January 24, 2008
At long last, the Governor's emails

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.

Having seen this, I actually have a smidgen of sympathy for the argument that this stuff should be kept out of the public eye. It is important to allow for open and honest communication, which is less likely to happen if you fear everything you say might eventually get reprinted in the newspapers. On the other hand, anyone who expects that kind of secrecy from their email should be prepared for disappointment anyway. And remember, even if this stuff hadn't been auto-shredded at Perry's command, it would likely never have been seen by anyone other than its intended recipients anyway. Who would have requested this stuff? Given all that, I remain convinced that the Governor's policy is wrong, and that there should be pressure for him to change it. We need to know that we can find out what these guys are up to if we want to. And besides, the Rains v Anderson smackdown is promising to be loads of fun.

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.

And I thank them both for their tenacity. For a more political take on this, read Glen Maxey's BOR diary. Maxey is Nelda Spears' opponent in the Democratic primary for Tax Assessor of Travis County.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 24, 2008 to Show Business for Ugly People

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.

This is total 100% Grade A baloney, as anyone who has ever had their email subpoenaed should know. Government officials should treat their emails - all of them - as the public records they most clearly are.

Posted by: Kenneth Fair on January 24, 2008 6:00 PM

Huge problems with TEAM? Nobody could have predicted that!

Posted by: racymind on January 25, 2008 12:17 AM

Gov. Perry is right. The truth can be mean and district 21 needs a change. Albeit, the truth doesn't always have to be worded with hostility...there are ways of making ugly things colorful - covert hostility of you may. I believe Bruni is the appropriate change. However, I think he needs to approach her factual self-motivation & hypocrisy in a passive manner. It's appears the situation they've found themselves in parallels "the pot calling the kettle black" Nonetheless, my hope is that Bruni succeds in taking Zaffirini's seat. It is time for her to sit elsewhere.

Posted by: Allison Anne on January 25, 2008 2:34 AM

got NOT FOUND when I clicked on the purged voters list.

Posted by: mark on January 25, 2008 8:33 AM

"I actually have a smidgen of sympathy for the argument that this stuff should be kept out of the public eye."

Not me. As a taxpayer, I want my elected officials behaving every single moment as though the public is looking over their shoulder. Behaving disrespectfully toward a state senator because you think nobody is listening is a great example. I want the Governor and the people working for him to behave in a way that makes me proud of Texas, not that leaves me making excuses for boorish behavior.

Black's comments and apparently routine attitude remind me of the title of a Shel Silverstein song, "I'm going down to Texas to be one more horse's ass."

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast on January 25, 2008 9:41 AM

Apologies about the dead link, I actually updated the link with a spreadsheet that redacted some information. The new link is

Posted by: Elise on January 25, 2008 1:18 PM