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June 30th, 2009:

Turner not running for Mayor

The Mayoral field for this November should now be set.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner announced today he would not attempt a run for mayor of Houston.

The 11-term Democrat representative’s announcement comes a little more than three weeks after he publicly acknowledged he was weighing a third run for mayor. Turner said he was considering a campaign after being asked by community supporters to get in the race.

“Although I believe the race is eminently winnable, a late entry into the campaign would have required that I drop every other project in which I am involved, community endeavors such as the Houston Astros Urban Youth Baseball Academy in Acres Homes and continuing my work in the Texas Legislature, to which I am deeply committed and thoroughly enjoy,” Turner said in a statement issued this morning.

Had he opted to run, Turner would have joined an already crowded field. Announced candidates include former city attorney Gene Locke, Councilman Peter Brown, City Controller Annise Parker, Harris County Department of Education Trustee Roy Morales and businessman T.J. Huntley. The filing deadline is in late September.

Earlier this month, Turner said he promised potential supporters he would consider a run after the legislative session concluded earlier this month.

I’ve got Turner’s full statement beneath the fold. I’d heard a couple of weeks ago that he was making calls to potential campaign contributors, as nobody serious gets into a race like this without some assurance that the resources needed to run a campaign will be there. Maybe he wasn’t getting the response he thought he’d need, or maybe he really just didn’t think he could commit to the race. I was somewhat skeptical that he’d jump in, so I can’t say that this surprises me. Greg has more, including some possible candidates in other races:

African Americans Rozy Shorter and Andrew Burks are considering contesting Sue Lovell for at large 2.

Green Party gay activist Alfred Molison has filed his treasurer designation to oppose District C City Council Member Anne Clutterbuck.

African American former assistant Texas Attorney General Lewis Cook has designated his treasurer to run for the District F seat MJ Khan is leaving and Richard Sedita has designated his treasurer for District G, the seat Pam Holm is leaving.

Shorter has been out there for awhile. Burks is a perennial candidate; his last race was for HCDE Trustee against Roy Morales in 2006. Molison ran twice in 2007, once in the May special election for At Large #3, where he finished tenth, and again in November where he was one of two candidates who ran against Clutterbuck, getting a shade under 6% of the vote. Cook has been in the race for awhile, but I don’t know much about him. Sedita makes five in District G, joining Mills Worsham, Oliver Pennington, Dexter Handy, and George Foulard.

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Special session starts tomorrow

The special session everyone knew was coming to address the disposition of several state agencies begins tomorrow. So far, at least, the agenda hasn’t changed from the original call.

Gov. Rick Perry is being pressed to add issues ranging from children’s health care to voter identification to the agenda of the special session that begins Wednesday, but his answer is still no.

Perry, a Republican, made clear when he called the session last week that he wants lawmakers to take just a few days to complete must-do business left undone in the regular session, then be gone.

He hasn’t changed his mind, spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said Monday: “The governor has already announced what will be addressed during the special session and at this time doesn’t have any intentions to expand the call.”

“At this time” certainly leaves wiggle room for him. There have been plenty of other bills filed for the session in the event the Governor uses that wiggle room, including a CHIP expansion provision that already has majority support in the House. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t have is Perry’s support, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. As for voter ID, the best assurance we’ve got right now is this sentiment:

Rep. Betty Brown, R-Athens, said she has asked Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus for a commitment to address voter ID in the special session.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said he hasn’t – and won’t – ask Perry to add the issue: “I want to get in here and get it over with and get back home.”

Amen to that. House Speaker Joe Straus has a vision for how that will happen.

[Monday], three House bills [were] pre-filed that correspond to Gov. Rick Perry’s agenda: The Sunset scheduling bill for the transportation, insurance, racing and two smaller agencies; authorization of $2 billion in transportation bonds and creation of the Texas Transportation Revolving Fund, and extension of comprehensive development agreements to build roads.

On Wednesday, the Legislature will convene at 10 a.m. Those House bills will promptly be assigned to three House committees — Appropriations, State Affairs and Transportation— for the required public hearings.

On Thursday, the House is expected to have its first calendar for consideration. Committees are expected to have approved the bills the previous day, if everything goes on schedule.

On Friday, “if it is the will of the members to do so, we will conclude our business.”

According to the Straus memo, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, will author the transportation bond bill; state Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, chairman of the Sunset Advisory Bill, will carry the Sunset bill, and Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, will carry the so-called CDA bill.

To expedite the three-day express schedule, a special briefing for House members and their staffs will be held at 1:30 Tuesday in the Capitol Auditorium to answer questions about the bills.

The question is what happens if one item on the call doesn’t get swift approval?

arried a bill that would have extended by six years the legal authority for TxDOT and regional mobility authorities to sign what have usually been 50-year contracts with private companies to build and operate (and profit from) tollways on public land. Authority for such leases expires Sept. 1.

The general understanding was that the legislation’s final passage was dependent on approval of a separate bill by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, that would put limits on such contracts. Both bills passed the House and Senate, either with their original bill numbers or as part of the main TxDOT bill that died late in the session.

The question is, will that linkage still be the case in the special session? Nichols said Monday that it had better be, or the toll road item could end up in the ditch.

“I feel very strongly about it, and so do many” other senators, Nichols said.

Carona said Monday that he could see eliminating at least some of what Nichols had in mind if a toll road lease extension were passed that applied to only a handful of projects for which officials have already decided who — TxDOT or local toll authorities — will be in charge of the projects. That list reportedly includes extending the Texas 130 tollway north from Georgetown to Hillsboro, building the new Interstate 69 from south of Refugio to the Rio Grande Valley and adding toll lanes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

However, even in those cases, Carona said, “you’d have to have at least put some protections in there.”

[…]

So, what would Perry do if something close to [Nichols’ bill] were attached to the extension legislation in the special session? Some officials said that such an amendment could be determined to be outside the scope of Perry’s call. Nichols disagrees with that.

Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said Perry’s staff is talking with Nichols’ office to discuss his concerns.

Carona said, “One source in the governor’s office indicated that any bill that contained the Nichols language would be vetoed. Another said that’s not necessarily so.”

Yes, well, we know how good Perry’s staff is at communicating the Governor’s intentions in these matters. I feel reassured, don’t you?

Jeff Weems

We’ve been hearing plenty about the top of the ticket for Democrats in 2010, but there are still several slots to fill. One of them is the Railroad Commissioner seat held by Victor Carrillo. Via email to Carl Whitmarsh, here’s a name for you:

Jeff Weems is running for the Democratic nomination for Texas Railroad Commissioner in 2010, hopefully earning a chance to square off with Republican incumbent Victor Carrillo.

Jeff is currently the precinct Chair for Precinct 274. He is an oil and gas litigation attorney, representing exploration companies, service companies and landowners. Before becoming an attorney, he worked in the industry for years, first as a laborer on drilling rigs, next as a mud man, then as a landman. He has been an attorney for 19 years. He works with Harrison, Bettis, Staff, McFarland & Weems, a mid-sized Houston litigation firm.

Jeff is running because he knows the energy industry inside and out. He knows that the Railroad Commission can do so much more than it does now. The incumbent Republican commissioners are far too ready to take contributions from companies with matters pending before the commission, even when they are not up for election. Even more importantly, the current commissioners have demonstrated a bias toward the gas utilities when rate cases are heard, which ends up costing the citizens of Texas dearly. In addition, Jeff will balance the desires of the operators seeking to drill and complete wells with the need to protect Texas’ environment (such as in the Barnett Shale).

Won’t surprise me if Dale Henry, who was a candidate in 2006 and again in 2008, runs again. Mark Thompson, who defeated Henry and Art Hall in the 2008 primary for RR Commish, is currently running for Governor. There may be someone else out there as well – who knows, maybe Hall wants to take another crack at it – but at least we have one.

The potential contenders for all statewide offices at this time, as I know of them:

Governor – Tom Schieffer is in, Kinky Friedman and Mark Thompson say they’re in. Kirk Watson and/or Ronnie Earle may decide to join them. Former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger has been mentioned as well, but while everyone I’ve spoken to loves the guy, nobody as yet thinks this is likely.

Lieutenant Governor – Not a whole lot of chatter about this one just yet, but I’ve recently heard that State Sen. Royce West, who has previously expressed some interest in Attorney General, may run for this slot instead. Watson remains a possibility here as well.

Attorney General – Barbara Radnofsky is in. West and Earle are possible. State Rep. Patrick Rose has been in the conversation, but any buzz he’s had has diminished of late. 2006 nominee David Van Os is always a possibility, but the word I’ve heard lately is that he’s not considering it.

Comptroller – Haven’t heard a peep. Susan Combs may become the Kay Bailey Hutchison of the next decade, at least if no one serious ever challenges her.

Ag Commish – 2006 nominee Hank Gilbert is running. He may have company, but as yet I’ve not heard any other names.

Land Commish – I have recently heard the name of a potentially exciting candidate for this slot, but that person has not made a decision and the name was given to me in confidence, so that’s all I can say for now.

So there you have it. Regarding the Comptroller slot, Combs probably is the one person no one serious wants to run against. There’s a danger in that if there is a vacuum, it could get filled by a clown like Fred Head, whose buffoonish presence would be a drag on a ticket that had, say, Watson, West, and Earle/Radnofsky as the headliners. You can’t stop anyone from running – see “Kelly, Gene” for all the evidence of that you’ll need – but you can try to persuade someone with a bit more heft to challenge him in the primary if it comes down to it. A self-funder would be preferred, given the amount of funds that will need to be devoted to other races. Whether one can be found or not is the question.

The whole “two thirds” thing is more flexible than you might think

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth is mad as heck about some Senate rules shenanigans, according to the Statesman’s Jason Embry.

Wentworth, R-San Antonio, thinks that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst abused his authority in the recently completed legislative session, and he wants senators to change their rules in 2011 to prevent it from happening again.

To back up for a second, I wrote a story for the Statesman last week about the fact that most of the bills that Gov. Rick Perry vetoed this year received few dissenting votes as they moved through the Legislature. As part of that story, I talked to Wentworth, who unsuccessfully pushed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to come back into a brief special session and override some of Perry’s vetoes.

Wentworth said that the measure had support from 26 of the 31 senators but Dewhurst would not recognize him to bring it up for a vote. And this part was not in that story — Wentworth said senators should change their rules in the next session to prevent that from happening again.

“If I have anything to say about it, we’re going to change the rules come January 2011,” Wentworth said. “We’re going to say, if you put a file in writing with the secretary of the Senate, 21 signatures that senators want to debate a bill, then the president of the Senate should recognize that senator the next day of the session.”

He added, “We’re not going to put up with this any longer. There are a number of senators that I’ve already spoken to that agree with me. It only takes 16 senators to adopt rules.”

Wentworth said Dewhurst told him that Gov. Rick Perry talked to him 20 times about stopping the legislation. And he said former Sen. Ken Armbrister, who works for Perry, “cajoled and threatened” six senators into opposing the measure, giving Dewhurst the cover he needed to not bring up the bill. (Asked about all this, Dewhurst spokesman Rich Parsons said only that the bill did not have the votes necessary to be called up).

Wentworth said there is an unwritten understanding between senators and the lieutenant governor that if 21 senators are willing to debate a bill, Dewhurst will recognize the appropriate senator to bring it up.

“The lieutenant governor should not abuse that power that we give him,” Wentworth said. “He should not have given his word to Perry that he would kill that bill.”

Just so we’re all clear, Wentworth was perfectly happy to scrap the existing two-thirds rule to bring voter ID to the floor. I’d have more sympathy for him if it weren’t for that. Live by the end-around, die by the end-around, you know? In any event, Burka thinks this is a bad idea on principle, and he thinks he has a better one.

If Wentworth’s plan goes through, it will change the nature of the lieutenant governor’s office. The proposal grants 21 senators the ability to force the lieutenant governor to recognize one of their number to bring legislation to the floor. By denying the light gov the discretion of when and whether to recognize members, Wentworth would weaken the office and rob the legislative branch of a counterweight to the executive.

If one of the arguments against Wentworth’s proposal is that it ties the hands of the lieutenant governor, another argument is that his idea is doomed to failure. All the lieutenant governor has to do is to take a look at the list, pick out one or two members to lobby, get them to remove their names, and –poof! — there won’t be twenty-one signatures any more.

I think that there is an easy solution to the problem of the Legislature’s inability to override the governor’s vetoes: start sooner. Quit wasting time early in the session. Get legislation to the governor’s desk early enough that he has to take action while the session is still going on. The Legislature could do what Congress does. After the November elections, each house should caucus in December. The speaker and the lieutenant governor will have a month to meet with members and get their committee preferences. At the caucus, the presiding officer-apparent announces the appointments for the upcoming session. And the Legislature can began holding committee hearings in January. The accelerated schedule will get bills to the governor’s desk in a timely manner so that he has to take action before the session ends, giving the Legislature a chance to override his vetoes.

In theory, Burka’s solution makes a lot of sense, and should be the norm in years where the Speaker is predetermined. As he admits, that wouldn’t have helped this time around, and may not help in 2011 – the most likely scenario is a House that’s nearly as evenly divided as it is now, with a 75-75 split a distinct possibility – or 2013, the first post-redistricting session, either. Other than that, it’s a great idea.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 29

It’s Fourth of July week, and so it’s time for an extra-patriotic rendition of the Texas Progressive Alliance blog roundup. Click on for the highlights.

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