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robertnicholsrecord.com

State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) isn’t exactly a communist. Taciturn and serious, he’s represented his East Texas district since 2007. As head of the Senate Committee on Transportation, he’s pursued modest policy proposals and generally eschewed five-year plans. An analysis by Mark P. Jones of Rice University pegged Nichols as the sixth most conservative senator of the 83rd legislative session, with only tea partiers like Dan Patrick and Donna Campbell to his right. So, naturally, some people think he’s a pinko.

In the last few weeks, an attack site surfaced targeting Nichols. The senator, it turns out, is “one of the more liberal Republicans in Texas,” a tyrant’s friend who “has overseen unprecedented growth in government” and “has opposed conservatives for many years.” He’s empowered government bureaucrats and zealously protected shady slush funds.

It looks like the kind of site that’s employed in campaigns, but the campaign season is over. Nichols was unopposed in his primary race, and effectively unopposed in the general election, where he won more than 90 percent of the vote. The domain name—robertnicholsrecord.com—was bought on January 21, more than a week after the start of the session.

There’s nothing on the site to identify its author, and the information that might normally be used to identify the domain name’s owner has been scrubbed, leaving the site effectively anonymous. Nichols’ office says they don’t know for sure who is responsible.

But it seems likely that the site comes from the Tim Dunn/Michael Quinn Sullivan messaging network. There’s the emphasis on higher education policy. But more tellingly, there’s the invocation of a 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Texas Goes Sacramento,” which Dunn’s groups love.

And they have a motive to attack Nichols—he co-authored Senate Bill 346 last session, a bill that would require disclosure of so-called “dark money” expenditures. The bill, which easily passed both chambers but was vetoed by Gov. Perry, was widely understood to be targeting Michael Quinn Sullivan’s groups in particular.

Still, why? What use is the site to anyone?

That’s harder to determine, and it seems like a pretty poor use of Dunn’s money. It’s probably best understood as a shot across Nichols’ bow, coming as it does at the start of a session in which Nichols, through his leadership of Senate Transportation, will have an outsized footprint on policy. But hardly anyone has seen it. It stayed off social media altogether until it was tweeted out by Dwayne Stovall, last year’s hapless primary challenger to John Cornyn, last weekend.

Movement conservatives had an amazing amount of success at launching primary challengers to Senate Republicans they deemed too moderate last cycle. For one, they knocked off incumbent Bob Deuell and replaced him with Bob Hall, a guy with a troubled past who’s been wandering around the Capitol the last few weeks talking about the United Nations, EMPs, and “the War of Northern Aggression.” But the campaign to subvert Nichols is another thing altogether—it’s actually kind of surreal. If he’s a liberal, who’s left?

“If the person or organization that created this website would like to identify themselves, we would be happy to sit down and discuss the issues and concerns they have,” Nichols told the Observer in a statement. “I stand by my record of representing East Texas values and do not hide from it. That’s unlike the people or organization who created this website, who can’t even put their name on it, because they know they are distorting the truth and trying to mislead my constituents.”

If creating anonymous attack sites to bully legislators who are your allies on most issues and hiding your identity while doing it sounds like a slightly seedy way to do politics, remember that Sullivan’s Empower Texans decided to use a song about a stalker and sexual predator to characterize their legislative agenda this cycle:

Gun-rights advocates rally at the Alamo.
Jen Reel
Gun-rights advocates rally at the Alamo.

Two major gun bills got their first real test today, as a Senate committee heard testimony from more than 100 people on the wisdom of Senate Bill 11, which would allow holders of concealed handgun licenses to pack heat on college campuses, and Senate Bill 17, which would allow CHL holders to carry handguns openly in public. The bills passed out of the committee on a 7-2 vote, along party lines.

Gun rights legislation has been at the center of one of the weirdest circuses of the session so far. Bad behavior on the part of open carry advocates and a misstep by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick put the future of open carry in doubt, but the Senate set the legislation on a fast path to passage, hoping to reassure angry activists that have demanded nothing less than unconditional surrender from anyone who deviates from the party line. A significant portion of today’s debate focused on campus carry, even though it’s open carry that has seized most of the headlines recently. Both seem assured to eventually pass the Senate.

The chair of the Senate Committee on State Affairs, state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), seemed eager to get the two bills out of her committee—it’s unusual to vote on a bill on the day of its first hearing, but that’s what happened.

Was that because Huffman loved the bills, or because she wanted to wash her hands of them? Either way, the bills can’t be considered on the floor until the 60th day of the session—which falls on March 13—unless Gov. Greg Abbott declares the gun bills an emergency priority. So there’s not a clear reason for the rush.

Introducing his bill, state Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) concentrated his fire on critics of campus carry. Adopting a blustery style that one observer compared to a Cormac McCarthy character, Birdwell was a font of quotes: “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by six,” he told Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, who was against Birdwell’s bill. When UT System Chancellor William H. McRaven’s position on campus carry was mentioned—he’s a former special operations commander who has strongly opposed guns on UT campuses—Birdwell said that once McRaven was given his marching orders from the Lege, “I expect the chancellor to salute and move out.”

When state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-San Antonio), one of only two Democrats on the nine-member committee, spoke about the risk of having loaded guns on college campuses, Birdwell tersely replied: “I’ve found unloaded weapons very un-useful, ma’am.” When Zaffirini asked why Birdwell’s bill wouldn’t let universities opt out of the gun law, Birdwell responded that college administrators didn’t have the right to meddle in the “rights that are granted from God,” which fall to the Legislature to protect.

Anti-gun groups, according to emails they released on social media, were told by Birdwell’s staff that there would be no invited testimony at the hearing. But there was, and it came exclusively from pro-gun groups (most notably from the NRA’s top regional lobbyist). That’s happened before—groups that don’t support expanding gun rights are almost never given equal footing with those that do at the Lege.

University chancellors like former state Sen. Robert Duncan, now the chancellor of the Texas Tech System, were allotted only brief comment periods, or had their comments read aloud. Duncan, in his characteristic style, stayed neutral on the bill, but suggested a few amendments for safety’s sake, like banning guns in medical clinics.

A letter from McRaven, read aloud, stressed that many mental health officials who work with college students are very uneasy about the prospect of more guns on campus: Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students, and easier access to guns on campus might make suicide even more common. John Sharp, Texas A&M’s chancellor, said he could not “speak to the effect that campus carry will have on other institutions, but it does not raise safety concerns for me.” But he emphasized that campus carry wasn’t an A&M priority.

Many came to spoke against campus carry, including a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre, Colin Goddard, who asked legislators not to use the incident to justify the bill. And there were several survivors of the 1966 UT Tower shooting, including Ruth Heide Claire James, formerly Claire Wilson, who began her testimony with a jarring declaration: “I was the first one shot in the Whitman massacre.”

Wilson was 18 when the shooting happened, and pregnant, and Whitman killed her unborn child and 18-year-old boyfriend. She lay bleeding in view of the Tower for some 90 minutes until she was rescued. Today, she said that gunfire from well-meaning civilians, causing confusion, was one of the reasons she wasn’t rescued earlier.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), also had a connection to the shooting—his father, he said, had been carrying a scoped rifle that day, and police had instructed him to fire at Whitman.

Today’s hearing also covered what state Sen. Craig Estes jokingly called “a less controversial bill,” SB 17. Estes, the bill’s author, called on Texas “to boldly go where 46 other states have already gone” and pass a law authorizing the open carry of handguns.

But he didn’t say all that much about the bill, leaving it to the public to argue for and against it. Open carry activists want what they call “constitutional carry,” meaning that any member of the public could carry a gun in public without a license. Estes’ bill falls short of that, and they don’t like it.

Angela Rabke of Moms Demand Action, a gun-control group founded after the Sandy Hook massacre, talked about the harassment her group has received from open carry activists; in the overflow room, some of the activists laughed at her. Shortly after she began discussing the “near-constant threats of sexual violence” she’d had to contend with, her time ran out.

Next to her sat Kory Watkins, the leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, who has gotten into his fair share of trouble lately. If he failed to win the right to carry a handgun, and if the Legislature chose “to go against my God-given rights,” he said, “I will continue to walk around with an AK-47.” And he would “walk around until my feet bleed to make sure you’re never an elected official again,” he told the panel.

There were quite a few other sideshow moments. One man compared gun licenses to the yellow stars Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany.

But most witnesses on both sides were respectful and earnest. In the past, gun hearings like this have been overwhelmingly populated by gun rights activists. This time, the balance was closer to even. Those who oppose expanding gun rights are starting to turn out in more serious numbers.

Will that matter at the Lege? Probably not for now: The bills discussed today are on a trajectory to easy passage, at least in the Senate, even if they may have to wait over a month. But public pressure could be meaningful as the weeks go on and the rest of the Legislature considers making changes.

State Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) speaks at a Wednesday press conference.
Christopher Hooks
State Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin) speaks at a Wednesday press conference.

The Speaker’s Committee Room just outside the House chamber is an unlikely gathering place for plotters and revolutionaries, men who would change the trajectory of the Republic, but there they were.

Led by state Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin), six legislators gathered yesterday to announce their push to amend the U.S. Constitution to add conservative reform measures like a balanced budget requirement, hopping on the bandwagon of a national movement that hopes to work through state legislatures and force the issue nationally.

“I’d like to begin today with the words of Thomas Jefferson,” said Workman, “one of our Founding Fathers, who said in 1798 that, quote, ‘I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I mean an article taking from the federal government the power of borrowing.’ Jefferson knew that borrowing money would only lead to the demise of the nation.”

(Unlike most of the Founding Fathers quotes you hear these days, this one is mostly accurate—though Jefferson got over his earlier aversion to borrowing during his presidency in time to make the Louisiana Purchase, for which Texans should be glad, and came to accept the utility of government debt later in his life.)

“Here we are, 217 years later, and our nation has an insatiable appetite for government largesse,” said Workman. Something had to be done. So he and his buddies, among whom stood GOP state Reps. James White of Tyler, Dan Flynn of Canton, Phil King of Weatherford and Rick Miller of Sugar Land, were calling for a constitutional convention by way of Article V, a constitutional provision that allows three-fourths of the states to force Congress to order one.

“We are now a hundred years into congressional bad behavior, which has systematically and purposefully stripped the states of their sovereignty, and it’s going on as we speak,” said Workman. He and his allies want amendments that would require a balanced federal budget, impose restrictions on spending and impose term limits on Congress.

Workman’s House Joint Resolutions 78 and 79 propose spending limits. Miller has House Joint Resolution 77, which seeks spending and term limits, and wants to “limit the jurisdiction” of the federal government. King’s House Bill 1110 would lay out the procedure for selecting delegates to the convention. White’s House Bill 1109 takes a different approach: He’d have Texas enter into an interstate compact calling for a balanced budget amendment.

King, the chair of the Select Committee on State & Federal Power & Responsibility, said the proposals would be heard in his fiefdom two weeks hence. A representative from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would come to educate legislators on constitutional procedures.

Pity our state’s Republican legislators: Congressmen find it much easier to grandstand, close as they are to the devil himself, B.H.O. But there aren’t many Democrats worth throwing punches at around Austin, so some reps try to work over the president too. But it’s harder to do from 1,300 miles away.

It’s not entirely a gimmick—there have been plenty of Article V attempts in American history. Texas has used the approach 12 times—among them, to attempt to ban school bussing in 1973. And it’s not coming out of nowhere—an Austin-based organization, Citizens for Self-Governance, is encouraging state legislators to push for constitutional changes through their Convention of States project, which recently brought former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn on board as a senior adviser.

Seven states have passed an Article V appeal for a balanced budget amendment since 2012, and the group says it has support from legislators in 33 states. They need support from 34 to force Congress to call a constitutional convention. Last summer, the group had a summit in Indiana to discuss the group’s 2015 agenda—Workman was there.

Convention of States isn’t the only group going the Article V route—there’s also Wolf PAC, on the left, making a bid to end corporate personhood. There’s a sense in the air that the mechanisms of American governance aren’t working, and some, like Workman and friends, are looking to structural solutions. They have a long road ahead of them.

Why Dan Patrick Wants a Permanent Border ‘Surge’

The lieutenant governor's rhetoric on the border is shifting, and it could mean a split with House Speaker Joe Straus.
Dan Patrick's fence-shaped "Secure our Border" signs were ubiquitous at the state GOP convention last year.
Christopher Hooks
Dan Patrick's fence-shaped "Secure our Border" signs were ubiquitous at the state GOP convention last year.

Update: House Speaker Joe Straus released a statement that coolly responds to Patrick’s presser and seems to imply there’s more distance between Abbott and Patrick than the latter would like:

“I appreciate Governor Patrick’s remarks, but Governor Abbott is the Commander in Chief and he will decide whether to extend the National Guard’s deployment.”

Original: At a press conference today, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pledged to continue the National Guard deployment for as long as it took to “secure the border.” Flanked by members of the Senate Republican Caucus, Patrick spoke for just six minutes, and took no questions.

The deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops last summer was originally intended to be a temporary response to the influx of Central American minors, and the Legislature only arranged funding through the end of March. But Patrick wants to make them a permanent feature of the state’s border security regimen—his plan would continue funding for the Guard presence through 2017.

His high-profile push for the border security funding could be an attempt to win positive headlines even as the legislative priorities he laid out in his primary campaign—like ending the Texas DREAM Act and doing something about so-called “sanctuary cities”—seem to have vanished from his legislative agenda, at least for the moment. And it could be a way to prepare for a fight with House Speaker Joe Straus, whose caucus would seem to be less eager about the National Guard deployment than Patrick’s senators.

Patrick said the National Guard deployment had been effective in slowing border traffic. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, apprehensions of people crossing the border is down by about two-thirds in the Rio Grande Valley Sector—a small but active stretch of South Texas—since the border surge started, though that’s a bit like saying that a river is dry because it is only running a third as high as it did when it experienced its greatest flood in modern history.

In fact, the tapering off of the surge of unaccompanied minors is more suitably attributed to a variety of other factors. (Patrick’s predecessor David Dewhurst had tried to take credit for the drop as well.)

But for Patrick, the crisis goes on.

“However, as the director of the Department of Public Safety said in a report, the border is still not secure,” Patrick said today. “And we know it’s not secure because the federal government is shirking from their responsibilities of doing so.”

So Texas would continue to take charge. “Because of their success, now is not the time to remove the National Guard from the border,” Patrick said.

Patrick explained he would work with the governor and speaker to commit the $12 million needed to keep the National Guard on the border from the end of March through the end of May, at which time the Legislature should have a supplemental funding bill in place to cover the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends in August.

Meanwhile, the Senate budget proposal includes $815 million for border security efforts for the 2016-2017 biennium. Patrick boasted that the proposed funding was the “highest level in history.” The House budget proposal kept border funding flat, at less than half of the Senate proposal.

Patrick told the press his sources told him that drug cartels are ramping up for a National Guard withdrawal, and predicted that another “spring and summer surge” of migrants, like the one last year, was imminent. Doing anything less than his plan would be hopelessly careless. He struck a defiant tone.

“The Republican Senators standing behind me of the Texas Senate are united and committed to doing everything possible to keep Texas and America safe from terrorists who many believe have already crossed the border,” Patrick said. “From drug cartels to the criminal gangs who bring crime to our state.”

Patrick got elected in large part through his fierce and fiery border rhetoric. It was his core issue, one he hammered ad nauseum at every tea party meeting and rally he attended in the state. His style—he described illegal immigration as an “invasion,” and had warned in the past of immigrants spreading third-world diseases such as leprosy and tuberculosis—seemed capable of getting him in serious trouble, but Democrats were never able to tie him down on it.

Since he’s gotten elected, though, he’s taken a different tack. In the past, he’s told crowds that repealing the Texas DREAM act, which allows undocumented Texas residents who graduated from state high schools to pay in-state tuition at state colleges, would be one of his top legislative priorities, but it vanished from his rhetoric once he took the gavel, and no serious effort has yet materialized to do away with it.

Senator Dan Patrick and DPS Director Steve McCraw pose with a message for border-crossers in Mission, Texas.
Senator Dan Patrick and DPS Director Steve McCraw pose with a message for border-crossers in Mission, Texas.

Emphasizing the National Guard deployment is a way to deliver red meat to his border-fearing constituents without having to take serious political risks, or push an agenda that’s doomed to fail in the House or by way of the governor’s veto pen. It mirrors his attempt to feed gun-rights activists a consolation prize by emphasizing his support for campus carry, instead of open carry bills.

It also foreshadows what will become one of the major story-lines this session: Disputes between Straus’ House and Patrick’s Senate. In December, Straus was part of a legislative troika, which alsoincluded former Gov. Rick Perry and former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, which kept funding for a DPS presence at the border through August but ended funding for the guard deployment in March.

“I did not have a say in that decision, nor did Gov. Abbott,” Patrick emphasized.

He repeated over and over that he stood in perfect unity with the governor’s office, but didn’t have much to say about Straus.

“I’ve spoken to Gov. Abbott on multiple occasions and we stand shoulder to shoulder in a commitment to border security. The governor and the Senate will have a comprehensive border security plan that we’re committed to passing this legislative session,” Patrick said.

The governor’s office and his senate, Patrick seemed to be saying, were like the two unified parents of a wayward child.

“The Senate stands behind [Abbott] and I stand behind him,” Patrick said again. “We stand shoulder to shoulder with the governor, and we will work with the speaker.” The senators behind Patrick applauded as he hurried out of the room.

New friends of Representative Randy Weber (R-Caucasus)
New friends of Congressman Randy Weber (R-Caucasus)

It’s only been a week since we’ve brought back this accursed round-up, and things keep getting bleaker. The Texas Observer’s offices were annexed to the People’s Republic of Kory at some point during the night, and a certain gun rights activist has demanded that we not use his name, on pain of Facebook tirade and/or death. We will carry on, but we are also cowards. Long live ████ ██████!

1) Everyone knows that it’s fun to be a woman on the Internet. Case in point: Matt Beebe, a friendly Empower Texans fellow-traveler who tweets a lot and has run a series of not-too-successful primary challenges to noted tyrant House Speaker Joe Straus.

To clarify, Beebe is not a woman on the Internet, but he knows some. Last week, we talked a bit about AgendaWise’s super-strange treatment of women under the pink dome. (Spoiler alert: They’re “political concubines.”) Beebe had some thoughts about the “myth of female empowerment,” and he tweeted them at Texas Monthly’s Erica Grieder, with a helpful illustration:

This is weird, you say? Open your mind. Let he who has never sent a woman an unsolicited Reddit pic of a woman getting peed on cast the first stone.

Naturally, Beebe got mad when Grieder didn’t take the pee-picture in the manner in which it was intended. These ladies get hysterical at the drop of a hat, amirite?

2) Dan Flynn knows, presumably, that children are our future, but adults are our present and he’s an adult, living in the present, and have you seen children lately? Those dudes are terrifying.

So he’s got a bill to allow teachers to defend themselves or school property with deadly force. To explain himself, he pointed an Observer reporter to a YouTube video entitled, partially, “Black Student Slams Teacher.”

When you get old enough, I imagine the whole world looks like this:


3)
You might have thought state Rep. Steve Toth would stop Tothing when he lost his seat after a failed bid for the Senate. You would be wrong. He’s as Tothy as ever: He can’t help it.

B9I1B3uCcAAum8T

There’s a service called Poetweet which composes rhyming poems from portions of your tweets. Here’s a Rondel from Steve Toth:

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4)
Randy Weber, the able-minded Texas congressman who gained immortality for calling Barack Obama a “socialistic dictator” and “Kommandant-in-chief” before last year’s State of the Union address and who recently compared the president unfavorably to “Adolph Hitler,” (sic) normally has trouble stringing two syntactically correct sentences together. But now he plays an important role on the House Committee on Foreign Relations. So he’s branching out.

Last week, the Washington Times published a special section in the paper entitled “Azerbaijan: A Quarter Century Since Restoring Independence, A Thriving U.S. Ally.” It looked like part of the newspaper, but it was paid for by “friends” of the little Caucasus state, a dictatorship with unresolved borders and lot of oil that has been cracking down on journalists and dissidents. In the section, Weber gave us some of his carefully thought-out thoughts, in an op-ed titled “Why Azerbaijan matters to the United States.

Why would a relatively stable country at the intersection of the Middle East, Europe and Asia, with a strong economy and burgeoning energy supply, matter to the United States? It’s a great question with a relatively easy answer.

Woah! Tell us more, Randy!

Now, more than ever, we must strengthen our current relationships with allies new and old. Azerbaijan has continually shown their willingness to cooperate with our government to foster a healthier, more stable Middle East and Eurasia. It is imperative for the future of our national security that we continue down a path of collaboration and show that we will be a strong and strategic partner to Azerbaijan for years to come.

All hail Azerbaijan! When cleansing fires come, Azerbaijan will stand strong. Azerbaijan best country #1. Someday, Great Leader Ilham Heydar oglu Aliyev will wipe Armenian scum from earth and connect Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with Azerbaijan motherland, and a thousand years of peace will follow, as was foretold.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the junkets, congressman.

CAKE: The UT-Austin chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas is celebrating Ronald Reagan’s birthday by providing welfare cake to passersby on campus. Get it while you can!

House staffers wait for their bosses' committee assignments outside of the House post office.
Christopher Hooks
House staffers wait for their bosses' committee assignments outside of the House post office.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released his committee assignments almost two weeks ago, but House Speaker Joe Straus took his time, as is Legislature tradition. House committee assignments, which came down late this afternoon, are the last piece of the Legislature’s machinery to be assembled before it kicks into high gear.

Because Patrick had a bounty of freshman senators to deal with and a desire to boot Democrats from positions of influence, the makeup of some of his committees is dramatically different than last session. But for Straus the rule of thumb appears to be: more of the same. In general, the same kind of legislators who had influence last year—moderate, Straus-friendly Republicans and moderate Democrats, each of whom share a love of business and the status quo—will hold the reins of power this year.

The most important is the Appropriations Committee, which handles the budget. Moderate state Rep. Jim Pitts had it last year, but he retired. This year the top gig goes to state Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton), another moderate and the former vice-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which handles taxes. Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) keeps his vice-chairmanship. An accountant in private life, Otto is the kind of lawmaker who wins plaudits from Texas Monthly, which once described him as having “the stolid look of a subject of a Rembrandt portrait.” Well.

Ways and Means, in turn, goes to Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), who was a top Straus lieutenant last session, frequently holding the gavel in the speaker’s absence. Dallas Democrat Yvonne Davis becomes the vice chair—the committee was headed by two Republicans last cycle.

The all-important Calendars Committee, which breathes life into (or takes life away from) bills as they move through the legislative process, stays pretty much the same, with Republican Todd Hunter and Democrat Eddie Lucio III retaining the chair and vice-chair positions, respectively, and keeping the same mix of Democrats to Republicans—five of 15.

Public Education, usually a hotbed of activity during the session, could pose challenges for Patrick’s school choice agenda. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) keeps his chairmanship. There are a number of rural Republicans, who are generally disinclined to vote for vouchers and are protective of public schools. Of all the committee members, the rep most likely to endorse education reforms might be Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston).

Committees that have been used to shut down regulatory and reform efforts in the past remain big obstacles to change. Environmental Regulation lost one of its few Democrats—there are now only two donkeys among the committee’s nine members. Investments and Financial Services, which effectively killed payday lending regulation last year, has two Democrats out of seven.

But some committees look better for Democrats. Transportation, which could be a busy committee this cycle, is actually led by two Ds, Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) taking the top spot and Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco) taking vice-chair. Neither held those spots last year. And Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) leads County Affairs, an unsexy committee that handles important business.

And there are plenty of unusual footnotes. Rep. Gary Elkins (R-Houston), the Sith lord of Texas payday lending, was named the chairman of Government Transparency and Operations. Molly White, the freshman rep who’s off to a rough start, will now have a venue for her theories about Muslims in Homeland Security and Public Safety. Homeland Security’s vice-chair, Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D-Eagle Pass), has had some experiences at the Capitol lately that might inform his understanding of the need for public safety.

Legislators who voted against Straus in the leadership election got hosed, more or less, as you’d expect they would. Poor Scott Turner, who ran a hapless campaign against Straus for the speaker’s gavel, got shunted all the way down to International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs, which has been known in past years as a place for the speaker to stick too-promising Democrats—Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) is the chair—and unloved Republicans. (Perhaps unfairly.)

But Giovanni Capriglione, a Republican from the Metroplex who bucked his tea party supporters and loudly supported Straus, came out of his ordeal pretty decently. He sits on Appropriations, Local and Consent Calendars, and Investments and Financial Services—the last committee is sought-after for its members ability to raise money from the many well-heeled outsiders who have business before it.

Here’s a last thing to chew on: While almost all of the committees have a masculine, musky flavor, seven of the House’s 38 committees don’t have a single woman.

Kory Watkins
Open Carry Tarrant County leader Kory Watkins

Few people in Texas history have made enemies at the Capitol as quickly and decisively as Kory Watkins, the leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, a group that proved too radical for the main body of open carry demonstrators. Lobbying for the right to carry handguns openly in public and without a license, he’s almost single-handedly turned what should have been a sympathetic Legislature against his core cause, irritating and alienating natural friends and generally making himself a nuisance.

Today, he took a big step toward Travis Bickle territory, warning legislators that their behavior was “punishable by death” and that there’s “going to be trouble” if they don’t cave to his demands.

It’s not the first time he’s crossed the line from nuisance to threat: Open Carry Tarrant County’s shameful behavior in state Rep. Poncho Nevárez’s office freaked out the whole Legislature, and caused the Department of Public Safety to give Nevárez a security detail. Dan Patrick, after inadvertently infuriating the open carry guys, has tried to give them consolation prizes. The Senate would allow guns on college campuses, Patrick emphasized. Maybe licensed open carry had a chance.

But open carry activists like Watkins want unlicensed open carry, in part because quite a few of them have criminal backgrounds and can’t get a concealed handgun license under current law.

This morning, Watkins uploaded a video monologue to his Facebook page. It quickly got taken down, but not before anti-open carry activists took it and uploaded it to YouTube.

“Last week, we got to see the games of the legislators,” Watkins tells the camera. “Looks like we have campus carry, no problem. But open carry? I don’t know about that,” he says, mimicking a legislator.

He challenges his audience of activists not to take the bait: “Are you going to settle for the low-hanging fruit that your masters are putting on the tree for you? Or are you going to go to the top of the tree and grab that fruit at the very top?”

Watkins has had enough. “I’m tired of jacking around. I’m tired of playing politically correct games. I’m tired of saying, ‘Well, this is chess, and we gotta take this slowly.’ No, no, no, no, no. This isn’t a game. This is reality. And these are our rights they’re playing with.”

Then, he goes too far: “I dunno if they forgot what their duty is, but it’s to protect the Constitution. And let me remind you: Going against the Constitution is treason. And treason is punishable by death.”

The men and women of the Legislature would do well to heed his words. “We’re not playing around. I don’t think they wanna mess with us too much longer.” If they did, something new would be coming at them. “They better start giving us our rights, or this peaceful non-cooperation stuff is gonna be, um, gamed up. We’re gonna step it up a notch.”

He’d just about had it. “In Texas we’re tired of jacking around with people in suits who think they can take away freedoms in the name of safety,” Watkins says. “These politicians down there are jacking around with your head.”

In Nevárez’s office, Watkins had stuck his foot in the door, preventing the rep from kicking him fully out of his office. It’s time for more, Watkins says.

“I want to put more than my foot in that door. We should be doing way more than that. We should be demanding that these people give us our rights back. Or else it’s punishable by death. Treason,” Watkins says. “You understand how serious this is, Texas? We need to start sticking more than foots in doors. This is treason against the American people. You don’t sell my rights back to me. Or you’re gonna find trouble.”

With that, he ends the recording.

What Dan Patrick’s First Big Mistake Says About Him—and the Senate

Dan Patrick manages to assemble his own personal circular firing squad in the first weeks of the session.
In a campaign ad from 2013, Patrick says he'll support open carry in office.
In a campaign ad from 2013, Patrick says he'll support open carry in office.

Among the myriad embarrassments the Legislature has suffered through in the last week, one subplot has something important to say about the potential embarrassments it will suffer through going forward. Last week saw Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s first big bungle—a totally avoidable trial-by-fire that demonstrates some of Patrick’s possible shortcomings as a leader and political actor.

You may have seen parts of it crop up in the news, but here’s the whole thing, in three painfully mismanaged acts. Last Tuesday, Patrick was interviewed by the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith at an early morning event. Smith asked Patrick if open carry was a done deal given the conservative composition of the Senate.

“Second Amendment rights are very important,” Patrick said. “But the open carry does not reach the level of prioritizing at this point out of all the things we talked about.” In fact, he didn’t even “think there’s support in the Legislature to pass it,” adding that “the votes have not been there” in the past, and little had seemed to change. If the votes materialized, he’d let it pass, but he wasn’t going to be pushing for it.

Patrick had his own priorities—he shoehorned a plug for school vouchers into his answer—and open carry just wasn’t one of them.

This was a careless answer, even if—especially if—it were true. Republican senators may be privately apprehensive about open carry after January’s shenanigans, and Patrick may not care much about it personally. But Patrick ran in the Republican primary by repeatedly pledging he supported open carry. Moreover, he said he would “fight for open carry,” which is a bit more assertive than just saying he would let it pass.

The problem: Under the new rules Patrick forced on the Senate, he can no longer quietly ensure Democrats take the blame for the failure of gun bills, like his predecessor David Dewhurst did. Nineteen of the Senate’s 20 Republicans could vote as a block and pass open carry out of the chamber, but there are quite a few GOP senators who are skeptical.

Of the two proposed Senate bills, licensed open carry may yet show signs of life. But unlicensed open carry, which the loudest activists are demanding, seems unlikely to pass. Patrick and open carry’s backers would have to employ a great deal of arm-twisting and expend a lot of political capital to advance the measure, which may be doomed regardless, and Patrick has other priorities.

That said, why didn’t Patrick just say he’d fight for it now, and then see what happens? Perhaps Senate moderates would take the blame for open carry’s failure—if it does fail—or perhaps the measures would fall apart in the House, where Joe Straus’ merry band of RINOs would suffer the ire of the base instead.

Patrick's campaign website made clear he would "fight for open carry."
Patrick’s campaign website made clear he would “fight for open carry.”

Instead, Patrick appears to have told the truth when he should have lied, which in politics is the greatest gaffe of all. Just a few hours later, he had an easy opportunity to qualify his remarks and quash brewing dissent: At the unveiling of the Senate budget plan, a reporter asked him about his open carry talk. But Patrick snippily declined to answer, and took the reporter to task for asking a question that wasn’t about the budget.

Predictably, the open carry guys went nuts—or, more nuts. But why shouldn’t they? Patrick told them he was a fellow traveller when he needed their votes, but now he had seemingly flipped. So the gun activists turned up the heat on Republican senators, the people for whom Patrick is supposed to provide cover. The leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, Kory Watkins, issued a series of cryptic threats toward, and complaints about, Patrick that promised confrontation later in the week. Here’s a fun video of Watkins after getting off the phone with Patrick’s office.

At any point, Patrick’s communication team could have covered for their boss pretty simply: Patrick, they’d say, cares about gun rights and would fight for it this session, etc. But it took his office two days to put out a statement, which finally came late last Wednesday afternoon. It was a major walkback. Labeled “Senate Gun Bills Update,” Patrick’s office emphasized that the Senate’s campus carry bill, which would force colleges to allow guns on school property, had been co-authored by 19 of the Senate’s 20 Republicans.

Now that the campus carry bill was on its way, Patrick’s Senate could focus on “other 2nd Amendment issues, including Open Carry, which I have consistently supported.”

That night, Patrick took to Facebook, for a long post that put the blame for his statements on… the media.

There were inaccurate reports in the media and across the Internet yesterday regarding my comments concerning Open Carry legislation. Despite reports to the contrary, I have never changed my position on the issue. I remain a steadfast supporter of the second amendment and Open Carry legislation.

As is typical of the media looking to build wedges among conservatives, many stories took words out of context. I did not say the bill was dead but suggested instead that, because the votes were not there (at this time), it had not risen to a level of priority….at this point. That is far different than saying an issue is not a priority, it just means work still needs to be done.

It’s a crisis management tack that would be well-suited for a campaign, but not for governing. Watch the video for yourself—this is not what Patrick said. Certainly, he may have misspoken, but the confidence with which he talked at the Tribune event would seem to argue against that.

There are even some people who have argued that Patrick was playing a kind of three-dimensional chess here by forcing activists to apply pressure to waffling senators to support open carry, but this seems weirdly reminiscent of liberals who insist that President Obama is always following a master plan just slightly out of view. Moreover, his communications team’s response to this episode doesn’t seem especially thought-out.

Eventually, Patrick’s staff met with Watkins, the rogue open carry leader. By Monday, Patrick’s communications team was in full gear, attempting to reassure activists he would follow their lead on their favored gun bills. Many still don’t quite believe him—and again, why should they?

But here’s the crazy thing: The end result of Patrick’s few days of gun heresy could be that he becomes even more beholden to the gun activists than before. They’ll be watching him, and they will be difficult to satisfy.

Why is any of this notable, for those not interested in the pathetic saga of gun bills so far this session? This was Patrick’s first real test, and he didn’t acquit himself well. He let his mouth get far, far ahead of him at a high-profile event, and it took a long while for his team to do damage control. As a result, he’s getting pushed to lead the charge for an effort he may not care much about. The failure or success of open carry will now be more strongly tied to his personal efforts.

Patrick’s temperamental style here put a burden on the senators he leads: It exposed them to a lot of time-consuming ire from constituents and may force them into positions they don’t want to take. That can’t have gone over well. And while there won’t be many more opportunities for Patrick to mouth off like he did in Smith’s interview—his office has no particular love for the media—everything we know about Patrick suggests his shoot-from-the-hip style holds true in his private dealings with other legislators as well. Signs of that will be something to watch for as time goes on, though we won’t see much of it in public.

There’s another part of this: Patrick made a hell of a lot of outlandish promises during his primary and during the general election. The grassroots have invested in him remarkably high expectations. He can’t possibly deliver on all of his promises, this session or even in the next. How will he manage the inevitable disappointment from the people who made him lite guv? Will the gun activists accept campus carry as a consolation prize if open carry dies? Blaming the media will only work for so long.

Kory Watkins open carry
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Governor Kory Watkins, w/ gun, at a Target.

We’re sorry, Texas. When the Observer discontinued this quasi-liked and occasionally-read feature after last year’s election, it precipitated some two months of relative peace and stability. You did pretty good, Texas. At times, we discerned a sparkle in your eye and a spring in your step that we hadn’t seen since boats-and-hoes-ghazi kicked off the dark times.

But the return of the Legislature proved too tempting. We started to talk about bringing it back. And then everything went to shit.

1) The Texas Capitol is the people’s house, but, to crib from Marx, some of the people are revolting. That’s Groucho Marx, not Karl. Anyway, the beginning of the Legislature is a shining moment, a time for civic reconciliation after a contentious election. We must all recognize each other as coequal human beings and busy ourselves with the hard work of forging compromise, under the watchful eyes of our one true leader: Kory Watkins.

Watkins, the fedora-wearing champion who leads the splinter open carry protest group known as Open Carry Tarrant County, has managed to singlehandedly annex much of the Capitol in recent weeks to an anarcho-capitalist commune of his own making, the People’s Republic of Kory.

As we know from Machiavelli, one can rule through fear or love. Love would seem to be the easiest choice here for Open Carry protesters, seeing as the Legislature really, really loves guns, so much that it kind of gets weird if you think about it too long. For much of the past few months, the lawmakers seemed prepped to hand the open carry guys what they wanted on a silver platter.

But Watkins, despite his love of Honey Boo Boo, is a fear-man, seemingly incapable of adult communication or restraint. He made such an ass of himself in state Rep. Poncho Nevárez’ office that the House saw fit to make it easier for members to install panic buttons in their offices. Support for open carry started to melt away, almost singlehandedly because of Watkins. And yet he didn’t learn:

This would all be funnier if Rep. Nevárez, one of the all-around best dudes in the Lege, didn’t receive threats to himself and his family after his run-in with Watkins, requiring DPS protection.

But Watkins is taking things a little more seriously now, in song form.

If you’re going to be at the Capitol in the next few months, please remember one simple question: What would Kory do? Don’t do that.

On the other hand, though, like all of the most entitled bullies in Texas history, Kory is set to face zero consequences for his actions.

So maybe, do do that?

2) What’s left to say about state Rep. Molly White, who did her part to make the pink dome at the heart of the People’s Republic of Kory a more welcoming place this week? One tidbit got less attention than the rest:

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 2.01.29 PM

People use the word “renounce” when they leave something they were once a part of, or supported. So think about that: Molly White accidentally asserted she’d once supported the Ku Klux Klan, and it was like the 30th worst thing she did that day. Stellar week for her communications team.

3) If you had the misfortune to follow Newt Gingrich’s last presidential run, you know he cares about one thing above all others, even more than revisiting child labor laws and that moon base. That’s the threat posed by EMPs. The idea of an EMP weapon, in case you’re not familiar, refers to the idea that an enemy could set off a nuclear device high in the atmosphere and fry electronic circuits down below. North Korea, or whoever, could set off a bomb over the Heartland and disable the electrical grid for much of the continental United States. It’s a fear that plays to a conservative love of self-sufficiency and distrust of centrally planned systems, and the fringe’s love of survivalism. Scientists say meh, but who cares?

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development met for the first time and heard testimony from the head of ERCOT, and freshman state Sen. Bob Hall (R-World Net Daily) raised his voice to the microphone for his first time as a legislator. He made it clear he knew he stood on the shoulders of giants. “I want to commend—those that have gone before me here have done a great job.”

But Hall was here now. He’d been to the bleeding razor’s edge of the neo-zeitgeist, and back, and he’d seen the threatscape matrix of tomorrow, thanks to his membership in the Newt Gingrich Book of the Month Club.

“I just want to make you aware of an issue that we will be addressing to make sure that we keep abreast and keep that protection up whether it be a natural or a manmade disaster, such as the EMP threat, that is becoming more important today than it has in the past.”

It’s almost as if a lobbyist gave him a bouncy rubber ball so he wouldn’t be meddling in anything important.

4) Do you read AgendaWise? I’m kidding, nobody does. The site, part of Tim Dunn and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s far-right messaging network that’s been trying for years to unseat House Speaker Joe Straus, provides a scribble-space for two bloggers, Weston Hicks and Daniel Greer. Under the noses of the Capitol establishment, they’ve carved out, with the help of a significant amount of pissed-away donor money, a space for some of the most surreal and hallucinatory writing about Austin’s politics scene.

That’s not to say that it’s good. Hicks and Greer write like children who were raised by wolves and learned to talk at an under-18 Ren Faire live-action role-playing tournament. They make extremely grandiose pronouncements, using curiously out-of-time language, about pretty ordinary shit. Did you know, for example, that our serially middling attorney general, Ken Paxton, is “a hope for all western governments?”

I’m being mean about their turgid prose because—and this is only slightly more important than the quality of their writing—they also have a tendency to be assholes. Greer had to take a brief leave of absence from AgendaWise when he got caught calling moderate GOP state reps “fags,” and “joked” that gay people got AIDS instead of making babies when they have sex because of “#naturallaw.”

This week brings another fine example of the AgendaWise canon. It’s got a juicy title.

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Woah! Two sentences in and we’ve already got our first zinger!

Here’s the meat of it: People who aren’t on the AgendaWise side are whores.

The grassroots don’t want their hard work capsized because of lechers in Austin who can’t protect their own influence from being hijacked by political concubines.

Political chastity is the discipline of interested political actors not to sleep with one another. The reason this is so important, and much more than a “private matter,” is that politics is a cold war.

Keep going…

In war, sleeping with the enemy is a serious offense. In World War II women who slept with German occupiers were treated harshly and ostracized. The reason is simple – the act signifies vulnerability and openness. Someone who has slept with the enemy has significantly compromised their ability to deny the enemy access to vital communal information, and, to some extent, they’ve compromised their ability to say “no” to the enemy.

The sex act “signifies vulnerability and openness”—spoken like a man who has definitely had the Sex. I like the cut of this guy’s jib! Keep going—

Believe it or not, Austin has actual political whores. They don’t think of themselves that way, but others do, and that is what they are. They may be a disgrace to their families, but they are rife in Austin.

In their minds they are just being “liberated women,” only they are professionally rewarded for being “liberated” in the vicinity of men with crucial intelligence or strategic access to power. It is especially important to find weak links to access in the Austin clan who don’t pledge allegiance to the current special interest regime – conservatives – and this caliber of woman can do this job uniquely well.

At parts, Hicks seems to be using the idea of this slutty whore woman as a metaphor, but at points it seems like he’s talking about an actual, specific woman. He caps the piece with a long and disturbing passage from the book of Proverbs about the dangers of consorting with bad, naughty, and slutty women, which ends thusly:

She seduces him with all her talk. She entices him with her flattery. He goes headlong after her, like an ox to the slaughter, like a deer leaping into a trap, until an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird hurrying to the snare, not aware that it will cost him his life.

The piece is a psychosexual nightmare and crazily misogynist, and if Hicks had written it in high school he’d be called to the counselor’s office. You could read the piece and believe that Hicks was calling almost all of the women who work at the capitol whores.

But I think we can discern, behind this dark mess, what has happened. Hicks, as we’ve previously discussed, knows deep of sex and love, like a man should. Perhaps … a woman caught his eye? A woman of the cause? Perhaps there was a spark, and perhaps, some weeks later, the woman left. Her heart led her in a different direction. She took a job in Straus’ office.

Molly White
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State Rep. Molly White (R-Belton)

Freshman Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) is a fireball, and we knew that. Fiercely pro-life—she blames her two abortions for a history of substance abuse and mental anguish—she might be the only member of the Legislature to haul around plastic models of fetuses in her SUV. But she’s also a woman of the world, and abortion is not her only issue. Today, as part of an interfaith lobbying effort, a group of Texas Muslims descended on the Capitol to meet legislators. White left her staff specific instructions as to how to deal with the suspicious interlocutors, and was proud enough to post them on Facebook:

Today is Texas Muslim Capital day [sic] in Austin. The House is in recess until Monday. Most Members including myself are back in District. I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office.

White sees the Muslims in her office as an enemy. One might make the assumption that Muslims looking to meet their elected representatives are a different subset than jihadis, but this is not within White’s power. Apart from the odd use of the Israeli flag—as if it were a wooden stake, to menace vampires—White’s desire to see every Muslim who has the singular misfortune to wander into her office pledge “allegiance to America” before they commune with an elected officeholder is insulting and dangerous for reasons that should be obvious. Only an idiot would demand White repudiate the butchers of abortion doctors every time she rose to speak about her core issue on the House floor.

By mid-morning, Molly White was trending on Twitter, and she’s going to catch some flak for this. But White’s words are a reminder that anti-Muslim bigotry is a core part of the worldview of the state’s far-right, which fears little more than Islam. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick boycotted the first prayer delivered by an Imam in the Texas Senate back in 2007. Last year, a hijab-clad reporter from UT-Arlington’s student newspaper wrote about her unpleasant experiences at the Republican Party of Texas’ convention. Cathie Adams, a former chairwoman of the state GOP, has been traveling the state educating tea party groups to the fact that important figures in the national Republican hierarchy and the intelligence community are secret Muslims.

Now, the Texas House has a leader not afraid to speak her mind—and that’s a frightening thought.