Texas’ House GOP voting for caucus vice-chair

Starting Tuesday, Texas House Republicans will begin voting for a new caucus vice-chair. The party-only election is necessary because of the ongoing scandal political wags have alternately dubbed “Bonnenghazi” and “Bonnengate.” 

The scandal that has consumed Texas politics this summer alleges that Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, (R-Angleton) and Texas House Republican Caucus leader State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) met with a well-known GOP operator to plan primary campaigns against members from their own party. 

When news of the secret meeting broke in late July it lit up Texas political blogs like a spark hitting drought-stricken prairie. And like a prairie fire, there were some casualties. Two weeks after the secret meeting was revealed, Burrows resigned his leadership position. 

The resignation immediately elevated former vice-chair Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) to the head of the caucus. Klick’s advancement opened up the position of vice-chair. To fill the vacant position the Republican members of the Texas House have to hold an election. 

In late August, about 30 members of the 83 members caucus sent Klick a co-signed letter asking for an in-person meeting and vote to elect a new vice-chair. Klick denied the request and said the election would occur electronically.

She also scheduled a meeting for caucus members during their annual retreat in October. Although the leadership election has brought out a few hopefuls, so far the only candidate with establishment support is State Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston). 

Bonnen and the rest of the GOP leadership have lined up behind Murphy, a five-term representative and chair of the House Corrections Committee. Murphy’s increased profile is prompting Texas politicos to re-evaluate his profile. 

Despite Murphy’s often inconsistent voting record, he was for an Internet sales tax but against a bill requiring equal pay for women, it’s his day job that’s attracting criticism. 

A 2018 investigation by NBC affiliate KPRC Channel 2 found that Murphy has a $312,000 per year job with Houston’s Westchase District. From 2014-2018 Murphy was listedon the district’s website as its general manager. 

Murphy’s role with the district created some confusion. The Texas Constitution prohibits state legislators from holding “any civil office of profit under this State.” 

However, a 2005 Texas Attorney General opinion determined that members of the Texas Legislature can work as an independent contractor for a municipal management district.

Murphy continued to stand by his statement that he wasn’t doing anything illegal. However, a few months after Channel 2 aired its report, the Westchase District removed Murphy’s name from its website. 

Allegedly the district removed Murphy’s name to “avoid creating confusion” about his role in the organization.

Abbott resists calls for special session

EL PASO — The voices asking Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special legislative session to address gun violence are getting louder. 

So far the governor has ignored letters from state and local lawmakers, as well as requests from civil rights groups. This isn’t the first time Abbott has faced demands for a special session. 

The chorus of special session requests continued to swell after a mass shooting in  Midland-Odessa left seven dead and 25 wounded over Labor Day weekend. The attack was Texas’ 14th mass shooting since 2009. 

After an Aug. 3 shooting in El Paso left 22 people dead and 24 injured, Abbott announced a series of roundtable discussions designed to address gun violence. 

A key component of Abbott’s gun violence strategy is the Texas Safety Commission. The group held its first meeting on Aug. 22 in Austin. 

Over the course of five hours, the state’s top lawmakers and law enforcement officers discussed plugging holes in Texas’ background check system. 

During the meeting, Abbott brought up the fact that there is “sometimes a lag” between the time a person is convicted of a crime and when it is reported to “whoever is in charge of the background check.” 

Also in attendance were representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google. The social media and search engine giants came to the meeting to discuss possible strategies for combating hate speech. 

Legislators also brought up the need for mental health assistance in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting. 

“We need counselors,” State Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, said. “There are people who need that immediate type of counseling in our community.” 

Abbott took the request for counseling to heart. When the commission met for the second time in El Paso on Aug. 29, the first order of business was community healing.  

To facilitate the healing process, commission members listened to survivors of the attack, as well as the victims’ family members.

After listening to the victims’ concerns, the Commission discussed “streamlining the terroristic threat law and the response to it,” according to Abbott. He added that the commission also discussed training retail workers to address potential active shooter situations. 

Texas needs more “see something, say something” from regular people to prevent future tragedies, Abbott said. The commission also continued the discussion on combating the rise tiding of extremism. 

The commission isn’t the only agency looking into hate-filled rhetoric. Abbott’s new domestic terrorism task force is also developing strategies to address extremism. 

The task force is charged with studying and providing advice on “strategies to maximize law enforcement’s ability to protect against acts of domestic terrorism.”

One of the task force’s main objectives is increasing interagency cooperation and collaboration. The task force will also provide “relevant legislative recommendations regarding state homeland security strategic planning,” according to a report from KXAN. 

After the Midland-Odessa attack, Abbott announced at a press conference that the safety commission’s mandate would be expanded. 

Currently, neither the safety commission nor the domestic terrorism task force have any future meetings scheduled. However, the task force is expected to meet quarterly.