Phillips: Is Patrick lieutenant governor or viceroy? Let voters decide


Maybe we should change Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s title to viceroy.

That seems appropriate, since he is acting more like a ruler exercising control over colonies – Texas cities and counties – than a statewide elected leader interested in solving the big problems and challenges facing Texas, such as the state’s broken school finance system, the high number of Texans who are uninsured when it comes to health care – including one of every four women – and soaring school property taxes that are choking Texas homeowners.

Instead of the latter, Patrick during the regular and special sessions has focused on disassembling representative democracy of cities and counties by overruling their elected leadership and supplanting their policies with his own. That is what viceroys do.

FIRST READING: With a shiv to the cities: Dan Patrick and the practice of ‘positive polarization.’

If the public has not gotten that message in the anti-local control measures Patrick swiftly passed in the Senate, he made it crystal clear recently on the Fox Business Network.

“People are happy with their governments at the state level. They’re not with their cities,” Patrick said.

That’s bizarre, since it is we, the people, who elect mayors and city councils. And when we’re not happy, we turn them out of office. But Patrick’s statement went further:

“Our cities are still controlled by Democrats. And where do we have all our problems in America? Not at the state level run by Republicans, but in our cities that are mostly controlled by Democrat (sic) mayors and Democrat city councilmen and women. That’s where you see liberal policies. That’s where you see high taxes. That’s where you see street crime. The only place Democrats have control are in our cities, and they are doing a terrible job.”

Got that? It’s the cities that are run by Democrats that are causing all the trouble.

It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that Patrick’s disdain for Democrats is a form of code-switching aimed at conveying to his base – white, socially-conservative Christians – that those “Democrat” people are what’s wrong with Texas and the nation. Though more covert in context, they’re akin to words President Trump uses in comments regarding big U.S. cities, such as Chicago and Detroit.

Patrick’s use of the term “Democrat” is a euphemism for people who call themselves Democrats. And we know who those people are. In the Lone Star State, and the country, they tend to be Latinos, African-Americans, poor people, single moms, gay and transgender folks, white progressives and low-wage workers.

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This week, recognizing the racial hatred that fomented violence in Charlottesville, Va., Patrick struck a more unifying chord, posting this statement on his Facebook page:

“We must stand together as Americans to unite against the hate and bigotry of these Nazi, white supremacist and affiliated groups. This violence is unspeakable and heart-breaking and should be condemned by every American. There is no place for this kind of brutality and bloodshed in our country.”

That is what leaders do.

With the special session ending midnight Wednesday, Patrick has learned that he — even with the unflinching support of his GOP senators — cannot rule over cities and counties without approval of the Texas House run by Speaker Joe Straus. The House is equal in power to the Senate. Like the Senate, most House members are Republican, but thankfully they have conducted themselves in a deliberative manner that respects cities and their voters, even in disagreement.

By contrast, Patrick has declared war on blue cities, such as Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. He knows he can’t win the battle at local ballot boxes because voters will elect representatives who share their values and ideals. Given that, Patrick uses the power of the state to overrule pesky voters in his path. That is what viceroys do.

Consider that Patrick has passed legislation in the Senate that would make it more difficult for city and county governments to set property tax rates at levels they deem necessary to provide police, fire, EMS and other services for residents. Patrick’s Senate Bill 1 would require local jurisdictions to get voter approval for tax rate hikes above 4 percent.

That is a tight squeeze for Austin, which because of rapid growth has regularly exceeded that limit. Given current trends, the city would need to conduct a tax election every year. The House version sets the level at 6 percent.

State law already provides protections for taxpayers without hamstringing cities and counties or forcing costly elections to do their jobs by permitting voters to petition for a rollback election for increases above 8 percent.

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In addition to SB 1, there are measures to prevent cities from regulating tree removal on private property, dictate which public bathrooms transgender Texans can use and make it harder for cities to annex outlying areas.

But here’s the thing: Legally, Patrick can’t target only blue cities. That means unintentional targets – cities, counties and suburbs run by Republicans — become collateral damage in Patrick’s war.

Their autonomy is every bit at-risk as Austin’s. And Patrick’s attacks won’t stop with the end of the special session Wednesday. They will continue on conservative radio or television and in public speeches until Patrick prevails — or voters send him packing.

That’s what voters should do.



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