Menendez, a Democratic state representative from San Antonio, is being sworn into the Texas Senate as the successor to Leticia Van de Putte. The latter, of course, was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant-governor in 2014, but since she drew a four-year term after the 2012 elections, her senate seat was not open until her decision to retire from the Lege triggered a special election, which was held January 6th, Menendez was the runner-up in that election, and proceeded to win in a runoff against Trey Martinez Fischer, another Democratic state representative who sent a very pointed email to his supporters yesterday about the results of the runoff. As Martinez Fischer noted, he had lost the runoff by 4,253 votes. The explanation, he continued, was that 6.307 Republicans—defined as, people who voted in at least two of the three Republican primaries held in 2010, 2012, or 2014–turned out for the runoff:

What is even more bizarre than 6,307 consistent Republican primary voters getting involved in a race between two Democrats, is that there were 2,000 more votes cast by Republicans in the February runoff than in the January special election when there were actually 2 Republican candidates in the race.
 
It seems Republicans were really worried about Democrats sending the strongest voice to the State Senate.  And that is why the Republican attack group TLR spent over a million dollars attacking me and endorsing my opponent.
This might be a sore-loser thing to do, especially on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony. But Martinez Fischer is making a fair point, and one that Democrats should consider. It’s not necessarily the case that the 6,307 voters mentioned are all Ted Cruz supporters, as Martinez Fischer suggests later in the email. I’d like to think that some of them, at least, are just Texans who’ve cottoned on to the fact that in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Republican primaries were, for the most part, more important than the corresponding general elections. The circumstantial evidence, however, supports Martinez Fischer’s contention that these voters supported Menendez, by and large. In the House, as political scientist Mark P. Jones explained in December, Menendez posted a more moderate record than Martinez Fischer, “a quintessential Texas liberal.” Both candidates made an issue of Menendez’s relative centrism during the runoff: Menendez promised to work with the Republican majority, and Martinez Fischer warned that he would. And as Martinez Fischer notes, the number of Republicans who voted in the runoff was greater than the number who voted for the two Republicans who ran in the special election itself. 
 
This doesn’t mean that Menendez’s victory is illegitimate or that he is somehow not a real Democrat. For a Republican voter, faced with a choice between two Democrats, it’s perfectly reasonable to support the more moderate one or the one more commmitted to bipartisanship. (Those are different traits, and the latter may have been more important in this district: Van de Putte was clearly one of the more progressive Democrats in the Lege, but she had a history of working across the aisle, including with Tea Party Republicans). And since the two Republicans in the special election amassed about 5,300 votes between them, that’s probably part of the explanation for Menendez’s victory: the Texas electorate skews to the center, if not to the right.  
 
But the uptick in total turnout among consistent Republican primary voters between the election and the runoff is, as Martinez Fischer says, unusual and suggestive, and it underlines several points that R.G. made in his post about Battleground Texas last week. It would be perfectly reasonable for partisan Democrats to wish that a more assertive partisan had won, especially with redistricting on the horizon; to put it differently, if Democrats are waiting until conditions favor their candidates in statewide races, they’re missing opportunities to foster such conditions. And the results of this runoff are symptomatic of a more general problem for Texas Democrats. To the extent that the party has infrastructure, Martinez Fischer has access to it. He is one of the least politically apathetic Democrats in the Lege; if he couldn’t marshall the resources to fight off the Republican machine in a Democratic district holding a runoff election between two Democrats, that suggests a problem with the available Democratic infrastructure, rather than a failure of will or focus on his part.