Dan Patrick: lieutenant governor or viceroy?

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick presides over the Texas Senate during the final days of the 84th Texas legislature regular session in May, 2015 at the Texas state capitol in Austin. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News)

 

Maybe we should change Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s title to viceroy.

That seems appropriate since he is acting more like a ruler exercising control over colonies – Texas cities and counties – than a statewide elected leader interested in solving the big problems and challenges facing Texas, such as the state’s broken school finance system, the high number of Texans who are uninsured when it comes to healthcare – including one of four women – and soaring school property taxes that are choking Texas homeowners.

Instead of the latter, Patrick has focused on dissembling representative democracy of cities and counties by overruling their elected leadership and supplanting their policies with his own. That is what viceroys do.

If the public has not gotten that message in the anti-local governing measures Patrick swiftly passed in the Senate during the regular and special sessions — some handed down from our sovereign governor — he made it crystal clear last week on the Fox Business Network.

“People are happy with their governments at the state level. They’re not with their cities,” Patrick said.

That’s bizarre, since it is we, the people, who elect mayors and city councils. And when we’re not happy, we turn them out of office. But Patrick’s statement went further:

“Our cities are still controlled by Democrats. And where do we have all our problems in America? Not at the state level run by Republicans, but in our cities that are mostly controlled by Democrat (sic) mayors and Democrat city councilmen and women. That’s where you see liberal policies. That’s where you see high taxes. That’s where you see street crime. The only place Democrats have control are in our cities, and they are doing a terrible job.”

Got that? It’s the cities that are run by Democrats that are causing all the trouble.

It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that Patrick’s disdain for Democrats is a form of code-switching aimed at conveying to his base – white, socially-conservative Christians – that those “Democrat” people are what’s wrong with Texas and the nation.

His use of the term “Democrat” is a euphemism for people who call themselves Democrats. And we know who those people are. In the Lone Star State, and the country, they tend to be Latinos, African Americans, poor people, single moms, gay and transgender folks, white progressives and lower-wage workers.

Fortunately, it takes two chambers to get things done in Texas and that means Patrick and his court of GOP senators cannot prevail in ruling directly over Texas cities and counties without approval of their co-equal body — House of Representatives run by Speaker Joe Straus. Like the Senate, they are Republican and conservative, but thankfully conducting themselves in a deliberative manner that respects cities and their voters, even in disagreement.

By contrast, Patrick has declared war on blue cities, such as Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. He knows he can’t win the battle at local ballot boxes because voters will elect representatives who share their values and ideals. Given that, Patrick uses the power of the state to preempt and overrule pesky voters in his path. That is what viceroys do.

Consider that Patrick has passed legislation in the Senate that would make it more difficult for city and county governments to set property tax rates at levels they deem necessary to provide police, fire, EMS and other services for residents. Patrick’s Senate Bill 1 would require local jurisdictions to get voter approval for tax rate hikes above 4 percent.

That is a tight squeeze for Austin, which because of rapid growth, has regularly exceeded that limit. Given current trends, the city would need to conduct a tax election every year. The House version sets the level at 6 percent.

State law already provides protections for taxpayers without hamstringing cities and counties or forcing costly elections to do their jobs by permitting voters to petition for a rollback election for increases above 8 percent.

In addition to SB 1, there are proposals to prevent cities from regulating tree removal on private property, to place limits on local government spending and to make it harder for cities to annex outlying areas without their residents’ approval.

But here’s the thing: Legally, Patrick can’t target only blue cities. That means unintentional targets – cities, counties and suburbs run by Republicans — become collateral damage in Patrick’s war.

Their autonomy is every bit at-risk as Austin’s and other blue cities. And Patrick’s attacks won’t stop with the end of the special session on Wednesday. They will continue on conservative radio or television and in public speeches until Patrick prevails — or voters send him packing.

That’s what viceroys do.

 

From Cornyn, a border security plan less Trumpian, more Texas-friendly

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn points to a poster with an image of barrier on the Texas-Mexico border as he announces his border security plan Thursday on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo)

For President Trump, a border wall is a signature piece of his domestic agenda, of such magnitude to him politically that he fumed with Mexican President Peña Nieto and pleaded with him to stop saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for it. More on that later.

For U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, however, a border wall is important, but it’s not everything.

“It’s not the whole story,” the Republican Texas senator said Thursday as he presented his $15 billion border security plan that relies more on personnel and technology and less on a wall than the president might like.

As Maria Recio reported in the American-Statesman, Cornyn’s border plan calls for a layered strategy of walls, fencing, levees and technology. Called the Building America’s Trust Act, the bill would increase the number of federal agents at ports of entry and on the border, as well as add more immigration judges and prosecutors. It also would pour more resources into state and local efforts to fight drug trafficking.

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Cornyn’s plan brings a more reasoned alternative to Trump’s one-size-fits-all, build a border wall approach. It is also likely to go over better with Texans who oppose a wall for a number of reasons, not the least of which is some people just don’t think it’s necessary. Many of those critics live along the border, a point Cornyn subtly referenced when he said federal authorities should consult local officials in shaping border strategy.

That’s something you hear a lot in South Texas and up and down the border, where some residents feel they’ve become a requisite photo op for politicians who swoop in for an hour or two to assess border security — as if that’s all it takes — then return to their respective homes in faraway states. That’s what Trump the presidential candidate did in a 2015 visit to Laredo.

It’ll be interesting to see how Cornyn’s bill progresses and whether it receives bipartisan support. As a border senator and majority whip, he holds considerable sway in Congress and on the fortunes of any border security measure.

‘You cannot say that to the press.’

Trump paved a path to the White House in no small measure on his boastful promise to build a “beautiful” border wall.

“And who’s going to pay for it?” Trump would ask delirious supporters at campaign rallies.

“Mexico will!” they would roar in response.

But leaked transcripts of a January phone call between Trump and Peña Nieto reveal the president knew Mexico would never pay for the wall and that his demand for payment was just a political play. More importantly, he wanted the Mexican president to stop saying publicly that Mexico wouldn’t pay for a wall.

Trump acknowledged that his public posturing on the wall had left him in an extremely tight spot politically.

“The fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind, because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to,” Trump told Peña Nieto in the call.

When Peña Nieto kept insisting that Mexico wouldn’t pay, Trump said: “You cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”

Trump later said the border wall is not all that important – remarkable considering all his bluster about it.

“Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important (thing we) talk about,” Trump said.

Trump has steered away more recently from demanding that Mexico pay. He’s asked Congress for a $1.6 billion down payment for the wall, which the House has approved. Mexico will “reimburse” the U.S., Trump has said, without offering details on how that might happen.

That all sounds fuzzy. One thing is clear from that January phone call, however: Mexico won’t pay for the wall, and Trump knows it.

That means — and let’s face it, we knew this all along — American taxpayers will foot the bill, which the Department of Homeland Security says could hit $21.6 billion. Will Trump’s supporters still cheer?

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