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5 Southern Republicans break ranks to oppose House Obamacare repeal

But 5 GOP lawmakers in other potential swing districts help pass new health care law

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Republican members of the U.S. House defied party leaders and President Donald Trump to oppose a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new blueprint for U.S. health care, but five other GOP lawmakers holding potentially vulnerable seats took a different tack and voted to go along with the American Health Care Act.

Two of the Southern GOP no votes on May 4 came from Will Hurd of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who both represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. A third lawmaker from a district Clinton carried, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also voted no but is retiring in 2018.

Hurd

Hurd, whose district stretches across a wide swath of West Texas, issued a statement after the vote saying the plan pushed by GOP leaders “does not address the concerns of many of my constituents, including adequate protections for those with pre-existing conditions and the challenges faced by rural healthcare providers.”

Comstock

Comstock, whose district is anchored in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, said in a statement that her “goals on healthcare reform are to provide patient-centered reforms that provide better access to high quality, affordable care and cover pre-existing conditions without lifetime limits. ”

“I did not support the AHCA today because (of) the many uncertainties in achieving those goals,” she said.

The other two Republicans who voted against the bill, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina, did so not out of any fear of Democratic competition but because they believe the repeal measure doesn’t go far enough.

“As recently as a year ago, Republicans argued that mandates were unconstitutional, bailouts were immoral and subsidies would bankrupt our country,” Massie said in a statement after the vote. “Today, however, the House voted for a healthcare bill that makes these objectionable measures permanent.”

Jones had earlier said the attempt by House Republican leaders to push an Obamacare bill repeal through the House on a rushed schedule was “shameful,” and he called for scrapping the bill in its entirety and starting over.

Of the 138 Southern Republicans in the House, 133 voted in favor of the AHCA. Five of those members represent districts where Democrats could conceivably use their votes for the new health care law to try to unseat them. In fact,  if any one of them had voted no, the bill — which passed by just a single vote — would have failed, which will allow Democrats to make the argument that each of them bears responsibility for its passage.

Curbelo

This group of members who supported the bill includes two of the region’s most vulnerable House Republicans, Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, both from Florida. Curbelo represents a district in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties that Clinton carried; Mast’s district, which includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties, has changed parties in three of the last four election cycles.

Mast

In a statement, Mast said the GOP health care plan “returns control of health care from Washington back to you and restores access to quality, affordable options that are tailored to your individual needs.” He also pushed back against Democratic criticism that a provision in the new law allowing states to waive mandates for coverage of pre-existing conditions would imperil coverage for the sickest Americans.

“This bill mandates that people cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and allocates almost $140 billion in additional funding that will subsidize coverage for people with pre-existing conditions to ensure they costs are low,” Mast said. “Those claiming otherwise are the same people who said ‘if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor,” and they’re putting partisan politics ahead of the people in our community.”

Also voting yes were John Culberson of Texas, whose metro Houston House district was carried by Clinton; Mario Diaz-Balart, whose majority Latino district in metro Miami and southwest Florida went for Trump by less than 2 points; and Ted Budd of North Carolina, whose Greensboro-area district went for Trump by 9 points.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart conceded the AHCA was “far from perfect.” But he said the House needed to act because Obamacare “is collapsing,” leaving just one insurance provider in two of the three counties he represents.

“Knowing the people I represent could very well lose their coverage … is disturbing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for Congress not to act in order to prevent this from happening.”

Budd also conceded in a statement that “the legislative process is a human process with all the flaws that entails. The results of that process are never perfect, and this bill isn’t either.”

“What I believe it will do is significantly reduce insurance premiums in our state, and help put the individual insurance marketplace on a more sound financial footing,” he said.

Also voting yes was Pete Sessions of Texas, whose metro Dallas district was also won by Clinton. However, Sessions, who has been in the House since 1997 and won re-election by more than 50 points in 2016, is not considered vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.

All 40 of the Democrats representing districts in the South voted against the AHCA.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke will take on Ted Cruz in Texas U.S. Senate race

Congressman from El Paso is first major Democrat to launch a bid to unseat Cruz

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

EL PASO (CFP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is giving up his safe House seat in order to make a long-shot bid to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas

O’Rourke kicked off his campaign March 31 with a rally in his hometown of El Paso, which he represents in Congress, followed by a weekend of stops in major cities around the Lone Star State.

Without mentioning Cruz by name, O’Rourke accused him of putting political ambition above his job as a senator, saying that to meet the challenges of the future, Texans will need “a senator who’s working full time for Texas, a senator who’s not using this position of responsibility and power to serve his own interests, to run for president, to shut down the government.”

O’Rourke kicks off campaign in El Paso.

O’Rourke is also positioning himself as principled opponent to President Donald Trump, saying the new administration is “focused on the wrong things instead of the right things that (are) going to get us ahead,” such as a ban on refugees from Muslim counties, an immigration crackdown and construction of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We can decide that we’re going to take back this country, and we’re going to take back this state, and that we’re going to do that in 2018,” he said. “2018 starts right here, right now.”

O’Rourke, who had previously made a commitment to serve no more than four terms in the House, said that if elected, he would serve only two six-year terms in the Senate. He took a shot at the Washington political class, saying the American people need a Congress “that actually works, that’s not more preoccupied and focused on the re-election of its members than the business of this country.”

O’Rourke also gave part of his kickoff speech in Spanish, in which he is fluent. Texas has 4.8 million eligible Latino votes, making up about 28 percent of the states total eligible electorate, according to figures from the Pew Research Center.

O’Rourke, 44, was first elected to the House in 2012, representing the majority Latino 16th District, which takes in most of El Paso County and borders Mexico. He has strong political roots in El Paso, where his father, Pat, served as county judge.

Although the first name he uses, Beto, is a common Spanish nickname for his given name, Robert, O’Rourke is Irish, not Latino. He acquired the nickname in childhood.

O’Rourke will face an uphill battle against Cruz, given that no Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas since 1994 or a Senate race since 1988. His background and liberal policy positions may also prove to be a difficult sell.

O’Rourke played in a rock band in the early 1990s and was later arrested, but not convicted, on burglary and drunk driving charges. He is a supporter of LGBT rights and an opponent of what he calls the “failed war on drugs.” He supports comprehensive immigration reform and participated in a 2016 sit-in by House members in support of stronger restrictions on gun purchases.

O’Rourke may also have primary opposition from U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who is also considering a run.

Cruz, who run unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, has so far not drawn any Republican primary opposition.

O’Rourke’s run will open up the 16th District seat in 2018. However, the seat in the strongly Democratic district is unlikely to change hands.

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman blames “deep state” for his indictment on corruption charges

Former Texas congressman accused of diverting charitable donations for personal use

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

HOUSTON (CFP) — Federal prosecutors are blaming former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman and an aide for an ongoing scheme to bilk $1.25 million from charitable foundations and divert it for personal use. But Stockman, in the dock, is blaming the “deep state” for his legal woes.

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas

Stockman, a Republican who served two stints in the House before losing a Senate primary in 2014, is facing charges of mail and wire fraud, money laundering, violating campaign finance laws, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and filing a false tax return with the IRS. The indictment was unsealed March 28.

After his initial court appearance, Stockman proclaimed his innocence and said the “deep state” was trying to exact revenge for his longtime opposition to the IRS as a congressman, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.

“This is part of a deep state that’s continuing to progress,” said Stockman, who was arrested at a Houston airport while trying to board a plane bound for the United Arab Emirates.

“Deep state” refers to a conspiracy theory that holds that unelected bureaucrats secretly run the U.S. government.

The indictment alleges that Stockman and an aide, Jason Posey, solicited donations from charitable foundations that they funneled to a web of non-profit groups they had set up, telling donors the funds would be used for “charitable and educational purposes.” Instead, the money was spent on personal expenses and to further Stockman’s political career, according to the indictment.

In all, $1.25 million in fraudulent donations were solicited between 2010 and 2014, according to the indictment.

Stockman, 60, was elected to Congress from a Houston-area district in 1994, on his third try. After two terms in the House, he left to make an unsuccessful bid for the Texas Railroad Commission in 1998.

He returned to Congress in 2013 but gave up his seat after a single term to make a primary run against Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn.

In that campaign, Stockman tried to make the case that Cornyn, as a member of the Republican Senate leadership, had abandoned his conservative principles. But Cornyn crushed him by 40 points.

According to the indictment, some of the money diverted from the charitable groups was used to help Stockman’s Senate bid.

Analysis: Results in Confederate namesake counties show role of race in Democratic decline

Trump accelerates Republican shift in counties named for Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee loom large as icons of the Southern Confederacy, so much so that 11 Southern counties and one Louisiana parish bear their names. But if these lions of the South are aware of what is happening in their namesake counties today, they may be rotating in their graves.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Changes in presidential voting in these counties over the past 40 years illustrate just how far the Black Republicans against which Lee and Davis fought are now transcendent—and the alarming (for Democrats) degree to which white Southerners have forsaken their traditional political roots.

Of course, the South’s march toward the GOP is not news. Today, the term “Solid South” has an entirely different connotation than it did during the days of FDR or Lyndon Johnson. However, these namesake counties do provide a window into how these shifts in party preference have occurred over time and the role that race played in them.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee

Confederate General Robert E. Lee

The 2016 presidential results also show that the Republicanization of the South is accelerating in these counties that bear the mark of Southern heritage, which bodes ill for future Democratic prospects.

In 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter became the first Southerner to win the White House since Zachary Taylor in 1848, he carried nine of the 12 Davis and Lee counties. By 1992, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush were splitting them six-to-six.

By 2000, Republican George W. Bush had flipped nine of the 12 namesake counties his way; his average share of the total votes cast for the two major party candidates in those counties that year was an impressive 64 percent. But in 2016, Trump trumped the younger Bush, carrying those same nine counties with an average of 70 percent of the two-party vote.

In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford’s share of the two-party vote topped 50 percent in just three namesake counties (in Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky). But by 2016, Trump’s share of the two-party vote was more than 50 percent in nine counties and parishes; above 60 percent in eight; above 70 percent in four; and above a whopping 80 percent in two (Georgia and Kentucky).

The most dramatic changes were in Jeff Davis County, Georgia, where native Georgian Carter carried 79 percent of the vote in 1976 and Trump won 81 percent in 2016, and Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, where Carter won 62 percent and Trump 75 percent. However, even in majority black Lee County, Arkansas, Trump’s 16-point loss in 2016 was less than half of Ford’s 38-point defeat.

In addition to Lee County, Arkansas, the only namesake counties Trump lost in 2016 were Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi, and Lee County, South Carolina, which are also majority black. However, even in these three counties, Trump carried a larger share of the two-party vote in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012.

In fact, Trump improved on Romney’s result in 11 of the 12 namesake counties, save only Jeff Davis County, Texas, where Trump had to settle for merely matching Romney’s total.

The results in these namesake counties over time also illustrate the role race has played in the political realignment of the South.

In all seven of the overwhelmingly white namesake counties, the Republican share of the two-party vote was higher in 2016 than in 1976, by an average of 29 percent. Trump did better than Romney by an average of 4 percent.

By contrast, in majority-black Lee counties in Mississippi and South Carolina, the Republican two-party share fell by an average 2.5 percent from 1976 to 2016, but Trump outperformed Romney by the same 2.5 percent. These results indicate that the white Southern shift to the Republicans appears stronger than the corresponding black shift to the Democrats.

This is borne out by the results in Lee County, Arkansas, which has the smallest African-American population of any of the majority-black namesake counties (55 percent). There, the Republican share of the two-party vote actually climbed 11 percent between 1976 and 2016, and Trump beat Romney’s total by 5 percent.

Two of the namesake counties—Lee County, Florida, and Jeff Davis County, Texas—are outliers in that they have significant Latino populations. The Republican share of the two-party vote in both of those counties was higher in 2016 than it was in 1976, but Trump’s results were down from the numbers put up in 2000 and 2004 by George W. Bush, who, for a Republican, ran strongly with Latino voters.

The results in the namesake counties also illustrate the mountain which Democrats need to climb if they are to reduce Republican hegemony in the South.

The Democratic base once included small towns and rural areas across the Southern landscape, as well as urban areas. In 2016, Democrats still held the cities (with newfound and welcome signs of life in suburban Atlanta and Houston) and the mostly small rural counties with majority black populations, such as the namesake counties in Arkansas, Mississippi and South Carolina. Democrats also do well in college towns such as Athens, Georgia, and Gainesville, Florida.

But Democrats’ failure to compete for the votes of small town and rural white voters is what is killing them electorally, as the results in the Davis and Lee namesake counties without black majorities vividly illustrates.

Only one of these namesake counties is urban—Lee County, Florida, which includes Fort Myers—and Lee County, Alabama, contains Auburn University. The rest of these counties and parishes are all rural, white areas where Messrs. Davis and Lee are no doubt remembered fondly and Jimmy Carter ran reasonably well—and where Hillary Clinton couldn’t get elected dog catcher if she handed out $20 bills at the polling booth.

As a barometer of the past, these namesake counties illustrate how far Democrats have fallen in their former strongholds. But if Trump’s improved results over Romney’s are a barometer of the future, the bottom may not yet have been reached.

13 Southern U.S. House Democrats bow out of Trump inaugural

All of the no-shows represent districts carried by Hillary Clinton

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smWASHINGTON (CFP) — Thirteen of the 40 Southern Democrats in the U.S. House have announced that they will not take part in the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump.

Lawmakers from Florida, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are among the no-shows. All of the boycotting members represent urban or black-majority districts that were carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s tweets castigating U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, for announcing an inauguration boycott seemed to particularly rankle some of the members opting not to attend; Trump’s reaction was called “repugnant,” “ignorant,” and “insensitive and foolish.”

“We are sending a message to Mr. Trump. Respect, like Pennsylvania Avenue, is a two-way street,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who will be among the no-shows.

However, none of the three other Democrats in Lewis’s own Georgia delegation have joined the boycott. Also not joining so far is U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who, as head of the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign, had been a sharp Trump critic.

As for the contention by Trump supporters that the inauguration is a celebration not of him but of the peaceful transfer of power, U.S. Rep. Julian Castro, D-Texas, said, “Every American should respect the office of the presidency and the fact that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. But winning an election does not mean a man can show contempt for millions of Americans and then expect those very people to celebrate him.”

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, said Trump’s “behavior and harmful words during and after the campaign have left the country I love with open, bleeding wounds. Instead of binding those wounds, he has poured salt on them. Instead of unifying us, he has reveled in driving wedges between us.”

Trump won 108 of the 154 congressional districts across the South in the November election; none of them are represented by Democrats.

Lawmakers boycotting the inaugural are unlikely to pay a political price, as all but two of them represent districts that Clinton carried with at least 60 percent of the vote. However, U.S. Reps. Darren Soto, D-Florida, and John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, come from districts where Clinton’s share was just 55 percent.

The list of boycotting Democrats includes:

Georgia

Florida

Kentucky

Mississippi

North Carolina

Tennessee

Texas

Virginia

Electoral College: Despite protests, Southern electors stick with Trump

Trump carried 165 of the region’s 180 votes; two ‘faithless’ electors in Texas vote for Kasich, Ron Paul

♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — Members of the Electoral College have met at 14 Southern statehouses and, as expected, gave the overwhelming majority of the region’s electoral votes to President-elect Donald Trump, ignoring calls by anti-Trump protestors to stop his elevation to the nation’s highest office.

Candidate Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Trump carried 165 of the South’s 180 electoral votes in the December 19 vote. Hillary Clinton won the 13 electoral votes from Virginia, which was the only Southern state she carried.

The only place where Republican electors broke ranks was in Texas, where the defections of two Republican electors did not stop Trump from securing the 270 votes he needed to win the White House.

Chris Suprun, a Dallas paramedic who had previously announced he would not vote for Trump, cast his ballot for Ohio Governor John Kasich. Elector Bill Greene, who represented the 34th District, which takes in the Gulf Coast between Brownsville and Corpus Christi, voted for former Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

Afterward, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted his support for a bill that would preclude so-called “faithless” electors by requiring them to vote for the candidate who carried the state on election day, in this case, Trump.

“This charade is over.,” Abbot said. “A bill is already filed to make these commitments binding. I look forward to signing it & ending this circus.

Twenty-nine states have laws binding electors to the popular vote winner in their states, including the Southern states of Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Currently in Texas, state law doesn’t bind electors, although the Texas GOP required them to take an oath pledging to vote for the popular vote winner.

The Electoral College vote is usually a formality to which scant public attention is paid. However, Trump’s surprise win on November 8, coupled with his loss to Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes in the popular vote, galvanized anti-Trump protests at state capitols around the country.

Small groups of protestors gathered in Tallahassee, Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh, Austin, Oklahoma City and Montgomery.

In Austin, shouts from protestors were audible inside the State House chamber where electors met, according to local media reports.

In Little Rock, anti-Trump activists took many of the seats in the old Supreme Court chamber in the State Capitol, where the vote took place. According to local media reports, one protestor was removed, although the electors also chatted amiably with the demonstrators before the vote took place.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry picked to head Energy Department

Perry will lead agency he pledged to abolish during his presidential campaigns

♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor

texas mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has been nominated to head the U.S. Department of Energy, despite his scathing criticism of President-elect Donald Trump when the two men battled for the Republican presidential nomination.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry

Perry had also pledged to eliminate the department during his two presidential campaigns, most notably in his infamous “ooops” moment during a 2011 debate when he was unable to remember Energy as one of the three departments he had pledged to abolish.

In a December 14 statement announcing Perry’s nomination, Trump said that Perry “created a business climate that produced millions of new jobs and lower energy prices in his state, and he will bring that same approach to our entire country.”

“My administration is going to make sure we take advantage of our huge natural resource deposits to make America energy independent and create vast new wealth for our nation, and Rick Perry is going to do an amazing job as the leader of that process,” Trump said.

In the same statement, Perry said he was “deeply humbled” to be nominated for the energy post.

“As the former governor of the nation’s largest energy producing state, I know American energy is critical to our economy and our security,” he said. “I look forward to engaging in a conversation about the development, stewardship and regulation of our energy resources, safeguarding our nuclear arsenal, and promoting an American energy policy that creates jobs and puts America first.”

Perry, 66, served 14 years as governor of Texas from 2000 to 2014, the longest tenure of any governor in state history. But he was unable to parlay that experience into a successful run for the White House in either 2012 or 2016.

During his campaign against Trump for the 2016 nomination, Perry called him a “cancer on conservatism” and said his campaign would lead the GOP to “perdition.” But last May, as Trump was poised to capture the nomination, Perry endorsed him, and he later campaigned for Trump.

As energy secretary, Perry would oversee a vast bureaucracy that runs the nation’s nuclear programs, markets power from federal hydroelectric projects and regulates the nation’s electric grid and natural gas pipelines.

The agency also has a research arm that, among other things, has conducted studies regarding climate change. Perry has said he does not think the science used by proponents of climate change to make their case that human activity is warming the planet is “settled,” and he has rejected the idea that carbon dioxide — a naturally occurring compound fundamental to human life — should be considered a pollutant.

Perry is also a supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that proponents of climate change have been fighting. President Obama stopped the final phase of that project in 2015; Trump has vowed to reverse that decision and let construction proceed.

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