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McNeely: From state rep to mayor

Dallas state Rep. Eric Johnson won’t be returning to the House of Representatives. He got a better-paying job as mayor of Dallas. Johnson, 43, a 10-year veteran Democrat from the west side of Dallas, was a convincing runoff victor last week over City Councilman Scott Griggs, 57-42 percent.

As mayor, Johnson’s salary will be just over $80,000 a year, compared with the measly $7,200 a year Texas pays its lawmakers.

Johnson won with broad support from both Democrats and Republicans, the current mayor, several previous mayors and several former and current state legislators.

Johnson’s new job, however, was made more challenging by the recent legislative session.

Republicans, driven by Gov. Greg Abbott, Senate presiding officer Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, managed to push through legislation requiring Texas cities to have an automatic citizen referendum on any property tax increase over 3.5 percent a year.

Local governments have complained about the change, much harsher than the existing ability of voters to petition for a referendum on tax increases exceeding 8 percent a year.

This change was born of the state’s over-reliance for decades on local property taxes to substitute for the state’s presumed share of financing public education.

Schools will welcome a new financing system, and dipping into the rainy day fund to help pay for it.

Local officials say the property tax lid will hamstring their abilities to cope with needs like law enforcement, fire protection, parks, recreation and other costs, including unforeseen problems.

Johnson will take over his new job Monday. Good luck, Mayor.

Cornyn re-election draws Democratic hopefuls ... Some avid backers of Beto O’Rourke think he’s wasting the name identification and network he built up in his near-miss 2018 run at Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

They wish he would stay in Texas to run against Texas’ other senator, Republican John Cornyn.

Instead, he’s driving (and flying) around the country, seeking to be the Democrat chosen from a couple of dozen competitors to oppose Republican President Donald Trump.

After former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro passed on opposing Cornyn to join the presidential contest, and his congressman twin brother Joaquin passed to further his career in the U.S. House of Representatives, and O’Rourke announced for president, now former U.S. Rep. and Houston City Councilman Chris Bell is considering the race. Bell said he was among those who had hoped O’Rourke would run for Cornyn’s seat. But when O’Rourke and both Castros passed it up, that whetted Bell’s competitive juices.

He was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006 against Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Perry got 39 percent to Bell’s 29.8 percent. And then-State Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn, running as an Independent, got 18.1 percent, while Independent Kinky Friedman got 12.4 percent.

Bell is no stranger to being jilted at the polls. He lost:

 His congressional seat in the 2004 Democratic primary to Al Green, after redistricting driven by then-House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay cut up his district;

 A 2008 special election runoff for the Texas Senate to Republican Joan Hoffman;

 And ran fifth in the Houston mayor’s race in 2015, which was won by longtime Democratic State Rep. Sylvester Turner.

Should Bell decide to run, he wouldn’t be alone. Already announced are MJ Hegar, who lost a close race last year to Central Texas Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter; and Sema Hernandez, Adrian Ocegueda and Michael Cooper.

Also reportedly considering the race are Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards and longtime Dallas Democratic state Sen. Royce West, whose four-year term isn’t up until 2022, so he could run without sacrificing his current position.

Bell thinks Texas has a chance to swing to the Democrats next year, and doesn’t seem intimidated by the other hopefuls.

“I certainly think it’s a field I could compete in,” he told The Texas Tribune.

Illinois isn’t Alabama, or Missouri ... While several Republican-led states have been passing laws to basically outlaw abortions — some with strong penalties for doctors who perform them — the Illinois legislature has passed a bill going the other direction.

In what’s called the Reproductive Health Act, the legislation essentially reiterates the constitutional right to an abortion outline in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision from 1973.

The new law updates the state’s previous law, to have the state treat abortion, contraception and maternal care like all other health care, reflecting current medical standards.

It would also require private health insurance plans to cover abortion just like they do all other pregnancy-related care.

— Dave McNeely, an Austin-based columnist who covers Texas politics, appears Thursday.

Today's Bible verse

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops”

Proverbs 3:9

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