Political hacks all over the state are huddling over computers loaded with mapping software, finishing their federal court filings on congressional redistricting.
The Alabama Coushatta tribe of East Texas is suing Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed and others, saying it was cheated out of the money it spent on an effort to make gambling legal on Texas reservations.
The Texas Republican Party has taken its fight to get Tom DeLay off the ballot to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A top House Democrat wants the State Auditor to look at $1 million in contracts between the state government (and some organizations that get state funding) and a Washington lobbyist who used to be DeLay's chief of staff.
A group of government ethics activists, meanwhile, wants the Texas Ethics Commission to rule on whether an appointed state official can report receiving a check from someone without also reporting the amount of the check.
And Carole Keeton Strayhorn has gone to court to argue that her nickname is, in fact, Grandma.
Why does it feel like we've suddenly become a legal journal?
Another Voter-Swap Meet
At least one Texas congressional district has to be changed, since the U.S. Supreme Court says CD-23, currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, was drawn in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Districts have to be the same size. So if you change one district, you have to change at least one more. And while you're there...
You can tell real redistricting wonks; they're the ones who'll spend Friday night and the better part of this weekend looking over the maps as remedies to the state's illegal map.
What's in the final map will be up to the three judges overseeing the case; the maps coming in on Friday, July 14 — after our deadline — are what the contestants and others would like to see.
We called around a little bit and heard everything from maps that change only three or four districts to maps that change as many as nine. Some of the mileposts:
• The court said Bonilla's CD-23 has to change. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF, led the arguments against that district, and one of their gripes was that the Legislature split Webb County. Reuniting those voters could put Bonilla and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, into the same district. But it doesn't have to pair them.
• The court didn't declare any other districts illegal, although they went on about the ugliness of CD-25, which stretches from the Mexican Border to Austin and which is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. Trying to pretty it up could cause ripples in several districts and could result in other pairings of incumbents.
• Travis County and the City of Austin want an Austin-centric district to come out of this. Doggett's attention is split between his hometown and the other 300 miles of his district. U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, has territory from the capital to suburban Houston. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith's district runs through the Hill Country to the Republican's home in San Antonio. Travis County's map will make changes in up to six districts, starting by drawing one for a representative whose full attention is on that area.
• The court said that, with the problem in Bonilla's district, the state fell short of its claim that six of the 32 districts on the map qualify as "Latino Opportunity Districts" where Hispanics have the power to elect a candidate of their choice. And the court went on to say that the population of the state would justify not just six such districts, but seven. LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, turned in the first two maps in this round. One has seven Latino districts.
• Some Republicans have suggested drawing the map in a way that reaches over to CD-22, where even a small change would trigger a special election and dispose of the fight over whether Republican Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, has to remain on the ballot against Democrat Nick Lampson. DeLay wants off and the GOP wants to replace him with another candidate. That's pending federal appeal.
The Texas Legislative Council is the place to look for maps and plans and such. Go to www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.htm, and click on the link for RedViewer. It'll take you to the maps and charts and data and such. It doesn't work on Apple computers unless they're running the Windows operating system.
The timeline is relatively tight. The three federal judges in charge of all this set the July 14 deadline for everyone to turn in maps and briefs (and you'll probably see some filing from people who weren't in the lawsuit, which is apparently allowed in this case). Responses and arguments are due a week later, on July 21. Everyone has to be in court (in Austin) on August 3. The Texas Secretary of State generally wants its election stuff locked in by the end of August; most lawyers think the court will go along with that, but it isn't required to do so. And if the judges do this year what they did in similar circumstances ten years ago, they'll order special elections in the changed districts for the same November date now set aside for the general election. That would eliminate primaries: Anyone from any party, or non-party, could file and run.
Why Texas Has No Casinos
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas is suing a team of lobbyists, publicists and political consultants for conspiring to shut down Indian gaming at the tribe's reservation near Livingston.
The federal lawsuit accuses Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, Michael Scanlon, and two others of fraud, conspiracy and racketeering, saying they worked on behalf of a Louisiana tribe to stop Texas gaming that might compete with gaming there. Most of the story line is already public through news reports on Abramoff's unraveling lobby practice and through subsequent hearings held by the U.S. Senate. They say Abramoff used the Louisiana money to finance efforts to get religious leaders and their congregations working against gambling, all without disclosing who was behind the effort.
The tribe contends the lobby/public opinion effort is the only reason Indian gaming isn't allowed in the state. "But for the Defendants' actions, today, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe would have gaming on its Reservation, flourishing social programs, and burgeoning economic redevelopment, and Polk County would have a revitalized job market," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit doesn't name Abramoff's former lobby firm —Greenberg Traurig — which is negotiating a possible settlement with the Texas tribe. Attorney Fred Petti of Phoenix said that's why the law/lobby firm, while named in the suit, wasn't itself sued. Abramoff and two others named in the suit — Jon Van Horne and Neil Volz — are former employees of that firm.
The suit says Abramoff and Scanlon were hired by the Louisiana-Coushattas — a separate tribe — to work against state legislation that would have legalized gaming at the Texas tribes' reservation. That hiring wasn't disclosed, and instead of direct lobbying, the suit says, the two cooked up a plan to influence state officials indirectly by launching what appeared to be a church-based juggernaut against gaming in Texas.
The lawsuit contends Reed, formerly with the Christian Coalition and now a candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, led a faith-based effort against Texas gaming that was financed, through Abramoff and his firm, by the Louisiana tribe. That front group, according to the suit, was called CAGE — the Committee Against Gambling Expansion.
The Texas tribe opened a limited gaming operation in late 2001 that was closed by the state nine months later, after a federal court ruling and a concerted effort to push state officials to intervene. The Texas tribe's leaders blame Abramoff's efforts for that.
A statement from Reed's campaign said the suit is baseless: "The illegal casino violated Texas and federal law and was ordered closed by a federal judge. As a longtime opponent of casino gambling, Ralph was happy to work with Texas pro-family citizens to close it."
Abramoff and Scanlon then won a contract with the Tigua Indians of El Paso to lobby on their behalf for federal laws and regulations that would make gambling legal. The Tiguas convinced the Alabama-Coushattas to contribute $50,000 to a Washington foundation. That turned out to be an Abramoff idea, the suit says, and the money ended up financing a golf trip — that last bit came out in U.S. Senate hearings on the subject.
The effort included a push to get then-Attorney General John Cornyn on the anti-gaming side — he has said state law and his own sentiments were already there without the outside noise. And a Senate committee that investigated the whole mess found no evidence that Cornyn — now a U.S. senator himself — had done anything out of line.
The Texas lawyer in the Alabama Coushatta lawsuit is one Andy Taylor of Houston, the former First Assistant to then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn. Cornyn was the AG when Abramoff, Reed & company were allegedly trying to influence the state government.
Fred Petti of Phoenix, the lead lawyer on the suit, says Taylor quit the AG's office in May 2001, and the events noted in the lawsuit didn't start until November of that year. In spite of Taylor's ties to Cornyn and all of the agency's top staff, Petti says there's no conflict here. Taylor didn't return calls on the subject.
According to the suit, direct lobbying of Cornyn's office started in November of that year. The efforts to influence gaming law in Texas started well before that, but were focused on the Legislature and not the AG or the executive branch. The tribe closed its casino in July 2002, attributing the closing to Cornyn's efforts to shut them down.
The suit, like the U.S. Senate, excuses Cornyn from any blame, even quoting his response when first heard of email conversations detailing efforts to influence his office: "It's kind of eye-opening to me that apparently people make money claiming credit for something I decided to do under the law." But it also accuses Reed of directly contacting "a member of the Texas Attorney General's office" without first registering as a lobbyist.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
The state GOP will get a quick hearing on whether Tom DeLay can be replaced if he drops out of the race for CD-22. Lawyers will swap briefs for a couple of weeks (that didn't come out right, somehow) and the court will decide whether to hear arguments at the end of the month.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said the Constitution doesn't allow states to add requirements for congressional service. DeLay has moved out of the state, but the Constitution says only that he's got to live here when he's elected. Election Day isn't here yet, so he's not yet ineligible.
Sparks said DeLay can quit the ballot, but the GOP can't replace him. They want a new candidate, so they're appealing the decision.
Setting Out a Lobster Trap
The state of Texas, directly and indirectly, has $1 million in contracts with Washington, D.C., lobbyist Drew Maloney, and state Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, wants the State Auditor to see if that's on the square.
Maloney is a former chief of staff to Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and Dunnam, head of the state House Democratic Caucus, says the contracts smell of a link of "cronyism and corruption." He also says the lobby contracts are a waste of taxpayer money. Each of the four entities that contracted with Maloney is either directly funded by Gov. Rick Perry's office or indirectly with money from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which is controlled by the governor.
Maloney didn't return a call seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Perry said the auditor is already doing a routine exam of the Office of State-Federal Relations, or OSFR, which has the biggest of the four contracts with Maloney. "Our take is that this is baseless, illogical... a ludicrous conspiracy theory," said Rachel Novier.
Dunnam said two of the contracts with Maloney were signed just as the funding arrived from the governor's fund, and said it strained credibility to call that a coincidence. The contracts include a $420,000 arrangement with Advanced Materials Research Center, $20,000 with the Texas Energy Center, and another $200,000 with the Gas Technology Institute, which Dunnam said is in the same office building as TEC, in Sugar Land. The last of the four — a $435,000 deal with OSFR — is also being perused by Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, one of Perry's rivals for governor.
Dunnam said he said his request to State Auditor John Keel to avoid the political flak between Perry and Strayhorn.
Sidebar: Maloney's online bio at the Federalist Group, where he's employed, no longer lists DeLay among his former bosses. Several other members of Congress are listed, but DeLay is referred to only by his position. "Mr. Maloney joined the Federalist Group after serving as Administrative Assistant and Legislative Director for the Republican House Majority Whip. While working in Leadership, Mr. Maloney managed the Whip’s congressional office..."
Those semi-famous checks from Houston builder Bob Perry to Republican consultant Bill Ceverha will now be the subject of a complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission.
State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, and a group that includes attorney Randall "Buck" Wood, Public Citizen, and Common Cause, want an official ruling on whether state appointees can report gifts like those from Perry to Ceverha as "checks" or should be required to report the amounts, too.
Ceverha, a former state lawmaker, was a member of the Employee Retirement System's board when he received the checks. He didn't report the amounts in official terms, but disclosed the amounts after a storm of publicity. Ethics never had to make a formal ruling on the matter, and that prevented a lawsuit on the issue — filed by Burnam — from going forward.
Hello! My Name is...
Voters won't see Grandma on the ballot, and they'll see Richard before they see Kinky.
Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, after looking over their arguments and pleas, has decided Carole Keeton Strayhorn isn't known as "Grandma" in the eyes of the Texas election code. Kinky Friedman has a legitimate nickname, he decided, but the independent candidate's given name — Richard — will also appear on the gubernatorial ballot.
James Perry will go on the ballot as Rick Perry. And Robert Bell will be seen on the ballot as Chris Bell. Both use diminutives of their middle names — Richard and Christopher — as their names. They won't have to list their first names on the ballot.
Strayhorn is suing to overturn that decision (see a copy of her lawsuit in our Files section).
Williams said Strayhorn's proposed nickname is actually a slogan tied to the "one tough grandma" line she uses in her political advertising. He listed five reasons for the ruling: "Ms. Strayhorn has never appeared on the ballot under the name 'Grandma'; Ms. Strayhorn's declaration of intent lists her name as Carole Keeton Strayhorn; Ms. Strayhorn's petitions list her candidate name as Carole Keeton Strayhorn; The only reference to 'Grandma' in communication with the Secretary of State's office appears on Ms. Strayhorn's campaign literature; and the term 'Grandma' is not found on any of Ms. Strayhorn's official letterhead or communication with the Secretary of State."
In her lawsuit, Strayhorn says Grandma isn't a slogan or a phrase by any definition, and is, in fact, her nickname.
Friedman, whose lawyer petitioned Williams to leave "Richard" out of it, doesn't plan to contest the ruling. His statement, passed along by an aide: "I like the name Richard "Kinky" Friedman — it evokes a certain sense of nobility that falls somewhere between Richard the Lion-Hearted and Richard Nixon."
Tried Ceiling Fans? Weather-stripping?
The utility bill at the Governor's Mansion for May was $5,522.86, including a $4,331.38 charge for electricity. That incredible number was dug up by Democrat Chris Bell's campaign, which used it while blasting Gov. Rick Perry for raiding the state fund that covers electric bills for poor people when cutting off the power would endanger their lives.
That bill, though, is big enough to distract you from the point of the attack. (This month's bill was $4,843.41, including $3,441.75 for power; water accounted for more than $1,000 of the total.)
There's a handy cautionary tale for this occasion: Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle hoping it would shock the country to take up for the workers in meat plants. But his book instead inspired the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. Readers were more alarmed about what was getting into their sausage than about the people who's lopped off fingers fell into the mix.
We know we're supposed to be watching the System Benefit Fund, but we got distracted.
Bell's slap at the Guv starts with the state's decision to divert money from that fund to the general revenue part of the budget — that's the part that's available for general spending. So of the funds that began as a tax on your electric bill designed to fund lower rates for the poor and needy, $427 million went instead to general spending. (Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, another candidate for governor, took a related swat at the end of the last legislative session, bringing attention to increases in fees and other charges that were used then to avoid a tax bill. One such trick was diverting this existing tax to another end.)
Bell contends that diversion from the "LITE-UP Texas" program killed subsidies to 363,317 residential electric customers in the state. Perry's bills at the Mansion, meanwhile, were paid with state taxes. The Democrat has lined up with the state agency that represents consumers and a number of outside political and consumer groups who are petitioning the state for some relief for ratepayers. They want the Public Utility Commission to adopt a rule limiting utility cutoffs while temperatures are dangerously high.
A spokesman for Perry's campaign told the Associated Press that the governor's budget didn't include the cut to that fund. But Perry signed the final budget, which did include the cut.
Some utilities are already giving customers more time to pay bills, and the PUC could consider the petition by the end of the month.
Joining the Goo-Goos
Campaign finance reform — possibly including proposed limits on the size of contributions to state candidates — might be coming from the business community next year.
The Texas Civil Justice League and other associations are talking about that and some mild lobby reforms after the issues bubbled up in surveys of their members.
This is all still in the talking stage. More groups could pitch in, the idea could get dropped altogether, or it could morph three or four times. That's the disclaimer — now, some of the ideas:
• Tighten up disclosure laws, making campaign finance reporting more transparent at a time that's useful to voters and players.
• Limit contributions to a particular dollar amount, as in federal law.
• Allow corporations and unions to contribute directly to campaigns, with dollar limits.
• Outlaw political contributions during special legislative sessions (they're already banned during regular sessions).
• Make it illegal to spend undisclosed contributions in the last nine days before an election.
• Ban lobby spending on out-of-state travel and entertainment for lawmakers.
• Begin spot audits of lobby reports.
• Restrict unregistered lobbying by political consultants and others.
• Eliminate contingency fees for lobbyists working on administrative (non-legislative) issues.
• Devise a way to sanction lobbyists who break the rules.
People at TCJL — which has mainly concerned itself with judicial issues and tort reform — say businesses that deal with the Legislature complain they're out-gunned by super-contributors on both sides of the aisle, particularly during campaign season. Thus, the idea of limits. Some of the lobby ideas come from lobbyists themselves, who have been pushing for clearer lines between what can and can't be done for at least a couple of legislative sessions. TCJL's George Scott Christian sums it up by saying they'll take it on if their members want to, and says it's all borne of the idea that "Some people get more process than others" in Austin.
Jack Gullahorn, who heads the trade group for lobbyists, the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas, says his group is looking at some of the same issues, particularly in campaign finance. Stay tuned.
Flotsam & Jetsam
The Washington Post is tracking big givers to George W. Bush to see who they're backing in 2008. So far, most of the Texans in the bunch are with U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. That list includes former Gov. Bill Clements of Dallas, former Commerce Secretary Bob Mosbacher of Houston, U.S. Rep.-turned-lobster Tom Loeffler of San Antonio, and former U.S. Rep.-turned-Railroad Commissioner-turned-lobbyist Kent Hance of Austin.
• Texas Republicans are shooting at a national ad campaign that features footage of flag-draped military coffins and a helmet on a gun, and trying to tangle two Texas Democrats in that fight. The spots are being run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; the GOP wants U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards and former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, who's back in the hunt, to disavow the ads.
• The state has a new group of highway promoters. Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation appears to be a counter to opponents of toll roads, the Trans Texas Corridor. The group's board includes Joe Krier with the San Antonio Chamber, Lawrence Olsen of the Teas Good Roads Association, and Donna Williams with Parsons Infrastructure and Technology, which builds highways and other large-scale projects. The PR work is being done by Bill Noble and Ray Sullivan, two veterans of Gov. Rick Perry's office.
• Campaign finance reports aren't due until next week, but Ellen Cohen couldn't wait. Cohen, who's challenging Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, in HD-134, says she raised 212,238 during the first six months of the year and has a little more than that in her campaign accounts.
• Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle doesn't want to detail what his office spent on its investigation of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. The Houston Chronicle asked for the info. Earle appealed to Attorney General Greg Abbott, the first stop on open records appeals. Abbott said some of it's public information. And now Earle, who says disclosure would impair the investigation, is appealing that ruling to the courts.
• A couple of President George W. Bush's political henchmen — Matthew Dowd and Mark McKinnon — are teaming up with peers who worked for Bill Clinton and Al Gore to start a new online "community" called Hotsoup.com. The group includes Ron Fournier, a former national reporter for the Associated Press, Joe Lockhart, one of Clinton's press secretaries, and Carter Eskew, who worked on strategery for Gore. Their website says they'll fire things up in October, right before the elections. And their press pitch says the business is aimed at people who "want smart debate over the real issues, not the irrelevant and partisan discourse they're getting now."
Political People and Their Moves
The three-member board that oversees state police is down to one: Carlos Cascos, a Republican who's running against Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa, is leaving the Department of Public Safety's governing board. Colleen McHugh, appointed to the Board of Regents at the University of Texas System, left some months ago. That leaves House Speaker TomCraddick's neighbor, Ernie Angelo Jr. of Midland, as the sole member of that board for now. Cascos was a county commissioner for three terms (1990-2002). He was a Democrat at the time, a sometimes ally of Hinojosa and of Hinojosa predecessor, Tony Garza Jr. Garza's now the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Cascos switched parties in 2006, some time after Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to the DPS board. He says he quit the board to avoid "any appearance of conflicts or impropriety" while he's running for county judge.
Fred Heldenfels IV of Austin will join the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. He's Gov. Perry's latest appointment to that panel. The appointee is president and CEO of Heldenfels Enterprises, which makes pre-stressed concrete.
Perry named Gigi Edwards Bryant of Austin to the Family and Protective Services Council, which advises the state agency that deals with those issues. She's a business consultant.
And the Guv named Raymond Graham of El Paso to the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners. He owns and operates Frontera Manufacturing Support Services and R&J's Construction.
Chrissy Comacho Borskey is leaving the American Electronics Association for Dell Computer, where she'll be a senior consultant for government relations, working on education, state and and local government. AEA's looking for a replacement for their Austin office.
Geronimo Rodriguez joins Seton Healthcare Network as its veep for diversity and community outreach. He was most recently at an Austin law firm — Leonard Frost Levin Van Court & Marsh — and is well known in Democratic circles.
Brett Findley, chief of staff to Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, is leaving to be a lobbyist for Allergan; he'll work seven states from a Washington, D.C., office. Joy Hughes Rauls, Shapiro's general counsel, will be the new chief.
Brandon Lipps, who once worked for Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, in the district office, returns to the fold, this time in Austin. He'll replace Jason Skaggs, who left the Senate for a gig at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Andrew Smith moves from the San Antonio Water System to the City of San Antonio, where he'll direct intergovernmental relations. He's a former House staffer, and he'll shuttle between San Antonio and Austin during the legislative session.
Elsa Ramirez joins the Austin office of People For the American Way as a field organizer. She most recently worked for England's Labour Party, but she's from South Texas and has worked for a number of political outfits and campaigns in the States.
Quotes of the Week
Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform evaluating candidates for the 2008 national elections, in The American Prospect: "Watch Rick Perry, Texas... second-best governor in the country [behind Jeb Bush of Florida]. He cut spending $10 billion after [George] Bush left because somebody had been spending too much money in Texas before Perry had taken over. And he could go, 'Hey, I’ve done this before guys.'"
Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, asking for a legal opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott in a letter after hearing from prosecutors around the state: "Does a physician’s failure to comply with the requirements of either Section 164.052(a)(18) (restricting third-trimester abortions performed on viable unborn children) or Section 164.052(a)(19) (requiring parental consent for abortions performed on unemancipated minors) of the Texas Occupations Code... subject the physician to liability under the criminal homicide provisions of ch. 19 of the Penal Code?"
Kyleen Wright, president of the Texans For Life Coalition, in the Austin American-Statesman: "We certainly think that aborting a viable third-trimester baby is the killing of a child, but this is the first I have heard of anyone interpreting it to be a capital offense."
U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, in the Beaumont Enterprise: "Time has long since passed for the able-bodied people from Louisiana to either find a job, return to somewhere in Louisiana or become Houstonians."
Former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, after a federal judge said the GOP can't replace him on the ballot just because he moved to another state, quoted by the Associated Press: "For this guy to say he can't tell where I'm going to be on Election Day, and that I am forced to be on the ballot, well, they may get exactly what they want."
Richard Watts, who lives near the site of a proposed spaceport that he opposes, quoted in The (Brazoria County) Facts: "If I wanted to fish during a rocket launch, I’d fish at Cape Canaveral. Oh wait, they don’t have a fishing zone over there. For good reason."
Our annual summer break starts now (whew!).
Daily news clips will continue, and the newsletter will return in the first week of August.
See you then!
Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 6, 17 July 2006. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2006 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 (512) 302-5703 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.