Wed August 27, 2014 11:45 am By Paul Burka

A rather ridiculous piece of writing appeared recently in Forbes, under the byline of one Patrick Gleason, who allegedly covers the "intersection of state and federal policy and politics." Gleason attempts to make the point that the Texas House of Representatives is controlled by a "left-of-center speaker." This commentary has all the earmarks of a Michael Quinn Sullivan put-up job. Gleason writes,

"Conventional wisdom holds that Texas is a deep red state [that is] home to some of the most conservative politicians in the country. However, many outside the Lone Star State including most if not all Washington and New York based pundits are unaware that the House of Representatives is controlled by a left of center speaker, Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who came into power by ousting his conservative predecessor with a coalition of Democrats and a handful of left of center Republicans."

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Wed August 27, 2014 9:41 am By Paul Burka

The governor has a first-class legal team, but some of its arguments concerning the indictment sound more like rhetoric than law.

Such as "an unconstitutional attack on Perry's rights"

And  ..."defies common sense"

And ..."a violation of the Texas and U.S. constitutions"

And ... "an improper attempt to criminalize politics"

And ... "based on state laws that are unconstitutional"

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Tue August 26, 2014 3:31 pm By Erica Grieder

One of my recurring frustrations with debates over social issues is that such debates often rest on moral principles over empirical evidence, sometimes to the point where the latter are dismissed or even disdained. Philosophically, I have no objection; we should all aim to be serious about our moral reasoning, and the First Amendment protects free expression. Pragmatically, though, arguments that are primarily or exclusively based on moral principles are vulnerable and problematic. Vulnerable, because it's hard to build a lasting coalition of interest around a contentious and unverifiable premise. Problematic, because insofar as moral principles aren't derived from evidence, moral arguments aren't subject to re-evaluation in the face of contrary evidence. They're not even subject to evidentiary standards in the first place, which creates another practical problem: moral arguments don't anticipate or really even allow for the possibility of disagreement. They're blunt instruments. Advocates may be able to use them to ram a bill through the legislature, but they won't change anyone's mind doing things that way, and they create suspicion and hostility on both sides. 

With that in mind, I wanted to point you all to the September issue of Texas Monthly, which features a chat with Kyleen Wright, the head of Texans for Life. They were one of the pro-life groups that advocated for the passage of last year's omnibus abortion bill, and as Wright explained to me, their particular priority was the provision that requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. The reason, she explained, was as follows. Two women had confided in her about their distressing abortion experiences--two women who were unrelated, except that they had seen the same doctor. It occurred to her that a law requiring hospital admitting privileges would effectively provide another layer of oversight and get some of the sketchier doctors out of the business. (Worth noting, although this was cut for space in the print edition: Wright added that they had run through the finite list of doctors who provide abortions in Texas and found that most of them either already had such admitting privileges or would be easily able to acquire them.) A year later, this was her overall summary of their work on the bill, and its effects: 

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Sun August 17, 2014 10:22 pm By Paul Burka

Smearing the prosecutor is just about the dumbest thing a defendant in a criminal case can do. The second dumbest thing is to threaten the prosecutor. Perry appeared to do just that at the end of his press conference yesterday when he said, "And those responsible will be held to account." It sounded very much like a threat.

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Sun August 17, 2014 1:44 pm By Erica Grieder

 

The indictments announced Friday against Rick Perry don’t fully detail the prosecutor’s evidence against him, and it’s possible that when all the evidence is presented Texans will be united in their desire to see him sent to the pokey. On the basis of the facts as we know them, though, the case against Perry seems no more dispositive to me today than it did in April, when the special prosecutor announced that a grand jury would be seated

To review those facts, in 2013 the Travis County district-attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to 45 days in jail. It was a penalty that no one could find fault with after viewing video footage of the field sobriety test and her subsequent behavior at the station that evening (she served about half the sentence and entered a treatment program after leaving prison). A number of Texans felt that she should resign, among them Perry, who publicly warned that he would use his line-item veto to remove state funding to the Public Integrity Unit—an anti-corruption outfit located in the Travis County DA’s office—unless she stepped down. 

At the time, Democrats grumbled that Mr Perry’s threat was politically motivated. The Public Integrity Unit investigates corruption among statewide officials, which means, in the context, that it’s a check on Republicans like Perry and his pals. If Lehmberg stepped down, Perry would, in theory, have had a chance to replace a Democrat with a Republican appointee more friendly to his agenda. And after Lehmberg refused to resign and Perry vetoed the funding, the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint, charging that the veto had been politically motivated. That led to yesterday’s indictments; the charges are coercion and abuse of power. 

Perry, unsurprisingly, responded Saturday by doubling down, dismissing the indictment as “outrageous.” More surprising, perhaps, is how quickly public opinion has moved in his favor, or at least in favor of proceeding with caution. Republicans were quick to rally round, but even independents and Democrats, after the initial fizzle faded, seemed skeptical of the indictment. 

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