Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller Is the Best

Pop quiz: How many horse's patoots do you see in this picture of Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller?
It's only natural for Texas' urban/suburbanites to assume that the choice of agriculture commissioner has little bearing on their lives. This is false. City dwellers eat food, which is grown on farms. They fill their cars at gas pumps and weigh their produce on grocery scales, both of which the office polices for accuracy. Sometimes, they realize that the former ag commissioner has become the longest-serving governor in state history. But perhaps the most important role of the ag commissioner when it comes to urban Texas -- and one that was unfortunately mostly neglected by recent officeholder Todd Staples -- is as a source of entertainment. The ag commissioner should be a folksy parody of the real Texas -- riding horses, wearing Stetsons, disparaging President Obama with a friendly drawl.

This is why Sid Miller is the best, the Platonic ideal of what the Texas agriculture commissioner should be. One glance at his official campaign portrait, which looks like it might have been taken at the Stephenville Walmart but which actually bears a Lifetouch watermark, should be proof enough. Miller is the spitting image of J.R. Ewing, if J.R. Ewing ate more hamburgers. He even wears a Texas flag lapel-pin!

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With All Other Problems Solved, Texas State Rep Wants To Tell You Which Bathroom to Use

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Like the folks who rose up against Plano's non-discrimination ordinance, Republican Texas Representative Debbie Riddle is quite concerned with which public restroom you choose to use.

Riddle introduced a bill Friday that mandates that anyone over the age of 12 commits a Class A misdemeanor when he or she uses a restroom "designated for use by persons of a gender that is not the same gender as the individual's gender." There is a carve-out for those accompanying kids under 8 years old, but that's it.

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Among Greg Abbott's Priorities for Texas: Open Carry and, No Joke, Women's Health

Gage Skidmore
The gov.
Newly elected Texas Governor Greg Abbott laid out his most comprehensive vision yet for the state during his first "state of the state" address Tuesday morning. Much of what he said was expected. He hopes to slash spending almost across the board, seal off the border by hiring more Department of Public Safety troopers and promised to "reject any budget that does not include genuine tax relief to Texas employers and job creators." He praised the Texas economy. It's thriving, Abbott said because freedom.

"The reason Texas leads the nation is because of our greatest natural resource -- the people of Texas -- who've built a strong and diversified economy. Texas leads the nation as a beacon of individual liberty and economic opportunity. Our job is to make sure we keep it that way," he said

That doesn't mean Abbott didn't veer off the well-beaten path a couple of times. He stated his intention to focus on women's health, something that was more than a little confusing considering his robust defense of Texas' anti-abortion legislation, HB2.

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Federal Judge Sides With Texas, Temporarily Stops Obama Immigration Action

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Gage Skidmore
An auspicious early-term victory for the governor.
Late Monday night, a U.S. district judge in Brownsville issued a temporary injunction blocking President Obama's decision to shield about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

See also: Greg Abbott Leads Texas into Immigration Lawsuit Fight With Feds

In November Obama announced his plan to create a program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. It has not yet gone into effect, and 26 states, lead by Texas, sued to block it. Judge Andrew Hanen said in his opinion that allowing DAPA to get rolling before the states' lawsuit was heard would create an untenable situation were the courts to rule in favor of the states.

"Once these services are provided, there will be no effective way of putting the toothpaste back in the tube should Plaintiffs ultimately prevail on the merits," Hanen wrote.

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Kory Watkins' Favorite Open Carry Gun Bill Suffers a Setback

Sometimes, something happens that gives us hope that some small amount of justice lives in this world. Today was one of those times, because Texas House Bill 195 was referred to committee.

Yeah, yeah. That's extremely wonky, but you take your hope where you can get it.

HB 195 is the so-called "constitutional carry" bill. Bedford Republican Jonathan Stickland's proposal would allow for the open carrying of handguns and the elimination of all firearm licensing requirements. It's the version of open carry being fought for by Kory Watkins, the leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, and his minions.

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Medical Marijuana Fighter Alexis Bortell Isn't Leaving Texas if She and Her Family Can Help It

Team Alexis via WFAA
Alexis Bortell
The fallout that's come from state lawmakers Kevin Eltife's and Stephanie Klick's introduction of legislation that would legalize low-THC cannabis oil for use by Texans with intractable epilepsy is a prime example of what happens when you fight the symptom rather than the disease. The two Republicans' bills are tailored specifically to help a small subset of those who could benefit from medical marijuana, a subset that happens to feature a precocious 9-year-old with doting, conservative parents as its face.

Adhering to those limits and thinking that might be just enough to squeeze legislation past two bodies more concerned with keeping government as small as possible except when it comes to bedrooms, medicine cabinets and protecting rural Texans from evil cities, Eltife and Klick built something that even the Bortells can't support in its current form.

If the bill doesn't change, Dean Bortell (Alexis' dad) says, his daughter will be faced with leaving the state that she loves -- for Colorado, which has legalized the treatment Alexis needs -- at the end of the school year.

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Open Carry Supporters Target Dan Patrick for Comments on Gun Bills. He Blames Media.

Kory Watkins via Facebook
We should all pitch in and get Kory a new hat.
This whole thing started, as many squabbles are sure to over the coming years, with comments from newly elected Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. Speaking at the Texas Tribune Festival, Patrick said that the two open carry bills most popular with gun wing of his party, the ones that would not only allow for Wild West-style hip holsters, but would also make it OK to carry a handgun without a permit, might not have the votes to pass the Texas Senate.

Patrick never said that he didn't support the bills -- both of which are authored by locals, Representative Jonathan Stickland and Senator Don Huffines, respectively -- just that he wouldn't prioritize a bill that did not have the votes to pass. Instead, Patrick said that he would first push so-called campus carry legislation, which would allow gun owners with permits to carry guns on college campuses, through as quickly as possible. Simple pragmatism.

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Texas Set to Kill Intellectually Disabled Man on Thursday

Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Texas' lethal injection gurney.
Barring any last minute action by the United States Supreme Court, Robert Ladd will be executed Thursday night by the state of Texas. Ladd, convicted for the 1996 murder of Vicki Ann Garner, will be the second inmate on Texas' death row killed in 2015.

Texas' highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, denied Ladd's final request for a stay of execution Tuesday, despite his long-documented history of intellectual disability. In a 2005 U.S. District Court hearing held to determine whether Ladd met Texas' statutory definition of "mentally retarded," a defense expert testified that Ladd's IQ was 67 and that Ladd had significant functional deficits in areas like work, money, social and communication skills. The state's expert at the hearing agreed with the defense about Ladd's functional problems, but blamed them on an anti-social personality disorder rather than an intellectual disability.

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The New "TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program" Could (but Won't!) Explain Irving's Quakes

City of Irving
Finally, some comforting news.
Buried deep within Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus' nearly 1,000-page budget is a measly little $2.5 million item of great interest to North Texans, the "TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program." Unfair Park was duly excited when we first caught wind of the plan, from the Texas Tribune. Surely, we thought, an initiative with as highfalutin a name as the "TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program" would be able to liberate us from the curiosity and existential dread that's possessed us as Irving has shook, rattled and rolled over the past few months.

Does the rumbling have anything to do with fracking? Or is the explanation something simpler, like God just hates inner-ring suburbs?

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Texas Senate Republicans Kill Two-Thirds Rule, Maim Democracy

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Not open to the public.
"Majority rule, minority rights." It's one of the first axioms you learn in civics, social studies or whatever your elementary school called it. It's part of the American social contract, that those out of power in a legislative body have at least some means to check the actions of those in power.

In the Texas Senate, for more than half a century, the so-called "two-thirds rule" has been that means. At the beginning of each legislative session a blocker bill was passed. To debate any other bill, two-thirds of the Senate, 21 of 31 members, was required to agree to the suspension of regular rules, bypassing the blocker bill. Until Wednesday.

That's when state senators voted 20 to 10 to change the two-thirds rule to the three-fifths rule. Now, only 19 votes are required to suspend regular Senate rules. Republicans hold 20 seats in the chamber.

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