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Jerry Patterson

Comptroller Combs’ slush fund

It took me longer than usual to read this story because I kept having to stop to say “Seriously? Seriously?”

This guy knows something about free government money, too

When lawmakers gave Comptroller Susan Combs more power to spend tax money to attract sporting events and conventions to the state, the idea was to generate economic development in Texas that might go somewhere else.

But in recent years Combs has used that power to approve millions of dollars in expenditures on events that originated here and don’t appear to be leaving Texas anytime soon.

Over the last two years, Combs, a Republican, has signed off on spending $2 million in state tax money to help defray the costs of the Cotton Bowl, a postseason college football game held in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1937; $1.5 million to help finance the Alamo Bowl college football games, played in San Antonio since its inception in 1993; and $2 million to stage two NASCAR auto races — the AAA Texas 500 and the Samsung Mobile 500 — that were specifically designed for Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Several horse associations in Fort Worth and Amarillo have also used such funds to defray costs of events held in those cities year after year — funds that went directly to the private associations hosting the shows, officials say.

Combs’ office says the event fund expenditures, which hit an all-time high of $78 million last year, are authorized by the Legislature and supported by the cities in which events are being held. The cities also say the fund has been an invaluable tool in attracting and retaining marquee events.

[…]

“Looking at some of those events, clearly they already would have been here already, so why are we spending tax dollars to bring them here?” said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican who has repeatedly questioned Combs’ oversight of the tax incentive funding. “Is this Susan Combs’ slush fund? We need to know that. And who is doing the oversight?”

Well, the Legislature, obviously. Clearly, they need to rewrite the law that created this loophole so as to tighten it up. You almost have to admire Combs’ brazenness here. So many of the examples cited don’t come within a mile of passing the laugh test. I mean, by the logic being employed, Combs should be cutting a check every year to all of the state’s pro sports franchises as insurance that they don’t relocate. You would think that this sort of unfettered largesse would offend some conservatives’ principles, and frankly I won’t be surprised if someone other than Patterson, who may be Combs’ rival for the Lite Guv nomination in 2014, piles on. If nothing else, I’d say we’ve identified a source of money for Governor Perry to use on his state-funded replacement for the Women’s Health Program, if he actually is sincere about that. In the meantime, may I suggest that the Comptroller throw a few bucks at Harris County to ensure that no one drives off with the Astrodome in the middle of the night? Thanks.

Can ban lawsuit moves to Travis County

Some new plaintiffs, too.

A group of river-related businesses has sued the City of New Braunfels, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Mark Vickery , executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, over a ban on disposable containers on rivers within New Braunfels city limits that went into effect this year.

The suit, filed [last] Monday in a Travis County District Court, seeks a permanent injunction against the ordinance, claiming it is unconstitutional and effectively bans alcohol on the river. An attempted alcohol prohibition on the rivers was tossed out in 2000, in part because of a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission letter saying the city didn’t have the authority to ban alcohol.

[…]

Patterson is among the parties in this latest suit because he is the effective trustee of state-owned public waterways, the suit said. It said Vickery is named because the so-called can ban “unlawfully seeks to regulate and control municipal solid waste management activities that are within TCEQ’s jurisdiction.”

The story says that a “nonsuit” was filed by plaintiffs on Wednesday, which I presume means that the earlier litigation is no longer active. I welcome feedback on that from the lawyers out there.

DMV votes down Confederate license plates

Good for them.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles’ governing board this morning voted down a controversial proposal for a specialty license plate displaying the Confederate battle flag.

The vote was 8-0, with Vice Chair Cheryl Johnson absent.

The decision brought cheers and applause from the packed hearing room near the State Capitol. The decision came after nearly two hours of sometimes-emotional testimony, highlighted by U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, leading a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance while holding up a large U.S. flag.

“There are always those who take the wrong side of history for the right side of politics,” he said. “”This is an opportunity to take the right side of history and the right side of politics.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans, an ancestral history group, had sought the plate as a way to raise money for memorials and history projects.

Granvel Block, commander of the group’s Texas division, said a lawsuit was likely. Lawsuits in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland resulted in approval of the specialty plates, after initial turn-downs by a state agency.

“They listened to emotion rather than facts,” Block said, citing “inaccurate information that got off onto everything but our plates.”

I didn’t expect the vote to be unanimous, I’ll say that much. I’m glad they made the right decision, and I hope the state is successful in fending off the lawsuit that will follow. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman is here, and the AusChron has more.

Confederate flag license plate decision coming

Ready or not, here it comes.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles is scheduled to debate [this] week whether to create a state license plate with a rebel flag that commemorates Confederate soldiers.

The new agenda posted for the Nov. 10 meeting shows the board will tackle an issue they originally voted on last April, but deadlocked in a 4-4 tie. The motion failed at the time because of the tie, but the chairman promised to reconsider the issue when the full nine-member board would be present.

All board members are Perry appointees, a fact that has not gone unnoticed on the campaign trail.

The board — all appointees of Gov. Rick Perry — tied 4-4 on the tag last April. The member who was absent has since died, and his replacement has not indicated how he will vote.

With Perry now running for president, the controversy over the proposed plate has grabbed national headlines in recent weeks, pitting supporters — who say the tag is designed to honor fallen soldiers and raise money for memorials to them — against vocal opponents who insist the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism that should not be displayed on a state-issued license plate.

Top Perry aides earlier said the governor was only expressing his personal opinion, and planned to leave the decision to the motor vehicle agency’s board. But his opposition, expressed in an interview with a Florida TV station, had widely been seen as a signal that the plate would likely not get a vote anytime soon — if at all.

Once again, Perry may wind up getting punished by the insane Republican base for one of the few decent things he’s done as Governor. I’d relish the irony if it weren’t all so damn depressing.

You know where I stand on this. In the interest of equal time, here’s an op-ed by Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson that aruges that the Confederate plates honor history, which he had sent to me after I wrote my piece. Like I said, you know how I feel about this, but you should read what Commissioner Patterson has to say and see what you think.

Perry opposes Confederate license plates

Credit where it’s due.

Gov. Rick Perry does not support a Confederate flag specialty license plate under consideration by the state Department of Motor Vehicles board, he said in Florida this morning.

In an interview with Bay News 9 following a breakfast fundraiser on St. Pete Beach, he said the proposed plates, brought before the DMV board by Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, would bring up too many negative emotions.

“We don’t need to be scraping old wounds,” he said.

[…]

Opponents of the plates, like the liberal group Progress Texas, which collected 22,000 signatures against them, said they hope Perry does get involved and directs his appointees to vote against them.

“Since the governor appointed all nine members on the DMV board, we hope he makes sure they vote down the state -sanctioned use of this racist relic,” said Matt Glazer, the group’s executive director. “We further hope that Jerry Patterson and the Sons of Confederate Veterans will not tie up the courts and legal system on this unnecessary matter so that we can focus on the important issues facing Texas.”

Took him long enough to say something, but at least he said the right thing, and good on him for that. I join Progress Texas and my friend Matt Glazer in the hope that this is the end of it.

Say “No” to Confederate license plates

I’ve been in Texas over 25 years now, but sometimes I just can’t escape my Yankee heritage.

A group of elected officials said Saturday that Texas cannot allow the Confederate flag – which they consider a symbol of oppression – to be put on Texas license plates.

“We cannot allow the state to issue a symbol of intimidation,” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said to a crowd of community leaders outside the Civil Courthouse in downtown Saturday.

Lee and other officials plan to go to Austin on Nov. 10, when the Department of Motor Vehicles votes on the design, with petitions and a letter from 17 state legislators to persuade them to vote against the license plates.

“We will not go backward; we are going forward,” Lee said.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said that allowing these license plates would be allowing the people who lost a war to write history. “I’m glad they (the Confederates) lost,” he said. “They were on the wrong side of history.”

Here’s a story about the petitions, a copy of the letter signed by the 19 legislators, a separate letter sent by Rep. Garnet Coleman, and an op-ed in the Statesman, which also ran in the Sunday Chron, against the Confederate plates by Matt Glazer.

Like I said, I’ve been in Texas a long time now, but stuff like this proves to me that you can never truly take the Yankee out of the boy. You can talk all you want about “heritage”, but to me the Confederacy represents a group of people that took up arms against the United States, resulting in the death of over a million people. If they had been successful, the United States as we know it would not exist, and there would be an entirely different country in place as its southern neighbor. (One wonders if either or both countries would be talking about border fences in that scenario.) I cannot understand why anyone would want to commemorate that. Remember it, study it, learn from it, sure, but put it on a license plate? No thanks.

None of this takes into account the racial aspect of the stars and bars, or its sordid history as a symbol of intimidation against African-Americans. Here, my Northernness makes me unqualified to discuss it because I have no experience with it. I can’t say that I ever laid eyes on a Confederate flag until I was in my 20s. But I take seriously the objections and concerns that those who do have a personal history with this have raised, and as Glazer noted in his op-ed, those objections are bipartisan. The reason this is coming to a head now is because a ninth member has been added to the DMV commission that originally voted on this, meaning the next vote will not be a tie. I stand with those who say that this is a bad idea and it should be rejected.

Federal court refuses to throw out Open Beaches lawsuit

I hadn’t realized that there was federal court action on the Galveston open beaches case.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request by the General Land office that it throw out the case because the beachfront house at the heart of the lawsuit had been sold.

The three-judge panel’s decision keeps alive a case challenging the constitutionality of the Texas Open Beaches Act.

The Land Office had asked the court to rule the case was moot because the San Diego attorney who filed it, Carol Severance, had sold her rental property to the city of Galveston under a federally funded program aimed at homes that flooded repeatedly.

The two-paragraph opinion by appellate judges Edith Jones, Jacques Wiener Jr. and Edith Clement said that Severance could be subject to penalties even though she sold her house, and therefore could maintain her lawsuit.

The “briefing persuades us that under Texas law, Carol Severance remains exposed to potential liability for alleged violations of the Texas Open Beaches Act,” the opinion reads. The opinion is unpublished and does not say whether the denial was unanimous or who wrote it.

“The effect of this is it allows Ms. Severance to continue her crusade to destroy the Open Beaches Act,” said Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam.

The Land Office has asked the State Supreme Court to reconsider its decision based on the fact that Severance sold the property in question. No word on when that might happen.

What next for Sugar Land prison property?

Now that the Central Unit in Sugar Land has been closed, what will happen to the empty facility?

The fate of the Central Unit site will be decided by the three-member School Land Board, which oversees real estate investments on behalf of the $26 billion Permanent University Fund.

The board is chaired by Texas General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

“Our staff is going to look at the land value – the property minus the structure,” land office spokesman Jim Suydam said. “We’ll look at historical considerations and access considerations. It’ll probably be a year before anything happens.”

Sugar Land city officials hope to develop the property to support the Sugar Land Business Park, which is near capacity, city spokesman Doug Adolph said.

[…]

The final decision about the property, however, will be up to the School Land Board. The prison system still owns the property, said Suydam, and the land board could either buy it or serve as a broker to sell it to another party.

Sugar Land city officials hope they get the opportunity to buy the property.

One way or another, you can be certain it will look very different in a few years’ time. That should be good for everyone.

Patterson to run for Lite Guv

With Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst running for the Senate, everyone else in state government that’s been waiting for a chance to move up is undoubtedly making plans to do so. At the front of the line is Lanc Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

Jerry Patterson confirmed Tuesday night that he will run for lieutenant governor in 2014, making that announcement just hours after Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he’ll run for U.S. Senate in 2012.

Patterson, a former state senator, followed Dewhurst as Land Commissioner and wants to follow him again. Other Republicans have expressed interest in the post, including Comptroller Susan Combs and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.

Click over to see Patterson’s statement. Obviously, there is no guarantee that Dewhurst will be successful in his Senate campaign. I think everyone would agree that his odds of defeat are likely to be greater in the primary than in the general, but the point is that there is a non-zero chance that David Dewhurst will not be taking the oath of office in the nation’s capital in 2013. If that happens, who can say for sure what he’ll do next? We were supposed to have a special election for KBH’s Senate seat some time last year, after all. Would Dewhurst want to stay on as Lite Guv if he loses next year? In particular, would he want to run for Lite Guv again in 2014? Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine, but stranger things have happened. I’d do the same as Patterson if I were in his position, but in the back of my mind I’d be a little concerned that this might not wind up being a primary for an open seat. You just never know. By the way, Todd Staples appears to be in, too. So’s Rep. Dan Branch, who would have the distinction of not currently being a statewide office holder.

Another way of looking at this is that we could have a very different state leadership in 2015 than we did this year, much as the leadership in 2003 differed greatly from that of 1999. Everyone knows that Greg Abbott wants to run for Governor; if one way or another this is Rick Perry’s last term in office, given all of the known and projected campaign activity it could be that the only current statewide non-judicial incumbent still in the same office in 2015 will be Railroad Commissioner David Porter. It’s usually foolish to make statements about an election this far in advance, but it’s quite clear that 2014 is going to be a change election in this state. Anyone even remotely thinking about running that year – and not just at the state level – should be thinking about it in those terms.

State asks Supreme Court to vacate Open Beaches ruling

Apparently, the original litigant no longer owns the house in question.

San Diego, Calif., attorney Carol Severance, who brought the lawsuit challenging the Open Beaches Act, sold the storm-battered property last week to the city of Galveston. Money for the purchase came from a Federal Emergency Management Agency buyout program for homes in areas prone to repeated flooding to ensure that nothing is built there again.

The Texas General Land Office sent a letter to the court last week arguing that the opinion issued in November favoring Severance is no longer relevant now that the house has been sold.

“Vacating the opinion would avoid confusion and unnecessary litigation about what that decision means,” Land Office spokesman Paul Sturrock said.

The Land Office noted that Severance had said in filings to the Supreme Court that she would delay selling the house until the case was resolved.

Severance sold the house at 22716 Kennedy Drive for $335,686. The property, badly damaged by Hurricane Ike in September 2008, was valued at $202,720 for tax purposes before the storm. The 2010 tax value was $1,690.

You can see what kind of hardship the poor woman has suffered as a result of all this. The Court was originally asked to reconsider its ruling in December; it agreed to rehear arguments in March, and actually heard them in April. As Burka points out, if they vacate their ruling they’re not addressing the merits of the original case, they’re simply saying it didn’t count. The issues would remain to be determined again by the Court if and when a future litigant came along.

Supreme Court rehears Open Beaches case

Not sure it’ll be any different this time around, but at least there’s a chance.

The Texas Supreme Court appeared closely divided Tuesday during a second round of arguments in a turf battle over who controls the beach after a storm moves the vegetation line landward.

The hearing came five months after the court ruled in a 6-2 decision that the state cannot take private property for a public beach because of a sudden change to the coastline.

[…]

Justice Dale Wainwright, for one, questioned whether a beachfront property owner should reasonably expect to lose his or her land to the state because of the ever-shifting vegetation line.

He also suggested that the public right to the dry beach was too expansive.

“What is the limit on how far this easement can migrate or roll?” Wainwright asked Assistant Solicitor General Daniel Geyser, representing the state.

Geyser argued that people buy property along the coast at their own risk and with the knowledge that the rolling easement is common law.

Justice Paul W. Green went further, asking if the state thinks it’s unreasonable for property owners to build along the beach.

“Not at all,” Geyser said, “because they enjoyed the use of the property while it has not actually been swallowed by the water. It’s important to remember that if the water rises up and submerges the land, title shifts to the state. But it doesn’t mean they’re unreasonable for locating there. It’s just a risk.”

I’ve blogged about this before and I don’t know what else there is to say at this point other than I agree with the state’s position. I still don’t understand how the original ruling in this case is compatible with the constitutional amendment we passed two years ago. While I don’t expect the Supreme Court to rule differently this time, I do note that there are two Justices who were not part of that original ruling, so I suppose there is the potential for change. We’ll see how it goes.

House approves a little more money, Senate readies its budget

Just a little.

Texas House budget-writers voted Monday to free up an additional $3 billion for key state services through such moves as speeding up tax collections, delaying payments and suspending the back-to-school sales tax holiday.

The bills next go to the full House, which Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, predicted could be willing to add $4 billion to $5 billion to a bare-bones spending plan it passed earlier this month.

“I think that we can come up with that number, and I think we can still pass the bill. It’s non-tax. It’s not additional fees than what was already assumed in the introduced bill,” he said.

The proposed two-year $164.5 billion House budget would cut 12.3 percent, or $23 billion, from current state and federal spending.

It would leave school districts short nearly $8 billion of money they would get under current funding formulas; cut Medicaid reimbursement rates so much that nursing home closures are threatened; and slash college student financial aid. Extra funds could be used to soften those cuts.

It should be noted that the bulk of what the House actually did was vote to delay making payments to school districts from August to September, which pushes them into the next biennium. That “saved” $1.8 billion, and while that means it’s $1.8 billion more that can be spent this biennium, it has to be made up somewhere. If we’re lucky, revenue projections will be adjusted upward and that money can be paid back before the next Lege meets. If not, that’ll be another $1.8 billion they find themselves in the hole. This is also why school districts maintain reserves, since they know damn well that the Lege is going to do stuff like this to them.

It remains the case that the Senate is planning to spend more than the House is. The Trib documents some of the Finance Committee’s work.

The proposals from Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, total $4.8 billion and include $2 billion in deferred payments, which help balance the budget by moving costs from the end of fiscal 2013 into the beginning of 2014. The state still has to make the payments, but not as part of the new budget. Another $1.4 billion comes from accelerated tax collections, in which the state moves the receipt of some of its taxes — on motor fuels, alcoholic beverages, corporate franchise and sales — from a later budget into an earlier one. Both maneuvers allow the state to pick which payments and which receipts will count for and against the budget they’re writing. Another $593 million comes from unspecified measures that, he said, would not require any changes in law.

The remaining $800 million comes from property sales, fee increases (on custom brokers stamps, process server certificates, a tax on small cigars labeled as a fee), changes in unclaimed property programs, and other measures.

Duncan said that all but a handful of the ideas are already in various bills being considered by the Legislature. He didn’t say whether any of the money on his list was already counted in either the House or Senate budget, or both.

The matter of moving more funds from the Permanent School Fund to the Available School Fund came up as well, though if the divided vote in favor of using it is any indication, it won’t have enough support to make into a ballot referendum. I note also that Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who vocally opposes using additional funds from the PSF, advocated using more of the Rainy Day Fund instead. Good for him.

Robert Miller puts the differences between the House and Senate budgets in context.

The House has passed a biennium budget spending $77.6 billion in General Revenue. House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts has said that he believes he sees another $4.3 to $4.5 billion in non-tax revenue the House would spend. […] Assume the House budget ultimately increases by $4.5 billion to $82.1 billion. The question is what number will it take to make a deal with the Senate in the Regular Session?

Senate Finance is scheduled to vote out its version of the budget on Thursday and take it to the Senate floor next week. I don’t know the amount of the budget, but I believe that it will be in the $85 to $87 billion range. The real gap between the Senate and House when the budget gets to conference during the first week of May is likely to be $3 to $5 billion. At this point, it is anybody’s guess whether that gap can be bridged by May 30.

All of this is without taking into account the possibility of expanded gambling, for which Texas Association of Business President and CEO Bill Hammond advocated in the Trib on Monday. That appears to be a non-starter in the Senate, but if the House passes a joint resolution, who knows? There’s still a lot that can happen. Abby Rapoport and EoW have more.

UPDATE: Per the comment left by Land Commissioner Patterson, I have clarified the post to more accurately convey his intent. My apologies for the confusion, which came directly from my own confusion about what exactly was on the table.

House moves forward on school fund money

Last week, I noted a bill filed by Rep. Rob Orr that would direct some money from the Available School Fund into the public schools. His legislation has now been approved by committee and is likely on its way to passage; this will include a Constitutional amendment that you’ll see on your ballot this November. While I said this sounded good, not everyone agreed with that assessment:

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who oversees the portfolio affected by the proposal, is among those who disagreed.

“They’re going to raid the fund that was established in 1854, and put in the Constitution as a permanent endowment in 1876, instead of having the (guts) to look at the rainy day fund,” Patterson said after the House Appropriations Committee voted 24-1 for the proposed constitutional amendment and accompanying bill by Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson.

State Board of Education member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, last week called the proposal “insane.”

“They want to cook the goose today rather than wait for a lifetime of golden eggs tomorrow,” Bradley said.

Orr noted the fund’s size: “How much is enough? I do not believe it will hamper the fund whatsoever.”

[…]

The only “no” vote on the House committee legislation Thursday was Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, who said he wanted more information.

“I want to make sure that we’re not making desperate, short-term decisions that jeopardize the ability of future generations to provide for our schoolchildren,” he said.

That’s a good question, and I don’t know nearly enough to answer it. Obviously, the only truly viable fix is to actually deal with the structural deficit, and we all know that ain’t happening. If this does endanger any of these funds, then we shouldn’t be doing this. I appreciate Commissioner Patterson’s perspective, but I would like to hear it from someone who doesn’t have a direct stake in it as well. Does the Comptroller have an opinion on this, or maybe someone like Ray Perryman? We need to hear more about this.

And on a related note, the SBOE gets in the act, too.

Today, Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, delivered a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Speaker Joe Straus signed by nine of his colleagues on the State Board of Education. In it, he said he had found the money — $2 billion — to save approximately 40,000 teaching jobs and fully fund new instructional materials for the state’s public schools.

Its source? The Permanent School Fund.

The board manages the $23 billion fund fed by revenue from taxes and offshore oil-drilling leases and whose interest goes to pay for textbooks and basic operations in public schools. The letter urges the Legislature to pass a resolution allowing the public to vote on a constitutional amendment that would transfer $1 billion each year of the biennium to fund public education.

Six members — the board’s conservative bloc — did not sign the letter. One of them, David Bradley, R-Beaumont, called the proposal “insanity” and emphasized that letter did not represent official action from the board. “Mr. Craig is acting in a rogue capacity,” he said, adding “[He] has delivered this letter without any due deligence and has used to the board’s name as an endorsement.”

Bradley said drawing $2 billion from the fund would “have an impact for generations.”

“By spending the money today, we will not have the four billion [in interest] in seven years, or the eight billion in 15 years,” he said, “It’s extremely short sighted.”

I’m inclined to agree with Bradley on this. This isn’t what the PSF is for. I greatly appreciate the desire of these SBOE members to offset the drastic cuts to public education, but that’s got to be the Legislature’s job. The fact that it ain’t gonna happen is deeply unfortunate and will also have a long-lasting impact, but that’s a problem that will need to be addressed in the next election. Trail Blazers has more.

Supreme Court will review Open Beaches ruling

This is encouraging.

Faced with a tidal wave of legal protests, the Texas Supreme Court Friday agreed to reconsider a California woman’s lawsuit that ended in a controversial ruling last November that left public access to some beaches in question.

The court’s decision to reopen the Carole Severance case — oral arguments will begin April 19 — came at the behest of Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

Harris County and the city of Galveston joined 18 other area counties, cities and chambers of commerce in submitting friend of the court briefs supporting Patterson.

“This is nothing less than a second chance for the Texas Open Beaches Act,” Patterson said in a statement. “Public access to the beach is a Texas tradition that predates the Republic. Today’s decision by the court to take another look at its decision in this case is great news.”

Houston lawyer Barry Abrams, who acted as outside counsel for the city of Galveston in filing an amicus brief, credited the “fire storm of controversy” and the large number of entities filing briefs supporting Patterson with convincing the court to revisit its ruling.

“Hopefully,” he said, “this will reaffirm the public’s long-honored rights to use coastal beaches that the prior decision disrupted.”

See here, here, here, and here for some background. According to the Statesman’s Austin Legal blog, “Motions to rehear are rarely granted and hard to decipher, sometimes resulting in changed rulings, sometimes in nothing more than minor factual or technical corrections to the original opinion.” As such, no one should get their hopes up too much just yet. It’s nice to see, but it may turn out to be nothing.

Amicus briefs filed in Galveston beach case

Good for you, Vince Ryan.

Harris County today joined other public agencies and activists in urging the Texas Supreme Court to reconsider a recent opinion that critics contend blocks public access to most beaches on Galveston island.

County Attorney Vince Ryan filed a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of the county and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties. The brief supports a request by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for a rehearing on a Nov. 5 decision he says amounts to the overturning of the state Open Beaches Act, which voters made part of the Texas Constitution last year.

[…]

Similar briefs have been filed by the city of Galveston, environmental attorney Jim Blackburn and former legislator A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, who helped write the Open Beaches Act. Kendall County was expected to file an amicus brief today.

So far all the amicus briefs filed since Nov. 5 support the attorney general, who is defending Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson in a lawsuit brought by San Diego attorney Carol Severance that led to the state Supreme Court decision.

[…]

Terry O’Rourke, first assistant Harris County attorney, said that every beach in Texas eventually will be hit by a storm.

“If you read the opinion as written, you are looking at the end of public beaches,” O’Rourke said.

The decision created private beaches on Galveston island and the frequency of storms eventually will render all public beaches private, O’Rourke says.

The vagueness of the decision allows beachfront property owners to point to the last storm and declare their beach private, Blackburn says in his brief.

I still don’t quite understand why the 2009 amendment that basically added the Open Beaches Act to the state constitution doesn’t moot this ruling, but clearly it didn’t, so here we are. I also still think that the best solution here is going to be a legislative one, perhaps another amendment, which ought to be doable given the support for overturning the Court’s decision from the likes of Patterson and Abbott. Someone will need to step up and sponsor a bill or joint resolution first, though.

Patterson on the Open Beaches ruling

I must say, I enjoyed Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson’s op-ed on the recent Open Beaches ruling by the State Supreme Court. The man can bring the snark, I’ll give him that. Two points of interest besides that:

Texans, you see, can be such a hard-headed lot. Most of us ignorantly thought passing the Texas Open Beaches Act in 1959, and voting overwhelmingly to enshrine this right in the state’s Constitution in 2009, would keep the beaches open. With this public access came opportunities for public money.

I don’t quite understand how there could be a constitutional issue with something that was added to the Constitution. Isn’t something in the Constitution by definition constitutional? Perhaps the issue is that the litigation predated the amendment, or perhaps the amendment wasn’t on point, I don’t know. I have not seen it discussed anywhere. If someone who understands this better than I do could tell me what I’m missing, I’d appreciate it.

The Open Beaches Act isn’t dead. Breemer’s brag that the “law won” for his side is deceptive. The Texas Supreme Court affirmed that submerged lands, between mean low tide and the mean high water mark, are owned by the state. Breemer lost that argument. The Supreme Court opined that a rolling beach easement does exist in Texas common law. Breemer lost that argument too, which answers, in part, two of the three questions the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had for the Supreme Court.

I wouldn’t expect Patterson to note this, but someone needs to say that it was an all-Republican Supreme Court that handed this ruling down, both the parts that Patterson is touting and the parts that he thinks were wrong.

State Supreme Court asked to reconsider open beaches verdict

Good luck with that.

Galveston has joined key state agencies in pleading with the court to reconsider a ruling that favors private property rights over public access to Texas shores.

“I think the Supreme Court really needs to understand the impact of its ruling. It’s not just a theoretical question — they just changed Galveston Island’s ability to nourish its beaches,” Mayor Joe Jaworski said.

“These are Texas’ beaches,” he said. “It’s ironic that the Supreme Court has essentially said it’s every man for himself.”

Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, said he canceled the beach project because the court ruling removed the guarantee of public access to the area, which extends west of Galveston’s seawall to 13 Mile Road . The Texas Constitution forbids spending public money to benefit private property.

“Our hands are tied now,” Patterson said at the time.

[…]

Late last week, Galveston County joined a motion by Patterson and Attorney General Greg Abbott that asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling as unwise, unsound and unworkable.

The motion for rehearing argued that the ruling disregarded the state’s long-valued tradition of public beach access. The court also ignored its own precedents and the policies of “every other branch of Texas government” when it declared that the public beach easement lasts only until the next devastating storm, the brief said.

The motion also warned that the ruling threatens other beach-restoration projects, not just the canceled Galveston effort.

“In the absence of a clear public easement, the state also lacks any clear authority for pursuing the kind of essential beach-renourishment projects on which the local economies of our coastal communities depend,” the brief said.

See here for more. I don’t have a whole lot of faith that the court will take any action, but it’s worth a shot to ask them. You’d also think, if Abbott and Patterson are on board with this, that it ought to be possible to get a constitutional amendment to correct the court’s erroneous ruling through the Lege. I hope someone is thinking about that.

Thibaut versus Murphy, third time around

We know that the story of HD133, which has now been won twice by Jim Murphy and once by Kristi Thibaut, is one of turnout. With sufficient turnout in the Democratic part of the district – that is, the precincts in Rep. Al Green’s CD09 – it’s a Democratic district. With dominant turnout in the Republican part of the district – the precincts in Rep. John Culberson’s CD07 – it’s a Republican district. How did things look this year?


CD07 - 2010

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
130     1483    64.37    1145    285   19.93      -860
356     1456    51.02     978    425   30.29      -553
395     1064    59.64     782    240   23.48      -542
437     1195    60.38     892    270   23.24      -622
438     1132    63.52     879    213   19.51      -666
483     1856    43.85    1075    700   39.44      -375
492     1214    48.39     790    400   33.61      -390
493      962    53.47     696    235   25.24      -461
499     1498    65.56    1146    311   21.35      -835
504     1363    60.82     991    346   25.88      -645
625      990    53.40     646    314   32.71      -332
626     1231    43.22     731    455   38.36      -276
706      213    40.19     130     78   37.50       -52
727      764    31.48     265    466   63.75       201

Total 18,369    50.44  11,146  4,738   29.83    -6,408


CD09 - 2010

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
96       323    26.22      38     274  87.82       236
338     1561    33.85     498    1001  66.78       503
429     1142    27.93     278     819  74.66       541
487      966    30.35     340     582  63.12       242
503      402    28.71     131     246  65.25       115
508     1179    36.71     397     728  64.71       431
559     1449    32.14     433     940  68.46       507
565      752    22.49     120     597  83.26       477
620     1948    39.05    1103     783  41.52      -320
765     1335    34.83     608     681  52.83        73

Total 11,057    32.14   3,946   6,651  62.76     2,705

The good news from Thibaut’s perspective is that turnout was up in her good precincts by quite a bit over 2006. The bad news is that it was also up in the bad precincts for her. Both did a little better percentage-wise in their strong areas, with Murphy doing a little better than Thibaut at improving the base rate. In the end, Murphy’s margin was larger in absolute terms than it was in 2006, but slightly smaller in relative terms. That’s not a whole lot of comfort, but given what a wave this was for Republicans, it makes Thibaut’s showing look more respectable.

I wondered what the result might have been in a somewhat more normal year. Out of curiosity, I applied the turnout and voter percentage rates from 2006 to all of the CD07 districts, and left the CD09 districts as they were for this year. This is how it looks in CD07 based on that:


Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
130     1246    54.09     924     322  25.85      -602
356     1128    39.51     756     371  32.94      -385
395      880    49.32     626     253  28.81      -373
437      997    50.39     748     249  24.98      -499
438      975    54.71     731     244  25.03      -487
483     1464    34.58     873     591  40.35      -282
492      917    36.55     610     307  33.47      -303
493      818    45.46     577     240  29.40      -337
499     1237    54.15     911     326  26.38      -585
504     1153    51.47     797     357  30.93      -440
625      830    44.75     517     313  37.69      -404
626     1049    36.83     611     438  41.72      -173
706      175    33.09     108      68  38.69       -40
727      484    19.96     198     287  59.20        89

      13,354    42.49   8,987   4,366  32.70    -4,621
                       12,933  11,107  46.38           

That last row represents what the total numbers would have been. The overall turnout rate, and Thibaut’s percentage of the vote, are each a bit different than what I showed in the original post for 2006 because I apparently just averaged the percentages back then, instead of adding the actual vote and voter numbers and figuring it out from there. My bad. Anyway, what this shows is that this district was always going to be a tough hold, but was at least within hailing distance of a win under more normal circumstances. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens here in the 2011 redistricting. One obvious “fix” would be to shift some of those CD09 precincts to Hubert Vo’s HD149, while moving some CD07 precincts from there to here. That shores up Murphy while acknowledging that if the Republicans couldn’t take out Vo in 2008 with his apartment issues and a strong candidate opposing him, and they couldn’t take him out in this hundred-year-flood year, they’re not likely to ever take him out. We’ll see about that.

For those who might wonder about Bill White’s ability to attract crossover votes, I should note that he lost this district by all of 15 votes. Here’s how the other statewide candidates who had Democratic opponents did this year and in 2006:


Incumbent   2006%   2010%   06 margin  10 margin
================================================
Dewhurst    62.30   58.94       4,952      4,645
Abbott      63.43   60.33       5,456      5,436
Patterson   59.84   59.03       3,902      4,656
Staples     59.27   58.18       3,688      4,197

Dewhurst and Abbott saw their percentages drop as much as they did because their margins were smaller with more votes being cast. Patterson and to a lesser extent Staples were helped by the increase in straight ticket voting, as both of them had a higher undervote rate in 2006 than in 2010. If you’re curious, you can see how the first three candidates did in 2002 here, on page 131.

Overview of the Land Commissioner race

You may never have seen a race quite like the 2010 race for Texas Land Commissioner.

Meet Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican, and Democrat Hector Uribe, who offers some mild policy disagreements over the job Patterson has done over two terms.

Both demonstrate good humor and so much friendly feeling that Patterson has invited Uribe to fly with him to campaign events in the small, single-engine World War II surveillance plane the land commissioner pilots.

“You reach a point in your life when you’ve got nothing to prove by denigrating somebody else,” Patterson said of the friendly, sometimes funny campaign the two former state senators are conducting for the land commissioner’s job.

Both got small acting roles in the 2004 “Alamo” movie, both were born in 1946, and both lost their 87-year-old mothers this year. Uribe represented Brownsville and South Texas in the Senate from 1981 to 1990; Patterson represented part of the Houston area in 1993-99.

Running a nasty, negative campaign is “just not who I am,” Uribe said.

The two candidates recently sat down in Patterson’s office to discuss the campaign. Uribe assured Patterson’s office receptionists they could keep their jobs after he wins the Nov. 2 election.

He then proceeded to measure the drapes and Patterson’s desk.

“You’re as funny as a fart in the front pew,” Patterson told Uribe as he jokingly grabbed one of several guns he keeps in the office.

You saw my interview with Hector Uribe yesterday. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Commissioner Patterson a couple of times over the past few years, all having to do with the Kenedy Ranch wind farms issue. I have plenty of policy disagreements with him, but I think he’s been a good advocate for renewable energy, and I’ve said so before in this space. As I noted before, Patterson is admirably willing to show up and defend his record anywhere, any time; in this election season, given the behavior of all of his statewide colleagues, that’s so refreshing it’s downright quaint. I want to see Hector Uribe win this election because his views and priorities are more closely aligned with mine, not to mention that it sure would be nice to have a(nother) Democrat on the Legislative Redistricting Board. But especially in a year where it seems like just about every Republican candidate out there has lost his or her mind, I appreciate the fact that my only real beef with Patterson is over boring, wonky policy matters. I wish a lot more elections were like that.

Interview with Hector Uribe

Hector Uribe

Next up is Hector Uribe, who is the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner. Uribe is a former State Rep and State Senator from the Rio Grande Valley and a movie actor as well as my favorite candidate from this cycle. He’s running against two-term incumbent Jerry Patterson, who to his great credit has willingly engaged in open debate with Uribe, thus setting him apart from pretty much all of his Republican statewide colleagues. Though the tone of this campaign has been remarkably civil, there are many issues on which Uribe believes Patterson has done the wrong thing. You can hear all about it in the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

UT/TT poll: Perry 39, White 33

Another poll result.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry leads his Democratic challenger, Bill White, by 6 percentage points — 39 percent to 33 percent — in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Libertarian Kathie Glass has the support of 5 percent of the Texans in the survey; Green Party candidate Deb Shafto gets 1 percent. And 22 percent of respondents — more than one in five Texans — say they’re undecided about which candidate to support with only seven weeks to go in the fall campaign.

Clearly, the natives are restless: In addition to the high percentage of undecided voters up and down the ballot, the poll also found that third-party candidates are capturing enough of the vote to affect the outcomes of some statewide contests. And 31 percent of respondents — nearly one in three Texans — consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement.

“White has not yet faded and remains in striking distance of Perry,” says Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas who oversees the UT/Tribune poll with his colleague Jim Henson. “The downside for White is that Perry is up by 18 points among those who say they are extremely likely to vote. White needs a big turnout among young voters and minorities to be competitive.”

As for the undecided voters, Shaw and Henson say the high percentage isn’t that unusual when you consider that they weren’t pressed to say whom they’d support if the election were held today. The candidates have plenty of voters to fight for, they say — and there are enough unanchored votes to swing the election either way. The question to be answered between now and November is what those people will do when it comes time to vote.

“There are a lot of people out there who are not ready to respond to a poll about who they’re going to vote for,” Henson says. “If you look at the breakdown, there are a lot of moderates and a lot of independents.”

You can see more info here, though full crosstabs aren’t out yet. Color me a little skeptical of this one. I believe Rick Perry has a lot of soft support, but I don’t believe 22% of the electorate is actually undecided. Just hearing the words “Democrat” and “Republican” should get you a candidate selection over 80% of the time, as it did in their generic Congressional/legislative ballot question. Nor do I believe that the Libertarian candidates will collect over 5% of the vote in most of these races. No Libertarian candidate got as much as 5% in 2006 in a statewide race. Finally, if 14% of your sample is people who don’t know (6%) who they voted for President in 2008 or didn’t vote at all (8%), then I think you’re sampling a lot of people who will not be voting this November. Unless you were ineligible to participate in 2008, if you didn’t vote then you ain’t voting now.

Note that in their May poll, Perry was leading by 9, 44-35, meaning he lost five points and White two between the two polls. I didn’t see a “Who did you vote for in 2008?” question in their Day One toplines, so I can’t compare the two on that. Interestingly, every single candidate appears to have lost ground in this poll since May:

Candidate Race May Sept ================================ Perry Gov 44 39 White Gov 35 33 Dewhurst LtGov 44 41 Chavez-Thompson LtGov 30 26 Abbott AG 47 43 Radnofsky AG 28 26 Patterson LandCom 39 35 Uribe LandCom 27 25 Staples AgCom 39 33 Gilbert AgCom 28 26 Porter RRCom 39 33 Weems RRCom 27 25

All Republicans except Dewhurst, who went from +14 to +15, saw their leads shrink. That’s with the generic Congressional ballot going from 46-34 in the GOP’s favor in May to 48-33 in September. You’d think that might have been worthy of comment, but it went unnoted by the pollsters. Given my issues with the sample, I don’t think it means all that much, but it was striking nonetheless. I presume there will be more data coming, including the full crosstabs, so we’ll see what else there is soon enough. Burka has more.

Fundraising: Other statewides

Bill White kicked butt in the fundraising department, but how did the other statewide candidates do? Not nearly as good, unfortunately. Here’s a look:

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458383&form=COH

Totals From Report For Linda Chavez-Thompson
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $94.00
Total Political Contributions: $331,023.42
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $1,442.55
Total Expenditures: $162,904.34
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $136,421.09
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458315&form=SPAC

Totals From Report For David Dewhurst Committee
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $0.00
Total Political Contributions: $3,172,765.68
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $987.03
Total Expenditures: $1,299,511.30
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $3,550,829.75
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $1,137,500.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458258&form=COH

Totals From Report For Barbara Ann Radnofsky
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $11,790.00
Total Political Contributions: $233,941.91
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $1,424.84
Total Expenditures: $176,092.13
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $415.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $463,852.09
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458479&form=SPAC

Totals From Report For Texans for Greg Abbott
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $30.00
Total Political Contributions: $1,717,734.99
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $2,861.64
Total Expenditures: $653,222.40
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $11,209,703.93
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458764&form=COH

Totals From Report For Henry E. Gilbert
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $0.00
Total Political Contributions: $51,701.98
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $6,229.72
Total Expenditures: $32,684.16
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $90,710.73
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458472&form=SPAC

Totals From Report For Texans for Todd Staples
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $1,455.00
Total Political Contributions: $387,462.34
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $3,616.61
Total Expenditures: $210,392.40
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $1,065,709.00
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458249&form=COH

Totals From Report For Jeffry D. Weems
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $168.00
Total Political Contributions: $63,716.53
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $100.00
Total Expenditures: $88,389.86
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $17,448.60
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=457583&form=COH

Totals From Report For David J. Porter
Filed on: July 14 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $782.00
Total Political Contributions: $128,482.00
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $0.00
Total Expenditures: $63,133.72
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $74,727.48
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $15,000.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458410&form=COH

Totals From Report For Hector Uribe
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period February 22, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $1,295.00
Total Political Contributions: $44,703.85
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $0.00
Total Expenditures: $33,008.80
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $7,289.77
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458409&form=COH

Totals From Report For Jerry E. Patterson
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $0.00
Total Political Contributions: $307,629.67
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $0.00
Total Expenditures: $205,441.21
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $822,401.18
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

The Republicans break down into three groups: Dewhurst and Abbott, who have the resources to run a bunch of TV ads statewide if they want to (though I suspect Abbott will save a few pennies for a 2012 Senate race); Staples and Patterson, who have a comfortable lead in finances but don’t have enough to do more than spot some ads in select markets; and David Porter, who has a token amount, though still more than his opponent, Jeff Weems. None of the Democrats are going to approach the top level, but getting to the second tier is a doable goal, especially for Chavez-Thompson and Radnofsky. If you’re a big Democratic donor and you’ve already given five figures or more to Bill White, you can get a pretty decent amount of bang for those bucks if you were to write a similar check to some or all of his ballotmates.

Two strikes and Wilson is out

And that’s all she wrote for Dave Wilson. On the one hand, I’m delighted that this hateful jerk won’t be polluting the Democratic ticket. On the other hand, it’s a discgrace that Jerry Eversole gets a free ride to re-election. Somebody who isn’t Dave Wilson better challenge him in 2014, that’s all I can say.

Hector Uribe may be my favorite candidate for this cycle

Anyone who can send out a press release like this is someone who can make the election season just a little more enjoyable.

In Stunning Move, Land Commissioner Candidate Hector Uribe Already up on Statewide TV

(Austin) Democratic candidate for Texas Land Commissioner Hector Uribe announced today that he’s already on TV state-wide, when the USA cable network aired “No Country For Old Men” on January 6, and twice during their programming yesterday. Uribe had a speaking role in the film, which garnered four Academy Awards…for other actors. Uribe, for his part, managed to become one of only a few actors in the film to achieve the vaulted status of not being violently murdered by the end of it.

This surprise move makes Uribe the first candidate for Land Commissioner to be up on TV state-wide this election season.

“This is the kind of publicity that makes people. Things are going to start happening to me now,” said Uribe, shamelessly pilfering a line from another movie, “The Jerk.”

Uribe’s campaign will focus on maximizing revenue from state lands to help fund neighborhood schools, while also concentrating on how the state can best promote renewable energy.

Meanwhile, Uribe’s Republican opponent threatened to shoot him last week. Uribe said he isn’t at all disturbed by the empty threat, explaining that if he can survive a Coen Brothers script, he can survive Jerry Patterson.

I presume it helps when you have Harold Cook writing those releases.

Carole the chameleon and Kinky the commissioner

This would be a little too weird.

[Bill] White, expected to say Friday that he’s shifting his political sights from the U.S. Senate to the Democratic nod for governor, confirmed Thursday that [former Comptroller Carole Keeton] Strayhorn has tried to reach him.

Asked if he’d welcome Strayhorn to the Democratic ticket as, say, a candidate for her former office of state comptroller, White weaved. (The only Democratic figure otherwise believed to be eyeing the state comptroller slot: former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson.)

“I’m not a political commentator,” White said. “I return telephone calls from people but I really don’t get into the business of giving people political advice.”

Strayhorn, who lost a run for mayor of Austin last year, hasn’t yet returned my calls on if she’s eyeing a statewide run, though two people close to her—her son, Bradley McClellan, and her long-time adviser, Mark Sanders—each said he hadn’t heard she was looking at another campaign.

There was a time when I would have welcomed a return by Strayhorn to her political roots in the Democratic Party and a run for statewide office under its banner. That was in the 2003-2005 time period, when she was probably the single most effective critic of Governor Rick Perry, thanks to her high profile and non-shyness in seeking attention. Since then, we’ve seen her disastrous, amateurish run for Governor as an independent, followed by a third-place finish in this year’s Austin mayoral election, and my reaction to this is “oh, good Lord, would you please retire already?” Carole, if you feel you must be involved somehow, by all means please feel free to host a fundraiser or two for White. Maybe you could write some op-eds bashing Perry for old time’s sake as well. But let’s leave it at that, OK? Thanks.

And as long as we’re discussing one of the 2006 gubernatorial alumni, Ross Ramsey speculates about Kinky Friedman.

Take a look at this teaser from gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, issued after Hank Gilbert exited the governor’s race, set his heart on being agriculture commissioner, and endorsed Farouk Shami:

“I think that all of these things are good for the party and good for the ticket. We all want new leadership in Austin and I think each candidate should be evaluating how best to achieve that. Everyone on the ticket or thinking of joining the ticket should be thinking about what will be best for Democrats in November. We will take the weekend to visit with all of the candidates, my advisors, and many of my supporters and have an announcement about how I believe I can best support our party on Monday.”

Don’t be surprised if he moves to another race. And don’t forget that one of the people in this particular smoke-filled room is former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, who knows a little something about one of the agencies on the ballot.

[…]

A bit of ballet lies ahead if Friedman wants to run for agriculture commissioner. Gilbert endorsed Shami and Shami “accepted” his endorsment and said nice things about him. But he didn’t endorse Gilbert for ag commissioner. Shami is a longtime business associate of John McCall, who was Friedman’s financial angel in the 2006 race for governor. McCall hasn’t been nearly as generous this time around — you have to wonder if that has anything to do with having two friends in the same race — and might be more comfortable if Friedman ran for, say, ag commissioner. As long as there’s no deal to break between Shami and Gilbert, that could work.

Friedman will make his announcement after the weekend.

Shami, of course, is also a friend and associate of Friedman’s. BOR thinks he might wind up running for Land Commissioner instead. I have to say, Kinky versus Jerry Patterson would provide the most colorful set of characters that office has ever seen. Beyond that, I can’t say I really care what Kinky does.

The Chron on Prop 9

Proposition 9 on the ballot would make Texas’ Open Beaches Act of 1959 and add it to the state constitution. This Chron story is an overview of it.

“People who use the beach think of it as a public park,” said Ellis Pickett of the Texas Surfrider Foundation, which is campaigning in favor of the proposition. “That’s why this is so important. It ensures that the coast of Texas will be a public park forever.”

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose office regulates beach access and other land issues, also is in favor of the ballot measure.

“Our freedom to walk on any beach we choose is unique – and under threat,” he wrote in an opinion piece sent to newspapers throughout the state. “Developers, overpaid lawyers and even the members of the Legislature fail to appreciate this freedom.”

You can read Patterson’s piece here, which I mentioned on October 13. Patterson also included an anti-Prop 9 article when he sent out his op-ed, which you can read here. The crux of the opposition is this:

While houses and hotels have sprouted along the Gulf of Mexico, rising seas, sinking land and storms have led to the rapid erosion of Texas coastline. By some estimates, as much as 10 feet washes away each year.

That means some houses, once hundreds of feet from the surf, now are in the public right of way. And the state has ordered their removal, prompting two legal cases challenging to the Open Beaches Act, including one to be heard by the Texas Supreme Court next month.

Brooks Porter, one of the plaintiffs, claims the state took his Surfside Beach property without paying fair-market value after Tropical Storm Frances in 1998 moved the vegetation line .

I suppose I see it as Patterson does, that this is nature and not the state of Texas that’s taking their property. I’ll be interested to see what the state Supreme Court makes of this. I presume that if Prop 9 passes, there can be no more lawsuits of this kind.

Endorsement watch: Takings

The Chron endorses Prop 11, which is the constitutional amendment to limit eminent domain takings that were allowed by the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo ruling.

[It] would prohibit “the taking, damaging, or destroying of private property” for purposes of economic development. The Houston Chronicle urges a vote for Proposition 11.

It was for good reason that the high court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London alarmed many property rights advocates here and elsewhere. It upheld the taking by right of eminent domain of private residences by the Connecticut city for purposes of economic development and expanding the tax base. Proposition 11 would prevent takings of property for either of those reasons.

Preventing takings for economic motives is consistent with Texans’ historically strong support for property rights. At the same time, it would not impede eminent domain takings for necessary purposes.

In situations where economic development is the objective it is simple fairness to give property owners the benefits of choice, and of a marketplace sale. To force a sale upon them under such inflexible circumstances is inimical to constitutional principles enumerated in the takings clause.

Opponents contend a constitutional amendment is unnecessary and that the state courts should be allowed to clear up any potential problems in Texas. Maybe so, but that is no match for the carved-in-stone finality of an amendment.

Maybe it’s just my distrust of anything pushed by Rick Perry, but I’m not sold on Prop 11. I fear that this amendment will be interpreted too broadly, and since it’s an amendment it’d be near impossible to fix. But maybe I’m just being paranoid. Can anyone convince me one way or the other on this?

In other constitutional amendment news, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson wrote an op-ed in favor of Prop 9, and in the interest of equal time sent it out with an opposing argument, which was written Pacific Legal Foundation attorney J. David Breemer. You can read Patterson’s piece here, and Breemer’s piece, which is more about the Open Beaches act in general and not specifically about Prop 9, though if you agree with his position you’d certainly vote against it, here.

Burton for Land Commissioner

Via BOR, we have a report of a new statewide Democratic candidate, former Henderson County Justice of the Peace Bill Burton, who is running for Land Commissioner. I don’t know the man, but I hope to learn more about him. Incumbent Land Commish Jerry Patterson doesn’t have a huge war chest – $564K as of July, after raising a similar amount in 2006, so Burton doesn’t start in as deep a hole as some other candidates. We’ll see how he does. Greg has more.

New beach boundaries

We have a new vegetation line, which determines where the public beach ends and private property begins, courtesy of Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

The line will determine whether beachfront property owners whose buildings were destroyed by Ike on Sept. 13 will be able to rebuild or possibly lose their houses to the public beach.

Patterson published new maps at TexasBeachAccess.org showing the new vegetation line.

[…]

Ike chewed away the shoreline, reducing his 198-foot lot to 8 feet. But beaches tend to rebuild themselves and, after checking the Texas General Land Office Web site, McConnell found that he now has 195 feet of property.

“As promised, I gave the natural line of vegetation a year to recover,” Patterson said. “In those areas where it has recovered it will be the boundary of the public beach.

“In areas where it hasn’t, I’ve drawn the line at mean low tide plus 200 feet,” he said.

The mean low tide line is the average of all daily low tide lines over 19 years.

Patterson said beachfront property owners who find that their buildings are on the public beach as a result of the new vegetation line will be left alone unless they block beach access or pose a health or safety risk.

He said it is too early to know how many structures that are now on the beach would have to be removed or how many properties would be barred from rebuilding. Patterson said it was likely that some houses on Galveston Island would have to be removed. It is less likely that houses on the Bolivar Peninsula will have to be moved because so few structures near the beach remain standing, he said.

In case you were wondering, State Rep. Wayne Christian and his beach house wound up on the right side of the line, meaning that he could have saved himself some trouble. Some guys have all the luck. A press release from Commissioner Patterson about this is beneath the fold.

(more…)

More on Perry’s vetoes

Governor Perry’s veto of SB2468, the “revolving door” restrictions bill for Harris County, has puzzled its sponsor.

In his veto message, Perry said he rejected the ethics bill, authored by Sen. Mario Gallegos, because it addressed lobbying matters and related criminal penalties only in Harris County, not statewide, and thus characterized it unconstitutional.

Gallegos, a Houston Democrat, said he was surprised at the veto because the bill’s language had been revised to address constitutional issues and further because the governor’s office called him around noon Friday saying Perry was going to bless it.

But around 7:15 p.m., Gallegos said, the governor’s office called again and said the attorney general’s office had declared it unconstitutional.

“I was told several people from Harris County called him (the governor) and told him to the veto the bill. It was a good ethics bill,” Gallegos said.

The so-called “revolving door” restriction required former county employees to wait two years before lobbying.

You would think that a basic concept as a constitutional prohibition on criminal penalties that apply in one part of the state but not in other parts would have come up earlier in the process than this. Sen. Gallegos is suggesting that the people who would be affected by the bill’s restrictions managed to convince Perry to maintain the status quo. I have to say, that strikes me as a much more likely explanation than a sudden discovery that the bill was unconstitutional.

Speaking of bills tailored to specific counties, here’s the story on HB770, which became law by default.

Even though a provision allowing a lawmaker’s beach house — and those nearby — to be rebuilt in an exemption from the Texas Open Beaches Act was not vetoed by the governor, the measure is too flawed to be enforceable, the state land commissioner said Friday.

Commissioner Jerry Patterson said the provision won’t pave the way for the rebuilding of Rep. Wayne Christian’s home or any other one on public beaches.

“It will be the policy of the Texas General Land Office that notwithstanding the Christian amendment, no structure will be rebuilt if it will interfere with the public right to access Texas beaches,” said Patterson, who has railed against the provision but said he agreed with Gov. Rick Perry’s decision.

[…]

In a statement Friday, [Rep. Wayne] Christian said, “I am pleased Governor Perry has agreed with those of us in the Texas Legislature to expedite the post-Ike recovery of Texas families and respect their private property rights.

Patterson, who had urged a veto of the bill, said he had changed his thinking and supports Perry’s decision.

“Two weeks ago, that would have disappointed me. Today, I think the governor did the right thing,” Patterson said, adding that the Christian amendment will change nothing.

“Texas beaches will remain as they have always been, open to all Texans, not just a few,” Patterson said.

Too bad, I was kind of hoping Patterson would go rogue. So what happens if Christian starts rebuilding his house? Who’s going to stop him, and how?

One veto I hadn’t noted yesterday was of HB130, which was a pre-kindergarten bill. As with pretty much all of the vetoes here, this one caught supporters by surprise.

“It’s a bad day for public education and for Texas’ youngest and neediest children,” [bill author Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington] said.

House Bill 130 would have put in place new quality standards for pre-kindergarten classes, including teacher training and class size limits. The classes serve children who are homeless or in foster care, have a parent in the military, have limited English-speaking skills or whose families are low-income.

The original bill would have expanded pre-kindergarten classes from half-day to full-day for the children who now qualify for the program. But the initial $623 million price tag proved too much for the Legislature to swallow in a tight budget.

The final bill that cleared the Legislature, while keeping the quality standards, provided $25 million in grant money for districts that already have full-day pre-kindergarten but were slated to lose state funding.

UPDATE: Perry wrote in his veto statement that the money would be better used to expand the number of children served in the existing program.

“Under the funding formula for the existing grant program, $25 million would serve more than 27,000 students over the next biennium, which is 21,000 students more than the estimated 6,800 students that would have been served under the bill’s proposed program – or a 305 percent increase,” Perry wrote.

But Patrick noted that the $25 million does not provide the districts the full amount needed to offer full-day classes, so the districts will still bear significant costs.

Even with the veto, those districts will get the money but the quality standards will not take effect.

One-hundred House members had signed on to the bill, which had the strong backing of House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts.

“More Republicans supported the bill than not,” Patrick said. “Clearly, many Republicans as well as Democrats understand that pre-k education is an investment for which there is a great return.”

Penny-wise and pound-foolish, which is about what you’d expect from our Governor. Other views on the vetoes: from Grits, who agreed with some but as I expected disliked the rejection of HB3148; and from Eye on Williamson.

And here are the vetoes

Here’s the full list, with links to statements about individual bills, here’s his press release, and here’s his budget statement. A few points of interest:

– Perry wimped out and allowed HB770, the Wayne Christian Homestead Bill, to become law without his signature. Way to lead, big guy. I can’t wait to get Jerry Patterson’s press release about this.

– As already noted, he axed SB488, the Safe Passing Bill. Bicyclists are pissed off.

“We are stunned because he’s our guy, and we feel disappointed, even betrayed by our guy,” said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas, the educational arm of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. “The bicycling community will never forgive Governor Perry.”

Perry had signed previous bills important for the cycling community, Stallings said.

Stallings said surveys show that 55 percent of the 30,000 active Texas cyclists who belong to a cyclist organization participate in GOP primaries. He said surveys also indicate an estimated 4 million Texans are, at least, casual bike riders.

[…]

The governor’s office never expressed any concern, much less opposition, Stallings said.

“The bill was well vetted and had support across the political spectrum. That he would do this and not talk to us (during the session), frankly, we are shocked.”

I’m not. Par for the course, if you ask me. I hope the bicyclists take out their frustrations about this in a big way.

– He vetoed HB3148, which would have allowed some minors who engaged in consensual sex to not have to register as sex offenders, which strikes me as petty and short-sighted. I’ll bet that will annoy Grits.

– Rep. Jerry Madden gets his wish, and SB1440 gets zapped.

– Two bills supported by environmentalists, HB821, which related to recycling TV sets; and SB2169, which would have established a smart growth policy work group and the development of a smart growth policy for Texas, got nixed.

– Perry signed HB4294, the electronic textbooks bill, over the objections of some social conservatives. Credit where it’s due – I thought this was a decent bill.

– He signed SB1410, thus negating West University Place’s ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in some new construction. Local control, schmocal control.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure there are other gems in there that are not immediately obvious to me, so leave a comment and let me know about them.

UPDATE: Naturally, after I hit publish, I get a couple of releases from Rep. Garnet Coleman about two of his bills that Perry rejected. Here they are, first about SB2468.

Statement by Rep. Garnet Coleman on Governor’s Veto of SB 2468, by Sen. Gallegos | Rep. Coleman

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Governor Perry would veto a bill that closed the revolving door of employees on the local level where individuals have rotated in and out of county government and the private sector. These actions send a bad message to Texans when it appears that their government works for the highest bidder instead of its own constituents.

It could be possible that Governor Perry does not want to draw attention to his own office’s revolving door. He calls the legislation a piecemeal approach to the issue of county lobbbying and claims he wants to avoid creating differing and confusing standards of ethical conduct. This leaves only the standard that his own office has set, which is that of a revolving door. Ethical behavior in one area of government shouldn’t have to wait for the rest of the state to catch up.

I think the Governor is well aware of these circumstances given the number of employees he has had that have rotated from the public sector, to the private sector and back again. He vetoed this bill on the same day he named a former lobbyist that was a former employee of his to his chief of staff position(1, 2).

At least 17 former Perry aides are now registered lobbyists according to a Dallas Morning News report (3). This includes a former state representative that formed a lobby firm, left to be Governor Perry’s chief of staff from 2002 – 2004, and then returned to his lobby practice (4). He was followed by another former state representative that had become a lobbyist and returned to serve as legislative director until returning to the private sector.(5)

Sources:
1. Press Release: Gov. Perry Names Sullivan Chief of Staff, http://governor.state.tx.us/news/press-release/12606/
2. Texas Ethics Commission Registration, Ray Sullivan, http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/tedd/lobcon2009d.htm
3. Dallas Morning News, Jan 6, 2009
4. http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/img/01-09/0104PRO_toomey.pdf
5. http://governor.state.tx.us/news/appointment/5098/

Here’s Perry’s statement about the veto. This was the “revolving door” bill aimed at restricting Harris County employees from doing county business after leaving government employ. So much for Ed Emmett’s ethics reform plan. Got anything to say about that, Judge?

Next, Coleman’s statement about HB3485:

Statement by Rep. Garnet Coleman on Governor’s Veto of HB 3485

“It is disappointing that Governor Perry vetoed this important piece of legislation. With the addition of the amendment allowing certain rural public hospitals to employ physicians, this bill would have ensured access to physician coverage across rural Texas. Rural public hospitals in Texas find it more and more difficult to attract physicians to their communities and retain them. Many physicians entering practice today prefer an employee relationship, rather than having the responsibility and burden of setting up and managing a small business. H.B. 3485 gave rural public hospitals and physicians who want to practice in rural Texas flexibility. Having the option to employ physicians would have helped rural hospitals improve and preserve access to physicians. Without physicians, these hospitals will not continue to exist.

The Governor alleges that an amendment was added in the final days of session that was neither debated nor discussed. However, prior to concurring with all of the Senate amendments I had multiple conversations with the Governor’s office, one of them with Sen. Ken Armbrister, the Governor’s Legislative Director, as well as another member of the Governor’s staff.

To be clear – I told the Governor’s staff that the amendment in question could be removed if it created any sort of problem or if it jeopardized the passage of this important legislation. Sen. Armbrister assured me that the Governor was fine with the amendment and therefore fine with the overall bill. Tort reform groups were also contacted to assuage any concerns, with their assurances that the groups were neutral on the bill. To Sen. Armbrister’s credit, he did call today to inform me of the governor reversing his position.

The worst part is, the only losers with this veto are the people of the state of Texas and the various counties, with no gain or loss to the tort reform movement.”

Here’s a letter from Rep. Coleman to Governor Perry thanking him for his assistance with the language of the bill; here’s a letter to Governor Perry from the Texas Conference of Urban Counties urging him to sign HB3485; and here’s Perry’s veto statement. How weaselly can you get?

Editorialists urge veto of HB770

HB770, the originally obscure bill to grant homestead exemptions to folks who lost their house in Hurricane Ike that has generated a big stink thanks to the self-serving provision inserted on behalf of State Rep. Wayne Christian, is getting panned by editorialists around the state. Here’s a sampling.

From the Chron:

Rep. Christian should be ashamed of pushing stealth legislation that benefits himself. As Tom Brown, president of Texas Open Beach Advocates, told the Chronicle, “it’s a very special bill to benefit a state legislator and that is flat-out wrong.”

For a half century, Texas has had one of the strongest coastal access laws in the nation. Residents who buy beach-front property are well aware that storms and rising sea levels may someday reshape the landscape, putting their investment in peril.

A law allowing homeowners to rebuild at the water’s edge, even if it is restricted to Bolivar, is laying the groundwork for future destruction of property while undermining the principle of open beaches. Texans should join [Land Commissioner Jerry] Patterson in calling on the governor to veto the bill.

From the Statesman:

he amendment makes a significant statement about public beaches and private property. Significant enough to warrant full legislative review, complete with public hearing.

Patterson, never a mincer of words, told the Houston Chronicle: “My opinion is just to say, ‘Screw you, Wayne Christian,’ because the Legislature didn’t pass this, one guy passed this.”

In his e-mail [to us], Christian railed about Patterson’s “cursive language.”

We’re really not sure what “cursive language” is, but perhaps this falls under that header: Perry should veto the damn bill.

From the Galveston Daily News:

The other reason this legislation deserves a quick veto is that it is bad public policy. The Open Beaches Act says that beaches belong to the public. If your land becomes a beach in Texas, you lose it, just as you would lose part of your cow pasture if a river changed course and ran through it. If a river runs through your pasture, you would not get to set up a tollbooth in the river and you would not get to charge bass boats and kayakers to pass.

The river would not be your private property in Texas — and neither would the beach.

Waterways and beaches are public property in Texas. And people who buy beach-front property are warned repeatedly, loudly and often about that provision in the law.

The Open Beaches Act is a good law. The alternative is to live in a state where most of the beaches are owned by the wealthy.

Remember that the initial purpose of this bill was to help folks in Galveston; it’s the reason given by State Rep. Craig Eiland why he voted for it. For the Galveston Daily News to argue for its veto strikes me as pretty powerful.

From Bud Kennedy:

Retired state Rep. A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, a Galveston Democrat, led the 1959 effort to defend public beaches.

After Ike, he talked about beachfront homeowners.

“We’re talking about damn fools that have built houses on the edge of the sea for as long as man could remember and against every advice anyone has given,” Schwartz said.

And who have power in Austin.

From the Star-Telegram:

Does the Open Beaches Act encroach on property rights in cases like this? Every beachfront-property owner knows the risk. If not for the act, eventually much of the Texas coast would be lined with private beaches.

Perry should veto HB 770. While that would hurt property owners in Galveston and elsewhere who want to retain their homestead tax exemptions while they rebuild, the greater good would come from upholding the integrity of the Open Beaches Act.

From the Beaumont Enterprise:

The sanctity of public beaches cannot be compromised in Texas. Homes or businesses cannot intrude onto beaches that belong to all Texans. For those reasons, Gov. Rick Perry has little choice but to veto a bill that contains a provision that would exempt property owners on the Bolivar Peninsula from a state law that bans construction on public beaches.

The Enterprise also had one of the better stories I’ve seen on the issue. Elise Hu has a statement from Rep. Christian that tells his side of it as well.

As of Friday, Governor Perry said he was still studying the bill. I have no idea what he’s going to do, and I daresay we won’t know until the June 21 deadline for him to take action. If you have an opinion, the Governor’s fax number is 512-463-1849; those who are rallying for a veto have been urging their supporters to send faxes asking for the bill to be rejected.

Still bitching about the beach

Who would have thought that an otherwise-obscure bill about granting homestead exemptions to people who lost houses in Galveston to Hurricane Ike would become the most controversial bill of the first week post-sine die?

Open beaches advocacy groups sent out e-mails and posted Web messages Thursday asking voters to call Gov. Rick Perry’s office and urge him to veto a bill containing a provision exempting a legislator’s beach house from the Texas Open Beaches Act.

Phone calls poured into the governor’s office urging Perry to veto a bill with a provision that Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, helped write allowing him and others on the Bolivar Peninsula to rebuild on the public beach.

As of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the tally was five for a signature and 249 for a veto, including phone calls and e-mails.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson scheduled a news conference for today to urge more phone calls to the governor asking for a veto of HB 770. General Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam said Patterson would wade into the Gulf waters off Galveston Island to show where houses could be built under the provision that protects Christian’s right to rebuild his beach house.

Christian denies that he did anything improper, saying the bill will allow other property owners to rebuild who otherwise would not be able to under Open Beach Act regulations administered by the General Land Office. He said the provision would keep property on the tax rolls that otherwise would be removed.

Christian, by the way, made it to the Texas Monthly Ten Worst list this session, and that was without any mention of this little debacle, presumably because the word of it came too late in the writing process. It was gilding the lily anyway, I suppose. Still no word from Governor Perry about this bill’s future, which as I said before is standard practice. We’ll know soon enough.

Open beaches

Got the following email from a colleague and thought it was worth mentioning:

Very late Sunday night a “deal” was made in the Texas legislature to make an exemption in the Texas Open Beaches Act – the law that guarantees public access to our beaches.

Rep. Wayne Christian of Center, Texas use to have a beach house on Bolivar. Hurricane Ike destroyed it. I feel badly for him and the thousands of others who lost property. But state law prohibits construction of houses on the public beach. Why? Because its the PUBLIC BEACH, not private beach.

Anyway Rep. Christian wants to build a new house on what is now PUBLIC BEACH, and he snuck a law through that exempts front-row owners in Bolivar to build new houses on our beach. That is bad public policy. Beaches are like public parks, you can live near them but not in them.

Right now, please phone Gov. Perry and respectfully ask him to “veto HB770, building houses directly on the public beach will cost us billions of dollars in the next storm”.

512-463-2000

Rep. Christian was on the conference committee for HB770, which is (I presume) where this amendment was added. The Galveston News had a story about HB770 on Monday.

House Bill 770 started as a bill to allow homeowners whose houses were destroyed by a hurricane to maintain their homestead exemptions — even if a final decision on whether to rebuild hadn’t been made.

But the law also appears to have exempted houses along the Bolivar Peninsula from the requirements of the Texas Open Beaches Act for four years.

Under existing law, buildings must be behind the line of naturally occurring vegetation.

The bill would exempt from state open beaches laws a house “located on a peninsula in a county with a population of more than 250,000 and less than 251,000 that borders the Gulf of Mexico.” Only one area in the state meets that description — the Bolivar Peninsula.

The bill, which was co-authored by Galveston County’s state representatives, Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, and Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, won unanimous approval in the state House and easily earned passage in the Senate. One of Galveston County’s two state senators, Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, was the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose agency is responsible for managing the open beaches laws in Texas, blasted the law.

“I don’t think building houses on the beach, with the waters of the Gulf beneath them, is a good idea or good public policy,” Patterson said. “This bill is so poorly drafted that will happen.”

Here’s the bill text. I agree with Commissioner Patterson on this, and think a veto is not a bad idea. And according to today’s Chron, he plans on sticking to his guns.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has asked Gov. Rick Perry to veto the bill containing the amendment. The bill has not yet crossed the governor’s desk, and he will not make a decision until he sees it, said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.

“I don’t think building houses on the beach, with the waters of the Gulf beneath them, is a good idea or good public policy,” Patterson said.

If the governor signs the bill, Patterson vowed that he would not enforce the amendment. “My option is just to say, ‘Screw you, Wayne Christian,’ because the Legislature didn’t pass this, one guy passed this,” he said.

Patterson said the Legislature would have to impeach him if lawmakers wanted the provision enforced.

That would be going too far – filing a lawsuit strikes me as the better way to stop enforcement of that law – but at least we know where he stands. Christian, for his part, says this wasn’t about him:

Christian said his vote for the amendment benefited other peninsula property owners and therefore was not a breach of ethics. “If I were to pass a law that affected only Wayne Christian, that would be a conflict,” he said.

At least 12 of his neighbors want to rebuild but can’t without the amendment, Christian said.

The amendment will keep property on the tax rolls that otherwise would be taken off if left undeveloped, Christian said. He also insisted the amendment is “not mine,” because it was put forward by Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Mauriceville.

“I did sign with him because I approved the concept,” Christian said. The amendment targeted the Bolivar Peninsula because it bore the brunt of the storm, he said.

He denied that it was improper to add the amendment to a bill so close to the end of the session. “This is not an unethical, deceptive method of doing anything,” Christian said. “This is the way it’s been ever since government was invented.”

Well, that much is certainly true. As has also been the case since government was invented, sometimes these last-minute deals contain unpalatable provisions. And so here we are.

You’ll be hearing more about the Open Beaches Act this November, as the passage of HJR102 means there will be an amendment voted on to make the Open Beaches act part of the Constitution instead of an ordinary law that could be changed by a majority vote in the Lege. The above-linked story, and this Chron story from last week have more info about that.

The push to protect public access comes in the wake of lawsuits challenging what is public and what is private along the 367 miles of mostly wild Texas coastline.

The Open Beaches Act prohibits houses seaward of the vegetation line, which crawls steadily landward as the beaches erode.

While trophy houses, subdivisions and hotels have sprouted along the Gulf of Mexico, rising seas, sinking land and storms have led to the rapid erosion of Texas coastline. By some estimates, as much as 10 feet of beach front washes away each year.

As the sandy shore shifts over decades, a barrier island, such as Galveston, may look the same, but it will be farther landward. Houses that once stood hundreds of feet from the surf will be encroaching on the Gulf.

In some cases, the Texas General Land Office, which is responsible for the coastline, has sued to remove houses from the beach.
Jerry Patterson, the state’s land commissioner, suggested that the proposed amendment wouldn’t change anything along the coast.

“We work every day at the Texas General Land Office to ensure the public’s right to access the beach,” he said.

Property owners contend that the existing state law tramples on their rights and that a constitutional amendment would make matters worse, according to the House’s analysis of the pros and cons of the bill.

J. David Breemer, a Pacific Legal Foundation attorney who is challenging the land office’s enforcement of the Open Beaches Act, said he doesn’t believe a constitutional amendment would insulate the state from lawsuits.

“The issue is how the law is used, not the intent,” Breemer said. “The easement keeps rolling over land that the public hasn’t ever walked and development has already happened.”

Still, beachgoers and environmentalists expressed enthusiasm over the proposed amendment, which cleared the state House on a 140-1 vote and the Senate on a 29-2 vote.

Ken Kramer, director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter, said the environmental group would campaign in favor of the ballot measure.

“It’s a great issue to elevate people’s awareness of coastal protection,” he said.

This KHOU story has more on that lawsuit. I’ll be voting for this proposition, and I look forward to seeing how the Supreme Court deals with it when that lawsuit, which has been sent its way by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, comes before it.

UPDATE: Land Commish Jerry Patterson keeps pushing this, with a press conference tomorrow in Galveston. From his release:

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. Friday on the beach in Galveston to rally Texans to demand Governor Perry kill a proposed law that would exempt the Bolivar Peninsula from the Texas Open Beaches Act.

The press conference will be on the beach in the Pirates Beach subdivision in Galveston, just seaward of the 4200 block of Ghost Crab Lane.

“Call Governor Perry now and let him know you want to keep Texas beaches for the enjoyment of the public,” Patterson said. “An eleventh hour amendment to HB770 would allow an elite few to rebuild their houses on the public beach or even in the surf. That’s not just a bad idea, that’s bad public policy.”

Patterson urged Texans who love the beach to call Governor Perry’s office at (512) 463-2000 and ask him to veto HB770.

The amendment was covertly slipped into the bill without any public debate on the first day of the 2009 hurricane season, which was the last day of the 81st Legislature.

“As Gulf Coast residents were thinking about the next storm, a few lawmakers were actually sneaking an amendment on to a bill that would allow their neighbors to rebuild their houses on the public beach or even in the surf zone of the area hardest hit by Hurricane Ike,” Patterson said. “That’s just unthinkable.”

Far as I know, there’s been no public comment from Governor Perry yet. He probably won’t say anything until he takes action on the bill, but it’s possible he could telegraph his intent.