I know the saga of the Governor's purged emails feels like it's been going on forever (see here and here for the last updates), but your wait has paid off. Via Elise Hu, we now have our first official peek at some emails that were saved from deletion by the actions of activist/pain in the Governor's posterior John Washburn. And there's some good stuff in there, too.
A top Perry aide acknowledged that the e-mails were "very candid and open" but wouldn't discuss the specifics of them other than to say they would have been deleted if Washburn hadn't filed an official request for them.
Washburn is still fighting for more documents under the state's loophole-ridden open-records law. He says many of the accompanying documents he asked for from Perry's office weren't provided, and several records he did get refer to e-mail messages that once existed but now seem to be missing. In addition, Perry's office is declining to release an undetermined number of records until Attorney General Greg Abbott decides whether the law requires their disclosure, records indicate.
Still, what Washburn got -- in just four days' worth of e-mail from early November -- offers some behind-the-scenes glimpses of how top Perry aides and supporters deal with daily crises and events.
One e-mail from former Secretary of State Jack Rains, for example, sparked a heated discussion about the possibility of former state Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, being appointed by Perry to a high-level state post, such as the Texas Department of Public Safety oversight commission or the University of Texas Board of Regents.
"I cannot imagine a worse Republican appointment," Rains wrote Perry's office Nov. 2 in response to a Star-Telegram report about a Wilson appointment. "I would hope every Republican will urge the governor to never consider this racist for any office."
After receiving a copy of the e-mail, Perry's appointments secretary, Ken Anderson, shot back that Rains, a veteran power broker in Texas Republican circles, had been drinking when he wrote the message.
"Ron might be called many things, but racist is NOT one of them," Anderson wrote of Wilson. "Jack must have written that late in the afternoon after coming back from one of his long liquid lunches."
Wilson, a close ally of Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick despite their party differences, could not be reached for comment.
Rains stood by his description of the former legislator, saying Wilson "plays the race card." He declined to elaborate. But Rains reacted angrily to the e-mail questioning his sobriety, and he said he would seek an apology from the top Perry official.
"I don't know Mr. Anderson. I don't drink at lunch, and he doesn't know me very well or he wouldn't say something stupid like that. You may quote me on that," Rains said. "And I will expect an apology from him for popping off about things he doesn't know anything about." Rains, a lawyer, characterized Anderson's statement as libelous.
Wilson and Rains weren't the only big names dropped by the top Perry staffers. In one series of e-mail exchanges, aides passed around a news article about state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. In the Texas Weekly article, one of Zaffirini's opponents, former Webb County Judge Louis Bruni, calls the longtime senator an "evil, vindictive, mean woman."
"Can you believe this quote?" Kathy Walt, Perry's deputy chief of staff, wrote in an e-mail to fellow top aides.
"Truth can be mean," responded Perry spokesman Robert Black.
Zaffirini called Black's comments "outrageous" and suggested that he was angry that she had helped lead a successful drive to restore millions of dollars in community college funding that Perry had vetoed last year. She said the unvarnished discussions among staffers "at the very best reflects some poor judgment."
Black declined to discuss the specifics of any of the exchanges or to say whether apologies would be forthcoming.
"I think what you have is a snapshot of very open and candid conversations among staff. ... E-mail has replaced personal conversations or phone conversations," he said. "You're going to have open, candid conversations among staff on a variety of issues."
Black said the discussions about Wilson, Rains and Zaffirini would have been relegated to the electronic ash heap if not for Washburn's request. He called the records "transitory," comparing them to paper notes or a phone conversation that don't have to be retained as government records.
Via email from Washburn, all the emails he received are available for viewing here. Happy hunting, and we'll see what the next batch turns up.
Finally, it's not directly related to email, but Elise has another example of geeky activism in the person of Mike Conwell.
He volunteers his time as an election judge in a small precinct, and discovered a few years ago a lot of complaints about active registered voters in Travis County being randomly deleted from the rolls for one reason or the other.
As a result, he took on a four-year-long project of identifying voters in Travis County who were randomly purged from the rolls due to clerical error. He says the problems are as simple as careless data entry, mishandling registration or proof of residency forms, or not checking and double checking records before deleting what looks like a duplicate record, but is not.
Conwell told us today that he found 1,800 voters deleted from the rolls since 2004, who are still in Travis County and should still be registered. Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector, Nelda Wells-Spears, says he can't be right.
"Mr. Conwell doesn't know what he's talking about," Spears said. (See the video story here.)
But Conwell has all these people in one of his trusty databases. In fact, he sent a spreadsheet to Spears' office in December, which contained 231 voters who he believes were accidentally deleted. He was asking that they check and see what was going on there.
Click here to see the spreadsheet and make sure you're not on it. If you are, RE-REGISTER ASAP.
Why go through all this trouble? Conwell says it really irks him when the fundamental right to vote is stripped from someone because of sloppiness within a bureaucracy. He wants to make sure everyone who wants to vote can vote, especially in light of so many close elections he's seen in recent years.
So, Washburn and Conwell have a lot in common. It's about government accountability, for both of them.