Reporting from the Texas Legislature, with investigation and analysis of the state's economy, public policy, education, and more.
Elsewhere in this month’s issue, our political team considers which state legislators have earned our respect and which ones remind us why the stately granite building at Twelfth Street and Congress Avenue has long been the butt of countless jokes (“The Best and Worst Legislators 2015”). One aspect of Texas’s political culture that our writers haven’t addressed, however, is the educational attainment of our legislators.
Brian D. Sweany: Governor, tell me about the moment it became real to you that you were the new governor of Texas.
Sure, our lieutenant governor in his race for office promised voters that he was going to bring “a new day and a bold day in Texas.” It was a theme of Dan Patrick’s campaign, and when he trounced former Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in the Republican primary runoff, Patrick declared, “It’s a new day in Texas.” And after his swearing in, Patrick asked the crowd, “What day is it? It’s a new day in Texas.”
Patrick gave state senators a grade of “A-minus” — no one’s perfect, he quipped. He spoke first about increased spending — $800 million — for border security. He also praised tax relief for property and business owners.
Yep, no one’s perfect, and Patrick’s tour looks like a return to the days when state officials used the resources of the taxpayers, the perks of their office and their official capacities for the exercise of a perpetual campaign.
Since the summer of 2013, there’s been an ongoing question regarding just how accessible abortion in the state was going to be in the wake of the passage of the 83rd legislature’s HB2, the so-called omnibus abortion bill that introduced sweeping new measures that would restrict access to the procedure throughout the state. It made a star, briefly, out of former state senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis; it revealed long-simmering tensions in the Texas culture war, embodied in a clash between people who wore blue shirts to represent their support for the bill, and people who wore orange shirts to represent their opposition; and, ultimately, it passed in a special legislative session called by then-Governor Rick Perry.
In the late summer of 1977, I was working for the Beaumont Enterprise and living with two other journalists in a termite-ridden rent house beneath a street overpass. Only a high row of hedges separated us from the clanging of the railroad switching yard next door. For a generation of journalists who came and went from renting there, the home was known as the Troll House. Parties started when the newspaper went to bed at midnight and ended with the dawn. Freight cars don’t complain about noise or call the police to intervene.
A major career move that September dictated that I leave the Troll House behind for a relocation to Florida, but before I departed, my September issue of Texas Monthly arrived. The cover depicted Houston police as a motorcycle gang. The article inside by Tom Curtis, titled Support Your Local Police (Or Else), was a stunning tale of police brutality – and not just because of the murder of Joe Campos Torres Jr., a prisoner who was thrown in a bayou to drown. The story stuck with me through the years.
Torres’ death is just the most spectacular example of a recent deluge of violent police incidents. After the Torres killing, Mayor Fred Hofheinz, obviously anguished, said: “There is something loose in this city that is an illness.” Criminal lawyer Percy Foreman called Houston “a police state.” Today, he says, the Houston Police Department is worse, and its officers more violent and unchecked, than any comparable police force in the country.
The story out of McKinney this week about a white policeman pulling his service weapon on a group of African-American teenagers in swimsuits did not involve a shooting or throwdown weapons to mask unnecessary police brutality. It did renew questions about whether police in America are more apt to react violently toward African-Americans than whites. The question of police force and race in America is not an easy problem to solve. However, a problem that can be solved is how police are trained – especially since 9/11 – to be an occupying force rather than as our protectors.
The Dallas Morning News today has a profile of the McKinney officer involved in the incident, Cpl. David Eric Casebolt, who taught executive self-defense in his off hours:
“During his career in Law Enforcement, he has received in-depth training on impact weapon deployment and expandable baton, firearms, electronic control devices (ECDs), ground fighting, Positive Assertive Control Tactics-Dynamic Threat Response (PACT-DTR), handcuffing, joint locks and pressure point compliance, armed and unarmed self-defense.”
His biography also listed his police certifications, and ended with his specific skills: “He has trained in several different disciplines of martial arts, but now exclusively trains in Krav Maga combat arts, Arnis, and ground fighting.”
Police deserve respect for risking their lives in the line of duty. Eleven died in Texas in 2014. It is not easy to determine, though, how many Texas civilians were killed by police and whether it was justified.
It’s official, y’all: Rick Perry’s name can be added to the list of Texans running for President—a list that includes Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Carly Fiorina (plus imminent-announcer Jeb Bush). The former governor made his blindingly obvious intentions to throw his hat and glasses back into the ring explicit this morning, becoming the first candidate also under criminal indictment to declare for 2016. (Though, if Chris Christie gets into the ring, he may not be the last!)
With his good hair and new horn-rimmed glasses, Rick Perry woke up this morning hoping Republicans will give him a second chance at making a first impression. Perry has an announcement scheduled at the Addison Airport north of Dallas. He is surrounding himself at the event with so many former Navy SEALs that if he’s not announcing for president, then he’s flying off immediately in a C-130 to stop a Bond villain a la You Only Live Twice — and “Twice is the only way to live.”
I’m betting on a run for president.
Perry told Christy Hoppe of The Dallas Morning News that he is a different man than he was when he entered the last contest in 2011 and then stumbled in a series of debates.
Perry has healed from the back surgery that hampered him through 2012. He has spent two years studying with experts in foreign relations, military preparedness and economics. He has traveled dozens of times to early primary states to establish a beachhead. He has ditched the cowboy boots and added glasses.
“It’s real different from last time,” Perry said in a recent interview. “You know I’m a different candidate than I was 3 1/2 years ago.”
The question before him is whether it’s too late.
In a crowded field of candidates at a time when Americans are disgusted with both major political parties, Perry’s first challenge is to break through the noise just to make the case that he is smarter than the 2011 campaign seemed to proclaim.
With legislation to block county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses dying in the Legislature, it is not surprising that social conservatives are asking Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session on the issue.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected later this month to rule on whether state bans on same-sex marriage are constitutional, and the conventional wisdom is the court is going to say the bans are unconstitutional. Social conservatives had hoped to block implementation in Texas by passing a law that banned the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses, giving the state a means for continued litigation. The conservatives hope to use Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297 (1980) to argue that the federal government cannot force states to spend local money to enforce a federal policy; i.e., issuing licenses for same-sex marriage.
After a legislative session where Abbott can claim a level of success, I find it difficult to believe he would call a special session on such a divisive issue, especially while he is still signing and vetoing bills. But on a single-issue special session, the only thing to stop a bill such as this from passing quickly would be a quorum break by Democrats.
The petition to Abbott is posted below.