phil king

R’s against R’s

Mar 2, 2010 By Paul Burka

A group of Republican House members has injected themselves into Republican primary races in an effort to defeat their own colleagues. In my book, this is bottom-of-the-barrel behavior, but these folks are the type to do it. Those inclined toward eating their own young are Leo Berman, Wayne Christian, Betty…

Watching paint dry

May 22, 2009 By Paul Burka

How else to describe the pace of House debate? I can’t recall another session when the default option was for both parties to chub every bill. The debate over the unemployment insurance bill was particularly dilatory. Why is this bill even being debated? Rick Perry has drawn his line in…

Wanted: adult supervision

May 9, 2009 By Paul Burka

The House was out of control Thursday during the debate on the TxDOT Sunset bill. The process was living proof of the old saying that there are two things you should never see being made: sausage and legislation. This was not serious lawmaking. It was an orgy--an orgy of hatred for TxDOT. Why bother to offer amendments at all? Why not just make personal privilege speeches that say, "I hate TxDOT worse than you do." "No, I hate TxDOT worse than you ever dreamed of hating them." Then vote for the person who hates TxDOT the most and let him or her write the bill. The Republicans got so caught up in the frenzy that they voted for a governance scheme that included a statewide elected chairman. Overcome by their own blood lust, they didn't stop to think that the reason the Democrats were pushing it was that they have a fighting chance to win a statewide office that has no incumbent. Phil King got it. He pointed out that the plan would have to go through preclearance with the Justice Department. That didn't slow anybody down. The governing proposal that carried the day was the Leibowitz amendment. It called for 15 commissioners, with one elected statewide and the others to be elected from the 14 Court of Appeals districts. Did anybody realize that this "reform" gives Houston two commissioners, one from the first district, one from the fourteenth? Otto, in opposition, pointed out that commissioners will be beholden to the population centers in their districts. The rural counties don't have enough population to form districts of their own, so they will inevitably be attached to urban counties. Otto said Liberty County, in his district, will be swallowed up by Houston. Actually, Liberty County is in the 9th Court of Appeals district, so it will be swallowed up by Jefferson County. The outcome, for Liberty County, is the same: the roads will be built in Jefferson County. For the umpteenth time, I was reminded that Texas politics is less about R versus D than it is about rural versus urban. For most of Texas history, the rurals prevailed, but from this point forward--and especially after the 2011 redistricting--the urbans are going win.

The Cold War

Apr 19, 2009 By Paul Burka

The House budget debate had a lot in common with the Cold War. The two sides came to the battlefield fully armed, but they engaged in frequent diplomacy that avoided a nuclear conflagration. Jessica Farrar, for the Democratic caucus, and various Republicans, Phil King among them, held a summit on reproductive issues--strategies to prevent abortion, for the R's, and family planning funds, for the D's, both of which were under attack from the other side--and agreed to total disarmament. All proposed amendments were moved to Article 11, where dreams go to die. Nothing came to a vote. All this peace and harmony slowed down the House's already glacial pace. Motions to table amendments were rare. Instead, the chair would intone, "The amendment is withdrawn," and the glacier would grind to a halt while members looked for a way to fix the problem. For example, Mark Strama had an early amendment to state the intent of the Legislature that not less than 70% of the research superiority grants from the Emerging Technology Fund should be for clean energy research and development. Otto didn't agree with stating an exact percentage, and everything stopped while they worked out agreeable language. Occasionally an amendment would spur the ideologues into action. Martinez-Fischer had an amendment to encourage the Employees Retirement System to hire more minority fund raisers. Christian, the chair of the Conservative Coalition, jumped into the fray: What is a minority? Do you know the performance of minority fund managers? Give me a fund where a minority fund manager has performed well. Phillips followed with an amendment to the amendment that would have required fund managers to be chosen on the basis of experience, skill, education, and demonstrated success. Point of order! Sustained. The most dreaded words of the debate were: "Rule 8, Section 4"--the grounds for a point of order that an amendment was attempting to make law in an appropriations bill, in contradiction to the text of the rule: "General law may not be changed by the provision in an appropriations bill." This was the graveyard of many an amendment, including Berman's immigration amendments. Sometimes, as in the case of Christian's proposal to remove all funding for the Public Integrity Unit and give the authority to the attorney general, the amendment was quietly withdrawn. This was clearly the worst public policy in the entire debate, and I wonder if Abbott planted the suggestion. I wouldn't be surprised if more amendments weren't killed on points of order this year than last, but nobody seemed to mind, except Phillips, who made a personal privilege speech after Martinez-Fischer killed his attempt to tack on a contingent teacher pay raise.

The Guns-on-Campus hearing

Apr 1, 2009 By Paul Burka

This is a report from Texas Monthly's intern, Abby Rapoport, on the Public Safety committee hearing of March 30 on Joe Driver's bill allowing guns on campus. It was four hours into the meeting before Public Safety made it to the issue that had brought crowds. Joe Driver presented HB 1893 which would allow concealed handguns on public and private college campuses. In his introduction, Driver argued that the bill did not affect most students, since the bill applies only to those over 21 and still allows colleges to forbid firearms in dorms. “The idea that the act will result in any increase in violence is simply incorrect,” he said. As witnesses testified, Phil King took the middle ground and drew on his own experiences, having been a police officer while in college. He concerned himself with whether or not students should have handguns, although he wanted to make sure everyone could have a gun in a car. “Faculty who have a long walk [keeping a gun] in a drawer or a purse—I would be willing to acknowledge the need for that,” he said. When questions arose—specifically about how the law would affect teachers who were also taking classes—King, along with Merritt, insisted on the DPS witness calling his office for more information. Lon Burnam and Joe Driver, coming from opposite ideological sides, worked together in prolonging the testimony. Burnam took an impressively sanctimonious route in much of his questioning. Best example: In questioning the president of La Tourneau University, he asked the president if the school taught the Ten Commandments. The poor witness said yes only to have Burnam continue: “And is one of them ‘Thou shalt not kill’? …. And what is a gun for?” Many seemed to cringe that the debate on CHLs on campuses might turn into a debate on guns in general, when there were still many left to testify.

TxDOT under fire

Mar 5, 2009 By Paul Burka

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a tough day for TxDOT. After the usual routine of resolutions congratulating this and that, and welcoming these and those, the House session ended with a resolution aimed squarely at the transportation agency. Dunnam, Coleman, and other lawmakers are unhappy that TxDOT rushed to decide how to…

The rules debate: The way it’s supposed to be

Jan 30, 2009 By Paul Burka

It was an amazing thing to be in the House for Wednesday’s rules debate. It was as if someone had taken a giant vaccuum cleaner and sucked all the tension out of the air. The House went about the business of adopting its rules without dramatics. Speakers come and speakers…

House rules will address removing the speaker

Jan 23, 2009 By Paul Burka

The rules debate will probably take place on Wednesday, one day after the governor’s State of the State address. Last session it took 8 hours and 48 minutes for the House to adopt its rules. Democrats raised legitimate concerns about confidentiality and attorney-client privilege, due to former Republican operative Milton…

The Liberation

Jan 7, 2009 By Paul Burka

I have covered the Texas House of Representatives since 1975. What I love about the place is that, traditionally, it is has been an open shop. The culture of the House is that you can do what you are big enough to do, whether you are on the team or…