Last year crony investors connected with the Texas horse-racing industry sought to undermine Texas’ constitution in an effort to line their own pockets. Now, this same group is working to criminalize the leadership of State Sen. Jane Nelson (R–Flower Mound) and her efforts to rein-in their illegal usurpation of power.

On Monday, Jan Haynes, President of the Texas Horsemen Association, filed a felony criminal complaint with the Texas Rangers against Nelson. He is asking the state to lock Nelson in a cage for the rest of her life for daring to do her job and stop the Texas Racing Commission’s abuse of power. The attacks are in response to efforts by Nelson to use the legislature’s power of the purse to rein-in illegal and unconstitutional activity by the rogue executive agency.

Last year the Racing Commission, in the face of a letter from the Senate Republican Caucus ordering them not to usurp legislative power, passed rules permitting Texas horse racing tracks to install slot machine-like devices called “historical racing terminals.” The rules were passed without any legislative authority and against constitutional restrictions. All segments of the horse gambling industry were expected to make millions from the new rules.

With the commission unresponsive to lawmakers, Nelson – who serves as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the legislature’s chief budget writer – zeroed-out funding for the Racing Commission in the Senate’s draft budget. The move sent a message that executive agencies who abuse their constitutional power can be reined-in by the legislature through the exercise of its power of the purse. But rather than admit they had abused their power in attempt to make millions, racing commissioners continued to be petulant and defiant in Senate hearings.

In the end, Nelson included funding for the commission in her final budget but made the portion related to central administration contingent on interim approval by the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), which Nelson chairs. This provision was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor. It allowed lawmakers to maintain control in the interim over the agency in case it persists in its abuse of power.

Now the Racing Commission is preparing to shut down on September 1st, an act that would end gambling on horse races in Texas. The agency has continued to be defiant over the slot machine issue. They have yet to overturn their illegal rules, and horse-racing tracks have appealed the spring judicial ruling against them. It should be noted that the agency itself has not yet even submitted a request for a release of funds by the LBB.

Instead of coming to heel under the legislature’s power, the horse-racing industry is using the new favorite weapon of the establishment class: phony criminal investigations where the process is the punishment. Like Tom Delay, Rick Perry, Wallace Hall, and, most recently Ken Paxton before her, Sen. Nelson will now be required to hire criminal defense attorneys to defend her innocent and entirely laudable behavior.

The gamblers want to use the threat of the criminal justice system to intimidate Nelson into releasing their funding. Unfortunately for them, a knot has already been tied in their gun barrel: the statute they are attempting to use against Nelson was declared unconstitutional this summer by the Austin-based Court of Appeals.

Giving in and rewarding these sinister tactics cannot be an option for Sen. Nelson.

The Texas horse-racing industry, and their lackeys at the Texas Racing Commission have gone rogue and shown themselves to be petulant and defiant. The best thing that could be done for the future of this state, and our constitutional order, is for the agency to be shut down permanently and gambling on horse-racing suspended, at least until the industry is properly humbled.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.