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July 15th, 2008:

Conditional medicine

I don’t often write about this kind of stuff, but I find myself particularly annoyed by it, and that’s what having a blog is all about.

The Bush administration wants to require all recipients of aid under federal health programs to certify that they will not refuse to hire nurses and other providers who object to abortion and even certain types of birth control.

Under the draft of a proposed rule, hospitals, clinics, researchers and medical schools would have to sign “written certifications” as a prerequisite to getting money under any program run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Such certification would also be required of state and local governments, forbidden to discriminate, in areas like grant-making, against hospitals and other institutions that have policies against providing abortion.

The proposal, which circulated in the department on Monday, says the new requirement is needed to ensure that federal money does not “support morally coercive or discriminatory practices or policies in violation of federal law.” The administration said Congress had passed a number of laws to ensure that doctors, hospitals and health plans would not be forced to perform abortions.

In the proposal, obtained by The New York Times, the administration says it could cut off federal aid to individuals or entities that discriminate against people who object to abortion on the basis of “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

The proposal defines abortion as follows: “any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

Mary Jane Gallagher, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, which represents providers, said, “The proposed definition of abortion is so broad that it would cover many types of birth control, including oral contraceptives and emergency contraception.”

“We worry that under the proposal, contraceptive services would become less available to low-income and uninsured women,” Ms. Gallagher said.

Indeed, among other things the proposal expresses concern about state laws that require hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims who request it.

Can we please put the needs of the patients above the needs of the providers? Between this and all those incidents of pharmacists who won’t sell birth control, it’s as if we’ve forgotten who it is that the health care industry is supposed to be serving. I understand that some people may have moral issues regarding certain procedures and medications. I don’t want to force people to do stuff they don’t want to do, but at some point, if you can’t do the job, maybe you should find a different line of work. Sorry, but I’ll put my sympathy with the women who are seeking medical assistance before I’ll put it with those whose job it is to give it. And even though I feel confident that a President Obama would reverse this stupid directive shortly after being sworn in, the thought that a lame-duck President that nobody likes could just do this as a parting gift makes me ill. RH Reality Check has more.

On a side note, I’m wondering when we’ll see the first instance of a pharmacist or nurse refusing to dispense Viagra to a male patient. Mention of which gives me an excuse to run this now-classic video of John McCain:

Straight talk, baby.

Pushing for wind energy infrastructure

Back in April, I blogged about a proposal to connect the wind farms in West Texas to the rest of the state. On Thursday, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will hold a hearing to examine that report by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and to make a recommendation for which scenario to adopt. A birpartisan group of eight legislators from the D/FW are is urging them to adopt the most aggressive plan. From their press release:

“This week, Texas has a historic opportunity to establish itself as a global leader in renewable energy,” said State Representative Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth). “We can say ‘yes’ to new technologies offering clean, cheap, and limitless power for decades to come, or we can continue to pay exorbitant prices and breathe dirty air from fuel sources of the past,” Burnam added.

According to ERCOT, an annual investment of $1 billion to build and maintain transmission lines from West Texas will be more than offset by the $3 billion in savings from cheaper fuel sources. Replacing heavy polluting coal and natural gas-fired plants with clean wind and solar generation could yield up to a 13% reduction in NOx emissions and a 16% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions around the state.

“Texans want access to clean, affordable energy. In the face of rising energy costs and increasing concern over climate change, we need greater access to wind in the state,” says State Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas). “Now is the time for bold action. We can’t afford to make short-sighted decisions on this issue any longer.”

The letter calls on the PUC to adopt Scenario 3 when it meets on Thursday to continue its discussions regarding which scenario will offer the greatest benefits to Texans for moving electricity from the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) in West Texas and the Panhandle.

You can see the different ERCOT scenarios here – Scenario 3 is the most far-reaching – and the legislators’ letter here (PDF); there’s a link to the full 29 MB ERCOT report at the first link. The Chron has an AP story about the effort. In addition to Burnam and Anchia, the letter was signed by State Reps. Marc Veasey, Paula Pierson, Allen Vaught, Dan Barrett (all Ds), Brian McCall, and Jim Pitts (both Rs). If you want to add your support to this effort, you can sign this petition on the website of State Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio.

Some fundraising numbers

A sample of fundraising numbers for the second quarter, based on press releases received:

– From Larry Joe Doherty in CD10:

Larry Joe Doherty, Democratic nominee in the 10th Congressional District, will report receiving over $247,000 in campaign contributions from 520 individuals since March 31st, more than doubling his cash-on-hand from the previous reporting period to $259,792.

“During these tough economic times of skyrocketing gas, diesel and food prices, the strong support our campaign is finding shows that the people are determined to hold Washington accountable,” stated Doherty.

Highlighting Republican incumbent Michael McCaul’s vulnerability, The Cook Political Report, an independent and non-partisan analysis group, recently upgraded the competitiveness of TX-10 from “safe Republican” to “likely Republican.” The Southern Political Report also identifies Doherty’s challenge as one of only 12 Republican-held Congressional seats being competitively challenged in the South, and the only race in Texas.

Cook upgraded TX-07 as well, which is great. That one I expect is more about Michael Skelly‘s fundraising prowess, with this one being more about a purpler district. Either way, it’s great to see two Texas races get that treatment.

– From Joe Jaworski in SD11:

With the intensity continuing to grow behind his campaign and internal poll numbers showing a dead-even race against the 20-year incumbent, Texas Senate candidate Joe Jaworski today said that he will report raising more than $801,000 from 1,267 individual contributors in his race thus far, capping another successful fundraising period.

“More and more Texans are eager to invest in a new day and a new direction,” Jaworski said. “Too many challenges are going unmet, and voters know that more of the same isn’t good enough.”

Jaworski will report a total of $801,218 raised to date, including $345,209.50 during the first six months of this year. His latest report shows more than $410,390 cash on hand after winning his primary race in March.

Jaworski’s internal polling reveals that his opponent is in a vulnerable position with just 16 weeks to go until the November 4 election. Fewer than one-third of voters in SD 11 approve of the incumbent’s job performance, citing among other reasons his multiple votes for term limits for everyone but himself. With insurance rates, utility costs, air pollution, and college tuition all on the rise, the momentum for positive change is mounting. As a result, the race is statistically tied — 48 percent to 44 percent — with Jaworski commanding a margin of more than 20 percent among independent voters, a critical component of the electorate this year.

He has a better case for the “statistically tied” statement than some other pollsters in some other races I could name, but I’d still call Mike Jackson in the lead. A small lead, and Jaworski is in a good position to overtake him, but he’s in front by a little bit. For now, anyway.

– From the TexBlog PAC-endorsed Chris Turner in HD96:

When we file our campaign finance report with the Texas Ethics Commission tomorrow, we will report having raised over $200,000 in the first six months of this year!

Very nice for a State House race. Lots of action in Tarrant County this year.

– From Sandr VuLe, running for HD112 up in Richardson:

A veteran family advocate and community lawyer whose personal story includes fleeing from Vietnam as a young girl and obtaining a quality education in American public schools, VuLe’s financial report for the first six months of the year will show an approximate total of $53,426 in regular and in-kind contributions, including a $10,000 loan from herself. She has marshaled her resources with an efficient campaign, as evidenced by her $76,847.71 cash on hand. She has raised around $95,400 since her campaign began, including in-kind contributions and $20,000 in personal loans.

Not bad for a race that isn’t on the radar as much as some others. Democrats didn’t field a candidate in this district in 2006 against the retiring Rep. Fred Hill; in the two previous elections, the best showing was 35% in 2004. But as with the rest of Dallas County, it’s trending blue, though it has farther to go than some other areas – Bill Moody got 41.8% in 2006. With Hill being an anti-Craddickite, this is a seat both parties would really like to have.

And what may be my favorite paragraph in any press release I’ve received lately:

In addition to VuLe [who is a native of Vietnam], the other candidates in the race include Angie Chen Button, a native of China, and Philip White, who was born in the Ukraine.

Ain’t that America?

– No press release, but I’m told via email that Rep. Hubert Vo will report raising around $100,000 for the six-month period. That email came with a pointer to the finance report (PDF) of his opponent, Greg Meyers, who raised $57,000 and has about $27,000 on hand. Meyers spent over $26,000 of his cash on The Patriot Group, a newish outfit that’s a who’s who of connected Republicans. I figure Meyers will get a fair amount of cash later in the game for attack mailers, so don’t rely too much on the current state of the money figures.

– From Diane Trautman, running for Harris County Tax Assessor:

In a clear signal that Harris County residents are ready for a change at the Tax office, Diane Trautman has raised $150,081 in her race for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and has $94,420 cash on hand as of the end of the reporting period on June 30, 2008.

“I am overwhelmed by the commitment from Harris County citizens to bring ethical leadership to county government, by giving so generously to my campaign. Each week more supporters join the fight to bring accountable, accessible and authentic leadership to Harris County,” said Trautman.

From February 24, 2008 to June 30, 2008, Trautman raised a total of $68,732. When he was up for reelection in 2004, her opponent, Paul Bettencourt, raised a total of $1,000 in the first 6 months of that year.

That’s a slightly unfair comparison, since Bettencourt was running against a marginal candidate in a clearly Republican year. But as neither of those things are the case this year, he’s under pressure in a way he’s not had to deal with before. Let’s see how he responds.

(UPDATE: Houston Politics has the answer: Bettencourt raised $66K, about half of Trautman’s haul.)

And finally, this Chron story talks about the cash-on-hand gap between Rick Noriega and Sen. John Cornyn. The most important bit is this:

The most immediate need for Noriega’s campaign is to raise several million dollars in the next two months.

“Clearly, he’s got to raise some money,” said 2002 Democratic Senate nominee Ron Kirk, who is hosting a fundraiser this week with Dallas financier Jess Hay. “This, at least, is our effort to get him in front of an audience and a pretty good-size audience of people that we believe — if they can see him, hear him — they’ll get a sense of the excitement we feel, and maybe that will loosen up the purse strings.”

Noriega has been very successful raising money online; he’s pulled in over a million dollars on ActBlue, making him the top non-Presidential recipient in ActBlue’s history. The grassroots folks have done what they said they would. The traditional donors and fundraisers, not so much. If anything is going to change about the dynamic of this race, that’s where it’s got to happen.

UPDATE: A followup release from Chris Turner puts his exact figure at $240K, and says it’s far more than his opponent, Rep. Bill Zedler, has ever raised. And State Rep. Juan Garcia puts in his bid for top fundraiser:

State Rep. Juan Garcia’s campaign said it has $520,000 on hand with four months to go until the general election and Todd Hunter’s campaign manager said Hunter has raised $307,000. The campaign manager did not say how much cash the campaign has on hand, but said Hunter has contributed about $70,000 to himself, in addition to the $307,000.

Garcia’s campaign did not immediately disclose what it has raised for the campaign finance period covering Jan. 1 to June 30,

Those figures, while not immediately comparable, likely will shatter estimates of what the campaign will cost. Political observers had previously estimated that the race would cost $1 million.

That’s a lot of money for one legislative race.

More elected offices

Clay Robison floats the possibility of another elected office for state government.

For the first time in years, the Texas Department of Insurance will be up for sunset review, thus assuring that proposals for strengthening Texas’ weak regulatory system will be heard, rather than quietly buried by the insurance lobby.

The most radical proposal to emerge so far (and one with a lot of public appeal) is to replace the current insurance commissioner, an appointee of the governor, with an elected commissioner.

Initially proposed by Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission, the elected commissioner idea is a long shot. But it is picking up some bipartisan support, including that of Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, longtime chairman of the House Insurance Committee.

“In Texas, I think it would work. I kind of view it now as the lesser of evils,” Smithee said, predicting an uphill fight against the insurance industry, which routinely showers state officeholders with political contributions.


Eleven states, including California, Louisiana and Oklahoma, have elected commissioners. Hinojosa said people in states with elected commissioners pay, on average, 43 percent less for homeowners insurance and 12 percent less for health coverage.

“I want someone (a commissioner) who is more accountable (to the public),” Hinojosa said.

I’ve discussed the concept of making certain appojnted offices – Secretary of State, TxDOT Commissioner, and HHSC Commissioner, in particular – elected ones instead. The idea has merit, and would probably lead to some of the benefits that Rep. Smithee and Sen. Hinojosa have in mind, though of course it would still be subject to direct influence from the insurance lobby. The main objection, as I see it, is that this would take away one of the few powers that are explicitly granted to the Governor in the state constitution.That’s by no means an insurmountable obstacle, but it is something we should weigh carefully before we act.

On the other hand, the best reason to push for this sort of change is given by Robison later on in the column:

The governor’s office says there is no “short list” yet for a potential successor to former Secretary of State Phil Wilson, who recently resigned.

But if Perry remains true to form, two of the leading contenders are likely to be Brian Newby, the governor’s chief of staff, and Luis Saenz, a former deputy secretary of state who was director of Perry’s political committee during the 2006 election cycle.

Perry has a habit of promoting people close and loyal to him. Wilson was the governor’s deputy chief of staff before being named secretary of state.

And Perry recently appointed his former chief of staff, Deirdre Delisi, to chair the Texas Transportation Commission.

Promotions based on loyalty rather than competence and experience are never a good thing (three words: “Heckuva job, Brownie!”). Not every Governor will be as callow as this one, of course, but that doesn’t mean we should depend on it. I look forward to a vigorous debate in the Lege next year over this.

From the “You’re new around here, aren’t you?” files

I only just now got around to reading this article on some issues folks in the Sabine Street Lofts are having with the kidz at the new Jamail Skate Park, but all I really needed to read was this bit:

“I just think when they build something as large as that, that has such a huge impact on the community, there should be a public hearing process, but there wasn’t one,” said Dee Carpenter, who has lived in the lofts for four years. “No one ever checked to see if parking was going to be an issue, and it has been.”

Yeah. See, that’s not how we do things here in Houston. We let developers build pretty much whatever they want wherever they want, and when neighborhoods complain about it, they get drowned out in shouts about the free market, why a lack of planning is good, and zoning is bad. Those of us who’ve lived here for a longer time tend to find a certain amount of comfort in the ritual, no matter how often it plays out. The more things change, and all that. But thanks for playing.

Snark aside, I generally like that we have the Jamail Skate Park, and I didn’t see anything in the story to suggest to me that this was an insurmountable issue, or even a particularly difficult one. I sympathize with the Sabine Street folks, and I hope they get this resolved quickly and satisfactorily. But man, did that quote amuse me.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 14

It’s Netroots Nation week! Whether you’ll be there in Austin or just looking for liveblogs and video feeds, you can get in the mood for the event by catching up with the Texas Progressive Alliance and its blog highlights for the week. Click on for more.