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June 1st, 2005:

Not so fast for KBH

The Quorum Report gives an update to the Big Upcoming Announcement By Kay Bailey Hutchison story:

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is certainly not tipping her hand about future plans. But rumors that she will announce her intentions on Thursday or Friday are not true. Months ago she indicated that any announcement of future plans would be within a couple of weeks of the end of the veto period. Despite all the end of session bar talk and rumors, nothing has changed that plan that we have been able to discover.

The Express-News has the story now.

The state’s senior U.S. senator told her supporters in an e-mail message Wednesday to hang on as she contemplates what certainly would be a bruising GOP primary battle next year against Gov. Rick Perry.

“Like many Texans, I am disappointed that, despite the hard work of our legislators, major problems facing the state failed to be addressed during the recent legislative session. It’s particularly unfortunate that some problems will now be left to courts to define and resolve,” U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison told her supporters.

Thousands of the e-mail messages went out “to counter the rumor mill and to assure supporters that she’s on her well-defined path in announcing a decision,” Hutchison spokesman David Beckwith said Wednesday.

But the senator will stick with her long-standing policy of not announcing her intention until the legislative process is finished, he said.

That means her supporters and Perry’s camp will have to wait until at least June 19 — the last day for the governor to veto legislation.

More likely, Hutchison won’t announce her intentions until early next month, Beckwith said.

All right already. I’m holding my horses. Just don’t disappoint me when you finally get around to telling us all your plans, Kay Bailey. E-N link via The Jeffersonian.

Fifty-seven channels and nothing on

Maybe I expect too much out of the summer schedule these days, but the TV landscape is looking like a vast wasteland between now and fall premiers. I’m glad to see that The 4400 is back, and the promos for The Closer have me just about intrigued enough to program the TiVo for the pilot, but that seems to be it. Nothing else looks even remotely appealing. I mean, Dancing With The Stars? What fresh hell is that?

So the question is, am I missing anything worthwhile? Note that I don’t have premium cable, so stuff on HBO or Showtime is out. I don’t need much, just something reasonably intelligent to decompress with after a long day. What do you say?

Perry ponders, Kuff yawns

Say it with me: Governor Perry says he’ll call a special session on school finance reform if those pesky legislators can ever agree amongst themselves on how to go about doing it.

“The final chapter is not written,” Perry said. “There is a very good chance we’ll be back here, and hopefully legislators will address it.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he is eager to start a new round of negotiations next week with Perry and House Speaker Tom Craddick.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “If America can send astronauts to the moon, the Texas Legislature can solve school finance.”

Craddick said he’s willing to meet but remained pessimistic, saying that the House and Senate are “universes apart” on writing a tax plan to pay for school property tax cuts. “I think we need to look at it,” he said.

I’m aquiver with anticipation. I’ll go lie down for a minute until the feeling passes.

Better now. What’s the Leadership Sound Bite of the day?

The governor said he plans to continue leading negotiations in the next several weeks in hopes of reaching a compromise that can be passed by lawmakers in a special session.

“If they don’t want to work to finish the job, then I think I may make, or I should say, they should make plans for a long and uncomfortable summer when they go home and they meet with those constituents and explain they did not act on education reform and property tax relief,” Perry said.

Yes, well, as the Chron notes elsewhere, it’s statewide officeholders like Governor Perry who are (or should be) feeling the discomfort. Tom Craddick, ensconsed in the world’s safest district, can be as ornery and contrary as he pleases. It’s no wonder Perry and Dewhurst have mostly blamed the House for the intransigence.

Perry grew testy when asked how the Legislature could find time to approve the purple sage as the official native shrub but not pass school finance.

“Anyone who thinks that passing a resolution to name the purple sage as the plant of the state of Texas is anywhere near connected to the difficulty and complexities of passing a public school bill, then I’d have to disagree with them,” Perry said.

In a sense, he’s right. This isn’t a squabble about ancillary details, where a few extra hours here and there could have made a difference. You could have taken out all the purple sage and sexy cheerleader stuff and there still wouldn’t have been an agreement on school finance. But let’s not forget, the previous special session was called last April. We could have been having a dialogue on school finance all along if someone like, say, the Governor, had made it a priority. I keep asking the question “What’s Rick Perry’s vision for school finance?” because as far as I can tell, he doesn’t have one. Oh, he has wish-list items, like property tax cuts and vouchers and merit pay for teachers, but it doesn’t add up to anything. He doesn’t have a plan that he can sell, so what we get instead is the collected views of a bunch of disparate individuals and groups competing with each other, and no progress is ever made.

Now, this is going to be a tough nut to crack even for someone with a vision and a mandate to implement it. No matter who gets sworn in as Governor in 2007, Tom Craddick will still be there, and he’ll still not be much for compromise. And there’s still the fact that the public never seems to want to pay for what it demands. But that’s the task at hand, and if Rick Perry isn’t up to it I’m sure someone else will be willing to give it a try.

Why “CSI: Houston” will never crack the primetime lineup

I’ve not been following the HPD crime lab scandal as closely as I should – Grits and blogHOUSTON have generally been on top of it, so you can scan their archives or those of the Chron to get up to speed. There’s another story today about falisified results, this time in the controlled substances section of the lab, and it’s as outrageous as the rest of it has been. Take a moment and take a look.

Anderson verdict overturned

The US Supreme Court has unanimously overturned the conviction against accounting firm Arthur Andersen for shredding documents related to the Enron investigation.

The high court found that the trial judge’s 2002 jury instructions were so vague that jurors could have convicted the company of obstruction of justice for innocently destroying documents related to the Enron investigation.

The case was sent back to Houston for a possible new trial.


It took the high court only a month to come to the decision Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote it in an unusually short 11 pages. He said Houston U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon erred when she told jurors they could convict Enron’s accountants even if people at the company didn’t know what they did was illegal.

The opinion focused mostly on the question of whether Arthur Andersen employees were “knowingly” and “corruptly” persuaded to destroy documents. Rehnquist wrote that jurors were not required to find that wrongdoers had “the requisite consciousness of wrongdoing. Indeed, it is striking how little culpability the instructions required.” He noted jurors were instructed they could convict even if Andersen “honestly and sincerely believed its conduct was lawful.”

During the trial, Arthur Andersen argued workers followed company policy for throwing away notes and drafts of documents. The firm maintained it never intended to obstruct a Securities and Exchange Commission probe.

I have no quarrel with the SCOTUS ruling. Jury instructions are critical, and the ones here were awfully broad. If this puts a crimp in the plans of the federal task force, then so be it. If they need friendly jury instructions to win, they should reassess what they’re doing.

Tom, who’s a longtime critic of the Enron Task Force, is happy if a bit bitter with this ruling. I can accept what he’s saying and what the others he’s linked to are saying, but there’s something that’s bugging me in all this. Nobody disputes that Andersen shredded documents that may have been material to the Enron criminal investigations. The argument, as far as I can tell, is over what an appropriate remedy for that should be. Loren Steffy puts his finger on what’s bothering me.

It might be useful, in sorting out the court’s decision, to remind ourselves of what jury foreman Oscar Criner said after convicting Andersen. The jury instructions, he said, didn’t matter. It was [Andersen lawyer Nancy] Temple’s memo [which “reminded” Arthur Andersen’s audit team in Houston to shred Enron-related documents ahead of a government investigation the firm knew was coming] that convinced jurors that Andersen’s leaders knew they were destroying evidence.

It would be useful, too, to recall that Criner said the government used Andersen’s abysmal track record of blown audits to show that its recidivist history motivated Temple in urging her colleagues to shred with gusto. More specifically, her mention of Enron in the memo sealed the firm’s fate, Criner told the Chronicle at the time.

It’s also useful to remember what Michael Odom, an Andersen partner, told 89 employees about the firm’s document retention policy at a training meeting on Oct. 10, 2001:

“If it’s destroyed in the course of normal policy, and litigation is filed the next day, that’s great. … We’ve followed our own policy, and whatever there was that might have been of interest to somebody is gone and irretrievable.”

It might be useful to remind the IRS of that the next time you’re audited. Then again, maybe not.

If we were talking about Arthur Andersen, sole proprietor and private citizen, who had shredded these documents, he’d have been busted for obstructing justice, and no one would argue the point. Instead, we’re talking about a corporation, which had a perfectly reasonable but in this instance highly self-serving policy to shred this sort of document. If the former is criminal activity, then why isn’t the other? And if it isn’t, then what if any remedy should exist? Jumping around this blog, the answer given seems to be civil law and contract enforcement. Maybe that is a more efficient (in the economic sense) solution – I’m no expert in these matters, so I can’t say with any authority. What I am saying, from my layman’s perspective, is that it’s not clear to me that the Task Force was wrong to try to make a criminal case out of Andersen’s actions.

Just when you thought it was safe

The Texas Legislature may have failed to ban municipalities from offering free wireless network services to its residents, but that doesn’t mean that the US Congress can’t give it a try. Naturally, the person behind this bad idea is a Texan, Pete Sessions. His bill is just as bad as anything Phil King tried to get passed. If he’s your Congressman, please call him and tell him to knock it off. Thanks.