- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Dallas Morning News. Jan. 21, 2015.

Inaugural imperatives for Texas’ new governor, lieutenant governor

It was a warm, sun-splashed Austin morning, and newly sworn-in Gov. Greg Abbott delivered an inaugural address to match. The focus was on thank-yous and optimistic Texas imagery over policy and promises.

Still, the skeleton of the Abbott imperatives was there - schools, roads, water, and border security at the top of the list - though Texans who crave detail will need to refer to Abbott’s voluminous campaign blueprint.

We take it as a good sign that no policy area got more attention in Abbott’s address than public education. Cultivating “great teachers” was his stated goal - but one minus a hint for how he intends to move Texas in that direction.

There was no mistaking Abbott’s willingness to tangle with the feds as governor, much as he loved to sue Washington during his years as attorney general. (Insert eye roll here.) Making Washington the bad guy is good political theater, and Abbott got inevitable applause from the mostly Republican inaugural crowd. But banging that drum too often risks turning the GOP into the Grumpy Old Party, which would be out of keeping with Abbott’s overall tone of finding new solutions to stubborn Texas problems related to growth.

Abbott conveyed his pugnaciousness toward Washington by intoning the famous phrase “Come and take it,” the challenge uttered by Texian revolutionaries in refusing to surrender their cannon at the 1835 Battle of Gonzales. The words later were emblazoned on a revolutionary flag, and now they are part of the Abbott gubernatorial credo.

It’s curious that the Gonzales challenge also cropped up toward the end of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s inaugural address. You’d think that these two would have compared speeches beforehand so listeners could get a little wider sampling of Texas history.

Between the two, Patrick went deeper into policy for the inauguration crowd, and he, too, dwelled on education. Patrick’s focus there was his ambitious goal of extending school choice to “every parent” in Texas, an antidote to failing schools. That’s a contentious subject that pits the public school establishment against public school reformers.

There may be no more divisive issue than Patrick’s idea of enhancing border security. Tuesday, it was atop his list of imperatives for the Senate, over which he serves as presiding officer, and he pledged that the Senate would fund border security at the “highest levels in state history.” Twelve days previously, Patrick advocated paying for two more years of the National Guard’s border deployment or until the state could position more state troopers there.

Either way, paying for soldiers on the border comes at huge expense for questionable results. Plus, it militarizes a swath of the state to the dismay of people who live there.

One positive note we heard Patrick strike was invoking the ideals of a servant leader. The powers of persuasion, he said, should take precedence over the power of authority. We’ll measure Patrick against that laudable ideal as he attempts to turn some of his policy dreams into reality.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Jan. 18, 2015.

Thanks, Governor, for telling us what we already know

It was funny to hear Gov. Rick Perry, in a farewell speech last week, telling Texans what so many of them tried to tell him for so many years:

“There is room for different voices, for disagreement. Compromise is not a dirty word if it moves Texas forward.”

Not funny ha-ha, as ol’ Slingblade would say.

And how did the joint session of the Legislature in the audience respond? With a standing ovation - just another demonstration of the suspension of disbelief it takes to let Perry lead us. Everyone sees right through him, recognizes that he’s in it for him, not us - and plays along.

Perry’s leadership has been so angrily partisan and divisive that it led eventually to his indictment on felony charges of abuse of power. His lip service to bipartisanship fooled no one. The various news reports and analyses of the speech described it in exactly one context - as a prelude to another run for president.

Nobody contemplated his conciliatory words on their face value or considered putting them into action. But Perry got to be overheard saying “compromise” - the dirtiest cussword in his vocabulary - in preparation for his presidential run, at an event held courtesy of Texas taxpayers.

“Perry says goodbye - and hello” was the headline on an analysis by Ross Ramsey of The Texas Tribune. “This was as much start as finish,” Ramsey wrote.

The conservative Washington Times described it as “an address that doubled as a preview of the message he is likely to espouse if he enters the 2016 presidential race.”

So there it is, those on the inside of Texas looking out, and those on the outside looking in, all seeing and saying the same thing because Perry is that obvious.

Later, Matt Angle, director of the progressive Lone Star Project, said it ungraciously, petulantly, and best: “Even today, he is using our State Capitol and the good will of Texans as tools to advance his political ambitions.”

It feels wrong, on the occasion of an editorial assessment of a governor’s legacy, not to be talking about actual accomplishments. But other than being Texas’ longest-serving governor, what else is there, other than what’s next for his career?

We could credit him for Toyota’s decision in 2003 to open a plant in San Antonio. He established a fund allowing him to offer incentive money and Toyota was a beneficiary of that fund. But San Antonio and Texas deserve the real credit, just for being the places they are.

He famously made a practice of using the incentive fund to pirate other states’ businesses. A serious economic analysis of that practice concluded that it was counterproductive. The primary beneficiary of the fund was Perry for its influence-peddling value. In the final analysis, Texas does not owe its economic strength to his leadership.

Under Perry’s watch, Texas became a leader in medically uninsured population percentage. How’s that for a legacy? Unlike the economy, which would have grown with or without him, there’s a direct link between his policy decisions and the growth in uninsured. His refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion prescribed by Obamacare denied coverage to one million Texans and amounted to a tax increase on Texans. Perry had to take the federal government to court - at taxpayer expense - to win the right to say no to the funding. Politically it cemented his anti-Obama bona fides. What more selfish example is there of putting personal political profit ahead of people’s well-being?

Texans, for all of their “Come and take it!” bluster, know how to compromise and get along. They compromised cognition for 14 years to play along with Perry. We can’t see it happening at the national level, any more than we can envision the Legislature all of a sudden becoming less partisan just because Perry said so.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Jan. 21, 2015.

‘Because as goes Texas …’

Moments after being sworn into office, newly inaugurated Gov. Greg Abbott challenged the crowd gathered outside the capitol in Austin to be leaders not only in this nation, but in the world.

“Because as goes Texas, so goes America, and as goes America, so goes the world,” he said.

Texas has indeed been an economic powerhouse in recent years, leading the nation in job creation and boasting the 12th largest economy in the world.

But the state has many hurdles to overcome as well, including how to fund its burgeoning transportation and infrastructure needs, manage the state’s ever-shrinking water supply, care for millions of Texans lacking health insurance coverage and ensure that all children in the Lone Star State receive a quality education that prepares them to enter the workforce.

Then there’s the issue of securing the southern border, a hot-button during Abbott’s campaign and that of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

With a conservative Legislature alongside them, Abbott and Patrick should be able to complete much of their respective agendas, but there are few easy solutions to the challenges they face, particularly if bipartisanship is not part of the program.

It would be something if Texas could lead the nation when it comes to political compromise.

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Austin American-Statesman. Jan. 21, 2015.

Dan Patrick’s plutocratic Texas

Ahead of his inauguration Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced last week he was creating six citizen advisory boards and filling them with about five dozen Texas business leaders. Patrick spoke of the boards generating new legislative and policy ideas on taxes, transportation, water, energy, the economy and jobs, but a look at each board’s membership suggests what Patrick will get is confirmation of his preset ideas on issues such as privatization, school choice and deregulation.

In prepared inaugural remarks released by his office Tuesday, Patrick described himself as a “servant leader,” saying “a servant leader must listen, to identify and hear the will of the people.”

Patrick will be hearing from some of his most generous campaign contributors when he listens to his advisory boards. According to Texans for Public Justice, 43 of Patrick’s advisers have given almost $2 million to his campaigns since 2005, and several other board members have close ties to organizations that are major Patrick contributors. Though Patrick talked about appointing a grassroots advisory board sometime soon to complement his business boards, one suspects that all citizen advisers may speak, but not all citizen advisers will be equally heard.

Patrick’s plutocratic appointments are curious because they seem unnecessary. It’s not as though the state’s business leaders can’t find a readily available seat at the legislative table. There’s nothing wrong with a politician seeking advice from business leaders, or with business leaders trying to influence legislation. But Patrick is setting up an official structure within his office that magnifies the influence of people whose pursuit of private political interests already is relatively open.

Tea party Republicans - Patrick’s base - might want to ask themselves whether they’ve been played for fools. Many of Patrick’s appointees have been involved in Texas politics for years and have served on state commissions, councils or boards. They embody the very status quo the tea party seeks to dismantle.

Patrick’s move is no exercise in transparency, either, despite its patina of openness suggesting Patrick is bringing out of the shadows what we all know takes place behind closed doors. The doors on Patrick’s advisory boards will remain locked. Patrick emphasized last week that his committees would meet in private. The public will learn of what advice each board has given Patrick and other senators only if he chooses to acknowledge it.

Patrick talked about “bringing in the best and brightest” to advise him. But Patrick’s best and brightest are narrowly selected. They are mostly wealthy white males. Patrick found fewer than a half-dozen minorities and just as few women to offer him advice.

And some of them look like relics of a good ol’ boy Texas past. Former Gov. Rick Perry (it seems strange to say “former” after 14 years, doesn’t it?) and other state leaders have said falling oil prices won’t harm Texas too badly because the state’s economy is much more diverse than it was during the oil bust of the mid-1980s. But good luck finding that economic diversity in Patrick’s list, which, if anything, stands as an argument that the so-called Texas model is largely built upon the suddenly shaky derrick of an old-fashioned oil boom.

The oil and gas industry dominates Patrick’s advisory boards, with commercial real estate and banking interests also strongly represented. Nearly absent are committee members who primarily made their wealth in a computer technology-related field; the engineering, development and creative sides of technology are missing as far as we can tell. And the business leaders in biotechnology, health care and medicine apparently aren’t among the best and brightest in Patrick’s world, either.

Patrick’s boards also lack geographic diversity. Two of every three committee members come from either the Dallas-Fort Worth area or from Houston and its suburbs. Except for Midland and Odessa in the oil- and gas-rich Permian Basin, the rest of Texas is poorly represented.

Only Kent Hance, a former Democratic state senator, U.S. House member and chancellor of the Texas Tech University System, was listed by Patrick’s office as being from Austin, the city that has helped diversify Texas’ economy more than any other. Nothing against Hance, but we primarily identify him with Lubbock and West Texas, not Austin.

Patrick said the people he appointed to his advisory boards were “really excited about someone in Austin listening to what they have to say.” In a special way, Dan Patrick, Texas’ new lieutenant governor and leader of the Texas Senate, will give voice to the voiceless leaders of Texas business.

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Houston Chronicle. Jan. 20, 2015.

Open carry: It appears that voters will soon get what they voted for

On the opening day of the 84th Legislature last week, gun-rights activists were strolling about the Capitol complex with loaded AR-15s slung over their shoulders. Others carried black powder pistols and long guns, which already are legal to carry in Texas. Still others set up a machine similar to a 3-D printer just outside the Capitol gates and began churning out gun parts.

With Republicans in control of every facet of state government, the gun-rights activists were real-life manifestations of the state GOP platform, which proclaims: “No level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms.”

In a civilized society, men and women don’t walk around in public with machines designed solely to kill and maim slung across their shoulders or strapped to their waist. In Texas, we do - or, at least, we will, once gun-obsessed lawmakers this session pass open-carry legislation and Gov. Greg Abbott signs it.

In a civilized society, taxpayers don’t have to pay for panic buttons in the offices of their elected representatives. In Texas, we do, because gun-rights zealots seek to threaten and intimidate elected officials who don’t share their obsession.

In a civilized society, lawmakers are more interested in building great schools, making sure that transportation flows, keeping people healthy and insured and protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink. In Texas, a number of our lawmakers are obsessed with making sure that we get to exercise the right to carry lethal weapons into churches, bars and workplaces and onto college campuses. Foremost among them is state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, sponsor of a bill that would allow Texans to openly carry weapons without a license or any kind of background check.

“I think we have a ton of momentum,” Stickland told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I haven’t seen this much momentum before.” No doubt, he’s right. Unfortunately.

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