06.29.11

Don’t get distracted

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Commentary, Education, Had Enough Yet?, Public Schools, The Budget, The Lege at 3:15 pm by wcnews

The House adjourned “Sine Die” today which ends “the worst legislature that the Capitol has seen in forty years“. All of today’s pseudo righteous indignation and talk of injustice over a bull shit issue like TSA pat-downs was enough to make any Texan sick! This GOP led state government of ours has done some serious long-term damage to Texas. Here’s the text of a press release from Chair of the Texas Democratic Party Boyd Richie.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie issued the following statement on the conclusion of the Texas legislative special session:

“After meeting for 170 days, the Republican-led 82nd Texas legislature adjourned without solving the most critical problems facing Texans. Instead of adequately funding our children’s schools or correcting a revenue system that will lead to future deficits and shortfalls, the regular and special sessions were dominated by ‘red meat’ partisan wedge issues that divide Texans at a time when we should be working together to secure our future.

“The misguided GOP agenda was dictated by the political ambitions of Rick Perry and David Dewhurst. Their insistence on appealing to the most extreme Republican Primary voters as they run for President and U.S. Senate caused the real issues facing our state to be kicked down the road to fester for another two years.

“The consequences of this session will impact Texans for the next two years – but hopefully not for generations. Texas Democrats will force the Republican politicians who failed to stand up for our values to be accountable for the harm they inflicted on our state.”

As a result of GOP partisanship, the lowlights this legislative session include:

  • The two year “deficit budget” will result in at least $17-18 billion in debt and deferrals being passed on to next legislature.
  • For the first time in 62 years, state education funding was cut below the level needed to provide for projected school enrollment, with cuts totaling $5.3 billion.
  • Teacher salaries, already below the national average, were cut further, making it more difficult to keep the best teachers in the classroom.
  • Almost $5 billion in Medicaid funding was deferred to the next legislature, part of a dangerous health care agenda which could also threaten Medicare, nursing home care for seniors and basic health care for children.
  • An anti-Hispanic agenda persisted through the regular session and into the special session, including so-called “sanctuary cities” legislation, voter ID and eliminating grants for pre-K and college grants for incoming freshmen.
  • Drastic health care cuts will reduce access to prenatal care and basic health care for millions of Texas women, while the GOP legislature placed a higher priority on requiring sonograms of women who make a difficult personal choice.
  • An anti-consumer agenda made it more difficult for Texans to seek justice in the court system.

Of course many in the GOP are trying to spin this as a productive session. But state Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) is having none of it, Claim of a state increase in school spending is false.

Some of the leaders in our Texas Legislature are making the claim that the state budget expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Perry will give $1.6 billion to $3 billion more to our public schools than the previous budget.
It’s simply not true.

In fact, the Legislature’s own “fiscal note,” which analyzes the financial impact of legislation, says that there is a “savings to the state” — meaning a reduction in aid to school districts – of $4 billion over the next two years. And some are proposing that those cuts be extended for three years after that – a total cut of $10 billion from our public schools.

So how can state leaders make such claims if the statements aren’t true? Simple. They use the propagandists’ technique of cherry-picking a true bit of information and putting it into a context where the result proves a false statement.

Here is how they did it.

Click here to read how they did it. Also anyone willing to continue the hard work of turning this around be sure and check out the “Save Texas Schools” Statewide Conference in July.

While there’s likely to be many things in the coming weeks and months meant to distract us from what we need to focus on, we can’t be distracted.  That is exactly what the GOP legislators that voted for this budget and the many companion pieces of legislation are counting on.  They’ve made life harder for ever poor, working and middle class Texans and families.  They’re counting on the fact that we will have to work harder to stay afloat, that we will not have the time to concentrate on working to defeat them in 2012.   We must use the next 16 plus months to prove them wrong.  If not it will be much worse next time.

Austin City Council likely to approve F1 today

Posted in Austin at 10:49 am by wcnews

Via the AAS, With environmental deal, F1 may be nearing city approval.

Formula One racing appears to have secured the City Council’s approval after negotiating a familiar Austin issue: the environment.

On Tuesday, Council Member Chris Riley announced a tentative environmental agreement between local F1 promoters and the city. The deal is co-sponsored by Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Mike Martinez. Council Member Bill Spelman indicated he was likely to support it as well, which would make a majority.

The agreement comes after Riley and environmental activists spent two frantic weeks trying to secure environmental concessions from local F1 promoters. According to Riley’s office, the promoters agreed to plant hundreds and perhaps thousands of trees. And raise $5 million for on-site research into green technology. And provide 5 acres for a community garden. And hire enough low-emission shuttles and provide enough off-site parking to transport most of the spectators to and from Austin.

The City Council is scheduled to ratify the deal today. It is also expected to vote on the much-debated financial contracts, in what could be a final up-or-down vote that will surely draw opposition based on, among other issues, skepticism that the city will have no obligation to subsidize the event, as race promoters and city officials say.

Riley said F1 promoters agreed to the strongest environmental standards ever applied to an Austin event.

“This project shouldn’t just be about fast cars,” Riley said in a statement. “Austin’s version of the event should convey our commitment to clean technology research and development, and should inspire people across the planet to think green.”

Not everyone at the negotiating table came away happy with the results. Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas chapter of Public Citizen, who sat with city officials during discussions with F1 promoters, said the agreement contains too many “shoulds” and not enough “shalls,” and said the city should have pushed F1 to do more.

BOR has more on Riley’s work, A Green and Carbon Neutral Formula 1? While Riley’s work should be commended, he’s likely just making a bad deal, less bad.

[UPDATE]:  More from Jackie Stone at Austin News, Will a Cast Change Change Anything on Council?

When Fools Rule

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Education, Had Enough Yet?, Public Schools, Right Wing Lies, Special Session, The Budget, The Lege at 10:34 am by wcnews

As the Lege descended into chaos yesterday it was impossible not to be notice the absence of leadership that exists in our state. As the special session Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry called drew to a close, where the Governor (California dreamin’)?  Again he’s off galavanting around the country.  And it’s as if Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus don’t even talk anymore, as the Senate adjourned “Sine Die” without waiting for the House to get all it’s ducks-in-a-row, as is customary. The reason that custom exists is to protect against something like this, which causes “feelings” to get hurt.

The Senate has adjourned Sine Die, leaving the burden of the TSA “anti-groping” bill in the House’s lap. That leaves the House with one very unlikely option: Putting the wheels in motion to fast-track the Senate’s version of the bill.

The Senate has put the House in a “take it or leave it” position, said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas. Branch said both the governor and House Speaker Joe Straus asked the Senate not to adjourn, and also to pass the House’s non-binding resolution in the event a full bill couldn’t get passed.

The Senate’s move was “not very respectful,” Branch said. “This is a bicameral system of government that takes two chambers to pass law… We’ve had time tonight and tomorrow to finish the peoples’ business. Apparently they were in a hurry to get out of town.”

What that did was force the hand of the GOP Texas House on one of the biggest non-issues of the special session.  The issue Speaker Straus called a stunt on Friday, Texas bill on TSA pat-downs facing final showdown today.

After surviving a progression of near-death experiences, a controversial bill to ban intrusive searches by federal airport security officers faces a final showdown today, the last day of the special session.

House members will consider the bill in what is make-or-break time for Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. The two conservative Republicans have waged a vigorous effort to push the measure into law and concede that today’s vote is their last opportunity.

Simpson can pass the bill with a simple majority of the 150-member House but he needs a four-fifths vote — 120 members — to suspend the rules and bring the measure up for consideration on the final day. He cleared one hurdle Tuesday when the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 7-1 to advance the bill to the House floor.

[...]

House Speaker Joe Straus earlier denounced the bill as a “publicity stunt” but dropped his resistance to the measure after the House gave preliminary approval to a bill substantially retooled by Simpson. The measure that will be up for a vote today is Patrick’s Senate-passed measure, which he described as “significantly stronger” than the House bill.

Watching the debate it was Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman [Updated w/Coleman's statement] that pointed out Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s mistake of making this a political issue, which it wasn’t previously, by making this statement.

With the passage of SB 29, the Texas Legislature is not only telling the TSA to change their policies ? we’re telling the Obama Administration we will not be intimidated and we will vigorously defend our Constitutional rights.”

Dewhurst’s attempt at placating the tea party, by making that partisan political statement, will likely make it impossible to get the needed Democratic support to pass the bill. Which is a non-issue because if it was passed it would not change a thing.

Now on to the legislation that had to pass yesterday to keep Gov. Perry from calling another special session. No, not TWIA, which everyone thought would be the problem, it wound up sailing through both chambers without issue. Turns out the problem was with the bill that really had to pass to balance the budget, SB 1, the bill that cuts $4 billion plus from public education.

We may never know why this actually happened, it could be the House wing-nuts were sending a message to Straus, but the initial vote on SB 1 made it look as those Straus, and his team, just assumed it would pass and didn’t even count votes before the vote was taken. Which is taught on the first day of Legislative Leadership 101 – never take a vote unless you already know the outcome. House votes down school finance and revenue raising bill.

The Texas House, in a surprise turn of events late Tuesday afternoon, tentatively voted down a must-pass bill that distributes the pain of school-funding cuts and uses accounting tricks to help balance the two-year state budget.

The 79-64 vote against the bill saw 32 House Republicans, including a few key members of Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team, defect. They cast a “nay” vote that, unless reconsidered and reversed, could force the Legislature into another special session. The Senate adjourned for good earlier in the afternoon.

House Republicans immediately went into a caucus to try to sort out the mess.

Among the “nays” were State Affairs Committee chief Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who complained bitterly in a floor speech that the bill cravenly caved to Gov. Rick Perry’s desire to protect the Department of Information Resources and also placed on financially strapped rural counties an unfunded mandate that they audit court fee collections. [Emphasis added]

Other Straus allies who opposed the bill were Redistricting Committee head Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton ; Ways and Means leader Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville; and Sunset Advisory Commission Vice Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

The excuse given was that a right wing think tank had concerns about the bill, and then those concerns were allayed during a GOP caucus meeting, after which a re-vote of the bill was taken and it passed, GOP caucus enacts school cuts.

The special legislative session nearly collapsed into disarray Tuesday when the Senate went home early and the House initially killed a must-pass school finance bill.

But after first rejecting legislation imposing a $4 billion cut on public schools, House Republican leaders immediately called a caucus meeting and persuaded 16 colleagues to change their votes, salvaging the final hours of the special session, which ends today.

After voting against the bill, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, asked for another vote, explaining to his colleagues that misunderstandings over the bill had been cleared up.

“Our understanding of the bill has changed,” King explained.

House Democratic leader Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, joked that a few of her GOP colleagues suffered broken kneecaps after a 79-64 vote against the must-pass Senate Bill 1 miraculously turned into an 80-57 vote for it.

[...]

Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, said he initially voted against SB 1 because “we did not fix the school formula funding.
“I have been hearing from my school districts and decided I wanted to call attention to that fact,” he said. “I asked the Speaker if he would appoint an interim committee to study school formula funding and he said yes. So I said I’ll change my vote. If we get to draw attention to the problem and elevate awareness, I think I’ve accomplished my goal.”

Other members said they also took into account concerns raised by the conservative Eagle Forum, which urged a “no” vote on SB 1 because they feared it included language that would broaden charter schools’ access to public school construction dollars.

In particular, they voiced concern about Harmony charter schools because they were founded by a Turkish-Muslim group. They changed their vote after the Texas House General Investigating Committee agreed to look into the issue, lawmakers said.

Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, said she voted against the bill because it failed to fix inequities in school funding.
“Cy-Fair is one of my larger school districts and I’ve been telling them for the last three sessions that I’ve been here that we were going to address the inequities in school funding,” she said. “This bill doesn’t do it.”

The Texas Eagle Forum is an off-shoot of the wing-nut ’60’s movement conservative Phyllis Schlafly, that apparently holds more power over GOP members of the Texas House then Speaker Straus does.

It’s clear from these decisions that whether it’s Perry, Dewhurst, of Straus their biggest concern is a fringe vocal minority that show up to vote on a regular basis in the GOP primaries – protection for their next election.  They care more about them then they do about the majority of Texans and their families.  This is what happens when fools rule.

06.28.11

Update: Second to last day of Special Session

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Commentary, Education, Had Enough Yet?, Health Care, Public Schools, Special Session, The Budget, The Lege at 9:43 am by wcnews

Kuff posts on yesterday’s action at the Lege, Fiscal and health care bills pass. The worst part being that again the Texas GOP showed their willingness to defund public education.

One provision that didn’t make in the final version of SB 2 was an amendment from Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, that called for $2 billion from the rainy day fund for schools if the fund brings in more than expected.“A choice was made when we had money in the bank to say: ‘No, we’re not going to appropriate any more here to our schools’,” Howard said. “We’re going to leave billions in the bank when we’re asking our schools to cut.”

[...]

Ogden said the Howard amendment had promise with some modifications, but the House members wanted it gone.

“They were for it and then they were against it,” Ogden said.

Yes, after they were reminded by the people who hate public education that they need to hate it, too. That’s the choice they made, and the voters need to be reminded about it every day between now and next November.

Regarding the health care bill there are significant issues, Texas health care bill with Medicare, abortion provisions goes to Rick Perry.

[Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound,] said the measures would help tackle “unsustainable growth in our health and human services budget.” The Senate approved the bill 22-8 and the House 96-48.

Democrats objected to GOP leaders’ decision to attach to the bill two separate measures sought by conservative activists wanting to curb federal power. Under a “health care compact” proposal and a “global waiver” plan for Medicaid, state officials could seek freedom to use federal health dollars under Medicaid to nudge the needy into private health insurance with taxpayer subsidies.

The proposed interstate compact, if approved by Congress, could let Texas also take over the management of elderly residents’ federal Medicare benefits, though Zerwas played down that possibility.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said the state budget assumes Texas will be freed from Medicaid rules on eligibility and benefits and will save $700 million over the next two years. He called that folly, given state officials’ hostility toward President Barack Obama’s administration.

Zerwas did not argue, saying that “these are some tense times.”

The bill also would deny $34 million to Planned Parenthood from family planning grants, curb abortions at public hospitals and promote use of adult stem cells from the patient’s own body in new medical treatments. Abortion opponents were thrilled, while women’s health advocates warned that family planning cuts would lead to more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions.

Kuff has more on the state of this legislation.

A lot of what was in this bill was in similar legislation from the regular session. As it happens, on the same day this happened, the state of Indiana got swatted down by a federal judge for trying to legislatively de-fund Planned Parenthood. I don’t know enough about what either state has done to know how comparable the two situations are, but earlier this month Texas got some pushback from the feds over this, so there’s clearly some parallel. I feel confident there will be litigation here as well. The Trib has more on the legislation, and Jason Stanford has a righteous rant on what it does.

As a reminder of how fruitless it is for any Democrat to attempt to work with the Texas GOP, here’s a cautionary tale from state Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, A senator needs a dicho.

“Just today, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst called on House Republicans to exercise their majority strength and push sanctuary cities through the process. But the House Republican leadership is looking to justify their futility, and one small piece of that would come via the removal of a Senate Hispanic’s amendment.

“I voted to increase funding for border security in S.B. 2. I represent a border district with more skin in border security than, say, a state representative from Tarrant County. For me and my constituents, border security is more than political theater and food for my political base. For us, border security is a daily reality, and the policy implications a necessity for continued investment in our economy, our communities, and our families.

“The brand of Republicanism promoted by the Texas House leadership has and will continue to alienate a Hispanic community that is pro-family, pro-education (and soon-to-be majority in the public education system), and proud Americans. We are veterans, teachers, soldiers, university system chancellors, star athletes, mayors, mothers and sons, deserving of equal protection under the law.

“The truth of an issue is best appreciated in the context of the response it provokes. Sanctuary cities profiles Hispanics based on appearance – skin color, dress, and other perceived ‘un-American qualities.’ The response from House Republican leaders? ‘Block the Hispanic Senator’s local amendment – that will show him.’

“Show us it does. Their true nature.”

The TexasTrib has the list of what’s done, and to do, in the next two days, The Final Push: A Special Session Update. It looks like most of the GOP’s energy will be spent trying to satisfy the base, by voting on non-issues like the s-called “sanctuary cities” legislation, without damaging their party too much in 2012 by actually passing the legislation. Even though the damage may already be done, Hispanics notice when they are being bashed.

Led by the legislative actions of Arizona state officials, Gov. Rick Perry has taken the lead in enacting similar imprudent laws here in Texas.

Specifically, he and the Texas legislature are pushing bills that are negatively aimed at Hispanic citizens. Three dubious bills are as follows: (l) Voter ID Bill, (the 21st Century equivalent to the Poll Tax); (2) Redistricting Bill, (an old trick to gerrymander voting districts to diminish the Hispanic vote); and (3) Sanctuary Cities Bill, (an offensive mandate to intimidate and question the citizenship of loyal Texas citizens that look Mexican and/or speak Spanish).

To be sure, laws are necessary in society and are meant to keep citizens safe and secure. However, oftentimes they have been used in U.S. history to terrorize citizens, not to protect them. For example, Jim Crow laws were officially enacted in the U.S. to deny equal rights to Black citizens. Those abhorrent laws remained on the books from the end of the Civil War to 1965.

Likewise, the three bills named above are reminiscent of similar anti-Hispanic laws in our state’s past. They echo the negative Jim Crow-type mindset of post-1836 that subjected Spanish Mexican Texans to despicable discriminatory practices imposed by the Anglo Saxon majority. Officially, that state-supported bigotry lasted for over 120 years.

If that’s how they feel and, as was alluded to in  Sen. Hinojosa’s remarks above, that the attack on public education is being seen as an attack on Hispanics, as they head to a majority in the public school system, then there is certainly a civil rights and social justice message that Democrats must use in 2012 to win back legislative and Congressional seats.  Because nothing is going to change until Texas elects different people.

06.27.11

Wrong about everything

Posted in Around The Nation, Taxes, The Economy at 3:02 pm by wcnews

The most destructive lasting misinformation coming from “conservatives” has been the theme that tax cuts are always wrong. As McBlogger shows, even though the argument is illogical, it still holds after decades of economic misinformation, Turns out we’re kinda dumb.

Bloomberg has a great article about a poll they did of what they claim is a representative sample of Americans. For me, after reading the quotes in the article, I think they just polled the first 1000 morons they could find.

“They always spin things one way or another and you can’t really trust it,” says Richard Klimczuk, 58, an independent voter living in Cleveland. “Democratic and Republican sides are both doing it. We have real problems in this country, but they’ll just say things to get people worried so things turn out the way they want them.”

In other words, Democratic claims that a double dip or at least an economic slowdown will result from cutting spending aren’t being believed despite the fact they are true (it’s happening in Europe and in states that have cut budgets now). Republicans claims about increasing taxes damaging the economy are also untrustworthy according to Dick here. Well, Dick’s got a 50% win/loss record, better than the Republican economists who are always wrong EVERY SINGLE TIME they say tax increases will drag the economy down. Provided the increases are reasonable and due to fiscal responsibility, they actually increase economic growth over trend. So much for that fossil Art Laffer and everyone’s favorite bearded troll, Grover Norquist.

Krugman adds on by highlighting a recent article by a Republican economist, Wrong Wrong Wrong.

Bruce Bartlett points out something I had forgotten: the 1993 Clinton tax increase wasn’t the first time conservatives predicted doom from any rise in tax rates. They did the same in response to the Reagan tax hike of 1982 — and yes, the sainted Reagan, after cutting taxes at the beginning, raised them repeatedly thereafter.

What actually happened, of course, was a V-shaped recovery — Morning in America — which was mainly due to Fed policy, but got credited to the 1981 tax cut. And the 1982 tax hike got sent down the memory hole.

The story I knew was about that Clinton tax hike, which was supposed to send the economy into a tailspin.

Let’s also mention the Bush tax cuts, which were supposed to produce a vast boom, and ended up being followed by the weakest recovery of modern times.

The point is that these people have been wrong about everything — and yet tax-cut magic is the official religion of the GOP. [Emphasis added]

We’re are currently living in the definition of insanity – doing the same thing (tax cuts) and expecting different results (a booming economy). When history shows us that doing the exact opposite is what’s likely to get our economy booming again.

Texas Blog Round Up (June 27, 2011)

Posted in Around The State, Commentary at 8:40 am by wcnews

The Texas Progressive Alliance is ready to say “Sine Die” for the second time as it brings you this week’s roundup.

The Congressional map got its final legislative approval, and Off the Kuff analyzes the new districts.

This week WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on the (in)action at The Lege. Quorums were broken and tempers flared, This week’s Political wrap-up, GOP laziness was the theme.

Bay Area Houston thinks the Texas Tea Party is calling for an immigration raid on homebuilder Bob Perry for his roll in killing their sanctuary bill.

This week, McBlogger tells us exactly why a federal debt default isn’t a good thing.

Rick Perry’s ‘aids’ (sic) are preparing to respond to the ‘crusted-over rumors’ of the governor’s alleged homosexual liasons. Chief ‘aid’ (sic) Dave Carney emphasizes that Perry is the ‘most tested’ candidate on the Republican side. Seriously, that’s what Politico wrote. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs has a screen shot.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme sees republican hate meets the greed of Rick Perry crony, Bob Perry. Greed wins.

Libby Shaw gives us the skinny: Rachel Maddow Debunks Rick Perry’s “Texas Miracle” Myth . Check it out at TexasKaos.

Public Citizen’s TexasVox shows us that while Houston implements water restrictions to deal with this global warming-enhanced drought, San Antonio is trying to do something about it by retiring their coal plant and making heavy investments in solar.

Neil at Texas Liberal compiled a Fourth of July reading list. As fun as it might be to blow off your fingers as you set off fireworks in violation of drought-mandated brushfire rules, it is even more fun to learn about your past. If you allow others to define your history—as, for example, we have allowed crazies to take over the symbolism of the Boston Tea Party—such folks will most likely use this power to also screw up your future.

06.26.11

The end is near…

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Commentary, Education, Immigration, Public Schools, Special Session, The Lege at 3:10 pm by wcnews

There will only be 3 days left, as of Monday, in the first called special session of the 82nd Legislature. In the words of Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, “time is getting skinny”, Republican no-shows preventing Texas House from getting quorum.

When Republicans grabbed a supermajority in the Texas House, the joke was that Democrats wouldn’t even have to show up for the GOP to pass bills.

But now Republicans are skipping out on the special session called by Gov. Rick Perry.

The calendars for Monday are filling up with some of the bills that “need” to get passed. Conspicuously absent is the so-called sanctuary cities bill, that has suddenly sparked infighting inside the Texas GOP.  It could turn into an all out battle before Wednesday. John Coby shows some of what it what’s going on, Wingnuts call for boycott and ICE raids of Bob Perry Homes.

Wingnuts are so full of hot air. They talk big, but do nothing. Case in point, Bob Perry’s meddling into their sanctuary bill, which most probably will kill it. Reading through the comments of the story by the Houston Chronicle, wingnuts across the globe, or across North Houston, are calling for a boycott of Perry Homes and a raid by the INS (Now called ICE).

[...]

Oh where oh where are the Minute Men when we need them? You have to wonder why they haven’t thought of setting up surveillance at the work site for new homes being constructed by Bob Perry Homes. If Perry is depending upon this illegal workforce, it would be easy to document and catch them.

Now that the GOP didn’t mind stirring-up all this anti-immigrant tea party fervor in 2010.  But they’re going to find it extremely hard, if not impossible, to tamp it down. But all this fighting over non-issues does have an unfortunate side effect. The Texas media much prefers these kind of non-issues to serious polkcy, and like a moth to a flame, has had it’s focus taken off the real tragedy that is taking place – the defunding of public education in Texas. This is what we should be dicusssing, as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro showed earlier in the week, Castro shows ‘em how.

It’s almost old news by now, but I’m still thinking about what happened when Gov. Rick Perry deigned to make an appearance yesterday at the annual gathering of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in San Antonio.

Two things stood out, including how Perry was so easily rattled by the tepid response he got from the luncheon crowd of about 500 elected officials from around the country. The Alamo was only a block away from the Grand Hyatt ballroom, but unlike Travis and company, the governor wasn’t beseiged. His audience was polite — NALEO President Sylvia Garcia had reminded them earlier of the group’s nonpartisan tradition — but, still, the loudest sound during his boiler-plate remarks was the clink of silverware. Unlike his rabble-rousing remarks last Saturday in New Orleans before the Republican Leadership Conference — an animated, ebullient Perry riffing; the crowd chanting “Run, Rick, Run!” — he spoke barely 10 minutes in San Antonio before scurrying out the door.

As an old teacher, I began to get those uncomfortable feelings during the governor’s halting performance of those moments in the classroom when the lecture isn’t working and you start searching as you speak for some way, any way, to make a connection with your listeners. Perry couldn’t find it. Garcia, the former Harris County commissioner, said afterward she was surprised the governor even showed up.

The second lasting impression was the performance of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who preceded Perry onstage. I’ve heard the young mayor speak before, and he’s never all that scintillating, but yesterday, in his own low-key way, he was as forceful and effective as any Texas Democrat I’ve heard in years. Without mentioning the governor by name, he reminded his audience in his own 10-minute remarks that Perry had given his blessing to a legislative session whose priority was “easily the most anti-Latino agenda pursued in a generation, without shame.”

Scorning the massive cuts in public education, higher education and health care the legislature engineered this session, labeling them the antithesis of a state’s need to invest in its future, Castro showed his beleaguered fellow Democrats how they might begin to fight back in their long slog toward political relevance.

At 36 and in his second term as mayor, Castro has a future, I would venture to say. Meanwhile, the state’s longest-serving governor needs to sharpen his skills before less-than-friendly audiences if he truly has notions of striding onto the national stage. He wouldn’t want the subtext of “Run, Rick, Run” to be “back home to Texas.” [Emphasis added]

It’s crunch time this week and Joe Straus is so desperate that he sent out a memo on Friday imploring members of the Hosue to show up this week.

I intend for the House to complete all outstanding issues by Sine Die on Wednesday, June 29th. Therefore, I strongly encourage each of you to be here for the final days of this special session so that we can finish the important business of the House.

For all intents and purposes the Texas GOP could have wrapped this session up in much less than 30 days. The leadership has, instead, decided to pussyfoot around and allow Gov. Perry to add many less than special non-issues to the agenda that may, in the long run, come back to hurt him and his party. Now that would certainly make Wendy Davis’ filibuster worth it.

06.24.11

This week’s Political wrap-up, GOP laziness was the theme

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Education, Had Enough Yet?, Money In Politics, Special Session, The Lege at 4:53 pm by wcnews

The not so “special” session lumbered on today with each chamber gaveling-in for milli-minutes. Mostly because the House, for the second time this week, was unable to make the quorum (100 members) needed to conduct business. Keep in mind that there are 101 Republicans in the House, so even if every Democrats was absent – which wasn’t the case – the GOP alone could still make quorum.

In the wake of this situation the “leader” of the House, GOP Speaker Joe Straus, vented his frustration over Gov. Rick Perry’s latest attention grabbing non-issue, Speaker calls anti-agressive pat-down bill a “stunt”.

House Speaker Joe Straus said a the so-called anti-groping bill, which was scheduled for debate today, amounted to an ill-advised stunt that would embarrass the State of Texas.

“The bill — without some serious revisions — appears to me to be nothing more than an ill-advised publicity stunt. Unenforceable. Ill-advised. Misdirected to uniform security personnel. And not where it appropriately should be aimed, which is in Washington, to the bosses of these people,” Straus said. “I have some other thoughts on how to send a message without actually harming commercial aviation in Texas and without making the Texas Legislature a laughing stock.”

The speaker said a resolution is in the works to address the issue of aggressive pat-downs.

[...]

The bill — and other eligible pieces of legislation — were not debated today because too few members showed up to the Capitol.

Straus may finally be tiring of Perry and the wing nuts attacking him and making a mockery of the House over “nuttty” issues like this one.

Speaking of “nutty” issues, the “bidness” community, and in particular GOP sugar daddy Bob Perry, is starting to speak out against the so-called “sanctuary cities” legislation, Top business leaders try to derail Texas ‘sanctuary cities’ bill.

On Thursday, Austin superlobbyist Neal “Buddy” Jones Jr. of HillCo Partners, which represents Perry Homes and HEB, urged committee members not to pass the bill.

“Just want to tell you that Charles Butt and Bob Perry have asked me to call every member of State Affairs and ask them not to pass the sanctuary city bill,” Jones wrote in an email to Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. House Democrats released the email to The Dallas Morning News.

“They think it is very bad for Texas,” Jones said, encouraging Gallego, an opponent of the bill, to inform his committee colleagues “that these two giants of Texas business are concerned that this is taking Texas in the wrong direction.”

Asked to elaborate on Perry’s and Butt’s concerns about the bill, Jones declined.

House bill sponsor Rep. Burt Solomons of Carrollton said grassroots Republicans favor the measure, which he said merely would outlaw official interference with immigration law enforcement.

“You shouldn’t get to pick and choose which federal laws you abide by,” he said. “These big businessmen all of a sudden think we shouldn’t have any type of sanctuary city legislation. Well, where were they for six months?”

Gov. Rick Perry added the bill to the special session’s agenda, and Bob Perry — no relation — has been his biggest political contributor for many years. Bob Perry, owner of Perry Homes, and Butt, chairman and chief executive of HEB Grocery Co. LP, were ranked by Texans for Public Justice as No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, among givers to legislative candidates in the 2008 cycle.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone as Solomons called out Perry during the regular session too – likely part of an ongoing feud. None of the work is done as the session nears the end. And many of our elected officials seem to be focused on other things, Special session nearly over, work hardly done.

Legislative leaders hope the session’s leisurely pace will pick up today. The 30-day session ends Wednesday; the House and Senate remain far apart on the restructuring of the state’s windstorm insurance program, and movement has been slow on a measure to ban so-called sanctuary cities.

Legislators signaled their fatigue this week when the House adjourned because of a lack of a quorum, meaning more than one-third of the members were absent. One legislator, GOP Rep. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, admitted to reporters that he was on a long-scheduled family vacation in the Bahamas instead of working at the Capitol.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry has spent a number of days out of the state since the special session began May 31. A possible presidential candidate, Perry went to Los Angeles, New York, North Carolina and New Orleans last week. On Wednesday, he threatened to call another special session if legislators can’t resolve the windstorm issue.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said Perry and the leaders of the House and Senate have been distracted by issues such as an attempt to ban intrusive searches at airports, which Perry added to lawmakers’ agenda on Monday. “It’s a lack of leadership,” Martinez Fischer said. “Nobody wants to be in special session. They have the power to call it; they have the power to end it. If we’re only looking at one or two issues, let’s focus on those issues.”

As Perry prances all over the country, getting unpaid media for all his “non-campaign” campaign stops, it is starting to wear on the rest of his party’s elected officials, who are stuck in Austin doing nothing – literally.

Yesterday Perry showed up at the NALEO conference in San Antonio and got a reception he’s not used to, Presidential Candidate Perry Bombs at National Latino Conference.

Perry’s speech in San Antonio was one of his first in front of a crowd that wasn’t predisposed to loving him. There were no rah-rah Tea Partiers to cheer for Perry as they did during the last governor’s race—not even his celebrity friends Chuck Norris or Ted Nugent were on the sidelines to swoop in and save the day. Nope. This time it was a packed banquet room full of Latino elected officials from across the nation. In short, it was Perry dipping his toe into the national electoral pool of voters. Boy, did he get an icy reception.

Think watching the class president royally bomb during a high-school talent show.

During the 13-minute keynote speech all you could hear was silverware clattering on dishes as people tucked into their breaded chicken grimly chewing with their backs turned to Perry on the stage. Perry ran through his material about fiscal conservatism and low taxes. He touched on familiar themes about Texas being “the job creation capitol of the world.” And he exhorted members of the audience from other states to “come and live in Texas.”

Perry avoided talk about immigration or his controversial decision to push the banning of so called “sanctuary cities” by adding it to the call for the current special session. A vote is scheduled on the legislation in a House committee this Monday. Hispanics say the legislation that allows law enforcement to ask for citizenship status will promote racial profiling and unfairly single out communities of color for harrasment.

The grim silence was finally interrupted by light applause when Perry acknowledged at the end of his speech the growing Latino population. “It’s no stretch to suggest that the future of Texas is tied to its Hispanic population,” he said. Then Perry touted his appointments of “the best and brightest in leadership” in the Hispanic community ticking off the names of Secretary of State Hope Andrade, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and “my favorite” he chuckled “The head of the TABC Jose Cuevas. That is the right man for the job.” (In case you’re missing something, the governor apparently thinks that Jose Cuevas sounds like the popular tequila brand Jose Cuervo.)

He’s going to have problems with the Hispanic community for, among other things, adding the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill to the special session agenda, since he is the one that sets that agenda. And many in Texas are starting to recognize the hypocrisy of Perry and the Texas GOP’s agenda, Latinos’ freedom, dignity on the line with sanctuary cities bill.

My arguments fell on the deaf ears of 19 of my Senate colleagues — many of whom support a state law cracking down on the TSA.

It is hard to understand their disconnect on these two issues. They are willing to side with the traveling public, despite the real threat of violence in the skies, yet they are unwilling to protect Latino citizens from the very same kind of degradation, just so we can have a sanctuary cities law that accomplishes nothing.

During the Senate debate, the bill’s sponsor was repeatedly asked to name a single sanctuary city in Texas. He could not, because there are none.

So far the best results of Perry’s media exposure is that the national media, unlike the state media, is starting to show how bad Perry’s economic record, and rhetoric, really are, Perry’s Texas miracle is a mirage.

But, as long we’re being honest, we ought to acknowledge that there is another, not often talked about, dimension to the Texas Economic Miracle.

Or is it a mirage? Texas is a still a largely poor state, with weak infrastructure and a largely uneducated work force. Under Perry, the state budget deficit has surged to more than $25 billion, and the unemployment rate is higher than it has been in decades: about 8%.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, recently gave me a primer on “Tex-onomics.”

“That jobs thing is a sleight of hand,” Castro said. “More than half of those new jobs have been filed by non-Texans. So it’s people moving here to take those jobs. It underscores this bipolar state that we live in. You have a population in Texas that is generally lower educated, poor, isn’t covered by health insurance … all of these things … so you can recruit these companies to come here from out of state but your own people, often times, aren’t qualified to fill these jobs.”

The way that Castro sees it, this is all about long-term investment and conflicting priorities.

“We’re not creating a system that educates them well and prepares them,” he said. “We underinvest in these things, which is what Perry is doing in public education and higher education. We can create the jobs, and that’s great. But our own people who have gone through Texas schools and Texas universities aren’t the ones filling them.”

Is this the record that Republicans think is Rick Perry’s strong suit? Does Perry really want to do for the rest of the country what he’s done for Texas? And, if so, can the country afford it?

That and the Rainy Day Fund has been spent, Perry’s Rainy Day Fund? Used Up, Say Some Republicans.

A special session that’s been short on work, full of non-issues, and potential candidacies, shouldn’t get Texans to take their eyes off of what is really important. The GOP is defunding what most Texans see as the most important issue facing our state – education. So make your voice heard.  The GOP sees that as a better alternative then creating a fairer and more stable tax system in Texas.

The lazy way the Texas GOP is acting this special session tells Texans they see it as a joke. They will finish off the budget and what they deem necessary and the heck with the rest of it. From here it just seems like a nuisance to them on the way to their next campaign.

[UPDATE]: It appears they did something this week but it wasn’t good or “fiscally conservative”. Kuff has the (bad) news, GOP finally kills Howard amendment.

See here and here for the background. There needs to be quotation marks around “fiscal conservatives” in that penultimate paragraph. There are many words that can describe this, but there’s nothing conservative about failing to invest in one’s future. At least the Republicans have made it as clear as they can where their priorities aren’t.

Austin City Council postpones Formula One vote until next week

Posted in Austin, Commentary at 7:00 am by wcnews

Even under threat of putting the project at risk the Austin City Council voted today to delay the decision to sign off on being the sanctioning city for a Formula One (F1) race in the United States.  From the AAS, City Council delays Formula One vote.

The Austin City Council today postponed a vote on endorsing a Formula One race planned at a track being built in Southeast Travis County starting in 2012.

The motion to delay passed 6-1, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell voting no.

Council Member Laura Morrison, who made the motion to postpone, said she wanted more time to review the project because of its scope.

“I believe that our responsibility as elected officials to the citizens are pretty strong and deep,” Morrison said.
The Council’s endorsement would make the project eligible for $25 million in state subsidies.

The council was asked, among other issues, to allow a local organizing committee — a group put together by Austin F1 organizers — to act on the city’s behalf in negotiations with the state comptroller.

In correspondence, Comptroller Susan Combs has committed to making the subsidy available by the end of July to help local promoters pay for the F1 sanctioning fee.

Richard Suttle, attorney for local F1 organizers, said the delay could put the project at risk because of a tight timeline for the comptroller to review an agreement between the city and Formula One.

“I have no idea if I can get a quorum of the LOC any time after this Saturday,” Suttle said of the organizing committee. “We don’t know if we can get a quorum next week. … We cannot even start the process with the comptroller until that meeting occurs.”

Leffingwell said a delay “is frought with risk. This could potentially kill this deal for the City of Austin. … There’s no assurance that it will go forward from this point.”

What exactly is at “risk” is a relative term. Here’s what Autoweek had to say about today’s action, Austin Grand Prix vote delayed until June 29.

Several speakers addressed the council to say that they had started small businesses based on Formula One coming to Austin and were already hiring employees. Another individual showed a brief film clip shot recently at the 2011 Montreal Grand Prix that showed Canadian supporters in a bar cheering the idea of the 2012 Austin Grand Prix. Richard Suttle, attorney for the F1 project, said that since the announcement of F1 coming to Austin, more than 7 million articles have been written about Austin.

Susan Moffat, an Austin resident, former Austin Chronicle journalist and a vocal opponent of Formula One to date, asked the council to postpone any decision until a better review can be conducted. She asked for outside counsel knowledgeable in racing contracts to be hired. Moffat cited Mandel’s piece, especially the “run away” quote. She questioned the city’s long-term responsibilities under the contract should the contract not be fulfilled for the entire 10 years.

At issue: Under the Texas Major Events Trust Fund legislation, without the endorsement of either the City of Austin or Travis County, the race promoters cannot access the $25 million in state funding.

Moffat, who spoke at length in opposition to state funds being used, said in her closing statement that, “Formula One would be welcome in Austin, provided they had an adequate business plan that did not require public funding”.

Once again by the end of the hearing, council members still appeared confused as they tried to sort out the legal issues in front of a packed hearing room. At times, it appeared that the council and the city legal department were debating each other regarding the contract. The city council appeared uncomfortable with the terms as written and was still attempting desperately to rewrite them as the hearing went along.

Also this take from from Jackie Stone at the Austin Post, Council’s F1 Marathon Meeting.

..so far the two sides can be summed up as:

Pro F1: Business people, Del Valle residents and racing fans (as well as COTA and F1 bigwigs) talking up the positive economic impacts of the race and their request that the city not do anything to derail the process. As one Del Valle resident said: “we need jobs, and we need them now. In southeast Travis County, we need industry, growth and employment. We need infrastructure to support our community.”

Anti-F1: People who object to Formula 1 because they either don’t think supporting Formula 1 is a positive use of state and city energies when schools and health care are in real danger because of the budget crunch OR they say they have nothing against Formula 1 per se, they just want the decision to be delayed until the contract language is finalized (during the meeting, city staff were still working and reworking drafts), until outside attorneys with auto racing experience review the contracts, until an environmental review and environmental standards are completed and integrated into the deals and both the council and public have had ample time to review these things.

She also tweeted the council meeting @Jaxstone.

The City Council made the right decision, despite the threat, whether real or imagined.

06.23.11

A not so “special” session update

Posted in 82nd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Special Session, The Lege at 12:02 pm by wcnews

Today is Day 24 , of a possible 30, in the first-called Special Session of the 82nd Legislature. GOP bosses Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus have seen fit to give the Senate and House the day off. Probably no big deal since Texas House Republican Caucus leader has been in the Bahamas, not at the Capitol.

Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said he has “been absent this week due to a family gathering that was scheduled months ago, well in advance of the special session being called.”

The special session is scheduled to run through Wednesday.

“This gathering has great personal significance for my family and I could not cancel our plans,” Taylor said in a statement.

So glad Texas still holds to the myth of the citizen legislature. citizen legislators that can afford “family gatherings” to the Bahamas!?  Must be nice.

While Taylor’s been away freshman state Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry asking him to “jump”, and Perry responded by asking, “how high”? (It’s likely only for show to keep the tea party quiet).

When Gov. Rick Perry added the so-called anti-groping bill to the special session, he found an issue that fell in line with the anti-Washington rhetoric he has delivered all across the country in recent weeks.

And now that House Bill 41 — by Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview — is primed for debate and carries the blessing of Texas’ increasingly visible governor, it has prompted a variety of discussions, pro and con.

[...]

Daniel Rodriguez of the University of Texas School of Law also said the supremacy clause could apply. There are some areas in which states have so much discretion that the federal government cannot enact laws that are superior to them, but interstate transportation is not one of those areas, he said.

Also, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office has written a letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the state Senate, saying that specific language can be added to the bill to help ward off a constitutional fight. The letter suggests specifying that an offense occurs only if the search were “constitutionally unreasonable.”

Rodriguez said the letter illustrates that a state law would be “really only symbolic.”

“In the unlikely event that a TSA officer violates a person’s constitutional rights — presumably on the grounds that this is an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — that person would in all likelihood have a federal action against that officer in any event,” he said.

This is so bad that even GOP U.S. Sen. John Cornyn believes it’s a ruse.

Harvey Kronberg at QR is reporting that some GOP House members are getting tired of hanging around in Austin only to be used as props for Perry’s potential run for the White House.

The only must pass bills of the session are SB1, SB2 and TWIA. Negotiations on the first two are moving forward and will likely produce conference committee reports at the end of the week. The Senate passed its bill this afternoon and the conference begins in earnest.

Maybe its just the frustration with hurry up and wait.

But with Perry’s eleventh hour addition of the groping bill to the call, more and more Republicans feel insulted and are privately complaining that they are tired of being used as props for the Governor’s national campaign. The groping bill is up on Friday and some are talking about simply not showing up although there are two other public schools related bills on the calendar that have already been postponed several times.

Kronberg goes on to state that the House GOP is divided into four camps regarding the so-called “sanctuary cites” bill – Libertarians, those afraid of a Hispanic backlash, those who think it is not good government, and those who remain passionate in support of it despite the consequences.  He also reports that some in the House GOP are talking payback against Perry.  They don’t wan to play ball with Perry regarding his travel records.

And the Senate cancelled it’s hearing, scheduled for today, on the TSA groping bill.

There is also another internal GOP battle that has broken out over abortion, Texas House Republicans fighting over abortion language.

Texas House Republicans are fighting among themselves over language referring to abortions that is contained in a major healthcare reform bill — a clash that has delayed the measure and could even derail it as a special session runs short on time.

At issue is the bill’s language about abortions in cases of fetal abnormality. As approved by the House, the bill would ban state funding for hospital districts that finance abortions except when the life or overall health of the mother is at risk. A conference committee reconciling that version with one passed by the Senate added a second exception, for cases when a fetus has a severe abnormality.

[...]

The bill’s author, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said the bill’s current language leaves determination of fetal abnormalities to doctors.

[...]

The House reconvenes Friday, but the Senate could vote to pass the conference committee version of the bill before then — meaning that the House couldn’t make further changes without throwing the measure out and starting from scratch. The special legislative session is scheduled to end Wednesday.

“Our back could be up against the wall,” Zerwas said. “I’m a little concerned that we’re running out of time here.”
Zerwas said “a fairly sizable” group of Republicans has sided with Hughes, though a formal count was not taken during the caucus meeting.

“They’re willing to tank this whole bill because of this difference of opinion on this language, and it is totally irresponsible in my opinion,” he said. “This is happening when what could really be historic legislation in terms of its pro-life amendments has a chance to pass.”

Democrats opposed the bill during the regular session and still oppose it, said Jessica Farrar of Houston, leader of the House Democratic Caucus.

“You’ve got a Republican supermajority. They’re in a tug of war with themselves,” Farrar said, though she would not discuss whether her colleagues may attempt stalling tactics to tie up the healthcare bill as the end of the session looms.

Time is running out and here are a couple of reports on where we stand at this point in the special session:
The Last Seven Days: A Special Session Update.
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst Says Monday is Decision Day on Key Bills—Have Your Say Now.
Special session becoming unfocused grab bag.

There are still many issues left to finish and Perry is again threatening another special session over TWIA – so much for the Wendy Davis blame game.

Veteran Texas politico Paul Burka is calling this “the worst legislature that the Capitol has seen in forty years“, and it’s likely to continue that way.

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