Political Silly Season

This year has flown by, hasn’t it?  I cannot believe Christmas is right around the corner.  As we all know, the end of the holiday season ushers in the kickoff to the campaign season.   For those who haven’t already been feasting on all the political silliness and maneuvering leading up to the main event, I have highlighted some items that deserve recognition as we head into the new year.


Contracting Cookie Jar and the Race for Governor

Don’t look now, but Lt. Gov. Patrick might have found an opening in the race against Abbott in 2018 that he claims will never happen.

While he was Attorney General, Gov. Abbott was apparently a very bad boy with his contracting habits.  The reports are that he blew a multi-million-dollar wad of taxpayer cash on a program that never worked.   How’s that for fiscal conservatism?   Current AG Ken Paxton has actually done a decent job trying to dig out of the hole left by his predecessor, but his office detailed during a recent House committee hearing what a horrible mess Abbott left Paxton.

Look for Patrick to use his Senate lieutenants to hold similar hearings and ask hard questions about Abbott’s job as AG.    Watch for subtle tactics like this as Patrick tries to soften up Abbott while plotting his run at him in 2018.

Don’t believe Patrick will run?   How long did it take Abbott to figure out a way to be seen with Senator Cruz after Patrick held a public press conference endorsing him for president?   Abbott is doing everything he can to avoid getting outflanked by Patrick.  Keep watching.

The Garish Gala

Timmy Dunn’s annual exercise in egomania gala—you know the one that features the presentation of gilded phallic symbols?—was another opportunity for his political machine to gather its small circle of like-minded radicals and give awards to each other for saying and doing what he paid them to.

For this year’s grand finale, guests were treated to a command performance by Lt. Gov. Patrick, who spouted out the required script for the audience.   Remember, Timmy Dunn paid a pretty penny in hopes of buying himself another statewide elected official.   However, it is reported that tensions are increasing between the two.

Apparently Patrick almost cancelled his appearance, and on-lookers commented that the lite-guv didn’t seem to enjoy the forced topic or the company.   Has Dunn still got him under his thumb?   Will be very interesting to see how this plays out as Patrick continues to take money from all kinds of other sources.   Patrick will need Dunn’s war chest when he finally takes on Abbott, but it seems like his newfound power is making him harder to control.

A Sticky Filing Deadline

We were all treated this last week to the usual end of filing period surprises.  RRC Commissioner David Porter shocked everyone by dropping out, but it was probably a wise move given that Gary Gates, a formidable and seasoned campaigner decided to get in.   The Porter announcement also led to the wild speculation that Rep. Jonathan Stickland, would get into the race.

I don’t see it happening.  Stickland knows he cannot win and Dunn wouldn’t let Stickland waste his money going up against a strong candidate like Gates.  Or Wayne Christian.   Or  Rep. Jim Keffer for that matter…  Keffer spanked Dunn hard last time around.  And while Dunn would love to put his employee on the commission, he would have to take him off his payroll. Stickland is talking it up because he loves the attention.  Stickland will be back in the House in 2017 – hovering over the back mic, being very loud and very ineffective all over again.


That’s enough silliness for today.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Dis-appointing Dan

Dis-appointing Dan

I ran into a friend from the Metroplex this weekend with close ties to GAWWTP. He reported very disturbing revelations from the perspective of some on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Grassroots Advisory Board about how things played out this session.

“We didn’t have any real communication or voice,” my friend said.  “Joann Fleming was the only one with a direct line of communication to the Senate.  No one else was really contacted or allowed to give input.  They waited for meetings that never happened.”

Evidently, by the end of session, everyone was so frustrated (at one point even Joann had strong words with Patrick’s chief of staff) that they decided it was better to part ways.  As a gesture of goodwill, the grassroots community agreed to let Patrick announce the disbanding of the advisory board over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, but now folks want answers as to why they were unable to achieve more this session.

With the filing of the contribution reports, he said a sad reality has become clear to the grassroots community why their advisory board was terminated and the business advisory board is alive and well.   Their concern is that Patrick has become beholden to the same big-moneyed interests that he used to fight against.  Apparently, a lot of people are beginning to blame Patrick’s new alignment with big business as the reason for so many legislative defeats on important grassroots issues.

“At the beginning of session, when Governor Patrick talked big about his priority bills, we were fired up,” my pal said.  “But at the end of the day, you see the majority of what he passed was actually more for his donors than the grassroots.”

“It seemed like the House rolled over the Senate again. This is one reason we have tried for years to remove the House leadership. We had hoped that Patrick would deliver on his promises, but he for the most part did no better than Dewhurst,” he said. “Many of us found ourselves supporting the House plans for tax relief because they were trying to help more Texans.  It was shocking.”

Among the major promises that he said Patrick made but didn’t keep:
– sanctuary cities prohibition
-convention of states
-repeal of in state tuition for illegal aliens
-repeal of the margins tax
-constitutional spending cap of population plus inflation
-NO committees chaired by Democrats
– REALLY secure the border
– gay marriage prohibition

“When he designated that natural gas bill as a priority, a lot of us started to worry,” said my friend.  “It was anti free-market and took the place of many of our other priorities. This we found to be unacceptable. He was beholden to business groups that had their own interests.”

“Now you look at how he raised over $2 million in such a short time from the same folks that benefited from him during the session. What is missing in the report is the support of the grassroots folks like me that can’t give him big donations, but gave our time to help him get elected.  Then once he got the office, he left us behind like those before him. That is why we had to sever our ties with him and our advisory group.”

Obviously these comments coming from what has been the heart and soul of Patrick’s previous political success does not bode well for him.

By many standards, this was a conservative legislative session. But it wasn’t any more conservative than the accomplishments under Dewhurst overall. The difference is that Dewhurst didn’t commit to the grassroots that the above items would be accomplished. Patrick did.

Empower Texans and Mike Sullivan have done their best to defend Patrick, but when you look at how much money they are giving to him, I can’t help but think the grassroots understands they are sort of in the same camp as big business.   When I asked my friend from the Metroplex, he agreed.

“Yeah, everyone appreciates what Michael has done, but they are getting so much money it seems to a lot of us like they are just another special interest group,” he said.

Patrick started his career as a conservative champion, and his ascendency to power was built on the backs of hardworking movement conservatives that truly believe he was a voice against all the cronyism in Austin.  Now, it seems that support could be fading.

I asked my friend if we should continue to support Patrick.

“We still hope that Patrick will deliver for us next session. We really have no choice. But he will need us again in 2018, whether or not he goes through with his plan to run for governor. We will be watching in 2017 to see if he delivers on the important promises he made to us in 2014, and not just the superficial conservative window dressing he gave us in 2015.”

Unfortunately, I think he’s right.  It seems Patrick has a lot of work to do if he’s going to regain the trust of real conservatives.   He’d better not forget who his real friends are.

A Bit Too Cute…

The media this week revealed a campaign by a shady, dark money funded entity to stalk, entrap and film members of the legislature. The stories revealed that this effort was operated and funded by a group with close ties to Senators Huffines, Kolkhorst and Burton.
Staffers on our hall the last two weeks have reported the comings and goings of creepy characters into several of the offices nearby. A number of these offices belong to members closely aligned with Tim Dunn, much like Senators Huffines, Kolkhorst and Burton. The common thread between those senators is consultant Luke Macias, with some assistance by TLR. There were even sightings of mega-lawyer to Dunn, Tony McDonald making appearances about the same time.
This dark money funded operation doing the stalking claims that they are here at the behest of their funders to find members that “campaign one way then act differently” after they are elected.
In the Mike Sullivan weekly call last night, Mike used almost the same verbiage to describe his criticism of the House and Speaker, while praising the actions of the senate. Coincidence? Doubtful.
All the evidence points to a collaboration between Dunn, the senate and this dark money stalker group. The stalker group also claims to certain staffers to have damaging information concerning Senator Fraser. Recent media reports attacked Fraser for his position on certain bills, asserting a conflict of interest. This attack was furthered by Dunn lawyer McDonald through the lobby machinery of Dunn.
We have made it clear on numerous occasions that the attacks being leveled by Dunn operations on the governor and speaker are clearly condoned by Lt. Gov. Patrick, as he has put Dunn and several of his cronies on his “advisory groups”. There is every indication that Patrick is ultimately responsible for and possibly coordinating these attacks on Abbott, Straus and now his own senators and house members.
Patrick has been lost  this entire session except for a few movements of clarity.  It is apparent that he as been doing the bidding of Dunn in repayment of his substantial campaign funding. But now he had gotten too cute and enabled Dunn and his dark money operatives to stalk members of both houses in his drive to get what he and Dunn want at any cost. This will be a defining moment of the session.

A Week of Legislative Musings…

The recurring efforts by Tim Dunn to recruit Rep. Smithee to run for Speaker suffered a severe setback today when the House spurned his Dunn-backed and promoted a floor amendment to scale back the franchise tax rate reduction in the bill by Chairman Bonnen. Dunn crony legislators Stickland, Rinaldi and 6 others joined with 8 far left Democrat members to increase the margins tax rate in the bill by 20%. But the House, after just minutes of debate on the Smithee amendment, slammed the door shut on his challenge to the Speaker and his team by a whopping 120-16 margin.

Dunn and his operatives have tried to recruit Smithee for several years to run for Speaker against Straus according to reports from inside the Dunn-owned member offices. This last election cycle found Rep. Smithee traveling the state to do fundraisers for many of the Dunn backed candidates. Their plan reportedly was for Rep. Scott Turner to make a hard run at it for a time, then hand the race over to Rep. Smithee. However, it was reported that Smithee could see the challenge was going to be unsuccessful and chose to stay behind the scenes in the challenge and retain his chairmanship. But continuous pressure on Smithee from Dunn and his lobbyists convinced him to make a run at the floor amendment as a test vote for his potential run for Speaker against Straus in 2017.

Setting aside the Democrat votes on the amendment, which were most likely just protest votes for some perceived wrong, Smithee garnered just 7 votes other than his for this test run against Straus. The vote on the tax bill was a clear indication that should shut down any future designs Dunn may have on fielding Smithee, or any other member, as a challenger to the Speaker in 2017.

The attacks by the Lt. Gov. on Gov. Abbott continue unabated. The “grassroots” advisory group that the Lt. Gov. made even remotely relevant by giving them titles and letterhead has already attacked Abbott on several matters. Most recent was calling his Pre-K plan “godless” and “socialistic”. Additional members of these nut groups that are part of Patrick’s designated “advisory group” have now joined in the attacks. Calling Abbott a “disaster” as governor and charging that the governor is only supporting the bill because of his wife, these operatives of Patrick are ramping up their support of Patrick for his gubernatorial run against Abbott in 2018.

Abbott is having a much more successful session, by far, than Patrick is. Thus the attacks by the various Patrick operatives… The “advisory group”, along with Dunn cronies, have shown no qualms about leveling false and shrill attacks on Abbott in an attempt to make Patrick look more successful. This will fail and the few people that pay attention to these advisory groups will probably still end up voting for Abbott. Has anybody else notice that Patrick didn’t have even one minor life bill as one of his “priority” bills? For a guy that claims that God and Jesus visit with him about state issues, it’s surprising that he ignored all the pro-life measures. Jim Graham raised this very issue in our weekly call last week hosted by Mike Sullivan.

Despite the shortcomings in the operation of the senate, the senators themselves are being assertive and ensuring that the conservative business of the state doesn’t get sidetracked by the rookie mistakes of the new Lt. Gov. Kudos to Senator Hancock and Senator Eltife for keeping the senate on track this session.

Bits and Pieces

—Lt. Gov. Patrick does the state a great service by passing the bill by Senator Hall to stop the practice by cities of improperly using red light cameras to trap drivers.

—on other Senate news, Patrick appoints a formidable conference committee for budget negotiations, ensuring that citizens will get a budget that comes in under the spending cap and funds only the necessary functions of government. It will be interesting to see whether Senator Kolkhorst uses her position to enhance the no bid fuel contracts she has at various state institutions, or whether she steers clear of the conflict.

—as of today, Rep. Stickland, besides continuing to reinforce his position as the least effective floor debater ever in the history of the state, is increasing the daily cost to the Texas taxpayers at a rate of close to $6200 per day of session. His inane requests to place matters in the journal which are already of record, and insist on record votes on each and every action of the House, solely at the behest of employer Tim Dunn and his cronies, should be noted by his voters. At the rate he is going, he will have singlehandedly added close to $500,000 to the cost of operating the House. Fiscal conservative? Nope.

—the media hoopla over the supposed meltdown between the Big 3 this week is much ado about nothing, suitable only for session gossip fodder. This is the time of session when calendars get crowded, tempers get short, and disagreements that have been simmering for months come to light. The private exchange of the people involved should have been just that: private. These gentlemen have much to do and little time to do it, and members, at least the ones on our hall, are feeling good about the conservative accomplishments completed and those yet to be done.

—reports of sightings of Regent Wallace Hall and Dunn lobbyist Mike Sullivan prowling the halls of the Capitol and the Attorney General’s building this week were highest on Monday and Tuesday. No report on the topics being promoted by these Dunn dark money beneficiaries.

—speaking of dark money, Dunn has never reported one contribution as the result of his “1836” fundraising campaign. This week the tactics shifted from using Texas heroes to line their pockets, to straight up begging for $250,000 to line their pockets. While this 250k just about covers the cost to Dunn of keeping Sullivan around, it’s not known whether this newest effort is a result of the drop in oil prices, or fall off in dark money contributions that are compelling Dunn to ask for this money.

Playing Poorly

In a series of political moves that would be expected of a rookie to the Capitol scene, Lt. Governor Patrick continues to make poor plays. I have already described his earlier moves against gubernatorial appointees in what is clearly his initiation of his all but declared run against Abbott in 2018. Those moves continue as the session deepens. Patrick has enlisted the aid of the lobby and pr operations of mega donor Tim Dunn and his cronies in his effort to embarrass the Governor. Recent postings by head Dunn lobbyist Mike Sullivan and his young boys at AgendaWise are attacking Abbott over his position on tax relief, appointments and legislative priorities.

And perfectly on cue, when Patrick last week saw that his ” property tax cut” , which isn’t anything of the sort, had hit a wall in the House, he made his call to Dunn to crank up the lobby and media machine and attack the House. Blog posts, Twitter, mail and Robocalls cranked up simultaneously, attacking members in their districts. It could be because he has figured out that the House wasn’t even paying attention to his wild machinations and bullying attempts. Speaker Bonnen, in his classic manner, was boringly dismissive of the Senate ” tax cut ” plan, calmly enjoying the attention a statewide official was giving him, and calmly offering to debate the Lt. Governor about the merits of the significant House tax cut plan versus those if the smoke and mirrors Senate plan. No word on whether Patrick is up to that. Friendly suggestion from here: don’t do it Governor Patrick. Your few years on the Senate floor didn’t prepare you for a real debate against a seasoned House member.

In another poorly executed move, and presumably to embarrass Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick has chosen to holdup the House border security bill that overwhelmingly passed the House over a month ago. Border security is far and away the number one priority for the Governor, the state and the voters. As good as Patrick is on the stump, voters don’t take lightly when politicians trade their safety and well-being for cheap political theater to advance their personal agenda. Patrick is all worked up and lashing out about his failed “tax cut plan”. Attacking the Governor and House members using lobby operations of huge donors is one thing. Putting constituents in danger is another.

It is notable that the Dunn lobby machine has been eerily silent on border security for quite some time. Is it possible that Dunn has exercised his noted ability as the “Lt. Gov. Whisperer” and is opposed to border security? Dunn, Wallace Hall and Mike Sullivan have all been recently sighted at the East end of the Capitol. Sullivan has what amounts to a reserved office space it is reported by senate staff. Bills with the Dunn stamp of approval get moved quickly according to Senators, some of whom have been made to explain themselves to Dunn at the insistence of Patrick. Very odd.

Expectations for Patrick at session beginning were high. He had hired good folks with experience to guide him through the intricacies of leading. But no one with even a basic level of understanding of the legislative process would recommend his moves this session. Patrick knows from watching that the House will not bow to attacks from Dunn. Dunn has spent millions to fund these attacks against the Speaker and his leadership team, and has gotten nowhere. In fact, he has gone in reverse. Dunn and his lobby operations are openly derided in the House. (Could be why they’ve stayed at the Senate end this session. Although they were on our hallway last week for a lobby visit ). Now Patrick is using the entire Dunn machine to attack the Speaker and most R members with very expensive, clearly coordinated, attacks about the merits of the Senate “tax cut plan”.

This attack plan, and holding border security hostage, is playing political games. And playing them poorly.

Another Bad Week

I had to take time to write earlier this week because of all the leads being sent me from my fellow staffers. Tim Dunn’s cronies and lobbyists have been storming the halls working against everything and losing at them all.

Last week it was the budget where Dunn managed to get only 5 of his 19 sheep to follow him and vote against the very lean budget. Oops.

This week he marshaled his forces of threat against the Governor, again, on behalf of Lt. Gov. Patrick, to defeat the Governor’s signature piece of legislation on Pre-K. Only got 18 votes on that one and his “conservatives” voted with D’s to get to that number. Oops.

Then his fellow dark money pal Regent Hall made a run, as requested by Dunn, to get access to confidential student information so he could leak it. The UT Board was able to prevent Hall from interrogating the security company. However, thanks to the help of fellow anti-UT regents Cranberg and Pejovic, Hall will be able to view the documents. But much like a supervised visit for an abusive parent, that will only occur in the presence of Chancellor McRaven. Rest assured, Hall will leak whatever he finds, or wants to make up that he finds, as soon as he gets the viewing. It’s a perfect situation for a serial liar: only he sees the confidential information, makes up the unverifiable contents, then leaks it to his pal’s media outlets. Stay tuned for this one.

As I finish this, one of my reporters is standing over in House State Affairs where Dunn has staked out his lobbyist Mike Sullivan who is catching members and was apparently overheard telling one of Dunn’s disappointment in his vote today. I guess if being a lobbyist means you have to be effective at some level, Dunn’s team definitely doesn’t qualify as lobbyists.

Additionally this week, the Senate rejected the plan backed by Dunn to send the embattled Public Integrity Unit to the Attorney General. This has been yet another major issue backed by Dunn and his cronies, who wanted to move the unit to an office where they had invested millions of dollars to control. But even this Senate can’t be fully purchased by Dunn, and the body took a much more reasoned and appropriate approach to solve this issue. Oops.