Did Texas' forefathers know more about handguns than today's politicians?

Timothy "Longhair Jim" CourtrightFort Worth’s White Elephant Saloon today is among the city’s top tourist attractions, but at about 8 p.m. on February 8, 1887, it was the scene of one of the most famous gunfights in Old West history. The White Elephant’s owner was gambler Luke Short, who counted among his friends Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Short had a reputation as a quick shot and a man not likely to back down from a fight. That did not stop former City Marshal T.I. “Longhair Jim” Courtright from trying to shake down Short for protection money. Angry that Short was refusing to pay, a drunken Courtright called Short into the street outside the White Elephant.

Illuminated only by flickering gas lights, Courtright stood in the street with a .45 caliber pistol holstered on each hip. Short, something of a dandy in his dress, stood on the sidewalk with his thumbs hooked into his vest while offering assurances that he was unarmed. Short opened his coat to show no weapons. Courtright knew Short carried a pocket gun and shouted, “Don’t you pull a gun on me!” Courtright swiftly yanked out one of his pistols. Short was faster. His first shot took off Courtright’s thumb. The former marshal shifted the pistol to his left hand. He was not fast enough. Short shot him several more times. Courtright lay dying as Policeman John J. Fulford arrived. “Ful, they’ve got me,” Courtright said, with a dying gasp worthy of a dime novel.

The Texas Senate – the same body that this week likely will debate allowing for the open carrying of pistols – by chance on the day after the White Elephant shooting took up a bill to enhance the penalty for the crime of carrying pistols in Texas. The prohibition on carrying six-shooters in the state was not, as some claim, a racist Jim Crow law to intimidate African-Americans. The law was meant to reduce crime and calm fears that Texas was a dangerous place, fears that were keeping people and business from moving to the state.

Texas Eagle Forum, John Birch Society are Right

As I listened to the pitchfork brigade testify this week in a House committee on limiting federal power, I found myself in agreement with the Texas Eagle Forum and members of the John Birch Society on one issue – forcing Congress to call a Constitutional Convention is a dangerous idea that could destroy one of the best national charters ever written.

The Fixer

James A. Baker III has seen it all. The Houston lawyer didn’t get involved in politics until he was 40, but since that time he has commanded the national and international stage like few others: running five presidential campaigns (one apiece for Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan and three for George H. W. Bush) and serving as White House chief of staff, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of State, and all-around political fixer.

What's at Stake

It’s probably clear enough at this point that I’m against the Senate’s proposals to exempt tax relief and debt service from being counted against the spending cap for a number of reasons. I see no good purpose for them. Although lessening property taxes and paying down debt are honorable goals, neither seems critical enough to warrant overriding the spending cap, especially this year. In calling for more spending, the Senate is not being frivolous: Texas has one of the lowest spending rates per capita in the country, and has maintained fiscal discipline even as the budget has come under pressure for a variety of reasons (the soaring costs of Medicaid, the growth in school enrollment). However, the Lege has some breathing room this session; the spending cap allows for $107 billion in general revenue-related spending, compared to about $97 billion last time around. That would leave $4 or $5 billion on the table, but it’s worth resisting the temptation to splurge. The Lege will probably need to top up school finance next year, and a surplus might be a lifesaver when the next regular session rolls around, in 2017: the Texas economy’s rate of growth is slowing.

If these proposals somehow made it into the Constitution, I think we’d be effectively undermining the spending cap itself. I know some people think that’s overly pessimistic; among Michael Quinn Sullivan’s many grievances with me is that (in his view), the proposals are about “redefining” the cap, not busting it. Sorry, no. The proposals are attempting to redefine spending, not the cap, and I think it would be naïve to look at this as an abstract intellectual exercise, or one that wouldn’t set a risky precedent. If the 84th Lege can “redefine” certain types of spending, future Legislatures can “redefine” others. And I don’t see why they wouldn’t try, if Texas’s self-professed “conservative” leaders set such a precedent this year–especially if they concurrently make the spending cap more restrictive, thereby making these gimmicks more tempting. That’s why, although I doubt this was the intention, I think the Senate’s leaders are putting Texas’s spending cap at risk.

But there’s a more serious problem with these proposals. They undermine Texas’s fiscal integrity. And that is, to me, one of our greatest virtues. Sometimes I think it’s the only one worth being called a virtue. By “fiscal integrity,” I mean something that encompasses fiscal discipline and fiscal responsibility but goes even farther and matters more than discipline or responsibility on their own.

The Terror Whisperer

There seem to be so many terrorists under Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw’s bed, it’s a wonder he can sleep at night. He pulls out their spectral shapes when he wants something. Then, in the light of day, he denies they are there. McCraw’s terror whispering is like a personal mood ring version of the old Homeland Security color codes.

The McCraw terror whisper first entered my ear in 2006 when I listened to him speak at a Republican state convention in San Antonio.

Are Taxes in Texas Not So Bad?

The conservative Tax Foundation’s newest report says Texans last year hit their Tax Freedom Day on April 13, placing the state ahead of 31 others. But the report also indicates Texans may be complaining too much about their taxes.

In terms of their overall state and local tax burden, Texans ranked 47th among the states, and on tax burden per capita, Texas ranked 42nd.

Border Security and Border Rhetoric

An interesting piece is out there this week on the Brownsville federal judge who blocked President Obama’s executive order on immigration brought to my mind, again, that the debate on immigration and border security too often is about sound bites rather than people.

The article I’m referring to was about Judge Andrew S. Hanen, who was in a Baylor law school study group with conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Priscilla Owen and liberal Houston trial lawyer John Eddie Williams. While President Obama has portrayed the case as one of judge shopping by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott to find a right-wingnut jurist, this piece in the not-so-conservative New York Times leaves you with a completely different picture of Judge Hanen.

Mr. Williams said he differed with Judge Hanen on immigration, supporting Mr. Obama “100 percent.” But he said, “I would disagree with anyone who would say Andy Hanen has any prejudice. His decisions will always be based on sound legal grounds.”

Finally, A (Senate) Republican Stands Up For the Spending Cap

Another day, another press conference, another spending cap proposal, and in a delightful turn of events, this one’s actually reasonable. Earlier today, Kelly Hancock, a Republican from North Richland Hills, filed the legislation which would enable voters to weigh in on whether Texas should tighten its spending cap.

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