Skip to main content

The Speaker Thing

Start with a follow-up to last week's story about the powers of the House Speaker, and the attempts to get Attorney General Greg Abbott to referee. The issue is now in the hands of the lawyers, mostly, and that means there is a large stack of briefs to go through.

Start with a follow-up to last week's story about the powers of the House Speaker, and the attempts to get Attorney General Greg Abbott to referee. The issue is now in the hands of the lawyers, mostly, and that means there is a large stack of briefs to go through.

The arguments — we'll do the non-lawyerly version — turn on what must be done according to the state constitution, and on what's properly left to the caprices of legislators. They make their own rules and as long as they don't violate the constitution or criminal laws, the House and Senate can conduct business as they please. What Abbott has to decide, if he decides to opine on the matter, is where the constitution stops and the House (and Senate) rules begin.

We've accumulated the briefs and other paper that started with a request for the attorney general's opinion about the staying power of a sitting Speaker of the Texas House.

The newest things on the list are briefs filed by Reps. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Mike Krusee of Round Rock, Brian McCall of Plano, Todd Smith of Euless, Pat Haggerty of El Paso, and Kirk England of Grand Prairie, and separately, by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker.

Also, Speaker Tom Craddick's office issued a statement, attributed to him, in reply to filings on one of the deadlines (there are two opinion requests pending, and Abbott had a deadline last week on the first one, and on August 24 on the second).

Fifteen House members signed another letter, including Leo Berman of Tyler, Betty Brown of Terrell, Fred Brown of College Station, Bill Callegari of Katy, Frank Corte Jr. of San Antonio, John Davis of Houston, Rob Eissler of The Woodlands, Dan Flynn of Van, Linda Harper-Brown of Irving, Charlie Howard of Sugar Land, Carl Isett of Lubbock, Jim Jackson of Carrollton, Jim Murphy of Houston, Beverly Woolley of Houston, and Bill Zedler of Arlington.

And there are briefs from the Texas Progressive Alliance, a group of bloggers and others who wanted to weigh in, and from Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, among others.

Attorney General Greg Abbott has until December 15 to issue a ruling on the original question asked by Reps. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. All of the briefs are available in our Files section.

Mowery Resigns

State Rep. Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth, said in a letter to Gov. Rick Perry that she'll resign from the House on August 31, setting up a special election to replace her.

Mowery has been in the House since 1988 and announced at the end of this year's legislative session that she wouldn't run for another term. (Here's how she said it: "Y'all have been a big barrel of fun the whole damn time.")

The general scramble among candidates and potential candidates was already well under way; this will speed it up and give an advantage to folks with well-known names and/or large campaign treasuries.

The next uniform election date is in November, but Perry can choose another date if he thinks it's an emergency situation.

Mowery, 76, is chairman of the House Land & Resource Management Committee. Her term isn't up until January 2009, and her replacement won't have many legislative duties until then unless there's a special session in the next 17 months.

Five Republican candidates already have their names in the hat (they've filed papers naming campaign treasurers) for the HD-97 race, according to the Tarrant County Republican Party. They are Debra Coffey (a known political name — her husband is Tarrant County Criminal Court Judge Daryl Coffey), Craig Goldman, health care exec Jeff Humber, former state Rep. Bob Leonard (Mowery replaced him when he declined to seek reelection), and Dr. Mark Shelton. Mowery drew a Republican opponent in the 2006 primary — attorney Robert Higgins got 39 percent — and some locals think he could return to run again. Leonard started with a couple of endorsements: from City Councilman Chuck Silcox, who looked at the race before deciding to stay put, and from Mark Mowery — the incumbent's son.

HD-97 is generally Republican turf; GOP statewide candidates did two or three percentage points better in the district in last year's elections than they did statewide. Every statewide Republican except for Gov. Rick Perry got 56.9 percent of the vote or more; Perry, in a four-way race, got 40.7 percent. Mowery herself got 55.9 percent of the vote against Democrat Dan Barrett and Libertarian Carlos Garcia.

Political Stirrings

Not everybody got the memo telling them to slow down for the summer. State Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, suddenly has all kinds of stuff messing up his vacation.

Most importantly, he's got an opponent. Fort Worth City Councilwoman Wendy Davis resigned from that job Thursday night and said she intends to run as a Democrat against Brimer. She's won five city council elections and her entire district is within the borders of the Senate district, according to her campaign. She'll make a formal announcement later on, but told her fellow council members in her farewell what she's up to.

Her announcement followed a skirmish over numbers.

First came a poll from the Lone Star Project — a pack of Washington, D.C., and Texas Democrats idled, temporarily, by congressional redistricting. They organized last year and started playing in Texas legislative races and claimed some of last year's wins in the House. Now they've released a poll saying Brimer — a senator since 2003 and a House member for 14 years before that — is relatively unknown in his own district. And they contend he's vulnerable to "an adequately funded mainstream challenger."

Their poll in SD-10 was done by Opinion Analysts of Austin; the firm interviewed 400 people in the district during the last week of May, and the margin of error is +/- 4.9 percent. They found 50 percent of the people in Brimer's district didn't know enough about him to rate him at all, and that fewer than 20 percent gave him a "favorable" rating. The numbers: 18.3 percent favorable; 25.1 percent Neutral; 7 percent Unfavorable, and 49.7 percent "Haven't Heard Of."

They also put stock in numbers that showed 27.4 percent of the voters would reelect Brimer, 25 percent preferred an unnamed Democrat, and 47.7 percent said, "It depends."

That's where Brimer's consultants interrupt, saying the district is strongly Republican even when Democrats are doing well. In 2006, according to the Fort Worth-based Eppstein Group, Republican congressional candidates in the district got 58 percent of the vote against Democrats; statehouse candidates got 55 percent against Democrats, and the average statewide Republican candidate got 55 percent, even with Gov. Rick Perry's 39 percent showing included.

The district isn't as Republican as the rest of the state, but Republicans did pretty well, if you look at last November's numbers. Perry got 38.7 percent in Brimer's district and 39.3 percent statewide. Democrat Chris Bell did four percentage points better there than in the rest of the state, coming in with 34.4 percent of the vote, compared to 30 percent statewide.

• It's Déjà vu time. There's a substantial rumor that U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is going to come home and run for governor. And there's a UPS guy at the door delivering a book on women in public life by, erm, Kay Bailey Hutchison. Leading Ladies: American Trailblazers is a collection of stories about women who made history from different vantage points: in the military, as First Ladies, journalists and writers, as activists, and so on. This is Hutchison's third book, and the second without a named co-author (she credits Howard Cohn as research and draft writer). The book's release is set for October. Hutchison toured some with her last book, when speculation about her running for governor (the last time) was high.

• Democrat Rick Noriega is the first of the pack to get a U.S. Senate ad up on the web. Noriega, one of two Democrats vying to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, posted up a 60-second YouTube spot. Nobody's doing broadcast or cable yet — it's early and voters aren't anywhere close paying attention to a 2008 contest — so this is the first bit. Democrat Mikal Watts, as we've noted previously, has a longer video up on his website. Cornyn won't face either of those guys until after the primaries, so he's not in the mix yet (other than raising money and snagging free press where he can). The Noriega spot doesn't mention any of his opponents:

• Freshman Rep. Thomas Latham, R-Mesquite, wants another term in HD-101. Latham, who beat Rep. Elvira Reyna — a fellow Republican — to get to Austin, is a former cop and Vietnam vet. He'll likely have competition; the Mesquite Police Association withdrew its support for him earlier this summer — a result of what he called a dispute between rival police trade groups.

Jim McGrody is officially in the race for Congress now; the San Antonio Republican wants a crack at U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio. On his website, McGrody is keeping a tally of votes taken by Rodriguez and comparing how he himself would have voted. So far, the retired businessman reports, they disagree about 68 percent of the time. He's been talking about the race for some time and recently filed the necessary papers. Another Republican — Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson — has also been considering that race.

Nelda Wells Spears picked up an endorsement from tax consultant and former state Comptroller John Sharp. Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton has also weighed in — he's with Spears. She's the Tax Assessor-Collector in Travis County, a contest that usually wouldn't get our attention. But she's being challenged in the primary by former state Rep. Glen Maxey, an Austin Democrat who came up short in the race for state party chair last year. And, well, former statewide Democrats are playing. There's a tie to Sharp; Kelly Fero, a longtime Sharp confederate, is running Spears' campaign. Spears is touting her tax collection rate as the highest among the state's big counties. Maxey has said elsewhere that he thinks it's time for a change.

A Confederacy of Legislators

Texas lawmakers wrote a state budget that uncharacteristically left $7 billion available but unspent. As it turns out, if all 50 states pooled their money, that Texas stash would account for almost 13 percent of the total cash on hand.

The National Conference of State Legislators' most recent report on state budgets shows most states are ending the fiscal year with less money than they had a year ago. Six states reported a drop in revenue; the rest saw average increases of 4.3 percent, which was more than they expected. Spending grew faster than expected, too, at about 8.8 percent. That increase included one-time expenditures, according to the NCSL report.

As a group, the states increased fees, and taxes on health care and tobacco, while cutting personal income and sales taxes.

The broad conclusion (and it's a preliminary report) is that the states are generally in strong financial shape, but that they're entering a "transition" where year-end balances are dropping.

Some of the numbers aren't what they first appear to be. For instance, the report says public education spending in Texas grew 32 percent from the last budget to this one. That's technically correct, but the increase in state spending matches, for the most part, a similar decrease in local spending. It was a tax deal — not an education deal. NCSL made note of the tax swap, but still attributed the increase in state spending to education. They didn't put a number on the local cuts.

• A survey done by NCSL found 68 state lawmakers from around the country serve in National Guard or Reserve units. Of that number, 23 are deployed now or have been deployed; four have been deployed more than once. (Three in Texas have been deployed, all from the House: Reps. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, and Rick Noriega, D-Houston; Rep. Juan Garcia III, D-Corpus Christi, is in the Naval Reserve, but hasn't been deployed since his election less than a year ago.)

• One more report from the NCSL convention held this week in Boston says state legislators around the country filed 1,404 immigration measures this year and passed 170 of them into law. The NCSL folks read that as a failure of the federal government: Since Congress didn't pass comprehensive immigration laws, the states were forced to act. The biggest areas of concern — judging from the numbers of bills filed — were employment, ID and driver licenses, and law enforcement.

Checking It Twice

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wants a detailed list of the "structurally deficient" bridges in Texas, including their numbers and locations. Dewhurst, in a letter following the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minnesota, asked the Texas Department of Transportation for an inventory of sub-par bridges. He wants an update to TXDOT's "2006 Report on Texas Bridges" that includes the status of maintenance contracts and anticipated dates for repair. In his letter to TXDOT Chairman Ric Williamson, Dewhurst said he hopes to have a report by August 17 — the end of next week.

The Other End of the Baby Boom

Public sector employees are older and better educated than their counterparts in the private sector. And as the baby boomers slip out of the workforce, the effect on the public sector will be particularly strong. That's according to a report done for the Center for State and Local Government Excellence by Stuart Greenfield, a longtime Texas state employee and college instructor. By his reckoning, 45.3 percent of the private sector workforce is between 40 and 61 years old. The corresponding number in the public sector? 64.1 percent in the federal workforce, and 54.3 percent of the state workforce, and 57.2 percent of the local government workforce. Education? Almost half of all public sector employees have a college diploma, compared to 24.9 percent in the private sector. And only about a quarter of government workers stopped going to school when they got out of high school; that's true for 46 percent of private sector workers.

Collectors of Taxes, Child Support, Opinions, and News

Remember that tax amnesty offer from Comptroller Susan Combs? It's almost over. She announced "Project Fresh Start" earlier this year and said she'd waive penalties and interest on overdue sales, corporate franchise and other taxes if the taxpayers 'fessed up during the 60 days that ends August 15. The deal doesn't apply to people who were already under audit or being assessed. But it applies, she says, to all sorts of sinners: "Eligible taxpayers include those who did not file a required tax return or report; misrepresented, understated or omitted any tax liability on a past report; or erroneously claimed tax credits or tax deductions."

There's a website:

And there's a hammer, down there at the bottom of that web page: "If you fail to take advantage of this opportunity, you will be responsible for all taxes, penalties and interest. Penalties can be as high as 60 percent of tax due, plus interest."

• The child support division at the Texas Attorney General's office is the best one in the country, according to the National Child Support Enforcement Association. That's run by Alicia Key, a deputy to Attorney General Greg Abbott; the award came after Texas increased collections for child support by $228 million in 2006, to a total of $2.1 billion.

• The Texas Lyceum promised to eventually release the internal numbers in a poll on politics and religion that was done for that leadership group at the beginning of the summer. It's out. You can get all of that data from their website: They plan to follow that one with another poll next year.

• The publishers of the Rio Grande Guardian have changed business models, and that online news service is now open to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. Steve Taylor, the editor and a former/sometimes member of the Capitol press corps, says they switched from a subscriber-supported publication to an advertising-supported one. That means everybody can look, and that we'll be including their stuff in our clips from here on out.

Political People and Their Moves

Texas Labor is now headed by Becky Moeller, the first woman elected president of the state's AFL-CIO. She's succeeding Emmett Sheppard, who announced his retirement earlier this year. Moeller, in turn, was replaced by Paul Brown, a firefighter from Big Spring, who was elected Secretary-Treasurer. Moeller worked for Southwestern Bell and came up through the Communications Workers of America; Brown, the first public employee elected to a statewide position in the 220,000-member union, came up through the Fire Fighters' Association.

Former Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe Jr.'s name will adorn a post office in Uvalde — an idea that's been around for a while but that got stuck when the Republicans were in control of the U.S. House (Briscoe is a Democrat). President George W. Bush signed bills naming a bunch of those buildings — one of the other noteworthies on the same list was country music's Buck Owens, who got a post office in Bakersfield, CA.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct spanked a Brown County Justice of the Peace for a variety of transgressions, saying Bob Wall improperly conducted a trial and ruled against a woman whose lawyer was stuck in another courtroom across the hall at the time; fining a trailer owner for improper wastewater dumping without giving the owner proper notice; and for trying to subpoena Brown County Judge Ray West after the judge — in an appeal of Wall's decision to suspend someone's driver license — probated the suspension. Here's a line from the Public Admonition: "After a meeting with the Brown County Attorney, Judge Wall withdrew the subpoena" against the county judge.

The Wall Street Journal has Houston's Robert Mosbacher Sr. signing on as campaign manager for John McCain. Mosbacher was on board as one of three honorary Texas chairmen with McCain (the others were former Gov. Bill Clements of Dallas and car dealer Red McCombs of San Antonio), so while the title is new, the allegiance is not. The Houston oilman was Secretary of Commerce in George H. W. Bush's administration.

Gov. Rick Perry hired a new general counsel: David Cabrales of Dallas. Cabrales will replace Brian Newby, who got promoted to chief of staff. The new guy works at Locke Liddell Sapp and is also on the Texas Racing Commission. He'll give up both posts to join the governor's staff.

Patricia Kolodzey is moving to the Texas Medical Association, where she'll join the lobby team. The former nurse had been at the Texas Hospital Association and before that worked in the state's Medicaid program.

Court Koenning, chief of staff to Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, is leaving government to reopen the consulting business he closed at the beginning of the year. Koenning started the political consulting business after a stint as former executive director of the Harris County GOP.

Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton, had an emergency pacemaker installed at a Boston hospital after suffering heart trouble, according to the Speaker's office. They said he went into Massachusetts General Hospital with a low heart rate. He got the temporary pacemaker, then a permanent one, and ended with Jackson saying, "This is the best I've felt in months."

Quotes of the Week

State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, talking about the 15-member board's vote in favor of textbooks that included teaching on evolution (on a tape unearthed by the Texas Observer): "It was only the four really conservative, orthodox Christians on the board were the only ones who were willing to stand up to the textbooks and say they don't present the weaknesses of evolution. Amazing."

Kinky Friedman, telling the Austin American-Statesman he might not be done with this gubernatorial thing yet and is "open" to another go. But not as an independent: "Had I run as a Democrat last time, I think Rick Perry would already be a lobbyist for a cigar company."

Writer and Barnard prof Mary Gordon, asked by The New York Times whether she supports Hillary Clinton: "I think no woman is electable in America, and particularly not Hillary, because she is married to this guy whom everyone is libidinally attached to. I think there is unconscious sexual jealousy of her among women."

Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, saying he'll probably seek reelection and offering an explanation for the biennial rumors that he won't: "It's because of the disgusted and bitter look I have on my face at the end of every session."

Pat McWilliams, a spokesman for the Henderson County Sheriff, quoted in the Tyler Morning Telegraph about the possibility of lewdness charges against the promoters of the "2007 Redneck Games" held in Athens: "People paid to get in and see this. It's hard to prove they were shocked by what they saw."

Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 8, 13 August 2007. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2007 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

Wait! We need your help.


Explore related story topics

Health care Medicaid