As Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus writes to the members of the Texas House in the cover letter to the interim charges he laid out yesterday, “..these charges and the recommendations you develop will form the basis for major legislation we will consider next session”. The letter also made clear that some things were left out, “In the coming weeks, I intend to propose several additional items of statewide importance for the House to study.”
The interim charges include everything from efforts to manage feral hogs (which is a big problem), to whether blogs should be considered “political advertising”. All of the items from the Appropriations, Energy Resources, Environmental Regulations, Higher Education, Human Services, Natural Resources, Public Education and Redistricting Committees should be read in full.
But here are a few that caught my eye (EOW comments are in italics):
House Committee on Corrections
1. Examine implementation of the diversion pilot programs, juvenile case management system, and other policy and funding initiatives to determine whether the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and the Texas Youth Commission have adhered to legislative directive in implementing these programs, and the impact of these programs on commitments at the Texas Youth Commission.
House Committee on Elections
3. Examine the prevalence of fraud in Texas elections. Study new laws in other states regarding voter identification and recommend statutory changes necessary to ensure that only eligible voters can vote in Texas elections. (This is Voter ID. Read BOR’s take on this issue. Suffice it to say that Straus is unable to tell the right wing to give up on this.)
4. Review the Texas campaign finance law in judicial races in light of the recent United States Supreme Court decision Caperton v. Massey. (This case involves preventing a judge from hearing a case involving a person who has made campaign contributions to benefit the judge.)
House Committee on Land and Resource Management
2. Examine unresolved issues relating to eminent domain legislation introduced during the 81st Legislative Session. Monitor any pending litigation. (Still on the agenda even after passage of the Constitutional Amendment earlier this month.)
House Committee on Transportation
1. Monitor the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to ensure the agency is implementing recommended legislative, sunset, and Grant Thornton management audit changes.
2. Review the organization and operation of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). Consider the relationship between MPOs and TxDOT regarding transportation planning and programming.
3. Study the practices and procedures used in the development of toll roads and make recommendations as necessary. (Toll roads are still on the agenda. Nothing here on the gas tax or transportation financing. Hopefully we will hear about that in the coming weeks.)
One interesting item is that there is nothing in the charges about gambling, gaming, slot machines, horse racing, and the like. The charges should be at least scanned for items of particular interest. Because as Straus wrote, they are the basis for the next legislative session in 2011. No matter who is Speaker, or who wins the statewide races next year, the effort and research put in on these issues, and those in the Senate when Lt. Gov. Dewhurst releases the charges for the Senate, are the frame which the 82nd Legislature will begin it’s work.
(Kurt Kuhn is a Democratic candidate for the 3rd Court of Appeals, running for Jan Patterson’s soon-to-be-vacant seat.)
We tend to remember where we are when we hear big news. I was on an elevator last Thursday afternoon in downtown Austin. I had spent the day meeting with lawyers, and was on my way to teach at UT Law. My mind was focused on the things I had to do, so I hardly noticed when two office workers stepped on. As I overheard their conversation, I first heard about the tragic shootings at Fort Hood, the worst mass shooting ever on a U.S. military base.
Fort Hood is outside of Killeen, Texas, mostly in Bell County, and it is in the Third Court of Appeals district. I have visited Bell County numerous times, both for the campaign and professional and personal matters. It is hard to visit Killeen and not notice how much a part of daily life the military personnel are, and it is impossible to leave Killeen without feeling proud of our men and women in uniform and the families and community that support them.
When I first heard about the shootings at Fort Hood, my first reaction was concern and sorrow for those affected. But like so many others, my second reaction was that I had to do something. When faced with the enormity of a tragedy like the shootings, it is easy to feel like there is nothing really meaningful we can do. My answer was small–I wanted to give blood.
I soon learned that many other people across Central Texas, without any request, had the same reaction. Even here in Austin, sixty miles away from the shootings, the local blood donation site was overflowing with walk-ins. The community reaction reminded me of the response when Hurricane Katrina hit, and ordinary people put aside their daily lives to try to help. Personally, Katrina inspired me to become involved with the Red Cross of Central Texas, and I’ve been proud to serve on the Board of Directors in recent years. In response to Fort Hood, I made an appointment to donate blood this week.
A day before that appointment, on a beautiful Austin morning, I stood with thousands of others to walk up Congress Avenue and honor our veterans. Veterans Day was all the more poignant in the wake of the tragic events at Fort Hood. It was humbling to see the generations of men and women, both old and young, who have served so bravely. And it was touching to see the children and spouses lining the parade route with pictures of their loved ones in uniform.
As I gave my two pints of red blood cells yesterday morning, I could not help but think that marching in a parade or donating blood are tiny gestures compared to what our men and women in uniform give us. But all Americans serve in some way, and in times of crisis ordinary Americans rise to service.
To all our men and women who are or have served in our military, thank you for your service. You inspire us all.
Texans for Public Justice has a report our today on that asks the question Who bankrolled Texas’ High-court Justices In 2008? It’s called Interested Parties[.pdf].
Three incumbent Texas Supreme Court justices were re-elected in 2008 with the help of $2.8 million in campaign money — half of it from lawyers, law firms and lobbyists.
Three big defense firms gave totals of more than $50,000 apiece to the three justices: Haynes & Boone, Vinson & Elkins and Fulbright & Jaworski. The PAC of the HillCo Partners lobby firm also gave a total of $65,000 to the three justices. One of HillCo’s clients, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, gave this PAC $290,000. Perry accounted for 32 percent of all the money that HillCo PAC raised in the 2008 election cycle. Four tables in the next section list the top contributors to the three justices, collectively and individually.
The Energy & Natural Resources category was the justices’ No. 2 funding source, accounting for 12 percent of the money that they raised. The top contributors from this sector were Dallas oil man Louis Beecherl, the Bass family’s Good Government Fund and Exxon Mobil General Counsel Charles Matthews.
The Ideological & Single-Issue Category came next, accounting for seven percent of the total money raised by the three justices. Leading this group were two business tort group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Texas Civil Justice League, joined by the Republican Party of Texas.
The PAC of Fort Worth-based investment fund manager Geoffrey Raynor led the Finance sector, which accounted for 5 percent of the money raised by the three justices.
The only way to fix this is with real campaign finance reform, with limits on giving, and transparency. For more see EOW’s reporting form earlier in the year on the speech Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson gave to the legislature, What is the state of the Texas judiciary?
For the last decade or so many GOP candidates, many of them with stances on issues that a majority of Texans disagree with, have been getting elected and reelected without having to explain themselves. Many of them are in positions that aren’t very publicized but have a serious effect on our every day lives. Primarily in public education and the state courts.
Lorenzo Sadun is running for the Democratic nomination for the State Board of Education (SBOE) District 10, which includes Williamson County. Here’s a BOR post from last month on his campaign, Lorenzo Sadun for SBOE-10. Looking at the latest campaign treasurer filings the GOP incumbent, who has some odd stances on issues, Cynthia Dunbar is running for reelection. In a campaign flyer Sadun had this to say:
Are you tired of the State Board of Education’s antics? Are you tired of being represented by Cynthia Dunbar, who refuses to send her kids to school, who calls public education “tyrannical” and “a subtle instrument of perversion,” and who turns every issue before the Board into a test of faith?
Most of us are tired of that kind of thing in our state education board. Sadun is a scientist and professor at the University of Texas. He’s also taught religion and served as the director of his congregation’s religious school. In his flyer he goes on to say.
“He knows that public education needs to stay strictly secular, not because we don’t respect each other’s religious views, but because we do”.
His web site is not up yet, but when it is we will be sure to post it here. There are two other candidates listed with treasures – according to the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC). One is a Republican and it will be instersting to see how Dunbar is attacked in the GOP primary. It’s likely there will be several Democratic candidates in the primary as well, since the incumbent has made it so obvious that she needs to be replaced.
Democrats challenging for statewide judicial seats couldn’t quite get over the hump: Court of Criminal Appeals candidate Susan Strawn and the seldom-seen J.R. Molina, along with a pair of Texas Supreme Court candidates, all fell short of a majority, though once again they were the highest Democratic vote getters on the statewide ballot, posting especially solid numbers in urban areas.
Think of it this way, Court of Criminal Appeals candidate Susan Strawn, with a minimal budget and no voter outreach,got 92,695 more statewide votes than Democratic Senate candidate Rick Noriega who ran a significant grassroots campaign and was on TV in several markets. For whatever reason, Texas voters appear to dislike Republican judges in greater numbers than they do other statewide pols. (Emphasis added).
As Texas continues to shift demographically from rural to urban and the Latino vote increases in importance, these electoral trends all favor Democrats and it won’t be long before Ds begin picking up statewide races, inevitably starting with judicial appellate seats. In close races where every vote counts, it will be judicial races, ultimately, that become the spearpoint of Democrats’ statewide electoral success. Mark my words.
The reason voters “dislike” GOP judges is because the perceive they are only ruling the way they are because of the huge campagn donations they are raking in from GOP donors, (see this EOW post for more). The vast majoriy of Texans want fair judges, not partisan judges. And with judges elected on a partisan basis the only way to bring fairness back is to elect some Democrats.
The Dallas News’ Michael Landauer writes that “Lawrence Meyers, the longest-serving member of the Court of Criminal Appeals, says he’s running for re-election. In doing so, he cites the court’s reputation for fairness. Try not to laugh.” The other two Texas CCA judges up in 2010 are Michael Keasler and Cheryl Johnson, all Republicans.
There is no liberal wing on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. There’s a conservative wing, to which Judge Johnson belongs, and a more or less totalitarian wing, in which Keasler and Meyers reside along with Presiding Judge Sharon Keller.
In essence what’s happened in many of the SBOE and statewide court races is the Texas GOP’s primary voter’s choices have been able to sail to election, or reelection, without having to answer for their record, or explain themselves on this issues. That will no longer be the case. Those who’ve been elected simply because they were the most pleasing the the GOP primary voter, or had an “R” next to their name will now have to make their case to every voter in Texas. Not just the GOP primary voters. No more free rides.