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Leo Berman

Today’s Republican Party is too radical even for Rick Perry

Mark Jones states a few facts about the Texas version of the DREAM Act that Rick Perry signed in 2001, and what it says about the Republican Party now.

In 2001 the Republican Party enjoyed a narrow majority over the Democratic Party in the Texas Senate (16 to 15), and was in its last session as the minority party in the Texas House, with 72 seats to the Democratic Party’s 78. The final version of HB 1403 was amended and passed by the Senate on May 21, 2001, voted on for a second time in the House (which concurred with the Senate’s amended version) on May 24, and signed into law by Perry on June 16.

In the Senate, the bill passed by a 27 to 3 vote, with 12 Republicans and 15 Democrats in favor, and three Republicans against. Seven of the 12 Republicans who supported the bill continue to serve today in the Texas Senate, with three (Sens. John Carona, Troy Fraser, and Florence Shapiro) among only eight senators (out of a total of 19 Republicans) to receive awards for their legislative voting record from the conservative watchdog group, Empower Texans. Also voting yes was Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples, who was then a senator.

The final version of the bill received even stronger Republican backing in the House, with 64 Republicans joining 66 Democrats to vote yes (130 total) versus only two dissenting votes (both Republicans). In the vote on the original version of HB 1403 on April 23, 67 Republicans joined 75 Democrats to approve the bill, with one Republican voting no. Ten years later, 23 of the 64 Republicans (along with two Democrats who would later switch to the Republican Party) who voted yea on the final version of the bill continued in office, as did two Republicans who voted for the bill on April 23, but were absent on May 24.

These legislators are some of the Texas House’s most conservative members (based on both the Empower Texans 2011 Legislative Scorecard as well as the Baker Institute’s 2011 Liberal-Conservative rating), including former House Speaker (2003-09) Tom Craddick, Sid Miller, Leo Berman, Phil King, Dennis Bonnen, Wayne Christian, and Bill Callegari. All were classified by both Empower Texans and the Baker Institute as among the most conservative third of the Republican delegation in the 2011 Texas House. Furthermore, five additional representatives who supported the bill (Gary Elkins, Charlie Howard, Lois Kolkhorst, Geanie Morrison, and Burt Solomons) were considered by both Empower Texans and the Baker Institute to be among the most conservative half of the 2011 Republican caucus.

Berman is especially well known for his hawkish stance on immigration. In 2011 he was the author of several bills in this area, including one patterned on Arizona’s SB 1070 and others which proposed to end birthright citizenship and to make English the state’s official language. In addition, one of the Republican representatives who voted for HB 1403, Kenny Marchant, now represents Texas in the U.S. House, where he is located in the most conservative decile of the House membership by

Yes, even Leo freaking Berman voted for HB1403 – which was authored by Rick Noriega, by the way – back then. The underlying point in all this cannot be emphasized enough: Today’s Republican Party has gone completely off the rails, abandoning principles and opposing policies it once championed in pursuit of a bizarre, destructive, and ultimately unattainable ideological purity in the eyes of its unhinged base. The fact that Rick Perry – Rick Perry! – is being attacked as a liberal tells you all you need to know. Thankfully, the Lege rebuffed attempts to repeal HB1403 this year, with prominent Republicans like Sen. Robert Duncan stepping up to help beat it back (for what it’s worth, I don’t recall seeing Perry say anything at the time), but with David Dewhurst now hopping aboard the xenophobia train, I would expect there to be a lot more pressure on this in 2013. It’s truly a sad state of affairs.

The reason why some anti-immigration legislation didn’t pass this session

According to teabagger Rebecca Frost, the problem was too many Hispanic legislators. This is what she had to say at a rally in Austin yesterday:

There’s a lot of wind noise that makes it hard to hear exactly what she’s saying, but here’s a transcript, provided by the Texas Democratic Party, which presumably had someone at this event:

“If you want to know why we can’t pass legislation in Texas it’s because we have 37, no 36, Hispanics in the Legislature. All of the states that have passed legislation have a handful and I mean literally, some of them have no Hispanic legislators, well, maybe 3 or 5 or something. So that’s, umm, part of our problem and we need to change those numbers.

“Umm, we need to do something about that in fact, during the debate on ‘sanctuary cities,’ several Hispanic legislators testified that their grandparents and their parents were migrant workers who came over here to work and that they even worked in the fields. And some of them even admitted that they had been here illegally and that they came illegally. So the problem is these Hispanic legislators…is that it’s too close to them and they, umm… simply cannot vote their conscience correctly. So that’s about all I have to say to you, please come to the hearing, and help us spread this message. Thank you.”

The irony is that not two weeks ago, one of those Hispanic legislators was more or less saying the same thing, though his meaning was different.

State Rep. Aaron Peña has spoken with the Guardian about his role in halting ‘English-only’ bills, why this session is like a cheap vacation, and why his district should vote Republican at the next election.

Peña made his biggest headlines before the session even began. After winning back his seat as a Democrat last November, the Edinburg lawmaker switched parties, becoming the 101st Republican in the Texas House.

Saying he switched parties in part for more influence on key issues, Peña says that his stroke as a Republican paid off as regards anti-immigration legislation. Reform Immigration For Texas (RITA) has pointed out that of the ‘anti-immigrant’ bills filed, none passed in the regular session. Peña says that it’s no coincidence that there were Hispanics in the Republican leadership and such bills being thwarted.

Peña co-founded the Hispanic Republican Conference at the start of the 82nd Legislature. In his interview with the Guardian he declined to say exactly how this caucus blocked legislation such as state Rep. Leo Berman’s bill to print state notices in English only. But though some members of the conference offered competing accounts, Peña was insistent that his group had contributed to the bills’ failure.

“Those [anti-immigrant bills] didn’t pass,” said Peña. “There’s a reason for that. Now, I don’t want to articulate them, but our involvement in the process matters. We were effective in what we were doing.”

So there you have it. What Pena fails to mention, of course, is that having fewer Republicans in the Lege would be an even better hedge against this kind of legislation, since nobody on the Democratic side is pushing it. We know that the Republican factions that claim to be queasy about anti-immigrant legislation are completely ineffective at doing anything about it, after all. News Taco has more.

UPDATE: And today the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill passed out of the Senate committee. It’s just a matter of time now.

Hopefully, the “sanctuary cities” bill will be the end of the anti-immigrant crap

The Statesman offers a little hope.

The controversial “sanctuary cities” bill received final passage in the Texas House on Tuesday and was on its way to the Senate, but most other immigration measures introduced in the House this session appear destined for the recycling bin.

The House has reached the point in the session where any bill that has been left pending in committee — like almost all 43 immigration-related bills that have been filed — will not meet the deadline to be scheduled for a floor debate. Although legislation can be revived until the end of the session May 30, it becomes more difficult with each passing day.


Aside from HB 12, the only other immigration bill that is expected to be debated calls for employers to check a potential employee’s immigration status through E-verify, an online verification program. But that bill carries no criminal penalties for not doing the check. Even opponents of efforts to restrict illegal immigration call the bill innocuous.

I sure hope that’s true, but as long as Leo Berman and Debbie Riddle are there to try to attach their vicious bills as amendments, and as long as the Republican caucus continues to vote in lockstep, then there’s no room to relax. I have confidence the Democrats will fight against these efforts, but their numbers mean they can only do so much. If anything happens, it’s on the Republicans.

Bill to help oust Dan Ramos passes out of committee

Nothing unites people like having a common problem.

Legislation that would allow the Texas Democratic Party to intervene in the leadership dispute in the Bexar County Democratic Party was approved Thursday by the Texas House Elections Committee.

With the 7-1 vote, the measure by state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, is eligible for consideration by the full House, but it hasn’t been set for debate.

Martinez Fischer said he was encouraged by the bill’s bipartisan backing in committee. He said he’s contemplating further modifying his proposal to address lingering concerns about loss of local control in the management of party affairs.

Republicans have shown interest in the measure because of a dispute involving a GOP county chair in East Texas who’s under indictment for theft.

A reminder about Dan Ramos, the current Chair of the Bexar County Democratic Party and the main target of this legislation, in case you need it. The bill is HB2752. You will note that one of the coauthors is Crazy Leo Berman. Republicans can’t get much more cover than that. I have no idea what the prospects are for passage, but any time you can get a bill out of committee, you’re doing something right.

Republican legislators to support Republican legislation

That’s the takeaway from this story.

The Hispanic Republican Conference has thrown its weight behind the controversial voter ID legislation slated to hit the House floor next week. In a statement released today, the caucus said the issue is essential to integrity at the ballot box and that its overwhelming support by the public indicates change is necessary.

The legislation would require voters to present a form of approved identification, like a state-issued driver’s license or concealed handgun license, in order to cast a ballot.

“To ensure the integrity of our election process, I am supporting the Voter ID bill along with other bills to ensure that candidates reside in their districts, to strengthen our voter registration system, [and] to protect military voter access to Texas elections,” state Rep. John V. Garza, R-San Antonio, said in a statement. Garza and Reps. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg; Raul Torres, R-Corpus Christi; Dee Margo, R-El Paso; Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville; and Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, are the conference’s charter members.

What did you expect? They’re Republicans, and this is a top Republican priority. It would be news if any of them had called voter ID legislation the crock of bull that it is. It’s also no coincidence that all of them will stand to benefit from the suppressed turnout among Hispanic voters that this legislation will lead to.

The announcement comes just a week after the original members, minus Gonzales, issued a fiery statement calling on Washington to overhaul the country’s immigration policies, alleging the current system promotes discrimination and produces “a class of vulnerable persons.”

Members also said last week they would not support state legislation some Republican members have proposed that would strip children of undocumented immigrants of certain entitlements.

Good for them, but this is a meaningless gesture. They still support the “sanctuary cities” bill and they have had nothing to say about the hateful legislation that the likes of Debbie Riddle and Leo Berman have been putting forth. But again, as long as they think of people like Berman as being “earnest and sincere” instead of dangerous and deranged, what do you expect? What I expect is that they’ll be about as effective as Bill Hammond and the Texas Association of Business have been at moderating or stopping anti-immigrant bills they don’t like, which is to say not effective at all.

If you thought voter ID was bad…

Wait till you see what comes next.

State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has made national headlines for his “birther” bill that would require a candidate for president or vice president of the U.S. to show proof of natural-born citizenship to be placed on the ballot in Texas. He has also filed proposed legislation designed to provoke a legal challenge to the 14th Amendment, which bestows citizenship on anyone born in the U.S., regardless of the status of the child’s parents. House Bill 292, if passed, would prevent a county’s local registrar from issuing a birth certificate to a child born to undocumented immigrants in Texas.

“Instead, they will be given a notice of birth, with instructions to take it to their own consulate or embassy to get citizenship papers or a birth certificate from the country of their parents,” Berman said, explaining his bill. “If it passes, we expect to be sued immediately, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for — we want to be sued in federal court so that federal judges will finally read the 14th Amendment.” After that, he said, it’ll only be a matter of time before the federal government realizes the amendment was ratified in 1868 only for those children born in the U.S. to black slaves.

Berman has also authored a bill — HB 294 — that would ban undocumented immigrants from suing legal Texans. They could not seek “equitable relief as a counter claimant or a cross claimant,” according to the legislation.

“If you have an accident with a car driven by an illegal alien, you are going to pay for your own car. But if you hit them, they are going to get an attorney, an abogado, and they are going to try and sue you for everything you’re worth,” he said. “I have asked several lawyers, and they said it is constitutional.”


State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, has drawn the ire of Hispanic Democrats, educators and others for her proposed legislation — HB 22 — that would mandate that public schools keep track of the immigration status of students by requiring that they submit a copy of their birth certificates or other documents indicating their residency status “for inspection” by school officials at the time of enrollment. The bill also requires school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to submit information on the number of students enrolled in bilingual education or special language programs, and to “identify and analyze any impact on the standard or quality of education provided to students who are citizens that may occur as a result.”

Critics have argued the requirement would be an unfunded mandate — the bête noire of conservative lawmakers opposed to many federal mandates — and that preventing the education of any child in Texas is inherently unconstitutional.


HB 21, also filed by Riddle, would require that state agencies report the costs of providing benefits to undocumented immigrants. Local governmental entities that receive state grants would also be required to submit that information to the grant provider.

State Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has filed legislation that targets legal aliens who are requesting indigent care. HB 655, if passed, would offer counties the option of adopting a policy that would consider the income of a legal alien’s sponsor if that alien applied for indigent care. A sponsored alien is one who is admitted into the country legally after an affidavit of support. The sponsor’s spouse’s income could also be included in the determination of an alien’s eligibility for indigent care.

Boy, sure is a good thing Aaron Pena became a Republican so he could be a “moderating influence” on these guys. I just know they can’t wait to be persuaded by his unassailable logic.

Sheriffs not sold on Arizona immigration bill

Texas’ sheriffs are not very enthusiastic about being charged with enforcing federal immigration laws.

Texas has 254 sheriffs, and while opinions vary about whether illegal immigration should be their problem, some Republicans are pushing measures that won’t give them a choice. More than a dozen bills targeting illegal immigration await the Legislature when it convenes Tuesday, when the GOP will enter with a historic conservative supermajority in the House.

One bill would require police to ask drivers without identification if they’re in the country legally. Another would cut off state funds to departments that don’t enforce immigrations laws.

“It’s split among my colleagues on whether we should be out here just stopping individuals without probable cause, and questioning them on their immigration status,” said Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who believes the proposals invite profiling.


Many Texas sheriffs along the border, long vocal about being understaffed and underfunded on the edge of Mexico’s violent drug war, oppose the measures as another drain on their deputies. They and sheriffs in Houston and San Antonio also worry about profiling.

Others don’t see it as an imposition, and maybe a necessity. In Fort Bend County, which includes Houston’s conservative suburbs, Sheriff Milton Wright said he would support laws requiring his deputies to enforce immigration laws if the federal government won’t.

“If they’re not going to do it, then we need to,” he said.

Arizona’s new law left Texas facing unavoidable questions. Texas has an estimated 1.6 million illegal immigrants, second only to California, and Republicans control every statewide office. Gov. Rick Perry has said he doesn’t support Texas adopting a law identical to Arizona’s, while at the same time praising that state’s initiative for taking the illegal immigration problem into its own hands.

I fully expect that Gov. Perry will sign whatever immigration-related legislation makes it to his desk, despite what some people think. I do not believe he will cross the base on this, and I think there’s plenty of room to make enough cosmetic changes to Arizona’s bill to allow him to claim that Texas’ version of it is different.

It would have been good to hear from more Sheriffs on this. With the exception of Fort Bend’s Wright – who, if he truly believes there are no constitutional issues with making people show their papers as a matter of routine, can certainly instruct his deputies to do so – everyone in the story was opposed to such legislation. How many Sheriffs agree with Wright, and how much of the state’s population do they represent? Based on this story, the opponents can claim Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and all the border counties; I will presume Dallas is in this group as well. That’s an awful lot of the state right there.

It’s not at all clear that the legislators who want to force the sheriffs to do their bidding care about what they think, however.

So important is the issue to state Rep. Debbie Riddle that she camped outside the clerk’s window to ensure her get-tough immigration bills would be first in line. State Sen. Dan Patrick filed a bill that would require police to ask anyone without an ID whether they’re in the country illegally, but the Houston-area talk radio host says his measure affords officer discretion. For instance, he said an officer could choose not to arrest a harmless minivan-driving mom who is revealed to be an illegal immigrant.

Patrick, who visited Arizona to see its new law in action, said the possibility of legal challenges is no barrier.

“Too many people want to duck and cover and bury their heads in the sand,” Patrick said. “This is an issue we have to stand tall on. Republicans have to stand together.”


During the previous two legislative sessions, Patrick said “too much chaos” in the House doomed immigration proposals. This time, Patrick said, Republicans have the numbers – and a willingness to work with law enforcement.

“You have to have their buy-in,” Patrick said. “I want them to be enthusiastic about it.”

Won’t stop him from proceeding if they’re not, though. I continue to be fascinated by Republicans like Patrick who scream bloody murder when the federal government imposes a requirement on the state of Texas but have no problems imposing their own requirements on local governments that don’t want them. I guess counties don’t have rights.

If Patrick et al don’t care what the sheriffs think, do you suppose they’ll care what businesses think?

The Texas ACLU and an El Paso county sheriff who supports the controversial Secure Communities program stood side by side at the State Capitol in Austin Thursday to denounce pre-filed, immigration-related legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070. A conservative businessman was added to the mix, indicating lawmakers intent on rounding up Texas’ undocumented population might have a harder time than initially presumed.

“Who would imagine that after 28 years of law enforcement the ACLU would be talking so nicely about me,” Sheriff Richard Wiles joked after being introduced as a common-sense sheriff by ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke for his opposition to proposed legislation patterned off Arizona’s.


Bill Hammond, the executive director of the Texas Association of Business, said Texas should realize the business “pipeline” in Arizona has run dry after it passed its law, and Texas could share the same fate if bills aimed at businesses who hire undocumented immigrant pass.

“Some of this legislation would require then to become forensic experts and we think that’s unfair. It’s an unfair burden on them when what they are trying to do is provide employment for Texans who want a job,” he said. “Mexican nationals invest literally millions and millions of dollars in Texas and we believe that one of the detrimental effects that people haven’t considered is the drying up of that investment. In my view, if this legislation were to become law, perhaps someone should file a bill to change the state’s motto [“Friendship”] as well,” he said.

Texas Politics and the Statesman also covered that rally. While I appreciate Hammond’s willingness to speak out on this issue, I will once again say that until they actually target someone for defeat over this, they should continue to expect it from the Republicans they otherwise support. When TAB-backed candidates take on Riddle and Berman in the 2012 GOP primaries, that would be putting their money where their mouth is. Until then, I don’t expect any current Republicans to take their words on this too seriously.

Killing the DREAM in Texas

Something else to look forward to.

State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lexington) has filed legislation that would abolish Texas law granting in-state tuition to certain undocumented college students. The 2001 law, written by then-state Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston), was a precursor to the federal DREAM Act recently defeated by GOP members of the U.S. Senate.

State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) said he would file legislation to abolish the law if it survives an ongoing legal challenge in Houston, according to a November story in theTexas Independent. At the time, Noriega said that if the law was repealed, “Essentially, we’d be stamping out hope. Frankly, as a Texan, I just don’t think that’s who we are.”

Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 1403 into law in June 2001. The Texas Senate passed the bill with a final vote of 27-3 (with GOP Sens. Mike Jackson, Jane Nelson and Jeff Wentworth voting ‘nay’), and the Texas House passed the bill with a final vote of 130-2 (with GOP Reps. Will Hartnett and Jerry Madden voting ‘nay’).

Kleinschmidt’s HB 464 would tie a dependent student’s residency status to his/her parents’ domicile. According to the bill, “A person who is not authorized by law to be present in the United States may not be considered a resident of this state” to qualify for reduced in-state tuition.

A few points…

1. It cannot be said often enough: This is the team Aaron Pena decided to join. You own this now, Aaron.

2. One wonders if Rick Perry, who has generally not joined up with the Berman/Riddle xenophobia group, will have the cojones to veto this bill if it comes before him. I for one would not count on it.

3. Having said that, if the Senate maintains some form of the 2/3 rule, in whole or (more likely) in part by simply excluding voter ID legislation from it as they did in 2009, then perhaps Perry will be spared the decision. I suspect that would be his preferred option.

Leo Berman addresses the serious, pressing needs

Elect crazy people, get crazy public policy. Crazy in, crazy out.

State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, introduced a bill on Tuesday that would require future presidential and vice-presidential candidates to provide the Texas secretary of state with “the original birth certificate indicating that the person is a natural-born United States citizen.”

Berman told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that the bill, House Bill 295, is necessary to correct an alleged gap in the law that allowed Obama to run for president, even though — in Berman’s view — he just might be a foreigner.

“This bill is necessary, because we have a president whom the American people don’t know whether he was born in Kenya or some other place,” Berman told the Avalanche-Journal. “If you are running for president or vice president, you’ve got to show here in Texas that you were born in the United States and the birth certificate is your proof.”

Hair Balls has some details from the bill. Apparently, the penalty for not having a Berman-approved birth certificate is not getting on the ballot. Yeah, I’m sure that’ll survive a lawsuit. BOR and Juanita have more.

How anti-immigrant is this session going to be?

It will likely be very strongly anti-immigrant. It’s really just a question of how far the Republicans pushing this will go. The Democrats can’t stop them – I’m not expecting the Senate’s two thirds rule to be much of an impediment – so it’s just a matter of numbers on the Republican side. Those who claim they will fight back are too late.

The business community will likely fight legislation, said Rice University political science Professor Bob Stein, especially if the economy begins to improve.

“To the guy who’s running that small business, the roofer, the cementer, that’s a cheap labor force that he can hire up that’s non-union and he can use to make a recovery,” Stein said.

Texas businesses — particularly in the hospitality, agriculture and construction industries — rely on immigrant labor, said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business. Legislation seen as discriminatory could hurt Texas’ tourism and convention business, he said.

The illegal immigration issue should be handled at the national level, he said.

The whole reason why we’re going to have this fight here in Texas is because the business community, for all its limp protests about this kind of legislation, has never truly pushed back against it. If they actually cared about this, they would have tried at some point to unelect the ringleaders of the xenophobia caucus. But there have never been any consequences for anti-immigrant Republicans, so there is nothing holding them back. Until such time as the likes of TAB runs an opponent against the Riddles and Bermans of the world, there’s no reason for them to think twice about what they’re doing.

Looming over any immigration legislation is the pending legal challenge of Arizona’s law. A federal judge temporarily has blocked provisions of that law on the grounds that immigration enforcement is the federal government’s jurisdiction. Even if the law survives that challenge, it is certain to face later challenges on the grounds that it is discriminatory, said Scot Powe, a law professor at at UT-Austin.

“You need an example of an American citizen or somebody with a green card being improperly hassled under the law to bring that challenge, and I think that challenge is an ironclad winner,” Powe said.

It’s an iron-clad guarantee that what eventually gets passed will be subject to a lawsuit. The only questions are how much of it winds up getting thrown out, and how much time and money the state spends appealing the verdicts. Because no budget is ever too tight to waste money on this sort of thing. This is what we need to be prepared to be the alternative to.

Chisum running for Speaker

We may have ourselves another Speaker’s race this January.

State Rep. Warren Chisum is delivering a letter to colleagues today saying he will run for House speaker next year, challenging Speaker Joe Straus, his fellow Republican.

He says the speaker should be elected from the majority of his own party. It was mostly Democrats who gave Straus the initial support he needed to become speaker in 2009.

“The times demand a strong and decisive leader,” Chisum says in his letter to colleagues. “The Texas House has enjoyed strong, experienced leadership under Speakers Laney and Craddick, who were fully supported by majorities of their respective political parties. Sadly, recent history has shown us that when a chamber’s leadership does not enjoy majority support from his own party mixed with good support from the opposition party, his leadership is weak and ineffective. As a candidate for Speaker of the House, I will give Republicans and Democrats an opportunity to decide whether the Texas House wants to lead this session, or whether it doesn’t.”


Assuming that Republicans maintain a House majority, beating Straus won’t be easy. He still has support from many Democrats and Republicans, and has used his considerable campaign account to help a number of Republicans in their races this year.

Chisum’s letter can be found on QR. On general principles, I’d rather have Straus than Chisum, but it seems to me that since neither one can be elected without significant Democratic support, this would be an excellent time for the Democratic caucus leaders to put together a little wish list of things they’d like to get from a Speaker, and see what happens. (As Trail Blazers reminds us, wacko Leo Berman is also running; it goes without saying that no sane Democrat should come within fifty miles of Berman.) It can’t hurt, and you never know. It will also be interesting to see what folks like Sylvester Turner and other former Craddick Ds decide to do. I don’t really expect Chisum to win, but he can certainly cause some trouble, and Dems may as well put themselves in position to benefit from that if they can.

The immigration wedge issue for the GOP

I have three things to say about this story.

Evangelical ministers in Texas and across the nation are splitting off from the hard right, declaring immigration reform is needed that includes a path to citizenship without first deporting millions of illegal immigrants.

That aligns evangelicals with conservative Republican businessmen who want reform because they want the labor. But it puts the evangelicals at odds with the fiscal and hard right conservatives who take the position that illegal immigrants broke the law and should be deported before being given a chance to re-enter the country.

“It may split the old conservative coalition. It’s not going to split the new one,” said Richard Land, a Houston native who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“If the conservative coalition is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to include an awful lot of Hispanics, and you’re not going to bring an awful lot of Hispanics into your coalition with anti-Hispanic immigration rhetoric,” Land said.

I’ll stipulate that President Obama has been a disappointment on immigration reform. I’ll stipulate that too many Democrats have been lily-livered and just plain wrong on this issue, to the point of using the crazy as cover to tack right on the issue. But look, if even ten percent of the GOP caucus in Congress were willing to vote for a comprehensive immigration reform plan, it would be damn near a slam dunk. Hell, if the GOP Senators would just agree to not filibuster, that would almost surely be enough. They might have even gained yardage with Latinos if they had adopted a non-obstructive strategy. It’s not hard to imagine the Democrats taking months dithering and negotiating with themselves and dealing with hostage takers as they did with health care reform before finally putting forward a weak-kneed, compromise-laden kludge that nobody really liked but they owned 100%. The Republicans didn’t need to lead on this, they just needed to get the hell out of the way. So while I applaud Land and his fellow evangelicals for their words, until such time as they call out the Republicans for their intransigence, especially the so-called “moderates” from Maine and Massachusetts and the heinous flip-floppers McCain and Graham, it’s all just words, and they mean very little. Calling out the racists and the liars would be nice, too.

Bill Hammond, president of the Republican-leaning Texas Association of Business, said the state’s businesses need the foreign workers, especially in hospitality, agriculture and construction.

Immigration, Hammond said, is an issue that’s “dividing us from our traditional friends. We would cross swords on this one.”

Again, this is a matter of all talk and no action. Hammond and his cronies could have found and supported a primary opponent for the likes of Leo Berman and Debbie Riddle, if they really meant to “cross swords”. Put some of your considerable financial resources where your yap is, Bill, and then I’ll give you some credibility on this matter.

And speaking of crazy Leo:

Berman said he believes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is a path to creating Democratic voters.

“There’s 25 million in the United States – you can’t listen to the 8 million to 12 million numbers that come out of Washington every day – you’re going to create an instant 25 million Democrats,” Berman said.

“I don’t think these evangelical leaders understand that.”

Actually, I thought Richard Land addressed that point pretty clearly, but whatever. Leo’s not about the facts anyway, as you can see. But I agree he’s right that most undocumented immigrants would vote Democratic if they were allowed to vote. Berman has himself and others like him to blame for that, as they have done all they can to make the GOP as warm and welcoming of immigrants in general and Latinos in particular as they’ve been of blacks, gays, and unmarried women. Funny how these things work, isn’t it?

Solomons and Berman, not BFFs

This may be my favorite letter from one legislator to another of all time. Any time a missive starts with “You are a liar”, you know it’s going to be fun. By my count, Rep. Burt Solomons used the words “lie” or “lair” ten times to describe his colleague, Rep. Leo Berman, and that’s in addition to words like “falsehood”, “fabrication”, “innuendo”, “distort”, “purposely mislead”, and of course “Pinocchio”. C’mon, Burt, tell him what you really think! Go read and enjoy.

Keep yapping, Leo

Blah blah blah.

State Rep. Leo Berman said House Speaker Joe Straus’ ascent to the position was a “sham” based on promises to House Democrats and vowed he would offer the opposing party no leeway if elected Speaker next session.

“There were 11 Republican moderates to liberals. They got in the House one day trying to figure out how they could unseat Tom Craddick. They voted among themselves to see who would get the most votes out of the 11,” Berman told the Tribune just hours after making his candidacy for the position official.

If we learned one thing from the 2009 Speaker’s race, it’s that Speakers don’t get ousted quietly. Secretly, maybe, but not quietly. When someone other than Leo Berman – check that, when a group of someones other than Leo Berman start talking about a Speaker other than Joe Straus, it might be time to start paying attention. Berman himself only claims a dozen supportser, none on the record so far. Let’s just say he has a ways to go.

One more thing, from the Quorum Report:

The speaker’s office also could not resist disputing the Berman claim that Straus and his original Republican supporters had made a deal with the Democrats to block certain bills.

“That’s why we put voter ID as the first bill on the Major State Calendar a couple of weeks before the deadline,” a source in the speaker’s office chuckled.

You won’t get any argument from Democrats about that. I can’t see any sane Democrat getting within a mile of Leo Berman, but if he does start picking up support from some Republicans, Straus may want to mend a fence or two with the folks who helped put him over the top last year.

Berman to challenge Straus

I can’t say I’ve been thrilled with Joe Straus as Speaker of the House. He’s worlds better than Tom Craddick was, which still isn’t saying that much, but he hasn’t been all that friendly to his largely Democratic group of supporters. Which I expected to some extent, but still. Having said all that, I’ll take Straus every day of the week over crazy Leo Berman.

Berman, a conservative known for his tough anti-illegal immigration positions, isn’t a surprise challenger to Straus, who took office last session with the support of moderate lawmakers in both parties. Berman has courted the support of the anti-establishment Tea Party, speaking at the group’s convention, and has made his displeasure with Straus’ leadership on the immigration issue known.

Last week, he told WFAA-TV in Dallas that he plans to file legislation similar to a recent Arizona law that gives local police more authority to enforce immigration regulations, even though he believes Straus would block his efforts […]

Of course, I’d prefer a case of the mumps to having Leo Berman in charge of the House, so again, this isn’t saying that much. The best result of all, naturally, would be a Democratic majority in the House. Failing that, another session of Speaker Straus will have to do. Boy, I sure can give an enthusiastic endorsement, can’t I?

Blowing the whistle on worker’s comp fraud

Really good article in the Trib about worker’s compensation fraud and why so little of it is being actively investigated these days. This is the sort of thing that really ought to get traction, as it has something for all kinds of different political interests. For the budget hawks, there’s “waste, fraud, and abuse” in its purest form; for the good government types, there’s a campaign finance angle; and of course there’s the evidence of dysfunction in yet another agency with a Rick Perry-appointed chief, which should concern everyone. Check it out.

Will Texas make like Arizona?

If there’s been one small positive thing about the ridiculous Arizona anti-immigrant law, it’s been to remind the rest of the country that states besides Texas do crazy, inexplicable things as well. And I do believe that there’s a reason to be optimistic that in the end, people will learn that this was a terribly wrong thing to do. I’m also hopeful that while crazies like Rep. Debbie Riddle will propose legislation to do what Arizona has done, it won’t get anywhere. She’s done this before, without success, and I don’t see her getting any more traction on it next year.

I could be wrong about that, of course. The good news is that the political implications of Arizona’s actions may play in Bill White’s favor.

“In the best of all worlds, for White to win, there has to be a large Latino voter turnout,” said Jerry Polinard, a political scientist at the University of Texas Pan-American.

He said if the anti-immigration debate nationally is perceived as anti-Latino, it could spark a voter turnout that has not been there for Democrats in the past.

“This is almost like a gift to him,” Polinard said of White.

The anti-immigration voters already like Perry and do not need to be convinced to vote for him, Polinard said.

“What this does is make it harder for the governor to get back to the middle of the road,” he said.

True enough, but this isn’t really what Rick Perry wants to talk about. I doubt he’d have picked yesterday to tell us about that coyote he killed in February if he were eager to discuss Arizona. The list of what’s wrong with Rick Perry is several miles long, but for the most part he’s not been a demagogue on immigration; certainly, compared to some of his partymates, he’s downright reasonable. Sure, he’s tossed around the silly “sanctuary city” charge at Bill White, because he’s never not playing to the cheap seats, and he likes to talk big about frivolous money-wasters like border cameras, but I do believe that he’s unlikely to make a big deal out of this.

Jim Harrington, of the Texas Civil Rights Project, predicted “zero” chance of a similar effort here, saying Texas has “a different relationship with the Hispanic community.”

Such a push “would cause an enormous political transformation of the state a lot quicker than it’s happening at this point,” Harrington said. “It would galvanize the Hispanic community astronomically.”

Asked about the Arizona law, GOP Gov. Rick Perry and his Democratic challenger, Bill White, emphasized through spokespeople that immigration is a federal responsibility.

“You can take the political temperature by just looking at Rick Perry being quiet,” Harrington said.

I suspect Perry won’t change his approach much. He’ll keep bashing the federal government for its failures on fixing the immigration system while doing his usual macho posturing, but in keeping with his norms he won’t actually propose any solutions. White will likely stick to his “it’s a federal responsibility” line, which is true but carries the risk of annoying supporters who want to see him take a stronger stand against measures like Arizona’s. Sometimes, just not being the Republican isn’t enough.

Still, it’s important to remember that even if Rick Perry is kinda not too bad on immigration issues, many members of his party, like Riddle and Leo Berman, are nuts. And this is a serious schism in the GOP that isn’t going away any time soon.

The Texas Association of Business’ Bill Hammond said that while it is likely similar legislation will be filed in the Lone Star State, “I think and hope there’s little likelihood the Texas Legislature would pass anything so misguided as what they’ve done in Arizona. I think it is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Hey, Bill, here’s a suggestion. Instead of blowing smoke about health care, why not do something that you’re actually good at and find primary challengers for clowns like Riddle and Berman, who are the ones pushing this legislation that you say is hurtful and unconstitutional? I know, it’s too late for this year, and by 2012 it may not matter. Point is, this is something you could have taken action on if it really mattered to you.

UPDATE: The Trib has Perry’s statement, which is pretty much what I expected.

Berman not running for Governor

That’s too bad, because it means the Republican primary won’t be as mean, nasty, and bats-in-the-belfry crazy as it could have been. But while Leo Berman won’t be in the race, Bermanism will be.

Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, strolled into the University of Texas at Tyler’s Ornelas Activity Center and were welcomed by a standing ovation from more than 120 attendees at an impromptu endorsement swap.

Berman, who had been positioning himself for a run at the governor position, officially dropped his name from possible contention for the Republican primary in March and followed it by endorsing Perry’s candidacy. He did, however, announce his intent to run for a seventh term as District 6 state representative.

Perry publicly agreed to pursue to continue Berman’s four platform items on which he would run for governor, including: assertion of state’s rights under the 10th amendment, challenging the federal government’s regulation of intrastate commerce, ordering all state agencies to remove illegal residents from state benefit programs and allowing the training of state law enforcement officers to legally enforce immigration laws.

In other words, Perry bowed to Berman. The State Rep dictated the terms to the Governor. Way to show him who’s in charge here, Rick!

Perry agreed that continued diligence on the border is needed but pointed out the need for the problem, which has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars, to be addressed federally as well. The governor did express, much to the crowd’s approval, his opinion that continued assertion of state’s rights will be needed to maintain Texas’ position as one of just six states in the nation not in dire financial crisis.

That and about $15 billion in federal stimulus funds, which saved us from the same kinds of deep cuts that so many other states are making. Not that any of these guys would ever admit that.

Berman was elected in 1998, unseating four-term incumbent Ted Kamel, whom he blasted for not adhering to a promise to serve only four terms. During the campaign, Berman promised voters he would serve only four terms.

Prior to announcing his run in 2006 for his fourth term, Berman asked voters to allow him out of his term limits promise. He said he had learned that effectiveness in the Legislature is largely based on seniority. And following his re-election, he was appointed to his first committee chairmanship, heading the House Elections Committee.

At which he was a dismal failure, and as a charter member of the We’re Going Down With The USS Craddick club, he was relegated to the irrelevancy that he deserves and to which in a just world he will become accustomed. But hey, who’s counting?

Anyway. The Republican gubernatorial primary is now a three-way, with Perry, KBH, and Ron Paul disciple Debra Medina. With Berman in the mix, the potential for a screwy result, even the need for a runoff, was nontrivial. It’s still possible now, but distinctly less likely to my mind. All I can say is that I hope Perry dispatches Berman to speak on his behalf all over the state. He’s the true face of the GOP today.

Friends and foes

The Texas Observer poo-poos the idea of “Best Of” and “Top Ten” lists, then gives us its stab at a Best and Worst tabulation by naming six of “The People’s Friends” and five “Foes”. Where Texas Monthly focuses more on effectiveness in getting things done, the Observer takes the position that it’s not just about getting results but working to get good results that matters. That will necessarily lead to a more subjective list, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The TPPF/TAB crowd can and do produce their own lists, too, after all.

The five Foes are all Republicans, not that this should come as a surprise. I will say this, the fall of the house of Craddick made this task harder than it might have been in other years, as some of the historically bad actors were at least somewhat marginanalized this time around. Still, there’s always room for the likes of Debbie Riddle, Leo Berman, and Dan Patrick, just on general principles. Perhaps they should have included those who just missed the cut as well, as Honorable – or in this case, Dishonorable – Mentions.

The six Friends are an even mix of Ds and Rs. The one that will surely cause some consternation is this one:

Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless

Todd Smith had a thankless job. As chairman of the House Elections Committee, he was tasked with shepherding voter ID through the chamber. Partisan Republicans badly wanted the bill to pass. Democrats were desperate to kill it. To Smith’s credit, he tried to find a compromise on an issue so polluted by partisanship that compromise might have been impossible. In the end, it did prove impossible, but Smith gets an “A” for effort. Later in the session, Smith broke again with the hardcore members of his party. Some House Republicans, suspecting a Democratic ploy, opposed a bill by Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia that was designed to register more high-schoolers to vote. Smith spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor, informing his colleagues that registering voters was a nonpartisan activity that everyone should support. He was one of just two Republicans to vote for the bill, putting good public policy ahead of rank partisanship.

That’s a generous interpretation of Smith’s role in the voter ID debacle. I don’t really care to wade in on that, as I hope we’ve seen the last of voter ID legislation for the foreseeable future, but I will say that if one insisted on balancing the Ds and the Rs, I might have gone for Sen. Kevin Eltife, who did yeoman’s work in getting the unemployment insurance bill through the Senate, or Rep. Rob Eissler, who has been a key ally of designated Friend Rep. Scott Hochberg on education matters. Greg plumps for Rep. John Zerwas, on the grounds that saving a life = automatic inclusion on any Best list. Hard to argue with that. Be that as it may, I might have decided instead that there was no need for partisan balance here, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Anyway, it’s an interesting list and a good way to frame the discussion. Check it out.

Will Perry bow to Berman?

State Rep. Leo Berman, who’s been threatening to run for Governor so he can personally deport anyone who looks like an undocumented immigrant, is now offering a deal to Governor Perry where he’d drop out and endorse the Governor in return for everything he’s ever wanted.

Berman said he told Perry over lunch that he wanted the incumbent governor to agree to support four issues Berman felt passionately about.

“He’s going to let me know and if he can agree with the four issues and he can actually accept them as his own, then I’ll step out of the race and endorse him for reelection as governor,” Berman said.

Berman, a former Arlington city council member, said he asked Perry to:

–agree to have Texas join a consortium of states that challenge any federal legislation that violates a states’ 10th amendment rights.

–sign on, as governor, to a federal lawsuit Berman said he expects the state of Montana to file challenging the federal government’s regulation of intrastate commerce, such as guns that are manufactured in a state and only sold to residents of that state.

–order all state agencies to remove illegal residents from any state benefit programs

–arrange for the department of homeland security to train some state law enforcement workers so that they are legally able to enforce immigration law.

Berman said he might accept Perry declining to support one of the four requests if Perry convinces him that one of the requests is unconstitutional.

“He’s got the money and I don’t have the money,” Berman said. “I’ve got a lot of grassroots support but he’s got pretty good name recognition.”

“Nice little campaign you’ve got there, Governor. Be a shame if something were to happen to it.” I can’t wait to hear what Perry tells him. Harold Cook has more.

Hardberger for Governor?

We’re not even a week out from sine die, and the 2010 campaign rumor ‘n speculation mill is in full gear. The most interesting bit in this story is right here:

Democratic consultant Christian Archer suggested that candidates would shortly hunt ways to gauge and raise their appeal. “There’s probably a 30-minute respite for people to go home, say hello to their families again,” Archer said. “And then people will start talking” about campaigns.

The cast of gubernatorial wannabes could widen — extending among Republicans to a longshot, state Rep. Leo Berman of Tyler, who’s been frustrated at legislative inaction on proposals related to illegal immigration. Berman said he intends to declare his candidacy for governor around July 4.

Among Democrats, John Montford, a former state senator, has been mentioned as a gubernatorial prospect, while there’s also talk of White or Sharp shifting sights from the Senate race to governor before candidate filings late this year. Archer said his client, former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger, is similarly weighing a try for governor.

I can’t say Montford excites me much. He last held elected office in 1996, and at least at first glance there doesn’t appear to be all that much difference between him and Tom Schieffer. I could be wrong – I really don’t know much about the guy – but there’s nothing I can see in his track record to suggest he’d be anything but another business-friendly center-right Dem. Not that that’s a sin, but I’d like a little more variety in my primary, if that’s all right.

Hardberger, on the other hand, could be an interesting candidate. He was very popular in San Antonio, and there’s nothing I know of in his record as Mayor there that’s an obvious turnoff. The reaction to this idea I’ve seen from so far from folks in SA has been very positive. If this is for real and not just a standard issue consultant tout job, I’d definitely want to know more.

As for Berman, what can you say? He’s a one-trick pony, and that trick is nasty and hateful. I hope his idiocy gets lots of play in the GOP primary, and that he spends plenty of time making Rick Perry and KBH as uncomfortable and off-message as possible. Thanks to Marc Campos for the link.

Berman says he’s in for Governor

Finally, the Republican primary for Governor becomes interesting.

With plans to join the GOP primary with Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said today he wil announce as a candidate for governor the week of July 4.

“I want to run for governor because there’s one major problem in this state that no one seems to be addressing, and in of fact they are completely avoiding it, and that was quite evident in this legislative session as well, and that’s the question of illegal aliens in Texas.”

There’s video at the link, if you possess a strong constitution. All you need to know is that Leo Berman is stone cold nuts. Which makes him ideal for today’s Republican Party.

Berman was likely bolstered in his desire to run for Governor by an opinion from AG Greg Abbott back in March that said a sitting State Rep did not have to resign his seat once he announced his intent to run for Governor. Obviously, he’ll have to file for one or the other on January 2, so this may wind up being a bluff. But Leo’s just crazy enough to do it, so don’t count him out. With him and Ron Paul disciple Debra Medina in the race, I really hope that the next batch of polls takes into account the fact that there are more than two candidates in the race. I can make a case for them skimming votes from either Perry or KBH, but however you see it, they could have an effect, maybe even force a runoff. And wouldn’t that be fun? Stace has more.

Roger that

So about two weeks ago I got an email from a gentleman named David Smith, who is the proprietor of a website called Texans for Staubach, as well as the treasurer of a PAC by the same name, whose purpose is:

-To oppose the re-election of Governor Rick Perry
-To oppose the election of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to the office of Governor
-To promote the candidacy of Roger Staubach for the Office of the Governor of the State of Texas

I had a brief email correspondence with Smith about this, and told him that while I’m on board with the first two planks in that platform, I’ll be supporting a Democratic candidate next November. I have a lot of respect for Roger Staubach, even as a Giants fan, but unless he’s about to do a Arlen Specter, I don’t foresee voting for him in the event he heeds this call. Nonetheless, I said I’d give this a mention, and so here we are. I don’t expect anything to come of this – besides Rick and Kay, the GOP primary has at least two other potential candidates; I don’t see how there’s the room, or the finances, for a Staubach bid – but there you have it.

UPDATE: Turns out The Rog is a KBH supporter.

Perry’s poll

For your reading pleasure, a poll of Republican primary voters (PDF) by Rick Perry’s pollster Mike Baselice that shows a 45-39 lead by Kay Bailey Hutchison. You can read a poll memo to supporters that spins the results, but the points I’ll make are as follows.

1. The basic result feels about right to me. I think KBH is a favorite, but never underestimate Rick Perry in a nasty political campaign. As I’ve observed before, Perry has had all the initiative in this fight so far. I keep waiting for KBH to show up and try to set the terms of the debate on turf more favorable to her. I’m sure she has a strategy that goes beyond simply being herself, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. Perry’s strategy may not be one that will appeal to all that many people, but at least he has an identifiable plan.

2. Having said that, isn’t it a bit odd for a two-term incumbent to tout a poll that shows him trailing? The basic message here is “We’re not losing by as much as y’all think we are.” Seems like a strange thing to brag about.

3. I’m fascinated by the lopsided amount of blame being put on “Washington Republicans” as opposed to “Texas Republicans” for the GOP being on the wrong track. One wonders who they mean by that – John Boehner? Mitch McConnell? Michael Steele? George W. Bush? I’d argue that almost all of their problems can be laid at the feet of the latter, but given the amount of fealty he still commands from the rump of the party, it’s hard to imagine that’s who they mean. And will they feel that way about Big John “Chair of the NRSC” Cornyn in the event the Senate GOP caucus gets reduced again in 2010?

4. I continue to wonder what a poll that also included Debra Medina and Leo Berman might look like. I doubt they’d grab more than a few points, but in a close race that could matter, and I don’t really know who’d give up more of their share to them. I’ll be very interested to see the June finance reports to see if either of them has raised any real money.

5. What do you suppose KBH’s pollster’s numbers look like? Perhaps they’ll feel compelled to leak their own results so we can compare. Here’s a non-poll response from him, for what it’s worth.

UPDATE: Via Texas Politics, a new Rasmussen poll shows Perry with a 42-38 lead. Still not great numbers for an incumbent, but it beats being behind. This bit is my favorite:

Perry leads by 15 percentage points among conservative voters but Hutchison leads by 35 points among the moderates.

Which should give you some idea of the ratio of “conservatives” to “moderates” in the sample. Good luck courting the base, Kay.

Voter ID still pending

No hurry, fellas. Seriously, take all the time you want.

Rep. Todd Smith, the Euless Republican who helms the House Committee on Elections, said today he’s still trying to gather the five committee votes he needs to send a voter ID measure to the full House. Smith, you’ll remember, initially said he hoped to win the committee’s sign-off on his approach sometime last week.

Noting that House rules permit members to act on Senate bills for three weeks’ more, Smith said: “We don’t have a gun to our heads. I’m going to give the members of the committee time to get comfortable with a proposal.”

Smith did not confirm that he’s backed off his rewrite of the Senate-approved proposal that circulated last week, though there’s been talk that he’s willing to implement the ID mandate in 2011 rather than 2013 as he suggested last week.

There’s also chatter that Smith is amenable to requiring photo IDs of every voter, one of several principles listed in a letter signed by 71 House Republicans. Under the must-have-a-photo-ID approach, a voter without an ID could still cast a provisional ballot (subject to being counted after regular ballots) by presenting documents indicating her or his identity.

“We all have our preferred route” to a proposal, Smith said. “Everybody is going to have to give a little bit.”

Much as I want this to die, I wonder if the best result is for the GOP-preferred punitive bill to come to the floor, then lose because Reps. Tommy Merritt and Delwyn Jones vote against it. That may be the result the gives the most discouragement to it coming up again in a special session. Dying in committee may suggest to Governor Perry that all he needed was more time, not more votes. Just a thought.

Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters and five other non-partisan advocacy groups released a document (PDF) that outlined their preferred approach to election reform.

Problems that need addressing:

1. Texas was 46th in voter turnout by voter eligible population in the 2008 general election. Only Hawaii, West Virginia, Utah and Arkansas had a lower voter turnout than Texas.
2. Texas has the highest number of recent violations under the Voting Rights Act.
3. Rejection rates for provisional ballots for Texas are among the highest in the country.
4. Advocacy groups report a significant number of instances of poll workers not following existing election law on provisional ballots and ID requirements but Texas doesn’t have an adequate method of reporting and dealing with these issues.
5. Hispanic registration rates are significantly lower than white-non-Hispanic registration rates in Texas.
6. Despite the mistaken belief that many voters are not eligible to vote, there is virtually no evidence of voting by non-citizens or voter impersonation.

Principles for addressing these issues:

1. Register all eligible Texas voters and make sure their votes get counted accurately.
2. Protect the rights of all Texas voters from deceptive practices that intimidate voters or provide false information about voting.
3. Encourage all eligible Texans to participate in all Texas elections.
4. Provide avenues to identify, report, investigate and resolve election issues.
5. Prosecute cases of voter and election fraud.
6. Substantive changes in voting policies, including any change in identification requirements, must be accompanied by a robust and multifaceted public and poll worker education campaign.

Good luck with that. Link via Vaqueros and Wonkeros.

UPDATE: A new draft bill made the rounds, with some concessions such as a 2011 implementation date but also some hardlining, as all non-photo forms of ID were removed as acceptable for casting a non-provisional ballot. Dems were not happy and circulated a letter demanding more hearings, which Rep. Smith was not inclined to do. Republicans aren’t that happy with this, either, and so no committee vote was held today. Postcards has the most comprehensive take on it, but see also Texas Politics, Elise Hu, and Rep. Pena.

UPDATE: Floor Pass has a more thorough analysis of what’s wrong with the “compromise” bill.

Statewide smoking ban update

Earlier in this session, I thought the odds of a statewide smoking ban getting passed were pretty good. As of this point, however, it appears to be a dicier proposition.

The chairman of the House committee considering a proposed statewide workplace smoking ban said [Wednesday] that it’s unclear whether the measure has a future this session.

“It’s at a stalemate right now,” state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs, said in an interview. “It’s an important issue to a lot of people, and a lot of people think it goes too far.”

The measure would ban smoking in indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Supporters — which include the American Cancer Society, Texas Medical Association and the Lance Armstrong Foundation — say that it’s a key way to cut down on harmful secondhand smoke. Critics say it’s an affront to the rights of property owners and businesses.

The Senate version of the proposal — by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston — was considered in a public hearing yesterday before the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, which did not immediately vote on the measure.

On the House side, Solomons said he’s promised the bill’s author, Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, that the measure will get a hearing. But he said he’s not sure whether it will make it out of committee.

Crownover’s bill is HB5, Ellis’ is SB544. Both are pending in committee. Crownover has a diverse array of coauthors on her bill – anything that can attract the support of Leo Berman and Lon Burnam, Warren Chisum and Jessica Farrar can safely be said to have broad bipartisan support. That still may not be enough, of course.

Which isn’t to say there’s been no progress on the anti-smoking front. The Senate this week passed a bill that would raise the legal age for buying smokes from 18 to 19. I basically feel the same way about this as I do about the drinking age – if we define adulthood as beginning on your 18th birthday, then that should be universal – but on the other hand, the potential health benefit that could be gained by this, which would include some nontrivial cost savings for the state, is quite large. Doesn’t change the philosophical objection, but it is a different matter from a pragmatic perspective.

House passes budget, slaps Perry

State Rep. Chris Turner, on Twitter:

At 3:56 am, the House unanimously passed the budget.

Believe it or not, that was earlier than was originally anticipated. The pregame chatter was that the House would have to reconvene today to finish the job, given the vast number of amendments that needed to be slogged through. It helped that the debate was largely civil, with many contentious amendments, the kind that get inserted to force record votes for future campaign fodder, got withdrawn.

“The real story tonight is that we all worked together, arm in arm, to pass a budget that we can all be proud of. We have shown that working together, we can do what is right for Texas and for Texans,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

The mostly sedate debate – there was a random “bring it on!” when one lawmaker questioned another’s amendment – ran the gamut of sometimes hot-button subjects while intentionally steering clear of a couple of sensitive issues.

House members voted to ban public funding for private school vouchers, bar the Texas Department of Transportation from hiring lobbyists, pay for rail relocation to pave the way for a high-speed passenger train from San Antonio to Dallas under an amendment by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, and change teacher incentive funding to give local school districts more control under an amendment by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

The Republican governor would see losses on two fronts under the proposal approved at 4 a.m.

The measure would drain most of the operating funds for Perry’s office, instead using it to pay for community mental health crisis services and veterans’ services under amendments by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and John Davis, R-Houston.

In addition, if Gov. Rick Perry carries through on his vow to block some $555 million in stimulus funds for unemployment benefits, he would lose the $136 million in the Enterprise Fund.

That budget amendment by Reps. Armando Walle, D-Houston, and Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, would transfer the money to the unemployment trust fund that pays benefits to workers.

“He (Perry) is having a bad day,” said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco. “He might have to secede.”

But an effort to slash funding for Planned Parenthood was dropped, and lawmakers also decided to forgo consideration of a ban on embryonic stem cell research.

I’ll expand on some of these points in a minute, but first let me say that this, finally, was the kind of thing I had envisioned when Joe Straus was gaining momentum to knock off Tom Craddick as Speaker. The budget debate was substantive, it focused on real issues and not ideological talking points, and in the end it was passed unanimously. Does anyone think that would have happened if Craddick were still running the show? I sure don’t. Straus hasn’t been the end of the rainbow by any means, but he gets a ton of credit for this.

Now then. As fun as it is to contemplate a penniless Governor’s office – perhaps its functions can be privatized; I hear Accenture is looking for a new gig – that was just a bit of a shell game that will ultimately be rectified. Of much greater importance, and much more likely to have a real effect, was the amendment to zero out the Enterprise Fund.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer proposed an amendment that would keep Texas companies from receiving money from the Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund if they’d already been bailed out by the feds. (Withdrawn.) Rep. Marisa Marquez tried to keep Perry’s funds from bailing out corporations that laid people off while paying bonuses to executives. (Also withdrawn) And Rep. Joe Moody wanted to prohibit cash flow from Perry’s funds to companies that contributed to his, Dewhurst’s or Straus’ campaigns. Debbie Riddle killed that bit of fun with a point of order. (She’s good at that.)

Then, Rep. Armando Walle wanted to nix the $136 million appropriation for the Enterprise Fund in the 2010-11 biennium if none of the unemployment insurance bills pass. The idea here is that if the unemployment insurance bills don’t pass, then Texas won’t get the $555 million for the unemployment trust fund, which Perry rejected last month. And the Enterprise Fund siphons money from the trust fund. So what Walle wanted to do with his amendment is say to Perry, “Veto the unemployment insurance bills, and we’ll zero out your slush fund.” But that amendment didn’t fly, either. Died on a point of order.

So far, Mark Strama has been the only one of the bunch to have any success. His amendment, which passed, says that the Emerging Tech Fund should prioritize funding for energy-related R & D projects.

But stay tuned. Yvonne Davis’ amendment, which would completely eliminate funding for Perry’s Enterprise Fund, was temporarily withdrawn, but seems like it might have some success.

And in the end, Rep. Davis’ amendment was accepted. I’m not exactly sure how it differed from Rep. Walle’s amendment, but the bottom line is that as things stand now, if Perry vetoes SB1569, whose prospects for passing the House look better to me now, then he nixes his own slush fund. You gotta love that.

Other matters of interest: School vouchers go down again. Teacher incentive pay gets an overhaul. Various petty amendments bite the dust amid general good will and the liberal use of points of order.

The floor fights have been few and far between. We hear that House members on the left and right have struck a truce and agreed to pull down their most controversial budget amendments.

That includes Panhandle Republican Warren Chisum’s proposal to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Chisum’s amendment had family family planning providers worried. But the amendment never came up.

Leo Berman, the Tyler Republican, did bring forth two amendments aimed at illegal immigrants. One would have instructed state health officials not to issue birth certificates to children of illegal immigrants (who, under current law, are U.S. citizens). Berman also tried to tax money transfers sent from Texas back to Mexico, and Central and South America. Both of Berman’s amendments were shot down on points of order because they changed state law, which isn’t allowed during the budget debated.

All in all, it was a pretty good day. There were some more goodies and the requisite amount of silliness, as one would expect for an 18-hour marathon. I recommend you read Vince’s exhaustive liveblogging to get a feel for that. In the meantime, the budget now goes to the conference committee so that the differences between the House and Senate versions can be ironed out. Burka things the Senate has the advantage in that, so who knows how much of what the House did will ultimately survive. All I know is that having seen the budget process under Tom Craddick three times, this was a vast improvement.

UPDATE: From Texas Impact:

Among the most important improvements the House made on the floor were:

They call the House budget “a significant improvement over the Senate budget”. Let’s hope we can say the same after the conference committee. Link via EoW.

KBH leads Perry in early poll

Last week, the polling firm Public Policy Polling asked the readers of its blog which state they should do next. The readers, with a little help from us bloggers, picked Texas. PPP has the results of its first poll up now, which is a look at the GOP gubernatorial primary.

[Governor Rick] Perry trails Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison 56-31 among likely GOP primary voters.

Hutchison is viewed favorably by 75% of voters likely to vote in the Republican primary, while 60% have a positive opinion of Perry.

The 27% of primary voters who have an unfavorable opinion of Perry are obviously a problem for him. Hutchison leads 85-8 with those voters. But perhaps the even bigger problem for him is the Senator’s sheer popularity. 47% of those surveyed have a positive opinion of both Perry and Hutchison, and among those voters she has the 49-33 lead. So while Perry still is viewed positively by a majority of likely primary voters, the simply reality is that they like Hutchison more. He’s going to have to change that for any chance at political survival, and that’s why this race is already and will continue to be quite a nasty one.

Another problem for Perry is that Hutchison leads with every subgroup of the population PPP tracks by gender, race, and age. There is a slight gender gap with Hutchison leading by 28 among women and 22 with men but it’s still a substantial lead either way.

Perry is going to have an uphill climb to keep his seat.

Full results are here (PDF). I agree that this poll doesn’t look good for Perry. Having said that, however, it seems to me that there’s plenty of room for him to catch up, and not just because we’re a year out from the actual election. We all know Rick Perry is going to run a relentlessly negative campaign against KBH. It’s his nature and he’s got nothing else to run on, but more to the point that’s how you run against someone with better positives than you. I don’t know how likely he is to succeed – there’s always some blowback when you run this way, and sometimes the gap is just too great – but whatever else you may say about Rick Perry, the man knows how to campaign. If nothing else, I fully expect KBH’s positives will come down and her negatives will go up, perhaps significantly. And if the Democrats can get behind a good candidate for Governor who can look serious and thoughtful while these two fling poo at each other, so much the better.

One more thing to note: It’s possible this won’t be a straight-up Perry/KBH race. State Rep. Leo Berman is thinking about making a run, which would amp up the crazy factor a few notches. Debra Medina, a former SREC member and RPT vice chairman candidate, has filed her paperwork to run as well. She apparently has the support of Ron Paul, which should add even more zest to the proceedings. Neither of them has any realistic chance of winning, but I could imagine them affecting the outcome. At the very least, people who don’t like Rick Perry but think KBH isn’t conservative enough would have someplace else to go. Just something to keep in mind going forward.

We should expect more results from PPP soon, including some Senate matchups and a look at favorability numbers for President Obama. In the meantime, you can follow more GOP primary stuff at the Kay Versus Rick blog, which also has a Twitter feed, for those of you who are into that sort of thing.

Musical chairs

When the State House reconvenes next Monday, I presume one of the first orders of business for new Speaker Joe Straus will be to name committee chairs. This sort of thing may seem like the most boring of inside-baseball stuff, but it’s what makes the Lege go ’round. Good committee chairs not only mean good legislation coming to the floor, it more importantly means bad legislation will get quietly strangled without that ever happening. So to that end, I’m liking Burka’s list of guesses about chairs. Two in particular stand out to me:

Elections: Joaquin Castro or Trey Martinez-Fischer. This is one of the committees that the Democrats really want to control. Anchia, a veteran of the Voter I.D. battle with penalty-box-bound Leo Berman, is the obvious choice, but his skills could be put to better use elsewhere. Because of Dallas’s concerns with coal plants, I have him as a possibility for Environmental Reg; other contenders there could be Menendez and Strama. Castro or Martinez-Fischer could provide a decent burial for the Voter I.D. bill.


Environmental Regulation: Dennis Bonnen has been a controversial chairman; two years ago he bottled up a host of clear air bills, promising a comprehensive bill in 2009. I doubt that he will get that opportunity. I would not be surprised to see Kuempel, a member of the committee, move up to chairman, although this change in leadership may not produce a change in philosophy. If Kuempel doesn’t want it, Straus, who is pretty green himself (no pun about inexperience intended), could turn to a green Democrat such as Anchia or Menendez or Strama. As is the case with Elections, Environmental Reg is one of the committees the D’s would dearly love to control.

Something to look forward to next week. As with the Presidency, the out-with-the-old is as consequential as the in-with-the-new. Obviously, this is just one person’s guess, and none of it could be right, though I think Burka made some decent guesses and for a change his commenters haven’t jumped all over him. Some of my colleagues think the Democrats got suckered on voter ID. I tend to disagree with that, but I’ve been saying all along we’ll know for sure once we see the list of chairs. Here’s hoping.