Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

October 6th, 2005:

Hutchison’s bad idea

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has a bad idea for border security that she wants to make into law.

With complaints mounting about lax border controls, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison called Wednesday for giving local police the power to arrest illegal immigrants and for creation of a “border marshal” program to let local peace officers help patrol the border.

“Our borders have been hemorrhaging for too long. It is a national security and safety threat to our nation,” said the vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference. “I just don’t think we’ll ever have enough Border Patrol agents.”

The proposal is one of a slew of proposals around Congress to tighten borders, and like many of the others, this one drew swift denunciation from immigrant advocates, who warned that police aren’t properly trained and have enough to do already.

Ms. Hutchison called her plan a direct response to the Minuteman Project, the controversial group that has sent hundreds of volunteers to deter illegal crossings in Arizona, Texas and other states, and said “the Minutemen have shown that citizens are now really wanting to be helpful in patrolling borders.”

But, she added, it’s not safe for untrained volunteers to take on those duties. Her bill would let the Homeland Security Department create a “Volunteer Border Marshal” program involving police, sheriffs and other licensed peace officers. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was noncommittal about the idea during a 45-minute meeting in her office Wednesday, the Texas senator said.

The bill would give cities and states the option to enforce and prosecute federal immigration laws.

Immigrant advocates warned that local authorities are more likely to injure or kill non-Anglo people – immigrants or citizens. And they predicted sweeps of construction sites and day-laborer pickup areas across the country, deterring immigrants from reporting crimes.

“They’ll be easy victims. No one will protect them,” said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

He called the proposal a sign of an immigrant-bashing spiral.

“They’re getting more and more aggressive, more and more outrageous in the proposals. It’s like immigrants are all mass murderers,” he said.

“You could turn the whole country into a police state and that still won’t solve the problem. People come here for jobs that are offered by American employers.”

This Lufkin Daily News editorial hits the nail on the head.

As columnist Cynthia Tucker pointed out recently, anti-immigrationists rarely attack those who hire illegal immigrants. If they were truly serious about stopping illegal immigration, then they ought to pass laws and start prosecuting folks who hire undocumented workers.

Our failed drug war offers an analogy. If there were no demand, there would be no drug problem. If there were no demand for undocumented workers performing jobs that American citizens are unwilling to do — hotel maids, poultry workers, landscapers, bricklayers — then people wouldn’t be streaming across the border to fill those jobs.

If Sen. Hutchison is serious about solving the immigration problem, pushing to pass the president’s guest-worker plan is a solid step in that direction. Deputizing local police to enforce immigration laws is hardly the solution.

It should also be noted that the people Hutchison seeks to solve this federal problem don’t want the task.

[A] top officer in a statewide law enforcement group in Texas said state and local officers may be hard-pressed to pitch in with immigration enforcement.

“We all have our own jobs to do,” said Chris McGill of El Paso, vice president of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas and president of the El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association. “I don’t think a lot of them are going to volunteer their time to stand around on the border to assist a federal agency to do their job.”

This, like Rep. Culberson’s much-derided anti-immigration bill HR3622, is an attempt to solve a complex and costly federal problem on the cheap. Here’s a response to the Hutchison bill I received in email from Barbara Radnofsky:

The Hutchison immigration bill is a grandstanding effort. Local law enforcement and volunteers should not be asked to do the federal government’s job.

Passing the buck to Texas cities and counties who are already struggling to balance their budgets and control crime with an out of control deficit and burdens of unfunded mandates is wrong.

We must solve this problem at our borders and with a national security policy. Asking local law enforcement or groups of “volunteers,” which is a nice word for vigilantes, to hunt down and imprison alleged immigrants, does nothing to stem the flow of people into this country.

The bill’s sloppy wording alone will generate controversy. It empowers anyone by the nonsensical, yet broad language describing volunteers as “licensed by a state authority to enforce State or local penal offenses.”

It’s only a matter of time before someone is killed, and then Ms. Hutchison will wonder how things got out of hand with vigilante proposals. Until we gain control of our borders, we cannot begin to face the tragedy of ten million – far more than ten million – mothers, fathers and children – who are already here. Ms. Hutchison’s grandstanding proposal fails to protect our borders or our national security.

As The Jeffersonian notes, even Hutchison’s Texas colleague John Cornyn has problems with her proposal.

“I am not a fan of volunteers doing — no matter how admirable their intentions — a job for trained law enforcement professionals,” Cornyn said.

With volunteers and militias, Cornyn said, “somebody is going to get hurt, who shouldn’t get hurt, who I don’t want to see get hurt.”

Other people you should read on this topic: Dos Centavos, Grits for Breakfast, Rio Grande Valley Politics, and especially State Rep. Aaron Pena, who’s been blogging up a storm on the subject of immigration, border security, and the Minutemen. His account of meeting with the Texas State President of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is one of the best things I’ve read this year. If you’re only going to click one of these links, that’s the one.

Tom ‘n’ Roy, together forever

Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt, two peas from the same rotten pod.

Tom DeLay deliberately raised more money than he needed to throw parties at the 2000 presidential convention, then diverted some of the excess to longtime ally Roy Blunt through a series of donations that benefited both men’s causes.

When the financial carousel stopped, DeLay’s private charity, the consulting firm that employed DeLay’s wife and the Missouri campaign of Blunt’s son all ended up with money, according to campaign documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist recently charged in an ongoing federal corruption and fraud investigation, and Jim Ellis, the DeLay fundraiser indicted with his boss last week in Texas, also came into the picture.

[…]

The government’s former chief election enforcement lawyer said the Blunt and DeLay transactions are similar to the Texas case and raise questions that should be investigated regarding whether donors were deceived or the true destination of their money was concealed.

“These people clearly like using middlemen for their transactions,” said Lawrence Noble. “It seems to be a pattern with DeLay funneling money to different groups, at least to obscure, if not cover, the original source,” said Noble, who was the Federal Election Commission’s chief lawyer for 13 years, including in 2000 when the transactions occurred.

None of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations DeLay collected for the 2000 convention were ever disclosed to federal regulators because the type of group DeLay used wasn’t governed by federal law at the time.

[…]

Noble said investigators should examine whether the pattern of disguising the original source of money might have been an effort to hide the leaders’ simultaneous financial and legislative dealings with Abramoff and his clients.

“You see Abramoff involved and see the meetings that were held and one gets the sense Abramoff is helping this along in order to get access and push his clients’ interest,” he said. “And at the same time, you see Delay and Blunt trying to hide the root of their funding.

“All of these transactions may have strings attached to them. … I think you would want to look, if you aren’t already looking, at the question of a quid pro quo,” Noble said.

There’s more, much more, so do read the whole thing, as well as this handy timeline of events. And please note the compelling defense that’s being offered for Blunt’s behavior:

Blunt and DeLay planned all along to raise more money than was needed for the convention parties and then route some of that to other causes, such as supporting state candidates, said longtime Blunt aide Gregg Hartley.

“We put together a budget for what we thought we would raise and spend on the convention and whatever was left over we were going to use to support candidates,” said Hartley, Blunt’s former chief of staff who answered AP’s questions on behalf of Blunt.

Hartley said he saw no similarity to the Texas case. The fact that DeLay’s charity, Christine DeLay’s consulting firm and Blunt’s son were beneficiaries was a coincidence, Hartley said.

[…]

On May 24, 2000 — just before DeLay left with Abramoff for the Scottish golfing trip — DeLay’s convention fundraising group transferred $100,000 more to Blunt’s group. Within three weeks, Blunt turned around and donated the same amount to the Missouri Republican Party.

The next month, the state GOP began spending large amounts of money to help Blunt’s son, Matt, in his successful campaign to become Missouri secretary of state. On July 25, 2000, the state GOP made its first expenditure for the younger Blunt, totaling just over $11,000. By election day, that figure had grown to more than $160,000.

Hartley said Blunt always liked to help the state party and the fact that his son got party help after his donation was a coincidence. “They are unrelated activities,” he said.

So many coincidences, so little time. Our Mister Hartley here reminds me of someone…

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Sounds about right to me. Links via Josh Marshall and The Daily DeLay.

Why we left

The Chronicle does a poll about the Rita evacuation.

If a Category 4 hurricane had a bead on Houston, 62 percent would leave — a slightly higher percentage than actually did flee ahead of Rita, according to the poll.

[…]

“You would have thought that people who had spent more than 10 hours on the road, would say, ‘This is crazy, I won’t do it again,’ ” said Bob Stein of Rice University, who conducted the poll along with Richard Murray of the University of Houston. “When the hurricane doesn’t hit and doesn’t do a lot of damage, people reconsider evacuating. But people don’t have any regrets.”

The poll is consistent with official estimates that about 2.5 million people left the area, Stein said.

About 70 percent of those who left were afraid of the storm — fearing for their safety from wind and flooding — as Rita seemed poised for a near-direct hit. Only one in five listed evacuation orders as the primary motivation for taking flight, according to the poll of residents in Harris and seven adjacent counties.

Yep, that’s why we left. And yes, we’d do it again.

Sixty-two percent of people living in Rita evacuation areas left, compared with 42 percent not living in those areas.

But Stein said his analysis of poll responses showed that people who left non-evacuation zones feared the hurricane’s effects slightly more than those who left more vulnerable areas.

“If you were in an evacuation zone you accept that risk and don’t assess it as very high,” he said. People who live in Galveston, for example, may accept higher risks in exchange for enjoying the island city’s seaside amenities.

Officials requested residents in storm surge areas to leave their homes on Wednesday, Sept. 21. About a third who evacuated heeded the warning then and hit the road.

That evening’s forecast, the most ominous of the week, brought a larger response: More than half who evacuated left Thursday.

Almost half of the evacuees said they stayed in caravans of more than one car, a factor that likely contributed to the traffic congestion. Thirty percent who said they left with three companions or fewer — a group that could have fit into most cars — left in multiple vehicles, according to the poll.

“People in the most vulnerable areas clearly anticipated their cars, like their homes, would be at risk,” Stein said. “It’s suggestive of people taking their cars, not because they had a lot of people to protect, but because they were taking their second-most valuable possession.”

Half of the evacuees headed for small towns in Texas. Dallas and Austin were the next-most popular destinations.

So most people left on Thursday, many of them went to Dallas, and many of them were in multi-car caravans. Yeah, that would explain why traffic sucked.

Bottom line, as I’ve said before: Any reevaluation of the evacuation plan must take into account the fact that more people will leave than you expect. Take any approach you want to that problem, from staging the evacuation differently to opening contraflow lanes more quickly to trying to convince some people to not leave, but expect the roads to be fuller than you think.

Ted Lyon for Governor?

Via DC9 and email from Judge Susan Criss comes the following tidbit gleaned from the current newsletter of the Galveston County Democratic Party:

The rumors are strong around the state that Ted B. Lyon will seek the Democratic Party¹s nomination for Governor in 2006.

A very successful 57-year old Dallas trial lawyer, Lyon has a very distinguished career of public service. The former police officer served four years as a member of the Texas House of Representatives and eleven years in the Texas Senate. His legislative career earned him numerous honors for his successful efforts in behalf of consumers, education, the environment, and law enforcement. Ted Lyon is a progressive who will come to the Texas Governor’s office with all of the necessary qualities that are lacking in the last two who held that office.

He has the ‘know how’ to win and to govern effectively. Texas could benefit by a man like Ted Lyon in the Governor’s office.

Here’s a bio from his law firm’s webpage. I confess that beyond what I’ve been reading here I don’t know much about Ted Lyon. I’ve heard from more than one person that he’s a good guy and also that he could self-finance his campaign, admittedly a nontrivial point these days despite our recent track record for such things at the gubernatorial level. I daresay he’d have about the same name ID quotient as Chris Bell, so I don’t think that would be a consideration.

I’m happy with Bell, but as I’ve said before, anyone who wants to jump into the Democratic primary and make the case that he or she is the best person to take out Rick Perry is welcome to do so by me. As with John Sharp, I’ll believe these reports when I see the words come from the mouth of the purported candidate himself. In the meantime, have fun speculating about it.

(On a side note, the new design for the GCDP’s website is pretty sleek. Their blog is still in the works, so check back on that later. Kudos to all involved for the nice work.)

Polling followup – Is there a basis for comparison?

Following up on all of the bloggage about that Zogby Interactive poll, the Chris Bell folks did a little research into other attempts to quantify Texas gubernatorial races a year or more out from the election. Here’s what they found (see it also at BOR or in table form at Greg‘s place): In the last three campaigns, the level of support indicated for the incumbent, even at this early juncture, matched up pretty closely with the final result.

Now those were all done by different outfits, and there certainly is room to carp about Zogby’s methodology and/or track record. But let’s keep two thing in mind: One is that five years and countless special sessions into office, there probably aren’t many likely voters who don’t have an opinion about Rick Perry. He’s a known quantity. Generally speaking, incumbents ultimately don’t do very well among the undecided; usually, that’s code for “I’m not too happy about voting for this guy, but I want to know more about my alternatives before I commit myself.” Which is why lesser-known challengers start out in a hole against even unpopular incumbents.

Secondly, whatever the merits or lack of same may be regarding Zogby Interactive, their finding that 40% of the voters would cast a ballot for Rick Perry while 45% would push the button for someone else tracks pretty darned closely with his approval ratings for the past several months – if anything, the Zogby numbers compare favorably for Perry, given his three-month run of 50%+ disapproval. (He’s gotten his Katrina bounce, by the way – he’s all the way up to a magisterial 49%, against 45% disapproval. Check the crosstabs and see if you find anything that’s unlikely to be still true thirteen months from now.) Given that, the Zogby result should not be a surprise.

Which brings us back to the question of Kinky Friedman’s level of support. Without seeing a straight up Perry/Bell poll, any conjecture about where Friedman’s support is coming from is just guesswork. I can’t say right now whether Kinky is hurting one candidate more than the other or not, or if he’s just a recognizable name that otherwise-undecided people have latched onto so as not to be an “I don’t know” answer. Heck, I can’t even say what his level of name ID really is. I still believe that in the end, Friedman will take more support from Perry than from Bell. I just wish I had a better idea now of how much that might be.

(That’s still assuming that he gets on the ballot, of course. Here’s another question for Kinky supporters: Don’t you think it would have made sense for him to have supported Ralph Nader’s lawsuit in 2004 to overturn Texas’ ballot access laws? For a guy who was already talking about running long before Nader filed his suit, that strikes me as poor strategic planning.)

Anyway, bottom line is that the more I think about this particular poll, the more I think it’s at least within shouting distance of reality. I still want to see more, but this is a decent enough starting point.

Still in search of privatization savings

Following up on the earlier news about the very critical state audit of claimed savings by privatizing HR and payroll functions of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC), we have this Chron story which adds some more details.

The commission says it never expected to save money in the first year but concedes it has sliced its own projected cost savings in half since the private contract was awarded last year.

The auditor sharply criticized the agency for “significant errors and omissions” in its assumptions about how much it would cost a private company versus the government to perform the administrative duties.

The inaccuracies resulted in overstating what it would cost for an in-house consolidation of payroll and human resources functions while understating what it would cost for a private company running the system, the auditor found.

The commission awarded the contract to Convergys in October 2004 after conducting an analysis it said showed the company could save the state as much as $21.7 million over five years.

“As of August 2005, the commission reported that it had not yet achieved any cost savings from outsourcing this function,” the auditor said.

Commission spokeswoman Jennifer Harris said state officials never expected cost savings in the first year.

However, she added that the commission now expects cost savings over five years from outsourcing to be about $10.9 million, roughly half what it originally estimated.

[…]

The auditor said commission officials overestimated the cost of a government-run system by $19 million while omitting $24 million in start-up costs and not counting other costs for the private contractor.

“Because of the magnitude of these discrepancies, documentation available at the commission was not sufficient to determine whether outsourcing was cost effective,” the auditor said.

Even so, the commission insists it will save $32.7 million over the next five years as a result of consolidating payroll and human resources, with roughly a third of that the result of private contracting.

You may note that the original story cited a claimed $45 million cost reduction. It’s no wonder no one can say for certain what we’re supposed to save. There’s too damn many numbers floating around.

More damning is this story, a followup to the original Express News piece, in which we learn that THHSC cannot abide bad news.

A dispute remains unsettled between the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the state auditor’s office over how much would be saved by privatizing the commission’s human resources and payroll functions.

Last year, the commission, which oversees all of the state’s health and welfare services, said it was beginning its effort to privatize some services now provided by state workers as a cost-saving move.

Because the commission disagreed with the auditors’ preliminary analysis that only $1.1 million would be saved, the figure was dropped from the auditors’ final report, released Tuesday.

Instead, the figure was replaced with a statement that auditors were unable to quantify what savings would come from outsourcing.

Responding to the critical audit, HHS Commissioner Albert Hawkins acknowledged “errors and omissions” in its cost analysis, but said the errors were not significant enough to change the commission’s calculation.

As Casey Stengel once said, can anyone here play this game? The Jeffersonian is right. This is outrageous. There were two justifications for privatizing THHSC’s functions: The private sector can do them more efficiently and less expensively. Neither one is proving to be true. At what point are we going to reexamine our assumptions and take corrective action?

If we don’t do something soon, the feds may force our hand. Via the Quorum Report, states may soon face limits on how much they can privatize food stamp programs.

The U.S. Senate passed a $100 billion Agriculture Department annual funding bill on Thursday that would prevent states from privatizing the food stamp program by sending some administrative jobs to overseas call centers.

[…]

Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin sponsored the ban on replacing state workers with outside firms to handle food stamp applications. Otherwise, he said, low-paid workers in an overseas call center might decide if poor Americans got aid.

As noted by Waco Trib columnist John Young, the House version of this bill doesn’t have that provision, so nothing is certain yet. That said, this passed the Senate by a 97-2 margin.

This mess is getting attention within Texas. Chris Bell has sent a letter to the USDA, which regardless of the above legislation is still required to approve any privatization deal involving food stamps, urging it to reject this one. The following is from a press release I got from State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos:

In a letter to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst co-authored by Senator [Eliot] Shapleigh, Senator Barrientos expressed his concerns over findings in the audit which described the Commission’s inability to accurately estimate savings and properly document their actions as required by state law. “In anticipation of an unsatisfactory outcome, I wrote the Commission in February 2004 asking that they reconsider the push to privatize payroll and human resources, and was assured in a response that ‘as good stewards of taxpayer dollars’ the Commission would ‘carefully establish their criteria’ and ‘focus on performance and accountability’,” wrote Barrientos. “In light of the Commission’s response, I find the results of the State Auditor’s report particularly disappointing.” Barrientos continued by saying “(a)s news of the audit has spread, I have begun to field reports from state employees who are unable to access the HR system, check and use their vacation time, and in some cases, even receive a paycheck. This is simply unacceptable. We need increased legislative scrutiny before we move further down the often one-way street of privatization.”

We have not heard the last of this.

For previous entries on this, see here and here. There’s more at BOR and PinkDome.