Reflection: Liberty Is Fragile
by Michael Quinn Sullivan
Liberty does not happen by accident. While we have an inalienable right to liberty, securing it – and then holding on to it – are different matters entirely.
It would be nice to think “liberty” is the norm and “tyranny” is the exception. It would be nice, but it would not be true.
In the late 1940s, a businessman named Henning Prentis noticed a pattern in history. It is a pattern that leads from bondage to liberty and back to bondage.
The so-called “Prentis Cycle” was developed in a series of speeches and essays. It goes like this:
“From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to freedom; from freedom to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to fear; from fear to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more.”
We like freedom and abundance, but in our selfishness and complacency we reject faith. We convince ourselves we have nothing to fear from the tyrant to whom we shackle ourselves under the promise of his protection. Anyone courageous enough to speak out is mocked and attacked.
Where are we today? Still in “abundance”? Shifted to “selfishness”? Moving past “fear”?
If we are to reclaim and retain liberty, we must renew our faith and shore up our courage. We must shake our friends out of their complacency and apathy.
Liberty can only grow in the soil of self-governance tended to daily by zealous patriots.
It isn’t someone else’s job. It is my job, and your job. It is a job for which we must actively train up our children. The cause of liberty never ends.
“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.”
– Ronald Reagan
Texas Lawmakers Propose Constitutional Amendment to Deny Bail for Violent or Sexual Offenses
A similar proposal in 2021 passed the Senate with bipartisan support but failed to garner the two-thirds majority necessary in the Texas House.
pair of lawmakers want to let Texas voters weigh in on whether some violent suspects may be detained without bail prior to trial.
Authored by Sens. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 44 would amend the Texas Constitution to allow judges and magistrates to deny bail for suspects accused of violent or sexual offenses or the continuous trafficking of persons.
An identical proposal filed by Huffman in 2021 garnered bipartisan support and easily passed the Senate in a 27 to 3 vote during a third special session, but failed to obtain the two-thirds majority needed in the state House.
“SJR 44 must pass this session. In 2021, I passed this comprehensive proposal multiple times throughout the regular and special sessions in the Texas Senate with bipartisan support,” said Huffman in a statement.
“The Texas Senate clearly understands the importance of this constitutional amendment to give judges an additional tool to hold the most violent offenders in jail until their trial date.”
While there is no federal constitutional right to bail, the Texas Constitution guarantees a right to bail except for charges of Capital Murder or for defendants with multiple felonies. If two-thirds of each chamber approves SJR 44 this session, the proposal will be placed on the November 2023 ballot.
Despite drawing bipartisan support in 2021, all Harris County Democrats in the Texas House voted against placing the proposed amendment before voters.
Although she opposed the 2021 amendment, Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston) recently told the Houston Chronicle that she would be open to a bail-related constitutional amendment this year if Republicans would invest “in the infrastructure of the public safety system” to address criminal case backlogs and “mass incarceration.”
Andy Kahan, victims advocate at Crime Stoppers of Houston, told The Texan he saw placing the amendment on the ballot as a “win-win” with no downside.
“This way voters will be the ultimate judge and jury on whether these violent offenders can be detained without bail,” said Kahan.
Criminal court judges in Houston and other urban areas of Texas have drawn controversy in the past few years for authorizing the release of violent and repeat offenders who went on to commit additional crimes, including murder.
Even if approved by voters, SJR 44 only gives criminal court judges the option to detain suspects without bail but does not compel them to do so.
In 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott signed bail reform legislation that created a public safety reporting system for judges and magistrates to use when making bail decisions, and prohibited use of Personal Recognizance (PR) bonds for some violent offenses.
Despite state bail reforms, some judges have continued to release violent suspects. Last month, Harris County District Criminal Court Judge Josh Hill authorized the release of ex-con Aubrey Taylor on bonds totaling just $2 after Taylor was arrested for allegedly kidnapping, beating, and attempting to strangle a female victim.
“Unfortunately, we have continued to see our communities terrorized by violent defendants out on bond, including offenders out on
that would establish a mandatory 10-year imprisonment sentence for certain felonies committed with a firearm, a proposal bolstered by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in his official list of legislative priorities released Monday multiple bonds,” said Huffman, who is a senior member of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. Huffman has also introduced legislation.
Dispatchable Generation Mandate, Subsidy Funds Filed in Texas Legislature
Two years after the blackouts, state lawmakers again have on their plate reconfiguration of the state’s main power grid and the market that drives it.
The W.A. Parish Generating Plant in Fort Bend County. Photo by RM VM/Wikimedia Commons.
Deliberations on one of the Legislature’s most watched issues — reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) market — are far from complete, but initial stabs at addressing the dearth in thermal generation development have been filed.
State Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and state Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) have filed similar but not identical bills to create an Electric Generating Facility Fund that would subsidize the construction of dispatchable generators on the ERCOT grid.
“Dispatchable” generally entails thermal sources of electricity — natural gas, coal, and nuclear — but also includes battery storage and hydroelectric generation. Texas is amidst an influx of renewable generation development driven primarily by the negligible fuel costs for wind and solar generators along with the plethora of government subsidies that provide a competitive advantage.
The most acute example is the federal Production Tax Credit, a grant available to renewable generators per kilowatt-hour produced; Congress extended the credit for 10 years in 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act and expanded it to solar generation.
The influx means that the state’s generation portfolio is becoming more reliant on renewable generation by the year — sources dependent on constantly changing weather. State lawmakers and bureaucrats have keyed in on, if not reversing, the incentive imbalance, leveling the playing field so that thermal generator companies will take on the financial risk and invest in long-term projects.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has emphasized the importance of this item for the Legislature, stating that it’s a must-finish for the 88th regular session. Adding new natural gas plants is the sixth bill on his 2023 Senate priority slate, a bill for which actual language has yet to be released.
Gov. Greg Abbott has remarked on the need for additional development, saying a couple of weeks ago, “We’re not going to end this session without passing strategies to ensure we have enough power for the people of this state for the next 40 years.”
At a Tuesday event with the National Federation of Independent Business, House Calendars Committee Chairman Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) also stated the issue’s importance for this session.
And with the state’s $32.7 billion treasury surplus, with expected savings account funds almost to match, there is a lot of capital to disburse if the Legislature so chooses.
And because of the state’s spending cap — tentatively set at $12.5 billion more than the current biennium — lawmakers must “get creative,” in Patrick’s words, to appropriate as much as they hope.
That creativity has generally come in the form of new funds that exist outside the state’s general fund, thus avoiding the spending cap. It seems likely that option is used for a massive tranche of property tax reductions and compression. Perry has proposed a similar route for a fund to build water supply sources and repair leaky pipe systems for small and mid-sized towns.
Perry’s redux for the power grid — Senate Bill 857 — specifically itemizes the money allocated to the Electric Generating Facility Fund for natural gas, clean coal, nuclear, and hydroelectric projects along with transmission expansion. Shaheen’s House Bill (HB) 2286 does the same, but only for a facility that “uses a source of heat to generate electricity.”
Both have accompanying joint resolutions that’d amend the constitution and trigger a statewide ballot proposition, a requirement to create a new fund outside the general revenue pot.
The other more direct bill filed this week is HB 2288 by state Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco).
Patterson’s bill would prohibit the sale of renewable-generated electricity on the ERCOT market — which encompasses about 90 percent, but not the entirety of the state.
It would also strip the state’s current renewable portfolio requirement — a provision mandating a certain amount of wind and solar generation in the state — that is currently set at 10,000 megawatts by 2025.
The state is already well past that amount and is only set to grow further, but this bill would eliminate the statutorily-mandated floor.
The Public Utility Commission has identified the Performance Credit Mechanism — a system of financial rewards for generators that produce during times of grid stress — as its preferred market reform. But some lawmakers see it as a counter-incentive, not an elimination of the problem at the root of the issue. Patterson’s bill aims to wipe out the slate of renewable generation in ERCOT, a proposal sure to upset the lobby apple cart among certain corners of the energy industry.
Exactly what legislators decide on this issue remains to be seen. Over three months remain in the current session, and if nothing accomplished is considered adequate by state leaders, the issue is ripe for a special session.
Gov. Abbott Announces 2023 Priorities in State of the State Address
Property taxes, school choice, border security, and bail reform are all emergency priorities for the governor this legislative session.
“The state of our state has never been more exceptional.”
With this claim, amid multiple critical issues threatening Texans, Gov. Greg Abbott opened his biennial State of the State address on Thursday evening.
Although the address has traditionally been delivered during a joint session of the Texas House and Senate in the middle of the day, Abbott is taking this year’s address in a different direction. Instead, he gave the address from the Noveon Magnetics Corp. manufacturing facility near San Marcos.
During the speech, Abbott issued seven emergency items for the state Legislature to address this session:
Cutting Property Taxes
End COVID Restrictions
Education Freedom (School Choice)
Ending Revolving-door Bail
Doing More to Secure the Border
Addressing the Fentanyl Crisis
“Property taxes are suffocating Texans,” said Abbott, proposing using $15 billion (only half) of the budget surplus for property tax cuts this legislative session. The governor also stressed the need for lasting property tax relief, but he outlined no plan to deliver that this session and beyond.
The governor’s next emergency item includes prohibiting “any government from imposing COVID mask mandates, COVID vaccine mandates, and from closing any business or school because of COVID.” Abbott recommended a requirement that the Legislature convene if another pandemic is ever declared.
Abbott then pivoted to education.
“Many children today are not being educated like you and I were,” he said. “Our schools are for education, not indoctrination. … Schools should not be pushing a woke agenda period.”
Rather, Abbott insisted that the current education curriculum be reformed:
Get kids back to the basics of learning; and we must empower parents.
As part of his empowerment plan, Abbott made school choice through Education Savings Accounts an emergency priority for the Legislature. He also insisted there is a need for parental access to public school libraries and curriculum.
As for school safety, he recommended more healthcare professionals in public schools.
Abbott, who was the state attorney general before being elected governor, then targeted the rather infamous Harris County. The Democrat-controlled county government has been making headlines due to crime and election integrity issues.
“Harris County’s revolving bail practice is literally killing people,” said Abbott, referring to the exorbitant amount of crime in the Houston area and listing “ending revolving door bail” as another emergency priority. Abbott also said holding judges accountable who let dangerous criminals free will be a focus this legislative session.
After referencing the border crisis created by the Biden administration, Abbott touted the work of Texas through Operation Lone Star and made border security an emergency priority. He highlighted several areas of needed reform:
“We must impose a mandatory minimum jail sentence of at least 10 years for anyone caught smuggling illegal immigrants in the United States or here in Texas.”
“We must call fentanyl deaths what they are—poisonings—and prosecute them as murderers.”
“We must also increase the supply of life-saving Narcan,” for fentanyl overdoses.
Also discussed by Abbott—but not given emergency status—were threats from communist China, legislation for transportation infrastructure, and electric grid security.
Additionally, Abbott referenced the issue of gun violence by criminals and said he is seeking a “mandatory minimum sentence for criminals who illegally possess guns of 10 years behind bars.”
The Legislature is prohibited from passing legislation during the first 60 days of the session. An exception is made, however, for the governor’s emergency items. March 10 will be the 60th day of session.
Senate bills 1-700 are referred to a Committee.
‘Mattress Mack’ Files Lawsuit Against Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office
Harris County has sought to block the release of the election administrator’s communications as well as other records related to the 2022 general election.
Plagued by audits, lawsuits, a criminal investigation, and multiple election contests, Harris County now faces a new lawsuit filed by popular Houston icon Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino.
During a press conference Tuesday with attorney Jeff Diamant, McIngvale and Dolcefino announced they are seeking to force the release of elections-related documents and records normally available under the Texas Public Information Act but blocked by the county.
“The people of Harris County are concerned about this election,” said McIngvale. “This isn’t about political parties, this is about the election process. We want to make the election process fair for everybody.”
According to the lawsuit, Dolcefino has submitted legal requests for detailed phone records of Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum for the past several months; all email communications sent or received by Tatum on Election Day; and all email communications with Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ (Pct. 1) office since August 1, 2022.
Dolcefino also sought election machine maintenance and testing documentation, the amount of ballot paper provided to each precinct, the number of voters who voted at each precinct in previous elections, written complaints filed, and communications regarding the secretary of state’s audit of elections.
While partially complying with the record requests, Harris County sought permission from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to withhold much of the information due to pending lawsuits. Paxton’s office has not yet ruled on whether the county may withhold the records from the public.
“Harris County voters have a right to know right now what went wrong and whether or not Clifford Tatum, who is the election administrator who has a history of botched elections, botched this one,” said Dolcefino.
Prior to replacing Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria, Tatum served as the Washington D.C. executive director of elections, where he was roundly criticized for operations in 2012. In 2019, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission chose not to reappoint Tatum as general counsel after complaints about his performance.
Harris County drew national media attention on Election Day 2022 when multiple sites delayed their openings due to missing or malfunctioning equipment and staff that did not show up for work — an issue Tatum has partially blamed on the Houston Astros’ World Series championship parade the day before. Later in the day, multiple voting sites reported running out of paper ballots, and a recent analysis from KHOU News alleges that the county only provided about half of the paper ballots needed by at least 121 voting centers.
Late on Election Day, a civil rights group filed a lawsuit claiming the delayed openings suppressed votes and requested extended hours. A local district court judge ordered polls in the county to remain open an extra hour, but many election workers say they were not notified, with some alleging they did not receive paper ballots needed until well after 7 pm. The Supreme Court of Texas later overturned the local judge’s decision and ordered the provisional ballots cast by after-hours voters to be kept separately. The court has not ruled on whether those late votes are valid.
Following the election, the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit seeking to bind the county in future elections. Twenty-one candidates have election contests pending before visiting Judge David Peeples of San Antonio.
In the most recent hearing for the election contests, the defendants’ attorneys asked Peeples to delay the trial until after the May 2023 elections.
Most of the candidates contesting the election are represented by attorney Elizabeth Alvarez, who has won multiple election contests in Texas. Alvarez told The Texan that her cases are based on allegations of voter suppression caused by effectively closing voting sites on Election Day due to malfunctioning equipment and the ballot paper shortage that prevented voting.
If the election contests succeed, Peeples will order new elections, but has warned that any decision is likely to be appealed.
The next hearing for the election contests is set for Thursday, February 16.
Diamant suggested the county was trying to manage communications like a private company.
“They want to take defensive positions to things that have happened as if they’re a private company trying to protect their profits and to protect their business,” said Diamant. “In what universe should any governmental office operate that way? They are here to serve the public.”
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