Via the AusChron, Carona Says He’ll Filibuster TxDOT Sunset Bill. Text of press release below:
Why I Will Filibuster the TxDOT Sunset Bill, by Senator John Carona
There is an old Italian saying: Dai nemici mi guardo io, dagli amici mi guardi Iddio. It means “I can protect myself from my enemies; may God protect me from my friends!”
It’s no secret by now that the conference committee report contents were not what I was led to believe, and that the report was signed and filed before I was ever shown the decisions. What we have is a deal negotiated in bad faith. I can handle the personal and professional insult involved; after all, there is another Italian saying:
Quando finisce la partita, i pedoni, le torri, i cavalli, i vescovi, i due re e le due regine tutti vanno nello stesso scatolo.
When the chess game is over, the pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, kings, and queens all go back into the same box. We will recover and work together again, and the Senate will survive.
Unfortunately, the practical effects of HB 300 for Texas transportation are negative and still must be addressed. For example, in the absence of the Local Option Transportation Act, other provisions included in either the House or Senate bill but discarded by conferees such as Local Participation take on new importance and should have been adopted. Had I known LOTA would be stripped, I would have pressed that point.
If HB 300 dies, the only real loss is the enabling legislation to issue Proposition 12 bonds. Frankly, given the debt service entailed over time, there is a good argument to putting off this debt until we can pass legislation reducing or eliminating transportation diversions, legislation I filed, but mysteriously came to a stop in the House.
It further appears that the Senate conferees ended up giving away the store. The fatal flaw in HB 300 is buried in the process for determining whether the state or the MPO picks the projects. HB 300 has the Transportation Commission developing criteria for selection and placement of projects in the Transportation Plan, which is good. However, for the major funding categories the Commission must then use the MPO’s priorities unless they conflict with federal law or rule. Finally, the department “shall use the planning organizations’ project lists to create the statewide transportation program and budget.” Through these steps, found on page 38 of the side by side, the conferees complete the transfer of decision making authority from the state level to the MPO, which in my view is the wrong direction.
Accordingly, here is how I will proceed today.
First, I will read the bill to the body. HB 300 on conference committee report is 344 pages long, which is even bigger than the infamous HB 3588 by 10%. Given that the House bill came to the Senate with over 100 amendments stapled to the back and not rolled in, there has never been a compiled version that makes sense, entire sections of law are repealed by handwritten notes in the margins, and we have barely had the bill long enough to absorb so much as the table of contents, you can expect this effort to take a while.
In that process, we will explore a few of the very curious provisions of this bill. For example, why would there be a provision inserted after Senator Hinojosa was appointed to the committee that addresses a TCEQ permit currently in litigation and if passed, I am told would put a constituent of Senator Lucio’s out of business?
Why if LOTA was so impossible, would there be a provision appearing for the first time in the conference committee report that enables the El Paso County Commissioners, without a vote of the citizens, to increase vehicle registration fees by an additional $50?
If rail transit in North Texas is too much for the House to vote on, why would the conference committee report include a first-ever provision directing the route of a rail line serving Irving?
Second, I will describe for my colleagues in detail the development and content of the Rail North Texas proposal, so they can fully understand and appreciate the resolve of local leaders, businesses, and taxpayers in North Texas to have this opportunity.
Third, I will address the knee-jerk, self-professed tax watchdogs whose outcry on the local option transportation act betrays either ignorance of the session or a callous use of LOTA as a straw man to garner headlines and addresses for their mailing lists. I will do that by reminding my colleagues of the content, analysis, and fiscal impact of legislation I proposed that would end diversions and index the motor fuels tax.
Fourth, I will share with each Senator the projects in their districts that are unfunded, and that this legislation will do little to address.
Fifth, I will return to the reason LOTA is so important, the state of transportation funding today. There are many resources that detail the funding crisis, such as the 2030 Report and the Governor’s Business Council report, and I look forward to disseminating that information.
Of course, Texas is not alone in these needs, and there are voluminous reports from at least two national select committees that shed light on our failing infrastructure finance systems.
I hope at that point I have not run out of time in the session because I have some other items to discuss, but I am inspired by the memory of Bill Meier, who from the desk right behind where I sit today, talked for 43 hours. Let’s see how I do.
DMN’s Transportation blog has a great wrap up of how the local option went down, Post-mortem: Local option tax may be dead, but need for funds is not. It has quotes from Carona, Perry and Pickett. The also have this, for Joe Pickett’s take on what the bill accomplishes, here’s HB 300 Highlights-1.pdf he sent me last night. There’s a bunch of bad stuff in HB 300.
EOW’s is behind you 100%. HB 300 is a horrible bill and should not be allowed to pass. McBlogger has more. Also call your state representatives and let them know to voter against HB 300.
Via the DMN’s Transportation blog, Local option appears dead.
Sen. John Carona was unable to get enough support for the Local Option Transportation Act among Senate and House negotiators, dooming the provision when the TxDOT sunset bill goes to floor votes tomorrow.
Among conferees on the Senate side, only Carona and Kirk Watson of Austin held out for the plan. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen, Robert Nichols of Jacksonville and Glenn Hegar of Katy signed a conference report without the local option provision.
Four of the five House conferees signed as well. They were Linda Harper-Brown of Irving, Joe Pickett of El Paso, Wayne Smith of Baytown and Carl Isett of Lubbock. Ruth Jones McClendon of San Antonio was the only House conferee to support local option in the end.
The parliamentary moves that could save the plan now are way beyond Hail Marys. Consider this cause lost, at least for this lawmaking session.
Where was top leadership on this issue? Not hard to figure. Their appointees to the conference committee could have guaranteed that the loca-option (sic) provision remained. Yet the deck was stacked with indifferent-to-hostile people.
It’s a shame that the most hostile of all was from the heart of this metro area. Putting Linda Harper-Brown of Irving on the House conference committee poisoned the bill’s chances. Speaker Joe Straus send a message about his intentions when he named her.
Obviously the DMN doesn’t read EOW because we’ve been saying for years that there is no leadership in this state, especially on the transportation issue. Yes putting Harper-Brown, who is unlikely to be around next session, on the conference committee was a particularly bad move.
Earlier this year when EOW wrote the post, Enough with the half-measures and tinkering, it was obvious that there was no leadership, or the will, to do anything different than “toll everything” plan that Perry and the rest of those who have the power over transportation in Texas want to do.
Vicki Truitt is mad, and Carona probably is too, but they’re Republicans. The can’t understand that no matter how “decent” they deem this tax cut to be, they can’t get enough politicians in this state to go out on a limb, and vote for this bill. This bill, which they say, will only put a tax increase up to a decision of the people. They only have themselves and their party to blame. They’ve so poisoned and now we are all stuck, and somewhere Grover Norquist is smiling. And all that’s left for Republicans like Truitt and Carona, is well….you reap what you sow.
From the comments at the DMN:
Ok, I am sick and tired of the road/traffic situation. Does anyone know of a solution to fix this? I do not mind paying an extra 10 cents a gal., but this was not even about that. Just to give us the right to debate it and vote over it in our own communities. I was really happy to hear about everyone going to Austin and tracking down the politicians. I think that everyone here is sick and tired of the situation. The smog, spending a huge chunk of your day sitting on the freeway. Or side roads.
There is a fix for this and it’s raising and indexing the statewide gas tax. But what that would take is a bunch of new, and/or reformed, elected officials that are committed to fixing our entire transportation system in Texas. But those elected officials will need to know, from the people, that they will be voted out if this issue in NOT fixed! And that even if we have to pay a little more in taxes it’s not a problem as long as the issue is resolved.
I’ll give Carona and Truitt credit for putting themselves out there and trying to help their constituents. But this was doomed to fail from the beginning and there never was a certainty that Gov. Perry would allow sign it into law. Maybe the best thing that will come of this is that some more people will get involved because of this issue, especially in a major metropolitan area like DFW, and shine more light on this issue.
Let’s hope that Sen. Carona keeps his promise that he would kill the TxDOT Sunset bill if the local options didn’t pass. Which would lead to another good thing coming out of this. That would allow another two years to try and reform TxDOT and Texas’ transportation problems. Maybe this time it can be taken seriously and we can actually get the problems fixed.
From our sources in Williamson County, EOW is hearing that state Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), will not be running for re-election for the Texas Senate. We’re also hearing that state Rep. Dan Gattis, Jr. (R-Georgetown) is the hand-picked successor for the Republican nomination to replace him in 2010.
If that’s the case that means the residents of HD-20 [MAP] – which encompasses the Northern and Western part of Williamson County, and all of Milam county – will have an open seat election in 2010. It’s still a pretty solid GOP leaning district but without the Gattis name on the ballot, potentially, who knows. Gattis (64.7%) outperfromed McCain (61%) in the 2008 election [.pdf], with Obama getting just a shade over 37% of the vote. The person with the D next to there name in 2008 wasn’t and isn’t a Democrat and that will change in 2010.
Of course this news is likely to reverberate all down the ballot in Williamson County, and potentially other SD 5 counties as well. And EOW hasn’t heard that Ogden won’t be running for another office, but there were signs during the past legislative session that Ogden might have been burnishing his resume for a statewide run, or possibly Congress.
Yesterday the house passed the budget and it now awaits Gov. Perry’s signature. And many other bills are still pending, House, Senate appoint plethora of conference committees to iron out bill differences.
As legislative leaders scrambled to save important bills from a procedural death Friday, the fates of several state agencies remained unclear, with Senate and House negotiators remaining at loggerheads on several issues.
Friday was the House deadline to pass legislation or appoint conference committees to resolve differences between the two chambers.
Late in the day, lawmakers said they expected to have a record number of conference committees working on more than 100 Senate-amended House bills that were threatened by a parliamentary logjam Thursday. That means legislators will be working through the weekend to negotiate the bills and return them to their respective chambers for final votes.
In daily developments, the House on Friday:
Approved a $182 billion budget; it now goes to Gov. Rick Perry.
The DMN has a great article on special sessions, Perry’s special session is risky, but that hasn’t stopped him before.
Most governors get more than they bargained for in a special session. Some have been politically disastrous.
Gov. Mark White, in trying to cajole reluctant lawmakers to pass a sales-tax hike to support education reforms, tried to reassure them. “Raise taxes and blame me,” he famously counseled them in the summer of 1986. “I’ll explain it.”
They did. He tried. And he lost the November election.
“Special sessions rarely go as the governor plans,” said Chuck McDonald, an assistant press secretary to Gov. Ann Richards.
“They are painful.”
Perry’s been lucky so far with special sessions so far, at as far as reelection goes, we’ll have to see if he tempts fate again. They also have this chart of Governors and special sessions.
Two more from the DMN. This article updating education legislation this session, Education bills pass in Legislature’s final days. But another DMN article was most interesting on how the coalitions are changing in the Texas House and what it means for redistricting next session. Rural, urban lawmakers unite in face of growing suburban clout.
Social conservative Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and liberal firebrand Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, stood arm-in-arm in the House recently, supporting a bill that would use taxes on smokeless tobacco to lure doctors to underserved areas by helping pay off their student loans.
The odd-couple pairing was no accident – the bill helped both rural and inner-city Texans, and without one another’s support, it could have faced longer odds in a chamber controlled by suburban lawmakers and the first House speaker from a metropolitan area in years.
On that and several issues, most notably the top 10 percent rule, rural and urban lawmakers have stood together in this session, a surprising alliance driven by changing demographics that yield common interests.
Another reason: Rural lawmakers have seen their clout steadily decline as cities and suburbs have grown.
“When I first got here 10 years ago, over 70 percent of the members were just one generation off the farm,” said Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon. “Each year, we get a little further down the road – they can all still remember Grandma living on the farm, but they’re one generation further from seeing her.”
Suburban and urban members, meanwhile, say that the current focus on growing communities is justified, and that a forward-looking approach to issues such as energy will help maintain and manage that growth.
Carrollton Republican Rep. Burt Solomons, chairman of the powerful House State Affairs Committee, said that suburban members are “sensitive to our rural brethren” but that policies should be balanced to support growing constituencies and future Texans.
The election of San Antonio Republican Joe Straus as speaker, he said, was an important step in that direction this session.
Suburban lawmakers point out that often, social or political issues hinge more on party than geography. Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, said she is philosophically parallel to Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, except when it comes to water allocation.
Further steps down that road could be taken next session, when redistricting will address population growth in the suburbs and potentially remove seats from rural areas – at least two, by Hardcastle’s prediction.
Texas may be gearing up for a suburban backlash next session in redistricing. Should make for a real fun 2011 legislative session.
From the way the two camps are positioning themselves – Carona (Senate), Pikcett (House) – there may not be a deal on the TxDOT Sunset bill, HB 300, before the Midnight deadline on Saturday. This from Vaqueros & Wonkeros, Pickett gives lobbyists an earful; Carona says TxDOT bill’s fate is in Pickett’s hands.
State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, gave some transportation lobbyists what-for today after he said he found out they were collecting signatures on a petition he considered misleading.
“I swore a lot, and I apologize to my mother, but I do not apologize to them. They deserved it,” said Pickett, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
Pickett said some lobbyists were asking House members to sign a petition they said he supported to give consideration to the local tax and fee option. He said the tactic was misleading.
“I got mad,” he said. “This is a big deal.”
He said leaving in the local tax and fee option could result in the whole bill dying in the House. There are too many important reforms in the measure to let the whole thing fail, Pickett said.
[State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas] said the Senate has compromised, lowering the fees communities could charge to raise transportation dollars. They have also agreed, he said, to keep the phase-out provision for red light cameras, although future legislation could change that.
“It just defies logic that the House would not be given the opportunity to vote on this bill,” Carona said.
The House and Senate members must agree on a final version of the bill soon, or it could die.
The bill must be printed and distributed by midnight Saturday and must be voted on by midnight Sunday.
Carona said if Pickett would support the compromises the Senate has agreed to, the rest of the House would follow his lead since he is the chairman of the Transportation Committee.
“It all has come down to Joe Pickett,” Carona said. “Joe is a capable leader, and I need him to step forth now when it really counts.”
It’s too bad to see the Senate stud giving up so easy and leaving this bill in the hands of another legislator. This via QR, Pickett Says The Votes Aren’t There For Local Option Transportation Funding.
House Transportation Chair Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) challenges anyone, including the full might and power of Hillco Partners, to produce a list of 77 members of the House who would vote for a local option transportation tax. It just doesn’t exist, Pickett said
“Whoever gave the Senate a list of 77 members is ruining the bargaining position of the House,” Pickett said. “That’s especially true when they say they’re not going to show the names to you. That’s like everyone in the Speaker’s race saying they have 77 votes, and it ends up being something like 300 members.”
Pickett goes on to say that the three times he polled members of the house on some form of gas tax increase or indexing, he’s come up with about 50 members to vote for it. So if the local option tax is a deal breaker for Carona the get the TxDOT Sunset bill passed a deal may not get done.
This post could be titled, “Hey Texas!! Your lack of leadership is showing!!” Either way the point is the same. Texans have been suffering for years now, because those who hold the reins of power in Texas do not have the ability to govern.
A perfect example is how the CHIP expansion bill was sabotaged by GOP Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan). It highlights how they never actually wanted CHIP expansion to become law, they just wanted to take credit for passing in through the Senate. Via Rick Casey in the HChron, CHIP charade also failed test of character.
Dewhurst and other Senate leaders basked in one-day headlines saying they had saved the popular bill, but Coleman knew better. It was dead on arrival.
The House has much stricter rules than the Senate requiring that an amendment must be “germane” to the bill to which it is attached. Thursday evening, Speaker Joe Strauss not surprisingly ruled that the amendment was not germane.
The bill to which the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expansion amendment was attached was titled: “Relating to newborn screening and the creation of the Newborn Screening Advisory Committee.”
Well, they were both about children.
“You could take a bill about the Edwards Aquifer and amend one about building swimming pools and say they’re both about water,” Coleman said. “But that wouldn’t fly.”
Substitute was ready
What galls Coleman is that sitting in the Senate Finance Committee was a bill that was clearly germane to the Senate CHIP bill.
It was Coleman’s CHIP bill. The Senate could have approved it as it was, or the Finance Committee could have voted to substitute the Senate version authored by Sen. Kip Averitt, a moderate Republican from Waco.
The differences were not substantial, said Coleman. Coleman believes the Senate leadership sabotaged the bill so that they could take credit, then blame the House for killing it.
Maybe that’s smart politics, if dishonest.
Was it a deliberate charade or callous stupidity?
Does it matter, since Gov. Rick Perry appeared ready to veto the bill anyway?
Yes, it matters. It was a test of either character or competence. Dewhurst and Ogden flunked.
They’d rather take credit for passing CHIP through the Senate and have it ultimately fail, then actually get uninsured children insurance. This is one vote, and issue, that all voters in Senate District 5 must remember if Ogden runs for reelection in 2010, and whatever it is Dewhurst tries to run for next. We used to have Lt. Gov.’s that could get the things they wanted passed. So that means either Dewhurst didn’t want CHIP expansion passed, or he’s a weak Lt. Gov. Of course BOR has more on the CHIP issue.
The next issue where there’s a profound lack of leadership is transportation. While the DMN is reporting on Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) becoming a stud, he’s really had one focus this session. Getting the the local option gas and fee tax increases bill through the legislature. Which is fine for his constituents, but he’s done little, if anything, to lead on bringing any kind of real change to TxDOT or to how we fund and plan for transportation statewide.
The broad outlines remain unchanged: The House wants to limit TxDOT’s control over which roads get built. The Senate wants local-option tax and to keep the department role essentially unchanged. Both sides back accountability measures, a legislative oversight committee, and greater transparency. The future of red-light cameras is anybody’s guess.
Sources in the Senate who strongly want a deal to be made said they hope they will see one, but warned that it’s entirely possible that if the House refuses to accept a local-option tax in the final bill, Carona will scuttle the larger bill altogether.
Oh yeah and this:
One source’s thoughts: Carona is a stud, and to watch him in action on the local-option bill negotiations, is to see a senator who has come into his full maturity.
The other obvious part of this is that Gov. Rick Perry has decided to take a total pass this session on even being involved in the transportation discussion. Maybe he finally understands he can’t lead on this issue? He’s never said he would sign, or is for the local opiton tax bill, making him essentially opposed to it. Perry may be just fine with the way TxDOT is right now, and in that case all he has to do is veto the Sunset bill. Then TxDOT and transportation in Texas can stay just the way it is in now. Oh, and without a “moratorium” on CDA/PPP’s. Is Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst even aware that there’s is a problem with transportation in Texas?
Anyone who’s been paying attention knows a huge, HUGE opportunity has been missed over the last two years to have a serious discussion about the future of transportation in Texas. All the leaders of Texas have chosen to either ignore it, work for their own self interest, or shun any serious fights or forward thinking on what would be best for this state an it’s people moving forward. It’s pathetic and on this one issue alone they should all be run out of office.
Another serious issue that got pushed aside because the GOP leadership in this state wanted no part of it was insurance reform. There’s little in this state that is hurting thoseof middle and lower incomes than the extremely high insurance rates we have in Texas. And the GOP leadership decided to scuttle that by focusing on an ultra partisan issue instead. But they did find the willingness to get a business tax cut through. Jason Embry at First Read has more on what’s still pending.
How many more legislative sessions with a lack of leadership can this state take? That’s the question every Texan needs to ask when they go to the polls in 2010.
Earlier this month it was reported that the Georgetown police chief David Morgan was going to, at least be demoted, but no matter what, He is no longer the chief nor will he be. That’s what Georgetown City Manager Paul Brandenburg said. He was given 20 days to make a decision to either resign or be demoted. His twenty days will be up next week.
Earlier this week the survey [.pdf], done by the Texas Municipal Police Association of Georgetown police officers, which prompted this action, was released and a new chief of police was announced.
At its regular meeting Tuesday, the council approved the appointment of Lt. Brent Schacherl, who has been with the department since 1996.
“Lt. Schacherl is an outstanding officer, and I believe he is the best person to serve as interim chief in order to stabilize and manage the department until a new chief is selected,” City Manager Paul Brandenburg said in a statement.
The survey was delivered to 61 police officers, 49 of whom responded. Surveys were not sent to the chief, assistant chief or those with the rank of captain.
News 8 has a good synopsis of the survey. Also released was Morgan’s response memo [.pdf], which prompted a response [.pdf] from the president of the Georgetown Police Officer’s Association, Eric Wise.
There surely seems to be some serious problems here is that survey is correct. Let’s hope the new leadership for the Georgetown police department can bring some positive change.
Yesterday there was some very encouraging economic news for Leander and Williamson County, via the HCN, Proposed facility in Leander to provide 4,000 jobs.
Valence Technology, Inc., a leading U.S.-based manufacturer and supplier of lithium iron magnesium phosphate energy storage solutions, announced on Wednesday it plans to open a facility in Leander that would provide 4,000 jobs. Valence has submitted a grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy under the Electric Drive Vehicle Battery and Component Manufacturing Initiative. The facility would cost nearly $600 million.
Here’s an overview of Valence Technology Inc., from their corporate borchure:
Valence Technology, Inc. is an international leader in the development of lithium iron magnesium phosphate energy storage solutions. The company has redefined lithium battery technology and performance by marketing the industry’s first safe, reliable and rechargeable lithium phosphate battery.
Founded in 1989, Valence offers a proven technology and manufacturing infrastructure that delivers ISO-certified products and processes that are protected by an extensive global patent portfolio.
Headquartered in Austin, Texas, Valence has facilities in Nevada, China and Northern Ireland. Valence is traded on the NASDAQ Capital Market exchange under the ticker symbol VLNC.
This deal has been made possible because of massive tax abatements that have been agreed to by the city, county and state, as well as a likely federal grant of $225 million dollars. The grant comes from President Obama’s stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), that was passed earlier this year. Again from the HCN:
“With significant incentives projected from the state, county and city governments, Leander, Texas, was chosen as the primary site for our advanced battery manufacturing plant,” said Valence Chief Financial officer Ross Goolsby, who’s also a Steiner Ranch resident. “Both State and City officials have demonstrated incredible support for the plan to provide up to 2,700 new, high-tech jobs in the Central Texas region by 2012 and up to 4,000 jobs by 2016. The State of Texas, Williamson County and the City of Leander are projecting and seeking approval of more than $150 million in incentives over a 10-year period.”
Valence submitted its application requesting $225 million in federal grant funds over a three-year period and plans to fund the remaining $359.4 million (61.5% of the total project costs) through state and local tax and other incentives. The annual production capacity of the proposed facility is estimated to be 660,000 battery packs or more than one million kilowatt hours (kWh) of equivalent available energy and can be online as early as August 2012. This grant application is a separate request from the Company’s March loan application under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program (ATVMIP). Funds under both programs are available to qualified companies.
Funds totalling $2 billion for grants under this initiative have been appropriated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which aims to stimulate the economy and create new American jobs by specifically utilizing renewable energy technologies that will shift the nation to a low-carbon economy.
It’s key to recognize that this kind of investment, from the federal government to create the jobs of the future, is what Obama said all along was one of the main objectives of the economic stimulus package. Which, by the way, Rep. John Carter (R-Round Rock) so eagerly voted against.
It must also be realized that the tax abatements from the city, county, and state most times don’t “pay for themselves”, they too come at a price. That’s not to say this is a bad deal, just trying to bring some reality to the stiuation.
Here’s what the economic development director for the city of Leander had to say about the deal:
Kirk Clennan, economic development director for the city of Leander, said the city has been working with federal, state, county and Austin Chamber of Commerce officials since late February on the deal.
“This is a game changer for Central Texas and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and its regional partners,” Clennan said.
They’re has been little said, thus far, about what this means for residents of Leander. It appears we’re just supposed to assume that some benefits will “trickle-down” to the average people that live in and around Leander, not all of them will work at the plant. It would be nice to hear how this will benefit the middle class tax paying citizen, as well as those who are struggling in this economy, and not just how good this is for the Chambers of Commerce.
On Tuesday President Barack Obama nominated federal judge Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court to replace retiring justice David Souter. At first glance she seems like a quality choice and is likely to be confirmed with little more than the usual partisan rancor. EOW recommends these two posts from SCOTUS blog to get familiar with Sotomayor – The Dynamic of the Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor and Judge Sotomayor’s Appellate Opinions in Civil Cases.
While she’s likely to be confirmed, how will the two Senators from Texas vote on her confirmation? Katherine Haenschen has a good post up at BOR about one of them, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Huchison’s dilemma regarding the nomination of Sotomayor, Hutchison and Sotomayor: How Will KBH Vote?
In an AP story spread far and wide across Texas, Hutchison expressed early doubts about Sotomayor:
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison finds “troubling” statements she says Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has made in the past 11 years that federal judges are able to “change policy.”
KBH is referring to a comment Sotomayor made in the past about how appeals courts are where judges apply the law. This is hardly an ideological or political statement. As MediaMatters quickly pointed out:
…numerous legal experts have stated that Sotomayor’s comment was, in the words of Hofstra University law professor Eric Freedman, “the absolute judicial equivalent of saying the sun rises each morning” and “thoroughly uncontroversial to anyone other than a determined demagogue.”
A determined demagogue, you say? Hutchison, you may recall, voted against Sotomayor when she was nominated to the 2nd Circuit in 1998. She was one of 29 Senators, all Republican, to oppose the nomination. So it would not be shocking for her to vote against her now.
In 1998 the political landscape in Texas was much different and she didn’t have to worry about a primary race for governor. More from Haenschen.
So, KBH has a quandary, in voting on a judicial nominee who is highly, highly likely to be approved. As widely noted, Sotomayor is as highly qualified as any nominee has been for the bench in decades. Her education is impeccable, her experience unmatched. She has not shown a record that can be considered overly political or ideological. Opposition can thus only be mustered on partisan lines against the nominating President, or because of naked identity politics.
And she’s not just voting as any rank-and-file Republican, she’s voting as one about to square off in a primary battle against Rick Perry, a candidate who has shown next-to-zero restraint in pandering to the far-right fringe. With these early statements, is KBH trying to pander to the right-wing voters she’ll need in her primary? Is she going to vote against Sotomayor, and make sure that Perry can’t accuse her of supporting “liberal judicial activists?”
What if Hutchison wants to woo women and Latinos over to the Republican primary (especially if we lack a suitable Democratic contest) to make sure we don’t suffer 4 more years of Rick Perry? A vote against Sotomayor can call that strategy into question for sure.
And what if she does vote against Sotomayor? If Hutchison makes it through her primary unscathed, would that vote alienate many of the women and Hispanic voters she would want to court in the general election?
So, I guess for KBH the question is this: does she vote like a hard-line conservative ideologue against Sotomayor and hope it brings enough votes in the short-term and doesn’t alienate others long-term? Or does she vote to confirm the most qualified, meritorious Supreme Court nominee we’ve seen in nearly a decade?
Cornyn’s dilemma is different. There isn’t a dilemma for his personal political future, since he just got reelected. But he does head the NRSC, and will have a likely Senate seat to defend in Texas in the next year or so. Depending on how he takes on this nomination it could hurt GOP candidates in statewide races in Texas and GOP Senate candidates all over the country.
John Cornyn (R-Texas): As a member of the Judiciary Committee, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a senator from a state where the Hispanic vote is big and getting bigger, there’s a lot at stake in the Sotomayor confirmation for Big Bad John. Cornyn has made a point at the NRSC of recruiting moderate candidates in places like Pennsylvania, Florida, Delaware and Illinois but his own politics are far more conservative. How does he balance those competing interests? And, if nothing obviously disqualifying comes to light about Sotomayor, can he keep his colleagues in line to avoid a perception problem for his candidates on the trail next November?
Hutchison could avoid this altogether by resigning before her nomination comes up for a vote in the Senate. The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor appears to have bipartisan support in Florida and some are speculating it may have locked up Florida for Obama in 2012. Since this pick isn’t likely to change the balance of the court, it may be best if the GOP just sat this one out.
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