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Gusher!

While other states are facing deficits large and small, the Texas Legislature will start its next session with a surplus of almost $15 billion, according to House Speaker Tom Craddick.

While other states are facing deficits large and small, the Texas Legislature will start its next session with a surplus of almost $15 billion, according to House Speaker Tom Craddick.

The Rio Grande Guardian quoted him from a speech to Republicans in Hidalgo County. He gave some credit to soaring oil prices (and the taxes therefrom), but said lawmakers deserve some laurels: “Now, I didn’t create the price of oil and I know that’s helped a little but let me tell you right now, so did cutting spending, so did consolidating agencies, so did saying the word ‘no.’”

He suggested budgeteers should use the money to increase funding for Parks & Wildlife, and to supplant gasoline tax money that now goes to the state police instead of to state highways.

The exact sources of Craddick’s numbers weren’t immediately available, but aides say he’s including estimates of current taxes as well as expectations about the state’s new business tax and what that will produce for the state treasury. And he’s including what’s stashed in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Comptroller Susan Combs hasn’t revised her estimates of state revenue and has told other audiences that the state’s new business margins tax could fall short of some predictions; you can find other financial wizards, witches and warlocks who say it’ll do better than expected. Texas companies are only now completing returns under that tax for the first time, and she doesn’t expect to have solid numbers on its performance until late summer. The tax is due in mid-June.

Roadies

The other foot dropped, and the appointments of Deirdre Delisi of Austin and William Meadows of Fort Worth to the Texas Transportation Commission are now official.

Their mission: Calm everyone down and keep Gov. Rick Perry’s road-building program alive, even with political fire ant mounds — toll roads and private foreign ownership and property rights — raising the temperature.

“Texas faces serious challenges in providing a transportation infrastructure that will sustain our state’s rapid pace of population and trade growth,” Perry said. “Both Deirdre and Bill have the integrity and expertise to ensure that these needs are met efficiently and responsibly. I am confident their contribution to the commission will maintain the momentum of the late Commissioner Ric Williamson’s pioneering vision, and secure comprehensive transportation solutions that will reduce traffic congestion, improve safety and keep our state’s doors open to economic growth and success.”

Delisi was Perry’s chief of staff until she left state employment last summer. She’s also worked on a couple of presidential campaigns (Lamar Alexander and George W. Bush) and for then-state Sen. Bill Ratliff. She’ll chair the commission, a job that’s been held by San Antonio’s Hope Andrade since Williamson's death last year.

Meadows, an insurance exec with Hub International Rigg and the vice chair of the North Texas Tollway Authority, will fill an open spot on the board, bringing the commission to full strength for the first time since Williamson died.

These will require Senate consent. Delisi and Perry have already done some politicking to get this far, convincing Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, to go along (an appointee’s local senator, by closely followed tradition, has to approve before an appointment is made).

The appointments got nods of approval (coordinated, and delivered by email to reporters within hours and in some cases, minutes, of the announcement) from the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Motor Transportation Association, the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association, a group called the Texas RV Association, and from Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, who was glad to get someone from North Texas on the board: “As the state's most populated metro area, we have enormous needs that are critical not just to our region — but the entire state, mainly because our growth is driving the state economy,” she said in a press release.

Supremes OK Voter ID Laws

The U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in an Indiana case, says laws requiring voters to provide photo identification are legal.

A proposal for such a law in Texas failed during last year's legislative session, but supporters had already vowed to try again. This bolsters their argument against accusations that a Voter ID law would curtail voters' rights. It’s been a sharply partisan issue here and in other states, with Republicans saying the laws are needed to insure the integrity of ballots, and Democrats saying that requiring photo identification disproportionately suppresses Democratic voting.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott — joined by attorneys general from several other states — filed an amicus brief in the case asking the high court to uphold Indiana's law. A copy of the court's opinion is available here. And a copy of Abbott's brief is available here.

Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, blocked the bill last year and says he'll try to do it again next year. "I'm saddened that the Supreme Court has chosen to legalize discrimination," he said. "But just because the court's decision indicates that it's legal, doesn’t mean it's right."

Gallegos, who remained in Austin in spite of life-threatening kidney troubles to prevent the bill from passing, could have a harder time now. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a supporter of the legislation, ran TV ads in favor of the idea earlier this year and will have another go. "I look forward to passing a fair Voter ID law in Texas next year that fully protects the voting rights of all U.S. citizens registered to vote in Texas," he said.

The sponsor of last year's bill, Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, still supports the idea and says the decision will bolster support next year for another try. Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, said the decision "puts to rest the fallacious and deceitful argument that voter identification is a ploy to deny access to the polls."

Christian heads the Texas Conservative Coalition — a legislative group — and said they'll push for new Voter ID legislation next year.

Isn’t That Special?

Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, is squiring Austen Furse III around political circles, touting him as the Republican who ought to succeed Janek in SD-17 later this year.

The incumbent is leaving as of June 2. And former Harris County Republican Chair Gary Polland — who lost the 2002 GOP primary that put Janek in the seat — is also in the water.

Don’t count Democratic state Rep. Scott Hochberg in or out of that race yet. If the special election to replace Janek is on the same day as the general election in November, sitting House members (the other in question here is Republican Rep. Charlie Howard of Sugar Land) would have to run for either Senate or House but not both. If it’s on any other date, they could run for the Senate without giving up their reelection bids; a loser in the Senate race wouldn’t be forced to give up the House seat. Hochberg says the question about his plans isn’t ripe until the election date’s been set.

Can a Democrat win it? Allen Blakemore, who ran Janek’s races and will run Furse’s effort, says it’s Republican turf even on a bad day. By his measure, Democratic hopes are based on a dramatically Democratic turnout in Harris County, which makes up about half the vote in a normal year. Hochberg says the district leans Republican, but isn’t prohibitive. “It’s good enough that it’s not tilting at windmills,” he says. “It’s probably closer than some of the ones people are concerned about.” He says a Democrat who can get independents’ votes could win the Senate seat.

Oh, and spike the rumor that it’s possible to run for both seats, since the House would be on the general election ballot and the Senate would be on a special election ballot. The wizards at the Secretary of State’s office say it’s considered the same election for purposes of eligibility.

Incompatibility

As we wrote last week, the governor can’t appoint himself to the U.S. Senate (or to anything else). A couple of readers asked where the prohibition is, so we dug a bit.

It’s in common law, but not in statute. And it’s apparently well established enough to prevent even an ambitious officeholder from testing it in court.

The concept here is “incompatibility,” and the idea is that you can’t, as an officeholder, do two things at once. It’s the doctrine that keeps city council members from appointing themselves to city boards, that keeps governors from naming themselves to the public utility commission, and so on. The lawyers at the Capitol read it to mean that you can’t make those kinds of appointments unless the law expressly allows the exception.

One lawyer pointed us to the Attorney General’s website and to a pretty useful (for this and other questions) publication called Traps for the Unwary.

Off the Leash

Democrat Joe Moody, who started the general election season promising to limit his campaign contributions to $2,300, won’t keep that promise.

He says in a press release that it was a challenge to Republican Dee Margo, that Margo turned down the challenge to limit incoming contributions, and that Moody won’t obey the limits, either.

The proposal threatened to unilaterally disarm the Democrat against a Republican who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in an expensive primary against Rep. Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso. The decision to back out re-arms Moody, but opened him to an easy shot from the Republican. "This is the first time I've ever heard of a candidate seeking public trust going back on his word six months before an election," Margo said in a press release of his own.

On the Tubes

Texas Republicans are getting into Internet video and say they were prompted to do it, in part, by Texas Democrats. The Democrats put video clips and an edited short on the web after their last state convention, and liberals dominate the Texas blogs.

If you go to YouTube and search for Texas Republican, most of what shows up right now is either about U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute, or is a swat from Democrats aimed at the GOP. Gov. Rick Perry has some postings, and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams does, too. And some campaigns have been active on the Internet; Perry, for instance, ran ads online that didn’t run on radio or TV during his last campaign.

But there’s nothing before now from the state GOP. They’ve bought a hi-def camera and is working on a website redesign. Hans Klingler, a party spokesman, says they’ll add something every few weeks until the June convention, when they’ll post more often. Their first effort is a straight-ahead commercial — not the sort of thing people hurry to pass along to their friends — but he says they’ll loosen up as they go along.

Flotsam & Jetsam

Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, lost a round in his attempt to flip the results of the GOP primary that choked his reelection bid (Macias lost to Doug Miller by 17 votes). He asked the visiting judge in that election contest to step aside so another judge could be appointed. That judge, James Clawson, said the request wasn’t proper in an election case. The state’s 3rd Court of Appeals agrees. Macias can take it to the Texas Supreme Court, or let it rest. The trial on the election results is set for May 19. Macias’ lawyers say they’ll focus on Box 5 from Gillespie County, which came in hours after the rest of the votes were counted.

John McCain is comfortably ahead of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Texas, according to a survey done by students at the Earl Survey Research Lab at Texas Tech University. They talked to 507 voting age Texans (including 483 registered voters) on the phone between March 25 and April 14. And the sample included almost twice as many Republicans as Democrats (45 percent to 24 percent). With that group, McCain outpolled Obama 58 percent to 29 percent, and outpolled Clinton 59 percent to 30 percent. President George W. Bush had a rough time: 42 percent approve of the way he’s handling his job, while 46.5 percent disapprove.

• Clamping down on lawsuits has boosted the state economy by $112.5 billion annually, according to an economic study done for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. That group hired Waco economist Ray Perryman to quantify their work. His assessment: Tort reform is responsible for 499,000 jobs, a $2.6 billion increase in state revenue, and a 21.3 percent drop in medical liability insurance costs.

• Texas could halve the number of uninsured children in the state by making it easier to sign them up for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. A group of legislators and health care advocates say half of the state’s 1.5 million uninsured children are already eligible for the two programs. They’re not insured, according to those folks, because the eligibility and enrollment system isn’t working, because the state requires them to re-enroll more than once a year, and because the state doesn’t do enough to advertise the programs.

• We don’t generally do sports here, but sports folks don’t generally hold fundraisers for the LBJ School of Public Affairs, either. That school has a Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Global Affairs, started with $500,000 from the UT Athletic Department. The UT football coach is the honoree at a May 16 dinner headlined by Penn State coach Joe Paterno and former NFL star and Republican Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann.

Reignited

A Harris County grand jury re-indicted the wife of a Texas Supreme Court justice on arson charges. Francisca Medina, wife of Justice David Medina, was indicted earlier this year, but the first grand jury's work was tossed out by a judge. Now she's been charged again. Justice Medina, accused in the first round on charges of tampering with evidence, hasn't been charged by this panel. The charges stem from a fire at the Medina's home in Spring last summer that investigators suspect was intentionally started. The first grand jury accused Francisca Medina of arson and Justice Medina of tampering with evidence. Now, she's charged with starting the fire that damaged her home and a neighbor's home.

Political People and Their Moves

Becky Gregory is the new U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas; the U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment. Gregory, a Dallas lawyer and a former assistant U.S. Attorney, succeeds Matt Orwig, who resigned a year ago (and who’d been replaced on an interim basis by John Ratcliffe).

Karl Eschbach of San Antonio is the state’s new demographer, replacing Steve Murdock, who left that gig to head the U.S. Census Bureau. Like his predecessor, Eschbach is head of the Texas Data Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

A year after firing the management team in the prepaid college tuition division, Comptroller Susan Combs hired Kevin Dieters to head the new “Educational Opportunities and Investment Division.” Under his purview: the state’s 529 college savings plans, the Texas Guaranteed Tuition Program that was known as the Texas Tomorrow Fund (and is now closed to enrollment) and the Texas Tomorrow Fund II, which is scheduled to open later this year. Dieters had been at the Office of the Fire Fighters Pension Commissioner.

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, former commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, is joining Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas as vice president and chief medical officer. He’s currently working at the UT Health Science Center in Houston in the Institute for Health Policy.

Gardere Wynne Sewell added Elizabeth Hurst to its environmental practice, saying she’ll work closely with the firm’s state lobbyists. She worked with the Environmental Protection Agency before joining Oklahoma City-based Tronox, a chemical company.

Trey Trainor is leaving Rep. Phil King’s staff after almost ten years with the Weatherford Republican and with the Secretary of State. He plans to practice law and do some lobbying. Caleb Troxclair will take over as clerk of the House Committee on Regulated Industries, which King chairs.

Spencer Chambers is the new government relations manager at the Port of Houston Authority. He’s been an aide to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and to state Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas.

Larry Gonzales, last seen working for Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, and in the Pink Building for 16 years before that, has moved to the Texas State University System. He’s the number two to Patricia Hayes, the vice chancellor for governmental relations and educational policy.

Gov. Perry appointed:

• Nine members to the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority Board, including Joe Barrera III, general manager of the Brownsville Irrigation District; Dario Guerra Jr., an Edinburg rancher; Wayne Halbert of San Benito, GM of Harlingen Irrigation District and Adams Gardens Irrigation District; Sonny Hinojosa or Edinburg, GM of Hidalgo County Irrigation District No. 2; Sonia Kaninger of Harlingen, with Cameron County Irrigation District No. 2; Brian Macmanus of Harlingen, director of water and wastewater at the East Rio Hondo Water Supply Corp.; Samuel Sparks, owner and operator of SRS Farms in Harlingen; Jimmie Steidinger, a Donna rancher and farmer; and Frank “JoJo” White of Progreso lakes, GM of Irrigation District No. 9 in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties.

Michael Bray, an El Paso real estate agent, as presiding officer of the Manufactured Housing Board.

• Dr. Ahmed Osama Gaber, director of transplantation for Methodist Hospital Physician Organization of Houston, as presiding officer of the Chronic Kidney Disease Task Force. His 12-member panel will make recommendations on disease treatments.

Busted: Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, for driving under the influence after a DPS trooper saw his car weaving on the highway late on a weekday night. He spent the rest of the night in jail.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute, talking to Politico about his race for president and the enthusiasm of his supporters: “I’m a real candidate, but I try to keep everybody living in the real world.”

Victor Manjarrez Jr., the local Border Patrol chief in El Paso, quoted by the Associated Press: “Most of these people are economic migrants but we have to deal with them between the ports of entry because we have not, in terms of a legislative fix, determined what we do with these people. I think it’s pretty obvious that the country has a need for economic migrants. To what degree, I don’t know. That’s for the country to decide and for the politicians to decide.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado, quoted in the Brownsville Herald on local opposition to a new border fence: “If you don’t like the idea, maybe you should consider building the fence around the northern part of your city.”

Scott McCown, head of the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, quoted in The Dallas Morning News on the effect of adding 400+ kids to the state’s child welfare system after the West Texas ranch raid: “It’s kind of like asking in the midst of [Hurricane] Katrina whether a rain shower in New Orleans would be a problem. It’s no problem because it’s already a disaster.”

Francisco Ayala, an evolutionary biologist and geneticist at the University of California, Irvine, quoted in The New York Times on adding creation stories to science curricula: “We don’t teach alchemy along with chemistry. We don’t teach witchcraft along with medicine. We don’t teach astrology with astronomy.”

Gerald North, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on long-term climate changes: “Where it’s wet, it’s going to get wetter. Where it’s dry, it’s going to get drier.”

Former federal and state legislator Craig Washington, asserting his innocence on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, quoted by the Houston Chronicle: “I assume that when they went and got the indictment, they were ready for trial, because they’re sure as hell going to have to try it.”


Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 18, 5 May 2008. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2008 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 biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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