Politics

Faircloth and Creighton to watch the state’s economy for Austin

By Trishna Buch

TWO OF the county’s state politicians have been charged with helping to lead Texas’ political efforts to boost the economy.
Wayne Faircloth, who holds the district 23 seat in Austin’s house of representatives, has been handed the chair of the Texas house manufacturing caucus, while Brandon Creighton, who represents the senate’s district four, has been named vice-chairman of that chamber’s committee on business and commerce.
Both said they were looking forward to their new roles after their appointments last week.
Faircloth, left, said: “As Texans and Americans, we are constantly exploring new technologies to push Texas to the forefront of innovation.
“We believe it is vital, not only to maintain our standard of living and quality of life, but to also lead the nation by example.”
Creighton, below, whose appointment came courtesy lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, was also made a member of the senate committees of agriculture, water and rural affairs, criminal justice, state affairs and transportation.
His business-and-commerce committee position entails attention to the state’s business, insurance and regulatory industries.
After learning of his appointments, the senator, whose district includes Bolivar peninsula, said: “Serving on these committees will allow senate district four a priority seat at the table in addressing some of the most pressing issues we currently face in Texas”.
The representatives’ caucus is a forum in which house members discuss policies critical to the state economy. It provides public education on policy issues relevant to manufacturing and keeps an eye on the state’s attractiveness to new businesses.
According to the center for manufacturing research, factories employed 7.3 per cent of the Texas workforce in 2015, accounted for 14.5 per cent of the state’s total economic output and contributed $251 billion in manufactured goods to Texas’ exports that year, a figure that led the nation.
More than 866,000 Texans were employed in manufacturing and Faircloth said he believes the state government can continue to improve Texas’ manufacturing base.

We conclude Lora-Marie Bernard’s exclusive coverage of the presidential weekend in Washington as she meets the county’s excited GOP ranks who filed into the nation’s capital for the inauguration and talks to the county’s US representative

DOZENS of Galveston County residents converged on the US capitol in Washington on Friday morning to watch Donald Trump become the 45th president of the United States.
For many, it was their first time to attend a presidential inauguration or even to visit the nation’s capital. For others, it was a routine trip or at least one they’d experienced before.
Former La Marque mayor Geraldine Sam arrived at US congressman Randy Weber’s office to pick up her inauguration and presidential-ball tickets on Thursday afternoon.
She has attended every inauguration since Bill Clinton became president. The routine was so comfortable for her that she spent more time talking about her projects back home in the county than the impending Trump administration.
“I don’t even know who I’m going to take to the ball yet”, she said.
Texas City justice of the peace Alison Cox was more excited to see the sites and enjoy the experience with her husband Lonnie, Galveston’s 56th district court judge, and their friends.
As a young woman, she had been among the musicians who played at Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
“I was working”, she said about her time in Washington with Houston Pops, an orchestra she was not even sure still existed.
“I didn’t really have a chance to see anything. It was very interesting watching the Secret Service work. They checked everything.”
This time, she called herself a bona fide tourist. She was among a group that created a jam-packed schedule of museum trips, ghost tours and dinners at famous restaurants.
“I’m really enjoying myself this time”, she said.
Galvestonian Rusty Carnes said he had attended one of the Bush inaugurations although he was not exactly sure which one. Regardless, he said, the Trump ceremonies were the best for one reason – the weather.
He said: “It is usually so cold, wet and windy. It’s just miserable. This time, the weather is great. It is so much milder than I ever expected. It’s great.”

Blown away by three little words

MAKING THE rounds on the internet during the presidential inauguration was a photo of a Galveston resident trying in vain to take a selfie with about-to-be-president Donald Trump.
Rusty Carnes, an unapologetic Trump supporter, was having dinner on the Wednesday before the inauguration with a group of hometown friends in the Trump International hotel.
Nestled in a secluded restaurant in a gallery loft above the hotel lobby, he was with about 20 other Galveston islanders. Close by sat Rudy Giuliani, dining with other Republican-party powerhouses.
“As it was, Trump decided to stop by his hotel,” Carnes said as he recalled an extraordinary week in his life. “Everybody had gone wild and all that.”
His daughter-in-law, Courtney, was making her way to the restaurant when she reached an escalator in the lobby, he remembered. He could see her from the restaurant as she turned and was met by the president-elect.
“She met him at the bottom of the stairs and was able to shake his hand,” he said.
Trump ascended the escalator and Carnes said he rushed to take a selfie video with all his friends and family rushing to capture the moment too.
The funeral-home owner said he was the only one bold enough to speak directly to the incoming president.
“I said, ‘Mr Trump, I’m Rusty Carnes and I want to personally thank you for what you are doing for America’,”, he recalled.
At that moment, Trump slapped his new acquaintance’s shoulder.
“He said, ‘Thank you, Rusty’, which blew me away because it meant he had listened to me”, the islander said.
“For him to repeat my name, you know, I couldn’t remember anybody’s name. But he repeated my name to me and I thought, ‘He actually listened to what I said’.  It was pretty awesome.”
The interaction brought memories of an old friend rushing back to Carnes. Lewis Oliver had a strong shoulder slap like Trump and had an uncanny way of acknowledging and relating to people.
Trump’s slap on his shoulder felt like an Oliver gesture and Carnes said it made him wonder if his deceased friend had guided the evening
for him.
“That was kind of spooky and it’s just a strange nuance that I’m sharing”, he said.
Later that night, another video that showed Carnes trying to film his Trump selfie went viral on social media. A photo that he took of the back of Trump’s head also made the rounds.
Judge Lonnie Cox, who was among the dining party, found his own social-media profiles receiving a lot of traffic after he was tagged in some of the incident’s photos.
It was a night of happenstance, Cox said about
the incident.
“People were cheering and everybody just mobbed the scene”, he said.
In the days that followed, Carnes moved from Trump fan to a media favorite. His prolific social-media posts oftentimes proclaimed the love Trump had for America. When a friend passed on his cell-phone number to Headline News and CNN, he gave lengthy interviews to each.
His remarks reflected a staunch conservatism. When asked about the protests, he said the protesters were self-serving and had done nothing to change the country.
He told the interviewers: “The only persons who benefit is them. Everyone else is just mad at them.”
After returning to the county, Carnes said he expects the president to deliver on his promises and that he thinks the rhetoric that marked Trump’s election campaign will subside, saying: “He delivered the wake-up calls. He doesn’t say much but what he does say I think he will do.”

Weber: The Dems broke health care – we will fix it

THE DAY before Donald Trump’s inauguration as America’s new president, the county’s Texas 14th-district US congressman was excited about the weather.
Across the street from his office in Washington’s Longworth building, Republican Randy Weber could see the ceremony decorations hanging from the US capitol underneath clear skies and a bright glow of sunlight.
“This is my hope”, the member of the US house of representatives said. “We just got through a contentious election and we are tired of the politics.”
Weber, left, had a crowd of family members with him during the inauguration weekend and was also planning to move into a Washington condominium. The second-home purchase was on his mind as his office staff flurried to give constituents tickets to the ceremony and one of the three coveted inaugural balls.
“Dodd-Frank has put a stifle on this economy”, he said as he reflected on his personal experience with the banking-reform legislation. “Buying this condo has shown me that”.
Weber had been a staunch critic of outgoing president Barack Obama. During previous legislative sessions, the congressman’s public statements had been inflammatory about every Democratic-party bill or presidential executive order. The federal house of representatives is more conservative than the senate and Weber’s rhetoric had often echoed throughout the chamber.
Going into 2017 with Trump, Weber was welcoming the opportunity to replace the Affordable Health Care act, known as Obamacare. He downplayed the Democrats who are stumping that
no plan is in place for a timely replacement.
“I know that makes for good politics”, he said, adding that the Republicans are essentially considering at least two plans that were on the table before the act came along.
“My dissatisfaction with Obamacare is that it is job stifling”, he said.
“This not a long-term good healthcare plan”.
He said his vision for a national healthcare program is to replace Obamacare with a patient-centered market-based program.
“I know that all the Democrats are saying that, if we break it, we own it”, he said. “I’d like to argue, you broke it; now we are going to fix it”.
That was all the congressman wanted to say about Trump’s promise to repeal Obamacare and his support for the cause.
It was Thursday afternoon, his granddaughter was with him and other family members were around. A new president was about to take office and the congressman wanted to celebrate with them.

Nelson tasks county senator with education finance reform

By Richard Lee
Texas Senate News

LARRY TAYLOR is to chair one of two newly formed workgroups set up to examine the two largest slices of the Texas budget under the direction of senate finance committee chair Jane Nelson.
The Flower Mound Republican appointed senate education committee chair Taylor to head up an education finance workgroup and told him his goal is to find a better way of paying for the state’s public-education service.
Nelson, below, who had used the first meeting of the regular session to create the two panels, charged the other with getting a handle on skyrocketing state healthcare costs.  
She told the county’s district 11 senator his goal to come up with some mouthwatering potential replacements for the state’s current education funding structure.
“The proposals must be less complicated, innovative and, most importantly, meet the needs of our students”, she said.
Taylor, below, responded that the 85th session presents a unique chance to take a look at a massive and complicated system, saying: “Now we’ve got a very large structure that was not designed to be the large structure that it is.
“It is time for the new 21st-century school finance system, that we scrape it all off and design a system that includes 21st-century weights and measures… We have things in our current system that are 30 and 40 years old.”
In the past, education finance reform attempts have come under a court order following rulings that the finance system had failed to meet its constitutional requirements. Last May, the state supreme court upheld the current finance system but told legislators they should find a better way to pay for public education.
The court’s decision said that students “deserve transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid. They deserve a revamped, non-sclerotic system fit for the 21st century.”
Nelson alluded to the statement in her directive to the newly formed workgroup, saying: “We need to have a whole new method of school finance. No more Band-Aids. We need to start over.”
To head up the state healthcare workgroup, Nelson appointed senator Charles Schwertner, who chairs the senate health and human services committee.
The new group will take a look at costs in Medicaid, the teacher and state employee pension programs and health care at state correctional facilities and seek ways to contain costs starting in the 2018-19 biennium. It is charged with trying to find ways for those programs to collaborate to seek best practices and cost-savings initiatives.
Schwertner also said this is the perfect time to tackle this huge portion of the state budget, referring to “opportunities” such as “instilling personal responsibility, accountability, cost containment, as well as long-term fiscal sustainability in the largest portion of our budget”.
The Senate finance committee was due to open agency hearings beginning with the Texas education agency at 9:00am yesterday, Tuesday. The hearings, in which officials from each state agency appear to present their spending needs for the next biennium, are scheduled for each weekday until February 15.
• See Richard Lee’s round-up of last week’s legislative action in Austin on page 7.

Security keeps thousands from witnessing oath of office as pro- and anti-Trump protesters vie for recognition

By Lora-Marie Bernard – the county’s only reporter covering the presidential inauguration

HOURS BEFORE Donald Trump took his presidential oath on Friday morning, thousands of people made the walk to Washington’s Mall lined by protesters who at times concentrated on protesting each other.
While viewers at home were watching the television and live-stream broadcasts, hundreds of thousands stood in line at various entry points along the inauguration area’s perimeter where handfuls of demonstrations occurred.
Many who wanted to witness the inauguration from the Mall did not make it inside the entry points. Security guards filled tents where they inspected every bag that each person carried. At the time Trump took office, many thousands were still outside, relegated to watching a jumbo screen through chain-link fences around the perimeter of the Washington Monument.
At the monument, a few passers-by chanted protests and vulgarities to Trump but most did not approach those watching the protest. Sometimes, however, opposing groups chose
to protest each other.
At the city’s L’Enfant Plaza metro stop, hundreds were in line watching protesters hoisting 10-foot signs into the air. The discontented proclaimed the need to seek forgiveness from Jesus, resist homosexuality and stop immigration. One sign read that Christ has a pressure-cooker for Muslims, a slogan that incensed another protester. “You are crazy for saying God has a pressure cooker”, screamed Will Menta of Michigan, a protester who walked with the crowd as he handed out election reform materials. “That is no God I want anything to do with.”
The challenge began a rebuke from other protesters, who said Menta needed to repent of his sins. He said after the exchange that he had traveled to Washington to protest the election system and to promote the need for social reform.
“This country is unhappy with the choices we had”, he said, referring to Trump and his presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“Most American were not happy but these were the only two choices we were given”.
Menta said he wanted to spark a conversation about adding a third major political party. He advocated for the kinds of reform made in Maine that pave the way for a more integrated party system.
The line of inauguration watchers walked past the protesters while Menta stopped to talk to them about his reform ideas. As they reached the federal aviation building, they walked on the lawn and jumped over barricades to make their way to the court of the James Forrestal building, where an organized group of Standing Rock protestors held a rally titled It Takes Roots.
Spokesperson Dallas Goldtooth rallied a small group of onlookers with a reminder that they would fight for the nation’s national resources and the end of pollution. He also advocated for closing tax loopholes that allow big business advantages.
He said the stresses of Standing Rock and the fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline had created post traumatic stress disorders but the fight to stop national political influences will not end.
“We are on the front line of the destitute”, he said. “But we are also on the front line of solutions”.
After his rally speech, Goldtooth said the It Takes Roots effort has become a national movement and that he hopes it will build momentum when it forges a collaboration with Black Lives Matter, Food Justice and other social-
reform organizations.
“What you will see is mobility across the board to make sure they do not do further damage to our communities”, he said.
“On critical points, like community projects, we will take action”.
As the crowd moved to Independence Avenue, a calmness filled the air as thousands of people waited patiently to enter the general admission checkpoint into the Mall. Protesters were ignored by many of the people in line.
Two Long Island teens silently held a six-foot Trump flag while protesters walked past them with signs that sent a death wish to the incoming president. The teens, who gave only their first names, said they had entered a contest at the island’s Longwood high school to win a chance to attend the Inauguration and were two of 40 students chosen.
Brendan, 17, said “I have been supporting him since he first ran”, while Jared, also 17, said he had thrown his support behind Trump after Libertarian-party rival Gary Johnson dropped out of the presidential election race.
• Read about the county connection with the inauguration in more on-the-ground reports by Lora-Marie Bernard in Sunday’s edition.

Top, the US Capitol from the National Mall shortly after the inauguration; above, a DC bus is used as a barrier to prevent free public access to the Mall – Photos by Lora-Marie Bernard

By Trishna Buch

THE COUNTY’S most influential state representative is among a group of Austin politicians calling on the federal government to refund more than $2.8 billion to Texas that the state has spent on border security since 2013.
District 23 representative Wayne Faircloth was among a group accusing Washington of “failure to secure the border” at Texas taxpayers’ expense, his office said on Monday.
They published a list of the amounts making up the total, half of which they said has been spent on border security operations since January four years ago, with a quarter covering the costs of jailing “criminal aliens” and the remainder spent on healthcare, education and enforcement by alcoholic beverage commission personnel.
Faircloth declared: “Securing our nation’s borders is a federal responsibility but Washington’s failure has forced Texas to take action on our own for many years.
“As a result, Texas taxpayers are carrying a tremendous financial burden that should be shared equally by all Americans.”
As a result, he said: “Today we are asking Washington to live up to its responsibility of securing the border, and to reimburse Texas for the $2.8 billion our citizens have spent cleaning up the federal government’s mess”.
According to the group, the state and several of its local-government bodies have shared the costs of the “cleanup”, paying totals between them of $1,493,808,270 for border security operations, $728,842,659 for incarceration of criminal aliens, $416,882,000 for healthcare, $181,185,708 for education and $670,728 for TABC enforcement, a grand total of $2,821,389,365.