Politics Is Personal

Posted in Congress, Commentary, Around The Nation at 12:02 pm by wcnews

When something catastrophic happens in someone’s life it leaves an indelible mark on them for the rest of their time on earth. That said, it becomes obvious when reading this article, Lawmakers seek repeal of insurance antitrust exemption, that Sen. Trent Lott (R - Miss) and Rep. Gene Taylor (D - Miss) got that mark when they lost their homes due to Hurricane Katrina. The refusal of their insurance companies to pay off their claims has so incensed them that they’ve decided to get behind a law revoking the insurance industry’s antitrust exemption:

Lott, who lost his home in the hurricane and who’s part of a lawsuit that’s being settled with State Farm & Casualty Co., said, “After Hurricane Katrina we learned a lot of lessons.” He said he found out “to my absolute horror that the insurance industry is not covered by the antitrust laws.”

“This is wrong,” Lott concluded, “and the Senate, in a bipartisan way, should, and I believe will, correct it.”

The bill has some heavy hitters behind it, notably Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who said in a statement, “If insurers around the country are operating in an honest and appropriate way, they should not object to being answerable under the same federal antitrust laws as virtually all other businesses.”

Taylor, who also lost his home and is part of the State Farm settlement, said in an interview that “the insurance industry is the only industry exempt from the laws intended to protect consumers.”

Now I’m sure we could probably go back through campaign donations of these two men and see that they’ve taken money, in the past, from the insurance companies. They probably also thought this would never happen to them. That catastrophic life event can make even the staunchest advocate change their position.

At this point it appears, from their votes, that Sen. Lott and Rep. Taylor - the only Democrat to side with the Republicans - are for President Bush’s surge. Naturally this makes one wonder how these two men would vote if this war had been personalized in their lives, like their homes. Especially when the president says things like this, Money Trumps Peace…Sometimes. I’m sure anyone who’s buried a child can attest that their is nothing more unforgettable than that. And If these two members of Congress would change an antitrust law for a lost home, imagine what they would do if they had to deal with a loss like that of Cindy Sheehan.

Rep. Mike Krusee’s Claims About The TTC’s Route Through Williamson County Are False

Posted in Road Issues, Williamson County at 9:58 am by wcnews

Before and after the election Rep. Mike Krusee was telling anyone who would listen that his critics were wrong and the current SH-130 through Williamson County would also serve as the TTC’s route through Williaimson Conty. (EOW well documented it here). Here’s Rep. Krusee’s quote from a TDP article on 11/18/06:

One issue that Krusee said his office has been consistently contacted about is the route of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“I’ve already said this - the SH 130 corridor has been designated Williamson County’s Trans-Texas Corridor,” he said. “It’s not going to go through Taylor or Granger or other areas on the eastern side of the county. My office is routinely contacted by people who are concerned and we do our best to inform them on the status of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“In the coming months, I suspect TxDOT will further narrow the proposed path of the corridor around SH-130; an additional toll-road further east will not be built.”

This past Monday night there was a meeting in East Williamson County including concerned citizens and a TxDOT representative, Dieter Billek. Anyone who attended the TTC hearings over the summer should recognize his name, he moderated those hearings. Here is what Mr. Billick said at the meeting Monday about the TTC’s route and SH 130:

Several members of the Blackland Prairie Concerned Citizens group questioned whether SH-130 will serve as Williamson County’s only contribution to the TTC project, a position stated by House Transportation Committee chair Rep. Mike Krusee, R-District 52.

“Officially, SH-130 is not part of the TTC-35 project,” Billek said. “Someday it might be. In fact, the likelihood is very great it will be incorporated. However, in the environmental process we do have to look at SH-130. Can it fulfill its purpose for the TTC-35? We cannot say at this point.

“Federal law dictates that we follow a policy. That policy and the subsequent environmental impact studies will determine what the TTC is and where it will play out.”

If my farm or property was in the path of any of the proposed routes what Mr. Billek said wouldn’t give me much comfort, or confidence in what Rep. Krusee said. Especially, as the House Transportation Committee meeting showed this week, the kind of deference Rep. Krusee shows to TxDOT.

The AusChron has more on the Committee hearing including the problems that Rep. Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving) has with Ric Williamson, Transportation Funding Friction. Sal has video of that too.


AusChron On T. Don Hutto

Posted in T. Don Hutto, Williamson County at 12:22 pm by wcnews

Here’s the article, National Spotlight Shines on Detention Center. They do an excellent job, as usual, of showing the true colors of those in charge of our government in Williamson County.

Williamson County commissioners may be living to regret that the county’s former overflow jail, the newly infamous T. Don Hutto Residential Center, did not invoke immediate self-scrutiny once it was converted to a federal detention center in December 2005.


What a difference a year has made, as this big bang of bad press was foreshadowed by nary a whimper on Dec. 27, the day the Commissioners Court ratified the contract with Corrections Corporation of America, which would serve as the “provider” with WilCo the sponsor and ICE the regulator. Before the vote, Sheriff James Wilson and Assistant County Auditor Julie Kiley soft-peddled the deal as relatively easy money, which would require not much more than a signature and net the county about $200,000 per year.


At that point, just more than a year ago, the local press announced the arrangement without questioning it, and the county did little more than cash the checks – until detainees voiced concerns, that is. Only last month did commissioners themselves tour TDH – again, under pressure.


Unless vindicated, WilCo will remain – at least in the court of public opinion – the county that jails innocent children for a cut off the top.

I hope they put that on their campaign signs next time they run.

Gardner’s Latest

Posted in The Budget, 80th Legislature, Commentary at 11:57 am by wcnews

A Shorter Gardener Selby:

The Democrats in the legislature “may” have lost an opportunity to get funds for higher education and health care because they didn’t throw in with a Republican plan that no Republican will take credit for.

Because the “weak three” are always so willing to deal with the Democrats.

Senate Votes To Bust The Cap

Posted in The Budget, 80th Legislature at 9:13 am by wcnews

HChron has the story, Senate backs spending-cap exemption in vote. The ball is now in Tom Craddick’s court, or chamber,and this will have a much tougher time in the House. (See posts below).

Here are the yeas and nays on the vote on SCR 20 in the Senate yesterday. (Three R’s crossed over only one D):

Yeas: Averitt, Brimer, Carona, Deuell, Duncan, Eltife, Estes, Fraser, Harris, Hegar, Jackson, Janek, Lucio, Odgen, Seliger, Wentworth, Williams.

Nays: Ellis, Hinojosa, Nelson, Nichols, Patrick, Shapleigh, Uresti, Van de Putte, Watson, West, Whitmire, Zaffirini.

Absent-excused: Gallegos, Shapiro.

But as Vince shows us via QR the biggest problem with this vote was the game Dewhurst played in the Senate and his branding this issue non-substantive.

During a lengthy parliamentary inquiry from Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), Dewhurst said he considered the Ogden resolution “non-substantive,” which allowed for the lower vote threshold. Van de Putte questioned how a vote to override a provision in the Texas Constitution could be non-substantive.

Because he’s a Republican, that’s how.


Toll Road Privatization Schemes Get Blasted At Congressional Hearing

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The Nation, Around The State at 4:07 pm by wcnews

A recent commenter pointed me to the site of Land Line Magazine, The Business Magazine for Professional Truckers. Let’s just suffice it to say that roads are these people’s business and they take issues with roads very serious. They have a special report about a committee hearing that was held yesterday, Public-private partnerships hammered in congressional hearing. It was a hearing of The Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to be exact. Some really great stuff in the report, excerpts are below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

What’s The Deal With The Spending Cap?

Posted in The Budget, 80th Legislature at 12:02 pm by wcnews

Raising the constitutionally mandated spending cap is not hard. When the cap was added to the Texas Constitution included was a simple way, if it was ever needed, to raise the cap.

“When the voters established the spending cap in 1978, they gave the Legislature the power to adjust the cap by a simple majority vote,” said Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “There is no reason to go back to the voters again.”

More than likely, when this cap was added, it wasn’t anticipated that Texas would have to deal with a school finance scheme like the one that was passed last summer, nor the weak leadership we currently have in Texas. This issue was created by the school finance scheme, bad public policy, cobbled together by Perry, Craddick and Dewhurst. Let’s not forget that the only reason the cap is an issue is because of the tax swap scheme they passed. It only makes sense that they raise the cap to allow their tax swap scheme to move forward. That’s what leaders would do. Seriously, if they can’t justify doing this to themselves or their constituents, their reasoning for voting to raise the cap, that’s a pretty damning indictment of the scheme they passed last year. A bunch of scared Republicans that don’t want to accept the consequences of their actions. It would be shocking if it wasn’t such a regular occurrence.

The constitutional amendment route to a solve this is running out of time fast and is all but dead.

The Senate’s longest-serving member said Tuesday that there were enough unhappy senators to block consideration of a proposed constitutional amendment that would link a spending-cap fix to tax cuts for senior citizens.

And in the House, a veteran Democrat said he had faced down GOP leaders with the threat of an embarrassing floor defeat this week if they don’t separate the thorny spending-limit issue and the popular cause of granting tax cuts to elderly homeowners.

Neither Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst nor House Speaker Tom Craddick appears to have a firm feel for which “fix” would be the smoothest way to extricate the Legislature – and the cuts in local school-property taxes that lawmakers approved last year – from a state spending limit that voters approved in 1978.

The Democrats are offering the sensible solution to this Republican made quandary. No wasteful constitutional amendment vote is needed. Here’s Rep. Jim Dunnam’s statement on what should be done.

“I find it incredible that any member of the Legislature would vote to bust the state spending cap without first seeing a real budget,” said Dunnam, who serves as House Democratic Caucus leader. “We are in this position because of the irresponsible fiscal policies of Gov. Rick Perry and (House Speaker) Tom Craddick and four years of budgeting that created this crisis. Busting the state spending cap without first seeing a budget simply gives them another blank check to continue their gross fiscal mismanagement of our state,” Dunnam said. “I agree with the AARP that it is wrong to hold our seniors hostage. We should immediately vote to give Texas seniors the property tax relief they deserve, then separately debate the issue of busting the state spending cap on its own merits. We should have all the information before taking the unprecedented step of authorizing excess spending,” Dunnam said.

Let’s debate the budget, and allow Texans to see what kind of shenanigans Speaker Craddick and his band of far-fight Republicans are going to try, before we allow them to bust the spending cap. Sounds reasonable.


Perry’s PR Machine Cranks Up Over Lottery Privatization Scheme

Posted in Privatization, Around The State at 11:54 pm by wcnews

It’s been nothing but a series of bad stories on the lottery sale since Gov. Perry announced the scheme. (Sale price now $20 million, Phil Gramm enters, his son’s new job). To try and limit the damage Perry’s PR machine has cranked up, Governor’s deputy chief talks about selling the Lottery, to inform us that it’s all innocent and happened by chance.

The first mention of selling the state lottery came six months ago during a phone conversation between two old friends talking about a reunion.

Phil Wilson, Gov. Rick Perry’s deputy chief of staff, was asking his former boss, Phil Gramm, a retired Republican U.S. senator turned investment banker, what he was working on nowadays.

Selling lotteries, he said.

That casual conversation and an unsolicited call from a competing investment firm led to two separate pitches from investment bankers to Wilson in the fall and follow-up meetings from the same firms over the past two weeks.

Can’t tell whether Gramm called Wilson or vice-versa.

On Tuesday, Wilson, flanked by Perry’s press secretary, Robert Black, sat down to set the record straight about issues surrounding the sale of the lottery, particularly questions about who might benefit and how the idea was born.

News reports have raised questions about whether former Perry staffers who are now lobbyists might benefit; whether the sale is just a bone to Perry’s old political friend Gramm; and, finally, whether the governor’s son, Griffin, a recent economics graduate from Vanderbilt University, was hired by UBS as payback.

Black dismissed those concerns as ludicrous. He said that Perry had made no calls on his son’s behalf and that Griffin Perry, 23, works in the division dealing with management of individual wealth, not public financing.

Wilson retraced how UBS and Morgan Stanley became involved.

In August, Wilson said, he was talking to Gramm, his former boss, about a reunion of former Gramm staffers when the conversation turned to Gramm’s latest interest, selling lotteries. (Before joining the governor’s office, Wilson worked for Gramm from 1991 to 1997 and from 1999 to 2002, the last time as the senator’s state director.)

Wilson said that within two weeks, he got an unrelated call from bankers at Morgan Stanley asking whether Texas might want to sell its lottery.

During the fall, Perry was focused on winning re-election, but Wilson was noticing that other states, including California and Massachusetts, were starting programs to provide health insurance to the uninsured.

Wilson was looking for a way to do it without new taxes or employer mandates.

Mark Lake, a spokesman for Morgan Stanley, said his firm called Wilson because of another national trend: The sale of transportation projects such as the Chicago Skyway and Indianapolis toll roads prompted public officials and investment bankers to look at other public assets that might be sold.

“The success of those projects,” Lake said, “got people thinking.”

And there it is. Former US Senators turned investment bankers brokering deals, and profiting from, the sale of public assets. The GOP’s new plan to kill government, privatize it and charge out the wazoo, then nobody will be able to afford the services.

Raise Your Hand For Common Sense

Posted in Vouchers, Public Schools, Around The Nation at 9:06 pm by wcnews

There were snippets about this earlier today. The Startlegram has this article, Leaders join anti-voucher group, about a new group created to help counter the pro- voucher crowd.

Former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff joined several high-profile Texas business leaders Tuesday to announce a public education advocacy group that’s opposed to private school vouchers and wants to replace the state’s standardized tests.

Called Raise Your Hand, the bipartisan group includes the chief executives of AT&T, Continental Airlines and H-E-B. Its other priorities include all-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten for every 4- and 5-year-old in the state, as well as a lower student-to-teacher ratio.

This group will fit nicely I’m sure with Parent PAC. HEB was already helping them last election cycle. We need much more of this school finance debate:

“We don’t understand how it is that if you have a campus with 500 children and 100 somehow . . . take advantage of the voucher and go somewhere else, how does that affect the other 400?” Ratliff said. “If it’s a bad school and we take a hundred of them out with vouchers, it’s still a bad school. We believe a far better course . . . is fix the school. Don’t abandon 400 children for the sake of the hundred.”

The group wants to replace the high-stakes exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills with end-of-course exams.

Thank you Mr. Ratliff for helping to bring common sense and logic back into the forefront of this debate.

Texa Democrtic Party Sues Secretary Of State Roger Williams

Posted in Around The State at 2:41 pm by wcnews


“With this lawsuit, the Texas Democratic Party is taking steps to safeguard the accuracy and security of each voter’s ballot and ensure Texas voters have confidence in our election system,” said Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie. “Protecting the integrity of the electoral process is not a partisan issue. Every voter deserves to cast their ballot with full faith that their voice will be heard, regardless of their political affiliation.”

On the eSlate machines, when a voter chooses a straight-ticket vote and then continues to select candidates of the same political party to “emphasize” their vote, the machine actually records the vote for that race as a no vote. This is inconsistent with the tabulation of absentee paper ballots in those counties, as well as electronic voting machines used in other counties across the state. The irregularities relating to the eSlate voting system have affected the outcome at least one race, located in Madison County. However, there are 101 other Texas counties that employed these machines in the 2006 election.

Excellent news!! There’s more, click the link above.

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