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June 21st, 2006:

One helpful grandma

Here’s my nominee for Quote Of The Year, Unexpected Source division.

Despite her protestations now, Bell said, Strayhorn once advocated privatizing the children’s Medicaid-eligibility system and changing rules for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, changes at least partly blamed for thousands of children losing health coverage.

Strayhorn announced last month that she would investigate the state’s $899 million contract with Accenture LLP, the company hired to screen applicants for children’s health insurance and other welfare programs.

Accenture has been criticized by legislators and health care advocates for inadequate staffing and training at private call centers.

Strayhorn called the Accenture contract a “perfect storm of wasted tax dollars” and blamed Perry, who appointed the health and human services commissioner, for the problem.

Strayhorn’s spokesman, Mark Sanders, said Tuesday that the health insurance privatization approved by the Legislature and the Health and Human Services Commission was much broader than the comptroller had recommended as a cost-cutting measure in 2003.

“That’s sort of like an arsonist offering to help put out the fire that he started,” Bell responded. “I mean, this was part of her recommendation, and obviously she wants to run from it now.”

Former state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson, who sponsored the health and human services reorganization in 2003, said Strayhorn’s office was “very helpful” in getting the legislation passed.

“In a way, she was the grandma of House Bill 2292,” the reorganization act, said Wohlgemuth, who backs Perry.

(Emphasis mine.) Arlene Wohlgemuth, ladies and gentlemen. Be sure to check yourself for stiletto wounds after you shake hands with her.

Oh, and I’d totally accept “Carole Keeton ‘Grandma of House Bill 2292’ Strayhorn” as a compromise solution to how she should be listed on the ballot. I’m just saying.

Another contender for Treasurer

From the “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” files, we have a new contender for the GOP nomination for Harris County Treasurer: Former Harris County Treasurer Don Sumners.

“It’s going to be a fight, but I’m up to it,” said Sumners, who filed paperwork Tuesday indicating his intent to seek the position.

“Commissioners Court has robbed the office of its functions. Now they say it’s not needed.”


Sumners, who held the office for one term and fended off an effort to abolish the position , lost to Cato in the 1998 GOP primary. He now works as the director of quality assurance for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt.


Sumners promoted his candidacy in a letter Tuesday to Republican precinct chairs, declaring “war on those who want to abolish the office.”

As the taxpayers’ only independent voice on financial matters, the treasurer is in the unique position to provide a second opinion about the county’s financial health, he wrote.

Commissioners who want to get rid of the office fear accountability and transparency, he charged.

“Jack, although a congenial person, did exactly what he was put into office to do, nothing,” Sumner wrote.

Commissioner Steve Radack, a staunch supporter of Cato, dismissed Sumners.

“This is the same Don Sumners the voters turned out of office after four years,” Radack said. “The problem with Mr. Sumners is he can say it, but he just can’t sell it.”

Sumners admits he doesn’t have any visible support.

“I have myself. That’s all I’ve ever had,” he said.

True enough. For example, he doesn’t have the support of Gary Polland, who’s firmly in the Orlandomania camp. You’ll note, however, that nowhere in that mash note does Polland ever make the case for why we need a Treasurer’s office, nor does he connect any of Orlando Sanchez’s past glories to any purported function of the Treasurer’s office. Apparently, the principle of smaller government is less important than the principle of rewarding your buddies. Not that this surprises me, mind you.

Interestingly enough, in the exchange between Sumners and Radack, Sumners got it right. In the seven-plus years that he was County Treasurer, Jack Cato did exactly nothing in his official capacity that was notable enough to make the newspaper. I’ve now extended that archive search to all years, and there’s just nothing. Try it yourself and see what I mean. Maybe Sumners, and for that matter Orlando Sanchez, are correct in saying that the Treasurer is supposed to be a watchdog/advocate of some kind. If so, then my question to them would be what did Jack Cato’s non-advocacy cost Harris County during his tenure? If you can’t identify anything that we missed by not having an activist Treasurer, then tell me again why we need a Treasurer.

By the way, here’s a blast from the past for you from that extended archive search:

Incumbent Don Sumners told a gathering of about 50 downtown Republicans that he sees his role as a “taxpayer watchdog,” fighting against tax increases and unnecessary county spending.

But Sumner’s opponent, former television reporter Jack Cato, said the treasurer has no say in the county’s property-tax rates and said Sumners spends too much time working on issues unrelated to the office.

Sumners and Cato appeared before the Downtown Pachyderm Club trying to drum up support before the March 10 primary. About half the crowd appeared solidly in one camp or the other, and several in the gathering took the opportunity to question their candidate’s opponent.

Much of the discussion focused on Sumners’ rocky relationship with other county officials. While Sumners said those problems were the result of his opposition to several high-profile county issues in the past several years, Cato painted him as a county gadfly of sorts, “spending all your time `speaking out,’ and not doing the job you’re supposed to do.”

Sumners’ relationship with other county officials – most notably County Commissioner Steve Radack – is considerably less than friendly. Sumners irritated Radack in 1996 by criticizing an unexpected property-tax increase Radack proposed.

“It’s no secret that Steve Radack has been after me for a long time. And it really got going when he brought out the sneak tax increase,” Sumners said. He said Radack had been looking for someone to run against him and, turning toward Cato, he said: “And I think he found one.”

Nice to see that Sumners and Radack have not kissed and made up.

Look, I don’t care if county officials get along or not, and I certainly don’t object to someone pissing off the Commissioners’ Court. But if the Treasurer’s office has no actual power to provide a check and balance on what the Commissioners can do, then I ask again why we need to pay for such an office. Let Sumners and Orlando Sanchez do their watchdog thing on their own dime. It’ll have as much effect, and it’ll save the taxpayers a couple hundred grand a year in salary, benefits, and overhead.

Fundraising update – State House

I was sent the following from Capitol Inside, which I pass along for your enlightenment:

Republicans reaped the lion’s share of headlines but Democrats raised the most cash for Texas House and Senate campaigns during the special session on schools and taxes this spring.

With about two-thirds of the special session fundraising reports posted by the Texas Ethics Commission late Friday, eight of the 10 Texas House candidates who raised the most money during the spring gathering are Democrats. Nine of the 10 candidates who reported the most contributions during the special session are challenging incumbents or running for open seats. Only one – State Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles – is a current House member.

Toureilles – an Alice Democrat who’s being targeted by Republicans in her quest for a third House term – reported contributions of almost $46,000 during the special session that got under way in April and ended 29 days later in May. Toureilles, who represents one out of 150 state House districts, raised one-eighth as much during the special session as Republican Governor Rick Perry did for a statewide re-election race. Toureilles’ two biggest donations came from attorneys who represent plaintiffs in civil lawsuits – $10,000 from the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and $10,000 from Houston litigator Michael Gallagher.

I discussed Toureilles here, as her seat is one of only a few that the Republicans are targeting this year.

The rest of the article is beneath the fold. Be sure to read the bit about how Ellen Cohen did in comparison to Martha Wong.


Anna on the TDP voter data file

Anna has a long post about the Texas Democratic Party charging candidates for access to its voter database file. I’m not as convinced as she that this is a bad thing, and I don’t think the prices they ask are excessive, but I do agree that the way they’ve gone about implementing this new policy is not good. I also agree that on the heels of the generally positive convention in Fort Worth, a better approach might have been to solicit support from the TDP membership to cover the costs of this service so they could keep it free for candidates. Finally, if it really is the case that data from the 2005 Constitutional amendment referendum and the 2006 primary are not available in the database, then whoever made the decision not to include them needs to be removed from oversight of this data. There’s no excuse for that.

Anyway. Read what she says and see what you think.

UPDATE: From Phillip in the comments:

Charles — don’t know if you want to make an update or not, but the 2005 Constitutional amendment referendum and the 2006 primary data are in the voter file for over 80% of the counties, including all the ones that submit that information electronically. The TDP is constantly updating the other information (which is submitted in hard copies). Just an FYI.

Good to hear. Thanks, Phillip!

Sanity reigns at Commissioners’ Court

One less dumb idea for me to worry about.

Rejecting the temptation of a multibillion windfall, Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously today to continue running the county’s lucrative toll road system rather than selling or leasing it to a private entity.

“Now we can erect a sign on the toll roads: ‘Not for sale, not for lease,'” said Commissioner Steve Radack, who had never been enthusiastic about the idea, even as the county conducted studies of the leasing and selling options.

The action means the system, which comprises the Hardy, Sam Houston and Westpark toll roads, will continue to be operated by the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

You’ll never hear me say this again, so write down today’s date: Thank goodness for the HCTRA. I just hope they didn’t spend too much money studying this lemon.

Mapchangers, Round 2

I’ve mentioned the Mapchangers competition before. They’re on to Round Two, in which you can select up to five candidates from the East and West regions for the $5000 contribution from Forward Together PAC and a chance to have a fundraiser with Gov. Mark Warner. Five’s perfect, because there are five Texans in the round:

The Straight Ticket Texan lineup:

TX GOV – Chris Bell
TX SEN – Barbara Ann Radnofsky
TX CD 10 – Ted Ankrum
TX CD 21 – John Courage
TX CD 31 – Mary Beth Harrell

As you can see from the published ballots, the Texas Five are doing pretty well. (Not all ballots are published – I chose not to publish mine.) This one’s the easy choice – the hard one will be who to pick if more than one Texas Democrat makes it to the Top Ten. I say that’s a good problem to have, though, so go do what you can to get them there.