Remember the Bonnen/Burrows Hit List?

February 5, 2021

Oh, for those who need a little trip down memory lane: Remember after the last session of the Texas House and that scandal, the one that cost Dennis Bonnen his Speakership? Remember the OTHER participant who was involved, who is still around, the one that provided the ‘Hit list’ of 10 GOP members that Bonnen wanted Empower Texans to go after in implicit exchange for floor media credentials? I’ve linked a refresher article on the scandal, but the question is this: How did ‘Hit list’ provider Dustin Burrows fare vs. the 10 rather senior GOP members on that ‘hit list’ in terms of committee assignments?

Dustin Burrows: Calendars (CHAIR), Corrections, Land & Resource Management’

HIT LIST’ MEMBERS
Steve Allison: Public Education, Public
Health Trent Ashby: Appropriations, Transportation
Ernest Bailes: Agriculture & Livestock, Corrections
Travis Clardy: Culture, Recreation & Tourism, Elections
Drew Darby: Energy Resources, Licensing & Administrative Procedures
Kyle Kacal: Environmental Regulation, Natural Resources
Stan Lambert: Business & Industry, Defense & Veterans’ Affairs
Tan Parker: Higher Education, Pensions, Investments & Financial Services (Vice Chair)
John Raney: Appropriations, Higher Education
Phil Stephenson; County Affairs, Pensions, Investments & Financial Services

So, the 10 senior member ended up with only a minor vice-chair and 2 Appropriations slots between them, while Burrows gets the VERY powerful Calendars Chair. I guess getting caught assisting a questionable quid pro quo is actually a way to ADVANCE your political career in the Austin swamp, while the targets of that quid pro quo STILL take a beating.

Realize: 9 of the 10 (except for Tan Parker, whose inclusion likely was some sort of personal animosity) would be legitimate primary targets, if folks wanted a more conservative Texas House. The issue of the scandal was not the targets involved; it was the clearly unethical approach leadership took to target them.  And Burrows had been part of that- and pays not real price for it.


Why Is It So Hard to Get Conservative Things Done in Austin?

February 2, 2021

(First published in Texas Scorecard)

How the battle ground is set against conservatives

It’s simple: there is tremendous money—a good share of it taxpayers’—spent directly or indirectly to assure conservatives don’t reduce government spending or power, or cut into cronyism in Austin.

It really is human nature. Who is listened to: the person who provides 5-star dining and corporate box seats, or the constituent who walks into the office or committee meeting with hand-typed sheets and scribbled notes? The nine lobbyists for every legislator who work the capitol full-time, or the folks who come down for a hearing or two then go home?

Then there are the professional leftist advocates working the other side. Billions dumped into “advocacy groups” to lobby Democrats at both state and national levels help pay for mobilizing a massive web of leftists to pound at the offices at the capitol and arrive in many busloads to testify on key issues.

When the bill came up on ICE retainers in 2017, testimony against the bill was 600 to 6 (I know; I was one of the 6). They show up, because the money is there to make sure they do.

This is the battle, and it is the battle by all rights conservatives should lose 100 percent of the time. We do lose it far, far more than we win; but occasionally we do get at least small, precious wins.

It is the lessons we learn from the small wins we need to turn into more and bigger wins.

How do we do that?

Lesson 1: Do your homework on good bills, bad bills, and even some minor ones

Get to be known for actually knowing what you are talking about. Never address a bill without reading it fully—and understanding it. This takes time, and I wouldn’t start out on the budget bill—at least in its entirety. Also, realize some bills make single-word or phrase changes in existing law that have profound impact. Killing bad bills is more important that helping pass good ones; former State Rep. Jonathan Stickland was infamous for doing that. Address minor bills on occasion; they are the easiest to get experience on and actually accomplish changes to.  

Lesson 2: Don’t assume your legislators are your friends

Lawmakers have far bigger and more important friends than you—in their own eyes. They only need you, or are scared of you, around election time. You need to treat them as someone you are doing business with and understand they are constantly assessing whether helping you is going to come out to be cost-prohibitive to them.

Lesson 3: Work with Legislative Directors and Chiefs of Staffs

Lawmakers’ staff can be great allies—again, not as friends but as business contacts. They are the ones actually getting most of the work done up to the committee hearings. From them, you can find out a lot of “inside the game” information, and also work to sway their bosses to some degree. Also, they have great capability to effect minor changes in bills and the like that can make profound differences. They are the ones that can most help in understanding the bills.

Lesson 4: Work by issue, and never assume who is for or against any one issue

Again, for legislators, it’s cost analysis. The don’t mind being helpful—if it isn’t costly in some way to them. Believe it or not, sometimes Democrats can be better allies on some issues than the mushy moderate GOP members, especially in “going against the way things are,” on certain freedom issues, and a few of them even on social issues.

For example, Democrat Sen. Eddie Lucio is positively the most courageous legislator in Austin on the pro-life issue. Many Democrats are willing to fight the dominant cronyism that bleeds tax money to sweetheart economic development deals (since they get a far smaller piece of it). Do not be reluctant to work to gain allies where ever you find them on an issue-by-issue basis.

Lesson 5: Don’t be a cookie-cutter version of an advocate  

Few things are less effective than legislators hearing the same points made in the same ways over and over again in committee hearings, whether it’s liberals with the same tear-jerking heart-tugging stories, or conservatives’ liberty and freedom stories.

You must be different—in an effective manner—both bringing common sense and logic, as well as tugging heart strings, all in the three minutes you will be given to make an impression on any given committee.

There is no doubt being different allowed me to stand out and make an impact in the last session—from my ‘Not a Damn Lobbyist’ shirts that made me famous/infamous throughout the capitol, to my testimony at the property tax committee that State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (who I consider the absolute hero on that issue in the session) noted as the best he’d seen.

Above all, try to be polite (or at least marginally respectful) to everybody in Austin. That is one of the hardest things to do, but you never know who might be a potential ally in the future. It helps to look at everything there, not personally, but as principle and policy to support principle. People will slight you, will have contempt for you, while you are in the “swamp.” Reacting in kind only gives them power over you.

Lesson 6: Be happy with small steps forward, but never accept any steps backward

I have seen almost nothing significant accomplished in a single session. The political machinery works really hard against that and, while that can be maddening, it can also be a benefit of slowing up a lot of really stupid stuff. We all want to implement massive change—so does the other side—and they are better funded and organized to do so. 

Work your issues, gain whatever ground you can, and commit to come back and gain more ground next time. That’s been my approach on property taxes; a long way to go, but we’ve made some progress at least.

Lesson 7: As much as possible, keep a good attitude through it all

Even with my ‘damn Lobbyist’ theme, I let them know is was done- mostly- in good humor. (and the fact they saw how much affirmation I got about it from legislators and staff kind of forced them to accept it as such). The best approach to TRY to practice (and I fail too often to accomplish) is being a political mixture between Mahatma Gandhi and Michal Corleone saying; ‘It’s not personal, it’s strictly business’. But you always want to leave your legislators unsure whether- politically- homespun cloth or a horse’s head is to be expected next.


Now it Begins

January 10, 2021

tlw-start-of-87th-a

Well, here we go again. The war against the Professional Political Class returns to the Texas Capitol, but now within the context of government response to a pandemic. This WILL be a DIFFERENT session, and always realize the the Professional Political Class will use ANY crisis to strengthen their position. So let’s set the stage.

POST-ELECTION POLITICAL TERRAIN

Fortunately, the Texas Democrats got REALLY disappointing statewide on Election Day. Instead of taking the House as they hoped, they ended up exactly where they were last session in the House (83R – 67D)  and gaining only 1 in the Senate (18R – 13D). The senate is complicated by current rules requiring 19 votes to bring anything to the floor but I suspect those rules will be changed to get things considered with a majority. The GOP lost their most liberal House member (Sarah Davis) and an number of ‘problem’ liberal members retired.

But the slight increase in the conservatism of the House has pretty well been negated by the selection of Dade Phelan as Speaker of the House. Dade has a more liberal record than Dennis Bonnen had- and stronger direct ties to the Professional Political Class and is not know for ‘strength of will’ (or ‘being such an azzhole’, depending on your perspective) as Dennis was. As this is written, we are fairly certain the discussions are on to try to replicate last session’s ‘Kumbaya’ session, in which the Democrats were pretty happy with all they got.  However, they are monetary reasons it’s unlikely that Kumbaya at the same level is possible this session. The money simply isn’t there for the drunken sailor spending that was possible- and done- last session.

THE ISSUES   
Budget/Spending: The pandemic-related depression has significantly dropped current tax revenue a wholly different situation than the record revenue increase of last session.  That’s means lots of Democrat screaming of ‘slashing budgets’.  Education will be a special battlefield, especially in light of significant enrollment drops in many districts, as the pandemic disruption had a number of parents finding alternative- and staying with those alternatives.  Two major efforts to expand revenue will be marijuana legalization and casino gambling. These will NOT be socially beneficial, will result in short-term relief, nor generate anywhere NEAR the amounts  of tax they’ll claim. The shortfall is an excuse to get them done.

COVID:  The pandemic will substantially impact how the sessions is operationally done, especially the testimonial phase in committees.  How will they deal with many hundreds wanting to testify? Apparently, Lt.Gov Dan Patrick is pretty terrified by the virus; the rules they are setting are looking like a reflection of his fears.  Several offices are demanding you get a rapid test before you can even talk to them.  However, does ANYONE think the bigger glad-handing lobbyist will think THEY need to change how they schmooze through the Capitol? They are the greatest risk of all in terms of becoming ‘super-spreaders’.  I certainly hope they have to abide by at least the same rules as the ‘unwashed masses’. 

tlw-txlege-office-COVID-test

But COVID  also will have profound legislative impact. The Democrats naturally will attempt to leverage it into more Texas money for public health, despite the trillions DC is spending. Expect a demand for race-based funding on this issue to sell the Democrat’s normal narrative, as everything is about race. 

Redistricting: The 800 pound gorilla under the Pink Dome. Talk right now is that they’ll move it to a specific special session and that, frankly, is a good approach at dealing with this effort whose main priority will be bipartisan incumbent protection- as it almost always is.  There will likely be 3 new congressional district to fight over as well. Doing it outside of the regular session will let everyone focus on regular business without the pressure and heat of drawing districts.

Tax-funded Lobbying: An attempt will be made to pass this. I expect them to pass a ridiculously toothless version of this to try to appease the masses without impacting the high-life that lobbying provides our electeds in Austin. More on this later, as it obviously be a focus for us.. 

tlw-start-of-87th-b

Election Integrity: Part of the COVID response was to significantly alter how voting was done.  The Democrsts want as much as an expansion of mail-in ballots as possible, because they have a unique machine’ for cranking out Democrat votes. The inability to properly validate a ballot delivered by mail is considered a feature, not a bug. Democrats want all the the expanded vote mechanisms left in place.

Second Amendment: The Democrats have filed a BUNCH of efforts to take those rights away, and Constitutional Carry will be on the plate again. Not sure any of it will get much traction & likely to be zero-sum of at best some minor victory for gun rights but we’ll see.

Social Issues: Abortion will likely center on heartbeat bills, there will be some effort to assure institutionalized people (nursing home, assisted living, and disabled) have guaranteed access to at least ONE family member on a regular basis. Gender transition of minors through puberty blockers could be be a flaming hot issue. 

Government over-reach: This one will focus mainly one the massive emergency power abuse by Abbot, County Judges, and Mayors during COVID. Expect a limitation of 30 days without calling legislative session of passing ordinances at the local level. 

X factor: who knows what else will come up? Stay tuned to this space.

 


Caregivers for Compromise

August 9, 2020

These people are literally trying to defend their loved ones lives; in nursing homes, memory care centers, assisted living locations and homes for the disabled. The are asking for a REASONABLE accommodation during this pandemic.  That one family member go through the same screening all the healthcare workers go through in the facilities to be able to visit and help care for their loved ones

This rally was held outside the Texas Capitol August 8th.
Karen

Mary Barnette

For Paula

For Ernestine

Carly:

Fran

Mike

Mary’s Closing Remarks