When it comes to ethics reform, it is often the case that inaction speaks louder than words.
With re-election looming in 2015, Governor Greg Abbott announced ethics reform as one of his five key priorities.
It was not until several years later that the Texas House and Senate were able to reach a consensus on ethics reform. During the 84th Legislature, the Senate, at the insistence of Senator Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), torpedoed legislation over the debate on dark money.
The House is equally complicit in this endeavor with SB 502 and 504 as prime examples. Each piece of legislation was passed in the House before being killed in the Calendars Committee. These bills would have reduced the revolving door between legislators and lobbyists as well as force financial reporting of lobbyists’ expenditures on members of the House.
When bills such as those proposed by Lyle Larson (R–San Antonio) find the rare air where Texas House and Senate interests overlap, Governor Abbott has vetoed or colluded with Lieutenant Governor Patrick to stall the effort entirely.
With a history of past executive abuse by then Governor Rick Perry drawing a pension while taking a salary, ethics reform is more relevant.
Current Governor Abbott shares a sordid history with ethics reform. The Governor has appointed large campaign donors to influential positions, calling into question the relationship between donations and appointments.
One of Governor Abbott’s top campaign donors, Dan Friedkin, was recently appointed as chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
The Chairman and Houston billionaire then hired a team of lobbyists to influence Representative Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) to withdraw his deer breeder management bill.
Paddie was quoted in the Texas Tribune saying, “Overall, I feel that it’s inappropriate for an appointee of a board or commission to have personal lobbyists lobbying on issues related to that board or commission.” The representative has since pushed to preserve the independence of Texas agencies by backing legislation intended to prevent the head of a Texas agency from lobbying legislators.
This practice is not new to Governor Abbott’s agenda. Last year the San Antonio Express news released a report that cited $9 million Abbott received in campaign donations from political appointees.
Abuse of power at the highest level of Texas government should concern all citizens as their deliberative process and representation is corrupted. Normalizing this behavior or allowing this to continue unchecked can only serve to move politics from the hands of voters to powerful interests and personalities.
Texans should not be forced to settle for the small sliver of overlapping interests in ethics reform between the House, Senate, and Governorship. Instead, we ought to pursue the standards that will provide for the most honest and open standards of governance.
As the tentative special session approaches, Texans are encouraged to call their representatives or write to Governor Abbott’s office to remind him of the promises made about ethics reform and the need for further legislation on the issue during this period.