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June 24th, 2009:

Schieffer announces

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is out. State Sen. Kirk Watson may or may not jump in. Tom Schieffer is in.

After a rally in front of the Fort Worth elementary school he attended, Schieffer plans stops in Houston and Austin as he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor. He’ll be in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley Thursday.

“People know there is something wrong – they know that Texas is falling behind. They are worried about it,” Schieffer said in an interview last week with the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle.

“They want better than what we’ve got now,” Schieffer said. “They’re worried about kind of a sense that state government is going through a know-nothing phase of you don’t have to be thoughtful, you don’t have to be serious, you just have to mouth the buzz words that appeal to people’s prejudices and not to their hopes and dreams.”

Schieffer cited concern over school dropout rates, saying young people are “going to fall behind, and they’re not going to wind up being taxpayers, they’re going to wind up being tax consumers.”

If that continues, he said, “no level of taxes … will support the services that you have to have in this state, and I’m afraid we’re literally on the road to disaster.”

[…]

Schieffer said in the interview that many decisions – including failure to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program and draw down more federal money – have been shortsighted.

“That’s great political rhetoric in a Republican primary, but it’s not good public policy, because what happens is that kids still get asthma. They still get sick. And when they’re not covered by health insurance, and they don’t have a doctor who is providing an inhaler to ‘em or that they’re seeing on a regular basis, they wind up in the emergency room in the county hospital,” Schieffer said.

“The kid is out of school. The parents are out of work to take care of the kid. It is the most inefficient, most unproductive way to deliver that health care to those kids – and by the way, it’s not the right thing to do, either,” Schieffer said.

Among other areas, Schieffer also noted the rise in college tuition rates after they were deregulated, saying the state should set rates to ensure higher education is “as economical as possible.”

While addressing the concerns he identified would appear to require an infusion of state revenue, Schieffer didn’t address such specifics when asked in the interview. He said wants to have a thoughtful discussion about public policy with all interested parties at the table to come up with solutions. He said he’ll lay out more detailed plans as the campaign unfolds.

Schieffer did say that property taxes “have pretty well been exhausted’ and that he doesn’t like an income tax.

“I think sales taxes work better than anything else at the state level, but I think you have to sit down and you have to talk about things and you have to do it in a serious way,” he said.

Schieffer said that Perry “talks a lot about a good business climate. I want a good business climate. I’ve got more business experience than Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison combined. But a good business climate is not just having low business taxes. It is having an educational system that can produce the workers of the modern world.”

You’re not going to get there on sales taxes, which I hope Schieffer will realize when he has that serious sit-down with whoever he’ll be talking to about it. Other than that, I’d call this a good start. If Schieffer’s definition of “centrism” is about supporting CHIP and education and casting opposition to those things as being extreme, that’ll help alleviate some doubts about him. He still has a lot of work to do, and I still hope for some more options in this race, if only to ensure a better primary, but I feel like the Democrats at least have a reasonable fallback position in Schieffer. Now we need to go from there.

Other reactions: Greg has some advice for Schieffer. Campos says “As long as the frontline of Lone Star statewide Dems candidates is made up of Anglo fellas, I don’t see a scenario where the Dem base gets revved up – sorry – no se puede.” RBearSAT thinks Sen. Van de Putte made a wide decision, and hopes she runs for Lite Gov. David Mauro considers the repercussions in Travis County if Sen. Watson aims statewide. Phillip has three quick reactions to Schieffer’s announcement. Gardner Selby lists five ways Schieffer could stand or stumble. Martha likes the idea of Sen. Watson running for Governor.

Kirk Watson on the vetoes

State Sen. Kirk Watson gives his view of Governor Perry’s vetoes. As he was one of the biggest victims of Perry’s pen, he had a lot to complain about. Among the bills he discusses is one I hadn’t been aware of:

Bafflingly, the Governor also vetoed a bill that would have protected Texans from those who make money unfairly or deceptively selling annuities. Not one legislator, at any stage of the process and in either the House or Senate, voted against the bill.

In his veto statement, the Governor is clearly more worried about the insurance companies and agents than the victims themselves. Given the legislature’s inability to pass even basic consumer protections this session, insurance ratepayers are rightly wondering if they’ll ever get a break under this leadership.

Here’s that veto statement. I daresay you can add that to the list of campaign issues for 2010. Watson also sounds a now-quite familiar complaint:

The veto list also includes five bills that I authored or sponsored. All of them passed unanimously or nearly unanimously through the legislature. And I had no sense during the session, despite pretty frequent contacts with the Governor’s office and staff, that he was concerned about them enough to just kill them. (In fact, I was affirmatively assured he would NOT veto one that he did.)

Watson joins Rep. Garnet Coleman and Texas Campaign for the Environment Director Robin Schneider in claiming that Perry vetoed bills that his staff had assured them he’d sign. I don’t recall people making a similar charge after previous legislative sessions – am I remembering incorrectly, or is this really something unusual? Regardless, I have to ask again: How can you work with a guy whose staffers don’t give you honest feedback?

Anyway. If Watson runs for Governor, as his colleague Sen. Van de Putte thinks he should, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to explore these themes in greater detail. So far, he’s non-committal, and I daresay he will continue to be until after the upcoming special session is over. Which I hope will be soon.

Friends and foes

The Texas Observer poo-poos the idea of “Best Of” and “Top Ten” lists, then gives us its stab at a Best and Worst tabulation by naming six of “The People’s Friends” and five “Foes”. Where Texas Monthly focuses more on effectiveness in getting things done, the Observer takes the position that it’s not just about getting results but working to get good results that matters. That will necessarily lead to a more subjective list, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The TPPF/TAB crowd can and do produce their own lists, too, after all.

The five Foes are all Republicans, not that this should come as a surprise. I will say this, the fall of the house of Craddick made this task harder than it might have been in other years, as some of the historically bad actors were at least somewhat marginanalized this time around. Still, there’s always room for the likes of Debbie Riddle, Leo Berman, and Dan Patrick, just on general principles. Perhaps they should have included those who just missed the cut as well, as Honorable – or in this case, Dishonorable – Mentions.

The six Friends are an even mix of Ds and Rs. The one that will surely cause some consternation is this one:

Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless

Todd Smith had a thankless job. As chairman of the House Elections Committee, he was tasked with shepherding voter ID through the chamber. Partisan Republicans badly wanted the bill to pass. Democrats were desperate to kill it. To Smith’s credit, he tried to find a compromise on an issue so polluted by partisanship that compromise might have been impossible. In the end, it did prove impossible, but Smith gets an “A” for effort. Later in the session, Smith broke again with the hardcore members of his party. Some House Republicans, suspecting a Democratic ploy, opposed a bill by Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia that was designed to register more high-schoolers to vote. Smith spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor, informing his colleagues that registering voters was a nonpartisan activity that everyone should support. He was one of just two Republicans to vote for the bill, putting good public policy ahead of rank partisanship.

That’s a generous interpretation of Smith’s role in the voter ID debacle. I don’t really care to wade in on that, as I hope we’ve seen the last of voter ID legislation for the foreseeable future, but I will say that if one insisted on balancing the Ds and the Rs, I might have gone for Sen. Kevin Eltife, who did yeoman’s work in getting the unemployment insurance bill through the Senate, or Rep. Rob Eissler, who has been a key ally of designated Friend Rep. Scott Hochberg on education matters. Greg plumps for Rep. John Zerwas, on the grounds that saving a life = automatic inclusion on any Best list. Hard to argue with that. Be that as it may, I might have decided instead that there was no need for partisan balance here, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Anyway, it’s an interesting list and a good way to frame the discussion. Check it out.

Radnofsky says she’s in for AG

No surprise, since she has been talking about running for Attorney General for awhile, but Barbara Radnofsky sent out a press release yesterday confirming that she’s in the race for keeps. From the release:

Barbara Ann Radnofsky, a Houston attorney and the Democratic United States Senate nominee in 2006 is running for Texas Attorney General in 2010. Radnofsky says she will hold a formal announcement later in the year or early next year, but she’s in the race to stay because of what’s at stake for Texas.

“Our statewide leaders aren’t fighting for us; they’re fighting for themselves and their own personal agendas. We’ve seen how the Attorney General can harm our everyday lives: our electric bills, the insurance and taxes we pay, the safety of our children. We need an Attorney General who will use her skills to make sure all Texans get the protection they deserve,” Radnofsky said.

Barbara Ann Radnofsky, known as BAR to many of her friends and supporters, has emerged as the first Democratic candidate who says she’s definitely a candidate for Attorney General. Radnofsky says she intends to build upon her base of 1.55 million votes from 2006 with the help of a top notch team of political professionals with a track record of winning in Texas and across the country. She currently has hired fundraising, polling, media, direct mail, and opposition research firms to work on her 2010 campaign.

[…]

Since running in 2006, Barbara Ann has maintained her statewide organization and has engaged her organization to help elect more Texas Democrats in 2008. Recent polling shows Texas is ready to vote Democratic. In a recent poll conducted by a Republican polling firm in Texas, only 32% of voters in Texas said that Republican elected officials performed their job well enough to deserve reelection for their offices. In contrast, more than half (54%) responded that, “it’s time to give Democrats the chance to do better.”

“I’m in this race to stay and I’m in it to win,” said Radnofsky.

“I have a statewide organization, thousands of donors, and an experienced team of campaign professionals working with me. Texans are fed up with their interests taking a back seat to partisanship and next year it’ll show at the polls,” she concluded.

For what it’s worth, that Texas Lyceum poll shows an erosion in Republican party identification as well:

More respondents (46%) identified themselves as Independents than as Republicans (25%) or Democrats (28%). More of those who don’t identify with a party said they lean Republican (29%) than lean Democrat (22%). Asked about their political outlook, more consider themselves Conservative (46%) than as Moderate (35%) or Liberal (19%).

About the same number of those polled said they are “certain” or “likely” to vote in each party’s primary (Republicans, 31%; Democrats, 30%), and another 17 percent said they intend to vote in a primary but haven’t yet decided which one.

We’ll have a better idea of where we stand when they release their election polling today. I’ll say again, the biggest factor in turning these numbers from potential gains into actual ones is going to be fundraising. Dems have done very well at that in House races, and it’s resulted in near-parity in the House after starting with an 88-62 deficit. Greg thinks we’re basically a 55-45 state right now. Sufficient resources plus good candidates and a favorable environment can overcome that. That’s still asking for a lot, but it’s doable.

Back to BAR, this is reminiscent of the 2006 Senate campaign in that she jumped in early while many other potential contenders held back in the hope of KBH stepping down. As it was then, there are a lot of other possible candidates out there, and a lot of speculation that the incumbent, Greg Abbott, has his eyes on something else, in this case either KBH’s Senate seat or the Lite Gov’s office. We’ll see how it plays out this time, and if being first in line helps her in the event it’s an open seat and a contested primary.

Fort Worth’s red light camera experience

They like them so far.

The city Transportation Department pronounces itself pleased with progress made by red-light cameras.

The number of accidents has decreased at the targeted intersections. The cameras have resulted in about $1.2 million in fines — $765,000 went for expenses (including payments to ATS, the contractor), $221,000 went to the state and $221,000 went to the city.

And, no, Transportation Director Bill Verkest told the City Council, the city hasn’t shortened the yellow light times in order to catch more drivers.

According to this story, the city says that accidents are down 19% at the targeted intersections, with rear-end collisions up slightly. I don’t know what their methodology is for making those assertions. I do know that the city of Houston is due for an updated report on its red light cameras and the collision rates at the monitored approaches this August. One hopes this study will be less confusing and more clear – conducting it in a non-flawed manner would be a start.