More Bettencourt

We need to get a replacement for Paul Bettencourt soon, if only to stop the wild speculation about who that replacement might be.

The most intriguing scenario mentioned so far involves the possible nomination of Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who would give up her seat to position herself to challenge County Judge Ed Emmett in 2010 or to run for a statewide office.

Picking Garcia would give a Democrat control of the voter registration process, something that party has got to want. But Emmett would get to pick her replacement, likely giving the GOP a fourth seat at the table.

Garcia said the rumor is “absolutely not true.”

It also doesn’t make much sense, given that Garcia already has a better job than County Judge. If she wants to run statewide (this is the first I’ve heard of that, but it’s at least a reasonable supposition), she’s already in good shape, both in terms of her existing base and her fundraising capability. I have no idea who came up with that, but it’s just too weird.

The swap would probably backfire on the Democrats anyway. The new Republican supermajority could just move the voter registration duties from the tax office to the County Clerk’s office, headed by Republican Beverly Kaufman.

I’m agnostic on this question. The issues with voter registration had more to do with Bettencourt than with the office of tax assessor, in my opinion. If Harris were unique in having that power lie within the tax assessor’s office, I’d support the move, but it’s not. I don’t necessarily oppose this, but I don’t see the point, either.

That idea, apart from any Garcia chatter, is already being circulated by Jim Harding, a Republican who chairs the county’s bipartisan ballot board.

Last month, he blamed faulty work by Bettencourt’s staff for delaying the counting process. Harding’s comments triggered a bit of a brouhaha after Bettencourt left an emotional message on his answering machine.

There was also a lawsuit filed by the state Democratc Party, alleging that Bettencourt had been illegally rejecting voter registration applications. The TDP held a press conference today to say that Bettencourt’s departure is not deterring them in that pursuit.

“Mr. Bettencourt’s late-night resignation announcement is his attempt to avoid bringing to light the inner workings of his office over the past several years and still does not ensure that the problems surrounding Harris County voter registration will be resolved,” the state party said today in a statement distributed by Houston lawyer Chad Dunn.

Republican Bettencourt, the tax assessor-collector, said it was ridiculous to suggest he and his staff purposely foiled voter registrations or that his resignation was triggered by the lawsuit, which the party filed last month.


Dunn, the Democrats’ lawyer, said the lawsuit was expanded to, among other things, include as plaintiffs four people whose voter registration applications were stymied by what the party calls the county’s “unlawful and hyper-technical voters registration activities.” The lawsuit alleges Bettencourt’s staff has disenfranchised voters by using unwarranted technical reasons for rejecting their registration applications.

Bettencourt said the four were rejected for routine, justifiable reasons involving their paperwork, and that the registration system in the county works well.

“You are going to have mistakes made,” he said. “What you do is fix them.”

The bi-partisan ballot board that decided whether to accept provisional ballots cast by voters whose names were missing from the Nov. 4 rolls accepted some that Bettencourt’s staff had classified as incomplete. His staff was unable to get thousands of registrations onto the rolls before the start of early voting.

Bettencourt apparently still will have to give pre-trial testimony in the lawsuit after this month and will be represented by the new county attorney, Democrat Vince Ryan.

Boy, what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall for their first lawyer-client meeting. I’d say all this is probably more saber-rattling than anything else, but it should be noted that Paul Burka had speculated that this lawsuit was a reason for Bettencourt’s departure. I still disagree with his reasoning on that, but maybe he’s right after all.

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One Response to More Bettencourt

  1. John Cobarruvias says:

    I hope Vince Ryan will tell his client, Bettencourt, that he should take a plea bargain to leave office without anyone calling him a puss.

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