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June 3rd, 2005:

When was the last time you listened to Blogger Radio?

Well, that’s too long, as they say. Fortunately, you can rectify that situation at 10:15 AM on Saturday at the usual place, BizRadio 1320 AM. I’ll be there, as will Kevin, who’s presumably tanned, rested, and ready after his weekend in the wilderness.

Here’s last week’s show, featuring Anne Linehan pinch-hitting for Kevin, split into two pieces, since we both got to yak for longer than usual (okay, I yakked more than Anne did).

Jefferson responds to Keel

Rick Casey’s column today is devoted to State Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, who responds to the accusation of Rep. Terry Keel that Jefferson threatened to recruit an opponent against him when they spoke on the phone about the judicial pay raise bill.

Jefferson said he began by telling Keel it was a very important bill for the judiciary. Texas state judges haven’t received a raise in six years, and, said Jefferson, “I think we’re going to lose very talented judges.”

“Representative Keel went on at length into the detail of his dealings with Senators Duncan and Ellis,” Jefferson said.

[…]

“I said many other judges across the state will find it difficult to run in 2006 if this is not passed,” Jefferson said. It was a point he had made at length in his State of the Judiciary address in February.

Jefferson continued: “Representative Keel said, ‘I’m shocked! How dare a Supreme Court justice issue this kind of a threat. I’m appalled! Good night!’ And he hung up. I was shocked. I couldn’t understand why he reacted that way.”

Jefferson said he slept on the matter and, when he woke up, thought he understood.

“He was on the House floor,” Jefferson said. “There was a lot of tension. It was noisy. A lot of representatives were not happy with him. I think he understood me to say a lot of judges would make it difficult for him to run.”

I have to say, it’s pretty gracious of Justice Jefferson to offer such a nice, face-saving way of explaining what Rep. Keel said. Not that it’s done any good, mind you.

Jefferson said Thursday that Keel misunderstood what he had said in a late-night, intense phone conversation during the final hours of the legislative session and that Keel hung up before he could correct that impression.

Keel disagreed with that version, saying, “It’s not something I’d misunderstand.”

[…]

After briefing Jefferson on the issues behind the stare-down, Keel said an agitated Jefferson threatened him, saying he and other judges “would see to it” that Keel and Ellis got opponents next year.

Keel said he was offended by Jefferson’s remarks and told him so.

“I said, ‘You are out of line. That is as inappropriate as me calling you about something pending before the court and making a threat,’ ” Keel said.

Keel and Jefferson agree that Keel then hung up on the chief justice. But Jefferson said Keel, under intense pressure, didn’t hear him correctly.

“I said, ‘It will be very difficult for me and many judges to run in 2006 if this bill does not pass,’ ” Jefferson said. “We couldn’t clarify it because he hung up the phone.”

The disagreement might have died with the hang-up, but Keel told the story to a Houston Chronicle columnist. Ellis told the Chronicle that he was unaware of any such comments by Jefferson.

On Thursday, Keel stuck to his story.

Jefferson was busy returning phone calls from reporters.

“I would never make that kind of threat,” Jefferson said. “If any judge said what Rep. Keel thought was said, I would join him in condemning any kind of threat.”

Jefferson said he had not tried to call Keel because “I didn’t think he would take my call” after the way their conversation ended Sunday night.

I wasn’t there, so I can’t say who’s right. I do know that Wallace Jefferson is very highly regarded, and based on comments I’ve seen elsewhere I doubt too many people who know him would think he’d say what Keel thought he said. One way or the other, the ball is in Terry Keel’s court right now.

On a side note, Eye on Williamson County reminds me that there was another issue tied up in the pay raise bill, namely legislative pensions. That vote was taken in secret, and now it’s just as well since none of them will get what they voted for anyway.

Parker to audit SafeClear

Cinty Controller Annise Parker has announced an audit of the SafeClear program in order to get a better grip on how much the free tows are costing the city.

Mayor Bill White admits there have been a lot of changes to Safe Clear, including the program’s cost.

“There were some times where I was having a hard time getting a straight answer as to what the cost is,” admitted Mayor White. “I think we have a pretty good idea now.”

Since most short distance tows are now free. The Safe Clear program is costing the city money. City Controller Annise Parker announced on Thursday she’s going to find out exactly how much.

She said, “We can show how much wrecker drivers paid for the privilege for the tow, how many tow slips have been submitted to the city, and what the outside expenses are to be.”

Parker says the program’s still too young for a full audit, but she will get a full financial review completed before city council members vote on next year’s budget. In that budget Mayor White is expecting to spend $1.5 million on Safe Clear.

“Safe Clear has worked,” insisted Mayor White. “It’s the most cost effective thing we do in transportation and public safety.”

The controller doesn’t disagree, but she says even well intentioned programs need to be financially sound.

Parker explained, “We all as taxpayers have a right to know what it truly costs to provide what I think is a necessary service.”

I’m cool with this. I think SafeClear has worked pretty well since the initial bumps were ironed out, but it still has to be cost-effective. We can’t know if it is without taking a good look at it now and again.

The KHOU story puts a bit of spin on this at the end.

The mayor said that the controller’s decision to conduct an audit was great, but there is clearly some tension. The mayor’s staff thinks the controller is implying that Mayor White is somehow withholding information from City Council.

This would not be the first time there’s been some tension reported between the Mayor’s office and the Controller’s. If that never happened, Parker would not be doing her job properly. I doubt this will cause any lasting fractures.

DeLay starting early

Via The Stakeholder, I see that the DeLay ’06 campaign is already getting into gear.

With Democrats gunning for him and an ex-congressman already working to take his seat, Majority Leader Tom DeLay is wasting no time getting into campaign mode, rallying campaign volunteers and kicking off a ballot petition drive – seven months before the deadline.

The campaign has invited volunteers for petition training tonight at his campaign headquarters in Sugar Land, aides said. The event is two nights after Mr. DeLay personally rallied the troops at a similar session in Clear Lake, at the other end of his district.

“Signing petitions is Politics 101, and our grass-roots operation is up and running, and it’s a great way to highlight DeLay’s support in the district,” said spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty.

She said the campaign hadn’t planned to collect signatures so early, but so many supporters offered to pitch in that it made sense to channel their energy.

Democrats called the early petition drive a sign of someone scrambling to survive.

“Tom DeLay is in trouble. His support at home is at a historic low,” said Bill Burton, communications director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, predicting: “He’s in for the toughest fight of his congressional career.”

[…]

To secure a spot on the March 7 primary ballot, Mr. DeLay must submit 500 valid voter signatures or pay a $3,125 fee. The Texas secretary of state’s office says signatures can be collected at any time, although the filing window runs from Dec. 3 to Jan. 2.

“He knows that if he’s in trouble, he’d better begin to organize earlier to solidify his base,” asserted Tom Matzzie, Washington director of the MoveOn political action committee, which is running radio ads in the districts of seven vulnerable members – none in Texas – linking them to Mr. DeLay’s “stench of corruption.”

Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, dismissed assertions that Mr. DeLay’s early campaign activity reflects anxiety.

“Look, whenever the campaign wanted to go out and collect signatures they could do it. I don’t see how it can be considered a sign of weakness at all,” he said. “If anything I think it’s a sign of strength if he’s got the kind of organization in place to combat all the third-party activity.”

Somebody help me out here. Is it at all common for incumbent Congresspeople to gather petition signatures for ballot access instead of just paying the filing fee? I mean, $3125 is chump change, and not just for a moneybag like DeLay. If the petition route really is standard “Politics 101”, then the only remarkable thing here is the early start, which at least means DeLay is taking nothing for granted this time around. If it’s not, then why the change? In this case, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to conclude that DeLay is taking seriously the allegations from last time that he’s out of touch with the district.

As it happens, potential DeLay primary challenger Mike Fjetland has seen some of this petition activity already. Here’s one report from a local GOP event, in which a resolution in support of The Hammer was read and approved:

Then they passed around a petition, saying it was “required” to get x number of signatures. That was news to me. I sat in the back. When it came by, I noticed it was a “Petition in lieu of filing fee” – something I had done before to avoid paying the $3,000 filing fee. Why circulate it? It isn’t really required unless you want to save $3,000 by turning in 500 signatures from voters in the district. But for a guy like DeLay with millions of donations in the bank, why bother with it?

My best guess is that it is a way of polling people. If so, the results should be of concern to the incumbent — what surprised me was how few signatures the petition had, despite passing through nearly everyone else in the room before I saw it. It had maybe four or five signatures. When I did my own petition drive in 2002, I usually got nine signatures for every 10 requests I made.

Some people were asked more than once to sign, and refused, according to a friend of mine who was there and saw it happen.

Here’s another from earlier, on a slightly different matter.

I went to a Hispanic Republican event last Thursday, May 5, for “Cinco de Mayo.” I arrived late — and noticed a couple of interns walking around with clipboards wearing “Tom DeLay” stickers.

It turned out they were asking people to sign a “commitment” for Tom DeLay. From across the room, I watched them make their pitch to people at various tables, then I noticed a look of terror from the person approached, something like: “Oh my God, they want my signature! Egads!”

Maybe I was wrong about that look, but maybe not. When the young lady walked by me with her clipboard, I could not help but notice that — despite her low cut dress — that she had only about 3 signatures, despite a room full of party regulars (mostly non-Hispanic).

Since when do you need a commitment to run against a Democrat? What is DeLay afraid of if he is campaigning already — nine months before the March ’06 primary?

Make of that what you will.

Why you can safely ignore the special session talk

You’re going to continue to hear Governor Perry rattle his saber about calling the Lege back for a special session on school finance. Actually, from what I’ve seen, Perry will continue to push the notion that the Lege will quickly come crawling back to him and beg for another session to be called.

“When we see the commit- ment of the Legislature to come together on this,” Perry said, “then there is a very good chance that we’ll be back here and swiftly address it.”

Otherwise, he said, legislators “should make plans for a long and uncomfortable summer when they go home” to face constituents and tell them that they did not approve education reform or a swap of billions of dollars in state taxes for cuts in local school property taxes.

As Governor, Rick Perry can call a special session any time he wants, whether the Lege likes it or not. Obviously, he doesn’t want to call a second doomed-to-failure session on school finance. He needs a deal to be brokered first, which is why he’s putting pressure on the Lege, specifically on the House, to come back to the bargaining table and make something happen. Once it does, he’ll call everyone back, the reforms will pass, everyone will throw rose petals at him, KBH will stay in Washington where she belongs, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

Or not. As Chris Elam rightly points out, there’s been no indication from Tom Craddick that he sees any progress in the negotiations. Craddick is also fully aware that the state Supreme Court will begin hearing the appeal of Judge Dietz’s original ruling on July 6. Craddick has said all along that he would prefer to hear what the courts ultimately say before taking any action; it’s hard to believe he’ll change his mind when that last word from the judiciary is so imminent.

PerryVsWorld thinks that the Governor may be trying to pressure Craddick specifically. I can’t imagine what leverage Perry thinks he has on Craddick. We already know that of Perry, Dewhurst, and Craddick, only the latter knows for sure that he’ll be back in the same office in 2007, and now Craddick is even more secure in his spot:

The second-term speaker held a reception for House members through the midnight hour Monday, raising what he said were enough pledges from colleagues to assure his re-election as speaker of the 150-member body in the 2007 session.

Of course, those pledges would mean little if the Republicans lost control of the House next year, but as optimistic as I am about Democrats making more gains, even my wildest dreams don’t stretch as far as 14 seats. You could target a few specific Craddick loyalists, more to make a point than anything else, I suppose, but the most likely outcome of that is a split GOP caucus and the return of Pete Laney as a compromise choice for speaker. Surely Rick Perry isn’t that Machiavellian. In short, I don’t think that’s gonna work.

All this is to say that barring an unlikely change in Tom Craddick’s rhetoric, don’t count on any more sessions until after the Supremes have spoken. What you’re hearing from the Governor is blame-shifting, nothing more.

Finally, on a tangential note, now would be an excellent time for the Democrats, who as Andrew D noted had a pretty decent session all in all, to start talking again about their alternate proposals for school finance reform and property tax relief. How many of you, like the commenter in that BOR post, never knew or had forgotten that there was a Democratic alternative? Listen up, Democrats: Get out there and talk about this. Tell your constituents about it, in email and snail mail and at any community event you can attend. Start submitting op-eds to your hometown newspapers touting your alternative. The point to emphasize, whether through delicate inference or crude sledgehammering, is that Democrats know what their answer is, and if Democrats were in charge we’d have solved this problem to everyone’s benefit by now. Do it now, because you never know when it’ll be too late.

Fundraising at the White House

Once again, Lou Dubose advances the ball on things scandalicious and DeLay-related, this time documenting a political fundraiser at the White House involving disgraced lobbyist and DeLay crony Jack Abramoff and should-be-disgraced conservative activist Grover Norquist. Read and enjoy.

Some of you may note this story, which says that Democratic efforts to make political hay out of Les Affaires Abramoff may hit a snag due to some fundraising Abramoff did on behalf of several prominent Dems. Perhaps it will, but I’ll simply note that the story makes no claim that there was anything illegal, unethical, or even potentially questionable in this activity. If anyone wants to advance the notion that any dealing at all with Abramoff is prima facie evidence of wrongdoing, I say go for it. I feel pretty confident in stating that the Republicans will come out on the short end of that particular stick.

All that said, if there is actual evidence of wrongdoing by Democrats in association with Abramoff, then go right ahead and bring on the investigations. I’m not in the business of excusing malfeasance. Following the rules isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) a partisan issue. I’m for active ethics enforcement, and if that means a few casualties on my side, then so be it. They should know better, and I expect better of them.

Not that I’m too worried. By his nature and how he got where he is, Abramoff will be far more damaging to Republicans. As an example of what I mean, and as an extra special bonus, The Stakeholder ties the Dubose story back to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. Jack Abramoff is a gift that just keeps on giving, isn’t he?

Castles in the sand

How can you tell it’s summertime around here? Well, beyond the onset of 90+ degree days whose monotony is broken only by violent thunderstorms? That would be the annual Sand Castle competition in Galveston, which is taking place tomorrow. Castle building begins at 10 AM, judging at 3 PM. If you’re thinking about heading to the beach this weekend, that’s as good an excuse for going as you’re likely to get. Via Stina.