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June 06, 2005

Hutch Urges Special Session

By Andrew Dobbs

From Quorum Report:

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) today urged Gov. Rick Perry to call an immediate special session to fix school finance, give teachers a pay raise, and provide property tax relief.

Speaking outside the Texas Supreme Court after attending the swearing in of Justice Priscilla Owen to 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Hutchison declined to say what her future political intentions were. However, she said Texas needed "leadership to be shown now more than ever" to do what was right for the state. (...)

Perry also attended the Owen event but did not hold a press conference. Responding to Hutchison's comments, Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said Perry was "glad" Hutchison shared the Governor's "displeasure" that the Legislature failed to reach agreement on important school reform and property tax relief. (...)

Asked to comment about her political future, Hutchison said she was in the "home stretch for making the decision for what's right for Texas." She said she had tried to "stay out of the fray" during the 79th Legislature so that lawmakers could make progress on important issues. "I am disappointed like everyone that school finance and especially relief for the property taxpayers of our state were not addressed," Hutchison said.

I'd put more of KBH's quotes in, but it sounds nauseatingly like a campaign ad. "Texas is the greatest state in America and I want us to be the example of how to do things right. I want other states to look to us to be the state that has the creativity and the innovation" blah blah blah. Still, the Hutch-o-meter must have swung back up to the upper 90s by now...

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June 02, 2005

Democrats Vindicated By Legislative Session

By Andrew Dobbs

Most of the stories about the end of the legislative session have rightfully focused on the GOP's inability to accomplish any of their main goals this session. But a much more important topic has been ignored-- the success of Democrats in stopping much of the worst legislation and their unprecedented unity.

In 2003 a handful of Democrats stood by Craddick's side the entire session. Not only did they support tort reform, health care cuts and robbing education and social services for cash, they even stood behind him as he gerrymandered Democrats out of Congress. The session was a bleak one as Republicans failed at next to nothing and steamrolled our party with the help of a handful of turncoats.

But something changed after that session. New leadership entered the Texas Democratic Party and these leaders promised that things would never be this way again. Several Craddick D's-- most notably Ron Wilson and Glen O. Lewis-- faced primary challengers that were actually endorsed by the Chairman of the TDP. People were stunned that a party chair would actually endorse in primary races. Chairman Soechting, who was roundly criticized at the time of his election on this blog for being "more of the same", shocked and awed true Democrats all over the state by standing up for core Democratic values. Wilson, Lewis, and at least three other Craddick Ds were defeated in the primaries.

The lesson was made REAL quick-- you screw us over, you aren't going to be in office any more. One of the biggest unreported stories from this session is Sylvester Turner's return to the fold. Battered in the Houston Mayor's race in part because of his sell out of the Party and facing threats of primary challenges this time around, Craddick's top Democrat (now that Wilson is gone) has changed tunes. He gave among the most impassioned speeches against the school finance plan, the tax plan and other efforts to hurt the people of Texas. While he wasn't 100%, he improved this session. Vilma Luna started out the session in her old ways and just the hint of a primary battle scared her straight. Al Edwards is still problematic, and there are some mossback Dems who haven't accounted for their sorry votes, but on the most important issues of the session-- school finance, tax reform and health care, Democrats were united.

The united progressive front helped Democrats kill some bad bills this session. Democratic Senators blocked many of the worst proposals from making it into law, and a concerted effort to expose the school finance and tax plans for what they really were (unfunded mandates crushed on the brow of Texas schools and the largest tax increase in Texas history) made it hard for Republicans to vote for the bills. As it stands Texas was let down by this session, but they can thank Texas Democrats for the fact that they won't be saddled with a host of other terrible fates.

Republicans failed Texas this session, but the only thing standing between working Texans and an even worse disaster were Democratic lawmakers united and fired up by strong Democratic leadership. If we can keep this united, this passionate and this disciplined 2006 could be an exciting year for Democrats across this state.

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May 31, 2005

Republican Legislators Unable to Say the "P" Word

By Andrew Dobbs

It seems that since the early 1990s a certain word has left the lips of politicians across this country-- the word "poor". There was a time when poor folks knew that there was a concerted effort to improve their lives. A shifting focus to the middle class has hurt that effort nationally, but thankfully Texas Democrats continue to stand up for the poor (a necessity in one of the poorest states in the entire country). Unfortunately, Republicans have continued to use the poor as their personal ATM-- robbing them of their needed services and their tax dollars in order to pay for their boondoggles for the rich. The DMN spells out a few examples of last minute attacks on the poor.

Lawmakers were able to balance the next two-year state budget with some last-minute maneuvers, but some Democrats complained that poor Texans took a hit in the process.

The Legislature diverted a fund that helped offset electric bills for the poor and opted not to change eligibility checks for the Children's Health Insurance Program to once a year instead of once every six months. The change would have been the best hope for giving health care back to thousands of poor children.

Also, lawmakers once again extended a 1.25 percent tax on telephone service. The tax was to have expired two years ago. (...)

House Speaker Pro Tem Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, was especially upset about losing the 10-percent electricity discount for the poor. About 120,000 of them are served by TXU. Electricity customers in most of the state will continue a tax for the "system benefit fund," but it'll be spent on other programs.

Mr. Turner threatened late Sunday to retaliate by derailing a bill to raise $1.2 billion with higher fees and minor changes to health programs. The measure was crucial to balancing the budget, and Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, rebuffed Mr. Turner's parliamentary maneuver.

The electricity fund also was raided in 2003 to help plug a $10 billion budget shortfall. Lawmakers siphoned enough to reduce the number of eligible households from 750,000 to 350,000, Mr. Turner said.

"Many of them happen to be seniors," he said.

To be eligible, a household's income can't exceed 125 percent of the federal poverty level ­ about $12,000 for a single person, $16,000 for a couple. Through 2007, no one will get a discount.

In CHIP, the state-federal program for youngsters in working-poor households, some experts believe a shift two years ago to eligibility checks every six months contributed more than other cuts to 180,000 children being removed from the rolls. (...)

So 350,000 poor Texans will see an 11% increase in their electric bills, and poor and middle class Texans whose kids depended on CHIP for health care before 2003 who were promised restorations in that session's cuts were disappointed, despite bipartisan efforts to fix to fix the program. Texans who expected a cut in their telephone bill two years ago will have to wait at least two more years to get that relief. Now, whenever Democrats vote for or support a smaller tax cut or a delay of a tax cut than what Republicans want the Republicans call it a "tax increase." Following their own logic, Republicans have supported a tax increase for the last two sessions running.

Poor folks were the punching bag for frustrated Republicans all session. When they needed cash to make up for their proposed (and ultimately, failed) school finance/tax restructuring plan, they raised taxes on poor and middle class Texans. The less you made, the larger the tax increase so the Republican plan would have raised taxes a staggering 5-6%. And poor schools would have seen less money under the "equity" proposals than wealthy schools-- not just in dollars, but in percentage increase. This session could have been a disaster for the poor, but since the Republicans failed miserably in virtually all of their efforts they ended up coming out just beaten and not bludgeoned to death.

The fact of the matter is that the best reason I can find to be a Democrat is that when the cards are down we are for poor folks and the other guys are for rich folks. Being for rich folks means you would rather help out people who don't need any help than help out people who are struggling just to survive. And when you help out poor folks it helps out middle class folks (who are typically one disaster away from abject poverty) and even rich folks (whose prosperity is undermined by the instability a large underclass brings with it). This session proved once and for all that the Democrats are the party of working people and the Republicans the party of the idle rich. Republicans are in trouble now because no one likes a bully and that is exactly what they presented themselves as to the poor here in Texas.

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Editorial Boards Across the State Hammer the Lege

By Byron LaMasters

Since I enjoyed adding my snarky asides in compiling the news reports about the end of the "Do Nothing" Texas legislature below, let's take a look at what the newspaper editorial boards had to say:

I'll start with my favorite newspaper in the state, the conservative Dallas Morning News:

Lackluster Finish: Legislature didn't come close on school finance

By now, you probably know that the Texas Legislature wrapped up its 2005 session without finding a solution to the state's school funding crisis. But the reality was that the debate over the school-funding bill was meaningless weeks ago. Neither the House nor the Senate ever came close to putting enough funds into Texas schools. And it's best now that the Texas Supreme Court take over this matter. It's clear the Legislature doesn't want to handle it well.

From the beginning of the session, most of the Republicans who run Austin did not want to raise the taxes necessary to adequately fund schools. They instead took care of their party's base, which doesn't look kindly on any kind of tax hike.

Republicans attended to their base throughout this session. They hupped-to on issues that matter to cultural conservatives, like banning gay marriage. Cultural conservatives and anti-tax folks vote, so party leaders weren't going to disappoint either.

On the harder task of making government work, legislators struggled. Protecting children and the elderly. Managing water resources and combating pollution. Reauthorizing state agencies. Opening government to the public. Overhauling the workers' compensation system. They were all battle zones until the end. The session boasted only a few pieces of major legislation that moved through with some measure of consensus – for example, the state budget and laws governing asbestos suits.

The DMN states the obvious. Republicans are great when they can hyperventilate about taxes, and throw red meat to their base when they are in the minority. When they actually have to govern, Republicans are immediately torn. Do they continue to cater to their base? Or do they actually solve the state's problems? Republicans in the Texas lege clearly took the former (although the budget was a 19% increase from 2003). Most interestingly, the DMN calls for the Texas Supreme Court to take over the matter. Apparently, they feel that the GOP-legislature is so inept and incompetent that the only solution is judicial activism. Wow.

The San Antonio Express-News has similar thoughts:

Editorial: Lawmakers once again let down schoolchildren

Texas lawmakers once again have failed the state's children miserably because they couldn't reach an agreement on overhauling the school finance system.

As legislative leaders declared that efforts to increase public school funding and revamp the system were dead, the blame game was under way in the Capitol at NASCAR speeds.

Regardless of who is to blame, the bottom line is that the Legislature failed in the midst of a crisis.

A district court judge has ruled that the system of public school finance is unconstitutional. The Texas Supreme Court is scheduled to review the case in July.

Many school districts are slashing budgets because they already have reached local property tax caps and state funding is not keeping up with growth and inflation.

After lawmakers failed in a 2004 special session on school finance, Gov. Rick Perry declared the issue an emergency during this year's regular session.

In the late hours of the session, Perry and Senate negotiators believed they had an agreement with House leaders, but Speaker Tom Craddick rejected the deal. House members blamed the Senate for acting too slowly.

Barring a successful special session, Texas students will lack adequate support for another school year because of lawmakers' embarrassing failure. Voters should keep that in mind next year.

The Austin American Statesmen:

[A] lesson from this session: Never mind bipartisanship. The Republicans can't even manage a partnership with one another.

House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, proved again that he is not a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. He has achieved a reputation as the toughest negotiator in state government. But that's misleading, because negotiators, by definition, compromise to get things done. Craddick, a 36-year veteran of the House, doesn't necessarily want government to get things done.

Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, both Republicans, proved they have little influence over Craddick. In last-minute talks, House negotiators apparently agreed to a compromise on school finance legislation. But Craddick rejected it, and the plan died.

My favorite editorial? The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I normally do not post full-length articles, but this editorial deserves to be read in its entirety. Enjoy:

Give 'em an F

When the going got tough this year on the all-important issue of school finance, the Texas Legislature and its leaders couldn't produce what was asked of them.

No excuses, no amount of "we gave it our best" or "this is a very difficult thing to do" will change that.

All of these people, from Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick on down, were elected and sent to Austin with one of their principle assignments being to fix the school funding system.

They failed.

Equally, no amount of casting blame will change this discouraging reality.

But something has to change, because the way that Texas pays for public schools does not meet the needs of its children today and will be disastrously insufficient to educate the increasingly diverse and more difficult to teach children of tomorrow.

The Legislature has been preparing to confront the school finance problem for at least four years, with interim studies, special committees, expensive scholarly reports, advice from experts and even a 30-day special session last year all leading up to the effort to finally address the problem this year.

As if any more incentive were needed, an Austin judge heard weeks of testimony in a lawsuit brought by school districts and in late November ruled that the current school finance system is inadequate and unconstitutional.

State District Judge John Dietz ordered that the school funding system be shut down if the Legislature couldn't come up with a better plan by October. The Texas Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on an appeal of the case July 6.

What went wrong?

This is Texas, and talking about school funding means talking about taxes. Ideology, greed and ego got in the way.

Ideology transformed the effort to reshape school funding into an attempt to redesign the state's tax structure and reduce local property taxes. That turned an already difficult task into a nearly impossible one.

Still, it could have been done, but these legislators and their leaders couldn't do it.

Greed converted the deliberations into thinly veiled attempts to shuffle more money to specific interest groups or protect the money held by others.

Under Craddick's leadership, the House sought special treatment for wealthy school districts and pushed a regressive sales tax increase in order to preserve tax breaks for some businesses. The Senate under Dewhurst's leadership came up with more equitable plans but was not politically or philosophically crafty enough to handle unbending House negotiators -- or Craddick himself -- when it came time to merge differing proposals.

Ego -- or maybe just the temerity that comes from standing on uncertain political ground with next year's election in sight -- kept Perry from exercising the power of his office to move deliberations to a successful conclusion.

Perry has said that he worked decisively and consistently in the background with key legislative leaders. If so, there is little to show for it.

The education reform and school finance bills that were produced during this legislative session, their high points and their low points, will be and should be dissected and studied by interested parties in the coming weeks and probably will be debated in coming political campaigns.

Perhaps they will serve as starting points in the next effort to resolve this pressing problem.

That's good, but after years of looking to the Legislature for help, Texas public schools and the people who are dedicated to educating the state's children are left with a still-uncertain future.

This Legislature, and these state leaders, could not show results.

Texas cannot, and must not, settle for that.

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The "Do Nothing" Legislature

By Byron LaMasters

It's certainly ironic that in the first session following an election where Republicans achieved complete power with majorities in Congress, the state Senate, the State House, and a lock on all Texas Constitutional offices - they are unable to accomplish much of anything. Newspapers across the state report...

The Austin American Statesman:

One hundred forty days ago, Texas lawmakers came to Austin promising to find a fair and legal way to pay for public education and to lower school property taxes.

During the next five months, they passed a two-year state budget that's more than 10 percent larger than the current budget. They garnered national attention by trying to ban sexy cheerleading in high schools. And they sent 1,370 bills to Gov. Rick Perry, including overhauls of the state's workers' compensation and Child Protective Services systems. [...]

As lawmakers left town late Monday, the question of how to pay for public schools and ease the burden on property owners remained unanswered. And that inaction by the Republican-controlled Legislature may well be the enduring legacy of the 79th Legislature.

The failure of a school finance plan is the failure of one party, and one party alone. We can thank Tom Craddick for that.

Craddick this month kept Democrats off the conference committees that negotiated school finance reform. And, earlier in the session, House Democrats, with a lone Republican, tried to bypass a committee vote and force a vote by the full House to further limit corporate money in elections. GOP groups are accused of misusing corporate dollars in 2002.

But House Republicans — even those who had co-sponsored the measure — shot it down, saying Democrats needed to respect the usual legislative process. (That process killed it in committee a few days later.)

The Dallas Morning News:

Texas lawmakers closed out a disappointing regular session and headed home Monday, touting a few notable accomplishments but leaving their No. 1 priority – the funding of public schools – in the dust. [...]

"I can't tell you how angry I am," said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas. "My constituents were expecting school finance reform, property tax reform and Robin Hood reform – and we couldn't deliver on any of it."

It didn't help that the leaders of the two chambers – Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick – were sharply at odds over their respective plans and who's to blame. [...]

The session will be judged by the major issues not addressed, said Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, the House Democratic leader.

"We came in with a landmark opportunity to fix our schools, and that was not accomplished," he said. "The major pieces of policy that we should have taken care of were not taken care of."

The San Antonio Express-News covers the GOP spin:

"This has been a very successful session," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said. "We've had a lot of important legislation pass."

Dewhurst said "we're not giving up" on school finance, adding that he'd talked with House Speaker Tom Craddick on Monday despite their differences on the issue.

Craddick, who also judged the session a success, agreed that he and Dewhurst "said we're going to try to work together and see if we can find some kind of resolution" on school finance. [...]

Even before the session ended, Perry was touting lawmakers' work trying to reach agreement on schools and noting other legislative accomplishments.

"I don't know how big the mountain's got to be before we say, 'Heck of a session.' But we're real close to it," Perry said in the session's closing days as he announced agreement on workers' compensation and noted restrictions on asbestos lawsuits.

What a load of crap. Sen. Wentworth, for one, isn't buying it:

Even before the session ended, Perry was touting lawmakers' work trying to reach agreement on schools and noting other legislative accomplishments.

"I don't know how big the mountain's got to be before we say, 'Heck of a session.' But we're real close to it," Perry said in the session's closing days as he announced agreement on workers' compensation and noted restrictions on asbestos lawsuits.

And finally, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

One hundred and forty days of raucous politics came to an end Monday, the last day of a Texas legislative session that will probably be remembered as much for what failed as what passed.

Lying in the recycle bin were thousands of pages of what might have been: a new school finance system, a property tax cut, legalized slot machines, an overhaul of ethics laws, private school vouchers and the Willie Nelson Highway. [...]

"It's all over but the explaining," said Ross Ramsey, editor of the political newsletter Texas Weekly. "On the biggest issue of the session, they're going home empty-handed."

Tarrant County Republican Chair clarifies the priorities of of the "conservative movement":

Perry is wasting no time getting the message to conservative Republican voters that he has delivered. The governor has scheduled an event next weekend at Calvary Cathedral in Fort Worth, where he plans to sign legislation requiring minor girls to have written parental consent before they can get an abortion. He'll also sign a constitutional amendment -- it's just a formality, because only the voters can make it law -- designed to place an existing ban on gay marriage in the state constitution.

Voters will decide on the prohibition in November.

According to a letter sent by Perry's campaign, and forwarded by e-mail to supporters, Perry officials "want to completely fill this location with pro-family Christian friends who can celebrate with us" and might film the event for TV advertising later.

Pat Carlson, chairwoman of the Tarrant County Republican Party, said that if Hutchison runs against Perry, "it's very possible" that footage from the event would be used.

Carlson called the recently concluded meeting "not the best session, but not a bad session" and said that conservatives cared more about the abortion issue than changing the state's school finance system.

"School finance wasn't necessarily a priority of the conservative movement," Carlson said.

Ok, I think I get it. Gays = NO! Abortion = NO! KIDS, uhmmm = NO WAY! At least someone is honest about the priorities of the "conservative movement". As long as the gays and abortionists are stopped, who cares about the kids?

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End of Session Notes

By Byron LaMasters

State Rep. Aaron Pena (D) has some end of session notes over at his blog.

Of interest...

  • Pena predicts that a special session will be called near the end of June.

  • The Mexican-American Legislative Caucus picked Veronica Gonzalez and Rafael Anchia Freshmen of the Year.

  • The Democratic Caucus picked Yvonne Gonzalez-Tourilles and Marc Veasey for Freshmen of the Year.

  • The Legislative Study Group picked Hubert Vo their Freshman of the Year.

  • Melissa Noriega was given the "Joe Moreno Award" by the Democratic Caucus.

  • Rep. Rafael Anchia honored the late Rep. Joe Moreno by wearing a Houston Rockets jersey on the floor of the House.

In other news, via email, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus elected new officers:

Chair -- Representative Senfronia Thompson, Houston
1st Vice Chair -- Representative Terri Hodge, Dallas
2nd Vice Chair -- Representative Ruth Jones McClendon, San Antonio
Treasurer -- Representative Marc Veasey, Fort Worth
Secretary -- Representative Dawnna Dukes, Austin
Parliamentarian -- Representative Jesse Jones, Dallas
Legal Council -- Representative Joe Deshotel, Beaumont

No DINO's on this list... A special thanks for the leadership of the outgoing chair Garnet Coleman, and he certainly leaves the caucus in good hands with Senfronia Thompson.

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May 29, 2005

Our Dumb Legislature

By Jim Dallas

Majikthise picks up an interesting note:

Silly legislators, everything is necessarily self-identical:

Jonathan Ichikawa writes:

Here is the full text of the newly proposed section of Article I of the Texas Constitution, proposed by HJR 6, which has been passed by both chambers:

Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

Well, yes, everything is self-identical. Nonetheless, though, this is one of those situations where a court would probably just sort of laugh and point to the clear legislative intent, viz., spiting them danged homos. And we all know there's nothing wrong or controversial with that!

Meanwhile, Our Dumb LegislatureTM continues to kill progress dead on the education front. As Kuff notes, school finance and tax reform is pretty much over with for this session, which ends in, oh, something like 48 hours. Would thirty more days help? Need we ask?

Remember now, this was the third attempt. The Senate took a shot at it in 2003 by unanimously passing a tax reform bill. The House and Governor Perry immediately pissed on it, and it was never spoken of again. (Anyone else think the bad blood this session between David Dewhurst and Tom Craddick can be traced back to that?) Perry called a special session in 2004, which petered out before the 30-day deadline having accomplished nothing other than the House voting 126-0 against a plan he himself put forward. And now this, thanks in part to Perry's special brand of leadership. I know this sort of thing is hard, but how much time and how many chances do you get before you're branded an abject failure?

Now here's a radical idea folks: why don't we just follow the advice of crazy hippies like Ivan Illich (rest in peace), and make school optional? After all, our fine role models in the House and Senate are sending a strong message to children that education really isn't that important anyways.

Update: Turns out my day-counting skills were off. I thought the Session ended on Tuesday. Kuff says it's practically already over. The House Web site says they've recessed for lunch and will start anew at 2:30; but nonetheless, they've got to finish by midnight. Unless I slept longer than I thought, I was wrong.

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May 28, 2005

Gay Foster Care Ban Stripped From CPS Bill

By Byron LaMasters

The Houston Chronicle reports:

House and Senate negotiators agreed Friday to overhaul Texas' troubled child protection agency by slashing investigative caseloads and relying more on private contractors. es at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. [...]

Conferees removed from the final version a House amendment that would have banned gay foster parents. [...]

Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, who authored the amendment to ban gay foster parents, refused to sign the compromise.

"The bill was about child protective services and adult protective services. I certainly didn't want it to get sidetracked on an entirely different issue that was very volatile," said House sponsor Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas.

Hupp said she is "mildly concerned" that Talton might try to sway conservative members against the bill, but she predicted such an attempt would not succeed.

"I believe (House members) will see the greater issue at hand, which is the reformation of those agencies," she said.

With this victory, it's never too early to look ahead towards 2006. The Austin Chronicle reports:

Gay rights advocates predict a victory at the ballot box in 2006 – even if Texans approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages this year. The reason? Political and social activists will pull out all stops to ensure that certain lawmakers receive a thorough drubbing at the polls next year, said Randall Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas.

The targeted lawmakers were already on shaky ground before voting to place the divisive gay marriage question on the Nov. 8 ballot. For example, Austin Rep. Todd Baxter angered constituents early in the session with his vote for a roundly hated school finance bill, just four months after narrowly surviving a re-election bid in his West Austin swing district. [...]

The Democrats' political hit list for 2006 mainly focuses on the House side, where Baxter and Houston Republicans Martha Wong and Joe Nixon are viewed as the most vulnerable. Wong's district takes in a portion of Houston's gay community in Montrose; she is said to be eyeing a state senate seat in a more conservative district, but that depends on whether the incumbent, Kyle Janek, steps aside to seek U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat, who may or may not run for governor next year.

There are other House members at risk. Democratic Party strategist Kelly Fero points to a few seemingly sacred cows – Public Education Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, and chief homophobes Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, and Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who is the lead sponsor of the same-sex marriage prohibition. Fero said Talton and Chisum are both susceptible – "not because the numbers on paper demonstrate their vulnerability, but because their arrogance and intolerance have become an embarrassment."

Some interesting gossip here. This is the first time I've heard that Kyle Janek is considering a run for U.S. Senate. In terms of targeting, Wong and Baxter are in the obvious first tier of most any Democratic target list. Nixon, Talton and Grusendorf are a bit further down the list (and Chisum a lot further down the list), but I would certainly like to see all of the above be challenged by a strong, well-funded Democrat.

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May 27, 2005

District 143 Special Election Day Set

By Jim Dallas

November 8.

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May 25, 2005

State House Freshmen of the Year Named

By Byron LaMasters

Aaron Pena breaks the news:

Before the membership learns the identities of the "Freshmen of the Year" I will take the liberty (with Yoda's blessing) of breaking the news to the readers of this journal who the winners are. There were a number of top notch members in the running. John Otto (R) and Armando Martinez (D) are the recipients.

Best wishes to all the Freshmen class who have done a fine job this session.

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May 24, 2005

Vouchers Fail in the State House, Did Leininger Offer Bribes?

By Byron LaMasters

Good news (emphasis mine):

A plan to make Texas one of the first states with a large-scale voucher program died Monday night after a raucous debate and a series of close votes in the House.

After the bill was gutted to make vouchers available only for public and not private schools, Speaker Tom Craddick sustained a parliamentary challenge that killed the issue for this session. [...]

Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, was one of several members who tried to strip the pilot program from the bill.

"This is a proposal that would drain millions of dollars from public school budgets at a time we can't seem to come up with money for textbooks we've already promised to the kids," said Hochberg.

Hochberg's amendment was tabled 72-71, with Craddick casting the deciding vote after an initial vote yielded a tie. Houston Democrats Kevin Bailey and Harold Dutton were not present for the vote. [...]

A second vote on another amendment to strip the provision failed on a 72-72 tie with Craddick voting to table the amendment.

After that, however, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, succeeded with two amendments that proved lethal. One stripped out the Dallas and Fort Worth districts, and the other removed private and parochial schools.

The chamber was buzzing Monday with word that Craddick and longtime Republican backer James Leininger were pressuring undecided lawmakers in a back office.

Leininger, a San Antonio businessman, has used part of his fortune to set up a voucher program there.

One lawmaker said at least 12 Republicans had been called into a meeting. Craddick's office would neither confirm nor deny the widespread reports about Leininger's presence.

It's not as bad as Bo Pilgrim handing out $10,000 checks on the state senate floor, but Leninger is one of the top GOP donors in Texas, and I would not be surprised if bribes or primary challenge threats were made in the Speaker's office to state house members.

Update: You can watch the debate from yesterday on the house floor here. The Quorum Report has much more including time markers for several of the important moments.

More at PinkDome and Aaron Pena's blog (with a Star Wars twist) as well.

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May 21, 2005

HJR 6 Debate on the Senate Floor

By Byron LaMasters

Watch it live, here.

Update: In the Pink Texas reports that Madla switched sides to allow a vote to bring up the bill.

Update 1:50 PM: Rules are suspended by a 21-8 vote.

Update 2:26 PM: These debates sometimes get amusing. On floor amendement 8, Sen. Van de Putte proposed and withdrew a "some sex" amendment.

Update 2:28 PM: HJR 6 adopted by a 21-8 vote. The 21 votes were all Republicans except for Brimer who was absent along with Democratic Senators Armbrister, Lucio and Madla. The other 8 Democratic Senators voted against HRJ 6.

More: In the Pink Texas has some more on the HJR 6 Senate sponsor Todd Staples.

More: The amendment will be put to a statewide vote on November 8, 2005. BOR will keep you updated with the latest on the amendment and the NO on HJR 6 campaign.

And More: LGRL Statement:

A historically dangerous and discriminatory constitutional amendment is headed to Texas voters. The Anti-Gay Texas Marriage Amendment (HJR 6) passed the Texas Senate this afternoon. The amendment was approved by a vote of 21 to 8, narrowly meeting the two-thirds majority required.

The amendment has been cleared to appear on a statewide ballot this November. This would mark the first time in history that a minority group would be singled out in the constitution in order to be denied rights. Constitutions are historically treated as sacred documents, designed to preserve rights and ensure equality for all.

Randall Ellis, Executive Director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, says the amendment is dangerous. "This amendment is potentially devastating to thousands of Texas families, gay and straight alike," Ellis said. "Domestic partnership benefits, powers of attorney, and even common law marriage will be called into question by this amendment. These are consequences that are supposedly unintended, according to the amendment's authors. But this is clearly a discriminatory act, designed to strike at our community at its fundamental level: our families. The Legislature is obviously willing to sacrifice all Texas families for this unjust agenda of intolerance and discrimination."

Marriage affords hundreds of legal rights, responsibilities and obligations, like the ability to visit a spouse in the hospital, social security benefits, second parent adoptions and many more. These are denied to thousands of loving, committed gay couples across Texas, many of them raising families of their own.

This amendment would, in effect, solidify LGBT Texans' status as second-class citizens.

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May 19, 2005

HJR 6 Senate Hearings

By Byron LaMasters

Our pink friends, In the Pink Texas and Pink Dome are liveblogging the HJR 6 Senate (gay marriage amendment) hearing.

Earlier today, however, there was good news for opponents of the amendment. The Austin American Statesman legislature blog reports:

An effort to add a ban gay marriage to the Texas Constitution has met resistance from a bloc of state senators, but Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said today he is trying to win passage for the proposal.

Dewhurst said 11 senators have sent him a letter saying they’ll block the measure. That’s enough to stop it from coming to the Senate floor because a proposal needs votes from 21 of the 31 senators to come up for debate. Because the resolution calls for a change in the constitution, which also takes 21 of 31, it’s also enough to stop the bill.

“We have a letter from 11 senators asking that HJR 6 not be brought up,” he said. “At the same time I have talked to several of the senators, and I believe that we probably will have the votes to suspend.”

“Suspend” is Senatespeak for bringing a bill to the floor. No promises yet about the bill passing.

The State Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the measure this afternoon. The House passed the measure several weeks ago.

Passing the ban out of the Senate and helping it find its way to a public ballot this fall would be a key victory for Dewhurst among the social conservatives who vote in the Republican primary.

My guess is that the 11 senators are all senate Democrats sans Armbrister. I'll update when I know for sure.

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May 18, 2005

Parental Consent Bill Passes State Senate

By Byron LaMasters

Just when we thought it was dead, the parental consent bill has passed both the House and Senate in the past couple of days. This afternoon, it passed the Senate by a vote of 24-5:

Parents would have to consent before their young daughters could have an abortion under legislation approved Wednesday in the Senate.

Current law requires girls under 18 to notify their parents before having an abortion. If a girl can prove informing her parents would result in abuse, a judge can bypass the notification.

This bill would require doctors to get consent from the parent of a girl under 18 before they could perform an abortion.

The House gave final approval to an abortion consent bill Tuesday. The House bill also prohibits abortions for women who have carried a child for more than 26 weeks, unless having the baby would jeopardize the woman's life or the baby had serious brain damage.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 3,499 abortions were performed on girls younger than 18 in Texas in 2002, the most recent year for which such data is available.

The Senate bill was approved on a 24-5 vote, with little debate.

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May 16, 2005

More on HD 143

By Byron LaMasters

Marc Campos will be working for another candidate - Laura Salinas. Meanwhile, Kuff brings news that a stealth Republican candidate may run as a Democrat in the district. I posted yesterday on another Democratic candidate, Ana Hernandez.

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May 15, 2005

Ana Hernandez to Run for the Seat of Joe Moreno

By Byron LaMasters

It's tough to think about how the special election for Joe Moreno's seat will play out, but it is a safe Democratic district, and I hope that a progressive Democrat will continue Joe Moreno's legacy. One candidate, supported by State Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) is Ana Hernandez.

Here is an email forwarded to me by a labor leader:

Democrat State Representative Jessica Farrar comes to Jacinto City, in celebration of Cinco de Mayo and introduces Ana Hernandez, the former Legislative Aide of the late Joe Moreno and candidate to fill his unexpired term.

Representative Farrar announces to the celebrating participants and tearful, but joyful Moreno supporters, the candidacy of Joe's former aide, Ana Hernandez, to seek the District 143 seat to continue Moreno's legacy and serve out his term.

Ana Hernandez, after serving two Legislative Sessions with Representative Farrar and then loyally serving Representative Moreno, completed her studies at the University of Texas with Joe'support and now having passed the State Bar Exam is sufficiently experienced and educated in dealing with Legislative affairs.

Farrar said many of Joe's close friends knew of his grooming Ana's for future Elected Legislative Service.

The speculation is Governor Perry will take the necessary action to bring about an election possibly in September to fill the vacant seat.

It is my prayer that Democrats will unite and rally to make certain of my late friend Joe Moreno's desire to see his Aide, Ana Hernandez, become an elected Official.

For those of us who loved Joe, what a great tribute each of us can make to him by helping to elect one of his former Aides to serve out his term.

Allan R. Jamail

COPE Chairman / Political Education Committee / Organizer

Pipefitters Local Union 211
2535 Galveston Rd. Houston, Texas 77017-1999

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Cheerleaders to remain Bootylicious

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

News 8 Austin reports that Rep. Al Edwards (D-Can't Handle It) Bill to ban sexually suggestive high school routines has dead ended in the Senate.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said her education committee has more important things to consider.

Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, had won approval of his bill in the House. He said sexually suggestive routines in high schools are distractions that result in pregnancies, dropouts and the contraction of AIDS and herpes.

Shapiro said standards should be decided by parents and school districts.

Edwards acknowledged that his measure was probably dead for this legislative session, but he vowed to bring it up again.

I'm glad that the Education Committee has more important things to do. Apparently the Hate Affairs Committee does not.

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May 12, 2005

Parental Consent Bill Tabled

By Byron LaMasters

Today was a rare good day in the Texas House for supporters of a woman's right to choose. House Democrats successfully stalled HB 1212 past the deadline for filing new bills with two sustained Points of Order this week. The Houston Chronicle reports:

House bill that would have required girls younger than 18 to get consent from one of their parents before having an abortion died Thursday because of a technical error.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said he was disappointed his bill failed again this session. It failed when he filed it in 1999, 2001 and 2003. [...]

Current Texas law requires that parents of a minor be notified before their daughter has an abortion. A judge, however, can allow bypass of the notification.

Under King's bill, girls who did not want to involve their parents for fear of abuse or did not have parents who could give consent would have been able to seek judicial bypass. [..]

The bill also would have increased the evidence necessary to bypass parental involvement. Rather than just proving that abuse would be likely, as current law requires, girls would have to prove they would certainly be in harm's way.

Essentially, the King bill would increase the burden of proof on the victim of child abuse, rape, incest, etc. I thought that Republicans were for victim's rights - that is unless it relates to abortion.

Update: Kuff also brings the good news of the defeat of another bad bill - HB 1167.

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May 10, 2005

This Headline Cannot Contain My Boiling Rage

By Jim Dallas

Front page, H-Chron, today:

Despite offering limited tax relief for some of the poorest people, a Senate tax overhaul would raise taxes for most Texans, at least initially, legislative analysts reported Monday.

Only households with incomes of more than $140,853 a year would realize a net tax cut — an average of 1.52 percent — under the swap of higher state taxes for lower school property taxes in fiscal year 2007, when the trade-off is fully in place.

A tax bill approved earlier by the House also is weighted in favor of the wealthiest Texans, although the two plans differ significantly in details...

All other income categories would get a net tax increase. Overall, that would mean a tax increase for 80 percent of Texas families, said the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for middle- and low-income people.

Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) tries to spin this as the result of cigarette taxes; apparently working families spend more of their income on ciggies than the wealthy. That's probably true - a pack-a-day habit is a pack-a-day habit, regardless of whether you're making $20,000 a year or $200,000.

Of course, sin taxes, like all consumption taxes, tend to be regressive in this way (you know, because a three-meal-a-day habit is a three-meal-a-day habit regardless of income). Moreover, sin taxes tend to fall on those pesky things that the powerful folks in the Lege simply don't approve of. Did the bill drafters sincerely believe that cutting slightly regressive property taxes and shifting the burden to highly regressive consumption taxes would not have this sort of distributional impact?

Granted, this effect is ameliorated ever-so-slightly by the new business tax (although the bottom line, as noted above, is still negative for four out of five Texans), and the Senate bill is better than the House bill. But it enrages me greatly that the Lege will use smoke-and-mirrors legislation to dress up a tax hike for working families while refusing to hold a simple up-or-down vote on an income tax bill which would be a real tax cut for most Texans.

Update: The always calm, cool, and collected (mostly cool) Kuff has his thoughts here.

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May 09, 2005


By Jim Dallas

There's often more than a few reasons to oppose a bill; but a reader directs us to 93 reasons why HB 1167, a bill intended to reform fair housing laws, is bad for Texas.

After skimming the text and reading the committee report, I can see why Reps. Talton (yes, that Talton), Wong, et al. think they're doing a favor for Texans. Like many statutes, this one is very long and somewhat technical, and I don't have the time or expertise to fully understand it. But on balance those 93 reasons TLIHIS has argued seem awfully compelling. What seems most worrisome to me are the amendments that appear to eliminate reporting that assists in enforcement of civil rights and fair housing laws (the committee report says the reporting is "unnecessary", but given the history of housing segregation in Texas and elsewhere, I'd say that might be a bit of a cavalier attitude.) Having briefly encountered the federal Fair Housing Act in reading for a class, I do know that these laws can be somewhat of a pain in the neck for landlords, but I'd rather the laws get enforced than not, wouldn't you?

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May 06, 2005

Joe Moreno Remembered

By Byron LaMasters

Many Texans of both parties are remembering the life of State Rep. Joe Moreno who was killed last night in a car accident. Here are some of things that have been written today about Joe Moreno.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Charles Soechting:

"Texas Democrats are saddened by the tragic death early this morning of our friend, Joe Moreno.

Joe represented Houston's east end with integrity and aplomb. His deeply rooted commitment to mainstream values made his constituents proud and embodied what his party stands for.

Our prayers are with his friends and family."

Harris County Democratic Party:

With respect and great sadness, the Harris County Democratic Party mourns the loss of this dedicated public servant and extends its deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones.

Governor Rick Perry:

Gov. Rick Perry today ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at state buildings in memory of State Rep. Joe Moreno

“Anita and I are saddened by the loss of a respected member of the Legislature who served his constituents with great dedication and integrity, Rep. Joe Moreno,” Perry said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Joe’s family and friends during this difficult time. He will be dearly missed by all who knew him.”

Speaker Tom Craddick:

"We are in shock this morning. Nothing can prepare you for the sudden loss of someone that you see and talk with everyday. Joe was a young man with a bright future who early on, distinguished himself in his district and in the House," said Speaker of the Texas House Tom Craddick.

He said that he had been at the hospital since hearing the news.

"This has been a discouraging and heartbreaking morning in which I have prayed for everyone involved. We are grateful that Rafael and Monica are okay, but my wife Nadine and I are so grieved for the loss of Joe and for what his family must now face."

Chris Bell:

Alison and I were deeply saddened to receive word this morning that our friend, State Representative Joe Moreno, lost his life in a tragic automobile accident and we wish to extend our most heartfelt sympathies to his family.

Joe was a stand-up guy with a big heart, a great sense of humor and a strong dedication to public service. I got to know him best when we were all fighting together to stop redistricting in 2003. Joe didn’t play games and he didn’t make any of us beg; he said he would be in the fight all the way - and he was. Every Democratic member of the Texas congressional district was extraordinarily grateful.

It is always difficult to find words to adequately express feelings at a time of sorrow but perhaps some solace can be found in knowing that while Joe was taken much too soon, memories of him will live on and on – memories of a big, happy man doing whatever he could to lift up those around him. Joe, you will be sorely missed by so many. May God’s peace shine upon you in the better place you now find yourself.

State Rep. Aaron Pena:

What I remember about Joe was his love of politics, gadgets and sports. In fact he and Rep. Anchia supposedly had a friendly wager on the Rockets-Mavericks series, where the loser would have to wear the jersey of the winning team. Rafael is from Dallas and Joe from Houston.

Joe also loved to show me all the latest electronic gadgets. The cell phone I use was recommended to me by Joe. He was always one step ahead of the pack, always looking for the newest item coming out of Japan or Germany.

The second anniversary of the Killer D's is coming up next week. Joe was a good friend and an important participant in those trying times in Ardmore. Joe had shirts printed up and playing cards made to share with the other members. I remember we all spent one very special night at a "rib joint" called Budrows in Ardmore. About 15 reps. gathered for a good meal as we enjoyed the camaraderie of the moment. Joe was the life of the evening.

Joe, we are all going to miss you. Thank you for your service but most especially for your friendship.

And when we gather next week to remember those perilous days in Ardmore, we will all take a moment to remember you brother.

Until we meet again.

Houston political consultant Marc Campos:

My good friend State Representative Joe E. Moreno had died in a car accident. Joe was going back to Austin after the Rockets game late last night. I was at the game last night, didn't see Joe - now I wish I had.

Talked to Joe a couple of times last week about politics. I told him earlier in the year that I thought it was gutsy of him to be one of the four House members to cast a vote against Tom Craddick for Texas House Speaker. Privately I was proud that one of my guys had the fortitude to stand up and do the right thing.

Joe was a client. I put together his winning strategy for his election to the state House in 1998. I met Joe when he was working for former State Representative Al Luna.

Joe loved life. I can't believe he's gone. In my office I have his campaign letterhead, envelopes, and photos. What to you do with his stuff?

I feel for his family. I'll miss Joe.

More reaction over at Dos Centavos, Rio Grande Valley Politics, Greg's Opinion, The Red State and Off the Kuff.

Update: More in the Houston Chronicle.

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May 03, 2005

(Don't) Shake your Buns Bill- HB 1476

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Pink Dome is going to liveblog the debate on the Anti-Booty Bill now being debated on the House floor. Yes, this is a real bill. Legislators think it is a priority to ban overly 'suggestive' dancing squads at your hometown football games.

Live Stream from House website here.

HB 1476

The full text is here but here is the "money".


(a) A school dance team, drill team, cheerleading team, or any other performance group may not perform in a manner that is overtly sexually suggestive at an athletic or other extracurricular event or competition sponsored or approved by a school district or campus.

(b) If the commissioner determines that a performance group described by Subsection (a) has performed in an overtly sexually suggestive manner, the commissioner shall inform the appropriate school district and the district shall take appropriate action against the performance group and the group's sponsor, as determined by the district.

Update- Initial vote ties 64-64. Much groaning. Motion by McCall to not reduce ANY of the debate to text passes. Motion for roll call. Final vote... 65-56. IT PASSED?!?! I'm waiting on the registry of votes but from listening to debate, my latest unfavorite Rep., Patrick Rose voted FOR this bill.

Let's hope this dies a painful death in the Senate and the House gets ridiculed on every News Station "legit or illegit" to quote Rep. Dukes from earlier debate on the bill.

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HB1706 Dead

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

In a move that will make Kuff happy, 11 of our 12 Democratic Senators signed a pre-emptive letter saying "no thanks" to the Republican's move to require more layers of red tape to our ability to cast votes in this state.

Latino's for Texas gives us the heads up...

Eleven Democrats sign letter to block voter picture ID bill

As the Texas House tries once again to pass HB1706 by Mary Denny, Senate Democrats have signed its death warrant.

The bill would require photo id or two aleternatives in combination with a voter registration card in order to vote. Democrats complain that the bill creates undue obstacles to voting for the elderly and students, among others. They also argue that this is part of a nationwide Republican effort to disenfranchise voters.

Senate Democrats have rendered the next several hours of House debate moot by signing a letter indicating that they will not vote to suspend the rules in order to bring up the bill. Senate requires 2/3s of the 31 members to vote to suspend before a bill can be heard.

I'm going to take a wild guess and say that Armbrister was the one who didn't sign it.

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April 28, 2005

Anti-Gay Foster Parents Amendment not Dead

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

We thought it was over. We were told and assured that it would die in committee. But this is Texas and things are of course, always too good to be true.

Speaker Craddick announced his 5 appointments to the conference committee for SB 6, the Child Protective Services (CPS) Reform bill:

Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp (R- Lampasas), Rep. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), Rep. John Davis (R-Houston), Rep. Robert Talton (Bigot-Pasadena), and Rep. Toby Goodman (R-Arlington).

As the Statesman Blog says:

Talton seemingly has little connection to the bill: he wasn’t a member of the Human Services Committee that crafted the House plan. He is chair of the Urban Affairs Committee and is a member of the civil practices and redistricting committees.

Rep. Suzanna Hupp, R-Lampasas, is chairwoman of the Human Services Committee and author of the House reform plan. She, along with Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, will head the negotiations. Nelson is author of the Senate reform plan.

Reps. John Davis, R-Houston, and Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, both members of the Human Services Committee, were appointed to the conference committee. Rep. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, the fifth committee member, was chairman of the Human Services Committee last session and crafted the Adult Protective Services reform part of SB 6.

So now it comes down to Republicans v. Republicans. The author of the Bill v. the author of the amendment. But don't let the conference committee stop Talton's idiocy. From another Statesman article...

"If I can find it in another bill, I will certainly do that, if it doesn't survive SB 6," Talton said. "I can't imagine the Senate pulling that out. I would be very surprised."

Lawmakers can add amendments to bills that deal with related topics. Late in the legislative session, legislators often attach bills that have little chance of passage on their own to larger pieces of legislation....

Hupp spoke against Talton's proposal but ultimately voted in favor of it. Gov. Rick Perry has dismissed the ban as a secondary issue that could get in the way of overhauling Child Protective Services.

What, Gov. Good-Hair not towing the Right Wing Faction's "Gays-Are-The-Antichrist" line? What's he thinking, that it's a shitty piece of legislation (duh)?

And for all you in the Austin area, here's how Central Texas House members voted on the amendment to ban gay, lesbian and bisexual people from being foster parents. The amendment passed the House last week by a vote of 81-58.

In favor: (meaning wrong) Reps. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown; Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs; Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County; Todd Baxter, R-Austin.

Against: (meaning right) Reps. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin; Terry Keel, R-Austin; Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin; Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin; and Mark Strama, D-Austin.

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Texas Campaign Finance Likely Dead

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

I was in the process of writing a story about Democrats attempt to bypass committee and bring the campaign finance reform bill to the House floor for a vote (considering there are 92 co-sponsors) but the Statesman online has a breaking news note (no story yet) that the issue may now be dead.


Campaign finance reform scuttled. Measure may be dead for the session. More to come at statesman.com on this developing story.

I mean, seriously, the legislature has much more important things to be doing like protecting the State from already illegal gay marriages.

Update: Statesman article is now up.

Campaign finance legislation apparently died Thursday on the House floor in a unusual showdown over rules between Speaker Tom Craddick and proponents of House Bill 1348.

The House voted 95-36 against a motion that would have taken the legislation out of the Elections Committee and straight to the House floor for a vote.

Rep. Terry Keel, D-Austin (Ed note- that should be an R, and did you know Keel voted with Democrats against the anti-gay foster care amendment? Maybe Rose could chat with him and Casteel), who is Craddick's expert on legislative rules, warned members they were driving a stake in the heart of the legislation.

"I think this stunt kills it," he said after the vote.

Keel, who had been a co-sponsor of the legislation, said the bill was being used as a partisan shot at Craddick and he argued that Thursday's vote was in support of the orderly legislative process.

Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, raised the motion calling for an immediate House vote. He denied that Democratic colleagues had put him up to it....

The bill has been co-sponsored by more than half the House's 150 members and Craddick has promised that the Elections Committee will vote on the measure next week. But committee chairwoman Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, says, it doesn't have enough support to clear her panel.

Craddick- 1
Ethics- 0

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Lighter Side Of The Lege: Wild Hogs

By Vince Leibowitz

I wasn't aware that the Texas Department of Agriculture had asked the Legislature for a half-million dollar appropriation to study--of all things--the state's wild hog population.

My problem is that I can't decide whether or not the appropriation is as stupiud as it really sounds or not.

The appropriation request came to my attention via an AP story which happens to mention Van Zandt County, my home county.

Our little hamlet made news back in 2003-04 when our County Commissioners actually placed a $7 bounty on each wild hog killed. You had merely to bring a complete set of wild hog ears to the County Extension Office to collect your bounty. And, in a time of tight budgets, the county shelled out about $14,000 for about 2,000 killed feral hogs.

I don't dispute that wild (or feral) hogs are a problem. I've seen first-hand the damage they can do to land and crops.

What I'm wondering is why it will take $500,000 to study how to control the population? Can't the state look at some other population control studies for other incorigible species and perhaps transfer some of those methods to the wild hogs, maybe to the tune of $100,000 or $250,000 instead of half a million?

If you have no idea what a "feral hog," is or what they do and are wondering why in the heck the state would appropriate one red cent for such a project, read a selection from the AP article:

In short, the nation's largest feral hog population is making a mess of Texas.

Farmers and ranchers - who sustain an estimated $52 million annually in damage at the snouts of the rapidly growing wild hog population - are asking the legislature and hunters for help controlling the estimated 2 million animals.

"Bring an AK-47, because that's what you'll need," Canton cattle rancher Don Metch said.

The nocturnal, omnivorous hogs can grow to 400 pounds and have four fierce-looking tusks that can extend five inches from their top and bottom jaws. They're more bristly and muscular than domestic pigs, and they can be ill-tempered when cornered.

Feral hogs are found in 230 of the state's 254 counties, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates. Nationwide, hogs number 4 million in 42 states, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.


The Texas Department of Agriculture has asked legislators for $500,000 to start a two-year pilot program to study the hogs in hopes of controlling them. In the meantime, Texas relies on its year-round hunting season.

Still, the hogs are causing all sorts of damage in the nation's No. 2 agriculture state.

They uproot sweet potatoes, peanuts, corn, rice and other crops. So keen are their snouts that hogs can pull up plants one by one. But they're typically not so tidy and just tear up pastures. Sweet potato farmers have reported dozens of acres destroyed in one night.

Beef producers say the hogs knock down fences and tear holes in pasture to get to grass roots and grub worms. They also kill goats, sheep and other small livestock.


The hogs are descendants of domestic pigs brought to America in the 1600s by French and Spanish explorers, and of Eurasian boars brought for hunting in the early 1900s.

They reproduce so rapidly that there's a joke among wildlife officials: When a sow has six piglets, you can expect eight to survive.

Two years ago in East Texas, the damage was so bad that Van Zandt County officials offered a $7 bounty for a matched set of hogs ears. The program ended in 2004 after residents cashed in on more than 2,000 hogs.

But wildlife officials hope hunters keep on hunting - and even expand their efforts.

"What we need is more processing plants," said Brian Cummins, an extension agent in Van Zandt County. "And a good sausage recipe."

Aside from arming farmers with AK-47s, or embarking on a study for a better sausage recipe, as our often humerous (and very qualified) County Extension Agent suggusts, what exactly will the Department of Agriculture do with $500,000 to study the wild hog population?

I'm wondering if some of the farmers who have problems with the feral hogs are scratching their head about the half-million appropriation request, too. After all, I'd venture to say individual farmers could give the DOA some innovative ideas on feral hog population control--for free.

For some reason, thinking about a group of people in the nearby city of Grand Saline who "capture" feral cats and have them neutered/spayed and then release them back to the dumpsters from whence they came, I had a fleeting thought of Texas Department of Agriculture agents wandering the swampy bottoms of Van Zandt County with tranqualizer darts and hog contraceptives. Is there such a thing as a hog contraceptive? Maybe they could use tracking devices and follow the feral hogs using spy satellites and then call ahead and warn farmers: "They're coming your way! Get the AK!"

Since a mind is a terrible thing to waste, I'll stop wasting mine on potential solutions for the Department of Agriculture. After all, they are the ones getting $500,000 to come up with a plan.

Vince Leibowitz is County Chairman of the Democratic Party of Van Zandt County and 3rd Vice President of the Texas Democratic County Chair's Association.

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April 27, 2005

Speedy Response

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

My hometown Representative (now that I'm registered to vote back in Fredericksburg again) is Carter Casteel, a Republican woman who comes from a four county, 80% Republican district. The other day when I was in the gallery watching the HJR 6 debate on the floor, it was interesting to see how active she was being the second termer that she is (in addition to having a very snappy Blue dress and a House website picture that reminds me of Bea Arthur from Golden Girls which makes her that much more cool).

That aside, I was quite suprised when she voted against Amendment 60 to SB6, the Child Protective Services Bill amendment that would have banned gay foster parents and spent $8 million dollars of Texans money to create an investigative unit in CPS to root out all those homo-sech-u-als attempting to parents children already abused or displaced by their heterosexual parents. Though there was some crossover in voting on the amendment, I certainly didn't expect my hometown rep, from one of the most conservative districts in Texas to stand against the rest of her party on this one. Makes me that much more sad that Rep. Patrick Rose whose district neighbors Casteel's, went ahead and voted for it.

I can understand Casteel voting for HJR 6. I can maybe understand Rose doing so though I'm still very upset on that one. But when Casteel can vote against the Talton-gay-families-are-evil amendent, and Rose votes for it, it makes me really upset. Thank goodness it's coming off in committee. Below the fold is the e-mail I sent Rep. Casteel. I received a response an hour later to my suprise, even if it was short, it's nice to know that some Reps can get back to their constituants directly without form letters.

Representative Casteel,

I wanted to thank you for what I see as a couragous vote against
Amdendment 60 to the CPS reform bill, an amendment that could have
stripped thousands of children out of loving foster homes and forced the
CPS system to become an investigative body reminiscent of the SS in WWII
Germany. Having had relatives who were taken out of their homes and
placed in concentration camps because of their political ideology during
the war, I feel that such actions made possible by that amendment would
have hurt Texas families as much as it hurts people's opinion of the
Legislature. Thank you again.


That statement in SB 6 should come out in Conference Committee. It
should have never been put on in the House. carter

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April 26, 2005

Garnet Coleman Takes on Al Edwards for Bigoted Remarks

By Byron LaMasters

Good for Garnet Coleman. Coleman wrote this letter to the editor in response to Al Edwards remark that homosexuality is a "social ill". Here is the letter via email and Greg's Opinion:

Dear Editor:

As reported in Tuesday's Fort Worth Star Telegram, Rep. Al Edwards called homosexuality a "social ill" on the floor of the House. He stated, "I take offense when people associate me and my race and my culture with a social ill. I don’t see how the two relate."

Representative Edwards ought to be ashamed of himself. His comments are bigoted, hateful and just plain wrong. No one is comparing race with sexual orientation -- they are not the same thing, but discrimination is discrimination. As an African American, Edwards should know what it feels like to hear such hurtful words. The only way to stop prejudice is to practice what you preach. Bigotry says a lot more about a bigot's own insecurities than it says about those they target.

-- Representative Garnet Coleman (Houston)

Rep. Coleman represents District 147 in Houston and is the Chair of the Legislative Study Group (LSG) and the Texas Legislative Black Caucus (TLBC).

As the chair of a minority caucus in a minority party, it would probably be easier for Coleman to just let Edwards's comments slide. With that in mind, I'm very pleased to see Coleman do the right thing, and call out his colleague on his bigoted remark.

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April 25, 2005

Blogging HJR 6

By Byron LaMasters

In the Pink Texas is liveblogging HJR 6 with the appropriate title of "Smear the Queer". Pink Dome is also liveblogging the HJR 6 debate. For the short version, just read the preview.

I've been watching some of the debate on television, and I believe that Karl-Thomas is watching the debate, and hopefully he'll have some thoughts later.

Update: Some of my favorite parts of the debate - Senfronia Thompson wants her 40 acres and a mule, while Rafael Anchia, Garnett Coleman and Paul Moreno in particular have been very articulate against the bill today. Robert Talton just looks like the face of evil - oh wait, he is, and Warren Chisum just appears like a misguided grandfather. I'll update later with the vote count.

Update: Final vote, 102-29 with a bunch of abstentions (100 votes needed for passage).

Update: Another post from In the Pink Texas and lots more at Pink Dome. Statements from Senfronia Thompson and Garnett Coleman here and via their comments is the actual vote. Also in Pink Dome comments is a statement by Al Edwards that I also recall hearing. The statement by Edwards was something along the lines of how he took offense that a "social ill" (GLBT Texans) was being compared to other civil rights issues. Fortunately, most of Edwards's African-American and Hispanic colleagues felt differently as expressed by their votes.

Jump to the extended entry for the roll call vote.

AYES - 102
Allen, Ray(R); Anderson(R); Baxter(R); Berman(R); Blake(R); Bohac(R); Bonnen(R); Branch(R); Brown, Betty(R); Brown, Fred(R); Callegari(R); Campbell(R); Casteel(R); Chisum(R); Cook, Byron(R); Cook, Robby(D); Corte(R); Crabb(R); Craddick(R); Crownover(R); Davis, John(R); Dawson(R); Delisi(R); Denny(R); Driver(R); Edwards(D); Eissler(R); Elkins(R); Escobar(D); Farabee(D); Flynn(R); Frost(D); Gattis(R); Geren(R); Gonzales(D); Gonzalez Toureilles(D); Goodman(R); Goolsby(R); Griggs(R); Grusendorf(R); Haggerty(R); Hamilton(R); Hamric(R); Hardcastle(R); Harper-Brown(R); Hartnett(R); Hegar(R); Hilderbran(R); Hill(R); Hope(R); Hopson(D); Howard(R); Hughes(R); Hunter(R); Hupp(R); Isett(R); Jackson, Jim(R); Jones, Delwin(R); Keel(R); Keffer, Bill(R); Keffer, Jim(R); King, Phil(R); King, Tracy(D); Kolkhorst(R); Krusee(R); Kuempel(R); Laney(D); Laubenberg(R); Leibowitz(D); Madden(R); McCall(R); McReynolds(D); Merritt(R); Miller(R); Morrison(R); Mowery(R); Olivo(D); Orr(R); Otto(R); Paxton(R); Phillips(R); Pickett(D); Quintanilla(D); Raymond(D); Reyna(R); Riddle(R); Ritter(D); Rose(D); Seaman(R); Smith, Todd(R); Smith, Wayne(R); Solomons(R); Straus(R); Swinford(R); Talton(R); Taylor(R); Truitt(R); Turner(D); Van Arsdale(R); West, Buddy(R); Woolley(R); Zedler(R)

NAYS - 29
Allen, Alma(D); Alonzo(D); Anchia(D); Bailey(D); Burnam(D); Coleman(D); Davis, Yvonne(D); Deshotel(D); Dukes(D); Dunnam(D); Dutton(D); Farrar(D); Gallego(D); Herrero(D); Hochberg(D); Hodge(D); Martinez Fischer(D); McClendon(D); Moreno, Joe(D); Moreno, Paul(D); Naishtat(D); Noriega(D); Puente(D); Rodriguez(D); Strama(D); Thompson(D); Veasey(D); Villarreal(D); Vo(D)

Castro(D); Chavez(D); Giddings(D); Jones, Jesse(D); Wong(R)

Eiland(D); Flores(D); Guillen(D); Homer(D); Luna(D); Martinez(D); Menendez(D); Nixon(R); Oliveira(D); Pena(D); Pitts(R); Smithee(R); Solis(D); Uresti(D)

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A Defense of Sylvester Turner

By Byron LaMasters

Political consultant Marc Campos (who includes Sylvester Turner on his client list) offers a defense of Sylvester Turner:

Everyone's favorite state Dem legislator, Sylvester Turner (Houston), is getting a lot of email play of late. Late last week, word surfaced that Turner would make an appearance on a national TV talk show that is hosted by one of those looney conservatives. Someone then opined over the internet that maybe Sly was fixing to make the party switcheroo on national TV - become a GOPer. Turner's trusted media advisor then put out an email explaining Turner's scheduled TV appearance - he's supposed to talk about state legislative matters.

When you step back and look at the entire situation, there was no justification to suggest that Sylvester would jump to the other side. Yeah, there have been a couple of questionable votes or non-votes or voting machine snafus. Yeah, he's the Speaker Pro Tem, selected by a highly partisan GOP House Speaker. Yeah, he missed the bus to Ardmore - but some in the health care community are glad he stayed and worked on their funding issues as a member of the budget conference committee. All in all he has a pretty impressive Dem voting record.

Now Dem activists - particularly those from the Houston area, and particularly those from the Anglo and Latino persuasion - conveniently forget another factor, selective memory loss. When Sylvester put his impressive Dem Party credentials up for review when he ran for Mayor of the City of Houston in 2003, Anglo, Latino, and Gay/Lesbian Dems said "get lost pal". Dems failed to show up for him when he wanted help, yet these same Dems want him to act like their kind of Dem. It does not work that way. Wasn't it less than two months ago that the State Dem Party Chair released a statement praising Turner for his legislative heroics? If the Chair got it wrong on Turner, lay some wood on him. Nope, of course not. That would be called fair play.

How about starting rumors about GOPers, like did you hear that top local GOP leaders met over the weekend at a Houston downtown law office to devise a strategy for Tom DeLay to gracefully give up his leadership position? Now Dems, isn't this rumor better than Sylvester jumping ship?

I get the point here, but the very reason that many Democrats said "get lost" when Turner asked for their help in his mayoral bid is due to his serving in the Craddick leadership team. I've been tough on Sylvester Turner because of his work with the Craddick leadership, and his frequent bizarre explainations for certain votes and decisions. I will continue to be critical of Sylvester Turner and other Democrats when I see fit, but as anyone who knows me or reads this blog, would certainly know that I always save my harshest wrath for GOPers like Tom DeLay.

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HJR 6 On the Floor

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

The UDems GLBT Committee is up at the Capitol right now before HJR 6 starts to be debated (live feed here). Apparently the DPS in the gallery would not allow us to wear our "Hate is not a Texas Value" shirts, because it would be a "distraction" even though our plans are to remain silent and say nothing. So they are talking to some of the Reps and Senators officers to work around it since it's a rule that we havn't heard of before (and I can only imagine be related to the raucus redistricting crowds).

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April 23, 2005

More Legislator-Bloggers at Lone Star Rising

By Byron LaMasters

We noted earlier that State Rep. Aaron Pena started Lone Star Rising as a group blog for state representatives to post. Earlier there were posts from State Reps. Joe Deshotel, Veronica Gonzales and Raphael Anchia. Since then, Reps. Richard Raymond, Joaquin Castro, Mark Strama - and in the spirit of bipartisanship, Republican Bryan Hughes - have joined the world of legislator-bloggers. Who's next?

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Sen. Nelson Opposes Talton Amendment

By Byron LaMasters

The LGRL blog found this Fort Worth Star Telegram article:

he Senate author of a bill designed to overhaul the state's protective service agencies said Thursday that she will work to strip a controversial provision that would prohibit gays and lesbians from serving as foster parents.

"I will strenuously object to that amendment going onto the bill," said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville. "I do not want this bill being at risk of being tied up in court."

Nelson's remark came two days after the Texas House voted to include the ban on gay foster parents in what state leaders say is a desperately needed measure to fix systemic problems in the state Department of Family Protective Services. The agency oversees Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services, which have been under criticism for more than a year amid reports of widespread and sometimes deadly abuse and neglect.

Nelson said she is concerned that the ban on gay foster parents, pushed by state Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, would probably become a magnet for lawsuits and that it might cause upheaval for the thousands of children in homes where the foster parents might be gay or bisexual.

So, which will win out? Republicans desire to limit lawsuits, or their desire to hate gay people? That's a tough one...

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April 22, 2005

Sylvester Turner to Switch Parties?

By Byron LaMasters

Save Texas Reps speculates. I wonder what the GOP is offering him?

Update: Via email and Greg's Opinion is a statement on Turner's FOX News appearance:

St. Rep. Sylvester Turner will appear on "Hannity and Colmes" Monday to discuss HB 1093. It would release seriously-ill bed-ridden sex offenders from prison into strict medical supervision. Just one of these people cost the state $1.5 million for medical care in 2004. The bill has widespread support and is expected to easily win passage in the House early next week.

To quote from Friday’s Austin American Statesman: (the entire story is attached)

"In 2003, inmates serving time for sex crimes were barred from a program that allows some convicts who are critically or terminally ill to be paroled to a nursing home, hospice or other approved location. That change affected six of the 20 convicts who had the highest medical bills that year, racking up a total of more than $7.4 million, and six of the top 20 in 2004, records show.

"A study last year by the Legislative Budget Board estimated that the state could save more than $3 million over the next five years by paroling convicts like the Million Dollar Man to facilities where they can draw federal Medicaid money to cover their medical expenses. While they are in prison, they are not eligible for Medicaid."

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April 21, 2005

Sylvester Turner on His Vote for Talton's Amendment

By Byron LaMasters

Sounds like a lame excuse to me:

"There has been some confusion surrounding my vote on Representative Talton's amendment to SB 6. The vote was cast mistakenly while I was at the appropriation conference committee working group. I am NOT in favor of the amendment, and my previous record and actions reflect that. Foster children need loving comfortable homes and I would never let prejudice or discrimination stand in the way of these children finding those homes. I am hopeful that the conference committee on SB 6 will remove discrimination from this piece of legislation."

The vote was cast mistakenly while Turner was gone? Why did Turner not have his voting machine locked? Who cast the vote by accident? Will Sylvester Turner tell us this, or should we demand an investigation? I know that Sylvester Turner is often a sell-out to the Craddick leadership team, but I would at least hope that he wouldn't let Craddick's team cast his vote for him when he is away. However, Turner's explaination can only lead me to this conclusion (unless there was some legitimate malfunction of the voting machine). I'm really getting tired of one excuse after another coming from the office of Sylvester Turner.

So, who's next? What's Al Edwards's excuse? What's Richard Raymond's excuse? What about you, Tracy King? As Houston Democrats points out, the Texas Democratic Party Platform is very clear on this issue.

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This May Explain some things about the Lege

By Byron LaMasters

Ever wonder why our lege is so screwed up? Quotes from the speaker such as this one may explain a few things (kudos to the Austin Chronicle for the catch):

"Up there [in the U.S. Congress], they have 400-and-some on the House side – 454 – and they have fewer on the Senate side: 60." – Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, guest-teaching a Mendez Middle School class last week, and revealing the need to do a little cramming before he takes the TAKS test. (For the record, there are 435 U.S. Representatives and 100 U.S. Senators.)

Well, Kinky's at least right one thing (see below). These folks (Craddick, et al.) not only don't know a damn about education, they don't know a damn about government.

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April 20, 2005

Votes on the Gay Foster Parent Vote Ban

By Byron LaMasters

Pink Dome points to LGRL's list of the recorded vote on the gay foster parent ban in the Texas House on Tuesday. I've made a list of those who voted against party lines. First, here are the Democrats who voted for the Talton amendment:

Dems (yes): Robby Cook, Al Edwards, David Farabee, Stephen Frost, Tracy King, Jim McReynolds, Richard Raymond, Patrick Rose, Sylvester Turner.

Cook, Frost and McReynolds represent conservative east Texas districts, so that explains their vote. Rose and Farabee also represent conservative districts, but I'm still pissed off at them regardless. Finally, Al Edwards, Tracy King, Richard Raymond and Sylvester Turner represent safe Democratic districts. Raymond is considering a run for congress, and many progressives who would be likely support him in a primary might think twice about it after this vote.

On the Republican side, there were three votes of interest. Todd Baxter (R-Austin), who voted for the Dignity for All Students amendment, voted against the GLBT comunity on this one. Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) voted, well, you know. Also, Dan Branch (R-Highland Park), who represents much of the Oak Lawn area voted for the amendment.

GOP (no): Ray Allen, Carter Casteel, Peggy Hamric, Will Hartnett, Bob Hunter, Delwin Jones, Terry Keel, Brian McCall, Martha Wong.

Some surprises here. Martha Wong does something right, but the damage has already been done. Keel and McCall are relative moderates on some issues, so their votes don't surprise me, but the other votes here do. Also, it should be noted that Pete Laney voted the right way. He represents a conservative west Texas district, so this was a difficult vote for him, and should be applauded for doing the right thing.

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Gay Foster Parent Ban Passes State House

By Byron LaMasters

Because of Rep. Robert Talton (R-Pasadena)'s amendment to the Child Protective Services reform bill, your tax dollars will be spend on witch hunts seeking to learn the sexual orientation of potential foster parents (should the amendment pass the senate). The Austin American Statesman reports:

House lawmakers on Tuesday voted to prohibit gay or bisexual people from becoming foster parents as part of the chamber's overhaul of child and adult protective services.

The amendment was rolled into the bill approved by the House of Representatives that, as expected, would also lower caseloads for investigators and hand over to private agencies some of the duties associated with protecting Texas children. [...]

Talton's amendment would require the Department of Family and Protective Services to ask potential foster parents if they are homosexual or bisexual and to refrain from placing children with those parents. Currently, the agency does not ask that question.

The department also would be required to remove a child from a foster home if it determines that the parents are homosexual or bisexual.

"It's a learned behavior, and I think a child . . . ought to have the opportunity to be presented to a traditional family as such," Talton said. "And if they choose to be homosexual or lesbian, then that's their choice when they turn 18."

Talton said he tacked the amendment onto the CPS reform bill because he knew he wouldn't get a hearing for it if he filed his own legislation. The amendment passed 81-58, mostly along party lines. Talton had tried unsuccessfully in the past to pass such legislation.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a government watchdog group that bills itself as an alternative to the religious right, said in a statement that the House put personal and political biases ahead of children's interests.

"Representative Talton's amendment to ban gay men, lesbians and bisexuals from acting as foster parents will further strain a foster system that is already overburdened, forcing more children into institutions rather than safe, loving homes," she said. "Texas children who most need the state's protection have been cast aside in favor of a narrow, mean-spirited agenda."

More at the Pink Dome. Also, read the statement from the LGRL. Also blogged at Appalachia Alumni Association and 100 Monkeys Typing. Anyone that doubts that this is anything but a witch-hunt that would spend millions of state funds to determine the sexual orientation of potential foster parents need not read any further than the text of the amendment (PDF File):

Section 264.1064c. "Notwithstanding the applicant's or foster parent's statement that the applicant or foster parent is not a homosexual or bisexual, if the department determines after a reasonable investigation that the applicant or foster parent is homosexual or bisexual the department may not: (1) allow the applicant to serve as a foster parent; (2) place the child with the foster parent; or (3) allow the child to remain in foster care with the foster parent."

What the heck is a reasonable investigation?? Talk about screwed up priorities... we have a foster care crisis in this state, and Republicans would rather spend millions of dollars to take kids out of loving homes, and investigate the personal lives of law-abiding adults.

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April 18, 2005

HJR 6 Update

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

The chair of our UDems GLBT Caucus has gotten some info back from our State Senators on where they stand on HJR 6, recently passed out of the Hate Affairs Committee in the House 6-1. Since the House is not the best ground to fight this battle, here is the scoop on the Senate Democrats. All of these were in the Senate for the 2003 vote on the Texas Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Three Democrats supported that, Madla, Lucio and Armbrister (a co-sponsor!). We need 11 of the 12 to kill the bill.

Senator Gonzalo Barrientos: (D-14th District) Does not support this legislation.

Senator Rodney G. Ellis: (D- 13th District) Will not form an opinion until bills comes to the senate, but voted against the 2003 Defense of Marriage Act and is committed to the civil rights of all people regardless of lifestyle.

Senator Mario Gallegos: (D-6th District) Firmly against the policy and a major force against the legislation.

Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-20th District) "The Senator believes these kinds of amendments are ridiculous and has consistly voted against them."

Senator Royce West (D-23rd District) Awaiting a return call (but likely against the bill)

Senator John Whitmire (D-15th District) "Has not specifically spoken to the Senator on this legislations but is against discrimination and will vote with his gay and lesbian constiuates.

Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-26th District) Awaiting a call from legislative aid, but "the senator is for equal rights."

Senator Eliot Shapleigh (D-29th District) "The Senator is against theses amendments"

Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-21st District) Awaiting a return call from her office. (but likly to vote against it)

Senator Ken Armbrister (D-18th District) No opinion, very impatient with me, was in a hurry to get me off the phone.

Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-27th District) No opinion, listening to all sides.

Senator Frank Madla (D-19th District) "Doesn't feel that this is appropriate to be in the state constitution"

So it looks like we have 8 of the 11 votes needed to kill these bills in the Senate. I anticipate that the two Senators that I'm awaiting return calls from (that didn't state any opinion) will vote our way as well. That gives us 10 of 11.

Something else that might be a snag, a few of the offices that I called said that the office doesn't consider House bill until they leave the house and enter the Senate.

Lucio is the swing vote. Armbrister is pretty much a DINO. Lucio will probably do the right thing if preasured enough.

So we are going to see if we can find a delegation of UT students from Brownsville / south TX and request a meeting with Lucio on the matter. I'll keep you updated.

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April 15, 2005

Not a good day for the Governor

By Jim Dallas

The Houston Chronicle picks up the story (referred to me by this diarist) about Perry's chief of staff attempting to influence the House Speaker vote, which might have been illegal. ("Tons more entertaining than watching The Apprentice" - Pink Dome).

Meanwhile, the Statesman reports that Rep. Yvonne Davis sent the tax-cap bill, already beleaguered and effectively gutted, back to the dark hellish cave the committee from whence it came.

Finally, In the Pink Texas directs us to the Dallas Morning News, where we love that Comrade Senator Hutchison has over $7.2 million in her campaign kitty. Almost as much as Kommissar Perry himself, and despite efforts by Republican money-folks to blackball the Hillary-hugger. To be fair, the Perry camp can't raise money until the end of the legislative session (which makes it a tad wink easier for Comrade Kay to catch up.) Still... $7.2 million buys a lot of green slime.

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April 13, 2005

Hit me baby one more time

By Jim Dallas

The Associated Press reports on the House debate over the revenue-capping bill, and I think puts things a little too optimistically for it. In part because, while the AP mentions that HJR 35 (the revenue-capping constitutional amendment resolution) needed a 100-vote supermajority to pass - and failed to get 100 votes - the story neglects to mention that Rep. Bohac didn't even get a majority when push came to shove. In that sense I think the AP is moving the goal posts, so to speak. Moreover, today's story doesn't mention that the Senate ain't all that crazy about the legislation, either. I am predisposed to think that the revenue-cappers are probably going to go down in defeat. Again. It would be nice if the AP gave a little more perspective one way or the other.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill permanently repealing the estate tax, in their usual fashion.

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April 12, 2005

State House Targeting - 2006

By Byron LaMasters

Kuff and Tejano Politico are looking at target lists for 2006 already. It's never too early to start talking, and recruiting candidates. Politico's List is a bit ambitious, however, and also leaves off some races that should be targeted. Politico says that this should be the Dem target list:

State Rep. Joe Nixon, State Rep. Kent Grusendorf, State Rep. David Swinford, State Rep. Geanie Morrison, State Rep. Robert Talton, State Rep. Ray Allen, State Rep. Warren Chisum, State Rep. Tony Goolsby, State Rep. Gene Seaman, State Rep. Todd Baxter, State Rep. Martha Wong, State Rep. Bill Zedler, State Rep. Roy Blake Jr.

Some of these folks such as Allen, Baxter, Nixon, Seaman and Wong ought to be at the top of any Democratic target list in 2006, but others such as Grusendorf, Morrison, Chisum and Swinford are unlikely to have a serious challenge anytime soon.

Kuff elaborates on three GOP targets in Harris County for 2006 - Nixon, Talton and Wong. Nixon and Wong ought to be top priorities, whereas I think that Talton is more likely to be a multiple cycle project. Obviously, defending Hubert Vo's seat and Scott Hochberg's seat (to a lesser extent) should be Harris County Democrats priorities as well.

Moving on, Travis County has Todd Baxter to go after, and Mark Strama to defend. I've always wanted to see Terry Keel challenged in a serious way, but that never seems to happen despite the fact that both Kirk Watson and John Sharp won District 47 in 2002. Travis County Democrats followed that up by defeating not one, but two Keel's last November - Patrick Keel who Rick Perry appointed judge and Thornton Keel who lost a constable race (a Democratic pick-up).

In Dallas County, five seats ought to be targeted. District 102 where Harriet Miller gave Tony Goolsby a surprisingly close race in 2002 will likely see another close race in 2006. I believe that Miller is running again. District 101 is a low 40s DPI district in Mesquite that has not been challenged in several years, but I think a well-funded challenger could give Elvira Reyna a scare.

District 105 out in Irving has similar Democratic performance, and it would be good to see a well funded challenge to Linda Harper-Brown. The most Democratic district in Dallas County held by a Republican is clearly HD 106 held by the ethically challenged Ray Allen. Katy Hubener received 47.4% of the vote against Allen in 2004. I think that there is no doubt that Allen will have another well-funded challenger in 2006.

Finally, there is HD 107, an east Dallas district where Bill Keffer is the incumbent. Theresa Daniel ran a competitive race there in 2002, but Keffer was given a pass in 2004. However, I've looked at the numbers in the district, and the DPI of the district increased from 38 to 43 between 2002 and 2004. It's an uphill battle, but a well-funded Democrat could certainly make a good run in the district. I know that one candidate has announced, and there are others currently looking at the race.

Over in Tarrant County, Toby Goodman and Bill Zedler are the two districts that Democrats would probably have the best luck targeting. Elsewhere, Scott Campbell's personal problems give Democrats a chance in an otherwise hopeless district and near-misses of the past couple cycles such as Roy Blake Jr., Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton and John Otto should have challenges as well. As for Gene Seaman, he had a close call in 2002, but got a pass in 2004. Andrew wrote several months ago, however, that Democrats are working to recruit a candidate to run in 2006.

On the other hand, there are a good number of districts, especially in east Texas where we'll have to play defense - Stephen Frost, Mark Homer, Chuck Hopson, Jim McReynolds, and Robby Cook in addition to David Farabee, Hubert Vo, David Leibowitz and Mark Strama.

Again, this is only a very early look at the 2006 cycle. Democrats will have a good opportunity to make gains in the state house, but candidates need to be recruited now, and especially in these competitive districts which I have named above.

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April 11, 2005

Hate Affairs Committee votes on HJR 6

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Thanks to the people/person over at PinkDome, we have some info on HJR 6, the Constitutional Ban on All Things Un-Holy (Gay Unions), which was voted out of the Hate Affairs Committee today 6-1 (with 2 Democrats wandering around not knowing where or when to vote I guess).

As this PinkDome entry notes, Rep. Martha Wong (R-Houston Gay District) voted for it as well as Rep. Keffer (R- Gay Son that Testified in Committee).

As to why and where the others were, this PinkDome entry may shed some light. But it is nice to see that Rep. Villareal (D- Missed the Committee Vote) is going to gather Demo opposition to this on the House Floor. We'd need 51 votes to kill it in the House, and even though we have what, 63 Democrats, most capitol sources will tell you that there aren't enough votes to kill it in the House, leaving the Senate (where people have been Re-Redistricted into electoral security on both sides) to be the main battleground.

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April 05, 2005

More on Ray Allen

By Byron LaMasters

You didn't hear this from me.

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HJR 6 Hearing Still in Progress

By Byron LaMasters

It's 12:38 AM and the HJR 6 hearing is still in session. Check out the liveblog of it on PinkDome. Also at the LGRL Blog. More relating to Martha Wong in the Houston Voice.

Update: The hearing lasted until around 2:30 AM

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April 04, 2005

Fight HJR 6

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Want to know what you can do to fight the first proposed Texas Constitutional Gay Marriage Ban Bill, HJR 6? It had a committee hearing today starting around 2 pm. Full details located over here.

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April 03, 2005

Ray Allen Investigated for Illegal Use of Staff

By Byron LaMasters

State Rep. Ray Allen (R-Grand Prairie) is currently being investigated by Travis County prosecutors for using state-paid employees and property for personal profit. The Dallas Morning News reports:

Mindy Montford McCracken, an assistant district attorney for the public integrity unit, said her office received a complaint shortly after an August newspaper report that Mr. Allen and his staff engaged in private and campaign business in his taxpayer-funded Capitol office.

Ms. McCracken declined to say who complained. She said prosecutors are waiting for documents they need before going further.

"Based on the story, we felt there was enough to explore further," Ms. McCracken said.

Ms. McCracken said the investigation is "very much in the initial stages," and declined to say what type of charges, if any, prosecutors might pursue. The penal code contains an offense called "abuse of official capacity," which forbids the misuse of government property. Based on the value of the property, it can range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.

Shortly after the report appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram , Mr. Allen acknowledged that the practice of employing his state aides to work for his business and campaign – even while using private computers and phone lines – looked bad.

He has since moved his business and personal records to an office at his apartment in Austin, he said. [...]

Mr. Allen said he lobbies for the National Correctional Industries Association only in Washington. The association promotes programs that allow private companies to use inmate labor.

Mr. Allen ran Service House, his lobby practice, with his former chief of staff, Scott Gilmore. Mr. Gilmore quit working for Mr. Allen in December and has formed his own lobbying practice in Austin. [...]

Mr. Gilmore said Mr. Allen's employees were aware they could not mix public affairs with private business.

"The policy was, you don't use state computers," he said.

On one occasion, however, an aide stored a letter involving his lobbying client on her state computer. That aide also sent an e-mail on the state computer network that described a "to-do" list, mostly devoted to Service House business, the Star-Telegram story said.

Mr. Gilmore said the aide sent that e-mail in error and said it was not a common practice.

While not illegal in of itself, it's just not smart for an elected official to hire his/her government employed staffers for their personal business. The tendency towards mistakes at best, and the temptation of illegal and unethical behavior at worst is much too great. Whether the case is the former or the latter, the public official - in this case, State Rep. Ray Allen (R-Grand Praire) has betrayed the trust of the public. As is the case, Allen should resign. I hope that the Travis County prosecutors get to the bottom of this.

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April 01, 2005

Gene Seaman's Priorities

By Byron LaMasters

State Rep. Gene Seaman (R-Corpus Christi) certainly has his priorities in the state house. Are they yours? Watch the ad here (warning, probably not the best thing to open up at work). Practice What you Preach issued a press release today:

Today Practice What You Preach, a mainstream PAC organized around the notion that putting an existing ban on same-sex marriage into the Texas Constitution would be a hypocritical diversion from the clear and present dangers to the institution of marriage, today released ³Tool,² a web ad that shows a Republican state representative who voted to ban gay marriage imitating an erection on the House floor.

³I refuse to take marriage lessons from anyone who thinks it is a good idea to imitate an erection on the floor of the legislature,² said Jason Stanford, president of the Practice What You Preach PAC. ³Changing the constitution so that something that is now illegal won¹t happen will do as much to protect marriage as imitating erections does to reform insurance, taxing cookies does to make us all skinny, or taxing lap dances does to fund public schools.²

Texas Republicans have either done or attempted to do all of those things in the last couple of years.

On Monday, the House State Affairs Committee will hear testimony on HJR 6, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, something state law already does.

Practice What You Preach envisions offering other ads on other representatives if the Republican leadership pushes for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

³The Republican leadership has to decide how many of their seats they are willing to lose over this,² said Stanford, a married father of two sons. ³It¹s time to make the Republicans pay a political price for using marriage as a wedge issue.²

Practice What You Preach is soliciting contributions to air ³Tool² in Corpus Christi (Gene Seaman¹s district). Saturating the media market would cost $22,000 at $22 a point, meaning the PAC has to raise at least $220 to get it on the air once.

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March 30, 2005


By Byron LaMasters

It's a good program, and some of the GOoPers in the lege want to cut it. Read Hope Morrison's post on the topic and act on the issue if you have the chance. Pink Dome adds some thoughts as well.

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March 29, 2005

Blog on the Move

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Rep. Aaron Pena has moved over to blogspot for his blog, since his old one on his site was a bit, unlinkable. Of course, we here at BOR hope that we might get listed in Pena's blogroll but only if there is enough space of course?

Go check out the new space!

::Update:: Thanks to Kuff for informing me that I'm blind. We are listed as The Burnt Orange Report. Well, I'm proud to go to THE University of Texas, but we really are just Burnt Orange Report. We write lots of articles but we don't need one in our link. Oh, aren't you jealous of my masterful use of words!

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March 22, 2005

Strayhorn Says HB 3 Doesn't Balance, Shapleigh and Rodriguez Push For Income Tax

By Andrew Dobbs

According to Quorum Report, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has reversed course and declared HB 3 to be unbalanced. She says that the cafeteria-style business tax will simply invite continued tax avoidance on the part of businesses and will result in $2.3 billion in deficits. Every year that the tax plan is in place, the deficit will go up, and the tax cut becomes a huge tax increase for everyone- not just the poor and middle class as it now stands. House Republicans (and Mike Villareal, who is singing in that chorus again) dispute her claims.

So what is to be done? Well, my state rep- Eddie Rodriguez- and Senator Elliot Shapleigh of El Paso have put forward the plan they have been pushing for some time now: a state income tax. Here is the press release they put out earlier today:

The Texas Legislature must consider a state income tax in order provide Texas taxpayers with sustainable tax relief and adequate funding for schools, according to several more statewide organizations that joined two legislators Tuesday in an effort to raise discussion of the tax alternative.

Two weeks ago, the League of Women Voters of Texas joined Senator Eliot Shapleigh and Representative Eddie Rodriguez calling for an income tax to pay for public education.

On Tuesday, March 22, the Consumer's Union, the Texas Landowners Association and a group of individual realtors joined Shapleigh and Rodriguez in a press conference aimed at getting the state's leadership to put the discussion of a state income tax on the table.

"Increasing the sales tax or property tax is not a viable option,” Shapleigh said. “We need a new system to replace Robin Hood and we need to let the voters choose from all of the options. If we are to compete in a world based on knowledge, then we must do better than 32nd in the nation in teachers' salaries, 50th in number of high school graduates and 48th in average SAT scores."

Some members of the Texas House claim that the school finance plan passed out of the House last week will provide huge property tax relief, but a new analysis announced by Rep. Rodriguez shows that the tax cut provided by the House plan will quickly evaporate.

“Under the current plan, homeowners’ property taxes will be as high as they are right now within 4 years. That’s on top of the sales tax hike and new payroll tax,” said Rodriguez. “Only an income tax will permanently cut school property taxes by 90 percent and invest $5 billion a year in education. An income tax is a legitimate option, and it’s time to put it on the ballot for voters.”

Reggie James, director of the Southwest office of Consumer’s Union, said that the current plan is not fair for consumers.

“If the Legislature must raise taxes, then we ask that they find a way that is fair,” said James. “An income tax should at least be put on the table because it would be more fair than the other options we are hearing.”

Joe Bradley, a realtor from Lewisville, Texas said that realtors from his area agree that an income tax should be on the ballot for voters.

“I surveyed my fellow realtors from my hometown in North Texas, and a great majority preferred an income tax because it’s fair, and it’s good for the business climate,” said Bradley.

Realtors aren't the most liberal group out there, in fact they tend to be pretty conservative. And landowners' groups tend to be on the GOP side of most issues. Now that these forces have joined with nonpartisan types in the form of the League of Women Voters and some liberals in the Consumer Union, a broad-based coalition is finally forming to redo Texas' taxes the right way- with an income tax.

Appraisal creep is the biggest culprit in the way property taxes will simply jump back up, but the dozens of other taxes not touched by HB 3 and the significant ones raised by the bill add up quickly. Texas needs to get serious about education and serious about serving tax payers. Only an income tax will serve both interests. I'm proud to say that Eddie represented me well today.

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March 20, 2005

Pay Raises in State Government

By Byron LaMasters

This article about pay raises in state government demonstrates the silliness of the current structure.

A provision in the proposed state budget would give the governor and other statewide officials a hefty salary increase. The governor "thinks it's a bad idea," a spokeswoman says.

Some lawmakers are offering Rick Perry a $35,000-a-year pay raise, but the Republican governor who two years ago demanded steep budget reductions at virtually all state agencies wants no part of it.

"He thinks it's a bad idea," said Perry press secretary Kathy Walt, referring to a provision in the Texas Senate's proposed budget that would boost the salaries of nearly all statewide elected officials by about 30 percent. "He didn't ask for it, and he does not expect it."

The Senate Finance Committee is poised to adopt its recommendations for the 2006-07 state budget next week. The document, expected to reach the Senate floor for a vote Wednesday, calls for giving statewide elected officials in the executive branch their first pay raise since 1997.

And those raises would be substantial.

The governor's annual salary would jump from $115,345 to $150,000. The attorney general, comptroller, agriculture commissioner, land commissioner and three railroad commissioners would see their pay rise from $92,217 to $125,000.

The lieutenant governor's pay would remain $600 a month because that office is part of the legislative branch of government. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and is paid the same as lawmakers, who are not in line for a raise.

Texas needs to join the 21st century and realize that it is not possible to run a mega-state with a part-time, underpaid legislature. We should be raising the pay of the legislature substantially, NOT the executive officers.

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March 18, 2005

The Real Reason Al Edwards Voted for HB 3

By Andrew Dobbs

So when HB 3- the bill that raises taxes on every Texan making less than $100,600- came up for a vote, only one Democrat managed to vote for the bill, Houston's Al Edwards. Edwards has not given a convincing reason for his vote, claiming that he felt that his vote would give him a seat on the conference committee. Anyone familiar with Craddick et. al knows that he wouldn't seat anyone not completely committed to his goals on the committee and even if Edwards was on it, he'd be voted down 5-1 on everything. Also, the leadership hasn't said anything about this, so it seems shady.

Turns out something far more ridiculous is behind the choice. From Quorum Report:

A member of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus tried to block funding for a planned Juneteenth Memorial Monument at the State Capitol because, she said, one of the sculpted figures looks like a caucus colleague.

During an House Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday, Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) offered a rider to the budget that would stop any state funds going to monuments depicting a living person currently serving as an elected official. She later withdrew the rider.

Dukes' target was Rep. Al Edwards (D-Houston), who has, during a lengthy legislative career, carried legislation setting up both the Juneteenth State Holiday and the Texas Emancipation Juneteenth Cultural and Historical Commission.

"For years people have been tiptoeing around this for fear of offending African Americans or Al Edwards," Dukes said. "But the fact is that the face on the 'law maker' character on the monument is that of Al Edwards. There's no ifs, and, or buts about it."

Just for comparison's sake, here's the proposed monument and here's a picture of Edwards, a few years ago. Looks pretty similar to me...

Inside sources say that Edwards traded his vote for a commitment from the leadership to back this design and to put aside the money for the effort. And frankly, Dawnna Dukes isn't someone I distrust and she's not one to fight a monument to African Americans.

This is bizarre, to say the least, and further proves Al Edwards' uselessness in our party. Edwards might want to watch his back, and if he doubts he can be taken out Ron Wilson might offer a few words of advice...

Update: [Byron here - I second everything that Andrew says here, and wanted to add on a few links to the post].

From Greg's Opinion, here and here.

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On a Lighter Note...

By Byron LaMasters

To venture off on to another topic aside from human vegtables and abortion, Rep. Al Edwards is certainly making news this week. This time, he's worried about high school cheerleaders "shaking their behinds". The Statesman reports:

The Friday night lights in Texas could soon be without bumpin' and grindin' cheerleaders. Legislation filed by Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, would put an end to "sexually suggestive" performances at athletic events and other extracurricular competitions.

"It's just too sexually oriented, you know, the way they're shaking their behinds and going on, breaking it down," said Edwards, a 26-year veteran of the Texas House. "And then we say to them, 'don't get involved in sex unless it's marriage or love, it's dangerous out there' and yet the teachers and directors are helping them go through those kind of gyrations."

Under Edwards' bill, if a school district knowingly permits such a performance, funds from the state would be reduced in an amount to be determined by the education commissioner.

Chalk one up for silly legislation. Although, from what I remember, high school cheerleading ruitines were usually pretty tame - at least compared to college and professional sports where there are usually both cheerleaders and various dance squads. I think that someone has been watching too many B-rate high school cheerleading flicks. Pink Dome has a choice picture as well.

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March 17, 2005

More Conservative Hysteria Over HB 3

By Byron LaMasters

This one, in the form of an editorial certainly crosses the line regarding appropriate discussion regarding race in the 21st century. Calling this editorial blatantly racist would be a reasonable characterization. Here are excerpts from this week's Park Cities People editorial (emphasis mine):

A Government of Pygmies

The stature of the Texas Legislature shrinks with every session

John Adams warned long ago that there never was a democracy that didn’t commit suicide. This week the state House put the gun to…Texas’ head. Whether the Texas Senate will pull the trigger is still an open question.

The finance bill passed by the House shuffles the array of taxes available to the state like a deck of cards. It adds a few dollars to public education, but then promptly adds mandates on how school districts are required to spend it. In all, it is “revenue neutral.” That is another way of saying it provides no new money.

For a moment, let’s pass over what this means to the Highland Park schools. (And it means nothing good.) Let’s see what it means to the state of Texas.

First, a few unpleasant facts. In just 10 years, Anglos will be a minority in North Texas. In North Texas. We already have the highest rate of teens giving birth in the nation. We rank second among states for child abuse, 43rd for children born into poverty, and 45th in the number of kids who graduate from high school.

If those social problems correlate to poverty, they can do nothing but get worse. Median household income — which has risen every decade since Texas was a republic — is expected to drop two percentage points a decade for the next 40 years.

At the same time, Dallas-Fort Worth will grow 55 percent, from 5.3 million to 8 million over the next 10 years.

What kind of picture does this paint?

What about this picture — huge growth, a less educated workforce, declining household income — does the Legislature not understand? [...]

The real problem is not money. Money is a tool. The real problem is mediocrity.

Robin Hood — take from the “rich” and give to the “poor” — was the liberals’ answer to school finance, and like the socialism it emulates, its end result was to discourage excellence and to flatten education to a level aimed at the lowest common denominator.

Now conservatives are in charge. The House has already shown what a difference this makes — none. Now the Texas Senate says it will do better. Its solution — apparently a majority have already signed on to it — is a statewide property tax to replace local taxes. And what will the end result of that be? To discourage excellence and flatten education to the lowest common denominator. [...]

Any pygmy can become a giant by standing on the nearest rock. What we need in Texas is a Republican leader willing to look around for one.

I'll start by agreeing with one aspect of the editorial. The real problem is mediocrity. Texas must not settle for mediocrity, and Democrats refused to settle for mediocrity by voting against HB 3. I applaud them for that.

Having said that, parts of this editorial step way over the line. The term "pygmy" broadly refers to an exceptionally short individual, although the term more specifically refers to members of various tribes in equatorial Africa and Southeast Asia. By itself, "pygmy" doesn't necessarily have a racial context, but the editorial goes on to make a blatantly racist statement: "First, a few unpleasant facts. In just 10 years, Anglos will be a minority in North Texas".

Excuse me? Poverty, high teen birth rates and child abuse are unpleasant facts, but the fact that Anglos are declining as a portion of the regional population? Why is that an unpleasant fact? I guess that the Park Cities People are looking for an unreconstructed George Wallace or Lester Maddox to lead the Texas GOP to victory in 2006.

Update: More at The Frontburner.

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March 16, 2005

Conservative Groups Attack HB 3

By Byron LaMasters

Via Quorum Report is news that major conservative organizations are increasingly vocal in their opposition to HB 3. HB 3 passed 78-70 (PDF file) on the second reading on Monday. Yesterday, two conservative organizations released statements on the issue. The Young Conservatives of Texas wrote:

The Republican-led Texas House of Representatives has taken a big step toward doing what Democrats could not do in over 120 consecutive years in power – enacting a virtual state income tax. For many years, Texas Republicans advocated fiscal restraint, and their opposition to a state income tax was axiomatic. Those days are long over, and Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) is to blame.

This session, the House Leadership led by Speaker Craddick is dumping billions of new wasteful spending into the state budget. Fiscal restraint is off the table. What is on the table is a new way to take money from the people, which will constitute a net tax increase for most Texans.

Of course, the Republican Leadership does not have the courage to call this an income tax or assess it directly against the people. Instead, they call it a “payroll tax” and assess it against employers rather than employees.

Also yesterday, the Texas Public Policy Foundation wrote:

By the look of morning-after coverage in the state’s newspapers, a review of talk radio callers, and the recent flood of phone calls from voters and taxpayers, Texans are focused on the plethora of new taxes they will be paying, not the property tax cut.

Unfortunately, House members who put their reputation on the line to vote for this enormous tax bill will soon realize what became obvious almost immediately: no one will remember the property tax cut, only the vote to tax small business through a hidden income tax and increase the sales tax to the highest rate in the nation.

For two decades, Republicans made historic gains nationally and in Texas based on a simple marketing campaign: they were the party opposed to tax shifts and rate increases. They were the fairy godmother to taxpayers.

One has to admit that House Bill 3, which passed 78-70, is indeed historic. The Republican-led Texas House of Representatives accomplished something Democrats have wanted to do for decades, but could not. The state of Texas now has an income tax. Defenders of the bill said it was not an income tax, but a payroll tax, or a “Reformed Franchise Tax,” then it became a “compensation tax.” Now we have a “basket” of taxes from which business owners may choose. One thing is certain, the new scheme is sure to make basket cases out of Texans trying to do their taxes next year.

Democrats ought to have a field day with this one come 2006...

Update: Repulican Talk Radio reaction:

73 Pantywaisted Texas House members voted to approve HB3 on Monday night, March 13. HB3 hits small businesses and regular citizens with new and increased taxes The Republicans have charge of the Texas Legislature for the first time in a century and they voted for a HUGE NEW tax!! What are they thinking??!!

I am asking all citizens to send the Republicans (and Dems too if you want) who voted for the tax a pair of PANTIES since they proved they are sissies! (You can buy a yellow pair at Walmart for 88 cents.) Send the panties to as many BAD House members that you can afford to.

All House members (especially Republicans who voted for the tax) deserve the panties!! Let them know you think they wimped out by sending them a new selection of underwear!!! REMEMBER, THESE PEOPLE GET THE PANTIES!!!


Another Update: Also at Pink Dome.

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March 14, 2005

Atrocity Watch

By Jim Dallas

Because there's nothing better than screwing the common folk on a lovely spring evening, the Legislature passed H.B. 3 just a few hours ago. Brad Plumer, who is guest blogging over at Washington Monthly, has already gotten in a few gasps as of this writing. Shock and awe, and all.

The final vote was 78-70. I don't know the break down on the roll call vote, since it hasn't been posted yet. But it looks like a few Republicans crossed party lines to vote against it. Pink Dome has the details on amendments.

Meanwhile, In The Pink Texas reports on Wonkette's appearance in Austin.

P.S. Quorum Report just posted the vote record.

P.S.S. This is of course "tentative" in so far as it's only the second reading. Hence the Chronicle's headline.

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Rick Noriega Returns

By Byron LaMasters

State Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston) returned to the state house last week while on leave from the National Guard. Noriega has been serving in Afghanistan. Houston Democrats and Kuff have more. I'll join them in saluting Rep. Noriega. Thank you for your service, and have you thought about running for U.S. Senate? I couldn't think of a better profile...

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March 13, 2005

Retire/Rehire Controversy

By Vince Leibowitz

Most folks who don't know a lot about the Teacher's Retirement System of Texas and who don't follow some of the more mundane parts of education policy and politics in Texas may not be familiar with the concept of "retire/rehire," whereby teachers may retire from active employment with a school district, and then go back to work for that or another school district while drawing both their TRS pension and a salary--sometimes without a loss of pension benefits.

There is a great article about the practice in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram today, and rather than rehash bits and pieces of it, I'll just say it's worth a read for anyone following the Lege this session.

On that same note, the article mentions private companies that school districts may contract with to administrate "retire/rehire" programs. I've heard the pitch of one of these companies, JR3, back when I was covering an Edgewood Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting a few years ago.

If, after reading the article, you don't think there is serious potential for abuse of this system by local districts--or that it may be being abused at all, consider this "testimonial" statement from JR3's website by a school district:

The district was having financial difficulties and cash flow problems. The superintendent recommended that the district work with JR3 in order to encourage individuals who were at the top of the salary scale to retire in order to save the district money in the following areas: (a) health insurance, (b) worker's compensation, (c) unemployment insurance, and (d) FICA/Medicare. Thirty one individuals decided to take advantage of the JR3 option and the district has currently saved over $250,000 in personnel costs. JR3 offers options for those employees who are contemplating retirement.

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Blog Shoutout

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Since I have nothing better to do at the momment, I guess I'll post about State Rep. Aaron Pena's blogging. Though it doesn't have any comments, and it's impossible to link to any page directly, I'll pull some quotes out from the March posts that I thought were funny.

Actually, I just realized that I can't even cut and paste the text from his site. Well damn. I'll just say that you should read the first 4 March entries and know that the numa numa dance was mentioned, re-confirmation that State Rep. Richard Raymond wants to run for Congress, that the "Lobby" reads blogs (oh yay), and that state Rep. Jim Dunnam has a new nickname (Cupcake) thanks to an amendment he made on behalf of his daughter.

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March 12, 2005

I Think I Like This Bill...

By Vince Leibowitz

I can't say that I've read all of the more than 5,000 bills filed in the Texas Legislature as of Friday's deadline for filing (and who can?), but I have checked out some bills proposed by my State Senator, Dr. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville).

To be honest, I checked out his filings today because, while in Austin this week, I heard through the grapevine that he was going to file a last-minute bill on parental notification/judicial bypass. Well, I didn't find one, unless I missed it.

I did, however, run across Senate Joint Resolution 44 which would amend the Texas Constitution to allow counties to issue bonds or notes to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped,
or blighted area within the county.

Previously, only municipalities had the option to do this.

While I do believe there are drawbacks to SJR 44 because it could potentially be abused for "economic development," ie, corporate welfare by making "blighted" areas suitable for specific businesses without them having to pay a dime, I believe that this type of financing could help underdeveloped communities across the state in a number of ways.

In our county, we have two wonderful communities which could be considered "blighted." It is my hope that this legislation will allow counties to utilized bonds or certificates of obligation to help such communities--which aren't incorporated municipalities--through things like road improvement and extensive community clean-up.

Both of the communities I'm talking about in our county (and I'm sure you have similar ones in your coounty) are full of wonderful people who have to drive on some of the worst roads in the county and live in some of the worst conditions in the county because the county has no money to make their situation any better.

One community, Rolling Oaks, is in such bad shape because, when it was founded as a subdivision years ago, the subdivision regs were written in such a way that they are totally useless, and most of the roads in the subdivision were never deeded to the county as they should have been back when they were driveable. Now, they're in terrible shape and are "private roads." And, the county can't take them in without either (a) buying the rights of way and roads or (b) some private party paying the money to fix the roads to county specifications and then have the county take them in.

It is my hope that SJR 44 would allow the county to pay for improvements in communities like Rolling Oaks (which has become, in part, a haven for drug dealers, who live in dilapidated manufactured homes and trailers amid the nicer homes and manufactured homes).

Another community, Wynne Community, faces similar problems but doesn't include many manufactured homes. It is an African American settlement totally surrounded by the city of Canton's borders and First Monday Trade Days. Because of subdivision regulations in portions of the community built in the 1960s and 1970s, it faces the same problems relating to bad roads. It also has a public park that needs repair, and has several pieces of property the county could go in and clean up if it had (a) a nuisance ordinance and (b) money to do it.

My hope is that SJR 44 will be able to help counties transform blighted communities into better communities, and not be abused for "corporate welfare."

If it is for the former and not the latter, then I think I like this bill.

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March 11, 2005

Strama and Baxter on HB 2

By Byron LaMasters

Interesting story in the Austin American Statesman on the thought process of Austin Representatives Mark Strama (D) and Todd Baxter (R) - both of whom won by razor-thin margins last November. Strama considered voting for the bill throughout the day before ultimately voting against it. Baxter, on the other hand, voted for Democratic ammendments before voting for the bill.

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March 10, 2005

"Do You Write For..."

By Vince Leibowitz

I just got back (well, five hours ago, really) from a two-day junket to Austin for Van Zandt County Days which included, among other things, spending a lot of time aimlessly wandering the halls of the Texas Capitol doing lots of...well...eavesdropping, actually, on legislators, lobbyists, tourists and just about anyone who was engaging in a conversation I thought was worth hearing.

Given I'm no stranger to the Texas Capitol and this was like my third Van Zandt County Days celebration, I spent more time visiting folks I knew and listening to the tabling marathon on HB 2 than engaging in all of the ceremonial stuff our group usually engages in.

To start the morning off, our delegation was recognized in the Texas House, which I missed because somehow the time got moved up. But, since the board members of the Council of Van Zandt County Communities (of which I am an officer) wasn't recognized on the floor as initially planned (there wasn't time, we were told), I guess I didn't miss much. Instead, I was in the gift shop searching for a replacement for a pewter state seal lapel pin I had that broke.

After that, we had our photo made with Texas Governor Rick Perry and our State Rep., Dan Flynn (R-Van) and State Senator, Dr. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville). We were right behind the delegation from my native county, Wood County, which was also under the Pink Dome celebrating Wood County Days. They had their photo made with the Governor and their legislators, Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

As we were getting set up for our photo, who should I notice but Jeff Fisher, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Texas (and our former County Judge). He was there to meet and greet some of his former colleagues and constituents. I spoke to him for a little bit, too.

And, Governor Perry was in fine form as well, complaining about his allergies and greeting the two youngsters in our delegation, signing autographs, and even commenting on one of our group member's brightly colored shirts. As much as I disagree with Rick Perry on nearly everything under the sun, he is quite the "campaigner," shaking hands with many within reach (I was standing too far to his left to engage in this, no pun intended) and just chatting away.

I had actually hoped I'd have been standing closer (though I was only on the second row), so to have shaken his hand and introduced myself. I've met him several times before, but, what politician remembers everyone he meets? In addition to hoping he saw the huge nametag I had identifying myself as County Chairman of the Democratic Party of Van Zandt County, I would have casually mentioned, "Oh, I also write for Burnt Orange Report every once in a while," just to see how quickly he would have moved on to the next person. Sadly, I didn't get the chance to do this.

Following this, Sen. Deuell was kind enough to take the youngsters in the group into the Senate Chamber to sit in his desk and have their photos made. I followed along to take pictures.

After this, our delegation was recognized in the Senate. While that was going on, I actually went over to the House side where my state Rep. Dan Flynn, was gracious enough to go and retrieve my uncle, State Rep. David Leibowitz (D-San Antonio) from the floor to meet a few of our delegation and pose for a couple of photos.

After this, who should I see in the halls of the Texas Capitol aside from one of my personal political heroes, former State Sen. David Cain, who is now a lobbyist. We chatted for a while caught up on "local gossip," so to speak.

After that, I and the Executive Secretary of our local party, her husband and their son braved the maze of the capitol annex to find my uncle's office, as their son was going to be a page for him in the House during the afternoon session.

No sooner than I'm greeting the secretary does another staffer ask me, "are you the same Vince Leibowitz who writes for Burnt Orange Report?" Of course, I said "yes, that's me!" I'm just surprised that I would have such name recognition under the dome given that I'm not that frequent of a poster.

But, to give you an idea about this, I was standing outside the doors to House later that day waiting for our delegation's page and noticed a guy who looked like a young lobbyist staring at my name tag. Finally, he, too, asked, "Do you write for Burnt Orange Report?"

But, the true highlight of the day occurred in the House Gallery during the afternoon session. I had gone to see some folks who used to work for David Cain but now work for Sen. Eddie Lucio (where I also complained about the media credentialing process as it relates to bloggers), and then made my way up to the gallery.

I had been thinking all day, "I bet I'll see the lady who writes "In The Pink Texas," one of my favorite Texas Blogs. No sooner than I had sat down in the gallery near some of our delegation and very near an attractive lady with a laptop, did this lady turn to me and say, "Are you Vince Leibowitz who writes for Burnt Orange Report?" Bingo, once again. It turned out to be Eileen Smith, the publisher of the blog live and in person. (And, she mentioned me on her blog!)

What a small world. At any rate, we made fun of Legislators and the tabling marathon that was occuring at that moment until her laptop battery started to die.

Also, since I am sometimes oblivious to my surroundings after a night of little sleep because (a) the air conditioner in the hotel room went out and (b) whoever was in the room next door was having a heck of a party, I was totally unaware I was sitting less than 10 feet from Bill Hammond, head of the Texas Association of Business! It appeared he was napping in the gallery, and I got a great (but slightly blurry) shot of him appearing to snooze. Of course, I didn't take it with my camera, so I won't have the pic until later, but when I do, rest assured (again, no pun intended), I'll make sure it makes the rounds!

At any rate, it was a good trip. I did overhear a great tidbit while waiting in line for the elevators Wednesday morning, but I'm going to have to find a little more about it before I post anything on it. It may turn out to be nothing at all, but it was curious that the people whispering about it made it a point to start to talk about it, look around and see the crowd behind them, and then move right to the elevator doors to "whisper" their conversation in a loud enough whisper that I could make out every single word.

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HB 2 Passes, Close Call on Final Vote

By Andrew Dobbs

Sorry I didn't get this up sooner but I just got to a computer for the first time in a while. HB 2 passed tonight on a closer than expected vote, 76-71. All the Democrats except Al Edwards voted "No" and Edwards voted "Present, Not Voting." It seems strange that a guy from a poor district wouldn't be fervently against a bill that would make his district poorer compared the the rest of the state and force major budget cuts, but then you remember that Al Edwards does whatever the Speaker tells him to and it starts to make some sense.

Still, not a single Democrat voted for the bill and we were joined by 9 Republicans (10 if you count Plano's Brian McCall, who would have voted against the bill, but was paired with the absent Bill Callegari and voted PNV). The most important of those was the only Republican to speak against the bill, and he did so with such passion and poise that I have a new and deep respect for him- former school superintendent Bob Griggs of North Richland Hills. He is credited with bringing several Republicans over with him.

The Republicans who sided against the bill were Fred Brown, Charlie Geren, Toby Goodman, Bob Griggs, Pat Haggerty, Delwin Jones, Ed Kuempel, Tommy Merritt and Todd Smith. All the mean things I say about Republicans are not meant towards you, until you do something to screw it up (which I'm sure they will soon). That goes double for the four that voted for Hochberg's amendment- Brown, Goodman and Merritt (they were joined by Bob Hunter, who voted for the final bill).

Don't be too worried about the impacts on public schools, though. HB 2 doesn't go into effect without the passage of HB 3, and that bill doesn't have the votes to pass right now. Plus, the Senate will certainly make some huge changes to HB 2 and Dewhurst has said that HB 3 is "Dead on Arrival." So it hopefully won't be as bad as things look right now.

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March 08, 2005

HB 2 Liveblogged

By Byron LaMasters

Andrew has been doing a great job liveblogging the HB 2 debate. Several others have been liveblogging the debate as well. The pinkos were at the capitol - check out the liveblogging by Pink Dome and In the Pink, Texas.

Inside the Texas Capitol and the Quorum Report also have several updates from the house floor today.

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Republicans Pass Tax Increase, Cut In School Funds

By Andrew Dobbs

For years Republicans have argued that when Democrats vote for a smaller tax cut than the Republican plan, they are voting for a "tax increase." That's exactly what happened today when Scott Hochberg's amendment on HB 2, which would have dramatically lowered property taxes on middle class Texans, was tabled by a vote of 81-67.

This bill rejection of the Hochberg Amendment will mean higher taxes for 90% of Texans and less money for more than 90% of the school districts in this state. The average Texas homeowner will pay 17% higher property taxes than they would have if only the GOP cared about them. River Oaks and Highland Park made out like bandits today, everyone else got the shaft.

HB 2 is still being debated, HB 3 will be up later this week most likely. Stay tuned to BOR for all your news on these important bills.

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Legislative Budget Board Reveals Tax Increase in HB 3

By Andrew Dobbs

I don't have the document yet, but Jim Dunnam referred to it on the floor today and my boss was chatting about it, but the nonpartisan (actually, GOP appointed) Legislative Budget Board analyzed HB 3 and found that every Texan making less than $100,000 a year would see a tax increase under the GOP plan- to the tune of a total of $1.1 billion. Taxpayers who make more than $140,000 $100,000 would be the only ones to see a cut.

This is huge, and any Republican who votes for HB 2 (with the property tax cut) or HB 3 (with the funding mechanisms) should be attacked without quarter.

Update: See the Tax Equity Note here. Details: the median Texas family would see a 4.3% tax increase, and the less you make the bigger your tax increase. If you make over $100,000 you see a tax cut, everyone else gets a tax increase.

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Changes to HB 3, Debate Begins on HB 2

By Andrew Dobbs

Yesterday it was revealed that there was a $1.2 billion gap in HB 3- the panopoly of new taxes would not pay for the massive property tax cut. So the bill was sent back to Ways and Means who spent all day looking for ways to make up the money. Here are the changes made:

1. The payroll tax was increased from 1.1% to 1.15% and the cap on income subject to the tax was raised from $80,000 to $90,000. So the job killing tax is even higher now- great job guys. Seriously, when you tax something, you make people less likely to do it- simple economics. So why would you tax jobs? Every business in this state, particularly small businesses and labor intensive businesses, will know that every job they create is an extra tax burden for them. Now that burden will be even higher to pay for a huge tax cut for the wealthy.

John Smithee, a rural Republican who apparantly has some sense about him, asked some tough questions of this section (before voting for the bill). He asked why there was a cap at all, since that makes the tax regressive. Committee Chair Jim Keffer explained that he didn't want to discourage businesses from hiring high-salaried employees. So upper class people should be able to get jobs, but poor folks shouldn't? Great policy, Jim.

2. The new tax on newspapers was left out of the drafting of the bill by mistake, so they've made sure to correct that error.

3. Snack foods will now have a 3% sales tax increase, higher than everything else. So those of us who read newspapers, smoke, eat junk food and have cars that like to break down are really screwed. Thank God the strip club tax didn't make it into the bill or I'd be getting really hard.

4. Tobacco companies who aren't a part of the tobacco settlement will be taxed at a rate to bring them up to the level of state contributions that settlement-included companies are. This is actually good policy, as some manufacturers (American Spirits come to mind) charge extra money from consumers but don't pay into the settlement. Cigarettes are bad for you, everyone knows that, and they should all pull their fair share.

So those are the big changes to HB 3. HB 2 is on the floor today and where there was once a move to unite rural Republicans and urban Democrats, now there is a move to get urban and suburban Republicans on our side as the carrot used to lure the rural Republicans onboard- an increase in transportation funding- actually short changes suburban and urban districts. So no one knows what will happen, but it looks like HB 2 will likely pass, but HB 3 won't. In other words, we'll have a whole host of new funding requirements without any bill to provide the money. Trainwreck, here we come...

Watch the debate yourself and see what happens here, and stay tuned to BOR for your news on the legislature.

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March 07, 2005

Republicans Jumping Ship on HB 2 and HB 3

By Andrew Dobbs

Many may not realize this, but no major piece of legislation has been passed by the House this session. Only some local bills that typically pass by unanimous consent and resolutions honoring this or that local good guy have been passed. All is hinging on school finance and tax reform- HB 2 and HB 3 respectively- and right now things aren't looking so good for the GOP plans on either bill.

To begin with, the king of GOP tax policy, Grover Norquist, has come out against the tax bill:

National anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who is close to the White House and Republican Gov. Rick Perry, is sharply criticizing a tax overhaul crafted in the Texas House.

In a news release Wednesday titled "Texas House Poised to Declare Texas Closed for Business," Norquist singled out House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, for getting behind a new payroll tax and higher sales taxes, which House leaders are promoting as a way to pay for property-tax reductions.

"Speaker Craddick and the House seem to want to shut down Texas for
business," Norquist said in the release. "A payroll tax would raise the cost of everything produced in the state, and eliminate Texas' competitive advantage. And sales taxes would raise the cost of every consumer good, lowering the standard of living of Texas workers."

Geez... when Grover Norquist and I agree on something things are getting scary. He's completely right about the standard of living reduction, but I suspect that his tax plan would just eliminate everything and end a ton of government programs. Still, as the article notes, a bunch of Texas legislators have signed a Norquist-designed pledge not to raise taxes and it will be interesting to see how they'll sell this bit of hypocrisy to their constituents. They claim that because they are lowering property taxes, it all evens out, but as I pointed out last week HB 3 would raise taxes on a majority of Texans.

BTW- Chris Kenedy pointed out that I didn't take into account that not every taxing unit (only a majority) aren't at the $1.50 cap. Point taken, and it actually means that people who live in places lower than the $1.50 cap will see an even higher tax increase under HB 3.

But I digress. Not only is Norquist- the uber Republican and ally of Gov. Perry- speaking out against HB 3, but Perry's not-so-uber-Republican-nemesis Carole Keeton Strayhorn has revealed that the bill doesn't actually cut property taxes:

The bill meant to buy down local school property taxes with higher state taxes lost something on its way out of the House Ways and Means Committee, according to the comptroller's office.

It lost the property tax relief, the office said.

"That legislation only included tax increases. It did not include a reduction in property taxes," said Mark Sanders, spokesman for state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

According to the comptroller, who was asked to help with a fiscal analysis of the measure, state tax increases included in House Bill 3 total nearly $9.6 billion over the next two years.

That's a hefty amount, but $1.2 billion short of the $10.8 billion that GOP leaders say would be necessary over the next two years to cut the maximum maintenance-and-operations property tax rate from $1.50 to $1 per $100 valuation.

Republicans are backtracking quickly, claiming that they probably made just a "one word mistake" that would cost the state $1.2 billion, but it looks like the debate might be delayed even further with this revelation. It might be a waste of time, however, as it seems more and more likely that the bill will be amended to pass the Democratic alternative with a significant number of rural Republicans joining forces to get the necessary 76 votes. From the Associated Press:

A plan to overhaul education in Texas could founder this week if measures aren't taken to address the concerns of rural Republicans who say they can't vote for the proposal in its current form.

The GOP-drawn plan to fund public schools in Texas has been slow to garner support from the large number of legislators who represent rural parts of Texas, both Republican and Democrat.

Those who hail from small-town Texas, where communities often revolve around schools, say the plan does not give their schools enough money for transportation, cuts funding for gifted and talented programs and does not give teachers a pay raise that would encourage them to move to the country.

"I haven't heard a lot of folks supporting it, other than the ones that wrote it," said Republican Rep. Scott Campbell, who represents a four-county district surrounding San Angelo. "It just breaks your heart because people have put in so much time and we still don't have anything." (...)

"I think (the plan) is on life support," said Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, who chairs the House Rural Caucus.

Most House Democrats have thrown their support to an alternative plan that they will offer as an amendment during floor debate next week.

That plan, unveiled earlier this week, gives more property tax relief to many Texas homeowners through a tripled homestead exemption. It would funnel $2 billion more than Grusendorf's plan to public schools.

It also puts more money into areas of top concern for rural members:
transportation, teacher pay and funding for at-risk and gifted and talented students.

"Hopefully the alternative can help bring life back to it, so we can get a good plan passed," Cook said, noting that the Democratic alternative "tends to cover a lot more the bases that we've been concerned about."

Remember that Robby Cook came within a hair's breadth of switching parties in 2003 (they had the press conference all organized and everything before he changed his mind) and that Scott Campbell is still a Republican. Pat Haggerty, an El Paso Republican (unfortunately, they do exist), has liked the bill to the Jonestown Massacre. Tommy Merritt, another Republican who likes a lot of Democrats, has said he will not vote for the plan. Those probably make up for the handful of Dems who will vote with Craddick and Grusendorf and all the other rural GOP votes will be on top of that. Enough people are starting to jump ship that the Democrats might just get something they want this session.

But Craddick and his crew will fight to keep their party in line and there is an excellent chance that the regular session will end in deadlock without a school finance bill. Special sessions will be called, but politicians will start getting antsy about their elections and things will get really interesting. The GOP has shown a distinct inability to lead, and this offers Democrats a great opportunity why our message is better.

Either way, stay tuned to BOR for your information on the 79th Legislature.

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By Jim Dallas

A reader, in a "where's the outrage" moment, wrote a note regarding House Bill 838, which would eliminate the statute of limitations for certain sexual assault felonies, including indecency with a child. He says that the bill is getting held up in committee (I can verify that the bill is still awaiting action in committee, for what it's worth), and asked me to spread the word about the hold-up.

Putting myself into the shoes of a legislator, I'd have mixed feelings about the bill. On one hand, it's very important to prevent child molestors from getting off; but on the other, there are some heavy practical considerations for why the current statute of limitations (which requires suspects to be prosecuted before the victim's 28th birthday) might be sensical.* (below the fold).

Still, I think the reader is absolutely right to demand an up-or-down vote on this bill, and I would hope that our Democratic leadership tells Rep. Terry Keel that.

* Limitations is one of the most important procedural rules protecting the accused, and shouldn't be taken lightly.

In deterimining limitations, the severity of the crime and the likelihood of the existance of evidence upon which a prosecution can be successfully conducted seem to be the most important factors.

Clearly sexual abuse of children is a very heinous crime, but the problem I see is that in many cases there will not be much evidence left by the time the victim's 28th birthday rolls around; memories dim. That isn't to say scars heal, of course. But what if we end up convicting innocent people?

In Texas, there are essentially only two types of crimes crimes where the law provides no time-bar to prosecution: homicides (intentional or negligent), and sexual assaults where there is un-identifiable DNA evidence. (New York appears to have a similar limitations scheme.)

In both cases, there's abundant evidence of the crime (homicide - there's usually a body) occurring. But in sexual assault cases, there may often be very little physical evidence to prove the offense even occurred, particularly decades afterward. Building a case around circumstantial evidence and "he said/she said" testimony (particularly when it relates to things adults think they remember about their childhood - things which often turn out to be wildly incorrect) does not sit well with me.

Ultimately, my concern is, would permitting prosecutions for 20, 30, 40 year old crimes lead to a more just state of affairs? Would abolishing limitations have much of an effect at all? I don't know. But I don't think the answer is clear cut either way.

As a legislator in this situation, I'd have to weigh these considerations, and I'd very much hope that proponents and opponents would have anecdotes or statistics to back up their points.

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March 04, 2005

Republican Tax Plan Would Raise Taxes on Majority of Texans

By Andrew Dobbs

So I've been at work today crunching numbers. I've been doing the math to figure out the impact of the various tax plans on Texas families. Since the Democratic plan doesn't have all the details on how they'll make up for their cuts and new expenditures, its like comparing apples to oranges, but just the impact of the property tax cut is pretty dramatic. I'll start there.

The GOP plan will simply cut the M&O Property Tax Rate from $1.50 per $100 valuation to $1.00 per $100 valuation. Local governments could add another $0.10 per $100 valuation "enrichment tax," and with their finance plan pretty much everyone will have to pass one of those. The Democratic plan, however, would triple the homestead exemption- from $15,000 to $45,000- and lower the rate only to $1.25. This would only apply to homeowners, businesses would see no cut in the rate. The primary advantage to the Democratic plan is that most rural Texans, inner-city residents and South Texas residents live in homes valued not much more than $50,000. Suburbanites live in the big fancy houses, so the homestead exemption wouldn't effect them much. But most Texans would see a significant benefit.

The average Texan lives in a house valued at $109,639. Right now they pay $1419.59 a year in property taxes. Under the GOP plan, their taxes will drop to $1041.03- a 27% decrease with the enrichment tax included. Under the Democratic plan however, their taxes would drop to $807.99, a 43% drop. Half of Texas would see a bigger decrease than even that 43%. Furthermore, every single Texan- no matter how poor- would only get that 27% decrease under the Republican plan. Under the Democratic plan, the lower the value of your house (and by extension, the poorer you are) the more you keep.

Just for some examples, let's look at some selected districts. In Delwin Jones' (a West Texas Republican) rural district homeowners would see an average drop of 50%. Terri Hodge's inner city Dallas district would see a decrease of 65% and Aaron Pena's South Texas district would see a drop of 81%! A majority of Texans would see a decrease greater than 43%, while under the GOP plan everyone would get only 27%. For years whenever Democrats voted for a smaller tax cut than Republicans, Republicans have called that a vote for a "tax increase." So is it far for us to say that Republicans want to raise property taxes on a majority of Texans?

But that's not all. The Democratic plan doesn't have all the details as I've said, but they are unlikely to have much of a sales tax increase and would probably shy away from the payroll tax proposed by the GOP. That's beside the point. What is important is that under the GOP plan the average Texas family would see a tax increase. That's right- their taxes would INCREASE. Let's do the math.

For our purposes we're going to use the Texas average home value ($109,639), the state's median household income ($45,861), the state's average family structure (two parents and one child) and have $300 of repairs on at least one car (not an unlikely scenario).

First, the average family will get a $473.20 property tax cut. This will be followed by absorbing the 1.1% payroll tax. Don't like me using this there? The Republicans are selling it by saying that businesses can simply "shift" their payroll costs- cut salaries, benefits or jobs. Furthermore, for years Republicans have decried the federal payroll tax by saying (as economists back them up) that the 6.2% employer share of the tax comes out of wages. The most pernicious thing is that Texans won't even see this tax being taken from them necessarily, but they will be paying it. This tax will cost them $504.47 a year. That leaves them with a $31.27 tax increase. Next comes the sales tax. The IRS says that the average Texan in this salary bracket paid $714 in sales taxes last year. The GOP increase is 11%, meaning they'll pay $792.54 in sales taxes without accounting for the expansion of the tax base. $31.27 plus $78.54 equals a $109.81 tax increase now. But what about those $300 in repairs? While that was once tax exempt, it now gets taxed with a bill of $27.60. Add it all up and you have a $137.41 tax increase for the average Texas family. Realize that for people who don't own their home (36.2%) the increase will be even greater, and about half of all homeowners will have a higher tax increase than even this.

So how is this revenue neutral? Because the very wealthy get a big tax cut. Let's take a typicaly Highland Park family. On their $500,000 house they'll be saving $1940 a year in property taxes. But on the payroll taxes they are only taxed on their first $80,000 of income, not every penny of it like the average Texas family. So they only pay $880, leaving them with a $1060 tax cut. With the sales tax increase they'll lose $182.16, leaving them with a tax cut of $877.84. Finally, they pay the same amount in car repairs ($27.60 on their $300 of repairs), giving them a $850.24 tax cut.

So a family that makes $150,000 a year and lives in a rich suburb gets $850 in their pockets, chump change for them in the end (0.5% of their income), while the middle class family gets a $137.41 tax increase. This bill benefits the rich more than the poor, but it doesn't even benefit them that much in the end. We need more details on the Democratic plan, but as it stands now this plan should be killed no matter what- even the status quo is better it seems.

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March 03, 2005

New Details on the Backdoor Income Tax

By Andrew Dobbs

On Tuesday I posted an article on the new GOP-proposed backdoor income tax, or as they want to call it a "Uniform Business Tax" or now a "reformed francise tax." There are some new details to add.

The tax is no longer pegged at 1.25%, but rather 1.1% and it now it seems that it will only apply to the first $20,000 of income per employee per quarter. Great idea guys- now if you are a lower-class or middle class employee 100% of your income is subject to taxation, but your bosses who make more than 80 grand a year only have to pay it on that first 80 grand. Of course, it is employers and not employees who pay the tax on paper, but the major selling point is that employers can just "shift" payroll costs, i.e. cut benefits, salaries or jobs in order to make up the cost meaning that employees pay it in the end without the benefit of seeing it on their paycheck or getting to write it off of their taxes.

Flat taxes are regressive to begin with, but a flat tax that not only doesn't have an exemption for low wage earners, but in fact has a cap to benefit high wage earners makes this a scam of epic proportions. If you want an income tax, vote for an income tax, but please don't support some regressive, secretive, job-killing scheme such as this one. Republic hypocrisy has reached a new depth.

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March 01, 2005

HB 2 Voted Out of Committee

By Andrew Dobbs

House Bill 2, the school finance bill, was voted out of the House Public Education Committee today in a short meeting at Grusendorf's desk on the House floor upon adjournment. Most think that the debate will begin on the bill on Monday or Tuesday of next week and it promises to be a blood bath. Hearings on the bill this week found only 1 witness in favor of the bill and an odd alliance of property rich and property poor school districts, along with teachers, administrators and others all joining forces to denounce the bill.

For a recap on why everyone hates the bill, we'll start with Quorum Report, one of the better places to start on these things (though paid subscription is required):

Property-wealthy school districts, represented by Clayton Downing of the Texas School Coalition, could not support the bill because they, like others, don't believe the money goes far enough. Many, in fact, fear that enrichment dollars will have to be used to cover current programs. That's no bargain and little gain. In cases like Lewisville, Downing's home district, new money represents adds no more than the cost of inflation. Others dislike the fact that the bill cannot make whole what already has been cut from budgets. (...)

Property-poor districts, represented by Wayne Pierce of the Equity Center, also have problems with the formula. For someone like Pierce, who has put his life's blood into the ideal of true equity, the numbers just don't work. The system maintains “hold harmless” provisions – that's typical of prior school finance bills – but Pierce considers pushing those inequities forward to be no more than perpetuating current problems. Combined with the 35 percent cap, it puts about 70 school districts outside the equalized system, which Pierce points out is the same place the state was when Edgewood began.

Even beyond the property-poor districts are those that are both property poor and educate high-needs children. Superintendent Danny King of Hidalgo ISD, who represented the South Texas Association of Schools, argued that the real measure of equity is not a dollar amount, but the ability to move children in different districts up to the same achievement levels. He countered Branch's assertion that federal dollars meant property-poor districts spent more than property-wealthy districts, saying that it costs far more to educate high-needs children in Hidalgo than it does in wealthy suburban communities.

What was not said in testimony – but has been said outside the meetings – is that school districts wanted a long-term fix to the school finance system. For many of the school districts that have hit the property tax cap – and that's now 700 school districts – the last three to five years have been a task of squeezing more into limited budgets. Promised that the new formula that would “fix” the system with new capacity, the new school finance system appears to be no better than the old one with a new coat of paint.

Teacher groups spoke, all in favor of across-the-board pay raises. That's no surprise. Some committee members consider the teacher groups' opposition to merit pay to be baseless, but if you listened closely to the testimony, some are open to the concept but are concerned with the implementation process. Ted Melina Raab of the Texas Federation of Teachers pointed out what most research on merit pay has indicated, which is that significant teacher involvement must be a part of the creation of merit pay to make the process work. Raab did not consider the language in the bill to go far enough to that end.

On more specific measures, the president of the Texas Elementary School Principals Association questioned why funding for other successful programs for early grades appeared to be cut under the bill, given that the state now retains the third- and fifth-grade students who fail portions of the state-mandated tests. (...)

And then, when the committee had heard plenty of negatives – and everyone was fairly pleasant about it, actually – Scott McCown stepped forward. McCown, the District Judge in the Edgewood cases, told the committee there were two visions of Texas education – one with substantial investment for high achievement and the other with minimal dollars and no new taxes. You can guess which one HB 2 was.

Some question why wealthy school districts can't have “a little bit more,” McCown said. By maintaining equity, everyone remains in the same boat. Everyone has the same imperative to be heard. Equity protects all children, McCown said.

“School districts ask, 'If you have enough, why do you care if I have more?'” McCown said. “Equity is a test of political sincerity. If I truly have enough, and you ask me, 'Why do you need more than I have?' then the answer is, 'I don't truly have enough.”

So, I don't want to rip Harvey off too much, but that is the jist of what went down. Property wealthy districts don't like the bill because there is hardly any new money and the enrichment tax ($0.10 per $100 of property value) is unlikely to cover their expenses. Property poor districts don't like the bill because it does nothing to increase equity and in fact takes us back to pre-Edgewood (the original Texas school finance case) levels of inequity. Teachers don't like it because the merit pay proposals strike them as unfair and insufficient, administrators don't like the cuts to successful programs and the later school start date. Everyone in the education community is dead set against the bill, and the Senate hasn't even taken a crack at the thing yet.

As if all of this weren't enough, the whole funding system is starting to fall apart. At the beginning of the session HB 2 was paired with HB 3- they were two halves of the same whole. The idea was that HB 2 would define how the money would be spent, HB 3 would come up with the money while cutting property taxes. But with the wrangling over revenue sources to make up for the shortfall that will arise with the massive property tax cuts (namely over gambling) and what is soon to emerge as a struggle over the back door income tax, the two are too difficult to handle at the same time. So now HB 3 is simply a tax relief bill, HB 2 is simply an education reform bill and the money for HB 2 is going to have to come out of the budget some how. $3 billion is what has been promised, but how they can guarantee that when there isn't enough money in the bank to fund our current programs at their current levels has yet to be answered.

Harvey puts it this way:

Okay. So here is what you can extrapolate, intended or not, from the discussion: Funding for HB 2 comes from the appropriations bill, not HB 3. HB 3 is a property tax relief bill, with any excess funding going to property tax relief rather than additional education funding. The $3 billion for new educational funding pegged in HB 2 is an arbitrary amount the Republicans determined prior to the beginning of the appropriations process. It was not the result of the appropriations process. In other words, the bill will fit the funding rather than the available funding fitting the bill. The amount may have little or nothing to do with the “costing out” study completed last session, which Republicans now insist was simply a “guidepost” for funding amounts. Until the LBB runs are available, it’s still unclear how much of the new money will go to discretionary funding and how much will go to mandates.

Yeah, so all of the work done last session was really unnecessary because in their desperation the GOP just came up with a number and are going to try and find the money for education somewhere. Rather than saying "this bill designs an equitable system, this is how much we need to achieve this, this is how we will get that money", the GOP is now saying "this is how much money we'd like to have, God willing and the creek don't rise we'll be able to jimmy-rig an equitable system out of it, assuming we can find the cash somewhere." Sloppy policy making at its worst.

This bill is an inequitable, insufficient, despised piece of boneheaded malarkey that has been molested by a dozen short-sighted politicians more interested in pleasing lobbyists and winning reelection. If it passes the House, it will be a miracle. If it passes the Senate it will probably portend the end of the world. As it stands, a fight is about to come down and the one thing the GOP promised to do in 2005 will be another broken promise.

Texas deserves better, but until they start voting for new leadership they won't realize how much they are being shortchanged right now.

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HB2 Giveth, HB2 Taketh Away

By Jim Dallas

The Chronicle reports that school officials believe that much of the new funding will be eaten up by unfunded mandates. The result is that very little new money will actually go to the kids.

To make matters worse, the Supreme Court today ruled that we can't execute the little hellions, either (my take on that case here).

The result... sigh... is that we may have to raise taxes in order to comply with the ed-funding court orders. Writes the Statesman:

Representatives for several school groups said it provides too little new money for an education system that a judge has declared unconstitution- al because of underfunding. Critics also say the bill does not make up for cuts in state spending that lawmakers made in 2003.

Clayton Downing of the Texas School Coalition, a group of school districts with relatively high property values per student, said $5 billion over two years would better meet the needs of schools.

"It does not meet the court's challenge," Downing said of the new bill.

All these court rulings can be a real pain in the neck, man. Ya'll dig?

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Republican Back Door Income Tax

By Andrew Dobbs

This legislative session is headed toward a dramatic meltdown in just about a week as HB 2- the bill that was supposed to make Texas schools more equitable and put more money into them, but actually makes them less equitable and looks like it will force major budget cuts in various districts- heads for a floor debate on either March 7 or 8 according to sources at the Capitol. I'll write another post on all of that jazz shortly, but as for right now I have another peeve to discuss.

At the beginning of the session school finance reform and property tax relief were seen as two sides of the same coin and two separate bills were filed- HB 2 to redefine funding formulae for Texas schools and HB 3 to shake up the tax system in order to get the money for the schools. Now the two have drifted apart and have very little to do with each other (more on that later) and some of the things coming out of HB 3 are likely to raise some eyebrows. First on that list would be the push for a new "Uniform Business Tax" to make up for lost revenue with the major property tax cuts proposed.

Quorum Report has the talking points being passed around to explain and defend the new tax. I'll quote some of them here:

With the stated goals of reducing M&O school property taxes by a third along with reaching the 83% of businesses currently ducking the franchise tax, the House proposal has dubbed the tax on payrolls a Uniform Business Tax.

The rate would be 1.25% of wages already reached by the state's Unemployment Insurance. In other words, employees exempt from unemployment insurance would not subject to the UBT. The tax would be based on gross payroll and paid to the state quarterly. (...)

1. It would more accurately reflect business activity in Texas. "Companies in Texas could not reorganize to avoid a UBT." (...)

3. The UBT is not a personal income tax. Employers are prohibited from deducting the UBT from a paycheck although it is based on the gross wages paid to an employee.

5. Unlike property taxes, businesses can adjust their tax liabilities by adjusting payroll. "Businesses can and do adjust controllable costs, and a primary controllable cost in business is payroll. If a business wants to hire an employee at$8.50 per hour, the business will know in advance thtat the UBT will cost an additional $0.11 per hour. (...)

13. A UBT would be deductible as a business expense on an employers federal income tax return.

14. "A UBT would grow with the economy and with enrollment in public schools." (Ed. Note: It would also presumably shrink when the economy is in recession or other distress.)

The bolds are mine, the editor's notes are Harvey's. So let me get this straight... there will be a new 1.25% tax on payroll and employers will conceivably shift this cost onto employees, making it a 1.25% tax on income. Sure it can't be witheld from your paycheck, but at the point when a tax is being paid on one's income and the tax is in effect coming out of one's pocket how is that not an income tax? In fact, it has all of the negatives of an income tax without some of the biggest benefits- the people who are paying it in the end can't write if off their federal income taxes, though their employers can. Big employers get the best of this deal- they get lower property taxes and they can write off a new tax that they just make their employees pay. A big state and federal subsidy to business in the end.

I don't necessarily oppose this tax- it is better than the status quo, though if you really want property tax relief at the expense of an income tax why not pass Eddie Rodriguez's bill (which would eliminate the bulk of property taxes and dramatically increase state revenue)? My big problem is with hypocrisy. Every election cycle Republicans try and beat us over the head with the income tax- in 2002 they used it to great effect against John Sharp, who didn't even support an income tax- they claim that it will never happen, it's the third rail of Texas politics. But now the GOP is the one introducing it. It is just another sign of their shamelessness and their complete lack of principle.

Finally, like any good income tax, the lobbying for loopholes has already begun. Wal-Mart and HEB are seeking a cap on the amount they have to pay in payroll taxes, though they are far less likely to pack up and leave than many other labor intensive businesses- call centers are the example Harvey Kronberg gives. So not only will be tax provide them with big opportunities to make the people of Texas and the United States at large fork over large sums of money, they will have strict limits on how much they have to pay. Great public policy, Craddick.

Keep your eye on Burnt Orange Report for new developments, and be sure to call all the Republican legislators you can to ask if they'll be supporting the new Back Door Income Tax.

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February 27, 2005

Craddick Avoids Testifying

By Byron LaMasters

Shocker! Craddick cuts a deal:

Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick has struck a deal not to appear in Monday's corporate electioneering trial, saying he might have shredded any communications he had with Texans for a Republican Majority two years ago.

Five Democratic state legislative candidates who lost in 2002 are suing Bill Ceverha, the treasurer of the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee, accusing him of spending illegal corporate donations in their campaigns.

Lawyers for the Democrats had subpoenaed Craddick to testify and produce documents. But this week Roy Minton, the speaker's lawyer, negotiated the deal that excused Craddick from appearing.

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February 21, 2005

"Makeover" Proposed For Corporate Campaign Giving Laws

By Vince Leibowitz

A bi-partisan bill to prevent union and corporate money from being used in attack ads launched within 60 days of a general election--and require the disclosure of contributors to last-minute attacks--has recieved a warm welcome from watchdog groups but a lukewarm reception from some state officials, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) and Rep. Todd Smith (R-Bedford), who say the bill will bring Texas law more in harmony with federal election laws.

The Chronicle notes Campaigns for People, Public Citizen, the AARP of Texas and other groups are already on record praising the proposal, including a lobbyist for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. [I had no idea the Baptist General Convention of Texas had lobbyists.]

The Chron notes:

The legislation would not eliminate issue ads that corporations buy, such as those by telephone companies seeking passage of a certain telecommunications bill in the Legislature. It also would not limit individual campaign donations to state campaigns, as some public interest organizations have sought. Limitation of Texas campaign contributions is a separate policy debate, Eiland said.

"We can't solve all the problems. We'll have a hard enough time trying to get this bill passed as it is," Eiland said.

Among the obstacles, he said, could be opposition from corporations who want to keep donating company money to politics instead of personal or political action committee money.

The ban on last-minute attack ads using the prohibited money would apply to electioneering that refers clearly to a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary and that targets the candidate's electorate. It would cover broadcast ads, mass mailings and telephone banks.

Now, ads are permitted if they don't use so-called magic words asking citizens to vote expressly "for" or "against" a candidate.

On a particularly interesting note, Smith says the legislation will cover the various types of ads aired in the Senate District 1 Special Election last spring, in which Rep. Tommy Merritt (R-Longview) was targeted as he ran against former Tyler Mayor and now State Senator Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

Merritt was attacked with "radio ads before the election from undisclosed corporate funds, Smith said. The ads asked listeners to call Merritt's office, not to vote against him."

Twenty-six other states have a ban on corporate and union campaign spending, Eiland said. Though Texas has one, the lawmakers evidently believe it needs clarification, though they aren't trying to impact or comment on a Travis County grand jury investigation into campaign spending in 2002 state legislative races and that their proposed law would only affect future elections.

Prosecutors are examining whether $2.5 million in corporate money was illegally funneled to Republican state House candidates.

Under the proposed legislation, non-administrative employees of companies could not be asked more than twice a year about donating to a corporation's political action committee.

Also, corporate money for PACs could be used only for specific administrative expenses, such as office space, computers and telephones. Disallowed expenses would include political consulting fees, telephone banks and political fundraising--some of the areas Texans for a Republican Majority tried to claim were "administrative" during the 2002 election.

The bill got mixed reception from the leadership in both chambers and from Perry.

House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland, said he wasn't supporting or opposing the campaign finance bill. However, he said he believes there are problems with interpretations of the existing law.

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) are backing the proposal in the Senate, ahtough Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he doesn't think a tightened ban on corporate and labor spending is needed.

And, even if the bill passes, Governor Perry could veto it. Perry spokesman Robert Black said the governor will take a "wait-and-see approach," but that he has always favored increased campaign disclosure.

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When Will Joe Nixon Learn To Shut Up?

By Vince Leibowitz

Remember Joe Nixon? One of Texas Monthly's "Worst Legislators" of the 2003 session?

Well, he's at it again. In spite of all of the flack he took for his own mold-settlement boondoggle, Moldy Joe is singing the praises of Texas' tort reform in the bastion of unbiased reporting on the insurance community, Insurance Journal:

Texas' landmark medical lawsuit reforms, passed just 18 months ago, are producing healthy benefits for the state's doctors, patients, hospitals and nursing homes, according to State Rep. Joe Nixon.

A Texas House panel recently heard several signs of improvement, including announcements that physicians are moving to Texas, especially in the most needed areas, and that two of the state's top insurers of physicians are cutting their rates and a third will be freezing its rates.

"Physician recruitment is up. Lawsuit filings are down. Texas patients are experiencing better access to health care and many doctors and hospitals are saving on their liability costs," noted Nixon, chairman of the House Committee on Civil Practices, in an announcement released by the Texas House.

Nixon worked for passage of the medical reform bill.

In what state do you live, Joe? How do you prove patients are "experiencing better access to healthcare? If physicians and hospitals are saving so much money because of tort reform, why don't you challenge them to take care of the 150,000 kids you kicked off the Children's Health Insurance Program for free? Surely, if they are experiencing such massive savings ($20 million for one hospital system?--read on), they should be able to do some charity work and help all the kids you, Arlene Wholgemuth and the rest of the anti-tax, anti-consumer, anti-poor people legislative crowd screwed, right? Or, perhaps, they should save that money for campaign contributions?

Also, I haven't heard a single doctor talk about lower liability costs until I read this industry propaganda. Why? Because, even though the amount paid out by insurers in settlements remained roughly the same from year to year (and there are statistics to prove this, I just can't find them on the web at the moment), they raised their rates anyway. Why? To make a profit. The need for "tort reform," was all smoke and mirrors built on one industry's flimsy excuses!

Yet, you continue to note:

"In the past 18 months the state has added 82 obstetricians, 94 internists, 35 neurosurgeons, and 475 family practice doctors. Some 47 new doctors have begun practice in Corpus Christi. That is a stark contrast to the 40 physicians they lost in the five previous years", noted Nixon.

Where did you get them stats, Joe? Maybe you got them from the Texas Department of Health (or whatever agency it's now under thanks to you and your buddies wonderful government reorganization back in '03). I couldn't find them. And, if these are official state stats, how do you know these aren't recent medical school grads from right here in Texas? Surely all these people didn't come to Texas to practice just because of Prop 12?

The article continues spewing forth:

American Physicians Exchange (APIE), the state's third largest insurer of physicians, told the House panel it will be reducing rates 5 percent for many obstetricians and surgeons effective May 1, 2005. An estimated 2,200 of the physicians insured by APIE will receive a rate reduction, saving doctors an estimated $3.5 million in future premiums. Likewise, The Doctors Company, the nation's leading physician-owned medical malpractice carrier, announced that they too will be implementing a May rate cut; with reductions ranging from 9 to14 percent.

According to the Texas Alliance For Patient Access, the announced rate cuts mean that Texas doctors will have seen their out-of-pocket insurance costs cut $41 million since the passage of medical liability reforms.

Texas Medical Liability Trust, which insures nearly half of the doctors in Texas against medical malpractice claims, has cut rates 17 percent since the passage of Proposition 12. GE Medical Protective, the state's second largest physician carrier, also announced it would not seek a rate increase this year. The company cited a reduction of claims and lawsuits as cause for the rate freeze.

"Medical malpractice filings in the state's most populous counties—Harris and Dallas-have been cut in half since the legislature placed a cap on pain and suffering-type damages", stated Nixon. In other counties, suits against doctors are down by two thirds. "In that doctors won 85 percent of all lawsuits filed against them, it is appropriate to see this reduction in filings against doctors," Nixon explained.

Ohhh! Five Percent! I'm positively giddy with the thought that my dad's urologist can buy a new coffee table for his waiting room with such massive savings! As for the other stuff, where do you get these stats? I've read many a "Texas Judicial System Annual Review" report over the years, and never once did I see a line item for "suits against doctors." Also, how in the hell do you figure that doctors "won" 85 percent of the suits against them? Did you just make this stuff up? Did you personally go to all 254 county courthouses in Texas and research this? Or are you just borrowing your stats from whatever lobbyist happens to be standing in the corridor when you leave the Capitol restroom holding a shiny binder? Furthermore, if the medical community won 85 percent of suits after Prop 12, they'd have likely won 85 percent before Prop 12, meaning there was no need for Prop 12 in the first place. If anything, the suits that were filed and made it to trial under the farce you call tort reform would have been more air-tight than anything filed before. Finally, could it be, if you are indeed correct about the reduction in number of lawsuits being filed, that more people are settling out of court before ever filing lawsuits? Sure, that may mean there are less lawsuits, but not less money going out the door for insurance companies.

And still more:

Thirteen new carriers are entering the Texas market, and existing ones are seeking new business, Jose Montemayor, the Texas Insurance Commissioner explained. "Competition is good for consumers and we believe this will translate into lower rates for the average doctor," he said. "The newcomers know that they will have to competitively price their policies and existing carriers will have to reduce their price to hold market share. Either way, doctors will benefit from this healthier and more competitive insurance market," said Montemayor.

"For the first time in years, Texas physicians can competitively shop their policies," said Nixon, noting that the number of doctors in the JUA, the state pool of last resort, has dwindled and two new carriers, Advocate MD of the Southwest and Medical Liability Insurance Company of America have begun aggressively competing for business. "Since January of last year 3,520 Texas physicians have opened new professional liability policies, Nixon said. "If combined into a single company, newly insured doctors would comprise the third largest grouping in the Texas physician market," he added.

Hospitals are finding healthy savings, as well. A year ago Texas hospitals were hit with an average 54 percent hike in their liability costs. This year, with a new damage cap in place these same hospitals are seeing their liability costs slashed 17 percent. "Most hospitals have had an easier time recruiting physicians because of the state's more favorable liability climate," Nixon said.

CHRISTUS Health is saving over $20 million this year from tort reform "and we have every reason to believe these savings will continue and, perhaps, even grow," said Randy Finley, director of risk management for the Catholic-owned hospital system.

Finley noted CHRISTUS is reinvesting their savings into the community and expanding their already high level of charity care. Finley reported that in CHRISTUS Spohn is building a new community clinic for the indigent and developing a diabetes excellence program in Corpus Christi. In other Texas hospitals, CHRISTUS will be launching training programs for nurses and issuing grants for innovative patient safety initiatives, he said.

"Increased access to health care was improved through the reduction in the number of lawsuits and lower rates," Nixon concluded. "More doctors are coming to Texas, and hospitals are expanding services. What we set out to achieve with House Bill 4 and Prop 12 is being achieved. Seldom is legislation this successful, and I couldn't be happier with the results of HB 4, " Nixon said.

You said it. Seldom is legislation successful. Just because these people talked a big game before the Holy Civil Practicies and Remedies Committee does not mean they're actually going to do what they said. Oh, and, by the way, if they don't, what are you going to do? Is "contempt of legislative committee" an offense in Texas?

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February 19, 2005

Sin Taxes & What You Could Buy With Your "Tax Relief"

By Vince Leibowitz

An increased cigarette tax, one of the "ultimate sin taxes," Texas could impose to raise revenue for public school education, was the hot topic at the House Ways and Means Committee meeting Thursday.

The proposed $1.00 per pack increase could bring in as much as $800 million in additional revenue per year.

Naturally, folks on both sides of the issue liked up to testify:

Opponents, such as tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, have hired lobbyists to make their cases. They argue that the higher tax would fuel an already lucrative smuggling market, increase Internet sales and would drive Texas smokers to neighboring states and Mexico to buy cheaper cigarettes.

With a $1 per pack increase, the price of a carton of cigarettes would be $35 cheaper in Mexico than in Texas, according to Philip Morris.

"This incentive for smokers to buy their cigarettes from neighboring states and Mexico could lead to a negative impact on excise tax-sensitive businesses," said Jamie Drogin, a Philip Morris spokeswoman.

But advocates of the measure, such as the coalition Texans Investing in Healthy Families, say the tax would persuade smokers in Texas to quit and discourage teenagers from ever lighting up. The group is made up of the Texas PTA — a child advocacy organization of parents and teachers — the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, among other groups.

They also argue that fewer smoking Texans would translate into a decrease in health-care costs for the state. In the first five years of an increased tax, the state would see $90 million in health-care cost savings, McGoldrick said.

The current cigarette tax is 41 cents, and a $1-per-pack increase would make cigarettes more expensive in Texas than in any other border state.

Cigarette makers argued that a tobacco tax is not a stable revenue source because it will decline as the number of smokers dwindles. But proponents say the anticipated revenue decrease has been factored in to their revenue projections.

A tentative plan filed last month to pay for an overhaul of the public school finance system includes the $1 per pack increase in cigarette taxes. But the author of the plan, Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, cautioned that the bill probably would change significantly before it gets a vote.

A cigarette tax also was included as an option in the Senate school funding plan, but specifics were not addressed.

Far be it for me to agree with the filthy cigarette lobby, but it seems they may be right: it's not a stable revenue source.

Not only would the revenue from the tax go down as more Texans stop smoking, but revenue would also decrease in tough economic times when Texans have less disposable income to spend on the nicotine delivery devices of choice.

And, on the subject of taxation, the El Paso Times had an interesting article which noted:

Plenty of ideas are floating around the Capitol, but little consensus has formed other than broad agreement that school property taxes must be reduced by about one-third. The average El Pasoan with an $83,000 house would save $340 a year in lower school property taxes.

My question is, how do you consider $340 a year tax relief?

Sure, in every single poll that comes along, everyone says they want "tax relief." But, let's be realistic (and I think may be making an argument of Ben Barnes' here, but couldn't find reference to where I thought it was online, so bear with my version of it): if Texans knew how little tax relief they'd actually recieve, and what good that money could do, wouldn't they just say "to hell with that?"

Let's see. $340 dollars of tax relief. What can you do with that, especially when it's not really a savings you "see" in your pocket like your IRS refund? You could:

•Pay part of your car/house payment, or all of it if you have cheap car payments, for one month.
•Buy roughly 194 gallons of unleaded gas at $1.75 a gallon. Let's say your car tank holds 12 gallons of gas, and that translates to about 16 tanks of gas--per year.
•Pay about half of the cost of one semster hour ($743)at the University of Texas at Austin--if your child only takes 1-3 semsters of coursework. (Byron & Karl, correct me if I'm wrong on this one)
•Add about $6.50 to your grocery budget, per week, for 52 weeks. Just about enough to buy both a gallon of milk and a bottle of soda.
•Pay your utility bills for 1 and a half months--if your utility bills are only $220 per month.
•Buy about seven tires, if tires for your car cost $49 dollars.
•Pay for you to buy one daily newspaper per day, for 365 days, if that newspaper costs only $.50, and leave you with $157.50 to spend on magazines. So, if you buy a paper a day and the average magazine costs about $3.50, you could buy about 45 magazines--less than one per week for 52 weeks.

Of course, those are just some numbers I crunched on my handy calculator, so they aren't nearly as sophisticated as anything anti-tax advocates would use. I just thought it would be interesting to illustrate exactly what $340 could buy, since the figure was thrown out there.

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February 18, 2005

A Gas Tax Increase?

By Byron LaMasters

This Houston Chronicle article yesterday spurred quite a reaction among Texas blogs:

Gov. Rick Perry indicated Wednesday that he is receptive to finding a back-door approach, keyed to inflation, for raising state gasoline taxes. [...]

The idea of tying the gasoline tax to an inflation index was broached Tuesday by Speaker Tom Craddick. Perry said the proposal is "an interesting idea."

The tax, which has been set at 20 cents per gallon since 1991, will raise almost $3 billion this year, but it hasn't kept pace with the increasing costs of building and maintaining highways. Texas' gasoline tax rate is midrange among states.

Three-fourths of Texas' gasoline tax revenue is dedicated by the state constitution to highways and one-fourth to public education.

Both Perry and Craddick indicated that any increase would be limited, at least initially.

State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he is trying to draft legislation to tie the gasoline tax to a highway construction cost index or something similar. [...]

Dick Lavine, an analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities... said the gasoline tax is regressive. The increase, he said, would disproportionately hit poorer Texans harder because gasoline consumption is not a function of wealth.

"No matter how rich you are, you really don't drive that much farther than the average person," Lavine said.

Kuff says that it's an "idea to consider", while Greg and Save Texas Reps are decidedly negative to the idea. Rick Perry vs. the World on the other hand, takes a look at the proposal in the context of the looming GOP primary for Governor, while In the Pink, Texas offers up a laugh.

My two cents on the idea? Frankly, I think that increasing the gas tax is a good idea for Texas. Texas has by far the most highway mileage of any state in the country, so one might think that we'd have a high gas tax in order to maintain that structure - well, no. Texas 's twenty cent gas tax ranks us #36 in the nation. On the other hand the three other "megastates", New York, California and Florida rank first, third and eighth in their gas tax respectively ($0.392, $0.359, and $0.306).

I generally oppose regressive taxation, but there's a very clear differentiation between gambling and a gas tax. Whereas gambling has negative social effects, a gas tax has positive ones. Higher taxes on gasoline discourage driving, encourage public transportation and carpooling, and reduce pollution and traffic congestion. Also, as far as regressive taxes go, a gasoline tax is less regressive than most. Low income people are more likely to use public transportation, whereas high-income folks are more likely to drive gas-guzzling SUVs. All in all, a gas tax increase wouldn't be my first choice, but of the options that have been seriously considered thus far, it's definitely one of the better ones.

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February 17, 2005

Daily Texan profiles Strama's First Month

By Byron LaMasters

It's worth a read to see how Austin's freshman lawmaker has been spending his time in his first month at the lege. It's amusing that the one issue Strama has found success in finding a GOP co-author (Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Houston) is the resolution calling for the abolition of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) for College Football. It worked for the Longhorns this year, but it's still a bad system that doesn't allow for the best teams in the country a shot at the national championship. Now, what the Texas legislature can do to change the BCS is beyond me, but it's nice to know that we can get bipartisan agreement on football, if nothing else.

Speaking of Mark Strama, he was spotted at the 15th Street Starbucks by In the Pink, Texas last week. Geez, maybe if I'd spend more time at that Starucks, at the Texas Chili Parlor or at the Cloak Room, I might have politician sightings, too.

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February 10, 2005

Hey Ossifer, What About My Livil Ciberties?

By Vince Leibowitz

In addition to some other stupid anti-alcohol legislation put forth this session, the Lege is now debating DWI checkpoints to trap drunk drivers.

This issue failed in the Lege in 2003, and I doubt there is enough momentum for it to pass this time. That, and way, way, way too many legislators recieve a heck of a lot of money from beer distributors.

KXAN.com notes:

Do police in Texas have the right to set up checkpoints to catch drunk drivers?

Tuesday, the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving was at the Capitol pumping up some bills to give law enforcement agencies that right.


The bills would allow police to set up sobriety checkpoints next to highways or streets to pull people over and then evaluate if they're drunk.

Detractors say drivers have the right to be let alone if they've done nothing wrong.

Texas is in the minority. Texas is one of about 10 states without sobriety checkpoints.

Bills to legalize them have failed before, but supporters say they can accept changes.

"There are some concerns that possibly the checkpoints could be run in one neighborhood too often. So the bill will most likely be modified to say instead of being able to run a checkpoint once a week, you can only run a checkpoint once a month at a location," MADD Public Policy Liaison Bill Lewis said.

Among those making a push at the Capitol was a mom whose son was killed in a drunk driving crash.

"Very personal basis. And I feel like if I can prevent a parent from going through this, it would really make a big difference," mother Grace Maldonado said.

MADD believes sobriety checkpoints will reduce drunk driving deaths in Texas by at least 15 percent to start.

"You're talking about 250 (people) a year who'll not die in an alcohol-related traffic crash that might have died otherwise," Lewis said.

Checkpoints allow police to stop vehicles in a sequence like every other or every fourth or fifth vehicle. Police can then evaluate if the driver's drunk.


There have been three bills filed by lawmakers to give Texas law enforcement the authority to set up temporary sobriety checkpoints.

Two bills are in the House, and one is in the Senate.

Naturally, MADD (mothers against Drunk Driving) is behind this.

Now, I'm all for not driving drunk, and MADD has done some good work in the past, but let's be real, folks. At what cost does all of this come to civil liberties? I'm very glad the folks over at the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer's Association pointed out just how bad an idea this is:

Opponents are livid.

"Authorizing the police to stop innocent people who're doing nothing wrong is not the solution," Keith Hampton with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association said.

Concerned about any driver getting pulled into a checkpoint, they say Texas can reduce DWI's by focusing enforcement at bars and promoting safe ride programs.

"You're free to drive wherever you want to drive, so long as you're obeying the law, and the police have no reason to suspect otherwise," Hampton said.

Of course, for the cause of civil liberties, it might have been better if the American Beverage Institute had kept their mouth shut on this one.

Though I didn't know Texas is one of only a handfull of states without this legislation, it doesn't change my view: this is bad public policy. And, MADD isn't a group that should be setting public policy in Texas, period.

For one thing, though MADD mentions the "15 percent" statistic on how many drunk driving deaths they think this legislation will reduce, I'd like to see some real statistics, perhaps from those states such legislation has been passed in.

I'd also like to see some statistics regarding what percentage of drivers within these checkpoints is actually found to be drunk. Unless it's a holiday or the checkpoint is set up near a bar, I'd bet the numbers are few and far between.

Let's consider this further for a moment: MADD's argument is that, to save 15 percent of 250 lives, we should all be willing to be stopped, given field sobriety tests, possibly breathalizers, and generally be investigated without probable cause anywhere at any time on any road anywhere in Texas. I'm all for saving lives, but I think this is a little extreme.

It's kind of like the Patriot Act and similar legislation: In order to stop one terrorist or person who may be a terrorist, the government gets free and unrestricted access to ask our local library what books we are reading. Or, that one person kept in jail for three years (without legal counsel) after 9-11 who wasn't a terrorist should willingly sacrafice those three years of lost freedom in hopes that the government snared a terrorist in its wide net cast with seemingly wanton disregard for civil liberties.

It just doesn't seem right.

In light of our collective loss of civil liberties after 9-11, I think the Texas Legislature should be especially careful what liberties they take away from us. I'm more willing to perhaps give up a little liberty at an airport to stop terrorists than I am to give up civil liberties on the highway to stop potential drunk drivers. Yes, I know we're all targets of drunk drivers and could be killed by one any day. I guess I'm saying I'll take that risk over surrendering my right to travel down Interstate 20 unrestricted.

As for the Lege, there are a lot of people who could really piss off the liqour lobby with a "yea" vote on this legislation. The liqour lobby is a huge contributor to campaigns of Democrats and Republicans.

The list of recipients, just from the Beer Allicance of Texas PAC, is huge, and flows on both sides of the aisle. You can get the list by going here and putting "beer alliance" in the search spot for "contributor." Or, you can go here and look at the Alliance's Ethics Commission reports.

Once again, just to be totally clear, I'm all for not drunk driving, and all for curbing drunk driving deaths. This isn't, however, the right way to do this.

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Consolidating Power

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Coming from the same party that enjoys having the power to chose which districts and voters should be theirs, comes yet another outright power grab. I don't usually cut large clips from e-mails but this one sums it up well...

Yesterday a GOP legislator, State Rep. Mary Denny, (R--Aubrey) chairwoman of the House Elections Committee filed a bill that would give the state's Ethics Commission -- appointed and funded by legislators who could be investigated -- veto power over prosecutors seeking to enforce the state's election law.

GOP lawmakers don't want to be held accountable to the law. So they are considering legislation which would, in effect, grant them perpetual immunity from prosecution.

This bill should be called the "We're Above the Law" act. Please contact Rep. Denny and House Speaker Tom Craddick and tell them to withdraw HB 913. Let them know that no Texan, especially an elected official, should be above the law. Click to send an email to Denny or Email Craddick

or contact their offices:
Rep. Denny
(512) 463-0688 (512) 463-1000

Speaker Craddick
(512) 463-0658 Fax (512) 463-7722 Fax

The bill is being filed in direct response to an investigation of the 2002 campaigns that has already resulted in three indicted corporations settling with prosecutors and eight other indictments. And yes, Rep. Denny has received money from both organizations under investigation -- Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC) and the Texas Association of Businesses (TAB).


The Ethics Commission is appointed by state officials and is notoriously gutless. In its fourteen years of existence it has never subpoenaed a witness or any documents to investigate a complaint or referred a criminal case. The Ethics Commission is the very definition of a toothless watchdog!

Check out Drive Democracy's Blog post about it.

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February 09, 2005

Lawmakers Look Seriously At Trans Texas Corridor

By Vince Leibowitz

I haven't read much on opposition to the Terrible, woops, I mean Trans Texas Corridor this session, but it is out there, according to this AP report.

Many will remember that Governor Perry announced the $184 billion dollar TTC as an election-gimmick back in 2002 when he was running for re-election.

What many don't realize about the TTC is that it will literally cut hughe swaths through some parts of the state and take, via eminent domain, thousands of acres of land all over the state. Like many Texans, I actually thought the concept of the TTC--merging rail, truck traffic, and car traffic into a state-of-the art mega highway--sounded good at the time, until I actually looked over and studied some of the plans.

Here's what AP notes about lawmakers and TTC:

Now legislators have their own issues with the Trans Texas Corridor.

The corridor is Governor Rick Perry's $184 billion plan to build megahighways around the state.

Legislators appear willing to start tinkering with policies on tolls, eminent domain and how wide the corridor will be.

Todd Staples of Palestine chairs the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security.

Staples said officials want the change to occur in the most user-friendly manner as possible.

Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols says the corridor is the best answer to solving increasingly congested highways in Texas.

Some farmers fear they'll lose chunks of land if highway splits their property.

Cities like Dallas and Waco are worried that new routes would take commerce away from them.

If you're interested in more TTC-related issues, visit CorridorWatch, one of the most comprehensive sites on the Web dealing with TTC issues.

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Follow The Stupidity

By Andrew Dobbs

In 2003, changes in eligibility for CHIP meant that hundreds of thousands of kids lost their health care. The architect of these changes was Arlene Wohlgemuth. From the Quorum Report, November of last year:

Discussion over CHIP funding was a key issue in the Congressional District 17 race because, as a Texas House member last session, Republican candidate Arlene Wohlgemuth had been the author of the funding cuts. Wohlgemuth lost to incumbent U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Waco).

And yesterday, the Texas Hospital Association released a report saying that the Wohlgemuth-led cuts have really hurt Texas. From the press release announcing the report:

According to a study released today at a capitol news conference, “Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program funding cuts represent short-sighted and counterproductive public policy given the current national framework for indigent care.” At the request of the Texas Hospital Association, noted economist Ray Perryman, Ph.D., president of The Perryman Group based in Waco, has calculated the economic impact of cuts in Medicaid and CHIP made in 2003 when the Texas Legislature faced a $10 billion shortfall. Perryman concluded that reductions in state spending for Medicaid and CHIP are “a losing proposition in that for every dollar saved through cuts, far more is lost in federal funding, insurance premiums and other associated costs.” (...)

According to the Perryman study, the net reduction in state funding for Medicaid and CHIP is approximately $2.34 billion for the 2004-05 biennium. About $1.481 billion represents foregone federal revenues.

Now comes the not so funny part- according to Quorum Report today, Arlene Wohlgemuth is the new lobbyist for the Texas Hospital Association.

So an organization that not 24 hours ago was decrying her work in costing the state BILLIONS of dollars has now hired her to represent them in trying to undo her seminal accomplishment- balancing the budget on the back of poor children so that her rich donors wouldn't have to pay higher taxes. Great job THA, you have proved your own irrelevance.

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February 07, 2005

Heflin Withdraws Election Challenge

By Byron LaMasters

Details to follow...

Live Stream of the Heflin press conference here on live stream 8.

4:40 PM: Heflin is withdrawing his challenge of Hubert Vo's election...

4:47 PM: The press conference is over. All I can say is that it's about frickin' time. Time for Andy Taylor and Ol' Talmadge to pack their bags and go home. Heflin's political career for all intents and purposes is over - good riddance.

5:35 PM: Houston Chronicle story here.

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Heflin vs. Vo Findings Highlights & Coverage Roundup

By Vince Leibowitz

I finally got some time to read the entire 60 page report released this morning by Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas), Master of Discovery to the Select Committee on Election Contests.

There were some very interesting things in there, including the mention that Heflin and his attorney, Andy Taylor, presented no credible evidence of fraud.

Here are some of the highlights:

From the Summary

1.) Contestant Heflin has failed to establish by clar and convincing evidence that the outcome of the contested election, as shown by the final canvass indicating Contesteee Vo as the winner, was not the true outcome of the election. Accordingly, Heflin's contest should be dismissed.

2.) It is the master's finding that Contestee Vo's vote margin was reduced from 33 votes to 16 votes. there remain four votes that may be retrieved and opened and 1 voter who may be compelled to testify. However, even if all of those votes were in favor of the Contestant, Contestee Vo would still have a margin of victory not less than 10 votes. [Footnoted with: "Although the Select Committee may order the ballots to be opened or the voters to be compelled to testify, such action is not necessary, because the additional ballots cannot eleminate the margin of Contestee Vo's victory."]

3.) Contestant has produced no evidence of any intentional voter fraud which affected the final vote tally to his detriment. Contestant's challenge to the vast bulk of the votes in question is based on technical, and apparently unintentional, violations of election law.

4.) There is evidence that several voters in District 149 were fraudently transferred into District 137 in late 2003 or early 2004. The voters, primarily Nigerian Americans, all had their voter registrations transferred in a similar manner, likely by the same person...

This was particularly interesting, and Hartnett addressed it further when considering the case of one of the deposed voters, Franca Ejiofof:

It appears that Ms. Ejiofor's voter registration was moved without her knowledge to another district in which she did not reside. She is likely a victim of a broad scheme conducted in Harris County in late 2003 and early 2004 to involuntarily re-register persons with African or Nigerian surnames into Dsitrict 137. In the March 2004 Democratic Primary, the incumbent from District 137, Scott Hochberg, faced a challenge from Bernardo Amadi, a Nigerian immigrant. In the election, Representative Hochberg won 72% of the vote, and subsequently, the Harris County voter registrar conducted an investigation in which he found that over 100 people primarily with African or Nigerian surnames had their registrations involuntarily transferred in time to be effective to vote in the Democratic Primary in March 2004.

In discussing guidelines used in making the determinations regarding contested votes, Hartnett was very clear that a heavy burden of proof had to be met:

Both legislative and judicial precedents indicate that, to overturn an election, the Contestant has the heavy burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that voting irregularities materially affected the election results.


"Clear and convincing evidence is defined as that measure or defree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be estabilshed." This intermediate standard "falls between preponderance of the evidence of ordinary civil proceedings and the reasonable doubt standard utilized in criminal proceedings."


While the proof must weigh heavier than merely the greater weight of the credible evidence, there is no requirement that the evidence be unequivocal or undisputed.


In order to prevail in this contest, the Contestant must show that the margin of victory in this race was offset by clear and convincing evidence of excluded legal votes cast in the race that are tied to a particular candidate.

And, since Heflin didn't show that, Hartnet concluded:

This was a very close election decided by only a handful of votes out of more than 41,357 cast. After months of discovery, the detailed review of the voter files of 259 persons, and hours of examination and analysis of voter files by the parties and the master, it is the opinion of the master that the Contestant has failed to meet his burden of proof. The master concludes that Representative Vo retains his seat by not less than 10 votes and not more than 20 votes, depending on the impact of the five votes that may still be counted.

Although there was no evidence of voter fraud generated by any candidate in this race, serious questions remain regarding the fraudulent "deportation" of a significant number of Nigerian American voter registrations from District 149 and several other districts into District 137.

In a nutshell, that is the report. It did, of course, contain a great deal of information dealing with exactly what guidelines Hartnett used in making his conclusions, a re-hashing of what both sides submitted to the panel, and a great deal of dissection of exploration data, and divided up votes/voters in questions into various categories and discussed persons in those categories who were deposed.

As for a "coverage roundup," In The Pink Texas has some of Andy Taylor's comments on the situation. Kuff has an updated round-up including breaking stories on it, and a link to the report. Save Texas Reps has a link to some hearing transcripts, asks the question about whether or not Andy Taylor committed fraud, and has Vo's statement</>.

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Time to tap the keg

By Jim Dallas

Or was that uncork the bubbly...

Kuff: Vo "wins".

P.S. Nonetheless, don't stop working! For Houston area readers, consider heading over to Greg's Opinion and asking Old Man Wythe about the many opportunities for party-building.

The full Hartnett report is here (PDF file).

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February 06, 2005

Spector Loses

By Byron LaMasters

It wasn't that close. I'll have more thoughts on all this in the next day or two, but I am proud of the fact that Spector only lost by three votes in the precinct where Karl-Thomas and I worked. Here's the results:

State Representative District 121 - Unexpired Term

Paul Silbert IND 401 2.76%
Rose Spector DEM 4,707 32.34%
Glen S. Starnes REP 192 1.32%
Joe Straus REP 9,255 63.59%

Total Votes Cast 14,555
Precincts Reported 88 of 88

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February 04, 2005

Objection Hearsay!

By Jim Dallas

I can't say I have personal knowledge of this, but I spoke with a representative of a local non-profit today who suggested that there may be not one, but two special sessions in the mix; one on education, the other on child protective services.

The education reform ball is rolling with the filing of HB2 yesterday; and the Quorum Report suggests that it could be up for a vote as early as next month. But will the school funding issues that crashed last year's special session still throw a monkey wrench into the gears?

Meanwhile, CPS overhaul is getting talked about.

Moreover, the income tax is apparently getting discussed again, since all these reforms are going to need to be paid for, somehow.

Again, I can't verify any of this independently, but it seems like a plausible scenario, which is why I offer it.

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February 03, 2005

Volunteer for Rose Spector

By Byron LaMasters

As Karl-Thomas noted below, we'll be driving down to San Antonio on Saturday to volunteer for the Rose Spector campaign. I spoke with their campaign today, and they NEED volunteers to work at the polls and to phonebank. Anyone in the Austin area interested in joining us on Saturday is welcome. The plan is to caravan from the UT campus area around 10 AM. If you're interested, email me: Byron AT BurntOrangeReport DOT com for details.

I'm time-dating this forward a bit to make sure that as many Austinites as possible see this. This is a tough district for Democrats, but special elections are all about turnout, turnout, TURNOUT. Together, we can make a difference in that department. Finally, if you want to help, but can't make the trip, send Rose Spector some last minute cash. She'll need it, especially if the race goes into a run-off.

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February 02, 2005

Just Say "No" To Nudist Youth Camps

By Vince Leibowitz

Since I both despise Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and love writing abour zany, bizarre bills, I just couldn't pass this up:

Rep. Bryan Hughes, a Republican from Mineola, filed a bill that would outlaw nudist youth camps in Texas. No such camps currently exist in Texas, Hughes said, but a constituent who read a 2003 New York Times article in which a nudist group said it planned to start one here in 2005 asked him to make a pre-emptive strike to prevent that from happening. Hughes originally filed the bill during the first special session in 2003, but it did not pass. The bill is not a moral statement against nudity, he said, but rather a measure to protect children against pedophiles who could take advantage of them at such a camp.

I can see the point about nude pedophiles, as Van Zandt County is unfortunate enough to be home to the "Ponderosa Naturist Retreat" (a nudist colony) on State Highway 64 in Myrtle Springs, and a few years back there were several people from there charged with all manners of inappropriate acts, but don't Legislators have other things to worry about than whether a nudist youth camp might come to Texas? School finance, perhaps?

Either way, this is about par for Hughes. During his last campaign, almost every speech he gave centered around three things: 1.) He made it legal for kids to pray in public school 2.) he made it a requirement for kids say the pledge to the flag in school, and 3.) He is against gay marriage. Not just a terrible amount of substance there, but then again, what do we expect from the single largest recipient of TRMPAC funds in the entire state?

But, since Hugues is at it, I wish he'd get the legislature to prevent the local nudist colony's landscaper from mowing the outer lawn of the "retreat" right along the highway in a thong and nothing but, because, if you're unfortunate enough to drive by when that's going on, it just ain't right.

Vince Leibowitz is County Chairman of the Democratic Party of Van Zandt County

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Gorillas in the midst

By Jim Dallas

Greg says that... oh forget it, just read his post.

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January 31, 2005

Poor Losers, Poorer Losers and The POOREST Loser

By Byron LaMasters

Meet Talmadge Heflin [Houston Chronicle Editorial]

Via Greg and Kuff.

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January 30, 2005

On Hubert Vo

By Byron LaMasters

I'm cautiously optimistic from what I've heard from people familiar with the hearings. According to one source, Vo still leads in Hartnett's count by over a dozen votes after all of Heflin's challenged votes have been ruled on. Kuff has the best recap of everything, so give it a read.

Update: Greg Moses pegs Harnett's count of Vo's lead after complete review of all voter depositions at 13.

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January 29, 2005

One Republican Drops out in HD 121 Race

By Byron LaMasters

This certainly shows that Rose Spector is giving the GOP a scare in HD 121:

The field for the Texas House District 121 race shrunk to three candidates Friday when Republican Glen S. Starnes withdrew from the race, although his name will remain on the ballot.

"I believe that the Democrats are waging a very strong campaign, and I do not want even one vote displaced for a Republican in that district," said Starnes, a financial adviser.

The election is Feb. 5; early voting runs through Tuesday.

Starnes, 39, was one of two Republicans seeking the seat. The other, Joe Straus III, already has garnered key endorsements from elected area leaders, including U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth and County Commissioner Lyle Larson.

Starnes said he plans to add his name to the list of endorsements and actively campaign for Straus, 45.

Because the ballots already have been printed, Starnes' name will remain on the ballot, and his vote totals will be reported election night, said officials with the Bexar County Elections Department.

I figured all along that Straus and Spector would be the two candidates advancing to a run-off, but Starnes withdraw makes it possible that the race will be decided next Saturday.

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January 25, 2005


By Byron LaMasters

Election Day is February 5th for the special election in HD 121 in San Antonio. It's a strong GOP district, but special elections are strange creatures, and anything can happen, so learn more about the Democratic candidate at RoseSpector.com. Special elections are all about turnout, and a good GOTV opperation needs cash - lots of it, and quick. So donate to her campain here.

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Heflin v. Vo, continued

By Jim Dallas

Kuff and Greg are all over this.

The Daily Texan says Heflin should give up.

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January 23, 2005

Ever Wonder What Your Legislators Do For A Living?

By Vince Leibowitz

Glancing through one of Van Zandt County's five newspapers a few days ago, I ran across the name of a State Representative in a story about Canton ISD's search for a new superintendent. Only, it wasn't our local Rep, Dan Flynn. It was none other than Bob Griggs (R-North Richland Hills) of HD 91.

It seems Dr. Grigg's company, Bob Griggs & Associates, is conducting a superintendent search for the district--and for districts all across the state, of which 47 currently have superintendent vacancies.

For some reason, I have a problem with this. Everyone's got to make a living, and a lot of retired superintendents form consulting companies to do everything from employee searches to administrate controversial "retire/rehire" programs that are the bane of groups like the Texas Retired Teachers Association. In fact, my counterpart in Wood County, Democratic County Chairman Dr. Charles Thompson has his own company and forms superintendent searches, too.

What I question is whether a sitting state representative (or his company) should be doing business with school districts throughout the state in this manner. Granted, it's not lobbying, and the "& Associates" in the company name means he obviously has other people working with and/or for him. It's also oddly suspicious to me that there is no mention of Griggs' owning or any association with his company in his House bio.

Should Griggs not be required to file some special disclosure that he's working for and with other government bodies in Texas--especially since those governments recieve most of their money from the state?

Not surprisingly, the Texas Government Code is silent on this point.

The Government Code does, however, note the following about various activities by legislators and regulations governing the activities of legislators in various professions:

§ 572.025. INFORMATION ABOUT LEGISLATORS' REPRESENTATION BEFORE EXECUTIVE STATE AGENCIES. A member of the legislature who represents another person for compensation before an executive state agency shall report on the financial statement: (1) the name of the agency; (2) the person represented by the member; and (3) the category of the amount of compensation received by the member for that representation.

CONTINUANCES. A member or member-elect of the legislature
licensed to practice law in this state who represents a party to a
civil or criminal case for compensation and on that party's behalf
applies for or obtains a legislative continuance under Section
30.003, Civil Practice and Remedies Code, or under another law or
rule that requires or permits a court to grant a continuance on the
grounds that an attorney for a party is a member or member-elect of
the legislature shall report on the financial statement:
(1) the name of the party represented;
(2) the date on which the member or member-elect was
retained to represent the party;
(3) the style and cause number of the action in which the continuance was sought and the court and jurisdiction in which the action was pending when the continuance was sought;
(4) the date on which the member or member-elect
applied for a continuance; and
(5) whether the continuance was granted.

officer who is an attorney shall report on the financial statement:
(1) making or receiving any referral for compensation for legal services; and
(2) the category of the amount of any fee accepted for making a referral for legal services.

In fact, a while back, Texans for Public Justice made a big deal about legislative continuances, and even sued a couple of legislators to force them to disclose the continuances they requested.

So why is a State Representative (or his company) doing such cozy business with Texas school districts no big deal? I can't answer that. But, I know if I was a school board trustee, and a Democrat, I wouldn't hire a Republican legislator's search firm to shine my shoes because I'd be afraid of the reccomended candidates. Although, I must note that, by all accounts (and Griggs was Superintendent in Canton for a time), Dr. Griggs was an excellent school administrator, and I seriously doubt he'd do something like present a school board with a slew of right-wing job applicants.

Nevertheless, he's making a living off of (or at least supplementing his state retirement and legislative pay with) taxpayer dollars, since schools are funded with tax money. So, why shouldn't he have to disclose this?

Vince Leibowitz is County Chairman of the Democratic Party of Van Zandt County.

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January 20, 2005

Taking Off from Work

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

So we needed a $40 million dollar event to let the world know that Bush will be our president for the next four years, just in case you missed it a couple months ago. Of course, this highly important activity which affects people's everyday lives here in Texas was more important than actually doing the business of the people of Texas, in Texas.

The legislature adjouned for 10 of their precious 140 days of session to attend today's partying. Education needs to be fixed. Health care needs to be revisited. By golly, even re-re-redistricting might rank a notch higher in importance. But no, it was time to go Party, leaving us with stories like this to be written instead...

On Inauguration Day, while hundreds of Texans who made the trip to Washington captured history, a little bit of Texas history was lost.

Images of state Rep. Rob Eissler’s family Christmas, his swearing-in on Jan. 11 in the Texas House of Representatives chamber, sights of a festive Washington before a Texas president’s swearing-in, all gone in the back of a cab.

“I don’t even know the name of the cab company,” Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said by cell phone today on the way to a hotel to watch the inauguration on television.

Eissler and his wife, Linda, and another couple from Eissler’s district were in a cab Wednesday on their way from their hotel to the Congressional Office Building. They were shuttling to the kind of meeting and greeting that is part of a $40 million week in D.C.

Oh boo hoo, cry me a river and get back to work.

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Cracking Down on Beer?

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

There will be a few bills filed this session dealing with Underage drinking in Texas, all to be opposed by the Beer Industry of course, but this time, I feel like I might have their backs.

The Statesman gives us a preview...

A House bill filed this week would require Texans who buy kegs of beer to fill out a state registration swearing they are 21 years old and promising not to serve the beer to minors...

Another bill would limit the amount of alcohol that may be served in any one drink by licensed retailers to a half-ounce of pure alcohol or the equivalent. A police investigation into Wagener's death confirmed that he had been served eight or nine 4-ounce shots of liquor in 30 to 45 minutes, roughly the amount of a one-liter bottle of liquor...

And then the what seems to be the silliest one...

A second Eissler bill would punish vendors who sell alcohol to people during the early morning hours of their 21st birthdays...

From what I have heard about this last bill, it would supposedly make it illegal for the vender or bar owner to sell alcohol to those who have just turned the legal age 21 on the first day. Meaning, you are gonna party like it's your birthday, but you can't until noon of that day, or if it is Sunday, then not until 8 pm. (Considering that as it is now, the day you turn 21, you can legally drink at 12:01 am of that day.

Sounds like a lot of paperwork and hassel to me that isn't going to cut down on drinking but simply delay it for half a day, frustrating businesses and young people.

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January 19, 2005

Spector in the Race for HD121

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Former State Supreme Court Justice Rose Spector has officially entered the race for the now-vacant HD121 seat in San Antonio. The race includes two former office holders — Democract Supreme Court Justice Rose Spector and former Democrat (but running as an Independent) Rep. Paul Silber. They will be joined on the ballot by Republican businessmen Joe Straus III and Republican Glen S. Starnes.

Hat tip to Greg, who makes a comment I agree with when he gives kudos to whomever got her into the race (Charles Soechting?). Maybe Andrew can help us out on that one.

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January 18, 2005

Statesman Blog on the Session

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

I have been very impressed by the Austin American Statesman's blog on the Texas Legislative session. Little odds and ends, insider bits and stories of the day to day happenings. I only wish we had as much access to write stories like this non-stop for BOR.

One interesting story to note...

Rep. Carlos Uresti, a Democrat from San Antonio who served in the Marines, offered the amendment... saying lawmakers should be required to do what they required all Texas children to do with a law passed last session: Pledge allegiance to the national and state flags.

But Uresti’s amendment didn’t pass before Rep. Terry Keel, the Republican from Austin who introduced the rules changes, objected...

“The working group felt like all of us are patriotic,” Keel said. “This, as a floor vote, is going to politicize it, because we already had a concern in the working group that we have wasted too much time with resolutions among other things. … Once we start adding to our daily pomp and circumstance other meritorious things such as this, that it is putting form over substance and slowing us down.”

Uresti defended his proposal.

“Saying the pledge of allegiance and the pledge of allegiance to the Texas flag takes a total of 20 seconds,” he said. “That’s not going to delay the proceedings of this House.”

Gasp! Can you imagine the attacks that would be coming from the Right if the Party labels had been reversed? It would be much ranting about those unpatriotic Liberals giving excuses and being un-American. They would question "form over substance" because as we all know, every school child looks forward to starting the day with Pledges and stands up tall and embraces them with overflowing pride. And since they don't view it as "going through the motions" they why shouldn't the Representatives of the People be held to the same standard. Such shame, such outrage! Damn America hating Liberal Democrats!

Or should that be Texas hating Conservative Republicans Rep. Keel? Since it's just all pomp and circumstance to you...

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January 17, 2005

Justice Rose Spector Looking to Run in HD121

By Byron LaMasters

Andrew noted earlier that a high-profile Democrat was considering a run for the House seat being vacated by Elizabeth Ames Jones, who was appointed by Rick Perry to the Railroad Commission. Now, we hear that former State Supreme Court Justice Rose Spector is looking to make a run for the seat:

Former State Supreme Court Justice Rose Spector appears to be on the verge of jumping into a race for an open Texas House seat in San Antonio. So does former State Rep. George Pierce, who represented a neighboring district as both a Democrat and a Republican. So do others in a special election contest that has free-for-all potential in the wake of Elizabeth Ames Jones' last-minute decision to forego a third term in the House so she can take an appointment to the Texas Railroad Commission instead. [...]

Spector, one of the last Democrats to hold statewide office in Texas, is the second potential Democratic contestant for the special race in a district that is stacked with Republican voters. Melissa Kazen, the wife of a county court-at-law judge, is also weighing a possible bid in the special election for HD 121. [...]

Democratic strategists do not want more than one candidate in the special state House campaign. The Democrats' hopes will hinge on getting a candidate into a runoff and then trying to beat the top Republican vote-getter in a one-on-one match. That won't be easy - considering that almost 70 percent of the voters in HD 121 backed the GOP's statewide ticket in 2002. The district contains the old-money enclaves of Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills and Olmos Park - all Republican bastions - along with suburbs that have more GOP voters than Democrats in the northeast part of Bexar County.

But Democrats see Spector as a potential dream candidate for that particular district. She was a highly-respected Texas Supreme Court member for six years until falling victim to the Republican statewide avalanche in 1998. She was a state district judge for a dozen years before winning a seat on the state's highest court and a Bexar County court-at-law judge for five years before that. Spector, whose children attended Alamo Heights schools, fared better than all other Democratic statewide candidates except John Sharp and Paul Hobby when she lost to Republican Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill in the general election six years ago.

As Andrew noted last week, the deck is stacked against us in that district, but a creditable Democratic candidate could make things interesting:

In the Elizabeth Ames Jones affair, it is true that her district is largely Republican, and it will be an uphill battle one way or the other. But its very nature is encouraging several Republicans to run- all of whom will surely be sniping at one another- and at least one Democrat (whose name I can't talk about quite yet- I'll have it later this week at the latest) has enough creditability in the district to make a real run at it. The deck is stacked against us by GOP gerrymanderers, but let's just say that the district isn't a total wash for us. Keep your eyes on BOR for all your updates!

Rose Spector certainly would have creditability in the district, even though the district is over 60% Republican. Still, anything can happen in a low-turnout special election, and with a strong candidate, there is no reason why Democrats shouldn't throw some resources into the race. We'll know more after the filing deadline tomorrow afternoon, so stay tuned. Kuff and Vince have some thoughts on the topic as well.

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January 14, 2005

The DeLay Rule in the Texas House

By Byron LaMasters

I figured that this would be proposed by someone:

Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, caused a hush to fall over the House chamber Thursday when he proposed a rule that would require the Texas speaker or a committee chairman who is indicted to step down from that leadership role.

Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick has had records subpoenaed as part of a Travis County grand jury investigation, which has indicted three people — but not Craddick — in connection with 2002 legislative election spending.

After fairly lengthy debate, Moreno withdrew the proposal.

It would have been nice if Moreno could have gotten a recorded vote out of the issue, but remember, this is the Texas legislature. Speaking of recorded votes, the state house voted to change the rules on recorded votes in a non-recorded voice vote. I'm with Greg on this. It's still a farce.

Also via the Statesman is news of the date set for the special election to fill the seat of Elizabeth Ames Jones. The filing deadline is January 18th, and the election will be February 5th.

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Opiela's Out

By Andrew Dobbs

Not official yet, but I just got word that Eric Opiela will be dropping his challenge of Yvonne Gonzales-Toureilles' victory over him in their South Texas race for the State House.

2 Down, 1 to go!

Update: [Byron] The AP is now reporting this as well, as is the Quorum Report and The Red State.

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January 13, 2005

State Representative and Blogger

By Byron LaMasters

Cool. State Representative Aaron Peña (D-Edinburg) has a blog. Peña wrote his first post on January 1, and has written five posts since then. Even better is that it looks like Peña actually writes the posts himself. Anyway, check out his blog here.

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January 12, 2005

Gallegos Contest Dismissed

By Byron LaMasters

Most of the focus has been on the three state house contests (now two) by Republicans Talmadge Heflin and Eric Opieda. The contest by Jack Stick against Mark Strama was dropped last week. But there was a fourth contest as well - this one on the senate side. It was a frivolous challenge against Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) which was dismissed today:

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday dismissed an election challenge filed against state Sen. Mario Gallegos by a former opponent who is his former mistress.

The panel found that Susan Delgado "failed to state the grounds necessary to maintain an election contest" against the Houston Democrat. Committee members voted 9-0 to send the report to the full Senate for a vote.

Delgado had contended that Gallegos lived in the 11th District, although he represents the 6th District. Gallegos, who has represented the eastern Harris County district since 1995, was overwhelmingly re-elected in November.

Delgado, a former stripper who claimed that she had a 17-year affair with Gallegos, ran as a write-in candidate against him. She contended that Gallegos took a homestead tax exemption on a house outside of his district. But Gallegos is registered to vote at his mother's house within the 6th District and claims to live there.

So, what's that? Two down, two to go?

As for the Hubert Vo contest, I attended the rally for Vo on the south steps of the capitol yesterday, and I'll post some pictures when I have the chance. For the latest on the Vo challenge, read the posts of Off the Kuff and Greg's Opinion from yesterday.

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On The "Surplus" and Jones

By Andrew Dobbs

Yesterday was a busy day in Texas politics with the commencement of the 79th legislative session, the announcement that we have a surplus (or maybe not) and the appointment of Rep. Elizabeth Ames Jones (R-Alamo Heights) to fill a vacancy on the Texas Railroad Commission. A little more should be said about each. I have a good vantage point here at the State Party, and as always nothing I say should be interpreted as representing the positions of the State Party, its staff, contractors, Chairman or other officers.

Let's begin with the surplus. Perry is tooting his own horn claiming that we have more than $6 billion more in state coffers than this time 2 years ago. That much is true, but to keep our stripped down services running at the same level with population increases since 2003, we would need about $5.6 billion of that money- leaving us with a rather paltry $400 million surplus (less than 1% of the entire budget). Perry claims that he wants to overhaul Child Protective Services and school finance. CPS alone would devour the surplus, leaving nothing for schools or restoring some of the more draconian cuts in 2003- still requiring some tax reform. The San Antonio Express News editorial board called him out today for "misleading" Texans with his statements, and Carole Keeton Strayhorn claimed that our problem isn't a budget shortfall but a "leadership shortfall" on the part of the governor. So don't start getting excited yet- we don't have enough to do the things Perry et. al have already promised to do- new taxes or budget cuts are on the table.

And in the Elizabeth Ames Jones affair, it is true that her district is largely Republican and it will be an uphill battle one way or the other. But its very nature is encouraging several Republicans to run- all of whom will surely be sniping at one another- and at least one Democrat (whose name I can't talk about quite yet- I'll have it later this week at the latest) has enough credibility in the district to make a real run at it. The deck is stacked against us by GOP gerrymanderers, but let's just say that the district isn't a total wash for us. Keep your eyes on BOR for all your updates!

Just thought I should throw all of that out there, and like I said- keep up with Burnt Orange Report for all your Texas political news!

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January 11, 2005

Revenue Surplus?

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

If Craddick's statement today on the House website is any indication, looks like there won't be a shortfall for the legislature to deal with this session. Maybe we will have money to fund health and education?

"Comptroller Strayhorn is forecasting substantial revenue growth for the FY06-07 biennium, and the Legislative Budget Board staff will release its recommended budget within the next few days, which will be within the revenue predicted by the Comptroller. Although I have not seen the details of her estimate, it is encouraging to hear that the Comptroller anticipates significant revenue growth for the biennium compared to the situation we faced last regular session. Had we not held the line on spending in the face of the $10 billion shortfall last session, we probably would not have seen the kind of economic recovery that we are now experiencing and hope to see in the future. I look forward to working with the Governor and with my colleagues in the Senate to craft a budget that will maximize the positive impact on Texas' economy."

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Craddick Elected Speaker -- 4 Nay Votes

By Byron LaMasters

Two years ago, Tom Craddick was elected speaker with only one Nay vote - that of Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth). The election of the speaker in Texas is rather silly, because everyone votes for the speaker so that they can get good committee assignments, etc. Hopefully, the Texas legislature will soon get to the day where both parties put forward a candidate for speaker, and the majority party candidate is elected. That's the way it should be, but a four-fold increase of votes against Craddick is a start. I'll post the names of the four voting against Craddick when I get them.

In comments are the names of the four Nay votes on Craddick:

Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)
Jessica Farrar (D-Houston)
Joe Moreno (D-Houston)
Paul Moreno (D-El Paso)

Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) was present, not voting.

Kudos to them. The final vote was 142-4.

In other news, Rep. Elizabeth Ames Jones (R-San Antonio) declined her seat in the legislature as she was nominated by Gov. Perry earlier today for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission. Jones will replace Charles Matthews, who resigned his seat in order to take a position as chancellor of the Texas State University system.

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January 09, 2005

Rally for Hubert Vo on Tuesday

By Byron LaMasters

The rally to suport Hubert Vo is at 2pm on the South steps of the capitol. If the session, which starts at noon, goes beyond 2pm, then the rally will be 30 minutes after it closes.

Please come help show solid support.

Hubert Vo's Campaign Manager

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January 07, 2005

Is Representative Democracy Dead in Texas?

By Byron LaMasters

Via Kuff,, Keir Murray of Houtopia writes of speaking with an unnamed state senator who says the Texas House GOP is likely to seat Heflin, dump Vo, and get on with the people's business:

I spoke last night with a state senator, who shall remain nameless, who now believes the State House GOP may decide to seat Heflin and bump Vo out, overturning Vo's legitimate win in District 149. Like most folks familiar with the Legislature, until recently he didn't think there was any chance of that happening. He's changed his mind. The reasoning is as follows:

The legislative session begins next week, and Democratic House members begin baiting Craddick from the back microphone -- "Mr. Speaker, if you are indicted, will you step down from your leadership post?" -- and so on. The session quickly dissolves into a partisan lockdown, and Vo loses on a party-line vote.

Sound far-fetched? Think for a moment about what the GOP, at both the state and federal level, has had the audacity to do in the last couple of years -- redistricting, ethics changes, now trying to eliminate the filibuster from the U.S. Senate, etc -- and you may reach the same conclusion the state senator has. "These guys just don't give a sh*t." Bad press? Who cares. Public outrage? They'll get over it. Politically dangerous? Not a chance -- all we have to do is win a GOP primary anyway. Democratic retribution? (After several moments of laughter) Who?

The senator (and I) believe the GOP will make every attempt to do this for one reason, they can. They have the votes and they value power above all else. If they can take a little bit more, they will, integrity and the public be damned.

The short term consequence of such action would be rather minimal. Democrats would be outraged, Asian-Americans would be outraged, and Talmadge Heflin would get his butt kicked in 2006. The long term consequences would probably see an alienation of the Asian-American community in Houston from the Republican Party for a generation, and significant challenges to Martha Wong and Joe Nixon for years to come. Is one seat really worth it to Republicans? Yeah, probably. They don't care. They consider lots of new people registering to vote to be a voting irregularity. They hate Democracy, and they've decided that Democrats are irrelevant.

More thoughts about this with Greg, Kuff and Houtopia.

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January 06, 2005

Mark Strama's Statement on the Withdraw of Jack Stick's Election Contest

By Byron LaMasters

It's kind of long, so check it out in the extended entry...

After hiring lawyers, political consultants, phone banks, and even a private investigator – and after accusing thousands of Travis County residents of criminal voting behavior – Jack Stick has finally withdrawn his effort to overturn the outcome of the November election.

In deposition testimony last week, Stick admitted that he could not provide evidence to substantiate even one example of his allegations of illegal voting. Yet, though he has withdrawn his contest, Stick continues to challenge the integrity of the election and refuses to concede that he lost. See the Austin American Statesman's coverage here.

Before we put this issue entirely to bed, we should pause for a minute to take pride in some of Stick's more outlandish accusations in his election contest. Below is an actual quote from his legal petition to overturn the will of the voters:

"Contestant alleges the registration of 2,300 voters on the last possible registration date, and 8,000 voters within the 90 days prior to the election, is so implausible that it represents violations of [...] the Texas Election Code and is part of a pattern of conduct designed to alter the outcome of the election."

You bet it was part of a pattern of conduct to alter the outcome of the election! But there's nothing illegal about getting new people to the polls – it's the right thing to do, and it made the difference in this election. Those of you who worked so hard in our grassroots effort to turn out the vote in this election should consider Stick's protest the highest compliment!

Stick also alleged that the high number of straight-ticket voters indicated some sort of fraud. He failed to check that in House District 50, there were actually hundreds more Republican straight-ticket voters than Democratic straight-ticket voters!

As hard as it may be for him to believe, Stick lost because voters wanted a state representative who would focus on the issues that are important to the people, rather than on partisan political power struggles – like last session's redistricting fiasco. And instead of absorbing that lesson and moving on, Stick launched yet another partisan power play.

The good news is, my Republican colleagues in the coming legislative session show every sign of wanting to focus on the voters' priorities this session. The Republican "Master of Discovery," Representative Will Hartnett, did a great job managing the process of gathering evidence – and pointed out on more than one occasion that most of Stick's case appeared to be based "entirely on speculation."

I am encouraged by the way the Contest was handled that we can achieve speedy resolution to the two remaining election contests in Houston and South Texas, and approach the serious challenges facing the state with the bipartisanship and deliberation the people of Texas deserve.


Mark Strama

[I've omitted the second half of the email which has swearing-in and office information.]

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January 05, 2005

Stick Withdraws Election Challenge

By Andrew Dobbs

Just saw this come up on Quorum Report. It says that he withdrew the challenge but "wants House to consider voting irregularities." Details are to follow soon. Keep checking BOR for your 100% free updates on Texas politics.

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January 03, 2005

Hubert Vo's Journey from Saigon to Austin

By Byron LaMasters

Great story in the San Antonio Express News on Hubert Vo's journey from Vietnam as a young man to the Texas legislature (Via Kuff):

Planes crashed to earth, rockets screamed across the sky and bombs exploded as 19-year-old Hubert Vo began his long journey. Three decades later, he's preparing to take the floor of the Texas House of Representatives as the state's first Vietnamese-born lawmaker.

"I remember my father gave each one of us a gun and said: 'Use it if you have to,'" said Vo, recalling how he, his five siblings and his parents fled Saigon in 1975 as their country collapsed. "It was chaos. The day I left, I stood on the boat, looked at horizon, seen airplanes falling from the sky."

That far exceeds any turmoil Vo has experienced following his election to the Houston-area District 149 seat he captured by a mere 33 votes over longtime Republican incumbent Talmadge Heflin. [...]

Vo worked as a busboy and a cook. He assembled digital watches and video games. He was robbed more times than he cares to remember as a convenience store clerk. He went door to door updating listings for telephone books. He's been a steelworker and a goldsmith, built computers and formed a computer company. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Houston, where he met his wife. And they're raising three children.

He got into real estate, built shopping centers, manages apartment complexes and even earned a license as an air-conditioning technician.

"I worked at different places, getting understanding of a worker, of a manager, of a supervisor," Vo said. "From the ground up, I have that hands-on knowledge, different classes of society. Hopefully I can understand the people of my district better than anybody else, because I've been through all those things myself."

In war-ravaged Vietnam, where his father worked for the Vietnamese navy and coast guard and had ties to the CIA, Vo was a freshman in college studying economics and politics when their world imploded.

Read the article for more. Hubert Vo's had a heck of a journey through his life, and the election contest is nothing compared to his past battles.

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December 31, 2004

State House Election Contest Documents Online

By Byron LaMasters

I'm not in the mood to sort through them right now, but the documents for the three GOP election contest can be found online here.

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December 30, 2004

Vo Supporters Gather Signatures, Plan to Attend Inauguration

By Byron LaMasters

Want to know what State Representative-Elect Hubert Vo (D-Houston) has been doing since he was elected? Pretty simple... he's preparing to represent district 149 in the Texas legislature, and his supporters in the district are doing their share to help him defend his victory. Read here.

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Really Stupid Ideas, and really, really Stupid Ideas

By Byron LaMasters

We can certainly expect Texas House Republicans to join Congressional Repulicans in joining Opperation: Save Tom DeLay's Butt when the 79th legislature meets in a few weeks. Plans range from some really stupid ideas like taking authority for prosecuting the campaign finance cases away from the Travis County D.A. to really, really stupid ideas like legalizing corporate campaign contributions. The New York Times reports:

In Texas, state Republican legislative leaders and party officials are considering some maneuvers of their own in light of the investigation. One proposal would take authority for prosecuting the campaign finance case away from the Democratic district attorney in Austin and give it to the state attorney general, a Republican. Another possible move would legalize corporate campaign contributions like those that figure into the state case.

Greg, like me, is outraged.

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December 29, 2004

Practice What You Preach PAC

By Byron LaMasters

Here's the press release from yesterday on a PAC created to oppose a ban on same-sex vows, and attack the real threats to marriage. Take a look:

New PAC Offers Mainstream Opposition to Same-Sex Vow Ban: Casual no-fault divorce & domestic violence—not gays—real threats to marriage

AUSTIN, TX – Calling casual no-fault divorce and domestic violence the real threats to marriage, Practice What You Preach today offered a mainstream opposition to HJR 6, the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Texas.

“If they agree with us that two parents are better than one, then the reactionary legislators pushing this ban should practice what they preach,” said Jason Stanford. “It is a bright and shining lie to say that HJR 6 would do anything to help marriage. The Texas legislature needs to practice what it preaches and focus on the real threats to marriage.”

Marriage is not a wedge issue. In fact, it’s in crisis. Here are the facts:

Texas has one of the highest divorce rates in the country, and with around 100,000 divorces in Texas every year, our divorce rate is 71 percent higher than Massachusetts';

Children suffer more than anyone from the divorce epidemic. A study by the conservative Heritage Foundation found that children of divorce "exhibit more health, behavioral, and emotional problems, are involved more frequently in crime and drug abuse, and have higher rates of suicide." In school, these kids "perform more poorly in reading, spelling, and math. They also ... have higher drop-out rates and lower rates of college graduation."

There are 900,000 victims of domestic violence in Texas every year, prompting the Texas Council on Family Violence to conclude, "Domestic violence is an epidemic in Texas."

Practice What You Preach plans an aggressive statewide campaign and already has a website up and running at PracticeWhatYouPreach.org.

“We’re going to take it straight to them,” said Stanford.

It has the endorsement of Texas Democratic Party Chair Charles Soechting as well:

"Family, fairness, and faith are fundamental Texas values. But ideological extremists are unfairly using faith to undermine our families to further their narrow partisan agenda. All Texans should unite against these cynical efforts to devalue our families."

-Charles E. Soechting, Chairman of the Texas Democratic Party

Divorce is a threat to marriage. Gays and lesbians are not. If only the legislature would practice what they preach...

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Rick Noriega Chooses Wife to fill Seat

By Byron LaMasters

Under a new state constitutional amendment Texas state legislators who are on active military duty may designate a replacement to fill their seat until they return, or until their term expires. Texas will see that amendment in action for the first time with the start of the 2005 legislative session. State Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston) who was reelected in November is serving in Afghanistan with the Nation Guard, so he has asked his wife to fill his seat in the 79th legislature. The Houston Chronicle reports:

Melissa Noriega, 50, is a special projects manager for the Houston Independent School District. She said she has refused to travel at work because she did not want to leave her son alone, but she said she feels a responsibility to fill in for her husband in the Legislature while he is on active duty.

"This is really an honor, both that my husband would trust me with the responsibility and we've also gotten a lot of feedback from the district. This isn't something we just did," she said. "We've been discussing it with precinct judges and community leaders."

A state constitutional amendment passed last year allowing legislators who are called up to active military duty to designate their replacement until they return or their term of office expires. Noriega won re-election last year while on active duty in Afghanistan.

Hopefully this will all work out fine and good, but I am a little bit concerned. Here was the specific language of the amendment allowing for a member on active military duty to retain their seat:

When a public official enters active military duty, they must leave the office they hold. Proposition 22 would allow officials to retain their offices while in the military and allows the appointment of temporary replacements.

I voted against the amendment because the language was unclear as to who actually chooses the replacement. If it were clear that the legislator on active military duty could choose his or her replacement, then the amendment would have made perfect sense, but the amendment did not make that clear. Thus, there's a possibility that the Republicans in the state house or the governor may decide that they can best choose who shall represent house district 145 even though Noriega won reelection unopposed.

The Chronicle notes this potential problem later in the article:

The procedures for how she will replace him are not completely in place. But most likely he will be sworn in from Afghanistan when the Legislature convenes Jan. 11. Then he will notify the House chief clerk and parliamentarian of his choice of surrogate.

The full House has the power to reject Noriega's choice, but in this case is expected to seat Melissa Noriega to serve in her husband's place.

Noriega said she believes she can do a good job for her husband and his district because they are both Democrats and share perspectives on how government can help its citizens.

For a Republican legislature that seems willing to throw away democracy in order to seat Talmadge Heflin, Eric Opieda and Jack Stick, I would not be surprised if they try and find a way to deny the people of house district 145 the representative of their choice. We shall see.

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December 28, 2004

Bill Proposed to Lessen Marijuana Penalties

By Byron LaMasters

State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has proposed a bill to reduce the penalty for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to the equivalent of a traffic ticket. The AP reports:

The bill by Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $500 fine. That's the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

Right now, possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, which could mean a jail sentence of up to 180 days and a $2,000 fine.

Dutton said Texas has been tough on crime and now it's time to be smart. The current punishment is "clogging up our criminal justice system," said Dutton, adding that he tried but failed to get the Legislature to approve the idea last year.

"A person who has two seeds gets the same penalty as a person who has two ounces and that to me seems eminently unfair and I think that overburdens the system with nonsense," Dutton said. "If we just change the punishment range for these minor quantities, we'd be better off."

Because the legislation still punishes a person caught with even a small amount of pot, "it does send the message that we don't want people out smoking marijuana," Dutton said.

Sounds like a smart plan to me. Someone with less than an ounce of marijuana isn't a threat to society. Incarcerating nonviolent marijuana users (who aren't growing or selling it in large quantities) seems to be counter-productive. Winning the war on drugs in this county means drastically changing our approach. Spend less money on incarcerating minor offenders, and go after the dealers and those who perpetuate narcotics related violence instead.

We should spend the money on rehab programs, instead of wasting money on incarcerating minor non-violent marijuana users. It makes perfect sense to me, but it's not the politically correct answer to winning the drug war, as most politicians (of both parties) are more interested in being able to claim that they're 'tuff on drugs, instead of actually trying a more innovative approach to solve the problem.

Update: More at Grits for Breakfast.

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August 21, 2003

Ratliff to Resign?

By Byron LaMasters

The Laredo Morning Times reports that Republican Sen. Bill Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant) may resign:

Former acting Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, the only Senate Republican who has vocally opposed congressional redistricting, said Tuesday there's little chance he will seek another term and has contemplated resignation over the current state of the Texas Senate.

"It's a day-to-day or month-to-month decision," said Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant. "I'm getting to the point that I'd rather be playing golf. I enjoy my golf a little more these days."

Speaking publicly for the first time since angrily walking out of a Senate Republican Caucus meeting last week and abruptly returning to Mount Pleasant when his colleagues decided to fine 11 boycotting Democrats, Ratliff was pensive and melancholy.

Asked if he'd considered resignation over the current legislative mess, Ratliff replied "I guess the other day when I went home it occurred to me."

"The tragedy behind all this is that just gradually we're escalating the hostility," Ratliff said. "The real tragedy is that it was all predictable and avoidable. But each step that's taken, just by one more step, destroys the Senate that I knew."

Senate Republicans, last week voted to levy stiff fines on Democrats boycotting the Senate over Republican-led efforts to redraw congressional districts. Days later, to enforce the fines on rebellious senators, Republicans voted to impose sanctions on their offices, including stripping their staffs of cell phones, parking spaces and some mailing privileges until the fines were paid in full.

If Democrats manage to stay in Albuquerque, N.M., until Aug. 26, the end of the second special session, the redistricting legislation would be effectively dead for this session. It would be the third failed attempt by the state's Republican leadership to adopt congressional redistricting and Gov. Rick Perry has indicated he's committed to the issue.

Ratliff predicted that healing the wounds wouldn't come easily to the divided Senate chamber.

"If I thought that it was all going to blow over when it's over, I wouldn't be nearly as distraught about what's going on," he said. "I don't think it's going to blow over. I think it may be a generation before the scars from this are healed and that's what bothers me about it."

Ratliff became acting lieutenant governor - presiding officer of the Senate - when in 2000 then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry replaced George W. Bush as governor.

It would be a shame. Ratliff is one of the very few Texas Republicans that I really respect. I may disagree with him on the issues, but he plays fair and as Lt. Gov. he worked to include everyone and work with Republicans and Democrats. For awhile, I was impressed with David Dewhurst. I expected him to come in and be a joke. He did a decent job during session. I admire the way that he formed a consensus on school finance. But any respect that I gained for him earlier this year, I lost. It's a shame that people like Bill Ratliff no longer feel welcome in Texas politcs. A real shame.

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August 11, 2003

Does your Legislator Drive a Lamborghini?

By Byron LaMasters

Rep. Ron Wilson (D-Houston), who represents a working class, minority majority district in Houston drives one. Photos via Keep Austin United, an anti-redistricting site run by some Austin Democratic activists. Here's the picture they shot of "Texas' Worst Democrat" Ron Wilson getting into his Lamborghini and driving away.

Ron Wilson was one of two Democratic State Representatives to vote for the House Republican redistricting map that would have likely resulted in the loss of 6 Democratic Congressmen (the other was Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi). Not only did he vote for the map, but he was openly critical of the Killer D's who broke quorum in Ardmore. I don't know about anyone else, but that's what I call a DINO (Democrat in Name Only). For that reason, I have called for his defeat in next year's Democratic primary. I don't know who will run, but I've heard that there will definitely be a challenge. Thank God. It's about time.

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July 23, 2003

Another Reason Ron Wilson Needs to Go

By Byron LaMasters

The Dallas Morning News reports:

Republicans criticize Mr. Frost for being a career politician. One Democrat who favors redistricting says Mr. Frost doesn't care about the minorities in his district.

"He wants just enough blacks and Hispanics in his district to get elected," said Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston. "But he doesn't want enough of them there to elect one of their own."

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I'll drive to Houston and blockwalk for a REAL Democrat that runs against Ron Wilson in the primary. I'll donate money, even if I don't have it. Ron Wilson is an embarrassment to the Democratic Party. He needs to go.

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July 22, 2003

Austin Chronicle Profiles Patrick Rose

By Byron LaMasters

Two and a half months ago, the last thing that I would expect from the alternative, lefty Austin Chronicle would be a profile of the conservative freshman state representative Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs). Rose, 25, is the youngest member of the state house, and had disappointed many Democrats with his many votes with the Republican leadership. His district is a Republican-leaning swing district, so it would make sense that his voting record be a tad bit more conservative than your average Democrat. Still, Rose won his election with the support of several hundred thousand dollars from Democrats across the state, and a lot of them weren't happy. Some, throughout the spring, suggested a primary challenge to Rose. Rep. Garnett Coleman (D-Houston) had some choice words for Rose at the Texas Young Democrats convention in April. Now, however, all seems to be forgiven. Rose joined 50 other Democrats in going to Ardmore, and Ardmore seems to have cured all ills. The Austin Chronicle, this week profiled Rose, which will certainly insulate him from any potential attacks from the left.

Also, check out the Austin Chronicle article on the most endangered species in Texas politics. The rural white Democrat.

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July 01, 2003

Carl Isett

By Byron LaMasters

One of the members of the redistricting subcommittee that met in Dallas on Saturday was Rep. Carl Isett (R-Lubbock). Rhetoric and Rhythm has a great post about how this home-school advocate, and relative far-right fringe (even for Lubbock) candidate was able to get elected through the power of religious conservative precinct chairs.

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June 25, 2003

What will $50,000 buy?

By Byron LaMasters

While it is illegal to fundraise during the regular session, there is no law prohibiting fundraising during a special session. Only this session was a law signed that prohibits fundraising during the twenty days following the regular session, during which the governor has a chance to review bills to sign or veto (this law of course was inspired by the 2001 session where Rick Perry took tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars from special interests, and returned the favor to those interests by vetoing unfavorable bills). Anyway, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has an offer for all you folks out there willing to spend $50,000. The Dallas Morning News reports:

For $50,000, a political contributor to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst gets to visit his Hill Country ranch. A donation of $25,000 buys an invitation for two to a holiday reception in Austin.

The legislative session is barely over, another one is about to begin, and campaign fund raising is in full swing. Mr. Dewhurst has an Austin fund-raising reception scheduled for Monday, the first day lawmakers return to the Capitol for a special session on congressional redistricting.

Texas law prohibits statewide office holders and legislators from collecting donations during the regular session, but it's legal to accept them during a special session. The special session that starts Monday will be the state's first since 1992.


Invitations sent by the David Dewhurst Committee promote joining the "Dewhurst Council" for donations ranging from $1,000 to $50,000.

A $50,000 donation earns the title "chairman," with a visit to the lieutenant governor's Snaffle Bit ranch near Fredericksburg, an invitation to the holiday reception and biannual meetings in Austin.

"Wow," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, Texas director of the campaign finance watchdog group Public Citizen. "I don't ever recall seeing a [solicitation] that high before."

The state should ban fund raising during special sessions, Mr. Smith said.

"The implication is always there that if you contribute during a legislative session, it will influence the way they vote or the actions they might take," Mr. Smith said. "That's why we don't allow fund raising when the Legislature is in a regular session."

Chuck Anderson, a spokesman for the David Dewhurst Committee, said the timing of the Dewhurst event was a coincidence. The reception was scheduled weeks before Gov. Rick Perry called for the special session.

Well, darn, it's tempting, but I think I'll pass on this one.

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June 20, 2003

Defending Jim Dunnam

By Byron LaMasters

Texas Monthly called Democratic House Leader Jim Dunnam (D-Waco) one of the worst ten legislators. The Waco Tribune-Herald gave him an opportunity to defend himself, here.

Posted at 01:35 PM to Texas Lege | Permalink | Comments (0)

Texas Monthly Best / Worst

By Byron LaMasters

After every legislative session, Texas Monthly puts out a list of the top ten best and worst legislators, and will give a few other prizes in between, including "furniture" for legislators that accomplish little. You can read the entire article here (requires free account). Here is this year's list:

The Best of 2003 Sen. Teel Bivins (R-Amarillo) Rep. Dianne Delisi (R-Temple) Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) Rep. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) Rep. Irma Rangel (D-Kingsville) Sen. Bill Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant) Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson) Rep. Steve Wolens (D-Dallas)

Rookie Of The Year
Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs)

Honorable Mention
Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo)
Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont)
Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston)
Sen. Steve Ogdem (R-Bryan)
Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie
Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo)

The Worst of 2003
Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)
Rep. Gabi Canales (D-Alice)
Rep. Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas)
US Rep. Tom Delay (R-Sugarland)
House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam (D-Waco)
Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay)
Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville)
Rep. Joe Nixon (R-Houston)
Rep. Robert Talton (R-Pasadena)
Rep. Beverly Woolley (R-Houston)

The Joseph McCarthy Award
Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Houston)

Dishonorable Mention
Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland)

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin)
Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston)
Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City)
Rep. John Davis (R-Houston)
Rep. Gary Elkins (R-Houston)
Rep. Al Edwards (D-Houston)
Rep. Sen. Jon Lindsay (R-Houston).
Rep. Sid Miller (R-Stephenville).

My thoughts? I don't disagree too much with the top ten list. After all, there weren't too many Democrats with too many noteworthy accomplishments, and as much as a despise Arlene Wohlgemuth, I have to admit that she was a big player in this year's session.

As for Rookie of the Year, I'm not sure what to say about Patrick Rose. About every Democrat in the state considered him worthless, until Ardmore that is (he went.. his district includes Lockhart, a small town that would have been divided 3 ways under the King plan), and now, we have to reexamine him. I'll support him for reelection, but I won't invest too much time or money into it. He's a good guy, and hopefully, if and when he gets a few reelection victories under his belt, he'll begin to vote more like a real Democrat.

I like Lon Burnam's politics (he's the most liberal Democrat in the state house), and I wish that all the Democrats would have joined him in opposing Craddick, but they didn't and from a pragmatic point of view, his vote was stupid. Still, I was proud of him, and thanked him for it when I invited him to speak at an anti-war rally at UT in March. Still, practically speaking, it was a dumb move. Good to see Tom DeLay on the list. It's supposed to just be for legislators, but Tom DeLay likely had more impact on the legislature than almost anyone else, but the fat cats. Dunnam shouldn't be on the list. He, along with Garnett Coleman and Pete Gallegos were the brains behind the Ardmore escape. Dunnam did about as good of a job as any Democratic leader could, considering the circumstances. He fought the good fight, lost most of the time, but ask most any Democrat in the House (minus Craddick's committee chairs), and they'll say they're happy with Dunnam's leadership. Nixon, Lucio and Talton are all especially worthy of the list. Nixon carried a draconian "tort reform" bill, Lucio is a sell-out, and Talton is a hatemonger. Craddick ought to be on the worst list... he get a "dishonerable mention", but that's not enough. This session was the most partisan in memory, and if Texas Monthly gives some of the blame to Jim Dunnam for it, then they ought to give at least equal (and I'd say more... a lot more) blame to Craddick.

Texas Monthly gave Debbie Riddle a category of her own based on her statement in a committee hearing:

"Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell."

She received "The Joseph McCarthy 'Have You No Sense Of Decency?' Award". How appropriate.

The furnature is pretty accurate. Sen. Barrientos is my senator in the legislature, and he's a great senator, but he had little opportunity to get much accomplished this session with the Republican leadership.

Posted at 11:42 AM to Texas Lege | Permalink | Comments (1)

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