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March 26th, 2004:

A pounding from the people

Looks like Governor Perry’s Bahamian getaway was not appreciated by some Texans who weren’t afraid to tell him about it.

“With all due respect, have you LOST YOUR MIND?” asked a Lockhart woman in an e-mail to Perry. “This little trip to the Bahamas … has convinced a long-term, middle-aged conservative to vote you out of office.”

[…]

A San Angelo woman wrote that she was disappointed over the campaign fund use.

“My husband and I work hard for our money, and we don’t have time to take vacations, much less trips to the Bahamas,” she wrote. “I have contacted the Republican Party of Texas with instructions to remove us from their mailing/phone lists. We will no longer contribute to the Republican Party of Texas as long as you are in office.”

The possibility that publicly funded vouchers for private school tuition might have been discussed drew concern from a woman identified as a Dallas-area PTA leader. Perry, Leininger, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Norquist have supported vouchers.

“Richardson Independent School District is broke, and you are being sweet talked into … diverting money to vouchers!” the woman wrote. “Wake up and smell the coffee, governor.”

A Richardson man said: “A select few seem to have your ear.”

A woman identifying herself as a Houston teacher wrote: “Thank you for humiliating the teachers of this city with such an extravagantly made-up way to spend money in the name of all underpaid educators. Oh, and just in case there are extra funds for the study of educational finance, I myself would be willing to go to the Bahamas and discuss reform with you.”

You can sign me up for that trip, too. I’ll even play shuffleboard with Grover Norquist if it’ll help.

Rules are for the other guy

News of the potential indictment and step-aside of Tom DeLay has hit the Chron, and it seems that DeLay has reacted to his situation the way he reacts to pretty much everything else: Cry “partisanship” and raise funds.

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay apparently is preparing for the possibility that a Travis County grand jury may indict him on charges of violating state campaign finance laws.

DeLay, R-Sugar Land, told a group of Houston supporters earlier this month he may need to raise more money for a legal defense fund.

[…]

DeLay and an aide in a March 8 private meeting at the Omni Houston Hotel talked to Houston supporters about the possible need to pay for a legal defense in connection with the grand jury investigation, according to two people who attended the meeting.

The meeting at the Omni was part of a regular event DeLay holds every three months for supporters called the “Congressional Quarterly Luncheon.” The two people interviewed by the Chronicle spoke on condition of anonymity.

DeLay talked about the grand jury investigation only after being asked about it by one of the 40 to 50 people in attendance, sources told the Chronicle.

DeLay talked briefly about a legal defense and then had an unidentified aide discuss the possible need for raising money for a legal defense fund.

One of those interviewed quoted DeLay as saying, “I fully anticipate being indicted.”

The other person did not remember hearing DeLay say anything like that, “but I gathered the money he might raise would be for him,” he said.

The Chronicle attempted to contact others who are known to have been at the meeting, but none responded.

Grella said neither DeLay nor the aide talked about setting up a new fund or of having any expectation of needing one.

Grella said the aide, whom he declined to name, explained to the crowd that a legal defense can be expensive. He said DeLay found that out when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sued him for racketeering in 2000, a lawsuit that was later dropped.

“One staffer discussed the Democrats’ previous frivolous lawsuit that was thrown out of court, but didn’t discuss a new legal defense fund,” Grella said.

The Tom Delay Legal Expense Trust was set up in July 2000, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. Through November 2001 it had paid out $320,222 — about half the legal bill owed to the Houston law firm of Bracewell & Patterson to defend DeLay in the lawsuit.

Make of that what you will. Meanwhile, Roll Call is now reporting (via TAPPED) that DeLay may not step aside if he’s indicted after all.

Republican Conference rules state that a member of the elected leadership who has been indicted on a felony carrying a penalty of at least two years in prison must temporarily step down from the post. He or she may return to the job if found not guilty or if the charges are reduced below a felony or dismissed.

Texas Rep. John Carter (R), a former Williamson County district judge, said an indictment “is not intended to be a declaration of guilt” and that it would be “pretty rough” if DeLay had to relinquish the Majority Leader post without having been convicted of anything.

Repeating a well-known legal adage, Carter said, “A DA can indict a ham sandwich given the opportunity.”

It’s way too early to say what could happen – this is all speculation on top of speculation. As a new grand jury get empanelled, things ought to pick up shortly. So stay tuned.

UPDATE: Missed this story in The Hill, which suggests DeLay may have another Democratic prosecutor sniffing around him, in this case because of his sham charity, Celebrations for Children.

[Common Cause] recently made inquiries with Eliot Spitzer, New York attorney general, to determine whether the charity was properly registered. That may lead to a formal request for an investigation.

[They] allege that DeLay plans to use the charity improperly to fund political activities in New York City during the 2004 Republican National Convention.

[…]

Common Cause has made inquiries about DeLay’s charity with Spitzer (D) that may lead to a formal request by the group for his office investigate the charity.

An official at Common Cause said: “We’ve had contact with the office, and they are aware of the situation. The New York attorney general is one of the most aggressive enforcers of charities in the country.”

Spitzer, who would arguably have jurisdiction over the matter because DeLay’s charity would raise money in New York during the convention, which begins Aug. 29, could imperil the majority leader’s plans.

Spitzer has made a reputation by aggressively pursuing allegations of corporate crime when other government enforcement agencies have tread carefully. And many political observers believe he wants to run for governor some day.

More fun to look forward to. Via New Democrats Online.

Woodland Heights Home Tour

A little plug for my neighborhood here, which is hosting a Home Tour this weekend. Come on down and see some interesting houses built before evil soulless developers like Bob Perry got his hooks into Houston. You can buy tickets ($15) at these locations and get a preview of the featured houses here. I believe Metro trolleys will be running to take you to each house. I’ve taken these tours before, and they’re always a lot of fun. Hope to see you there!

Governor steps into Ellis County mess

Governor Perry waded into the pollution controversy around cement plants in Ellis County and their effect on the Dallas/Fort Worth area’s nonattainment status for clean air, and managed to piss off everyone involved. First, here’s what our only governor proposed:

The plan being considered by Perry and Mike Leavitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, would group the heavily industrial northwest corner of Ellis County with the Metroplex. Industries there would have to significantly reduce pollution, but the rest of the mostly rural county would be shielded from severe sanctions, including the loss of millions in federal highway transportation dollars.

[…]

Perry says his goal is to solve the debate about whether Ellis County should be considered part of the Metroplex when tough new ozone regulations take effect. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, has lobbied the EPA to not include his home county, but leaders in Tarrant, Dallas, Collin and Denton counties insist that the region might never comply if pollution in Ellis County is not significantly curtailed.

“The storm over whether Ellis County must be designated might be calmed if only the industrial part of Ellis County is designated as nonattainment,” Perry wrote in a Feb. 25 letter to Leavitt. “Such an approach that is based on science and common sense is likely to be recognized as the best solution by all concerned.”

Basically, what Perry is suggesting is that since it’s only one part of Ellis County (namely, the part where all of the smoke-belching cement plants are) that’s degrading DFW’s air, then that part of Ellis County should be thrown in with the other counties that are subject to EPA sanctions, while the rest of it gets exempted. On the surface, this makes some sense. The problem, though, is that the counties that are adversely affected by the Ellis polluters don’t have any direct jurisdictional control over them, and thus they would have no stick to use to get them to do their fair share of the cleanup that will be needed to get DFW into compliance. Only by making all of Ellis County accountable can pressure be brought to bear on their pollution scofflaws.

And as noted, no one liked the Governor’s “solution”:

“It’s outrageous that it’s just one small portion of the county, and it allows the rest of the county to be developed,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a government watchdog group in Austin. “The state has consistently failed to require Ellis County to do its fair share to clean the air.”

Collin County Judge Ron Harris said all of Ellis County needs to be included in any plan to improve air quality. If not, he said, Dallas-Fort Worth leaders must consider suing the EPA.

“We think all of Ellis County needs to be in,” Harris said. “We have reason to question why the governor would consider a special treatment for Ellis County.”

Ellis County Judge Chad Adams gave the proposal a lukewarm endorsement, saying he wants more details. But Ellis County industrial leaders aren’t pleased. They say it’s unfair to single out the county’s cement kilns and power plants for increased enforcement.

“Ellis County should not be included at all in the nonattainment zone,” said Keith Depew, plant manager at the Holcim cement plant in Midlothian.

Barton’s office said Thursday that the plan is not an acceptable compromise.

“His position remains that the county should not be included,” said Samantha Jordan, Barton’s deputy chief of staff.

Barton and Ellis County officials say that the county contributes only a small amount of ozone-producing pollutants to the region. But a preliminary report released last month by an environmental consulting firm found that industrial pollution from the county is at least partly to blame for some of the highest concentrations of ozone measured in the Metroplex.

Smokey Joe’s position is that since Ellis County itself is in compliance, the rest of the Metroplex can go pound sand. Apparently, he believes that Ellis County’s pollution doesn’t travel past the county line. One wonders how he’d feel if he had a neighbor whose trashy yard was reducing his own property values.

One other thing to note about Perry’s suggestion is that it’s been made before and hasn’t been accepted yet:

State leaders in North Carolina and South Carolina have attempted, and thus far failed, to persuade the EPA to designate only parts of counties.

[EPA Region 6 Administrator Richard] Greene said federal regulators are reviewing partial nonattainment in other areas across the country, including North and South Carolina, Ohio and Mississippi.

“If EPA does a partial designation in some counties in one state, say Texas, but nowhere else, we certainly wouldn’t think they’re dealing with us in an evenhanded way,” said Tom Mather, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Environment & Natural Resources.

Indeed. Of course, given the general track record of the Bush administration, I fear the solution will be to make less strict rules the norm. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if Smokey Joe has floated that idea to someone higher up.