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Dawn Buckingham

State Rep. James White not running for re-election

I have three things to say about this.

Rep. James White

State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, has decided not to seek reelection, he told East Texas TV station KLTV in a roundtable with lawmakers. And he hinted to another news station that he’s considering a statewide run.

The Texas House doesn’t have term limits, but White suggested that his longevity in the lower chamber was a factor in his decision. He was first elected in 2010.

“I’m a term limit guy by nature,” White told KLTV on Thursday. “I wish we had term limits in Texas… I think we can continue being a great state even without me being in the Texas House.”

White is the chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, and is the only Black Republican in the Texas House. He represents solidly Republican House District 19 in East Texas.

On Friday, he suggested to KFDM/Fox 4 News in Beaumont that he is mulling a run for statewide office.

“Don’t be surprised if you see me on the Republican Primary ballot for statewide office,” the station reported him as saying.

1. Rep. White may be a “term limit guy by nature”. He will also have served 12 years in the House when his term ends, which means he is fully vested in the pension plan for state reps, worth $34,500 a year as of 2012 for a 12-year veteran over the age of 50 (White is 56, according to his bio). Everything else he says here may be true. It’s just that it’s also true that this is an optimal time for him to call it quits, financially speaking.

2. White’s HD19 voted 81.77% for Trump in 2020, making it the fifth-most Republican district in the state. I think we can all picture what the primary to replace him will look like, even if the redrawn HD19 is slightly less red. I have no warmth for Rep. White, who is as crappy and complicit as everyone else in his rotten caucus, but he does have a record as a serious policymaker and has done some worthwhile work on criminal justice reform. The odds are great that his successor will be less of a policy person and more of a grievance-driven performance artist, as that is the norm in Republican primaries these days. And that has an effect, because one of the few restraints on the two legislative chambers in recent years has been the number of actual legislators in ridiculously Republican districts, especially as those members attain positions of influence.

To put this another way, both James White and Briscoe Cain were committee chairs last session. That’s what happens when the Briscoe Cains of the world replace the boring old establishment guys like Wayne Smith. This is one of the reasons the Senate sucks so bad – since 2012, we’ve swapped Kevin Eltife for Bryan Hughes, Bob Deuell for Bob Hall, and Robert Duncan for Charles Perry (who it must be noted has some criminal justice policy chops as well, but spent this session pretending to be a medical expert on trans youth, which he most emphatically is not). It’s not that Eltife and Deuell and Duncan were great, it’s that their replacements are Dan Patrick’s foot soldiers, and that’s before you take into account the special kind of crazy maliciousness that a Bob Hall brings. Every time you take out Dan Flynn for Bryan Slaton, Rob Eissler for Steve Toth, John Zerwas for Gary Gates, you make the House a little worse. I very much fear we’re about to have the same thing happen here.

3. What statewide office might White run for, if he does run for something statewide? Land Commissioner makes sense – it’s open, and there’s no reason White couldn’t make it a race against Dawn Buckingham. Ag Commissioner is a possibility, even if Sid Miller runs for re-election instead of jumping into the Governor’s race. And though it’s not a statewide office, I will note that State Sen. Robert Nichols, whose SD03 contains all of HD19, is 76 years old, and the post-redistricting election cycle is always a popular time to peace out. Just a thought.

UPDATE: I drafted this over the weekend, but the just-released Texas Monthly Best and Worst Legislators list for this session illustrates the point I made in item two damn near perfectly.

Buckingham to run for Land Commissioner

That’s the sound of opportunity knocking.

Sen. Dawn Buckingham

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, is set to run for land commissioner, according to two sources familiar with the decision not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Buckingham has made calls to potential supporters sharing her decision, said the sources. A Buckingham spokesperson, Matt Langston, said she was “seriously considering” running and would make an announcement soon.

The news of her decision comes two days after the current land commissioner, George P. Bush, announced he was running for attorney general next year, challenging fellow Republican Ken Paxton.

Buckingham was first elected in 2016 to represent Senate District 24 in Central Texas. While she won a second term last year, all members of the Senate have to run for reelection in 2022 due to redistricting, so she would have to give up her seat if she runs for land commissioner.

That’s the way the dominoes fall. Buckingham’s SD24 is strongly Republicans and got slighty more so over the course of the decade. It’s a mostly-rural/exurban district that’s partly Hill Country, partly I-35 Corridor, and partly West Texas, plus a piece of Travis County. It borders two Republican districts that used to be deep red but have trended strongly Democratic in SDs 5 and 25, plus one of the deepest red districts in SD28 that is lagging in overall population; SD24 itself was below the ideal population level as of 2018 (it was right at 900K at that time, up from 811K when the districts were drawn in 2011), so maybe it takes some blue precincts from the more-populated SD5 and SD25 while shifting whatever it can to SD28. I’m just spitballing here, redistricting is a lot more complex than that, but you get the idea. It’s still going to be a red district when all is said and done, but maybe 62-63% instead of 66-67%, and maybe with the potential to drift towards blue over time. Add it to the list of places where there will be a lot of action next May.

Elsewhere in people people resigning one office to (probably) run for another:

Texas GOP Chair Allen West announced his resignation Friday morning and said he is considering running for another office, potentially one that is statewide.

During a news conference here, West said a statewide run is “one of the things that I have to go to the Lord in prayer.” He said it would be “very disingenuous with so many people that have asked me to consider something” to not explore a run.

“Many men from Georgia, many men from Tennessee, came here to serve the great state of Texas, and so we’re gonna consider it,” said West, who grew up in Georgia. He added that he was announcing his resignation, effective next month, so that there is no conflict of interest as he weighs his next political move.

West, who has been most frequently discussed as a potential challenger to Gov. Greg Abbott, declined to say whether he was eyeing any particular statewide office, though he told a radio host earlier Friday morning that the host was “safe” to assume West was mulling a gubernatorial run. At the news conference, West also did not say when he would announce a decision on his next step, telling a reporter with characteristic combativeness that his “timeline is in my head and not in yours yet.”

West also raised the prospect he could run for Congress, noting he is a resident of the 32nd Congressional District, “and there’s a guy in Texas 32 I really don’t care for being my congressional representative.” The incumbent is Democratic Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas.

As for a statewide campaign, West said he would not be deterred by an incumbent having the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Trump has already backed Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for reelection.

“You know, I don’t serve President Trump. I serve God, country and Texas,” West said. “So that does not affect me whatsoever.”

Yeah, I don’t like giving Allen West any space for his depravity, but you need to know what he might be up to. And yes, I know Sen. Buckingham isn’t resigning, she just would be giving up her seat to run for Land Commissioner. Anyway, that’s all the time we need to spend on this.

SOS Hughs resigns

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming.

Ruth Hughs

Texas Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughs announced Friday she will step down from her post as the state’s top elections official, less than two years into her term.

The decision comes after Republicans in the Senate failed to take up her nomination, which was required for her to remain in the role past this legislative session. Hughs oversaw the presidential election last year, in which Harris County officials implemented several alternative voting measures, including 24-hour voting and voting by drive-thru.

Republicans have vilified the county’s efforts as part of their ongoing effort to discredit the election results, and have put forth legislation this session to crack down on what they see as opportunities for fraud at the ballot box. Democrats and voting rights advocates have called the effort voter suppression.

Hughs is the second Texas Secretary of State in a row to leave after the Senate did not confirm an appointee of Gov. Greg Abbott.

[…]

The departure, effective at the end of this month, leaves a hole for the Republican governor to fill as he faces reelection to a third term late next year. Under state law, legislators won’t vet Abbott’s next choice until they reconvene again in 2023.

SOS Hughs’ statement about her resignation is here. She was in many ways the opposite of the incompetent partisan hack David Whitley, who resigned almot exactly two years ago following his botched voter registration purge attempt.

It was easy to forget about Hughs because she didn’t make a lot of news. What did her in was that her office approved the various election innovations that Harris County (and others) put forth last year in response to COVID. For all of the caterwauling and litigation over drop boxes and drive-through voting and overnight hours and sending absentee ballot applications to voters who hadn’t specifically requested them, there was nothing in existing law that said those things were illegal. We all know what happened next, and so here we are.

The later version of the Chron story makes this more clear.

While Republicans have not publicly expressed any lack of faith in Hughs, Democrats point to her office’s assertion that Texas had a “smooth and secure” election in 2020.

“Apparently, that wasn’t what leadership wanted to hear,” said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, in a tweet on Saturday.

The “smooth and secure” line became a highlight of the Democrats’ fight against a slew of Republican voting restrictions in the ongoing legislative session.

The Republican-led Senate is backing voting restrictions, saying they are needed to prevent fraud at the polls, despite no evidence of widespread cheating.

In pushing against the legislation, Democrats pointed to testimony from one of Hughs’ top deputies, Keith Ingram, director of elections.

“In spite of all the circumstances, Texas had an election that was smooth and secure,” Ingram told lawmakers in March, referring to the effect of the pandemic. “Texans can be justifiably proud of the hard work and creativity shown by local county elections officials.”

[…]

Chris Hollins, the former Harris County Clerk, said it was clear to him that Hughs’ office was under “intense partisan pressure” in 2020. Hollins said the county generally worked well with the secretary of state’s office in the 2020 elections until legal battles began over the county’s voting expansions. That’s when communication between the two offices abruptly ended, he said.

“They were supportive of us until, it seemed like, somebody of power put in a call to the governor’s office and told them not to be supportive of us,” said Hollins, now a vice chair for finance with the Democratic Party.

Across the country, “secretaries of state and election administrators have stood up and said ‘no, this was a free and fair and secure election,’ but that fact flies in the face of this entire lie that they’re trying to build, so folks who stand behind those facts have to go,” Hollins said.

“On the ultimate question of was this a safe and secure election, they said yes,” he said. “Right now the Republican Party line is no. So if you don’t bend to that, if you don’t bend to this ‘Big Lie,’ you are ousted.”

I had been wondering if Hughs had come under pressure last year to reject what Harris County (and again, other counties as well) was doing or if this is all an after-the-fact reaction to her office’s actions. Seems likely it’s the former, but maybe once she’s free of her constraints she’ll let someone know. I hope a reporter or two tries to chase that down regardless. Whatever the case, it doesn’t speak well for the state of our state’s democracy. In theory, if the massive voter suppression bill passes, a lot of this might not matter because so many of these previously un-quantified actions have now been explicitly outlawed, which leaves a lot less room for counties to get clever and SOSes to give them that latitude. But there are always new frontiers to explore, and I expect the big urban counties are not going to go quietly. The next SOS will have an opportunity to put a thumb on the scale – and that’s before we consider future voter roll “cleanup” efforts – and I would expect the next Abbott appointee to be fully versed on that. Get ready to have these fights all over again, this time with more resistance. The Trib has more.

Here comes beer to go

Hooray!

Starting Sept. 1, Texans will be able to leave brewery taprooms with a case of their favorite craft beer, and order wine and beer for delivery, thanks to two laws passed by the Legislature this year.

Brewers and beer lovers around the state fought for beer to go, saying it will boost business and drive tourism to Texas.

“It’s going to be a really cool opportunity to showcase our ability in a different light,” said Rachael Hackathorn, taproom manager at the Austin-based Zilker Brewing Co. “For an out-of-town guest to take our beer back home with them and share it with their friends, that’s really what beer culture is about.”

Texas beer sales run on a system of three tiers: manufacturers who make the product, distributors who take it to market and retailers who sell it to customers. In the past, some beer distributors were opposed to beer to go, saying it would interrupt the state’s beer market and that Texas should continue its strict separation of the three tiers. The rationale behind the system is that it prevents anyone in one tier from controlling any of the activities of the other two tiers.

But this year, the distributors and brewers came to an agreement to allow brewers more access to the retail tier.

“Quite frankly, we were just tired of all the negative publicity and people not understanding the nuances of the three-tiered system,” said Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, an organization that represents distributors. “That’s the reason we agreed to a very limited amount of beer to be sold per customer per craft brewer.”

Sen. Dawn Buckingham, who authored the legislation, said although it was first met with some “significant opposition” from the distribution and retail tiers, she was happy to see the parties eventually come to an agreement.

“Beer to go was kind of the perfect example of the little guys being overrun by the process,” said Buckingham, a Lakeway Republican. “It seemed a little crazy that Texas would be the only state where you can’t go to a brewery and bring home a little bit of beer.”

See here for the background. Another bill, to allow home delivery of beer and wine, via Amazon or other means, will also take effect on the first. As you know, I think the three tier structure is an anachronistic load of hooey that should be chucked into Lake Houston, but whatever. Somehow, the beer distributors decided it was in their best interests to declare peace, and this was the result. I’m happy with the outcome, regardless of my feelings for the underlying structure. Bottoms up, y’all.

We may actually get beer to go this session

Well, what do you know?

The Texas Senate restored a measure Wednesday allowing breweries to sell beer to go from their taprooms to a bill allowing the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to continue operating. It also approved a measure that would loosen restrictions on the number of liquor store permits individuals can hold.

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said her amendment allowing breweries to sell beer to go — something allowed in every state except Texas — would foster job creation, economic development, entrepreneurship and tourism.

“We stand our best when we stand together, and we come together on issues that have been divisive in the past,” Buckingham said during the floor debate. “Our constituents elected us to be bold — and with that, I give you beer to go, baby.”

[…]

The Senate’s beer-to-go amendment was made possible largely by an agreement between the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, a large lobby group representing the interests of beer distributor; the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, which represents the interests of local breweries; and the Beer Alliance of Texas, another group representing distributors.

The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas didn’t sign on when the truce was originally made in February but agreed to the sign on with the other two groups earlier this month.

See here and here for the background. The bill that was approved, HB 1545, is as noted the sunset bill for the TABC, so the addition of beer to go (as well as an amendment allowing for earlier beer and wine sales on Sunday, which was struck in the Senate process) was technically shenanigans, but the best kind of shenanigans. Also added was an amendment that greatly raised the number of liquor store permits am individual can hold. These changes now head back to the House for approval, and if that happens it’s on to Greg Abbott for a signature. I will be holding a beer in reserve to raise when and if that happens. Here was a Twitter thread from the Texas Craft Brewers Guild from before the Senate hearings on HB1545, here’s a statement from State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who had filed his own beer-to-go bill and was the one who successfully amended HB1545 in the House. The Current and the Chron have more.

A beer truce is declared

Well, glory be.

Beer brewers and distributors and have been battling for years over what can be bought and sold at breweries across Texas.

This week, two key groups in the fight finally signed a truce.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild, which represents the interests of local breweries, and the Beer Alliance of Texas, which represents the interests of beer distributors, have inked an agreement proposing that Texans be allowed to buy up to two cases of beer per person, per day in places where beer is brewed.

[…]

Regulatory reforms passed in 2013 allow breweries that produce fewer than 225,000 barrels, or about 3 million cases, of beer each year to sell up to 5,000 barrels for on-site consumption. Proposed bills filed by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, would expand the law to allow the beer to be taken to-go from local taprooms.

The agreement between the two sides came in the form of a proposed new version of the Rodriguez and Buckingham bills. The added provisions include keeping the 5,000 barrel cap, limiting the amount that can be taken home and for packaged beer to have alcohol content posted clearly on its labels.

The compromise would also require breweries to report beer-to-go sales to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on a monthly basis.

And the groups agreed to refrain from lobbying to change the fluid-ounce caps of malt beverages for 12 years.

As you may recall, I discounted the possibility of this happening as the session was starting. I’m delighted to be proven wrong, though as the story notes the bill still need to pass. The other lobbying group, the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, are not part of this agreement and thus could work to defeat it. It does feel like there’s an end in sight, which would be good news for everyone. Let’s get this done.

Time again for craft brewers to get their legislative hopes up

We’ve seen this movie before. I hope for a better ending, but I’m keeping those hopes modest.

Texas is the only state in the country that prohibits some breweries from selling six-packs, bottles and growlers of beer to-go, but a pair of bills filed for consideration during the 86th legislative session aim to change that.

Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) introduced companion bills SB 312 and HB 672, respectively, which would allow manufacturing breweries to sell beer to drinkers for off-premise consumption.

[…]

In 2015, North Texas’ Deep Ellum Brewing Co. and the now-defunct Grapevine Craft Brewery sued the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission over the issue and lost. Earlier this year, the court ruled in favor of the TABC, citing the potential impact to Texas’ three-tier system, which aims to avoid conflicts of interest between alcohol manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

In the decision, however, the judge noted that off-premise sales were granted to distilleries and wineries by the legislature, not the courts. That and the support shown for to-go sales during both the Republican and Democratic conventions in 2018 is giving the Texas beer industry hope that the legislation will pass.

I noted the lawsuit back in 2015, but missed that it had been decided. The story here has always been that the beer distributors’ lobbyists are mightier than everyone else. Maybe this year it will be different – hope springs eternal – but it is always safer to bet on the house. Alas.

We could get a special session on redistricting

At least, that’s what State Sen. Dawn Buckingham thinks.

Sen. Dawn Buckingham

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, expects the Legislature to be called back for another special session — this time to tackle the state’s congressional map.

Monday evening at the Central Texas Tea Party’s monthly meeting, Buckingham discussed federal judges invalidating two Texas congressional districts and the recently concluded special legislative session.

[…]

Whether Gov. Greg Abbott calls another special session hinges on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, Buckingham said.

If the nation’s highest court upholds the lower ruling then the Legislature will be back to address the map, the senator added. And it’s a very sensitive issue, too, she said.

“When you touch one, it touches the line next to it and it touches the line next to it,” Buckingham said. “You’re touching a lot of lines when you’re doing that.”

On top of the congressional districts, Buckingham thinks state House districts will get swept into a possible redrawing. Legal challenges to the state House map were not addressed by the federal judges, the Tribune reported.

“I’m guessing we’re heading back for that,” the first-term senator said, adding it’s up to Abbott to call a special session and what lawmakers will legislate. “He’s in charge of specials. He can call them when he wants them.”

See here and here for the background. The three-judge panel has denied the state’s motion to stay its ruling pending appeal, so if SCOTUS declines to intervene at this time then we are getting new maps, whether Lege-drawn or court-drawn. I don’t know how much of what Buckingham says is based on speculation, but this scenario makes sense, especially if the State House map is thrown out as well. All eyes on SCOTUS, y’all. Via Bud Kennedy on Facebook.

War on local control update

Example one:

Sen. Craig Estes’ Senate Bill 18 would require cities and counties to get voter approval if they plan to spend a certain amount more than they did in a previous year. His bill ties such an election trigger to inflation and statewide population growth.

“You ask people about that and they generally think that’s a good thing,” the Wichita Falls Republican said Friday.

But local government officials and advocates for municipal government say the measure will hinder their ability to afford services that residents expect. They also say it will make it hard to keep up with population growth — especially in booming suburbs growing much faster than the state as a whole.

“We’re planning our budgets multiple years in the future because we’ve got so many capital projects that we can’t just look at budgets from year to year,” said Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney, whose North Texas city grew almost four times as fast as Texas did from 2015 to 2016.

Estes’ bill, plus others aimed at giving voters more frequent say over their property tax rates, are on the docket for Senate committees this weekend. They fall in line with several items on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session call that seek to limit powers cities and counties have long exercised. Other bills being considered Saturday and Sunday would change how and when municipalities regulate land use and annex land outside their borders.

State leaders say they are trying to both respond to Texans’ complaints about rising property tax bills and protect landowners’ rights from local regulations. But local elected officials say lawmakers and top state leaders are unfairly portraying cities and counties as irresponsible stewards of taxpayer money to score political points with voters ahead of next year’s primaries.

Such tensions highlight a growing divide over how much say city and county officials should have over local matters. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the proposed spending cap is another example of lawmakers trying to control officials who are elected to represent Texans at the local level.

“It certainly flies in the face of the very important democratic principle that we’ve adhered to for centuries in self governance,” Nirenberg said.

[…]

Estes couldn’t point to any examples of cities or counties dramatically increasing their spending in recent years. He said his office is currently collecting data from local governments on it. And he said he’s open to tweaking provisions in his bill as it moves through the Legislature.

But he shrugged off the notion that the state shouldn’t be telling local governments what to do. He said counties are extensions of state government, and that cities “reside in the state.”

“I don’t think that’s really an issue, that we don’t have any jurisdiction in what they’re doing,” he said. “We do.”

Don’t bother making the analogy to states and the country, because that’s Totally Different and Not The Same Thing At All, because it just is and that’s that. I would just point out that several of the Mayors who signed that letter opposing stuff like this are Republicans. This is not a partisan issue, it’s one of power and the belief of Abbott and Patrick, enabled by Patrick’s minions in the Senate, that they’re the only legitimate form of government. It’s crazy that we’ve come to this place, but here we are.

Example two:

A bill aimed at protecting property owners’ rights from changing local government regulations could undo years of safety and land use rules and create a building environment in Texas with the potential for bars to pop up in residential neighborhoods, critics say.

Some local officials are calling Senate Bill 12 the “hyper-grandfathering” bill that goes far beyond current state provisions by retroactively applying to each property the land use and safety codes that were in place the last time the property was sold. In the extreme, SB 12 could lead to broad land use possibilities for parcels of land that haven’t changed hands in decades, according to six local government and public policy experts tracking the bill.

[…]

The bill’s author, Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said in a statement it would protect property owners from new county or city regulations that would upend the plans that people had when they bought the land.

“Since filing Senate Bill 12, I have been working with stakeholder groups across Texas, and I look forward to passing legislation that will protect the rights of Texans to develop their property,” Buckingham said.

In Austin, the passage of SB 12 would drastically undermine the city’s ongoing efforts to rewrite its entire land use code, known as CodeNext. If the City Council signs off next spring as planned on CodeNext, none of its provisions would take effect on a piece of property until the land changed hands, Planning and Zoning Director Greg Guernsey said.

“Let’s say CodeNext gets approved,” Guernsey said “It is not worth a whole lot if I have to deal with property codes from 10, 20 or 30 years (ago).”

I’ll bet the lawyers who specialize in land use codes will make a killing, though. Bear in mind, while the state would impose this requirement, it’s the cities and counties that will get stuck with the costs of implementing and enforcing it. I don’t even know what to say.

Example three:

A Texas Senate committee approved a bill Saturday that would outlaw local restrictions on using a cellphone while driving.

Senate Bill 15 would pre-empt local ordinances on mobile phone usage, effectively rolling back provisions in more than 40 Texas cities that currently post hands-free ordinances stricter than the statewide texting ban. That measure now heads to the full Senate. It was one of several items the Senate Business and Commerce Committee took up Saturday that target local regulations and ordinances.

That committee also passed a bill that would require women to pay a separate premium for insurance coverage of an abortion that is not considered medically necessary.

Gov. Greg Abbott has argued that stricter local cellphone ordinances make for a confusing “patchwork” of regulations across the state, leaving drivers confused as they navigate between areas with different rules. Opponents of SB 15, including police officers from San Antonio and Austin who testified against the measure on Saturday, argue that the state should not pre-empt city ordinances that make people safer.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, the Senate sponsor of the statewide texting-while-driving ban that goes into effect in September, said SB 15 would be a “huge step back.”

“I’ve never cried as a senator,” said Zaffirini, a senator since 1987. If this passes, “I think I would cry.”

The committee vote on SB 15 was 7-2.

The Buckingham bill was not voted on in committee, with some comments from the author that it could get reworked. Call me crazy, but maybe this is the sort of thing that needs a more deliberate process, if only to see if there is any legitimate purpose for it. If there’s one bit of good news in all this, it’s that the general insider belief is that most of Abbott’s agenda won’t get passed. There’s still plenty of room for damage even if only a few of his items make it through. The House offers the better chance of non-action, so let your representative know what you think.

Our electors can continue to be faithless

So much for that.

The momentum seemed to be there.

After Donald Trump easily defeated Hillary Clinton in Texas, two of the state’s 38 Electoral College members cast ballots for someone other than the Republican nominee — a less-than-flattering moment for a state with a strong GOP tradition. In the days — even hours — after the Electoral College meeting in December, some of the state’s top Republicans rallied around proposals to “bind” presidential electors to the result of the statewide popular vote.

“This charade is over,” tweeted Gov. Greg Abbott shortly after the meeting ended. “A bill is filed to make these commitments binding. I look forward to signing it & ending this circus.”

Yet no such legislation made it to Abbott’s desk over the course of the legislative session that ended in May. Instead, lawmakers are now seeking to study the issue during the interim, an anticlimactic end to a session that began with major-league support for the cause.

“We were kind of stuck,” said Eric Opiela, the former general counsel for the Texas GOP — which ended up opposing the way one of several filed bills dealt with “faithless electors.”

The debate appeared to boil down to whether such electors should be fined after going rogue or be immediately disqualified if they submit a ballot for someone other than the winner of the statewide popular vote.

See here for the whole saga. The rest of the article tells the story of the bills that failed, which is what it is. The Electoral College is a dumb anachronism, but I say we should either honor the original intent and let the electors make their own choices, or get rid of it altogether and go with a popular vote. I don’t see us getting the latter any time soon, so at least we made it through this session without making what we do have worse.

Restricting restrictions on AirBnB

I have issues with this.

A legislative proposal that would limit local government control of short-term home rentals in Texas has reawakened a fight over regulations that has already played out in cities across the state.

Senate Bill 451 by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R- North Richland Hills, would prevent Texas cities from banning or restricting short-term rentals. Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth are among the cities that have enacted such restrictions.

Critics of the bill said it would lower property values and allow Texans to rent houses to people who might host disruptive parties and increase traffic in their neighborhoods.

One of those critics, David King, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, said houses with no live-in residents are sometimes rented to rowdy visitors. Neighborhood disapproval of these houses led cities like Austin to enact local ordinances that limit their presence.

However, bill proponents say SB 451 would protect homeowners from strict local laws that infringe on property rights while still allowing local regulations that limit or prohibit short-term rentals. Under the bill, local governments could still prohibit short-term renters from housing sex offenders or selling alcohol or illegal drugs to guests.

Through an aide, Hancock declined to comment on his bill. State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, the bill’s co-author, said it shields Texas property owners from governmental overreach.

“Private property rights in Texas are sacred,” she said.

Here’s SB451. I can understand the logic behind wanting to have a statewide framework for short-term rentals, in the same way I can understand it for transportation network companies. There’s a legitimate interest in providing something like a uniform regulatory environment for them. That said, hotels and traditional bed and breakfast places are generally subject to local zoning laws, land use requirements, and deed restrictions. Allowing the AirBnBs of the world to skirt those rules sounds more like an unfair advantage than a level playing field to me. In some cities, the proliferation of AirBnB properties has led to concerns about housing shortages in some neighborhoods. Neighborhood issues and quality of life are the province of local government, and as with many things this session I have concerns about the state stepping in to override their authority.

One more point, which I suppose was outside the scope of this story: Lots of cities levy hotel taxes, for a variety of purposes. AirBnB puts the responsibility for following local codes and collecting such taxes on the hosts. Here’s their advice for Houston hosts – you’re gonna have to do some reading to know what you’re supposed to do. The long and short of it is that the growth of AirBnB means that cities and states have been missing out on potential tax revenue, which in some cases is a substantial amount. To their credit, AirBnB is beginning to work with cities on this. The text of SB451 doesn’t address this at all. If the state wants to mandate a uniform regulatory code for short-term rentals, then the least the state can do is provide a uniform mechanism for collecting hotel occupancy taxes as well.

Another take on the potty drama

Ross Ramsey plunges in, and no I don’t regret that at all.

Gov. Greg Abbott wants lawmakers to take a bathroom break, and you can’t blame him for trying to find relief.

The next legislative session hasn’t even started and regulation of which restrooms transgender Texans use is getting the kind of attention usually reserved for taxes and immigration.

Abbott told reporters last week that he wants to wait and see what lawmakers come up with before he’ll take a position. At a forum last month, House Speaker Joe Straus downplayed the issue in a different way, saying it’s not “the most urgent concern of mine.”

If those two officials sounded mild to untrained ears, they were perfectly clear to those with political antennae. Their intended audience knows that this issue is not on the fast track some in their party want it to be on.

A slowdown might turn the bathroom fight to the back burner. Republicans attribute it to a directive from the federal Department of Education on how school districts should deal with the needs of transgender students.

Abbott doesn’t like the federal directive and tweeted his support for the state’s challenge to it early last summer.

But he is unwilling, at this point, to endorse legislative efforts to remedy the situation. The policy questions around facilities and transgender people are complicated and the politics are gnarly.

[…]

It’s always possible that the incoming Republican administration in Washington will retract that initial federal directive and remove the declared reason for state action — the kind of bureaucratic “never mind” that could ease the political pressure for new laws.

The courts might take care of that for them. A federal judge in Texas already put the federal rules on hold, saying the feds didn’t jump through the right hoops when putting the regulation into effect. The Obama administration is appealing that ruling.

It is already clear that the drum major at the front of this particular parade in Texas — Patrick — is trying different variations of a transgender bathroom bill to find an acceptable option. Sen.-elect Dawn Buckingham, R-Lake Travis, said earlier this month that “my understanding is the businesses, the sporting venues, will not be affected by this law” — i.e. the bill could be limited to schools and other public buildings.

That might solve some problems. But the North Carolina law was aimed only at public buildings and still ran into opposition from businesses and from sports groups like the NCAA and the NBA.

A lot of this is stuff that we’ve talked about before. I’m glad to see someone other than me read the Buckingham and Abbott statements as showing the effect of business lobby arm-twisting, though I remain concerned that those folks will cut and run at their first opportunity to declare victory. But it seems clear now that they are making a difference, and that’s all to the good. Those of us who want to see this dead and buried and not just neutralized need to keep the pressure on to make that happen.

Abbott says something about bathrooms

Typically wishy-washy of him.

Gov. Greg Abbott is adopting a wait-and-see approach about anticipated legislation that would prohibit transgender people in Texas from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

“I have not seen any proposed legislation yet,” a characteristically cautious Abbott told reporters Tuesday at the Capitol. He added that there are still a number of things unknown that could determine the need for such a bill.

Among those variables, Abbott said, is the legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s guidelines directing public schools to accommodate transgender students. The incoming administration of GOP President-elect Donald Trump could bring an end to that dispute, which was an impetus for the push for a so-called “bathroom bill” in Texas.

While such legislation has not been released yet in Texas, business leaders have already lined up to voice their opposition, worried it could scare off investment in the same way a similar proposal did in North Carolina. Asked about those concerns, Abbott said his goal heading into this session is “ensuring the safety and security of the people of Texas.”

“We are in the information-gathering stage right now,” Abbott told reporters when pressed on his views about a potential bathroom bill.

Whatever. This is basically of a piece with the Buckingham statement that may or may not have represented a tentative stepping back from the original intent of the Patrick potty bill, but let’s be clear that the impetus for this was not school bathrooms but the HERO fight and the recognition that whipping up a frenzy against the transgender community struck a chord with GOP base voters. It’s only now that the business community has kicked up a fuss, much to Patrick’s disgust, that some Republicans are maybe, possibly, could be dialing it back just a bit. I remain dubious, but there does appear to a change in rhetoric, and it is worth noting. But let’s not lose sight of what this was always all about, and what Dan Patrick and his fellow travelers still want it to be all about. They may settle for something smaller this session if they feel they have to, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be satisfied if it happens.

By the way, the embedded image comes from this Gray Matters post by Cort McMurray, in which he demonstrates his facility for inventing potty-based nicknames for Dan Patrick. You should definitely read it.

It’s just school bathrooms Dan Patrick really cares about

So claims a surrogate, who may have been floating a trial balloon.

An incoming state senator suggested Thursday that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will focus on schools, not businesses or sporting venues, as he crafts an already controversial proposal to prohibit transgender Texans from using bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The remarks by state Senator-elect Dawn Buckingham, R-Austin, come as Patrick faces new pressure to abandon the push for a so-called “bathroom bill,” which critics say could hurt Texas’ economy by making the state appear intolerant. The legislation, which he is calling the Women’s Privacy and Business Protection Act, has not yet been released, but the lieutenant governor has named it one of his top 10 priorities for the upcoming session.

“His focus is really the schools, and he’s gonna — my understanding is the businesses, the sporting venues, will not be affected by this law,” Buckingham said during a conversation with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith, citing conversations with Patrick. “His focus is really the bathrooms in the schools.”

Asked if she was saying businesses and sporting venues will be exempt under the bill, Buckingham replied, “Well, we’ll see what the language looks like, but it’s my understanding that that’s the intent — to realize that there are some complicating factors there and our priorities are really the schools.”

[…]

Business leaders are closely watching the legislation as it takes shape, worried it could lead to the kind of uproar that tainted North Carolina’s image when it passed a similar bill. On Wednesday, the Texas Association of Business released a study that warned such legislation could cost the Lone Star State between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs.

In the statement, Patrick’s office dismissed the report as “misinformation and fear-mongering regarding a bill they haven’t even seen.”

Well, they have seen what happened in North Carolina, for which Dan Patrick’s only response has been to huff indignantly and proclaim how offended he is that anyone could take offense at his potty bill, and there’s zero reason to trust that Dan Patrick is motivated by anything other than his own interests. Plus, the idea of Dan Patrick accusing anyone of fear-mongering is laughable. Maybe this is a sign that Patrick is feeling some pressure from his usual allies. Maybe Senator-elect Buckingham couldn’t quite bring herself to speak against the interests of businesses and thus went a bit off script. Whatever the case, this isn’t any better than before, and in fact would put the entire stigma of being transgender and needing to pee on the most vulnerable members of the transgender community. The bathroom bill is a bad idea, full stop. It needs to go away.

Republican primary runoff results

vote-button

Harris County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Your new State Senators are Bryan Hughes, who defeated his former House colleague David Simpson, and Dawn Buckingham, who defeated former Rep. Susan King. Hughes is a Dan Patrick buddy, who will fit right in to the awfulness of the upper chamber. Buckingham is a first-time officeholder who needs only to be less terrible than Troy Fraser, but I don’t know if she’s capable of that. She has a Democratic opponent in November, but that’s not a competitive district.

The single best result in any race on either side is Keven Ellis defeating certifiable loon Mary Lou Bruner in SBOE9. Whether Bruner finally shot herself in the foot or it was divine intervention I couldn’t say, but either way we should all be grateful. State government has more than enough fools in it already. Here’s TFN’s statement celebrating the result.

Jodey Arrington will be the next Congressman from CD19. There were also runoffs in a couple of Democratic districts, but I don’t really care about those.

Scott Walker easily won his Court of Criminal Appeals runoff. Mary Lou Keel had a two-point lead, representing about 6,000 votes, with three-quarters of precincts reporting, while Wayne Christian had a 7,000 vote lead for Railroad Commissioner. Those results could still change, but that seems unlikely.

Two incumbent House members appear to have fallen. Rep. Doug Miller in HD73 lost to Kyle Biedermann after a nasty race. Miller is the third incumbent to be ousted in a primary since 2006. They sure are easily dissatisfied in the Hill Country. Here in Harris County, Rep. Wayne Smith has been nipped by 22 votes by Briscoe Cain. That race was nasty, too. You have to figure there’ll be a recount in that one, with such a small margin, but we’ll see. For other House runoffs, see the Trib for details.

Last but not least, in another fit of sanity Harris County Republicans chose to keep their party chair, Paul Simpson. Better luck next time, dead-enders. Final turnout was 38,276 with 927 of 1,012 precincts reporting, so well below the Stanart pre-voting estimate of 50,000. Dems were clocking in at just under 30K with about the same number or precincts out. That’s actually a tad higher than I was expecting, more or less in line with 2012 when there was a Senate runoff.