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March 25th, 2006:

Candidate forum on Trans Texas Corridor

There was a candidates’ forum to discuss the Trans Texas Corridor yesterday in Central Texas. Three gubernatorial wannabees were there. You’ll never guess which one wasn’t.

At 6:05 p.m. Friday, almost an hour before the start of the Blackland Coalition’s gubernatorial candidate forum on the Trans-Texas Corridor, the asphalt outside of the Seaton Star Hall east of Temple was already half full of pickups and cars. Outside, representatives of writer and musician Kinky Friedman and Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn were gathering petition signatures in their efforts to make the November ballot as independents and unseat Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Inside, many of the 750 chairs were filled already. Folks in gimme caps, black Stetson hats and jeans were munching on sausage wraps and, when she happened by, listening to Strayhorn make her pitch one-on-one. Friedman and Democratic candidate Chris Bell showed up later in time to speak to the crowd, making it the three challengers’ first joint appearance of the campaign.

By 7 p.m., the room was full, and the response to the challengers during the next two hours was full-throated, giving at least some indications that Perry has genuine political work ahead.

His plan for a network of cross-state toll roads and rail lines has many rural Texans in an independent frame of mind.

“This area went Republican” in the mid-1990s, said Inez Cobb, a board member of the year-old coalition formed in opposition to the corridor plan. “But they better watch their step or it might not be for long.”

[…]

[Perry spokesman Robert] Black said the corridor plan, despite demonstrations of widespread rural discontent such as Friday night’s, won’t hurt Perry in November.

“The governor believes that the vast majority of Texans, including rural Texans, understand that with a population expected to double in the next 40 years, the current Texas infrastructure can’t handle that increase,” Black said. “Something has to happen.”

We’ll see about that. As I noted before, I think that Strayhorn’s anti-toll road supporters are more Republican than not – for sure, I got a ton of email from this crowd before the primaries exhorting votes for a number of candidates in various GOP primaries. I think this is a sizable chunk of her base.

But maybe Rick Perry isn’t worried about that. He’ll still be happy to point out that as with many other issues, Strayhorn used to be on the same team as he on the subject of toll roads.

Strayhorn, whose intention to supplant Perry in the Governor’s Mansion has been well known for a couple of years, has periodically hammered Perry over his preference for toll roads as a solution to the Texas highway crunch.

She was quoted in January saying, “This voice is dead set against toll roads.”

But the Perry campaign says that wasn’t always the case, noting news releases and reports out of her office in 2000 and 2001 touting toll roads as the way to get roads built quickly and boost the state’s economy.

That was, of course, before the Legislature overhauled transportation law and transformed toll roads from a concept into a reality.

Chris Bell is also hitting her on this; he has excerpts from some of the aforementioned press releases. I’ve checked around some of the anti-toll road blogs but haven’t seen any response to this yet. Sal? Any comment?

Thanks to South Texas Chisme for the link.

Strayhorn sues over petition checking

Carole Keeton Strayhorn has filed suit over how Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams (a Perry appointee) plans to verify signatures on her petition for ballot access.

Texas Comptroller Strayhorn and satirist Kinky Friedman each need to gather 45,540 valid Texas voter signatures by May 11 to get on the ballot in November as independent candidates for governor.

Williams has said he will not begin verifying the petitions until after the May 11 deadline passes.

Williams also has said he will have his staff manually verify each signature instead of using a statistical analysis as has been done in the past. That verification process could take two months and might not be done until just before he must certify the November ballot on Sept. 13.

McClellan invited Friedman’s campaign to join the lawsuit.

Friedman spokeswoman Laura Stromberg said the campaign is reviewing the Strayhorn lawsuit and will decide whether to join it next week. She said Friedman is mostly concerned that state law discriminates against independents to favor major party candidates.

“Williams isn’t being unfair. State law is unfair,” Stromberg said.

Third party and independent petition drive lawsuits in the past have been unsuccessful in Texas. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader lost a lawsuit challenging the Texas system in 2004.

Once again, I will point out that if Friedman thought the Texas law was wrong, he had an opportunity to formally express that view when Nader sued to overturn it in 2004. He failed to do so. You know the rest.

But independent campaign consultant Linda Curtis of Austin said a Texas Supreme Court ruling in January favoring two Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals candidates “could open the door” for a successful lawsuit by Strayhorn.

The court ruled the candidates should have an opportunity to “cure” problems in their ballot petitions even though the deadline for submitting them had passed.

Strayhorn’s lawsuit seeks a federal injunction against Williams ordering him to use statistical analysis as a method of petition verification. It also wants him to begin verifying signatures as Strayhorn turns petitions in so she has an opportunity to “cure” any defects before the May 11 deadline.

[…]

To be valid, signatures on the petitions must be from registered voters who did not cast ballots in Democratic or Republican primaries or runoffs this year. Also, if someone signs both petitions, only the signature that is dated first counts toward ballot access.

[SOS spokesman Scott] Haywood said that is why a manual count is required.

“Given the fact there are multiple individuals vying for a spot on the ballot as an independent, verifying every signature is the surest way to protect the integrity of our elections and confirm the validity of a candidate’s name on the ballot,” Haywood said.

I think the SOS argument that the presence of multiple candidates and the need to ensure all the signatures they collected are unique is a reasonable one. As such, I agree with their plan to do a full accounting of each petition.

On the other hand, I presume that the method for doing this will involve entering each name, address, and so on from each petition into a computer so they can be checked against various databases for validity and against the voter rolls from March to ensure they handn’t participated in a primary. I further expect that’s how they plan to determine if a signer is a repeat customer.

Assuming that I’m not being naive here, and that the SOS plan is not to have some poor sap start at the top of one petition and then scan the entirity of the other to look for a match, then I see no reason why this needs to take so long. Even if I’m wrong about that – indeed, especially if I’m wrong about that – I see no reason why the SOS should feel compelled to wait until May 11 to get cracking. You don’t need to know if a signature is unique to check to see if its address is valid or if its owner had already voted. If it were up to me, I’d order him to start processing each petition page as soon as he gets it. I really can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t do that.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

The headline pretty much says it all: Lobbyists organize Patrick fundraiser.

State Senate nominee Dan Patrick, who blasted an opponent in the recent Republican primary for taking contributions from lobbyists, is having a fundraising reception in Austin next week, hosted by lobbyists for a range of special interests, including casinos.

Lobbyist Steve Bresnen, whose clients include the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters and the Bingo Interest Group, said he organized the Thursday event at the private Austin Club.

[…]

It is not unusual for newly elected legislators or legislative candidates to have Austin fundraisers, but Patrick, campaigning before the primary as a political outsider, all but condemned the lobby.

In a campaign television spot, he urged voters to help him “take our state back from the special interests and the lobbyists.”

“It’s time for change,” he said.

In an interview Thursday, Patrick said his principles haven’t changed. He said he still isn’t soliciting special interest money but would take some donations if they were offered with the understanding that no strings were attached.

“I have a lot of debt (more than $300,000) to retire,” he said.

If a donor later suggests that he has bought his influence, Patrick added, “I will escort him to the door.”

The nominee said he will refuse money from abortion rights groups, trial lawyers and people trying to expand gambling. He said that ban didn’t apply to lobbyists, such as Bresnen, who represents trial lawyers and bingo interests but has other clients as well.

“You know how the system works. One person (lobbyist) represents a lot of interests,” he said. “They (lobbyists) want to meet me. People in Austin don’t know me.”

What can one possibly say? Congratulations, Dan Patrick, you are now officially a cog in the machine. Be sure you rotate your lobbyists every 5000 miles to avoid premature wear.

Normally, this is the part of the post where I’d tell you about the Democratic alternative. Unfortunately, based on things I’ve heard from more than one person lately, I can’t recommend Michael Kubosh. From what I’ve been told, Kubosh has said he’s really a Republican but filed as a Democrat so he could be in the general election. He’s also apparently got views on immigration that are at least as out there as Patrick. No wonder he didn’t mind letting ol’ Danno back on the air. Far as I’m concerned, feel free to vote for the Libertarian or sit this race out.

You don’t need to know

Well, the Texas Ethics Commission met to discuss the case of Bill Ceverha, as expected. What was not expected was for them to give one of the stupidest rulings I’ve ever heard of.

The Texas Ethics Commission decided Friday that public officials who receive cash or other gifts don’t have to disclose the value, stunning open-government advocates.

“This is absurd, dangerous and completely undermines the reform legislation,” said Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth.

The seven commission members, appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, wrestled with disclosure laws that compel public officials to report gifts over $250. The law calls for a description of the gift, and some commissioners said indicating simply “cash” – without an amount – satisfies the statute.

But government watchdogs told the commissioners that they are failing to enforce the clear meaning of the law, rendering it useless.

“This ruling leaves a big enough loophole to drive an armored truck full of money through,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, which advocates for public disclosure. “All you would have to say is ‘a truck.’ ”

Or maybe “bag”, if you’re more old school.

The case stems from a June 2005 disclosure filed by Dallas businessman Bill Ceverha, a close friend of House Speaker Tom Craddick, who appointed him to the State Employees Retirement System board. The system oversees a nearly $20 billion fund that provides benefits for 250,000 retired state workers.

Mr. Ceverha disclosed that he received a gift, described only as a “check,” from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, the largest Republican donor in the state. Mr. Ceverha has declined to say how much the check was for. Mr. Perry’s spokesman has described it as charitable – not political – giving.

A commission staff ruling held that Mr. Ceverha’s description of the gift as a “check” was sufficient. And in its decision Friday, the Ethics Commission refused to revisit the rule or its interpretation.

All the commissioners who spoke agreed this constitutes an egregious loophole. But three commissioners blocked the possibility of a different interpretation, saying it is up to the Legislature to clarify the law. Six of seven commissioners must agree before a rule can be reconsidered.

The problem here is not unclear Legislative intent. It’s utter wussiness on the part of the TEC. I’m just flabbergasted. The comment Benton left in my previous post on this topic is apt – Ceverha may as well have said he received a piece of paper with Bob Perry’s autograph on it. That would not have told us any less.

Here’s the statement by Rep. Lon Bunham, who testified before the TEC on this matter:

Today, the Texas Ethics Commission did a disservice to the people of Texas. Their misinterpretation of current disclosure law, followed by their inaction today, will continue to allow any public official to accept a cash gift without disclosing the amount.

Under this misguided opinion, any appointee, commission or board member could literally accept a $1,000,000 check and simply write ‘check’ on their disclosure form.

The Ethics Commission is charged with ensuring disclosure laws are upheld. Today, they failed.

I do, however, want to thank Chairman Looney and Commissioners Taylor, Harrison, and Montagne for their votes in favor of transparent and open government. Had the other commissioners voted with these four members, the public interest would have been better served.

I am very pleased that some of the Commissioners insisted that this item be on the agenda again next month.

So it’s up to the Lege to fix this mess, which almost certainly means this “egregious loophole” will remain on the books for at least another year. Thanks for nothing, fellas. Even Governor Perry supported the disclosure of the amount of a gift, and he’s nobody’s idea of an open government advocate.

Vince quotes Harvey Kronberg calling this “straight out of Kafka”. Burnham has an op-ed in the Star Telegram that gives fuller voice to his outrage on this. I just don’t know what else to say.

No gun for you!

This is too funny.

It seems the Republican controlled Texas Legislature passed a law that if you’re indicted for a felony, you can’t be carrying a concealed handgun, even if you have a license.

Oops.

At the request of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Republican Justice of the Peace Jim Richards signed an order suspending Thomas Dale DeLay’s license to carry a handgun in the State of Texas.

Sure does suck when tuff-on-crime measures come back to bite you, doesn’t it? Juanita has all the official documents, including DeLay’s notice of appeal on the ruling, so go check it out.