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Bell’s ethics platform

As previously noted, Chris Bell’s plan for ethics reform is now available. Many of these ideas have been floated before, some of them in the 2005 legislative session. All of them strike me as common sense, but they’ve never had a Governor to advocate for them before, and that’s the key. As long as Rick Perry or someone like him is in office, these items will remain on the wish list. Reform requires commitment, and that won’t happen until there’s a change at the top.

Stuff relating to lobbyists, pay-for-play, and special sessions should be the most straightforward and least difficult to pass. Contribution limits and a Texas Ethics Commission with real enforcement and audit powers would be tougher, since they’d have the most direct impact on the Legislature. On the other hand, they’re pretty easy to frame, so a good and aggressive PR campaign in their favor ought to be able to get public opinion on their side. Succeeding on these two items would be a significant achievement, and would have a profound and long-term effect on how candidates run their races.

As for redistricting reform, I’d wager it would take a constitutional amendment, and that’s likely too high a bar to clear. It would, however, provide an appealing opportunity to reach across the aisle, since Republican State Sen. Jeff Wentworth has been its champion for the past half-dozen sessions or so. This one is of a different class than the other items, all of which are really about money and access, and I think it might be better to argue for it separately.

(By the way, for what it’s worth, I think the focus of redistricting reform should be on ensuring that communities of interest are kept together. Splitting them up, as was done to Travis County, or joining together disparate areas like Austin and Corpus Christi, solely for political considerations, is what I want to see done away with. This is true at the neighborhood level as well – I say it’s wrong that Montrose and the Rice/Medical Center area were shoved into John Culberson’s district. Make drawing boundaries that make geographic sense the goal. If that results in some competitive districts and some safe ones, so be it.)

What’s been the response to all this from Rick Perry? Typically, to seize upon a minor error (since corrected) and ignore the rest. I guess when you’ve got nothing to say, you say nothing. Here’s a more focused article on what Bell proposed.

Other reactions, from BOR, Eye on Williamson, The Jeffersonian, and Dos Centavos. This earlier post of mine has more information on some of the points raised here.

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One Comment

  1. Mathwiz says:

    I think the focus of redistricting reform should be on ensuring that communities of interest are kept together. Splitting them up, as was done to Travis County, or joining together disparate areas like Austin and Corpus Christi, solely for political considerations, is what I want to see done away with.

    I agree, but remember that “communities of interest” are in the eye of the beholder. If an “independent” redistricting commission were to fall under the sway of highly partisan Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter), you can bet they’d interpret “community of interest” to benefit their party, spirit of the law be damned.

    The requirement of reasonably equal population per district, and the VRA, will check only the most egregious abuses. They did nothing to stop the DeLay redistricting, after all. It’d probably be best to try to structure the commission so that no party can come to dominate it in the first place.