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Speaker’s race

Louie, Louie

Great news, everyone. Christmas isn’t over yet.

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, announced Sunday morning that he will challenge House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio to be the leader of the House Republicans.

Gohmert is, for now, likely a long-shot threat to Boehner. But two years ago, Boehner won re-election as speaker by one of the narrowest margins in modern history, thanks to a band of rebellious House Republicans.

“We’ve heard from a lot of Republicans that, “Gee I’d vote for somebody besides Speaker Boehner, but nobody will put their name out there as running, so there’s nobody else to vote for,’” Gohmert said in an appearance on “Fox and Friends” on Sunday morning.

“Well, that changed yesterday, when my friend [Florida Republican Rep.] Ted Yoho said, ‘I’m putting my name out there. I’ll be a candidate for speaker,’” Gohmert added.

“And I’m putting my name out there also today to be another candidate for speaker.”

Gohmert’s strategy is to force multiple rounds of voting.

“Eventually the goal is, second, third, fourth round, we have enough people that say, “You know what, it really is time for a change,” he said.

[…]

Gohmert was militant in his television appearance on Sunday, directly slamming Boehner on issues like immigration and funding the government. He went so far as to call his conference’s leader “a dictator.”

This is great news for late night TV show hosts, political writers of all stripes, and all those horny caribou up in Alaska. Oh, and for Democrats, too. I mean, I can’t imagine a scenario that will make the Republicans look more deranged and the Democrats more responsible than Speaker Gohmert. Heck, just the protracted fight for the Speakership might be enough. You go on with your bad self, Louie. You’re better entertainment than “Downtown Abbey”. PDiddie, Juanita, and Trail Blazers have more.

Day One of the Lege

What do we know so far?

Same old Rick Perry.

Gov. Rick Perry called for tax relief and a lean approach to budgeting as he addressed the Senate, even as the state faces a lawsuit from school districts over funding and concerns over the effects of budget cuts approved two years ago.

[…]

Perry said the state’s economic rebound is due to a fiscally conservative approach, telling lawmakers that interests across the state see the positive revenue picture as “ringing the dinner bell”

“They all want more for their causes they all figure we have manna falling from heaven and they all have your phone numbers and addresses,” Perry said.

Instead, he said it is time to put the state’s fiscal house in order by implementing his call to reduce diversions of dedicated funds, set a tighter constitutional spending limit, oppose any tax increases and stand against using rainy day fund money for ongoing expenses. He said lawmakers must stop writing IOUs and delaying payments.

“With a better budgetary picture now is the time for us to set the books straight… it’s also time for us to take a look at tax relief,” Perry said.

You didn’t really expect him to say that now was the time to restore services that had been needlessly slashed last session, did you? The man still thinks he’s running for President, but even if he weren’t, he showed us who and what he is a long time ago.

Joe Straus is still Speaker.

After the last of his challengers dropped out Tuesday, San Antonio Republican Joe Straus was elected to a third term as speaker of the Texas House.

That last challenger, Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, never found enough support to threaten the incumbent. An earlier challenger, Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, dropped out weeks ago as Simpson entered the race.

Saying he wasn’t certain of victory and didn’t want to put other members at risk by forcing a vote, Simpson withdrew from the race. “Absent certainty at winning this contest, at the request of my colleagues, I withdraw from this contest,” he said in a speech to the full House.

When it came time for the House to vote Tuesday — the first day of the 83rd Legislature — Straus was re-elected by acclamation.

The process to select the next “Bachelor” had more drama.

The two thirds rule still lives, or at least it most likely will still live.

Speaking after the Senate adjourned Tuesday, [Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst said that the contentious issue of the two-thirds rule had already been settled and that he expected a vote on the rules on Wednesday.

“In my conversations with the Senate Republicans and the Senate Democrats yesterday, I believe that’s where the senators are, to maintain the two-thirds rule for this regular session,” Dewhurst said.

He did not fully rule out sidestepping the rule for a particular bill, as Senate Republicans have in the past on high-profile measures such as voter ID and redistricting.

“The record is replete with different lieutenant governors in different sessions doing different things, and I’m not going to restrict anything lieutenant governors can do in the future,” Dewhurst said. “But it’s my understanding that the two-thirds rule will be in place for this session.”

Voter ID and redistricting were last session, so there probably isn’t anything that’s sufficiently controversial and sufficiently partisan to warrant an attempt to kill it by the Rs. They know that it’s sometimes convenient to let the Ds kill something that they’d rather not have to vote on. Still, it’s a bit amazing after all the drama of recent sessions that this still lives. Tradition is a powerful thing.

That’s probably the only news of interest for the week from the Dome. As Ed Sills said yesterday, only 139 more days to go. Burka, PDiddie, Stace, the Observer, and TM Daily Post have more.

UPDATE: More from Burka and EoW.

Simpson in, Hughes out to challenge Straus for Speaker

It started with an announcement that Rep. David Simpson would make the Speaker’s race a three-way, which I assure you sounds dirtier than it actually is.

Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, filed papers to run for Speaker of the House, he said in a letter to colleagues Monday morning. He joins Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in challenging Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. The election will take place on the first day of the legislative session in January.

Almost before the electrons were dry on the webpage, however, it went back to a two-man race as Hughes dropped out:

State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is dropping his bid for Speaker of the House and endorsing state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, for that leadership post.

You can read Simpson’s letter to his House colleagues, and Hughes’ endorsement, at the link above. Burka was skeptical of this when it looked like a dual challenge might be an attempt to oust Straus via divide-and-conquer. Simpson is a bit of an odd duck, a true-believer conservative who isn’t necessarily an orthodox Republican, for whatever value of “orthodox” is in play this week. It’s possible he could make a real run at this if he gets Democrats on his side, which would be ironic given how Straus ascended to the big chair in the first place. Democrats have every incentive to play hard to get, so a real race could work in their favor. But as was the case back in 2009 when Straus toppled Tom Craddick, none of this means anything until one person or the other can credibly claim to have pledges from a majority of the members. Basically, Straus is Speaker until he admits, or is forced to admit, that he’s not.

Time for another Speaker’s race

It’s like a rite of spring, except it happens in alternate Januaries.

Joe Straus

House Speaker Joe Straus’ bid for a third term as leader of the 150-member state House may not come as quickly or as easily as he had anticipated.

The San Antonio Republican finds himself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place: His re-election path is complicated by a challenge from the hard conservative wing of his own GOP, combined with growing unease among some Democratic legislators upset with how Straus handled last year’s redistricting and other issues affecting minorities.

Straus faces a challenge from Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who is drawing support from tea party Republicans, FreedomWorks and some of the chamber’s more conservative members.

Straus, confident of prevailing, is content to let the process play out.

“I have a broad-based bipartisan coalition of supporters in the House that spans the ideological spectrum,” he said. “The members know that I have presided over the House in a way that is fair.”

We had one of these in 2011, and it fizzled out without anything serious transpiring. Maybe this time it will be different, maybe not. PDiddie is correct that if Straus can hang on to Democratic support – and he should, since it’s hard to imagine Hughes going after them; the whole point of this insurgency is that Straus sleeps with the enemy – then he ought to be able to survive. But who knows what the 93 Republicans who aren’t Hughes or Straus will do.

It must be time for another Speaker’s Race

Those fun-loving chuckleheads at FreedomWorks are at it again.

FreedomWorks, which helped insurgent Ted Cruz snatch the GOP nod for U.S. Senate from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, said Monday it will put its muscle behind toppling Texas House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio from his leadership post.

The group is backing Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, for speaker. House members will elect the speaker after the Legislature convenes in January.

FreedomWorks is led by former U.S. House Majority leader Dick Armey, who endorsed Matt Beebe’s long-shot challenge to Straus in the GOP primary this year. FreedomWorks also endorsed a Straus challenger for speaker two years ago.

Blah blah blah, Straus is too liberal, he has Democratic committee chairs, we will bury you, etc etc etc. Straus has the right response to these nattering nabobs. I’m going to get an early start this time around and commence ignoring these guys now.

More map feedback

In addition to AG Abbott’s pitiful whining, a few other parties have been heard from regarding the interim legislative map. First, Speaker Joe Straus performs his duty as a Republican. Here’s his statement:

“As the panel of three federal judges prepares to issue its ruling on district lines for the Texas House of Representatives, I hope that the judges will take into account the will of the people of Texas as expressed by their elected representatives.

“I, along with many Members of the House, have strong concerns that the initial map released by the court last week goes much further than is necessary to correct any perceived legal defects in the recently-adopted redistricting plan.

“Members of the Texas House approved a redistricting plan that is fair and that the State’s lawyers have advised us is legal. Even if the panel of judges concludes that the new lines violate federal law in some respects, their role should be limited to making as few revisions as possible to cure those perceived defects, instead of making wholesale changes to the duly elected map.

“If the final order of the court is not substantially closer to the plan we passed, I will urge the Attorney General to seek an immediate stay from the U.S. Supreme Court so that several issues under the Voting Rights Act can be clarified before the federal judges impose their new map on Texas voters for the 2012 elections.”

Blah blah blah mean ol’ Republican-appointed activist judges…Clearly we need some other activist judges to step in and correct the error made by some other activist judges who did something we don’t like. Even if that means moving back the primaries, which wouldn’t be disruptive at all. The irony of this is that the court-drawn map is likely to be friendlier to Straus’ re-election as Speaker than the one the Lege drew. But certain ritualistic obligations must be met.

Meanwhile, Burka notes that various Republican legislators are none too happy with Abbott’s office for their role in pushing preclearance to the DC court and for losing the battle to get summary judgment. He also has some whining from doomed Republican HD144 incumbent Ken Legler. In that same post, he suggests that there may be some discontent on the D side as well:

Mike Hailey’s Capitol Inside reports that African-American members and support groups are not happy with the court-drawn maps either, which involve significant changes to districts that break up communities of interest.

African-Americans who’ve been involved in the court fight over redistricting that Democrats and minority groups have been waging contend that the House map that a pair of federal judges in San Antonio proposed last week is inferior from their perspective to the plan that the Republican-controlled Legislature approved earlier this year.

This has the potential to turn into a nasty fight–not just R’s against D’s, but also blacks against browns. Hispanics are the clear winners to this point, and African Americans (and, of course, anglo Republicans) saw their communities of interest disrupted for no obvious Voting Rights Act purpose. I don’t see how this often-arbitrary map can withstand a trial on the merits.

That sounds pretty bad, until you read the brief that was filed by the NAACP-Jefferson plaintiff-intervenors. They ask for a grand total of 42 precincts (I counted) to be interchanged in Dallas and Harris Counties, mostly between neighboring African-American districts – 23 of the 42 precincts in all. Seventeen precincts, all in Harris County, would be swapped between African-American and Latino districts (this includes HD137, which has a Latino voting majority if not a Latino representative) and exactly two precincts between a Democratic district and a Republican district (HDs 146 and 134). In other words, these changes are pretty darned unlikely to affect the partisan balance that might result from Plan H298. In addition, there’s this footnote on page 3:

We understand that the State has mis-used the constructive comment of the NAACP-Jefferson plaintiff-intervenors in unwarranted attacks on the Court’s efforts. We wish to disassociate ourselves from such criticism. While we regard these changes as exceedingly important, indeed essential, to a racially fair redistricting plan, we understand the virtual inevitability of unintended circumstances, especially in such a short time period.

In other words, they may both be asking for changes, but they have very different reasons for doing so. I fully expect that there will be some changes to the interim map, but I do not expect them to be more than tweaks like what the NAACP-Jefferson plaintiff-intervenors have offered. You’ve got to figure we’ll know soon enough. For that matter, you’ve got to figure there’s a Congressional map in there somewhere. I don’t mean to rush you, Your Honors, but, um, tick tock.

UPDATE: Michael Li explains what must happen for the Supreme Court to step in and put a halt to the implementation of the interim maps.

A few thoughts from Opening Day

Just a few random bits from today’s festivities…

– In the end and despite the teabagger footstomping, the Speaker’s Race turned out to be a big nothingburger, which was what most rational people expected all along. There were a few deadenders, mostly Republican freshmen, who voted against Joe Straus. I can’t wait to see what kind of committee assignments some of them get, not to mention how they get treated in redistricting. Anyway, despite some speculation that they might get wooed by Team Paxton, in the end all the Democrats voted for Straus. At least they all knew enough not to go putting “Kick Me!” signs on their own posteriors.

– Putting it another way, what Harold says.

– Senate President Pro Tem Steve Ogden lays out the budget situation as he sees it. On the plus side, I am glad to see him call for reform of the business margins tax, with the apparent goal of generating more revenue. On the minus side, anyone who thinks the federal government needs a balanced budget amendment is either economically illiterate or doesn’t care that we’d have 15% or higher unemployment right now if we lived in such a world. Neither is a particularly comforting trait for a budget writer to have.

– Oh, and Ogden’s assertion that “It is impossible to balance the budget without making cuts in (education and health and human services)” is of course wrong. We can most certainly choose to raise enough revenue to do it, though I’ll agree that long term something needs to be done about Medicaid costs. (Like federalizing the program, just to pick one possibility.) The political will absolutely does not exist for this, but the point is that it’s a choice, not a physical law, that is forcing that course of action. It’s a choice the Republicans are making.

– Still having said all that, Ogden is much more in touch with reality than our Governor.

– Speaking of which, Rick Perry’s top priorities for this session are eminent domain and “sanctuary cities”. I wonder if anyone has informed Aaron Pena about this.

Robert Miller predicted that the Senate’s traditional 2/3 rule would remain unchanged. Paul Burka suggested it might be tweaked to be a 3/5th rule as desired by Dan Patrick. According to the Quorum Report, the Senate has put off deciding its rules till tomorrow, with Patrick saying he doesn’t have the votes to make his preferred change. However, it strikes me as entirely plausible that certain legislation, such as a voter ID bill, will be exempted from the 2/3 rule, as was the case last year. We’ll know soon enough.

– Finally, for those of you who are wondering what life is like in the alternate universe where Bill White was elected Governor, here’s an email he sent out to his campaign mailing list:

The Texas comptroller announced yesterday that next year’s state budget shortfall, already tens of billions of dollars, will be $4.3 billion more because Texas has been running an operating deficit for its last two fiscal years. Cuts of twenty to thirty percent in higher education are being discussed in Austin right now.

Please click on this link to an article describing why improved and more accessible higher education is critical to the future of Texas and showing where Texas ranks relative to other states and countries: DMN: Employment growth and higher education by Bill White.

For the first time, young Texans are less educated than the generation of their parents. Cuts in public universities and community colleges will hurt Texas’ long run competitiveness for high wage jobs, where we have already fallen behind at current funding levels. More detail can be found in the 2009 Report of The Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness.

You can share your concern by writing or emailing your local newspaper expressing your views on the importance of investing in education. Texas is a great state with great people and prospects. And certainly we can always spend public money more efficiently. But we should not miss the opportunity to prepare for a future with better education and training, resulting in rising incomes and greater opportunities.

So now you know. Not a whole lot else of interest is likely to happen until committee assignments are given out, so we get a little bit of calm before the storm. After that, the level of action will make “Deadliest Catch” look like a paddleboat ride at Hermann Park. Buckle up now and get ready.

UPDATE: Adding in a few opening day emails, from the Texas League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast, and Equality Texas. In addition, here are a couple of worthwhile press releases that respond to Governor Perry’s wacked-out priorities. First, from State Rep. Mike Villarreal:

Today Rep. Mike Villarreal expressed his dismay and concern about Governor Rick Perry’s official proclamation giving emergency status to divisive immigration legislation.

This rare first-day move by the Governor allows the Legislature to take up immigration within the first 60 days of the legislative session. The decision to put immigration legislation on the front burner ignores the true emergency faced by the Texas Legislature – the $27 billion shortfall announced by Comptroller Susan Combs the day before the session opened.

“Once again, the Governor demonstrates that he is a masterful politician.” said Rep. Villarreal. “Just when the public begins to learn that the state’s financial crisis is worse than California’s, he distracts us with a controversial issue that ultimately cannot be resolved by the state.”

“Texans deserve a state government that puts responsible governance over scoring political points,” Rep. Villarreal said. “Doesn’t he know the election is over? He won. Now it’s time for him take responsibility for our schools, our jobs, and the financial crisis he helped create.”

And from State Rep. Armando Walle:

Today State Representative Armando Walle (D-Houston) was sworn in to the Texas House of Representatives for his second term. After hearing Governor’s Perry’s call for emergency action on eminent domain and sanctuary cities, Rep. Walle released the following statement:

“The most pressing issue facing the Texas legislature is addressing the $27 billion shortfall that the Republican leadership has created and failed to address. Balancing the budget on the backs of uninsured children, the elderly, and hardworking everyday Texans is not the kind of approach that will make Texas stronger for future generations. The Republicans are driving the car, and we need to work together to get it out of the ditch. Running over the most vulnerable Texans is not the way to move Texas forward.

I find it very ironic that the Governor who brought you toll roads and Trans-Texas Corridor is calling to strengthen private property rights. We will face many challenges in the 82nd Session, and we must be guided by sound policy, not political pandering.

The call to address sanctuary cities is nothing more than a divisive political ploy aimed at distracting Texans from our state’s budget crisis. Law enforcement officers across the state understand that crime victims and witnesses are their most important resources for solving crimes. We cannot afford to alienate anyone who could be of assistance in solving crimes. The immigration system is broken and the federal government needs to act. And that should be our message to the federal government, so we can focus on the very real and challenging task of balancing our budget to build a stronger Texas.”

The Trib has more.

Some people just can’t handle prosperity

Infight away, y’all!

House Republicans have launched open warfare against one another as they vent spleen and fight over whether Joe Straus should remain speaker.

In open letters and news releases that came very close to being vitriolic, members on Wednesday impugned each other’s integrity and warned that dangerous new lows were being set for what’s acceptable in a no-holds-barred leadership contest.

Straus, R-San Antonio , accused backers of his rival in the speaker’s race, Rep. Warren Chisum, of conducting a “scorched earth campaign.”

Chisum, R-Pampa, called on Straus to release all House members from pledges of support to the incumbent, saying Straus’ prodigious fundraising for some has created a “perception that he has traded campaign cash for votes.”

The peanut gallery is also getting involved.

Tradition says the election of a Texas House speaker is up to the 150 members of the House, largely insulated from the influence of lobbyists, political organizers and rank-and-file voters.

But the conservative activists who helped lift Republicans to a historically large win in last week’s legislative elections don’t have much use for tradition, and some of them are demanding that the legislators who will choose the next speaker listen to them first.

“This isn’t picking the president of the garden club here,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan, who leads the small-government advocacy group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. “We’re talking about a very important position. Let’s open this up.”

Given that the Democrats will be unable to do much more than bystand this session, one of the better results we can hope for is hurt feelings and lack of cooperation among the Republicans. It may not slow them down much, but you take what you can get. It’s never too early to start collecting ammunition for 2012. As for the Speaker’s race itself, I’ll just note that the more these guys snipe at each other, the better the odds that neither one will have 76 votes from just their own caucus. At some point, they’re going to have to approach some Democrats. In my ideal world, the Democratic caucus would stick together and get something for everyone, but we all know that’s not how it will go. We’ll see who emerges with whatever crumbs the eventual winner is willing to toss out.

Beyond today

I’m having a hard time right now thinking about anything past last night, but here’s a Trib story from Sunday that takes a look ahead to the legislative and other battles that will follow. I think you can take some of those things for granted now, like voter ID and a Riddle/Berman immigration bill. It’s going to be ugly, that’s for sure. Just dealing with the budget and the huge deficit that Governor Perry has refused to acknowledge would be bad enough, but add in redistricting and those wingnut wish list item, and you can see what a mess it’s going to be. We can also start speculating about whether the days of Speaker Straus are numbered. I’m sure Warren Chisum’s phone was ringing all night. We’ll see what happens from here.

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.

Interview with State Rep. Armando Walle

Rep. Armando Walle

State Rep. Armando Walle is finishing his first term representing HD140 in northeast Harris County. Walle won a contested primary in 2008 against Craddick D Kevin Bailey, which helped contribute to the downfall of the former Speaker. At 32 years old, he’s one of the youngest members of the House, but he had plenty of legislative experience before his election. He has spoken out against Arizona’s immigration law, which is sure to be a flashpoint in the next legislative session. He represents a district that is largely poor and which is heavily populated by immigrants, and that was one of the topics we covered in our conversation:

Download the MP3 file

I should mention that at the time I did the interview with Rep. Walle, he was anticipating the birth of his first child, a son, any day now. I don’t see any mention of Baby Boy Walle’s arrival yet on his Facebook page, so I presume they are still anticipating. Regardless, let me extend my congratulations to the Walle family on their imminent addition.

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

Interview with State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner is one of the senior members of the Houston-area delegation, having served HD139 since he was first elected in 1988. He doesn’t have a campaign webpage, so let me refer you to his Texas Tribune biography for a brief summary of his career. He was Speaker Pro Tempore under Tom Craddick for three regular and several special sessions from 2003 through 2007. As you know, that was a bone of contention with many of his fellow Democrats, and it was one of the topics we discussed.

Download the MP3 file

This is the first opportunity I’ve had to have an in depth conversation with Rep. Turner. I don’t agree with his evaluation of Speaker Craddick’s merits, but I appreciate his candor and his perspective. And I can’t say he’s wrong about Speaker Straus. See beneath the fold for corroboration of what he has to say on this matter.

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

(more…)

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?

We’re not likely to have a Speaker’s race

Jason Embry makes the case that the start of the next legislative session will be much calmer than the previous one, and it’s hard to argue.

Republican Joe Straus finished his first session as speaker of the Texas House well-positioned to return for a second. His chances of remaining speaker seem only to have improved in the 10 months since.

The House remains closely divided between 77 Republicans and 73 Democrats. But a number of big and small events recently suggest more success for the speaker.

[…]

Questions persist about whether supporters of former GOP Speaker Tom Craddick can make a comeback and overtake Straus, much the way Straus overtook Craddick last year. But several staunch Craddick supporters opted not to seek re-election, and Straus won over some other Craddick backers during last year’s session. Even if voters sweep a wave of conservatives into office this fall (Straus is slightly more moderate than Craddick), would Republican lawmakers vote out the man at the helm when the party picked up seats?

[…]

Looking to November, don’t discount the Democrats, who proved themselves better at winning legislative races than Republicans by capturing 11 seats from 2005 to 2008.

Unhappiness with Gov. Rick Perry or incumbents in general could lift Dems to a House majority, and the party will get out-of-state financial help. Plus, Straus still has to prove he can carry his party to victories in November.

I think the odds are greater at this point of a Democratic majority than of a pro-Craddick majority. There wasn’t nearly the drama and intrigue in this year’s primaries as there was in years past, thanks to Craddick’s diminished role and lack of a giant PAC fund, and while there’s still a few runoffs that could elevate a more-friendly-to-him candidate to the House, overall the potentially pro-Craddick forces didn’t gain any ground. Plus, there’s just no chatter about a Craddick comeback, which you’d expect if there were something afoot. If we’ve learned anything this decade, it’s that ousting a Speaker isn’t easy to do, and doesn’t happen in the dark. If we wake up on November 3 with a Democratic majority in the House, that will be one thing, though even then it’s not certain it would mean a new Speaker. Otherwise, I figure it’ll be another session for Straus.

Two Trib primary stories

The Trib has done a series of good, informative stories on primary battles across the state, which I recommend you read. Two of their most recent are especially worthwhile:

First is HD43, in which freshman Dem Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra is being challenged by JM Lozano.

Lozano’s strategy is to label Rios Ybarra a “red Texan.” Her campaign contributions from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry ($10,000 from Jan. 22 through Feb. 20) and the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC (about $145,000 in-kind during the same time frame), both well-known backers of Republicans, are all the evidence he needs. His vision is of a blue Texas, he says, and that means weeding out what she represents. “The first thing we have to do is get rid of all the closet Republicans from the Democratic Party. My opponent is one of them,” he says. “You cannot have a strong Democratic Party if you have people that are beholden to the other party because you take 90 percent of your funding from them.”

Rios Ybarra defends her “moderate” approach and her bipartisan tendencies, and the support she says comes with them, because of the economic hardship in District 43, which is one of the poorest in the state. It covers six counties — Jim Hogg, Brooks, Willacy, Kenedy, Kleberg and northern Cameron — and about a third of the families with children live in poverty. Nearly 40 percent of residents have less than a high school education. “I believe, in this country, that it isn’t about handouts,” she says. “I believe ultimately it’s about creating opportunity, and that is done when we have a strong small-business sector. If that resonates across the aisle, that resonates across the aisle.”

But Lozano’s accusations carry weight with at least one party mainstay. In a rare endorsement before a contested primary, the Jim Hogg County Democratic Party is backing Lozano. “A Democrat primarily financed by Republicans is no Democrat at all,” its chair, Juan Carlos Guerra, said in a Feb. 19 statement. Guerra claimed Rios Ybarra “hijacked” the term “Democrat” to claim victory in 2008 in this Democratic-majority district. “We will not sit back as a Democratic Party any longer and allow Republicans to infiltrate our party,” the statement continued. “She misled the voters once, but that will not happen again.”

An unfazed Rios Ybarra contends that her first term in the House, when she passed seven bills, shows her mettle. One that she’s most proud of, she says, allows access to Texas beaches by disabled people in motorized vehicles — and yet Lozano has criticized her for it. “He made fun of a bill that was given to me by the mother whose son was a quadriplegic and he couldn’t have access to the beach,” she complains.

A stone-faced Lozano says, “Ask her who gave her that bill. It was a lobbyist.”

I don’t care so much about who donates to whom as I do how you vote and what you support, and I don’t really know enough about Rios Ybarra’s record to judge. Having said that, anyone who is that strongly supported by TLR is a concern. And Rios Ybarra was widely considered to be a Craddick supporter in 2008 when she knocked off Juan Escobar. That turned out not to matter then, and it’s unlikely to be an issue this time around, but it’s not impossible. On balance, if I were voting in that race, I’d be voting for Lozano.

And in a race where I already know who I’m voting for, the Ag Commish race.

Gilbert and Friedman, who were both running for governor in those now-forgotten days before Bill White threw his hat in, may find themselves coveting the same job, but their notions of what that job is could hardly be more different. Gilbert emphasizes wonky expertise and hands-on experience, while Friedman is all showmanship — few campaign stops go by without him uttering his one-liner “No cow left behind!” or mentioning his desire for his ashes to be scattered in Gov. Rick Perry’s hair.

Before Friedman’s run for governor as an independent in 2006, he says Clinton told him, “Find a few issues that are close to your heart and hammer them relentlessly.” He took the former president’s advice then and chose a couple things this time too, focusing on his passion for animal rescue and shelters. The rest, he says, he’ll leave to the experts.

“Clearly Kinky has no direction other than he wants animals to run free, and for those that nobody wants anymore he wants to build shelters in every county,” says Gilbert. “Those are noble ideas and a fairy-tale way to live life, but it’s just not practical.”

Well, this race is a clear choice, that’s for sure. Either you like what Kinky is selling, or you grew tired of it four years ago and you prefer the clearly better qualified Hank Gilbert. I really don’t know how this one will turn out, but as I said, I know who I’m supporting.

McCall not running for re-election

State Rep. Brian McCall (R, Plano), one of the Republicans that helped oust Tom Craddick as Speaker, will not run for re-election next year.

McCall, 51, said he is looking at other opportunities because it is time to try something new after 19 years in the House.

“When I took my first oath of office, Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas and George Bush had never run for state political office,” said McCall, a businessman and investor.

He said when he first ran for the Legislature, he set a few simple goals, most of which he said he’s accomplished.

“The fifth one was to leave on a high note,” McCall said. “So few in politics know when to get off the stage.”

House Speaker Joe Straus praised McCall as a friend, leader and consensus builder.

“His career has been nothing short of outstanding,” said Straus, R-San Antonio. “He helped set the tone for effective governing in the House.”

McCall is a well-respected member, and he certainly has my thanks for his work in ridding us of the Craddick menace. His district is not competitive, so while I hope a good Democratic candidate will run, it’s highly unlikely this seat will be on anyone’s electoral radar after the primary. My best wishes to Rep. McCall in his retirement. BOR has more.

TPJ files complaint with Ethics Commission against Craddick

Texans for Public Justice has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission against former Speaker Tom Craddick, alleging that he obfuscated campaign donations made to several Democratic supporters of his prior to the 2008 primaries. From their press release (PDF):

Jobs PAC reported that it received $250,000 from Tom Craddick’s campaign committee on January 10, 2008. According to news reports, around that time Craddick campaign employee Christi Craddick also provided Texas Jobs with written instructions to distribute the funds to Democratic Reps. Kevin Bailey, Dawnna Dukes, Kino Flores and Aaron Pena.1 All four incumbents previously supported Republican Speaker Craddick and faced challengers in the 2008 Democratic primary.2 According to its own reports, Jobs PAC wrote three checks of $50,000 apiece to the campaigns of Reps. Bailey, Flores and Pena on January 11, 2008. By its own accounting, at the time Texas Jobs wrote these checks its sole source of funding was the $250,000 that it received the day before from the Craddick campaign. Rep. Dukes, the fourth lawmaker, told the Austin American-Statesman that she rejected an offer to receive $50,000 from Texas Jobs because her opponent already was making her Craddick ties a campaign issue.3

“Tom Craddick wanted to move tens of thousands of dollars to his favorite Democrats without letting voters know,” said Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald. “Hiding the true source of campaign funds is illegal. Craddick could have contributed the money directly and openly. Instead, he used Texas Jobs to launder his money and keep Texans in dark.”

The TPJ filed a criminal complaint with the Travis County Attorney’s office last year when this information first came out. I am not aware of any updates to this case, but I suspect that it went nowhere, else there’d be little reason to take things up with the TEC. We’ll see what happens. More on this can be found here and here.

Kino Flores not running for re-election

The March primary season just got a little more interesting.

Embattled state Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election to an eighth term in 2010.

Citing recent indictments handed down against him, the legislator said in a statement that he must concentrate on clearing his name and spending time with his family.

“I worked effectively, fought hard and delivered for South Texas,” he said. “I will not apologize for standing up for our region.”

In July, a Travis County grand jury charged Flores with 16 counts of tampering with government documents and three counts of perjury, alleging he hid more than $847,000 in personal assets from the Texas Ethics Commission over a period of six years.

I blogged about that here. Hard to know how much effect that had on his decision to step down, but it’s hard to imagine it had no effect.

The lawmaker’s announcement Tuesday now opens up the race for Texas House District 36 to a new candidate. Former teacher and probation officer Sandra Rodriguez, who gave the representative one of his closest challenges, during the 2007 Democratic primary has already announced her intention to run for the office again.

Several western Hidalgo County political operatives have also mentioned attorney Sergio Muñoz Jr. – son of former state Rep. Sergio Muñoz Sr. – as another possible candidate.

Flores, who won election in 1996 by defeating the elder Muñoz, became a polarizing figure among his constituents and colleagues during his 12 years in office.

Flores was of course a Craddick D, which is a big part of the reason why he wasn’t so well-liked in other parts of the state. That’s thankfully much less of an issue now than it used to be, but forgiveness and forgetfulness don’t always come easily. I don’t know much about the folks who are or may be running next year, but I’ll be very interested to see who lines up behind whom. A (long) press release from Rep. Flores is beneath the fold. Burka and BOR have more.

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DNC to help fund state races?

Interesting.

Texas Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie said today the Democratic National Committee next year may put money into Texas House races because of their importance in drawing new congressional maps in 2011.

Texas is expected to gain three to four seats in the U.S. House in the reapportionment that follows the 2010 census. Those seats are expected to come from Rust Belt Democratic states.

“With three or four new congressional seats that will be created here in Texas, the national party has the idea that they’re going to need to focus some resources here and some help here. Obviously, those seats have to come from somewhere. And if the demographics are true, those seats are Democratic seats now,” Richie said.

The Democratic National Committee is meeting Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Austin. The first time the group has met in Texas since a San Antonio meeting sometime in the late 1970s, Richie said. This is a sign, he said, that national Democrats see Texas as emerging from more than a decade of Republican rule.

Okay, first it’s nice to see the national folks see Texas as an opportunity rather than simply as a fundraising source. It’s about time – way past it, really – for some resources to flow back here. Democrats will never be able to truly compete without being on a more even financial footing.

That said, we do all realize that any gains we may make in the Lege can and will be wiped out if there isn’t enough Democratic representation on the Legislative Redistricting Board to prevent another GOP-friendly map from being drawn, right? Yes, the Speaker sits on the LRB, but so do the Lite Guv, Attorney General, Comptroller, and Land Commissioner. One Democratic voice out of five can only do so much. What if anything are we going to do about this?

I realize that’s not the DNC’s concern so much, as it’s the 2011 Lege that will draw the next Congressional map. But if they’re that concerned about it, perhaps they might consider getting involved in the Governor’s race as well. It sure would be nice to have two of the three players in that process be Democratic, wouldn’t it? Not to mention having a fallback position in the event the takeover of the House falls short. Think big, and give yourself more chances for a good outcome.

Edwards gets a primary challenger in HD146

For the third straight election cycle, there will be a contested Democratic primary in HD146. Harvey Kronberg reports.

Billy Briscoe, who served as Paul Hobby’s travel aide during his campaign for Comptroller in 1998, says that he is running in the Democratic primary.

Briscoe worked for Public Strategies after leaving the Hobby campaign, representing telecomm and electric utility clients from 1999 to 2002. He currently is a partner at The Briscoe Law Firm, which he described as a boutique law firm providing help with business litigation and commercial transactions as well as lobbying services and strategic communications. The firm has offices in Houston, Austin and Dallas, he said.

He serves on both the Harris County Improvement District 12 and on Houston’s Affirmative Action Contract Compliance Commission.

Briscoe, 36, said that it’s time for people from his age group “to step forward and put forth new ideas.” He said that after thinking about his range of experience working in Austin, it only seemed natural for him to seek service in the Capitol.

He said he recognized the challenge in running against Edwards who is nothing short of an institution in his district. He said, though, that the key would be hard work. “If I don’t knock on several thousand doors,” he said, “on March 2, I won’t have a good night.”

He said that was placing a priority on improving the responsiveness of the district office to constituent needs. He said he didn’t mean that as an indictment of Edwards’ representation but he added that district residents have given him the sense that “we’ve missed responsiveness from our state representative.”

He added that he also planned to run on quality of life issues, such as jobs, economic development, good schools and improved social services.

The generational argument is an interesting one. I feel like it would have worked better last year, with Barack Obama on the ticket. Of course, Edwards waltzed to an easy victory over Borris Miles then, reclaiming the seat he’d lost in 2006, but I daresay that was more a referendum on Miles and his unfortunate self-destruction. Edwards is much less a polarizing figure now than he was when Miles defeated him in 2006, thanks to Tom Craddick’s defenestration. Given that the Speaker isn’t an issue, and that it’s now been four years since the infamous Sexy Cheerleading bill, I think the “time for a new generation of leadership” argument is as good as any. If Briscoe makes good on his plan to knock on all those doors, he’ll have a shot at it.

More legislative primaries

Freshman State Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra, who knocked off veteran Rep. Juan Escobar in the 2008 Democratic primary, will have a primary opponent of her own.

Kingsville businessman J.M. Lozano, aged 29, announced via a video on Facebook and You Tube that he has a “passion and burning desire in my heart to bring South Texas what it deserves.”

Click here to view the You Tube commentary.

Lozano is the owner of a restaurant franchise. He has a Bachelors degree in Government from the University of Texas at Austin and a Masters degree in Administration from the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio. He has previously served in Congressman Rubén Hinojosa’s office in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I am proud to have been born and raised in rural South Texas. South Texas gave me a good education, strong family values, honesty, and integrity. It showed me to cherish the simple things in life and to remain grounded in reality. South Texas gave me my voice but my voice will always belong to South Texas,” Lozano said, in his commentary on You Tube.

Rios Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, won election in 2008, defeating incumbent Rep. Juan Escobar of Kingsville in the Democratic primary and token opposition in the general election. Lozano is expected to receive the endorsement of Escobar.

[…]

In his interview with the Guardian, Lozano said he is a “moderate” and “fiscally conservative” Democrat. However, he said that as someone who was born and raised in rural South Texas, he knows the region needs investment because it can no longer rely just on oil and gas. “You need to know your community and its needs, whether it has a population of 5,000 or 500 and I do,” Lozano said.

Asked if he was concerned that the Austin lobby money would likely flow to the incumbent, Lozano said, no. “Her money is largely from Republicans and she is beholden to Republicans. For her to hijack a party label and to tell people she is a Democrat, that is misleading,” Lozano said.

I supported Escobar and opposed Ybarra in 2008 because it was widely presumed that Ybarra had the backing of Tom Craddick. As things happened, that wound up being a moot point. I don’t know enough about how Ybarra did in her first session, or about Lozano, to have an opinion at this point, though I’m glad that any Speaker-related issues will have to do with whether or not the Dems get a majority, and not with the disposition of Tom Craddick. Link via BOR.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Betty Brown will have her hands full as well. Vince quotes from Capitol Inside and Quorum Report with various names, and notes that the Asian Political Leadership Fund is considering going all in to defeat Brown; they have a TV commercial ready to air already. They haven’t decided whether to aim for the primary or the general yet; the primary is likely the better bet as Brown’s HD4 is pretty solidly red, but perhaps a strong Democrat can mount a serious challenge if he or she has enough resources.

UPDATE: Burka has more on Lozano and Rios Ybarra.

The whole “two thirds” thing is more flexible than you might think

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth is mad as heck about some Senate rules shenanigans, according to the Statesman’s Jason Embry.

Wentworth, R-San Antonio, thinks that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst abused his authority in the recently completed legislative session, and he wants senators to change their rules in 2011 to prevent it from happening again.

To back up for a second, I wrote a story for the Statesman last week about the fact that most of the bills that Gov. Rick Perry vetoed this year received few dissenting votes as they moved through the Legislature. As part of that story, I talked to Wentworth, who unsuccessfully pushed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to come back into a brief special session and override some of Perry’s vetoes.

Wentworth said that the measure had support from 26 of the 31 senators but Dewhurst would not recognize him to bring it up for a vote. And this part was not in that story — Wentworth said senators should change their rules in the next session to prevent that from happening again.

“If I have anything to say about it, we’re going to change the rules come January 2011,” Wentworth said. “We’re going to say, if you put a file in writing with the secretary of the Senate, 21 signatures that senators want to debate a bill, then the president of the Senate should recognize that senator the next day of the session.”

He added, “We’re not going to put up with this any longer. There are a number of senators that I’ve already spoken to that agree with me. It only takes 16 senators to adopt rules.”

Wentworth said Dewhurst told him that Gov. Rick Perry talked to him 20 times about stopping the legislation. And he said former Sen. Ken Armbrister, who works for Perry, “cajoled and threatened” six senators into opposing the measure, giving Dewhurst the cover he needed to not bring up the bill. (Asked about all this, Dewhurst spokesman Rich Parsons said only that the bill did not have the votes necessary to be called up).

Wentworth said there is an unwritten understanding between senators and the lieutenant governor that if 21 senators are willing to debate a bill, Dewhurst will recognize the appropriate senator to bring it up.

“The lieutenant governor should not abuse that power that we give him,” Wentworth said. “He should not have given his word to Perry that he would kill that bill.”

Just so we’re all clear, Wentworth was perfectly happy to scrap the existing two-thirds rule to bring voter ID to the floor. I’d have more sympathy for him if it weren’t for that. Live by the end-around, die by the end-around, you know? In any event, Burka thinks this is a bad idea on principle, and he thinks he has a better one.

If Wentworth’s plan goes through, it will change the nature of the lieutenant governor’s office. The proposal grants 21 senators the ability to force the lieutenant governor to recognize one of their number to bring legislation to the floor. By denying the light gov the discretion of when and whether to recognize members, Wentworth would weaken the office and rob the legislative branch of a counterweight to the executive.

If one of the arguments against Wentworth’s proposal is that it ties the hands of the lieutenant governor, another argument is that his idea is doomed to failure. All the lieutenant governor has to do is to take a look at the list, pick out one or two members to lobby, get them to remove their names, and –poof! — there won’t be twenty-one signatures any more.

I think that there is an easy solution to the problem of the Legislature’s inability to override the governor’s vetoes: start sooner. Quit wasting time early in the session. Get legislation to the governor’s desk early enough that he has to take action while the session is still going on. The Legislature could do what Congress does. After the November elections, each house should caucus in December. The speaker and the lieutenant governor will have a month to meet with members and get their committee preferences. At the caucus, the presiding officer-apparent announces the appointments for the upcoming session. And the Legislature can began holding committee hearings in January. The accelerated schedule will get bills to the governor’s desk in a timely manner so that he has to take action before the session ends, giving the Legislature a chance to override his vetoes.

In theory, Burka’s solution makes a lot of sense, and should be the norm in years where the Speaker is predetermined. As he admits, that wouldn’t have helped this time around, and may not help in 2011 – the most likely scenario is a House that’s nearly as evenly divided as it is now, with a 75-75 split a distinct possibility – or 2013, the first post-redistricting session, either. Other than that, it’s a great idea.

Legislative wrapups

With sine die in the rearview mirror, tis the season for legislative wrapups. Here are a couple I’ve come across.

– First, from Bike Texas, which had the fairly easy task of just following one bill:

The final version of the Safe Passing Bill, SB 488, was passed yesterday [Saturday] by the Texas House. Today, the Senate voted on it, and overwhelmingly voted to pass it.

That was the final step for the bill to complete in the Legislature. Now, it will be sent to Governor Perry, and we are cautiously optimistic that he will sign it into law. We will know the outcome by June 21, the last day the Governor can sign or veto bills.

The 21st is a date that’s circled on a lot of people’s calendars. Next up is ACT Texas, which unfortunately had a lot less to be happy about.

How did the 81st Session go? After all the planning, meetings, hearings, email, office visits, phone calls, amendments, amendments to the amendment, how did things go for the ACT agenda this session?

The bottom line: we didn’t make the kind of progress on clean energy and clean air issues we had hoped to make. ACT bills faced two hurdles that could not be overcome this session. The first was strong industry opposition that both slowed the process (especially getting bills voted out of committee) and undermined the bipartisan support these measures had going into the session. The second was a legislative session that was behind from the beginning and ultimately derailed by a partisan stalemate in the House.

It’s important to note that bills did indeed pass that will continue to move Texas toward a cleaner, healthier future. Over the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at each of the 2009 issue areas in-depth and publish an assessment of how we fared on each. By the end of the month, ACT plans to publish a 2009 Legislative wrap-up.

Follow the link to see the specifics. The death of SB545, the solar bill, is in my mind the biggest disappointment.

Scott Henson had even less reason to be happy.

After all the fawning over Timothy Cole’s family and public declarations throughout the 81st Texas Legislature that the state would act to prevent false convictions, all the major innocence-related policy reforms proposed this year died in the session’s waning hours with the exception of one bill requiring corroboration for jailhouse informants.

Two other pieces of legislation for a brief moment had passed both chambers on Friday as amendments to HB 498, but after a 110-28 record vote approved the measure, Rep. Carl Isett moved to reconsider the bill and it was sent to a conference committee, where the amendments were stripped off for germaneness.

Sen. Rodney Ellis earlier in the day had requested the House appoint a conference committee and approve a resolution to “go outside the bounds” to consider eyewitness ID, but that resolution never came and instead the bill was denuded of all policy substance to become a bill to study whether to study the causes of false convictions.

We didn’t need more study by the Legislature on this issue, we needed action. Eyewitness ID errors make up 80% of DNA exoneration cases and the Court of Criminal Appeals’ Criminal Justice Integrity Unit said it should be the Legislature’s highest priority for preventing false convictions. But unless the issue is added to a call in a special session, at least two more years will pass before the Lege can begin to rectify the problem.

That’s inexcusable. It’s not okay for the Legislature to know that innocent people are being convicted under the statutes they’ve written and simply decline to prevent it.

The irony, as he notes later, is that by adopting HB1736, which increases the restitution made to exonerees, the state has ensured by its inaction that there will be more of them. So much for fiscal responsibility.

– On another single-issue matter, the saga of Gulf Energy, which got screwed over by the Texas Railroad Commission, won the right to sue the RRC to force it to clean up its mistake as SCR72 made it through on the last day. Good luck in court, y’all.

– And finally, a mixed bag from the Legislative Study Group, which I’m copying from email and reproducing beneath the fold.

All in all, the good news of this session is that there wasn’t much bad news – very few truly atrocious bills, the kind we were used to fighting off (usually unsuccessfully) in the Craddick days, made it to the floor, much less through the process. That’s part of what a lot of us hoped for with Joe Straus as Speaker, and up till the voter ID fiasco we got it. The bad news is that there wasn’t nearly enough good news, especially when you consider the number of good bills that were needlessly snuffed at the end thanks to voter ID. I’m not sure which is worse after sine die, feeling like you’ve spent 140 days fighting off zombies, or feeling like a whole lot of potential slipped through your fingers. What I do know is that we need to do better next time, and the fight for that starts now.

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And so the chubbing comes to an end

So, as far as I know at this point, SB362 is dead, other bills may or may not be dead, and some semblance of normality will return to the House for the remaining days of the session. After seeing so much analysis, hand-wringing, name-calling, and what have you over the weekend, I think it may be premature to speculate as to what the fallout of all this may be. It may wind up that most of the bills people were fretting and arguing about pass anyway, and most of the ones that end up dead were always fated to die one way or another. We may yet have a special session, or we may not – even Burka is now equivocal about the possibility. I’ll simply observe that Rick Perry hasn’t telegraphed his intentions, which as best I recall is not how he’d operated in the past in calling specials. Not definitive by any stretch, but at least moderately suggestive.

If in the end most bills wind up getting passed, then the question is how does this play out in the 2010 elections. Voter ID, at least the concept of it, has a fair amount of support in the polls. You could probably knock it down a fair amount with some detailed information, but having to go into that kind of detail is generally not winning politics. On the other hand, I daresay that support is fairly shallow. Present it as a matter of priority, with voter ID being put ahead of things like insurance reform, and I bet it’s not nearly the winner it is in a vacuum. I’d bet it barely registers in an open-ended “what’s your top priority” poll question. So while I’m sure the Rs think they have an issue, I know the Ds think they do as well. And if you want to make it about obstructionism, my general belief is that in most cases it’s the majority party that gets the blame when stuff the electorate perceives as important doesn’t get done. That’s not universal – ask the national GOP how their obstructive efforts paid off for them last year – but I think it’s the starting point. Each side can claim they had priorities that they tried to enact but were prevented from doing so. All I know is I’ll put mine up against theirs any day. I’m sure they see it the same way.

I guess if I have one prediction to make coming out of this, it’s that the Speaker will be elected in 2011 with primary support from his or her own party. Just another reason to get that Democratic majority in the House, as if another were needed. For the rest, I’ll wait to see what the runes look like before I begin casting them.

Whatever Ricky wants

It’s too early to say how much of Rick Perry’s self-proclaimed agenda will get enacted this session, as much of it hinges on the budget reconciliation process as well as on legislation that hasn’t been taken up by one chamber or the other.

Some of his top goals were resupplying the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund, which he uses to create jobs in Texas reward his cronies while making grandiose and unverifiable claims about job creation; changing the state business tax to exempt small companies with less than $1 million in revenue; and approving a voter identification law.

Lawmakers writing the two-year spending plan seemed willing to put money into Perry’s job creation funds, but whether he gets the approximately $500 million combined he wanted for the accounts is far from certain. Lawmakers want more oversight of how the funds’ money is spent. The House, in its version of the state budget, put restrictions on the enterprise fund money to try to force Perry to accept $555 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment benefits.

A House-Senate conference committee is working out a compromise budget plan, so several money items on Perry’s wish list won’t be known until that deal is finally struck.

An increase in the business tax exemption for companies from the current $300,000 to $1 million in revenue won approval in the House but has not made it through the Senate.

The Republican-backed voter identification bill, a highly charged political proposal that would require Texans to show additional ID at the ballot box beyond a voter registration card, won passage in the GOP-dominated Senate after grueling testimony and debate. Odds for the bill are slimmer in the House, where the partisan makeup is almost even.

I made a slight edit to that first paragraph to more accurately reflect the truth of the situation. I have no idea how any of this is going to play out. Recent history has shown that while the House in particular has been willing to take a slap at Perry here and there, in the end the Governor has won a lot more of these staredowns than he’s lost. On the other hand, he doesn’t have Tom Craddick twisting arms for him this time around, and with the miniscule Republican margin, he may just suffer a few setbacks. Bear in mind that as long as Speaker Straus continues the tradition of not voting on legislation, if Rep. Ed Kuempel remains on the sidelines any straight partisan vote will be a tie, on which legislation fails to pass. Voter ID in particular may not be passable now, if Dems stick together. Just whipping Republicans won’t be enough.

There’s another wild card in this, which the article doesn’t discuss, and that’s the possibility of a special session, which some people I’ve spoken to think is inevitable. Rep. Kuempel’s health could be a factor in that as well – if he’s at full strength, that bodes better for the chances of any legislation Perry would push in a special session. The advantage to calling a special session for Perry is that it gives him another 30 days to pander to his base, as well as the chance to pick up any agenda items that fall victim to the calendar. On the other hand, he can’t raise money during a special session, and there’s always the chance he’ll still fail to get stuff passed, thus providing ammunition to KBH. Again, it’s hard to say how this might play out, but the possibility is definitely there, and I’m a bit surprised the story didn’t bring it up.

Campaign finance bill passes the House

I’ve had plenty of harsh things to say about House Elections Committee Chair Todd Smith this session, but he’s always been one of the good guys on campaign finance reform.

Texas could start regulating how political parties use corporate and union campaign contributions under a bill the Texas House passed Friday 71 to 63.

House Bill 2511 would close what author Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, has called an “absurd” loophole that enables corporations and labor unions to escape a century-old ban against political donations by funding issue ads that stop short of urging a vote for or against a candidate.

Under the bill, donations from corporations and unions could only go toward a political party’s or political action committee’s administrative costs.

You may recall that a broad definition of just what “administrative costs” are was a key part of the fight over what TAB and TRMPAC did in the 2002 elections, as they had claimed things like polling were “administrative” in nature.

The Texas Pastor Council sent an email blast urging a vote against the bill.

“HB 2511 will censor free speech and drastically change how nonprofit organizations communicate with their supporters about important policy issues,” the group wrote. “This very email could be ruled illegal under this proposed law, prohibiting nonprofits from highlighting elected officials and their bad votes on legislation affecting all Texans.”

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said he head received a letter from a host of conservative groups including Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Texas Eagle Forum and the Texas Alliance for Life that were worried about the bill.

“They are concerned that this will limit their ability to come out and talk about issues,” King said.

If all those folks are against this bill, it must be doing something right. Though HB2511 only got 71 votes to pass, six of them were Republicans – Delwin Jones, Charlie Geren, Will Hartnett, Brian McCall, Tommy Merritt, and Smith; the latter three were coauthors of the bill, along with Rafael Anchia and Mark Strama. Still, I suspect that this won’t make it through the Senate; that two-thirds rule that ol’ Dan Patrick hates so much will surely see to its demise. A previous version of this bill died a messy death in the 2005 Lege amid allegations of partisan sniping at then-Speaker Tom Craddick. I like how now-former Rep. Terry Keel basically tells Tommy Merritt he’ll never eat lunch in this town again in the aftermath of that. Karma sure is a strange thing sometimes.

UPDATE: Burka figures out the reason for the partisan split on this one.

The Speaker speaks, and a Voter ID update

So how is Speaker Joe Straus doing?

Three months into his first term leading the 150-member chamber, Republican Speaker Joe Straus is emerging as a bipartisan compromise-seeker, rejecting much of the power that his predecessor so coveted.

Straus still faces some tough tests, but just four years after Craddick was anointed as the most powerful Texan by Texas Monthly magazine, observers say the young GOP leader has shifted power back to the House.

“Not some, probably all,” said Rep. Tommy Merritt, a Longview Republican when asked if the speaker has given up some of the office’s power. “He’s doing exactly what a good speaker should do. He’s wielding the gavel and trying to make fair rulings to make the will of the House work for Texas.”

Straus’ first big victory came last week when the normally raucous House unanimously approved the $178 billion budget. It was the first time in a decade that the usually thorny state budget came out with 149-0 approval.

In a rare sit-down, on-the-record interview with The Associated Press, Straus said the unanimous vote was the result of weeks of negotiations and compromise.

“No one, right or left, Republican or Democrat, urban or rural, is going to crush somebody by sheer force this session,” said Straus, the state’s first Jewish speaker.

I’d say that’s a fair interpretation. As I’ve said before, Straus hasn’t been exactly what I’d hoped for in a non-Tom Craddick Speaker, but he’s still a lot better than Tom Craddick. The House has been remarkably free of strife, and more importantly it’s been completely free of attempts by the Speaker to impose his will on everything in his path. That’s as much a function of the near-even split as anything else, but the point is that Craddick couldn’t have managed under those conditions; he would have been what he has always been. The House would have been a disaster area with him in charge.

Of course, there’s still a lot of time left, and at least one big stinking partisan blob of an “issue” that remains unresolved.

Lately, Straus has been working to forge a compromise on an effort to strengthen voter identification requirements, a measure so divisive it sparked partisan meltdown in the Senate and triggered threats of lawsuits.

The legislation is expected to be debated by the House within the next couple of weeks. But by many accounts, a House compromise is on the horizon. Unlike the Senate, Straus said, the House wasn’t going to “pull the pin on the grenade and be irresponsible, which I think they were.”

“They just didn’t care about the consequences of the emotional side of it,” he said. “And we’re trying to be deliberate and slow … we’re trying to find solutions, not just talking points for somebody’s political agenda.”

Rep. Aaron Pena writes that voter ID could be on the agenda for the Elections Committee as early as tomorrow, with some kind of compromise voter ID bill to be debated. That’s assuming that the whole thing doesn’t get blown up by the Republican hardcore, as documented by Gardner Selby:

I’m hearing from Capitol sources that Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, privately told GOP colleagues today he’d reached closure on his intended-to-be-a-compromise version of voter ID legislation and might even issue an afternoon press release saying so.

To which, some Republicans reportedly reacted: “Whoa, Nelly (or Toddy).”

Their beef: They’d prefer not to see Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Elections, running out a softened-up approach that they don’t think meets the intended ID mandate.

True, it’d be a painful political boomerang for Republicans to see House Democrats (on the short end of the 76-74 House split between the parties) wrest control of the GOP’s most-valued legislative proposal (though the flip side, perhaps fueling Smith’s hunt for common ground, is that if the Senate-approved version of voter ID isn’t tweaked, he could fall short of getting the proposal out of his committee or off the House floor; tough cookies).

Until Smith speaks out (yup, I’ve tried to reach him), I’m left with separate statements from Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, who takes a hard line on the voter ID front, and from 51 House Republicans (including Brown) similarly saying they’re not interested in phasing in changes or making it easier for most anyone to vote without presenting proof of their identity.

GOP blow-up? I’m waiting to hear more.

For what it’s worth, Rep. Smith says it was all sweetness and light when he addressed the caucus about his bill. Sure it was. I can’t think of a better resolution to this mess than a GOP implosion as no bill gets passed because the hardliners refuse to accept a compromise, while their version fails to get enough votes. Nothing could illustrate the point that this is all just a naked partisan power grab than that. Form a circle, Republicans, and load up those AK-47s! We’ll start popping the popcorn now.

Two legislator stories

The Chron has a nice profile of State Rep. Kristi Thibaut, who had a very busy year last year.

Thibaut first ran for the Legislature in 2006. She had been a state Senate messenger and a government major while in college and a legislative aide for two years. Taught by her father to hunt geese on the coast, she had headed the youth hunting group. She also worked for the Texas Wildlife Foundation and as a campaign fundraiser.

Thibaut got at least one Republican vote: her husband’s. But she lost the race to Republican Jim Murphy in District 133, which includes upper-middle-class homes and modest apartment complexes near Westheimer and the Sam Houston Tollway.

Democrats reloaded on hope for 2008. Thibaut started running again in late 2007. And the candidate, who had suffered a miscarriage months earlier, talked with her husband about starting the adoption process after November’s election.

Then Thibaut got pregnant.

“I was as hysterical as anybody in that position would be,” she recalled. She’d been fearful she would disappoint supporters and contributors who might think she no longer was game for political combat.

But she was. Her husband encouraged her to stay on the campaign trail, as did groups such as Annie’s List, which backs Democratic women seeking Texas offices.

Her son was born June 11, and soon after, Thibaut sought campaign donations with a letter that included a baby photo. On Election Day, she greeted voters at polling places with her son, who wore a T-shirt saying “Vote for my mommy.”

Child exploitation for political gain? “We were shameless,” Thibaut said.

Turnout doubled from 2006. She beat Murphy by fewer than 500 votes.

I remember talking to Thibaut shortly after the news of her pregnancy became public. She was confident at the time that she could run an effective campaign, and more importantly raise the funds she’d need to run that campaign, during and after her pregnancy. The results speak for themselves. Thibaut got a sizable boost from the Democratic wave of 2008, and will be one of the more endangered incumbents in 2010 because of that; Murphy is running again, for the rubber match. She’s a hard worker, she’s already got some good legislative results, and she’s just a super person, so if anyone can hold that seat, it’s her.

Meanwhile, the Statesman has an interesting piece on longtime conservative stalwart Rep. Warren Chisum, who lost power in the Speaker transition but has since morphed into a key player on environmental legislation.

With ever more likely federal rules limiting emissions of carbon dioxide, which have been associated with global warming, Chisum has teamed up with Democrats and some Republicans to make business-friendly proposals that would give subsidies to companies that capture greenhouse gas emissions.

Chisum, in short, has sought out engagement with the federal government over carbon dioxide rules even as some leading Republicans have taken a more confrontational posture.

Gov. Rick Perry, for one, has warned against an activist Environmental Protection Agency and said the greenhouse gas rules could derail the economy in a state that is the nation’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

But Chisum has avoided the politically divisive rhetoric of global warming, which most Texas Republican leaders are unwilling to connect to emissions from the state’s power plants and manufacturing facilities.

Instead, he has focused on modest goals aimed at tamping down the state’s carbon emissions by dishing out tax breaks and other incentives to industries. The proposals could save utilities and other industries money, depending on how expensive carbon emissions become under federal limits, and could earn Texas political credit as those limits are shaped.

“There’s not much sympathy for Texas” in Washington, said Chisum, who said the state should try to influence the shape of federal law. “We should try to get a legitimate seat in any rule-making that the federal government is involved in sooner rather than later.”

Chisum gets positive reviews from environmental advocates in the piece, though they note that there’s a whole lot of legislation that hasn’t passed yet. He’s really a good fit for the role he’s taken here, because everyone likes and respects him, and he’s clearly taken a pragmatic, let’s-get-things-done perspective. I wish him well in this pursuit.

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.

Coup? What coup?

The rumor of a list of legislators looking to oust House Speaker Joe Straus turns out to be, well, a rumor.

The Statesman’s Gardner Selby started hearing chatter late last week that Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, was circulating a list of signatures to remove Straus. Martinez Fischer told Selby on Monday that he first heard the rumor from a Straus aide last week.

“I just kind of laughed,” Martinez Fischer said. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I didn’t think it was a big deal.'”

The rumor apparently persisted, and Martinez Fischer took it up with Straus on Monday.

“I said, ‘I hear I have a list,'” Martinez Fischer said. “He says, ‘yes, that’s what I’m hearing.’ We started laughing, the speaker and I, and I said, ‘Joe, you know I think that’s crazy.'”

For the record, Martinez Fischer told Selby, “There’s no list that either I’m circulating or that I’ve signed.”

He said Straus referenced in their conversation a Monday post on the Republican-friendly Web site texasinsider.org. “Word around the Texas House of Representatives is that a phantom list of nearly 76 signatures is circulating that will take out Speaker Joe Straus when the time is right. A few representatives wishing to remain anonymous have told Texas Insider they have signed the sheet calling for a motion to remove the speaker,” the post says.

[…]

Since it cites a large number of Democrats, I brought it up with Rep. Jim Dunnam, leader of the House Democratic Caucus. “Nobody’s asked me for a signature on anything,” Dunnam said. He later added, “I haven’t heard anybody talking about that.”

But not all is fine. “I do know that there are people who are unhappy with how business is not being conducted in the House,” Dunnam said. “I think there is a general frustration that the clock is ticking. Nobody’s doing anything about insurance rates. Nobody’s doing anything about electric rates. Nobody’s doing anything about college tuition.”

Dunnam says he counts himself among those who are unhappy. But is removing the speaker the way to remedy that? “That’s not the way I’d want to solve it.”

It would probably help if there were less focus on needless things like voter ID, but that’s an issue for the Senate, at least as of today. Be that as it may, I’m not surprised that this turned out to be nothing. Strategically, whatever complaints the Dems may have about how committee assignments and chairs shook out, how were they going to benefit by trying to throw over Speaker Straus? There’s no chance of putting a Dem in the Speaker’s seat this session, and if your main quarrel with the way things are going is that there’s no meaningful business being conducted, it’s hard to see how plotting a coup helps. This never made sense, and I’m glad that it was just gossip.

The author of the post is said to be someone named Mark Feldt. A Google search for that name and Texas Insider produced only this article on the site. And Mark Felt (not Feldt) was the name of the former FBI operative who was Deep Throat, Bob Woodward’s critical source during the Washington Post’s coverage of Watergate. In other words, this post is based entirely on unnamed sources and is written by someone who could well be using a fake name. Texas Insider is the product of conservative activist Jim Cardle.

Noted for future reference. Always good to know your sources. Rep. Martinez-Fischer gives his own take, and takes a swipe at Texas Insider, here.

Is there are revolt brewing against Straus?

Texas Insider passes along what is probably a rumor.

Word around the Texas House of Representatives is that a phantom list of nearly 76 signatures is circulating that will take out Speaker Joe Straus when the time is right. A few representatives wishing to remain anonymous have told Texas Insider they have signed the sheet calling for a motion to remove the speaker.

[…]

We are now two-and-a-half months into the 81st Legislature. Committees and chairmanships have been assigned, and all of a sudden members are second guessing the choice for speaker.

Many Democrats had high hopes for plumb chair posts and committee assignments, but when appointments came out they were surprised to see their support for Straus didn’t pay off they way they anticipated.

Consequently, a large number of Democrats and a few Republicans have signed a list that may unseat Speaker Straus when the time is right. It has been rumored that the proper timing would be shortly after the budget passes the House, which it is expected to go for a vote the week after Easter (April 12).

In years past the Rice MOB used to have in its repertoire a show called the Annual Salute To The New Coach. Perhaps we’ll have to develop a Biennial Salute To The New Speaker.

Anyway, make of this what you will. I think it’s more talk than action, but who knows? Anybody out there hearing about this? Vince has more.

Son of Speaker complaining

So yes, even in the post-Craddick era, there are still complaints about the Speaker by Democrats. Some of this is to be expected: You can’t satisfy everyone. Some of it is probably the result of over-inflated expectations. And some of it is perfectly legitimate concerns about the makeup of the committees and who did or did not get good assignments.

I continue to believe that what we’ve got now is better than we had before, and better than we would have gotten from another term of Tom Craddick. I think Burka has a point in that the extremists who ruled committees under Craddick were largely shunted aside, and that the Dems mostly got their wish to be able to pass their bills and help their districts. Obviously, there is much to be played out, and we don’t really know yet if they’ll get a fair shake in the calendar and in rulings on points of order and whatnot. That’s where the rubber will really hit the road, and in the end I do think more real work will get done. At least, I think the potential is there for that. Of course, it’s quite possible for things to be better than they were under Craddick, and still not very good. When there’s that much room for improvement, there needs to be much improvement for it to be worthwhile. We won’t know about that till much later.

Process is only part of the equation, too. Will the emphasis this session be on the real work that needs to be done, on things like higher education and rebuilding Galveston and windstorm insurance and restoring CHIP and so on and so forth, or will Speaker Straus follow Craddick’s path of elevating divisive partisan issues over substance, and get things bogged down in the distractions of voter ID and abortion politics? Will we have an honest debate over the budget, or will Straus play games like Craddick and Warren Chisum did when they separated property tax cuts from everything else? Will members be free to vote their districts, or will they be pressured to do what the Speaker wants? It’s totally up to him, and when he has to make those decisions I hope he remembers how he got to be where he is now. More importantly, he might think about how Craddick got to be where he is now, too.

Voter ID already moving in the Senate

I hope you’ve all enjoyed the relative quiet in the Lege these past few weeks, because it will be coming to an end soon.

The controversial Voter ID bill that triggered a nasty Senate fight last month over a rules change today was referred directly to the full Senate for a vote, setting the stage for new unpleasantness.

Now that it has been referred, Senate Bill 362 could be brought up for consideration as soon as next week, several senators said.

[…]

[Tuesday’s] referral came without fanfare, one of more than 50 bills that were assigned today to various committees. While mostly symbolic, it could promises to put outnumbered Democrats who oppose it on alert against the Upper Chamber’s Republican majority.

Normally, bills are referred to Senate committees for review and approval before they come to the full Senate for debate and a vote. This bill was referred directly to the Committee of the Whole, the full Senate.

The controversial measure by Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, would require Texas voters to verify their identity before they could cast a ballot.

No immediate word on when the measure will be brought up for Senate debate.

I suppose this is to be expected, given that voter ID is the single most important issue facing Texas today. I realize that the Senate Republicans and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have done everything they can to stack the deck in their favor on this, but I trust that the Senate Dems still have plenty of fight in them and will take whatever action they think is needed, given that their colleagues see them as little more than nuisances that need to be quelled. We know that the House Dems will do their part. See this video of State Rep. Rafael Anchia, who is on the Elections committee, for the evidence. Todd Hill kindly provided a transcription of the relevant bit:

When I looked at the [committee] assignments on the Elections committee, the speaker didn’t really follow through on bi-partisanship in that committee. He didn’t even put a veneer of bi-partisanship. Most of the committee’s you have a Democratic Chair with a Republican majority-he didn’t do that here.

He put a Republican Chair in place and a Republican majority-including people who have voted for the worst kind of voter disenfranchisement Bill in the past.

So that’s a place of concern. If you’ve got a grandparent at home who might be a Korean War veteran, and 85 years old without a driver’s license they are going to be required to bring their voter registration card and their driver’s license as well. I think that’s going to disenfranchise a lot of people.

So if they want to move a partisan disenfranchisement Bill then they’re going to have a fight on their hands.

We get can stuff done this session, or we can blow it up over voter ID. That’s the choice the Republican leadership has to make.