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Home | Tag Archives: texas government

Tag Archives: texas government

Op-Ed – Analysis: Maybe the Texas House should try something new and completely different

For the second time in two years, the members of the Texas House have the chance — if they so desire — to elect the first woman to serve as speaker.

Two women — Miriam “Ma” Ferguson and Ann Richards — have served as governors of Texas. But no woman has served as speaker of the Texas House, nor as the state’s lieutenant governor.

Texas has had 43 lieutenant governors, from Albert Clinton Horton to Dan Patrick. And from William Crump to Dennis Bonnen, there have been 70 speakers.

Zero women.

But Bonnen, who’s been in the job for less than a year, says now, in the wake of a scandal, that he won’t seek a second term. The scandal, in brief: A political activist recorded a meeting with Bonnen and with state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, in which a list of potential Republicans to replace was offered, along with a proposal to give the activist’s organization media passes to the House floor. In the recording, Bonnen and Burrows bragged about giving cities and counties short shrift during the last session and promised more of the same. And between the meeting and the public airing of the recording, they denied saying a lot of the things that, as it turned out, they said.

Bonnen’s pending departure puts the House back where it was two years ago when Joe Straus said he wouldn’t seek a sixth term: looking among the 150 members of the House for a new boss.

Not that it has ever been a legislative priority in the Capitol, but putting a women in the top job might be just the thing for a House looking for a change of tone and image. A bit less boys club, a bit more like the state of Texas.

If you look at either the House or the Senate, it’s not like looking at the state of Texas. The state has slightly more women than men. The Legislature has 181 members — 182 if you want to count the lieutenant governor, and only 43 are women.

Half the state’s population is represented by less than 24% of the Legislature, if gender is the measure.

That beats the historical norms in the state. Since 1846, 169 women have served in the House and the Senate, according to the state’s Legislative Reference Library. During the same period, 5,435 men have served. That’s not a typo.

In the state’s history, 3% of the state’s lawmakers have been women.

The current contingent includes six Republican women in the House and the same number in the Senate. During the session, the Democratic contingent included 28 female state representatives and three female state senators. (The list includes state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who resigned in September. A special election to replace her is now underway, and the field of 15 candidates includes both women and men.)

Run those numbers: Nine of the 31 senators, 29%, are women, as are 34 of the 150 House members, or about 23%.

It beats the historical numbers without being, in any way, impressive.

And the choices, if the House put a woman in charge for a change, are relatively slim — solely because the numbers are small. Republicans have the majority in the House right now, and a speaker elected to replace Bonnen today would likely be a Republican.

The six Republican women in the House represent most of the factions in the party, one way or another — probably about as well as the men do. And six candidates would be considered a robust race for speaker, so there’s that.

But Bonnen, at least for now, wants to serve through the 2020 election. The Democrats are hoping to build on the gains they made in 2018, when they flipped a dozen House seats that had been held by Republicans. If they can flip nine more, they’d have the majority. And even if they didn’t add to the number of women in their ranks, they’d have at least 27 to choose from — a huge field of candidates even if most of the female members opted out.

Putting a woman in charge of the Senate isn’t up to members — it’s up to voters. But the House has another bite at the apple, and they’re looking for something new, something different. The opposite of what they’re trying to disavow, maybe.

Maybe they’ll do something radical.

Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Read related Tribune coverage

Analysis: Oh, You Thought Your State Government Worked For You?

A lot can happen when you’re distracted by presidential politics. The past week offered a few relatively local reminders of why politics matters.

Texas state government can shut down your access to public informationsimply by hiring private businesses to do government work that would otherwise be subject to public scrutiny.

What’s supposed to be the virtuous circle of civics — you elect lawmakers, they get to work, you re-evaluate them on that work and then vote again — has been corrupted. It competes with the commercial circle of civics, where elections are paid for by business interests that are rewarded with state contracts that, incidentally, are protected from public scrutiny because of laws passed by those same business-backed officeholders.

You can blame the Texas Supreme Court, if you’d like, for the ruling that exposed what some call a “monstrous loophole” in the state’s public information laws. Or you can blame the lawmakers who wrote those laws.

Either way, as The Texas Tribune’s Jim Malewitz reported, you can’t find out what it cost McAllen taxpayers to hire Enrique Iglesias to sing in a parade, or how many ride-hailing permits Uber got from the city of Houston.

That’s before you even get to the really big contracts that replace entire departments of state government — in child support, health and human services programs, state prisons and data services.

It might be your money, but the state doesn’t think it’s any of your business.

Your right to choose the people who represent you in government is severely limited.

It’s subverted by self-interested legislators overseen by a lumbering judiciary that preserves the status quo by slow-playing its decisions.

It’s an old gripe about redistricting and other election laws, but that doesn’t mean it’s a misplaced one. Lawmakers choose the voters who will elect them by drawing districts that will keep them or their party — or both — in power.

They’re constrained — barely — by laws that are supposed to prevent some kinds of discrimination. But the courts are painfully slow to remedy unfair political maps, and the process starts all over again when new maps are drawn every decade. It’s hard to replace incumbents voters don’t like, which makes it difficult, for instance, to regulate that “commercial circle” described above.

The litigation over photo voter ID and redistricting that began in 2011 in Texas is still underway. The courts are forcing the state to remove some of its restrictions on voting, but the redistricting judges haven’t done anything — changed maps, made a ruling, raised a question — since their last hearing.

That was two years ago.

The political maps matter. Only a handful of federal and state legislative seats are competitive, and only certain kinds of candidates are truly eligible contestants even in those districts. Those lines are set by the mapmakers, and the courts are supposed to make sure they’re fair — or at least legal — in a timely enough fashion to make a difference.

All of that business and civics stuff might be a little boring. How about life and death?

The safety of Texans with mental illness is sometimes held second to the reputations of the agencies charged with protecting them. ThosetxtribQTirs agencies react to trouble — if at all — by hiding their misdeeds in personnel files and bureaucratic nonsense. A case in point, reported by the Tribune’s Edgar Walters: Keith Clayton, a 55-year-old committed to a state-run psychiatric hospital in Wichita Falls, was killed by attendants there who were trying to restrain him. It took five months for the medical examiner to determine that “an accident” had caused his death. The family, two years later, has never received an explanation.

It recalls something former Gov. Rick Perry said at a public policy conference last month about the power of government.

“Sometimes we forget that the IRS isn’t the only government agency capable of abusing its authority,” he told the American Legislative Exchange Council. “Anyone wielding the power of the state faces the temptation to abuse it.”

Perry was talking about criminal prosecutors run amok. That is hardly the only part of government that either doesn’t do the job it’s supposed to do — like that psych hospital in West Texas — or is doing a job voters had no idea was underway, like the public business outsourced to private firms with limited accountability to voters.

The attention-grabbing wizardry of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton notwithstanding, there are plenty of examples of what’s really at stake when we choose the people who represent us. Voting isn’t just about personalities, and government isn’t just about partisan politics.

Editor’s note: If you’d like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here.

Author:   – The Texas Tribune

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