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Chuck Hopson

Double-Dip Driver

In case you missed this the other day.

State Rep. Joe Driver of Garland, who rails against the evils of runaway government spending, admitted Monday that he has pocketed thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for travel expenses that his campaign had already funded.

The veteran Republican legislator, faced with findings from an investigation by The Associated Press, acknowledged in an interview that for years he has been submitting the same receipts – for luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals, fees and incidentals – to both his campaign and to the Texas House. He has also been collecting thousands of dollars in state mileage reimbursements for travel in vehicles for which his campaign has shelled out more than $100,000 since 2000.

The AP’s review of hundreds of pages of state and campaign travel records found that Driver double-billed for at least $17,431.55 in travel expenses, much of it at upscale out-of-state hotels, since 2005. The number could go higher, but House travel records before mid-2005 have already been destroyed. Driver has been in office for 18 years. The double-billing figure does not include the vehicle expenses.

I am just boggled by this. This is the sort of thing that gets people fired in the real world. If you think real hard, you can probably recall is fairly high-profile recent example of a CEO getting booted for filing bogus expense reports. The two situations aren’t identical, but the principle – Thou Shalt Not Submit Reimbursement Claims For Expenses Thou Did Not (or Should Not) Have Incurred – is the same. This is not rocket science, and Driver’s response to it is just pathetic.

Driver insists he thought the double-billing was perfectly appropriate – until talking about it with the AP.

“Well, it doesn’t sound like it is now. If you bring it up that way,” he said.


First elected to the House in 1992, he didn’t have “a clue” when he first began claiming reimbursements for travel paid for by his campaign, he said.

“If I knew it was wrong, I wouldn’t have done it that way,” Driver said. “I wouldn’t have done it just to make money.”

I have no idea why he did it, and I have no idea how he could not realize that it was wrong. Interestingly, Driver claims he was told what he was doing was OK by “somebody” at the Texas Ethics Commission, which the TEC denies it ever would have done. I’m inclined to believe them, because again, how could anyone think this was kosher?

For his troubles, Driver has bought himself a criminal investigation and a tougher race. Driver’s district closely mirrored the state in 2008, with McCain defeating Obama 55-44 and Sam Houston getting the high Democratic score with 45.6%. Driver’s opponent is Jamie Dorris, whom I have not met but have heard good things about. I’ll bet a lot more folks will hear about her now.

The Statesman takes an appropriate tone in an editorial about Driver’s behavior. One thing from that story about the DA looking into this needs to be noted:

GOP Rep. Chuck Hopson, chairman of the House General Investigating & Ethics Committee, said he had called [Travis County DA Rosemary] Lehmberg to see whether a criminal investigation is under way while he contemplates his own internal probe of conduct “that doesn’t make the rest of legislators look good.”

Lehmberg said she had spoken to Hopson and said House officials are “probably going to defer to us.”

“We don’t want to run into each other and be gathering documents and looking at documents at the same time,” she said.

You never know what might be found once these rocks start getting turned over. I will be disappointed, but not particularly surprised, if other legislators have made the same error as Driver. One hopes none of them have been anywhere near as egregious about it. BOR and the DMN have more.

Hopson switches, Agosto drops out

Two pieces of news for the 2010 cycle, one good and one not good. For the latter first, State Rep. Chuck Hopson, who won a very tight race for re-election in 2008, has announced that he will run in 2010 as a Republican.

A press release from Hopson’s campaign said he thinks President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats do not represent the concerns and values of his East Texas district. Hopson is scheduled to hold a press conference on his switch later this afternoon.

In 2008, Hopson won re-election by 114 votes. He likely would have faced even more difficulty in 2010, considering that Democrats have lost some of their momentum from the 2008 election.

“It takes strength and integrity to stand against the special interests — and while some members have that strength, others, like Chuck Hopson, do not,” said state Democratic Party chairman Boyd Richie.

Richie said Hopson had told Democratic members that he’d rather retire from the House than become a Republican.

A letter from House Democratic Caucus Chair Jim Dunnam, which is more cordial to Hopson, is beneath the fold. It’s certainly true that as suburban Texas is becoming more Democratic, rural Texas is becoming more Republican, and Hopson likely read the same tea leaves that formerly-Republican State Rep. Kirk England did back in 2007. I’ll certainly take that trade demographically, but in the short run this is a blow to the Democrats’ chances of retaking the House, as was Rep. David Farabee’s retirement. At least we’re not still trying to get rid of Tom Craddick as Speaker. Greg and Phillip, who once worked for Hopson, have more.

On the better side, SBOE member Rick Agosto, a Democrat who was way too close to the wingnut faction of the Board, is not running for re-election.

Trinity University literature professor Michael Soto, 39, announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic Party nomination for District 3, which stretches from San Antonio south to the border.

And several top Democratic Party leaders from San Antonio, including state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and former State Board of Education member Joe Bernal, are backing Soto.

Agosto, who was first elected in 2006, said he needs to spend more time with his family and investment business.

“I’ve enjoyed my time there,” but being a state board member basically can be a full-time job, Agosto said.

Agosto has been the subject of several recent newspaper stories about business relationships with companies vying for contracts with the board.

He has denied any wrongdoing and atrributes the criticism to political back-biting on the board.

Agosto said his re-election decision is not related to this scrutiny.

Good riddance, and Agosto will hopefully be one of many bad SBOE incumbents to be back in the private sector after next year. Read more about Soto here. I look forward to hearing more about him and his campaign.


Senate wraps up voter ID

In the end, after more debate and a bunch of Democratic amendments that were rejected by the same 19-12 vote, SB362 itself was passed on second reading in the Senate on a 19-12 party line vote. There were two amendments that were tacked on.

The amendment, introduced by Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and adopted unanimously, seems to remove the requirement that a voter must show their voter registration cards. Under SB 362 as amended, if photo identification is not presented, a voter will still be able to vote by providing a combination of two other documents, such as a utility bill and a library card. There is confusion around whether voter registration cards would retain any relevance if this passes. This point will likely be clarified prior to the Senate’s final vote tomorrow.

A second amendment authorizes the secretary of state to use any funds available, including federal funds, to educate voters on the new requirements. The amendment drew criticism from Democrats for seeming to betray the falsehood of the bill’s fiscal note, which says there will be no fiscal impact to the state. The Senate Finance Committee has already put a rider into the appropriations bill dedicating $2 million for this purpose should SB 362 pass.

That first amendment almost makes you wonder what the point of all this was. I suppose we’ll learn that today. If not, that $2 million, which must have been found in the couch cushions somewhere, will presumably help to teach us.

Lord only knows when the House will get to this, given that the House has gotten to very little so far. Some Dems such as Rep. Rafael Anchia have been saying that SB362 will not make it through the House. I don’t feel quite that confident, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some watered-down version of this, perhaps the Chuck Hopson compromise bill, gets sent back to the upper chamber. Given that there’s already talk of a special session because of concerns that the budget won’t get passed on time and/or will get vetoed by Governor Perry as part of his continued grandstanding tour over stimulus money, I don’t think we can count on running out the clock. I expect something to pass, and then it’ll be up to the feds to decide whether or not it sticks.

Voter ID: All through the night

According to Elise Hu’s liveblog of the voter ID hearing in the Senate, they’re on witness number 3 of 15, and they haven’t gotten to any public testimony yet. Suffice it to say, this is gonna go on for awhile, almost certainly into tomorrow and possibly beyond. Which as I’ve said is only appropriate for the single most important issue facing Texas today.

Lots of people have been following this all day and giving blow-by-blow accounts. Twitter has been a great resource, if you follow folks like Elise, Gardner Selby, and Texas Monthly, among others. If you prefer the bloggy route, Phil, Vince, Patricia Kilday Hart, the tag team of Jenny Hoff and Karen Brooks, and the Observer have been on the case.

Speaking of the latter, the Observer reports on a possible compromise bill.

Last week, Democratic Rep. Chuck Hopson filed an attempt at a compromise on Voter ID in the form of House Bill 2513. The bill requires the secretary of state to coordinate with the Department of Public Safety and other state agencies to obtain photographs that would be placed on individuals’ voter registration certificates, which voters have to present at the polls.

“HB 2513 would not place the burden of obtaining photos for registration cards on voters and includes an affidavit provision that minimizes concerns over voter suppression,” says Dustin Rynders, a policy specialist and attorney for Advocacy, Inc., a federally funded statewide advocacy group for the disabled.

Still, many advocates feel that even Hopson’s diluted version of Voter ID is not as good as no Voter ID at all.

“Moves toward photo identification in any form are, at best, unnecessary,” says Rynders, who is at the Capitol today to testify in opposition to the Senate’s Voter ID bill. “The main consideration is whether the bill is the best use of limited state resources. Once investigated, most election irregularities are found to be related to poll worker error, so the state could instead consider using resources to provide more robust poll worker training.”

I agree with Rynders, but in the likely event that something gets passed, this along with same day voter registration would lessen the sting considerably. At the very least, putting the cost of this folly on the state and not on the individual would be something. Not much, but not nothing. That’s assuming the Republicans actually want to do something other than cram their best shot at a voter suppression bill down the Democrats’ throats. Given that they’ve called upon hacks and shysters like Hans van Spakovsky, who among many other things helped railroad the 2003 re-redistricting through the Justice Department over the objections of the career lawyers, I wouldn’t count on that.

Still, as things stand now the Senate bill won’t pass the House but could stir things up considerably. Whenever we do get to the end of today’s hijinx, we’re nowhere near the finish line for this fight.

Election challenge in HD11

Brian Walker, the losing Republican challenger to State Rep. Chuck Hopson in the second closest election of the year in HD11, has filed paperwork for an election contest in the House. From the Quorum Report:

After the recount, Hopson beat Walker by more than 200 votes.

In his statement, Walker said, “The petition contains allegations of improper election procedures in Cherokee County that may have compromised the integrity of the election process. According to the Walker Campaign, an election contest is the only opportunity left for East Texas voters to get honest answers to some very troubling questions that were not answered before or during the recount process as well as a few that have arisen since. The allegations in the Petition for Election Contest are based on information provided by third parties to the Walker Campaign, first-hand observations by Walker campaign volunteers on Election Day, and first-hand observations by individuals overseeing the recount process in Cherokee County. The campaign is in the process of investigating each of the allegations individually to determine their level of merit.”

At first blush, this would appear to be Speaker politics games. However, law and precedent would have Hopson sworn in on the first day along with his colleagues. The only vote he would not be able to participate in would be on the Walker election contest challenge if it actually made it to the House floor many weeks down the road..


Attorney Buck Wood said, “With Walker down more than 200 votes they have absolutely no chance on this. I think it was purely defensive because they thought we might seek to contest the Linda Harper-Brown election and I would have if we had pulled ahead after re-considering the de-selected votes. But we didn’t.”

“I doubt they will even pursue this,” Wood said. “It would require proving systematic fraud.”

You’d think if that were the case they’d have gotten AG Greg Abbott and his crack staff of vote-fraud-sniffer-outers on the job. Be that as it may, the main point to note is that this will not have an effect on the math for the Speaker’s race. At least, assuming the Speaker’s race doesn’t drag out past the first couple of days or so, it won’t.

Vince notes that this is the first election challenge in the House since Talmadge Heflin tried to overturn Rep. Hubert Vo’s victory in 2005. I’d add that there were at one point a total of three election challenges in that cycle; the others were by Eric Opiela against Rep. Yvonne Gonzales Toreilles in HD35 and by former Rep. Jack Stick against Rep. Mark Strama in HD50. Stick dropped his challenge shortly thereafter, and Opiela followed suit before it got underway. My suspicion is that Walker’s challenge will dissolve before it begins, but you never know. Trail Blazers has more.