The state is cut into 150 pieces for purposes of electing members of the Texas House. It's chopped into 15 chunks for purposes of electing members to the State Board of Education. The head of the House Redistricting Committee, Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, thinks those numbers should sync up. He says he'll draw the SBOE maps to exactly include ten House districts each.
The SBOE map is the runt of the litter when it comes to redistricting, far down the list of concerns behind House and Senate and congressional maps. Lawmakers just don't want to spend much time on it. That's the first element of this. The second? Legislators are perennially ticked off at some or all of the members of the state education board, and this would give some of them—the House members, to be exact—more control over each member of the SBOE. Thus, the proposal from Jones: Rope off ten House districts, tie a knot, and that's one SBOE seat. Repeat 14 times. Done. Next Map!
Drawing House maps is taking longer than Jones first calculated and now it'll be next week before he unveils proposed maps for House members. He originally promised to have them out before Easter, but that faded when a couple of the big urban delegations didn't meet the deadlines for handing over their proposals. Then he promised end of the next week, and that blew out because of problems, he said, drawing districts in Dallas and Harris Counties. That could, in turn, push back the scheduled hearings (set for April 24) on the maps. House and Senate leaders have informally agreed to vote on legislative plans in the first week of May, but that date, too, could slip.
Remember, for plotting and scheming purposes, that the Legislature can only draw legislative plans during the regular session. Only congressional and SBOE plans can be done in special sessions. And keep in mind, for those same purposes, that anything passed after May 18 is the sole property of the governor; lawmakers won't have a chance to override vetoes after that date.
The delays cause some grousing, particularly among Republicans. Though Jones is one of their own, he's also close to Democratic Speaker Pete Laney, which makes the partisans suspicious of him. Those folks say the delays result from what they see as an inherent problem for anyone who's trying to take care of incumbent House members: The Census numbers don't support the status quo. On the other hand, nobody but incumbents will get to vote on the plans. Fun, ain't it?
While we're on the subject, Jones has increased the number of paired members he thinks will have to be included on the maps. Where he once thought there could be as few as five or six pairings of incumbent legislators, he now thinks there could be as many as ten pairings involving 20 members of the House. That's good news for the dissidents, and something of a "We Told You So;" they've been saying all along that more incumbents will have to be yanked off the stage.
Some of those folks say that if the House is set to approve a plan that they don't like, they might lobby the Senate to kill it over there. That would help Gov. Rick Perry if he doesn't like the plan; he wouldn't have to veto it. But it would trigger a legislative form of mutually assured destruction. The two chambers of the Legislature typically approve each other's redistricting maps simultaneously.
Jones and others say the House wouldn't be likely to approve the Senate's map if the House map wasn't winning approval from the Senate at the same moment. It's not so much that there's a tradition at stake as that the Legislature has always been unwilling to voluntarily let someone else take over redistricting. If they can't get together on their maps, their political fates would be in the hands of five members of the Legislative Redistricting Board instead of their own.
Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
Two years ago, the Texas Senate protected then-Gov. George W. Bush from having to make a decision on hate crimes legislation. The governor's allies and surrogates worked on and with various senators to keep the bill off the floor and when it was all said and done, the Senate took most of the blame. Bush never had to register his direct approval or disapproval of the bill, and while it came up time and again during his campaign for the presidency, he always had a measure of distance that wouldn't have existed had the bill reached his desk. Put simply, the Senate saved him.
Gov. Rick Perry has reversed that political current, inadvertently using the governor's office to take the heat off of the Senate and taking it on himself. If he had wanted to do that, he could have called a press conference and told the world what he wants to do with the legislation. But he went backstage and got caught messing with the props. He didn't argue against the bill, but made a procedural argument that had the same effect, at least temporarily. In one morning, the governor's months of carefully noncommittal statements regarding hate crimes were blown and he was getting all the attention for the fact that the bill came up a vote shy of winning Senate approval.
At the moment when Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, had his waterfowl aligned in favor of the bill, Perry called a couple of senators to say he didn't think major, controversial issues should be considered without all senators in attendance. According to aides, he separately told Sens. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and Todd Staples, R-Palestine, that he himself applied that All Hands on Deck rule two years ago. Perry wanted the Senate to vote to allow public school vouchers, but wouldn't hold that vote unless Sen. Gregory Luna, D-San Antonio, could be there. Luna, a voucher opponent, was in the hospital for most of the session and later died. They left out the part about Luna sending a letter to Perry saying he would leave his sickbed to vote against vouchers and asking for notice before the bill came to a head. Perry pushed for a vote on that issue once, but some of his own senators bucked him, and voucher supporters could never pulled the needed votes together after that.
There were no claims of arm-twisting this time. Duncan, who said no deal was cut and no threat made, told Ellis he would wait until the whole Senate was present and that was that.
A Quick Look at the Rulebook
This will almost certainly come up again, so let's play the Senate Rules Game. You need two-thirds of the Senate to vote with you to take up and consider a piece of legislation. That's not necessarily two-thirds of the 31 members of the Senate. And it's not even necessarily two-thirds of the senators present in the chamber at the time. It means two-thirds of the senators who are present and voting.
In practical terms, that means you don't always have to count Bill Ratliff, the Mt. Pleasant Republican who has the distinction of serving as both a senator and lieutenant governor. If you don't count him, and if just one more senator is out of the count, the number of votes needed to suspend the regular order of business drops from 21 senators to 19. If you get 15 Democrats in favor of a bill and add four Republicans to the total, you can suspend the rules and bring up a bill like hate crimes.
That's the math that led Ellis to tell Ratliff he had the votes to bring up the bill. Two senators were off the floor—Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, had left the chamber to tend to other things. Shapiro was in Washington, D.C., on a private tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Haywood was visiting his son, who is in critical condition at an Austin hospital with complications from HIV/AIDS.
Ellis needed 19 votes, and thought he had them. If Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, hadn't backed off, Ellis would have been able to suspend the rules to bring up the hate crimes bill, and then only a simple majority would have been required to pass the bill and send it to the House.
The House had earlier postponed a vote on its own version of the bill, apparently in the hopes that the Senate would go first and allow the House, where the legislation has weaker opposition, to adopt an identical version. That would cut out the need for later votes on differences between the House and Senate bills. That's arcane rule stuff, sure enough, but that's what this bill may come down to.
Like Feeding Broccoli to Toddlers
One problem with campaign finance regulation is that it applies to the same people who vote on it. Guess what? They don't like being regulated.
Campaign finance reform is one of a handful of items in Speaker Pete Laney's wish list. He put the issue in his remarks at the beginning of the session, gave it a low bill number and handed it to one of his committee chairmen, Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, to sponsor. But the legislation had problems from the moment it reached the House floor. Even some of Laney's pals on the floor were unenthusiastic. They see the new restrictions on campaigns as danger zones where political enemies can exploit honest mistakes. If there are more details in a report, the argument goes, there are that many more ways to foul up the report. Make an innocent mistake that gets on the official ethical radar screen, and the opposition has something it can use. Officeholders just don't like the taste of that.
It showed. At one point, it looked like the bill wouldn't have the votes to pass. Five hours after the cussing and discussing began, it limped over the finish line without a major provision—one requiring candidates to ask financial donors to list employers and occupations. A similar provision survived in the Senate's version of the bill, however, and could be added back when the two chambers meet to reconcile the bills. Conversely, some provisions that were endangered remain intact.
The legislation retained a section that some proponents thought would surely die: The legislation would still regulate so-called "express advocacy", or ads that are supposed to be about an issue but instead bleed into promotion of one candidate over another. Several groups, like Greater Austin Right to Life and the Free Market Foundation, said they would fight the bill with that provision included. Rep. Debra Danburg, D-Houston, got in an amendment tightening that provision to knock down opposition and to target abuses: It would make it tougher for an "issue" group with anonymous donors to advertise against or for a candidate in the last two months before an election. They can still do it, but they would probably be forced to say where they got their money.
The House also left alone a provision that requires part of a contributor's address to be listed in the Internet postings of campaign reports. The listings will include street names, but not numbers. That is meant to make contributors more identifiable—to tell this Jane Doe from that Jane Doe—without giving their addresses to direct mail vendors, political consultants, reporters, and other creeps. Full addresses will still have to be included in paper reports, as they are now.
Incidentals: Gallego had a deal with Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. She agreed, according to both of them, that her campaign finance bill would come over to the House but that his would be the bill that went back to the Senate. The first amendment offered on Gallego's bill would have replaced it with the Senate bill. Even as that was going on, Shapiro said it wasn't her doing; she said she was still willing and ready to take Gallego's bill to the full Senate.
Lobbyists have been yakking for some time about a piece of conflict of interest legislation sponsored by Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, because it would regulate those lobbyists. The conversation has centered on whether this hired gun or that one inspired Wilson, but now, with an addition to the bill, one target has become clear. Wilson got an amendment on a bill a couple of weeks ago only to have it stripped off the next day, when he was out of town.
The lobbyist who got blamed for that one is Marta Greytok, a former mayor and state utility regulator. The addition to the bill is hard to miss: It would prevent lobbyists from registering with the ethics commission if they are former utility regulators who now represent companies that they used to regulate. As far as we know, Greytok's the only regularly employed lobbyist who fits that description.
On that same bill, there's an amendment aimed at state agency employees who cross the line between giving information to the Legislature and lobbying. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, tagged on a short provision that would hold state employees liable for perjury if they register to testify about legislation and then try to influence the outcome of it.
The Cloudy Political Crystal Ball
Officially, Carole Keeton Rylander has not made a decision about whether to run for reelection as state comptroller or give up the decent salary there for a chance of higher prestige as lieutenant governor. But the conventional wisdom has shifted on her: Where her confederates and competitors had been generally assuming she would go for the promotion, it is getting more difficult to find Republicans who think she will or should do that. Her biggest problem, apparently, is the financial obstacle created by Land Commissioner David Dewhurst. He's wealthy enough to run rich with no contributors but himself in the race, and that's enough to keep most other Republicans out of it.
Among Republicans, there is some consternation about the Lite Guv's race. It hasn't gone much past the grumbling stage, but the type of people who used to gather in smoke-filled rooms wonder whether Dewhurst will be a good general election candidate and whether Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff is a good primary election candidate. They're not shopping for someone else, but there's talk of it.
Should Rylander run, Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, would have to reconsider his options. He has said he wants to run for comptroller, but has also said he won't run against Rylander. If she stays put, that would leave the land commissioner job as a logical alternative for someone seeking statewide office. Dewhurst will supposedly be off and running for Lite Guv, so that will be an open seat. Sen. Jerry Patterson is already in that land grab. Another rumor had Railroad Commissioner Charles Matthews looking at the General Land Office. He says he's been encouraged to run but will stick to his campaign promise to serve a full term at railroad.
Mayors can't announce they're running for political office without instantly giving up the ribbon-cutting scissors. That's why Austin Mayor Kirk Watson (and others similarly situated) is so cautious with rumors that he's considering a run for attorney general. But he's been meeting semi-regularly with others who are likely to populate the Democratic ticket, like Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez Jr. and former comptroller John Sharp. And now he's apparently talking to consultants, including Carol Butler, who has run campaigns all over the U.S., including Watson's mayoral efforts, and media firms; Saul Shorr, a Philadelphia political consultant, says he hasn't been contacted, contrary to rumor.
Democrats are still scouting around for candidates for comptroller and for land commissioner. As we've noted, there are people kicking the tires but we're not aware of any firm decisions, or of anyone getting far enough along to seriously talk to consultants about money and plans. A fair amount of the hesitation on the Democratic side comes from the indecision on the Republican side. The Democrats—particularly the fresh faces—would rather stay out of a contest against Rylander, and the land office, which is lower on the elective totem pole, doesn't attract as many comers.
Brand New and Ready for Remodeling
The Senate's Medicaid simplification bill is on the way to the House and on the way to a major rewrite. The Senate version makes it easier for kids under age 5 to remain on the Medicaid rolls; the state representatives who have been working on the issue want that to apply to kids under the age of 19. That costs more, and the fiscal note listing the cost to the state is widely given as the reason for the Senate's more restrictive measure.
As many as 1.2 million children are uninsured in Texas. As many as half of those are estimated to be eligible for Medicaid, and the state has taken some licks for making Medicaid difficult for eligible beneficiaries to get and hard for them to keep. The Senate's version would cost quite a bit less than the first option it considered, which would have insured kids through age 18; the low bill would cost the state $121 million; the high one about $430 million.
There's a smokeless tobacco bill moving through the system; one lobbyist we know calls it "the fight between the little millionaires and the big millionaires." The bill would change the way the state taxes chewing tobacco from the current system, which is based on prices, to a new system based on weight. Some of the big companies that make the stuff say that would be fairer, easier to administer, and would end a nagging battle between at least one big distributor and the State of Texas.
We'll let them bang on each other, but lookee here: That change in the tax method could take away a mechanism that gives the state automatic tax increases without requiring lawmakers to vote. Prices tend to rise, and taxes based on prices move right along with them. Taxes based on the weight of a product don't go up unless the product gets heavier. Smokeless tobacco gets heavier about as often as candy bars do. The next stats come from the "little millionaires" who don't want the law changed, so take that into account: Wholesale smokeless tobacco prices have gone up about 10 percent per year. If that continues, a switch to weight-based taxes would lower the industry's taxes by about $62 million over the next five years. This can be argued from any number of directions. But a change would mean that, to get more tax money out of smokeless tobacco sales in the future, lawmakers would have to hope for sales to rise, come back in and raise the tax rate. The political translation for that is They Would Have to Vote for a Tax Bill. Under the current setup, they get tax increases—without voting on them—whenever the wholesalers raise their prices.
And why are the little guys against that change? Because, they contend, the benefits accrue to the big guys. What's up with the big guys? They say the weight-based system is better, fairer, and would settle the process problems that resulted in one distributor suing the state over the taxes. It's too complicated, too hard to audit, they say, and they want a change. The same fight is going on in several other states at the moment; only a few are on the weight system.
Paying for High Technology, Using High Technology
To hear some phone companies tell it, there is $278 million available to the state that isn't even being talked about, much less budgeted. It's phone company money in the hands of Southwestern Bell, and the number comes from a Public Utility Commission report that suggests Bell and other local phone companies are earning more than they should on what they charge long distance companies for access to their lines. That money can't be extracted unless there's a new law passed.
And that brings us to this: Some of those long distance companies are asking lawmakers to pass a bill that would move the money into the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund. There, they argue, the money could be used to provide broadband Internet and other data services in rural areas instead of using existing TIF funds for that purpose. And it would also help the LD folk on a competitive basis. They contend the local companies charge four to five times what it actually costs them to provide access for the long-distance companies. Now that the locals are in the long distance business, they say, that's not fair. The argument hasn't got any legislative friends yet, but it's being heavily shopped around; Ag Commissioner Susan Combs and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams are among those promoting the idea.
• The Texas Freedom Network has been warring with State Board of Education member David Bradley in an exchange of letters and emails to lawmakers. The short form: TFN sent out a sheet quoting some nasty things Bradley said about lawmakers. It got read in a meeting of the House Education Committee. Bradley shot back with a letter to lawmakers saying he was taken out of context and the quotes were inaccurate. "Had they actually been made, as maliciously promulgated by TFN, members of the legitimate press corps would have reported the matter across the state," he wrote. The latest is an email from TFN to lawmakers. It includes one of those miracles of technology, allowing lawmakers to click on the email and hear Bradley saying the things TFN had accused him of saying. They also posted a copy of the comments on their website at www.tfn.org.
Political People and Their Moves
Two long-timers at the Texas Christian Coalition—Dick Weinhold and Chuck Anderson—are leaving that outfit. Weinhold had been chairman of the Texas group for several years and will remain on the board of the national Christian Coalition. His Texas replacement is Norm Mason from Fort Bend. The new executive director will be Mike Hannesschlager; Anderson is leaving to work on the statewide political campaign of Land Commissioner David Dewhurst... We checked, and there are no nepotism rules in our corporate charter, so: Leann Phenix, daughter of the only publisher we've got, is getting the outstanding communicator award from the Austin chapter of Women in Communications. She runs a literary publicists firm... Andy Taylor will leave the attorney general's office at the end of the legislative session, as noted here earlier, but John Cornyn's first assistant AG won't be a stranger. Taylor, who has been the lead lawyer on redistricting issues for Cornyn, will continue on that issue for the state, albeit as a private attorney...
Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry named Bruce Oakley of Houston to the 234th District Court, replacing Scott Brister, who won election to the 1st Court of Appeals... Brownsville attorney J. Rolando Olvera Jr. will don the robes of the 357th District Court. He also replaces someone who moved up: Rogelio Valdez is now on the 13th Court of Appeals... The Guv asked Jerry Kane of Corpus Christi to be a board member at the Texas Department of Human Services. Kane runs a beef processing company that bears his name. He'll replace Elizabeth Seale of San Antonio, who resigned...
The political diaspora continues: President George W. Bush tapped Eduardo Aguirre Jr. to be the first VP of the Export Import Bank of the U.S. Aguirre has been a Bush appointee twice before, once in the first Bush Administration and then as a University of Houston regent under then-Gov. Bush... Another Texas banker and university regent, Donald Powell of Amarillo, is Bush's choice to chair the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. He's currently the chairman of the Board of Regents at Texas A&M University... Robert Martin, a professor at Texas Woman's University will be Director of a federal office called the Institute of Museum and Library Services... U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is getting the "Hats Off" award from the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, better known as TIPRO. That'll bring her to Austin right at the end of the legislative session.
Quotes of the Week
Gov. Rick Perry, a day before his phone conversations with a couple of senators delayed an expected vote on a controversial hate crime bill: "I'll allow Speaker Laney and Lt. Gov. Ratliff to operate their respective bodies as they see fit."
Perry, after the phone calls, and after Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, decided he would wait for perfect attendance before voting: "I asked Sen. Duncan to make sure that all the senators were on the floor if any vote was taken on that particular issue, because I think it would be unfair to have a vote if you've got some of the senators not there."
Bush political advisor Karl Rove, on the idea that actor Arnold Schwarzenegger could become governor of California, as opposed to either a Democrat or Republican Bill Jones, the California Secretary of State who supported U.S. Sen. John McCain during last year's GOP primaries: "That would be nice. That would be really nice. That would be really, really nice."
Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, telling the San Antonio Express-News about an early gig as a guitar player and backup singer in a honky-tonk band: "When we first started playing, we just played for all the beer we could drink. After that, they started paying us, so we had to stop drinking beer."
Reps. Domingo Garcia and Steve Wolens, two Dallas Democrats who once lived in and competed to represent the same district, during a debate on campaign finance. Wolens: "Domingo, as I understand it, your amendment makes it illegal for someone to lie about their opponent during a campaign?" Garcia: "That's pretty much it." Wolens: Can I make your amendment retroactive 15 years to the last time you ran against me?" Garcia: "No."
Texas Weekly, Volume 17, Issue 41, 23 April 2001. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2001 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.