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March, 2006:

Next up: Ed Buckham

Word is that Tony Rudy’s plea agreement will implicate former DeLay Chief of Staff Ed Buckham, of US Family Network fame (see here, here, and here for more). From Bloomberg:

Supporting documents released with the plea agreement put a third former DeLay aide under scrutiny. While still working for DeLay, the documents said, Rudy received payments to a consulting firm he owned from Abramoff and “Lobbyist B,'” described in the documents as a former DeLay aide who founded his own lobby firm, which Rudy subsequently joined.

That fits the description of former DeLay chief of staff Ed Buckham, founder of the now-defunct Alexander Strategy Group, which employed Rudy until earlier this year.

There’s more on Rudy’s plea agreement in that story, or you can read the TPMMuckraker summary. Buckham wasn’t explicitly named, but as the Bloomberg story and Roll Call point out, the inference of his presence is pretty strong.

In his plea deal, which was publicly released after Rudy’s formal guilty plea this morning, Rudy officially accuses Buckham – who is identified as “Lobbyist B” in the filings-— of helping set up $50,000 in payments to Rudy’s wife’s consulting firm in order to win Rudy’s help in killing a bill that would have outlawed Internet gaming. Abramoff at the time was representing Internet gambling clients who wanted to keep the practice legal.

While Buckham is not identified in the documents, they leave no doubt that his firm, Alexander Strategy Group, is “Firm 3.”

In addition, the plea agreement says that Rudy, while working as deputy chief of staff for DeLay in 2000, arranged for other House staffers to travel to the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and also secured appropriations money for the CNMI. The Marianas were a long-standing client of Abramoff’s, but the court filings say that Rudy did this work “in part to assist Abramoff, his firm and Lobbyist B with their lobbying businesses.”

Buckham and Abramoff were very close over the years – Abramoff steered donations from his clients into the coffers of nonprofits run by Buckham, such as the U.S. Family Network – and they did work together for some clients.

Buckham is considered the single closest adviser to DeLay, even having served as the lawmaker’s minister.

After leaving DeLay’s office, in addition to running the lobbying firm, Buckham maintained control of DeLay’s political operations by effectively running his political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority PAC, out of his lobbying firm.

TPMMuckraker discusses what a Buckham guilty plea might mean. Keep those seatbelts fastened.

Time to change tactics

HISD is taking the tougher stand they said they would with students who continue to skip class to protest immigration policies, while at the same time encouraging the students to find a more productive way to express themselves.

Just hours after 26 Houston Independent School District students were arrested for walking out of class to protest pending immigration legislation, community leaders urged young people to find better ways to express their feelings.

The walkouts — which also landed 33 Dowling Middle School students and 34 from Madison High School with truancy citations Thursday — need to end, officials said.

“Your message has been heard loud and clear,” school board President Diana Davila said. “We know what you’re fighting for. We know what you believe in, and we now ask that you do it in a fashion where no one will get hurt, where the district won’t have to suspend students.”

HISD leaders made good on their promise to step up sanctions for students who protest but also asked students to find less disruptive ways to make their point.

They’re encouraging informational meetings and letter-writing campaigns as alternative ways to share concerns about proposed immigration laws that could have far-reaching effects for their families and friends living in the United States.

“Everyone needs to make an effort to encourage our young people to remain in school,” Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said.


Though fewer students cut class Thursday, police said they had serious concerns about a group of 100 Madison High students found marching near the 1100 block of South Post Oak in the morning. They were on their way to recruit students from nearby Dowling Middle, police spokesman Capt. Dwayne Ready said.

“They are going from school to school, which is disrupting school activities,” Ready said. “We have a safety issue present today that wasn’t as present in the last few days.”

This is appropriate. HISD was as tolerant of this week’s activities as one could reasonably ask them to be, and at this point no one can say they didn’t understand what the consequences for subsequent attempts to walk out would be. Protests like these are effective for getting attention to an issue, but that’s about all they can do. The focus goes away when the protest breaks up, so it’s time to move on to the next level.

Saavedra lauded the efforts of students at Lamar High School, where about 500 students gathered around the flagpole before classes began Thursday morning to discuss the legislation.

Children said the peaceful rally was more effective than the walkouts without getting them into trouble.

“Today, instead of walking out of school, we all walked into school united, together — as students, as human beings,” said Tina Marie Sanchez, 17, a junior at Lamar High.

Her classmate, Zelene Pineda, 17, said it’s important for students to understand the finer points of the debate about the pending bills.

“We had seen the students being portrayed as ignorant and oblivious to the actual causes for the walkouts and the protests,” she said.

“Walking out was not right. What we wanted to do was be smart about it.”

Students are using Internet bulletins to promote weekly informational sessions around the school’s flagpole.

Sharpstown and Reagan high school students have said they’re planning peaceful rallies after school today. A group called Young Immigrants for a Better Future is also planning a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. today at 6601 Hillcroft, the offices of CRECEN, an immigrant rights organization.

“We have to do something so Congress can feel the pressure, but we have to do something in an organized manner,” said Ivonne Moreira, 21, executive director of the group. “There’s ways to do things, not just go crazy.”

That’s exactly right. More power to you, and may you accomplish the goals you work for.

Two down

And we now have two ex-DeLay staffers pleading guilty to felony charges.

Tony Rudy, a former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, will plead guilty today to one count in connection with the ongoing federal investigation of the activities of disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to law enforcement officials.

The plea from Rudy, who served as DeLay’s deputy chief of staff, comes two days after Abramoff was sentenced to 70 months in prison for fraud in connection with the purchase of a casino-boat company in Miami.

The details of Rudy’s plea were not yet available.


Former DeLay spokesman Michael Scanlon, who was an Abramoff business partner, has also pleaded guilty to fraud charges in that case.


DeLay has denied knowledge of his former employees’ activities. DeLay attorney Richard Cullen has said that the Justice Department has not approached the lawmaker seeking information or cooperation.

I’ll say this again: There’s been a lot of baying and yapping in some blogs here over the activities of former Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado’s staff, and how she should have known about their improper activities (as no one has yet been charged with a crime, it’s premature to call anything “illegal” in this situation). If Alvarado should have known what kind of shenanigans her staff was up to, and if she should be held responsible in some way for not exerting more control over them – just so we’re all clear here, I agree that she should have known and that she bears responsibility for not knowing – then shouldn’t the same standard be applied to Tom DeLay and his felonious employees? For some strange reason, I’ve not seen nearly as much electronic ink expended on that topic. I wonder why that is.

UPDATE: More about Mike Scanlon than Tony Rudy, but let this be a lesson to every man who’s ever considered dumping his fiancee for a 24-year-old waitress. Link via Wampum.

UPDATE: Turns out that this story was first reported by Jason Leopold in The Raw Story back in January. You would not know that from the WSJ piece. I have to agree with Jason and with Jeralyn that it was wrong on the WSJ’s part to not acknowledge Jason’s earlier work.

Quarter time

As The Jeffersonian reminds us, today is the end of the quarter, so if you’ve been planning to make a donation to your favorite candidate, today is a great day to do it. He’s got a suggested list of Congressional candidates to consider, all of whom are worth your time to look. I’d add a couple more to his list:

Mary Beth Harrell in CD31 – see Eye on Williamson for more.

David Harris in CD06, who has been writing about immigration and national security lately.

In Harris County, there’s Gary Binderim in CD02, Jim Henley in CD07, and Ted Ankrum, who still has a runoff to win, in CD10. And of course the statewide candidates – BAR, Chris Bell, David Van Os, and so on. Whether you have any of these folks in mind or someone else, today’s the day to make it happen.

Courage challenges Smith on immigration

Matt brings us a message from John Courage to anti-immigrant Congressman Lamar Smith, who continues to be out of the mainstream on the subject. Check it out.

Courage will be the beneficiary of a fundraiser headlined by Senator Russ Feingold in April. If you’re in Austin and you want to support a good candidate, there’s a fine opportunity for you. If you don’t want to wait that long, there’s also Matt’s house party tonight in San Antonio. Every little bit helps.

From the “Why every vote counts” file

Seven votes makes the difference.

A recount of ballots today confirmed that County Court-at-Law No. 9 Judge Oscar Kazen will serve a single term after all, and will be replaced next year by political newcomer Laura Salinas.

“‘Landslide Laura’ wins by seven votes,” Salinas joked following the recount.

Out of about 35,000 votes cast, she got seven more votes than Kazen in the March 7 Democratic primary. Because there is no Republican candidate for the bench, Salinas is virtually assured to become the next judge for that court.

“The ballots really were very clean,” Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said. “I think (the recount) put everybody’s mind at ease.”


Kazen, whose family has been steeped in South Texas politics, held a dozen-vote lead over Salinas on election night. But that evaporated when mail-in and provisional ballots were counted six days later; Salinas came out on top by one vote.

A tally of overseas ballots last week increased the 34-year-old family and criminal law attorney’s lead to six votes. The recount added one more to her total.

Seven lousy votes. Remember that the next time someone tells you that it just doesn’t matter. For more background, see The Jeffersonian, Just Another Matt, and Larry for the Lege.

In other recount news, Carter Casteel’s deficit is now fifty-one votes, with two counties still to be re-done. That was always a longshot, but again, with such a small difference, you have to doublecheck. And you know, once again, every vote counts. Link via BOR.

On an unrelated note, I fully expected the Dems to lose State Sen. Ken Armbrister’s seat this November. I just didn’t expect it to happen by forfeit. Cripes. Link via PinkDome.

Endorsement? What endorsement?

NASA says that when their administrator whispered sweet nothings about Tom DeLay in front of an audience, it wasn’t really an endorsement.

Five days after NASA administrator Michael Griffin urged a Houston audience to keep U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay in office, a spokesman denied Wednesday that Griffin had made a formal campaign endorsement.

“The space program has had no better friend in its entire existence than Tom DeLay,” Griffin said Friday of DeLay’s legislative support of the agency. “He’s still with us and we need to keep him there.”

With DeLay present, Griffin spoke at the annual Space Center Rotary Club of Houston’s nonprofit National Award for Space Achievement Foundation gala.

Griffin had no intention of soliciting votes for the 11-term lawmaker, NASA spokesman Dean Acosta said.

“He did not make an endorsement and will not get involved in any political campaigns,” Acosta said. “If his words of thanks to Tom DeLay were misconstrued as an endorsement, then he regrets that.”

Uh huh. And why does this matter?

Under the Hatch Act, executive branch employees such as Griffin are permitted to express an opinion, campaign and make speeches for or against candidates in partisan elections — when they are off-duty.

The black-tie awards dinner at which Griffin made his remarks was held after regular working hours, but Griffin was representing the space agency and giving an award to a NASA employee, astronaut Eileen Collins.

Griffin’s travel to Houston from Washington, D.C., for the dinner was paid by NASA rather than the Rotary Club, said event organizer Floyd Bennett of the United Space Alliance.

The independent Office of Special Counsel, which administers the Hatch Act, will investigate the matter, spokesman Loren Smith said.

Employees who violate the Hatch Act can be removed from office, according to the Office of Special Counsel, or suspended without pay.

It’s like there’s a vortex around DeLay that causes everyone around him to do things that get them in trouble.

Want to ride your bicycle?

Christof tells us about an unused right-of-way inside Loop 610 called the Eureka Corridor and some currently languishing plans to turn it into a bike trail. The nifty part of this is a proposal by the White Oak Bayou Association (WOBA) to connect it to some existing bike trails in the Heights, Oak Forest, and all the way out to Memorial Park. WOBA is holding a meeting tonight (Thursday, March 30) at 7:30 PM to discuss this – send an email to their VP Linda Mercer at [email protected] if you’re interested.

This seems like a win-win to me: it’s cheap, it’s a great feature to help make Houston more attractive to people who might relocate here, and if implemented in this fashion it would give people another non-car option for getting to work downtown. What’s not to like? Check it out, and let your City Council member know what you think – the area in question encompasses Council Districts A (Toni Lawrence (713) 247-2010) and H (Adrian Garcia (713) 247-2003).

CPPP analysis of TTRC plan

Earlier than expected, but here’s the analysis by the Center for Public Policy Priorities (PDF) of the Texas Tax Reform Commission’s finance plan.

First, the proposal is a net tax cut. We had urged a plan that increased revenue; the Governor had asked for a plan that was revenue neutral; but the commission delivered a plan that reduces revenue by using some of the so-called surplus in this biennium to replace property tax revenue.


Our present revenue system is inadequate to meet our needs. The commission’s plan makes it more so.

Second, the commission’s plan, contrary to early reports, is not less regressive than our current tax structure. Texas has the fifth most regressive tax system in the United States, meaning that those with less income pay a greater percentage of their income in state and local taxes than those with more income. Under the commission’s plan, every income group gets a tax cut, but that is because the plan reduces revenue, not because the plan reduces regressivity. Indeed, as the equity note shows, using the new business tax, along with some of the so-called surplus, to cut property taxes gives the biggest tax breaks to those with the highest incomes—actually increasing the regressivity of the Texas tax system, a step backwards for low- and middle-income Texans.


Third, we are concerned about whether this new tax base has the same growth potential as the property tax. We await a fiscal note that will indicate future revenue growth. It is unlikely, however, that the new tax will grow fast enough both to keep up with what the property tax would have produced and replace the revenue lost from the net tax reduction.

On the positive side, the commission may have designed the best business tax proposed to date. This new tax may be the basis for legislation during the upcoming special session that Texans can applaud. To draw applause, however, any proposal must 1) put more revenue on the table; 2) increase fairness, or at least not make things significantly worse; and 3) meet our future needs with growth that is equal to or greater than the growth from the property tax it replaces.

Link via Eye on Williamson, which has a snazzy new location and look – be sure to update your bookmarks.

Lots more reaction from various business groups and other stakeholders here. There’s too much to reasonably excerpt, so go read it all. Right now, there’s a lot of waiting-and-seeing, with a generally positive if not enthusiastic undertone.

Vince does some interpretation of the report, and notes that it’s basically the same as a proposal from 2002 by the Joint Select Committee On Public School Finance. What’s interesting is that the JSCOPSF report (PDF) also addressed education reform as well as school finance and tax reform, something the TTRC did not do. Vince has some excerpts comparing the two reports, so go see for yourself.

Finally, Aaron Pena went on a local radio show to give his impressions of the TTRC report. RGV Life gives a summary of that discussion.

As the HHSC crumbles

Hey, remember when the state of Texas was going full speed ahead on the privatization of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC) even though the federal government had official concerns about its ability to deliver the services it’s obligated to do? According to Father John, those fears were well founded.

But the real shocker was a report that applicants who do not get a receipt for their applications can kiss those applications good bye, they no longer being processed, but they are being boxed and sent to the warehouse. I guess if the applicant is too absent minded due to his hunger pangs, and does not bother to get a receipt, then he can not prove that he filed the application to begin with, and if he can not prove it, then he or she did not do it.

I truly and sincerely hope that this report is not accurate, for I am sure that boxing applications and sending them to the warehouse is illegal. During my tenure at HHSC-DHS they made sure to let us know that mishandling, and falsifying state documents is a crime, now it appears that it has become agency policy.

That’s from Samm Almaguer, who like Father John is now a former employee of THHSC. Father John also says that the recent decline in the number of Texas children insured by Medicaid is due to the staffing shortage at THHSC, which was the result of the layoffs done to get the private contractors installed. Note too that the enrollment decline goes back farther than that story suggests. All this without any real cost savings like we were promised. What a deal.

More on the concealed carry law

We all got a good schadenfreudistic laugh out of Tom DeLay’s gun woes, but I was curious about the provision in that law that called for the suspension of a concealed-carry license (CCL) for a person under a felony indictment. I sent an inquiry to then-State Senator, now Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and wound up having a pleasant chat with him about it. I’m not the world’s best note-taker, but here’s what I got from the conversation:

– While the CCL bill was passed in 1995, there had been previous attempts to do so going back to 1989. A gutted version of the bill was passed in 1993 that called for a nonbinding referendum, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Ann Richards. The suspension requirement that tripped up DeLay is something that was a part of the bill all through its history, and he agreed when I suggested that it came from a “tough on crime” mindset that was more than what was needed for these purposes.

– Many people and groups played a role in putting together the bill – Commissioner Patterson cited DPS as having a big part in it. Patterson’s goal in 1995 was to remove what he thought were “onerous” provisions from the earlier attempts that would have placed a bigger burden on potential handgun carriers. The amount of training required for a CCL was an example of such a provision.

– Patterson eventually wrote the bill himself longhand on a legal pad in his kitchen. He said he tried to balance the concerns everyone had in order to get a bill that could pass.

– He believes that in the end, he gave up too much in getting that bill passed; he believes that he’d have still had the votes to pass it even if he’d held firmer on some of the concessions he made to this person or that’s need to position himself politically on the bill.

– The aformentioned suspension-for-felony-indictment provision is an example of something he’d have done differently if he had it to do over again. While he would have included that for “assaultive” felonies, he did not think that the broad-based suspension requirement was fair. We agreed that the only reason it’s getting attention now is because of the high profile of Tom DeLay.

I want to add that I opposed this bill in 1995. I thought it would lead to more opportunistic gun violence. That has not happened, a point Patterson makes in an op-ed he wrote (PDF) to commemorate the law’s tenth anniversary. My thinking on the issue of guns and gun control has evolved over the years. I found that I could not reconcile my strong belief in personal freedom for things like reproductive choice with a belief in the need to restrict gun ownership. So, I changed. I can’t say I like guns, but as with abortion, that doesn’t mean I think someone else should be forbidden to have access to them.

My thanks to Jerry Patterson for his feedback on this.

Abramoff sentenced in Florida

Five years and ten months for Casino Jack.

U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck sentenced Abramoff, 47, and his former partner, Adam R. Kidan, 41, to the shortest possible prison terms under sentencing guidelines in the case. In pleading for the minimum sentence, lawyers for each defendant laid most of the blame on the other for the scam, in which they faked a $23 million wire transfer to obtain financing for the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos from an owner who was later shot to death in a gangland-style hit.

“As you can imagine, this day is incredibly painful for my family, my friends and me,” Abramoff told the judge. “Over the past two years, I have started the process of becoming a new man.”


Although Huck opted for the minimum, Abramoff faces the prospect of at least a few additional years in prison when he is sentenced in a separate case in Washington, D.C. However, lawyers said, his overall sentence ultimately could be reduced depending on his cooperation with federal investigators.


In the Washington case, Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to federal charges of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. His plea deal with federal prosecutors in that case required him to cooperate with a broad federal investigation of corruption involving members of Congress, congressional staffers, other lobbyists and employees of the Interior Department and other federal agencies.

Among the congressmen whose names have come up in the probe are Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), former chairman of the House Administration Committee, and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), the former House majority leader. Ney has been identified as the “Representative #1” who, according to court documents, received bribes from Abramoff in exchange for official acts, including congressional statements that promoted the SunCruz deal during contentious purchase negotiations. DeLay, who once described Abramoff as “one of my closest and dearest friends,” took three overseas trips with the lobbyist and received more than $70,000 in political contributions from him, his associates and his Native American tribal clients. Ney and DeLay have denied any wrongdoing.

So, the main point to remember here is that this is not the Washington case; that investigation, and presumably Abramoff’s cooperation in it, is ongoing. I’ve got a link to the original SunCruz story here, and Julia has a metric boatload of supplemental links. One last point, from The Stakeholder: Among the stubborn handful of Congressfolk who have refused to return Abramoff’s donations to them is our own Rep. Ron Paul. Perhaps someone should ask him about this.

Projecting the Governor’s race

The Lone Star Project has an interesting analysis of the Governor’s race, in which its basic thesis is that Chris Bell really does have a clearer path to a win than Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Not an easy path, mind you, but a clearer one. I’ll defer any deep thoughts on this for now, but here are a couple of quick comments:

1. I think the Democratic base vote is higher than what they use in their model. George Bush was the top votegetter just about everywhere for the Republicans, and John Kerry trailed all Democrats most places. I’d go with something between David Van Os’ 41% and JR Molina’s 42%. Not that it makes that much difference, and if there’s a winning scenario with this harsher environment that’s even more encouraging, I just think that’s overly pessimistic.

2. The LSP projection is largely in agreement with this Fox 7 Austin analysis (video link) that suggests a 35-35 photo finish between Bell and Perry and also suggests Strayhorn has a tougher row to hoe than is currently being suggested. (Screen cap from the video here.)

3. We don’t have any post-primary polling yet; what we had from February was two contradictory results, one from Rasmussen that suggested Strayhorn was already in a tight race with Perry, and one from the Dallas Morning News that had Strayhorn trailing Bell. I still think that Rasmussen has been oversampling Republicans, and if I were to guess, I’d say the real picture now is more like the DMN poll. As I say, though, that’s just my guess.

4. However you slice it, this just reinforces my belief that the prominent Dems who have been backing Strayhorn so far are running away from a winnable race. If we enter October with multiple polls showing Strayhorn and Perry neck and neck with Bell a distant third, then I can understand a tactical switch. Doing so now is craven and shortsighted.

More later. Read their piece and see what you think of it.

The slow spur

As I read about the snarled traffic on US59 approaching the newly-reopened Spur 527, I have to ask: Am I the only one who remembers what this stretch of road was like before the construction?

Some drivers said they saw little improvement in the traffic situation. Persistent rain Tuesday didn’t help.

Several trips through the trouble spot showed that the two left lanes consistently made the best time, which may explain part of the problem.

Speeds there seldom dipped below 20 mph while traffic in the two right lanes was stop-and-go.

That raises a suspicion that some drivers in the right lanes are merging to the left to make better time, then merging back to the right to avoid having to exit onto the spur.

A suspicion? Dude, that’s exactly what people did in the old days, and for exactly the same reason: there were far fewer cars that actually took the spur than there were cars continuing north on 59, so people got in the left lanes and stayed for as long as they could before squeezing/forcing their way over. The only difference that I can see now is that there are fewer lanes overall right now – one left lane has been lost to the not-yet-opened HOV, and one right lane is still closed due to unfinished work on the Main Street exit.

And as Christof points out in the link above, even if the Shepherd-to-spur section had been widened, you’d still run into a bottleneck just past it where the exits to 288 and I-45 are. Both of those ramps can and do back up onto 59, which is obviously a problem, and speaking as someone who takes 288 north to the Pierce Elevated most days from work, 59 is still plenty crowded once you get past those exits, too.

Now if there’s a significant number of people who are coming this way to get to I-45, and if a lot of them figure out that they can get there via the spur (and avoid that nasty bottleneck-by-design Pierce Elevated onramp), then maybe the load at this juncture will lessen a bit. Certainly getting the HOV in play, and reclaiming the lane lost to the Main Street exit work will go a long way, too. But for now, all I can say is: Honestly, what did you expect?

LBB analysis of TTRC plan

The Texas Tax Reform Commission (TTRC) plan is set to be unveiled today, and it starts with a shot of good publicity thanks to a Legislative Budget Board analysis that paints it as a tax cut for all income levels.

The analysis represents a dramatic change from last year, when the budget board reported that other tax-swap proposals floated in the Legislature would impose tax increases on all but those Texans at the highest income levels.

Lawmakers blamed the disparity in those plans on hefty cigarette-tax increases, as well as increases in the the general sales tax. People who earn less generally spend a larger percentage of their money on those taxes. Perry’s panel will not recommend a sales-tax increase.

“Our committee spent a heck of a lot of time trying to make sure that the tax was not regressive, and so far we’re pleased with what we see,” former Comptroller John Sharp, chairman of Perry’s tax commission, told the American-Statesman this afternoon.

The plan would put the largest tax cuts at the top of the income scale, with households making more than $146,804 seeing a 3.3 percent tax cut and those making between $104,865 and $146,804 seeing a 2.8 percent tax cut.

Households making less than $14,042 would see a 1.4 percent tax cut, and those between $14,042 and $23,872 would see a 0.9 percent cut.

That certainly is a world better than last year’s debacle. I’ve got some concerns, which I’ll address in a minute, but first, bear in mind that the LBB analysis is not for everyone.

Smokers would be net losers under the proposal, but Perry has said, in recent speeches, that a higher cigarette tax could encourage a healthier lifestyle.

The tobacco tax increase, which would hit poorer smokers harder, was omitted from the analysis, because it would have had a negative impact on the overall projected savings.

The tax equity note also doesn’t differentiate between homeowners and renters, many of whom are in the lowest income categories and may or may not receive pass-throughs of property tax savings from their landlords.

Yes, if you smoke, all we can say is thanks for shouldering a bigger part of the burden. I’d be very interested to see what the analysis would look like without this omission. You’d have to make assumptions about how much an individual smoked, but surely it would be easy enough to factor it for (say) one pack a day smokers versus two pack a day smokers.

And of course, the problem with depending on a higher tobacco tax is right there in Rick Perry’s words: This tax will provide an incentive for people to quit, or at least cut back on, their cigarette habits. That’s good news for them, and good news overall for the state of Texas, but bad news for the budget. It’s folly to depend on such a volatile revenue source for anything other than activities directly related to that source. We’re in denial if we think that a dollar increase in the tobacco tax will be a stable part of the school finance picture.

As for the point about renters, that was the reason why the previous year’s tax-swap plan was such a loser for lower-income folks. Their main burden is the sales tax, so reductions to other taxes won’t affect them as much. The only real way to give those folks tax relief is to lower the sales tax rate, which some people still want to do:

Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, said he was “dubious” of the business tax proposal.

Janek, a physician who would have to pay a business tax for the first time under the commission’s proposal, said he would prefer to expand the sales tax to business services instead and possibly lower the sales tax rate.

Janek said he prefers sales taxes because they are consumption-based.

I’m still a little mystified as to why there hasn’t been more support for expanding the sales tax to business services. In theory, at least, it would have the same political pros and cons as the TTRC business tax; certainly, the opposition it got from various service industries and the resultant Swiss cheese proposal that died with all the other plans testify to that. If someone like Sen. Janek really pushes for that idea in April, it will be interesting to see who lines up behind what plan.

An article forwarded to me from the Quorum Report indicates that the main stakeholders of the tax plan – the business lobby, school districts and poverty advocates – are still in wait-and-see mode right now. Look for an analysis by the Center for Public Policy Priorities on Friday to see where they stand. One point about the schools:

School districts are looking at portion of the bill on meaningful discretion. Lynn Moak of Moak Casey & Associates says the 6 cents per-year discretion is generous given previous offers made in prior legislation. Rollbacks appear to be calculated on last year’s tax rate, plus 6 cents, rather than last year’s revenue-per-student, plus 6 cents, which gives fast-growth school districts a bit more room for tax rate growth. That kind of latitude is going to be considered a plus by the school districts.

The immediate revenue generated under the bill, minus the business tax, would give school districts the chance to roll back to $1.33 per hundred dollar valuation the first year. Once the business tax kicks in, it would be $1 the second year. That could be a short-term fix. Long term, Moak says that inflation is likely to eat up a significant portion of the new tax capacity, which is likely to put school districts back at the $1.50 cap. To fully address the Supreme Court’s mandate for meaningful discretion — and, more specifically, long-term meaningful discretion —
will mean adjustments to the finance formula, Moak said. Tinkering with the formula would mean opening up the call on the session. That’s not likely to happen, if Perry can help it.

At least two more actions are necessary to get long-term relief from this court challenge, Moak said. First, the Legislature needs to define and fund a “general diffusion of knowledge,” as stated in the state Constitution. And, second, the funding formula must account for inflation. Otherwise, any gains will be eaten away by increased costs.

Remember that things like rising gasoline prices hit schools in the pocketbook, too, and they have less flexibility to react to such unaccounted for cost increases thanks to various mandates like NCLB. Remember too that the public school system grows by something like 75,000 students a year in Texas, and that any viable school funding plan has to plan for that. The plan that Governor Perry has in mind is revenue-neutral, which does not do that. The TTRC plan is a good start, but we’re still a long way from done.

Walkouts around the state

There were student walkouts in Dallas and Fort Worth yesterday along with those in Houston and elsewhere around the country. That will probably be the end of that type of activity – as Stace notes, the party line from school administrators appears to be that while these demonstrations will leave students subject to discipline at the discretion of school principals, any further such walkouts will bring harsher sanctions.

I’m okay with this. It’s appropriate for the students to be held responsible for the work they missed, and it’s appropriate for them to be subject to normal school rules for having an unexcused absence. As long as schools do not seek to single out students they identify as ringleaders, I support this action. Accepting the consequences for civil disobedience has always been a part of that tactic. The message has been sent and received, now it’s time to channel that energy into other avenues, like writing to Congress members and registering to vote.

On a tangential note, this Statesman story talks about how the immigration issue is playing out in some campaigns so far. I found this chart of the positions taken by gubernatorial candidates to be enlightening:

Gov. Rick Perry (R)

Calls for more federal aid to border law enforcement.

Chris Bell (D)

Supports legislation approved by U.S. Senate panel ordaining more border security and allowing illegal immigrants to become legal residents.

Carole Keeton Strayhorn (I)

Supports more border and port security law enforcement aid and allowing U.S. citizens, including such groups as the Minutemen, working with officers to combat illegal crossings.

Kinky Friedman (I)

Favors expansion of border fencing and supports legislation approved by U.S. Senate committee ordaining more border security and allowing illegal immigrants to become legal. Also favors creation of guest worker program.

Yes, Carole Keeton Strayhorn appears to be running to Rick Perry’s right on this. Maybe someone should call Tony Sanchez and let him know about it. And just as a reminder, here is what Kinky Friedman said about “expansion of border fencing”.

One last thing: Here’s a picture from Dallas for those of you who mentioned flags yesterday.

UPDATE: Today’s Chron coverage is here, here, and here. There’s also blog coverage from Aaron Pena, Latinos for Texas, South Texas Chisme, and of course Dos Centavos.

Astros’ claim on Bagwell insurance denied

Bagwell insurance claim denied.

Lawyers for Astros owner Drayton McLane and Connecticut General Life Insurance are bracing for litigation over Connecticut General’s decision to deny the total disability claim the Astros filed to recoup $15.6 million of disabled first baseman Jeff Bagwell’s salary this year.

Acknowledging that pain in his arthritic right shoulder had become too great, Bagwell went on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday. Twelve days earlier, Connecticut General had already denied the Astros’ insurance claim.

“On March 13, 2006, Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. notified the Houston Astros that it had denied a total disability claim submitted by the Astros relating to Jeff Bagwell,” said attorney Ty Buthod, a partner at the Houston law firm of Baker Botts, which is representing Connecticut General. “The company determined that there had been no adverse change in Mr. Bagwell’s condition or ability to play baseball between the end of last season, when he was an active member of the roster, and Jan. 31, 2006, the date the policy expired.

“The company carefully reviewed the claim as submitted by the Astros and determined that the claim did not support a finding of total disability.”

McLane disagrees, and he vows to pursue legal recourse to collect on his claim.

Clearly, what we need here is some tort reform. Or maybe insurance reform. It’s all so confusing. Where’s Joe Nixon when you really need him?

I suppose the Stros will claim that since Bagwell did play in the World Series but obviously cannot play now, that’s proof enough that his condition changed adversely. The insurers will say that since he could still play again after more surgery, this is a temporary setback and not a certain career-ender. I can see merit to both arguments. My best wishes and a bottle of Excedrin to the judge that catches this one.

And They Cook, Too

I know that when the vast majority of the public thinks about blogs and bloggers (at least, the vast majority of that tiny slice of the public that knows who and what we are), words like “Cheetoes” and “Jolt cola” are often involved. Well, via Julia, I’m pleased to tell you that some bloggers at least have perfectly viable culinary skills. See for yourself in And They Cook, Too, which is not just a cookbook but also a fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders. A listing of the recipes within is here, some sample pages are here (PDF), and you can order this baby here for the everyday low price of $15. Bon appetit!

More bloggy plagiarism

I confess, what with all the Domeneching recently, I’d not heard of the case of ESPN Radio personality Colin Cowherd and the charges that he’d reada humor piece from a Michigan Wolverines fan blog called the M Zone on the air without attribution. Salon’s King Kaufman gives the basic story, noting that this generated a lot less outrage than Cut ‘n’ Paste Ben. Cowherd ultimately apologized and gave credit to the M Zone bloggers, at which point all was forgiven.

For what it’s worth, I have a suspicion that the reason this got paid less attention than L’Affaire de Ben is that it’s not exactly unheard of for radio DJs to read stuff they got off the Internet and/or via email (usually stuff from the Internet that’s been forwarded to everyone in creation). The longstanding humor site has made a running joke about being ripped off by Wacky Morning DJ types for years. I think as much as anything, no one was all that shocked by this. Maybe now it’ll be different, I don’t know. I kind of doubt it, though.

DeLay sues to get his gun back

Tom DeLay is fighting to get his gun back after his concealed carry license was suspended due to his felony indictment.

Under a Texas law passed in 1995, a license may be suspended if the holder is charged with a Class A or Class B misdemeanor or indicted on felony charges.


The author of the original bill, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who was a state senator, said the section of law calling for suspension of licenses of people under indictment should probably be removed from the statute.

“It is clearly not rational, not called for, but it was one of those things we did to make somebody say, ‘OK, I’ll vote for it,’ ” Patterson said Monday.

Patterson said several provisions were put in the bill by backers in order to garner support from other lawmakers who were leery about the law.

Patterson said since the bill’s passage more than a decade ago, legislators have amended the statute and removed some of the parts he called “onerous.”

“There is a presumption of innocence. Would we take away his First Amendment right to free speech?” Patterson said.

I’m always amused at how the git-tuff-on-crime crowd can find religion on the subject of presumed innocence when one of their own is on the court docket. Perhaps DeLay can make felony indictees’ rights his new crusade if he survives his reelection fight in November.

Out of curiosity, I surfed through the Chronicle archives to see if there were any news reports about this particular provision of the law from the 1995 legislative session when it was adopted. There may have been some heartburn about suspending licenses for indicted felons behind the scenes, but I couldn’t find anything about it in the actual news stories. Here’s how the bill appeared as it passed out of the Senate committee.

The proposed law would allow adults who have never been convicted of a felony or are not facing criminal charges to apply to the Texas Department of Public Safety for a permit to carry a handgun every day.

They would have to submit to criminal background checks and take handgun proficiency training in courses developed by the DPS.

That’s about the only mention of “not facing criminal charges” – i.e., not being under indictment like a certain former House Majority Leader – that I found. And that’s not because the bill passed quietly and uncontroversially. Beyond the expected opposition, some other aspects of this bill caused a stir. For example, the list of exceptions to where you could carry a concealed handgun, and the fight over limiting background checks – Patterson is quoted in one article that he “doesn’t want to let the criminals know” who might be packing heat.

The bill passed Senate after these battles were fought, then a slightly different version passed out of the House committee and eventually the full House. Here’s how its restrictions were reported:

To be eligible, a person must be at least 21, of sound mind, free of felony convictions and have no history of substance abuse. An applicant must also have no convictions for a Class A or B misdemeanor in the preceding five years or a Class C misdemeanor for simple assault. They also cannot ever have been convicted of a Class A or B misdemeanor involving the use of a handgun.

No mention of being under a felony indictment, though that provision was either there all along or added back when its final version was passed in the Senate. All I’m saying here is that this particular provision could not have been that controversial.

Now having said that, I agree with Commissioner Patterson that a blanket ban like that serves no rational purpose. Suspending a CCL as a condition of bail makes sense, but let’s be honest: Tom DeLay is no less a menace to public safety without his gun than he normally is. The law is what it is, however, and I see no reason why he should get any special treatment. If there’s a reason permitted in the statute to un-suspend his license before his trial then fine, but if not, let him act like any other aggrieved citizen and petition his State Rep to change the existing law.

Another student walkout

Some breaking news here: I just got a phone call from Melissa Noriega, who tells me that students from Stephen F. Austin High School have walked out of classes and are moving through downtown, possibly towards the immigration court, though she couldn’t tell for sure. They were approaching the Toyota Center as Melissa called me.

Be that as it may, Melissa tells me there are about 20 police and constable cars accompanying the kids. She spoke to an officer who says they’re just there to keep the kids safe from traffic. They have no plans to interfere with what they’re doing.

I’ll post updates as I hear more. I checked the various local news sites before starting to write this but haven’t seen anything there yet. If you happen to be in the area and see anything, please leave a comment or drop me a note (kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com). As Melissa said to me, “One thing we learned from the civil rights movement is that the more people who are watching as events unfold, the safer it is for everyone involved.”

UPDATE: Stace has more, including word that students from other schools are also marching downtown.

UPDATE: Local news coverage from KHOU and the Chron.

UPDATE: Calling again from Navigation and 71st, Melissa reports there are about 1000 students from Milby who have walked out and are headed towards City Hall. There’s a school bus behind them, which school officials (riding on a John Deere vehicle of some kind, with a video camera to try and record who’s there) are pleading in vain for the students to get on and get back to class. This group is apparently better organized than some of the earlier groups – they have banners, and a number of the kids are wearing US flag bandanas.

There are a lot of kids who were brought to the US as babies or toddlers by their parents, and only know America as their home. They’re in a kind of legal limbo, and are very upset at the idea that some people want to send them “back” to a place they’ve never really lived. It’s amazing to watch this all go on. It feels like the start of something big.

UPDATE: Some audio from KHOU, while the Chron story I linked before looks like it has more in it now.

Melissa phoned again to say that it’s raining where they are, near the original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Some of the kids have on blue rain slickers like you wear in marching band during inclement weather. As a lifelong band geek, I approve of that.

Apparently, there’s a Family Dollar store across the street from Ninfa’s. As the kids walked past there, some folks came out of that store with yellow raincoats and umbrellas for the kids. We think that was the store manager who did that – whoever it was, it was mighty kind of them.

UPDATE: Pictures, kindly sent to me by Sergio and Tiffany D (Stace also has them):

Austin High School students on Polk Street, east of downtown.

Austin High School students still on Polk Street, passing Frankels’ Costume Co.

Statute of limitations aids Reed

Ralph Reed is in the clear in Travis County because the statute of limitations has run out. He had been under investigation by County Attorney David Escamilla that he had violated Texas law by not registering as a lobbyist.

Mr. Escamilla said the two-year statute of limitations had run out on the issues raised against Mr. Reed, but he added that the county attorney’s office would continue to review information that might become available.

The case stemmed from Mr. Reed having received $4.2 million in 2001 and 2002 from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to memos and e-mails that surfaced during a Senate investigation. Subsequently, Mr. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to tax fraud and conspiracy.

Mr. Reed apparently was paid for contacting public officials in the attorney general’s and governor’s offices and urging them to close Indian casinos in Texas. Mr. Abramoff was representing Louisiana tribes that did not want the Texas competition.

Mr. Reed also contacted State Board of Education members in 2002 on behalf of in-school TV network Channel One.

In December 2005, three public-interest groups – Common Cause, Public Citizen and Texans for Public Justice – filed a complaint with the county attorney against Mr. Reed, saying that Mr. Reed was a high-paid lobbyist but one who never registered with the Texas Ethics Commission – a possible Class A misdemeanor.

“The information presented by the complainants raises legitimate questions concerning Mr. Reed’s activities and possible violation of Texas law,” Mr. Escamilla said.

But without evidence of lobbying activity within the last two years, “I cannot justify initiating a formal criminal investigation given the statute of limitations,” he said.

Oh, well. Background on this can be found here, here, and here. Thanks to TPM Muckraker for the catch.

Libertarian candidate in CD22

Via Greg in TX22 and Right of Texas comes the news that the Libertarian Party has a candidate with some name recognition to run in CD22: Bob Smither.

The engineering consultant is known for the tragic case that involved the kidnapping and murder of his daughter Laura Smither. The 12-year-old Friendswood girl was out for a jog in April 1997 when she was abducted.

Her body was found a 17 days later in a pond not far from her home.

Smither and his wife, Gay, helped found the Laura Recovery Center, a nationally recognized center that helps search for missing children. The center also serves as a national advocate for laws to keep children safe.

I remember this well, as do many people in Friendswood, I’m sure. You can get more background on Laura Smither here.

Uncommon as it is to get a Libertarian candidate that regular people will have heard of, I don’t expect Bob Smither to do any better than the norm for LP candidates, which is about 2% in races that feature both major parties. As with Steve Stockman, I expect any support he gets above the usual baseline will come from Tom DeLay, though in this case perhaps not exclusively. In any event, I doubt we’ll hear much more about this campaign.

One more point. Greg observes the following from the article:

DeLay is bleeding, yet he seems to be going to the friendliest of venues. The Sugar Land Rotary Club. GOP District meetings. He kind of reminds me of a basketball team sitting on a lead, just hoping that the clock will run out. Will this strategy work, or will DeLay start trying to convince some less friendly people (like me) that he is deserving of a vote?

DeLay is shoring up his base because he needs to. As I’ve noted several times before, he has underperformed in every way you can measure in CD22, not just in 2004 but also in 2002, back before all his current troubles began. He can’t afford any more erosion of his base, whether they defect to Lampson, cast protest votes with Stockman or Smither, or just skip this race and go on to the next one. Eighty percent Republican support isn’t enough for DeLay.

So yes, he wants people like Greg to love him again. He needs them to. He can’t win without them.

A judge’s view of plea bargains

Galveston’s Judge Susan Criss has an interesting op-ed on the process she goes through in reviewing plea bargains that come before her. I’ve reproduced the piece beneath the fold because the Galveston News site is highly transitory. The background on the case is here.

The case involves a man accused of sexually assaulting a girl, 6, in 2002. Miles Whittington, Criss’ Republican opponent in the November election, represents Casey Lynn Spence, charged in the case.

Criss said politics were not a factor in her rejection of the plea.

“It was just too lenient for the facts alleged,” she said.

Whittington declined to comment because the case was still pending.

The agreement called for Spence to plead guilty and receive 10 years’ probation.

During the Monday morning hearing, during which she rejected the agreement, Spence told Criss that he was asking her to recuse herself from the case because he did not believe she would be fair with him.

Criss Monday afternoon told The Daily News that she understood why a defendant would feel that way, but said she treated everyone fairly.

“I don’t transfer the political atmosphere into my courtroom,” she said.

Later, another judge approved the plea bargain, which generated some outrage in the community and a reminder from the editorial page that judges don’t make plea bargains. Which in turn prompted Judge Criss’ response. Got all that?

Well, one more thing. From Whittington’s campaign page:

As a former felony prosecutor in the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, I believe violent offenders should go to prison upon conviction, and not be probated back to our neighborhoods.

What would Candidate Whittington say about the sentence that Defense Attorney Whittington negotiated in his role of looking out for his client’s best interests? In particular, what would he say if Judge Criss had accepted it? I point this out just as a reminder that the real world is often more complicated than a campaign slogan.

Click More to read Judge Criss’ opinion on the subject.


A roundup of immigration links

I haven’t paid enough attention to the fierce debate over immigration that’s currently brewing in the Senate, the streets, and even the schools. Since I don’t think I have any original thoughts to add at this time, let me say that I endorse the ideas expressed by David Neiwert and Kevin Drum that the way to approach this problem is to aim for policy that makes citizenship the goal. We want, or at least we should want, immigrants who want to assimilate, who value the idea of becoming Americans, and who will take positive steps towards that ideal. Constructing a framework that helps immigrants achieve these goals is a necessary first step.

Some things to read as you ponder all this:

Stace reports from various marches, and gets feedback on the student walkout at Eisenhower High School.

Vince reflects on Cesar Chavez Day and HR4437.

Matt expands on HR4437 and explains that Rep. Lamar Smith is on the wrong side (no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Smith’s record).

Rico Politico on A Day Without Mexicans.

South Texas Chisme writes about “business” interests in immigration.

Got a link I’ve missed? Leave a comment. Thanks!

From the “People who are easily annoyed” files

I have no idea what this guy is talking about.

Donald Younger read last Monday’s article about the challenges faced by MetroRail operators. “I would like to say a little about the passengers and pedestrians,” he writes.

“First of all, you have to wait at the rail stops in a cloud of smoke most of the time. When the train arrives all the smokers flip their butts on the platform or the rail.”

“Then there is a barrage of announcements from the P.A. system which is usually turned up to maximum volume. There is the ‘suspicious package’ announcement, then the ‘be sure you have a fare item’ announcement, which everyone ignores.

“Of course these are in both English and Spanish so they can be doubly annoying. Then there are four announcements to let you know about the arrival of the next train.”

And the train doors screech when they close. You get the picture. Younger said he has gone back to riding the bus.

Frankly, anyone who rides a train every day and does not learn to tune this sort of thing out is beyond my help. That said, having ridden the light rail back to my office from a downtown meeting today, the only announcements I can recall are the ones about the train arriving (which I for one am always glad to hear, because it means I’ll be boarding my train soon) and the ones about what the next station is. These are short messages, and neither of them qualify as a “barrage”. We did get the “fare item” announcement – once, as we approached the TMC Transit Center stop. We also got the suspicious package announcement once, as we departed TMC Transit Center. Again, not my idea of a barrage.

If the doors screeched, I didn’t notice. (Like I said – tune it out.) Maybe the poor guy just needs a change of scenery. Here’s hoping he can find whatever it is he’s looking for on the bus.

Is this the end for Carol Alvarado?

The Chronicle runs a story on Carol Alvarado today that’s one part biography/career retrospective and one part political obituary. The big question: Will she ever be able to run for political office successfully again?

“Even taking the best case, that she’s telling the truth and didn’t know what was going on, it’s still a huge political misstep and probably ends any possibility that she could be elected citywide to any seat like controller or mayor. That’s probably unrealistic,” says University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray, who taught Alvarado when she attended UH.

“Very likely she would have to go for a district seat, maybe congressional down the line, but more likely a state representative or Senate seat based substantially in the community that she grew up in, where voters would be more forgiving.”

I figure Alvarado would have been a strong contender in a wide-open Mayoral race in 2009. She had a pretty nice resume prior to the recent unpleasantness, but it obviously doesn’t look quite as good now. So, I think that ship has sailed.

As for the other possibilities, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that she’s in a soldidly Democratic part of town, so assuming she can make it to the general election for whatever seat she wants, she’ll win. The bad news is that she’s in a solidly Democratic part of town, so she’ll either need to knock off an incumbent in what would surely be a nasty and bloody primary fight, or wait till someone steps down and win a slightly less nasty and bloody primary fight for the open seat.

Looking at a map of District I and comparing it to the various maps on the redistricting resources page, Alvarado currently represents parts of State House Districts 142 (Harold Dutton), 143 (Ana Hernandez), 145 (Rick Noriega), and 147 (Garnet Coleman). Dutton and Coleman aren’t going anywhere; Hernandez is in her freshman term, so even if she has her sights on higher office, she’ll likely stay where she is for awhile first. I’d say her best bet here is to hope that Rick Noriega decides to make a statewide run in 2008.

Much of City Council District I is also within State Senate DIstrict 6. Mario Gallegos might be vulnerable to a primary challenge, and he might decide to hang up his hat when this term expires in 2008. This is also a possibility to watch for. As for Congress, I can’t see her attempting to take out Gene Green in CD29, and I don’t see any reason why Green might retire soon. Barring a surpise there, I’d say it’s not on the table.

One last thing to keep in mind: Carol Alvarado is only 38 years old. She has plenty of time to go off and do something else for awhile to rebuild that resume of hers and let this scandal fade from the public memory. Who knows what the political landscape will be like in 2014 or 2016? What she’s going through now is bad, but unless she actually gets convicted of something, or perhaps just arrested, it’s way too early to say she’s forevermore unelectable to anything outside her neighborhood.

UPDATE: Stace adds his thoughts.

Enriching Ed

This WaPo piece is a companion to the National Journal piece whose excerpts were in TPM Muckraker that I linked to over the weekend. It’s about DeLay buddy and former Chief of Staff Ed Buckham and the money he made via a phony nonprofit that got much of its money from Russian oil interests that sought to influence how DeLay voted on key legislation. A few highlights for you:

A top adviser to former House Whip Tom DeLay received more than a third of all the money collected by the U.S. Family Network, a nonprofit organization the adviser created to promote a pro-family political agenda in Congress, according to the group’s accounting records.

DeLay’s former chief of staff, Edwin A. Buckham, who helped create the group while still in DeLay’s employ, and his wife, Wendy, were the principal beneficiaries of the group’s $3.02 million in revenue, collecting payments totaling $1,022,729 during a five-year period ending in 2001, public and private records show.

The group’s revenue was drawn mostly from clients of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to its records. From an FBI subpoena for the records, it can be inferred that the bureau is exploring whether there were links between the payments and favorable legislative treatment of Abramoff’s clients by DeLay’s office.


The group’s payments to the Buckhams — in the form of a monthly retainer as well as commissions on donations by Abramoff’s clients — overlapped briefly with Edwin Buckham’s service as chief of staff to DeLay and continued during his subsequent role as DeLay’s chief political adviser.

During this latter period, Buckham and his wife, Wendy, acting through their consulting firm, made monthly payments averaging $3,200-$3,400 apiece to DeLay’s wife, Christine, for three of the years in which he collected money from the USFN and some other clients.


Wendy Buckham was not the only spouse of a DeLay staffer to benefit from the USFN revenue stream sustained by Abramoff’s clients. A consulting firm owned by the wife of Tony C. Rudy, DeLay’s deputy chief of staff, was paid $15,600 by the group in 1999 and another $10,400 in 2000. Rudy resigned to work with Abramoff in 2001. It could not be determined what the payments were for.


Records obtained by federal investigators after [a previous article in The Post] appeared and reviewed by The Post make clear just how unusual USFN’s spending was. Its revenue was lavished not only on DeLay’s advisers but on a variety of expenses that experts say are atypical for such a small nonprofit: $62,375 for wall art, a vase listed at $20,100, airfare and meals for Abramoff that cost $11,548, and $267,202 in travel and entertainment expenses that appear to have benefited mostly Buckham, the group’s board members, and its tiny staff.

“They were using donor funds for interior decorating,” said Chris Geeslin, a pastor in Frederick, Md., who between 1998 and 2001 served as one of the group’s directors and then its president. He blamed what he described as the group’s misspending on Buckham, who he said “would tell us where you should put things. He orchestrated all this. . . . He used us.”

Emphasis mine. That’s now a Chief of Staff and a Deputy Chief of Staff for DeLay who are under investigation for being seriously crooked. Quite the office you ran there, Tom.

Link via Josh Marshall, who includes this tidbit:

Like Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) and Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY), Buckham siphoned off funds off of political contributions and converted them into personal income by having his wife take ‘commissions’ for a nominal role as fundraiser. Her cut was 10%.

In 1997, for instance, on $524,975 contributed by a handful of Abramoff clients, Wendy Buckham pocketed $43,000 in ‘commissions.’

The family that siphons together stays together, I suppose.

Radnofsky and Harris

Barbara Radnofsky is guest-blogging again at Capitol Annex, while her campaign manager Seth puts in a few words on her behalf at Wampum. As unhappy as I was that she did not win the Senate nomination outright on Primary Day, I feel like she and her team have done a good job in turning the runoff into a positive. All of the endorsements she’s gotten from various elected officials, SDEC members, and other members of the establishment (one name to add to this story about her campaign headquarters opening is HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg) have helped put a little focus on this race. It would have been nice to have had some of this before March 7, but better late than never.

Also appearing on Wampum is David Harris, where he writes about environmental issues, where he obviously contrasts sharply with Smokey Joe Barton. Take a look at Breath of Life for a more ecumenical view of the environment while you’re there. Dave is also writing about immigration issues at BOR. Check it out.

Bagwell to DL

If the end of the line for Jeff Bagwell isn’t here, it’s getting really close.

Conceding that it might take “a miracle” for him to play again, Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell went on the disabled list Saturday in a move that could signal the end of his major-league career.

The franchise’s all-time leader in home runs and RBIs is considering surgery to remove the bone spurs in his shoulder in a last-ditch effort to salvage his career, and the Astros will start a season without him on the roster for the first time in 16 years.

“I said I wasn’t going to embarrass myself,” said Bagwell, 37. “I felt like this was a joke. I couldn’t throw it to the infield. I could not get the ball to the infielders, and they were on the grass. And God bless my teammates. I mean, even (when I had to throw the ball back to the pitcher), they come to get the ball from me. It’s amazing how great they’ve been through this.

“I just could not get it to them. I said, ‘This is not what I want. I’m not going to continue to do this.’ We’re defending our National League championship this year. … And I’m not going to be this kind of distraction and this broken-down first baseman over here that can’t throw it to the infielders. I said, ‘That’s enough, and I have to go in a different direction.’ ”

We all understand now why the Astros tried to collect on that insurance policy by claiming he was physically unable to play, right?

Bagwell was a great player and a class act. He’ll be the first career Astro to enter the Hall of Fame, and he’ll deserve all the plaudits he’ll get for that. I’m sure this wasn’t how he wanted to go, but sometimes there’s no choice in the matter. Kudos to him for recognizing the inevitable.

Whatever happens from here, I say Thank You to Jeff Bagwell for everything. The team, this city, and fans everywhere will miss seeing you on the field. Good luck and godspeed to you.

Who needs health care, anyway

Women struggling with cuts to clinics.

Through her divorce and the struggles of raising three girls on her salary at the Sonic Drive-In, there was one thing in Tanya Wilson’s life that came easy.

Every three months, Wilson drove to the Planned Parenthood in her Panhandle hometown to get a birth control shot for free, most times with little or no wait. It was a great relief for a 34-year-old woman who didn’t want any more children but lacked money for a tubal ligation.

Suddenly in January, her relief turned to stress. Wilson was among hundreds of patients across 17 counties who learned that the clinic they relied on for birth control, annual exams, Pap tests, breast cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease tests and other services was closing because of funding cuts triggered by two little-known provisions tucked into the state’s budget last session.

She’s been pleading with the town’s only remaining family planning clinic, which has been picking up other patients, to see her. She’s one of many who hasn’t had a Pap test in the past year because it would require driving an hour to the Amarillo Planned Parenthood.

She doesn’t know how she’d get there. Besides the job and the kids, her 1992 Honda Accord smokes, leaks oil and probably couldn’t make the trip.

“I work, and I’ve got three girls already. I don’t need no more kids,” said Wilson, who is being abstinent with her live-in boyfriend because she’s a month late on her shot. “I don’t understand why they would close (the clinic). It’s just caused a lot of grief for a lot of women.”

Women are facing similar scenarios across Texas, as traditional family planning providers such as Planned Parenthood cut hours, staff and programs, even close doors, in response to new provisions that siphoned off tens of millions of family planning dollars for other programs and providers.

How bad is this situation? This bad:

One of the House’s most conservative Republicans, veteran Panhandle Rep. Warren Chisum, who helped pass the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and longs to outlaw abortion in Texas, joined efforts to thwart the provisions before they passed. He’s still hoping Panhandle funding will be restored.

“I’m not for abortion. I’m pro-life. But I’m not anti-women’s health,” Chisum said. ”You have your mixed emotions about it, but actually, in the Texas Panhandle, they don’t perform abortions, so it’s unfortunate that they’re one of the ones that got their funds cut.”

When Warren freaking Chisum says you’ve gone too far, you’ve really really gone too far.

Yet Republican Senate Finance Chairman Bill Ogden is skeptical of the outcries, saying the complaints seem more about “turf protection and employee protection” than denying women services.

“There is not a single piece of evidence that anybody has offered to suggest that those changes have hurt an individual out there,” said Ogden, of Bryan. “I would argue that it could have conceivably helped.”

Here’s Senator Ogden’s official state webpage, which has a contact form on it, and here’s his campaign webpage. I can’t find an email address on either, but there’s plenty of phone numbers to call if you want to ask him if he’s read this article. (His name is Steve, by the way, not Bill.) Do feel free to enlighten him.

99 Red Balloons on the wall, 99 Red Balloons

There’s such a thing as liking a song a little too much.

VH1 Classic will present a full hour of the English and German music videos for the 1984 hit 99 Luftballons, aka 99 Red Balloons, by German rock group Nena.

The music video presentation, to air Sunday (1 p.m. CST), caps off the cable channel’s “Pay to Play for Hurricane Katrina Relief,” which raised over $200,000 for Mercy Corps, a humanitarian relief organization.

Viewers could request one video to be played on VH1 Classic for every $25 donation. For a $35,000 donation, they could select an hour’s worth of music videos from the 1960s through the early 1990s.

However, one viewer chose something different for his allotted hour, requesting continuous playing of 99 Luftballons, said VH1 spokeswoman Maura Wozniak.

Well, if you ever wanted to be able to sing along with the original German version when it comes on the radio, here’s your chance to really practice and get those lyrics down pat. I think I’ll be watching some basketball.

More Russian love for DeLay

You may recall this story from late last year about a Russian oil company funnelling $1 million to a phony “grassroots” group with deep ties to Tom DeLay for the alleged purpose of influencing his vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy. That story was the basis for the notorious anti-DeLay ad that the cowardly local TV stations refused at first to run.

Anyway, there are new developments on the Russian money for DeLay front. Read about it all here, and remember again that DeLay has bigger problems looming than what’s going on in Austin.

Stockman is in it to win it

Via Greg in TX22 comes this Congressional Quarterly piece that explains wingnut Steve Stockman’s intended entry into the CD22 race as an independent. Executive summary: He aims to win.

Though Stockman says he is running to win, most observers are watching him more for his potential as a “spoiler.” Most votes for Stockman presumably would come from DeLay’s traditional conservative base, eroding the incumbent’s structural advantage in a district that typically leans strongly Republican.


Stockman said the reaction to his campaign is “mixed,” but that many voters appear receptive to having an alternative to turmoil-plagued DeLay and Democrat Lampson. “While some Republicans are upset, some Democrats are upset, there are some people who are happy they have an option,” Stockman said.


Said Robert Stein, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston: “I think Steve Stockman, if he’s collecting signatures, believes that either one, the congressman is going to be convicted and therefore unable to hold office, or two, that [DeLay] is weak enough in the electorate that [Stockman] might actually sneak in there in a three-way race.”

Stockman said it was “whistling past the grave a little bit” and “not prudent” for Republicans to rally behind DeLay as their standard-bearer when the congressman has yet to go on trial on the state campaign finance charges.

Well, this makes more sense than the idea that he was running to help DeLay by acting as an anti-Lampson pit bull. Not that that was hard to do, because the running-to-help-DeLay made no sense at all. At least the concept of this idea makes sense, but only the concept. Stockman doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell if DeLay is on the ballot, and his odds are only slightly better in a two-way matchup. I say this because unlike Carole Strayhorn or Kinky Friedman, Stockman has no chance of peeling away any Democratic support, which means he’d have to take enough votes from DeLay to top the baseline Dem vote, which is about 37% going by 2004 results. Given that I fully expect Lampson to do better than Richard Morrison’s 41%, and that this would mean Stockman would require at least two thirds of the rest of the vote, you can see why I’m skeptical.

There’s also still the question of where Stockman is going to get the money to get his message out. Both Lampson and DeLay will have a barrage of ads on TV and radio, including ads run on their behalf by third parties, so unless Stockman can raise over a million dollars, I can’t see how he competes with that. Mailers ain’t gonna cut it.

Even if DeLay drops out, Stockman will need to work at getting the votes that the Hammer would have had, because he won’t get any straight-ticket GOP votes. With Strayhorn and Friedman likely to be on the ballot, this is as good a year as any for candidates to benefit from non-straight party voting, but it strikes me as a risk to depend on people doing things that they don’t normally do.

Finally, Stockman isn’t all that popular with the GOP establishment these days. Yes, as Greg notes, he did well in Fort Bend in the 1998 GOP primary for Railroad Commissioner, but since then he was involved in a nasty primary fight against Rep. John Culberson. I’m willing to bet there’s a lot of Republicans with long memories about that, especially in Harris County.

My assessment of Stockman hasn’t changed. I think he pulls about five percent, maybe a bit more if he can raise a few funds. Every vote he does get comes straight from Tom DeLay’s hide, so I certainly don’t mind if he does better than that. Under no circumstances do I see him as having a realistic chance to win this race.