June 02, 2007
Why SB482 died

SB482, whose death in the waning hours of the session has led to some calls for a special session to resurrect it, gets a postmortem in the Chron.

The lobbying that weakened and ultimately killed electric utility reform, clean-air legislation and regulation of the $45 billion buyout of TXU Corp. during the recent legislative session was a friend and family affair.

The public focus of the legislation has been on high electric rates and the multibillion-dollar buyout of TXU Corp. in Dallas. Lawmakers wanted to rein in high electric bills while the state's utilities fought anything that resembled renewed government control of a market that was deregulated in 1999.

The utility lobby groups, with 90 registered lobbyists, included a former business adviser to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the brother of Dewhurst's chief of staff, the son of Speaker Tom Craddick's next-door neighbor and a pair of political consultants who have helped at least a third of the Legislature win office.

And that does not mention the fact the teams also included eight former legislators, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a former Texas secretary of state and former Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Williamson.

The board of directors for the proposed new TXU also has influence in Austin:

  • Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Don Evans is from Midland and is a longtime Craddick friend.

  • Plains National Bank Chairman James Huffines was finance chairman of Gov. Rick Perry's 2006 re-election campaign.

  • And former Ambassador to Sweden Lyndon Olson is a prominent Waco Democrat who has helped finance a political committee run by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam.

"Where things fell apart is where they often do: in the dark rooms and back halls of the Capitol," said Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen, one of the groups pushing for reform. "We don't know whose fingerprints are on the razor."

We can do a better job of recording votes (and you'll get a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment to do just that this November), but conference committees will remain the classic back room. I'd heard some talk after the first call for a special session was made that this was an owner's box deal. Which, whatever the merits of this bill and the means of its death may be, at least gives me hope that we won't have a special to try and pass it again. Sometimes even vice has its virtues.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 02, 2007 to That's our Lege