The House has its rules in place after a long day of warbling and negotiating, and the one that sticks out is the rule that lets the House depose a speaker with only 76 votes — a simple majority. The speaker no longer has the power to ignore privileged motions, including motions to "vacate the chair." And an effort to raise the bar — to require 90 votes, or 100, to unseat a speaker fell short. It's 76: If it were a rear-view mirror on the Speaker's dais, it'd have words on it: "Warning! Hostile representatives in mirror are closer than they appear."
And now to the mundane. The members know what the committees are. They'll tell Speaker Joe Straus where they want to be placed. He'll process all of that and try to make committee assignments that disappoint the fewest possible number of people. There are 149 chairmen in the House today — the number of members who think, with some seriousness, they ought to head one of the 35 panels in the House. There are enough plums left to make it work — spots on powerful committees, intriguing double assignments, subcommittees and vice chairmanships. But this part of the session always seems slow.
Across the way, on the East End of the building, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is, we're told, "pretty close" to naming his committees. He's not new, and the Senate had less turnover in the elections; that should make for an easier bit of politics than what's going on in the House.
Guv's Goals, and Grades
Gov. Rick Perry asked lawmakers to freeze college tuition rates, sort-of, to increase tax exemptions from the state's primary business tax, and to create incentives for people to buy hybrid vehicles in areas where pollution is high.
He ladled in a fair number of the sorts of things that turn on voters in a Republican primary — there's an important one in 13 months, if you hadn't heard — and decided, uncharacteristically, to start with the same draft budget the Legislature is using, saying they and he need to work together this year.
In the governor's State of the State speech, Perry called on lawmakers to fully fund incentive pay for public school teachers, to encourage the development of more nuclear plants in Texas, and to reward colleges for graduating students.
The tuition freeze would apply to students as they enter college; their tuition would remain frozen for four years while they're in school — an incentive to minimize their time in college. It wouldn't freeze for anyone else, so schools could keep raising rates for newcomers while holding the line for students in years two, three and four.
He promoted several issues dear to cultural conservatives, who'll be important to him in his bid for reelection next year. Perry said he'd back legislation requiring women seeking abortions to first view their fetuses through ultrasound imaging. He repeated his recent call for a constitutional amendment limiting governments' eminent domain powers. And for ramped up security along the Texas-Mexico border, and for issuing different driver licenses to illegal immigrants. He supports the Voter ID legislation proposed in the Texas Senate, which would require photo IDs from anyone trying to vote.
Perry said he would support efforts to put limits on state spending growth into the Texas Constitution. He asked lawmakers to stop diverting money from gasoline taxes away from road construction and into other things. He'd increase funding for Texas Grants and community colleges, but would get the money by cutting so-called "special items" in four-year schools.
Reactions varied. NFIB/Texas lauded the business tax deduction proposal, as did the Texas Motor Transportation Association, whose members find some parts of the state's franchise tax especially burdensome; they're hoping the Legislature will revise the tax beyond just increasing the deductions. The Wind Coalition liked what he said about renewable energy sources in general and wind in particular, and about the need to build more transmission lines to get power from where it's generated to where it's used. The Texas Competitive Power Advocates liked that transmission stuff, too, and the governor's call for more electric generating capacity. The Texas Association of Business liked what he said about incentive pay for teachers and increased funding for Texas Grants that help pay for college.
Democrats said Perry should have said something about high insurance premiums and utility rates, health insurance, something stronger about controlling college tuition rates. His call for hybrid vehicle subsidies was music to utility companies that would provide the charge, which mostly kept quiet about it, and to Environment Texas, which liked the idea on green grounds. The Texas Association of Realtors liked Perry's call for property tax and appraisal reforms, and his plans to revisit eminent domain legislation.
The Texas State Teachers Association, and lawmakers like Rep. Chris Turner, D-Burleson, was hoping Perry would call for revisions to the state's school funding formulas and in TSTA's case, for higher pay for teachers. He didn't. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, put some of the problems at Perry's feet, saying property owners haven't seen the tax savings they were promised and that too many children are uninsured. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, praised the Guv for wanting to put more money into Texas Grants.
The Texas Finish Line campaign urged Perry to spend state money on CHIP and Medicaid — programs that draw millions of federal matching dollars.
The most pointed critique came from the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which said it would be a mistake to cut the state budget in a recession, saying public spending now would stimulate the economy. They're hoping the state will use money in the Rainy Day Fund and money from the federal stimulus program to increase funding for public education and health and human services. Perry didn't mention the deficit in the state's Unemployment Insurance fund — a hole that automatically triggers a payroll tax increase on businesses; CPPP wants him to use federal funds to revamp that program and cover that deficit.
The List and the Rally
The governor's State of the State speech came after a week of talk about next year's Republican primary, featuring Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Perry headlined an anti-abortion rally on the Capitol steps on Saturday. Hutchison was across town, talking to a large group of supporters about her exploratory campaign. And for your reading pleasure, a list of 500+ people she says are supporting her efforts. The two have risen through Republican Party politics in parallel for the last 18 years — both were first elected to statewide office in 1990. And they've got loads of supporters in common. Now they're forcing those people to choose between them; The Dallas Morning News found 59 people on Hutchison's supporter list who've previously been serious financial backers of the incumbent.
Hutchison's full list can be found alphabetically here and geographically here . But some names leapt off the page: former Rep. Dianne White Delisi, whose son has worked for Perry and whose daughter-in-law was the governor's chief of staff; U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, who greased the skids when Perry switched to the GOP from the Democratic Party in the late 1980s; John Nau III, a Houston beer distributor, Perry appointee and contributor; Dallas billionaire Robert Rowling, another Perry backer and a member of the Governor's Business Council; Ned Holmes of Houston, one of Perry's appointees at the Texas Department of Transportation... it goes on.
Perry hasn't yet released a list of supporters. The mid-year campaign finance reports will be the first real head-to-head showings of support. And Hutchison has an advantage. State law bars Perry and other state officeholders from raising money during the legislative session, but not federal officeholders like her.
"Texans for Ted Cruz" is among the latest filings at the Texas Ethics Commission.
The state's former solicitor general (under Attorney General Greg Abbott) wants to run for attorney general in 2010, assuming his former boss isn't running for reelection. He did a "soft" announcement, letting the story break in Texas Lawyer and then giving details to anyone who asked. Former Texas Secretary of State George Strake Jr. signed on as his campaign manager.
That adds another car to the political traffic jam forming behind Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who hasn't announced his plans for the 2010 election year. If Dewhurst runs for U.S. Senate (which would hinge, in turn, on the resignation of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison), Abbott has indicated an interest in that job. And if he clears out, Cruz is interested. So is Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and probably a mess of people we don't even know about yet, from both parties.
Abbott has also said he might be interested in running for the U.S. Senate himself if Hutchison bails. The incumbent — who's "exploring" a bid for governor in 2010 — has said she won't quit any earlier than the end of this year, if she quits at all. Other names in that hat include Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, former Comptroller John Sharp, now an Austin Democrat, Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams, both Republicans, Houston Mayor Bill White, a Democrat, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, R-Weatherford, and probably others. (Roger Williams, by the way, fired up his campaign website this week.)
Hutchison has a cork in it, for now, but contenders there are looking at an open seat and not a run against her, so they can raise money for the future without offense. Dewhurst, meanwhile, has no reason to hurry. By most accounts, he's got the personal money to run for U.S. Senate if that's what he decides to do. So he doesn't have to tip his hand and start raising money now. He's got a legislative session underway and it would do him no good to tell everyone he's a lame duck, trying for the Senate. And because potential contenders for his seat have goodies at stake in that legislative session, they're not likely to do anything serious to challenge him during the first half of this year.
The critical piece of timing there? Candidates for state offices have to file by January 2 of next year (filing starts on December 3 of this year). Whether or not they also want to run for the Senate seat, that's the date by which Dewhurst, and Abbott, and Branch, Cruz, McCaul et al have to stop talking and actually put down their filing fees.
The answer to the next question is Yes, a candidate can run for state office in the general election at the same time they're running in a special election for U.S. Senate. But it's safe to say everyone in the game wants to limit the number of serious competitors they face. And here's one more thing: The budding contest between Hutchison and Gov. Rick Perry is already forcing Republican Royalty to choose sides. Candidates for races down ballot from that one don't want to get caught in those currents by forcing choices between, say, Dewhurst and Abbott for Lite Guv.
Red and Blue See Green
State lawmakers from both chambers and both parties want to keep energy efficiency and the environment at the top of the Legislature's to-do list.
This session may be weighed down with a tight budget and other tough issues, but at this stage of the game, legislators are confident their green bills won't get buried. The focus is mainly on renewable energy because of its potential to boost the state's economy.
House members introducing renewable energy legislation have a good starting point. They've got Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who introduced and passed major renewable energy legislation during the last session (before he won the top job). "We have a friend in the speaker's chair for sure," says Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin.
Plus, the House, prompted by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, moved renewable energy and energy efficiency jurisdiction from the state affairs committee and to the energy resources committee. Strama says that move will significantly prioritize these bills, even if the energy resources committee is used to dealing with oil and gas legislation. It might have been bottled up in the State Affairs committee, where there's historically a heavier workload.
"I guarantee there will be five times as many bills relating to renewables than oil and gas," he says.
Lots of energy efficiency legislation already been filed in the House and Senate, and more is on the way. A common theme for this session is expanding the state's renewable portfolio standard, or RPS. They think of it like a stock portfolio of renewable energy sources — and want to diversify. Currently, wind is dominating the discussion. Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, says he's "technology agnostic" when it comes to diversifying the RPS. He doesn't care if it comes from solar or biomass, as long as another technology can compete with wind.
Anchia has two energy efficiency proposals. One, HB 278, would mandate that by 2020, 2,000 megawatts of energy will come from renewables. You would potentially see a $12 fee tacked onto your energy bill — but only once a year. Anchia says that surcharge could raise $140 million for the state and go right back to consumers for purchasing solar rooftops and other energy efficient products. The second, HB 280, would offer incentives to consumers choosing energy efficient alternatives for home or commercial utilities. Anchia is hoping Straus will put him on the energy resources committee.
Rodriguez has three bills filed and more in the works. They include HB 237, which would offer a deduction in the franchise tax for some renewable energy devices; HB 238, which would give commercial or residential consumers of any renewable energy devices an exemption from the sales tax; and HB 239, which would instruct the state's energy conservation office to figure out a way Texas could get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. He says the second may be the toughest to pass, considering it would reduce some sales tax revenue.
Strama filed HB 776, with a companion from Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, to create a statewide low-emission vehicle program similar to one currently in the works in California. (Memory Lane: Strama first wrote that bill when he was a staffer for Ellis in 1991, a time when most automakers couldn't imagine building cars to the low-emission standards they've reached today.) Strama and Ellis also have a green jobs bill they hope will attract federal stimulus money to the state to train workers to install solar panels and other renewable energy devices.
Senate Republicans have similar goals. Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, is working with Anchia. Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, filed SB 545, which would create consumer incentives for solar powered products. He also wants to maximize wind energy resources by creating more demand to use it at night — the most energy from all sources is used during the daytime hours (If someone could find a way to store wind energy produced at night to use during the day... well, let's just say that person would become very rich). Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, has clean-air legislation in the works to raise current air quality standards and establish energy efficient building codes.
It's early, and lawmakers don't see too many hurdles to their bills. But Anchia admits the obstacle is convincing the Lege that this is the time to invest in energy efficiency.
— by Karie Meltzer
The Mother's Milk of Politics
What has $138,921,797 and 2,407 different agendas?
A clue: The year-end cash-on-hand reports for the state's candidates and political committees are now online.
The Texas Ethics Commission compiles reports from candidates and PACs that file semi-annual reports, and also from PACs that, under different laws, file monthly. We've mashed the reports together to see where the money was at the end of 2008.
The biggest single pot was in the hands of your attorney general: Republican Greg Abbott, who had $8.6 million in his state campaign account at the end of the year.
His is one of a dozen-and-a-half accounts holding more than $1 million. The More-Than-$500,000 Club has 44 members. The More-Than-$100,000 Gang numbers 223. Having more than $50,000 is almost commonplace — 379 committees met that standard. And 213 of the candidates and PACs in the listing had nothing in the till. Zero. Zip. Zed.
Several candidates lost races and had significant money left. Would it have helped? Some of them are probably wondering that. Some of their supporters, too, maybe. Some names from that list: Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, who lost in November and ended the year with $247,379 in his campaign account; Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, $101,730; Chris Bell, D-Houston, $95,692; Joel Redmond, D-Pasadena, $66,991; Mike Anderson, R-Mesquite, $61,132 (he also had $3,500 in loans outstanding); and Rep. Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso, $58,186.
Here's the top 100 (which hold $94.1 million, or 68 percent of all of the money in the 2,407 listed accounts); click on the chart below to download the top 500 in printable form, or here to download the Excel spreadsheet with all 2,407 committees.
Bounce per Ounce
In which we apply the idea of unit pricing to political campaigns...
We totaled the spending from the mid-2008 reports forward to show what candidates in 37 selected races spent on the general election, and divided by the number of votes they got to figure up what each candidate spent per vote. The answers?
As little as almost nothing and as much as $46.26 per vote. Both of those candidates, Mark Thompson and Juan Garcia III, lost.
As little as nearly nothing and as much as $31.49. Both of those candidates, Tom Price and Todd Hunter, won.
The most expensive race on the sheet — the contest in Senate District 10 — cost the two candidates $4,357,137. Second was the SD-11 race, where the final tab was $2,492,240. Another Senate race cost $1.4 million, with Sen. John Carona spending all but $101,212 of that. One House race broke the $2 million barrier; that was the Corpus Christi race between Rep. Garcia and former Rep. Hunter. Four more — in districts 52,78,96, and 102, cost more than $1 million.
The candidates on this list spent $33.4 million on the general election, or an average of 71 cents per vote. If you count only the 31 legislative races on the list, spending totaled $28.4 million, or $11.63 per vote. Want the breakdown? Democratic legislative candidates (on this list, which includes the closest races) spent $12.3 million, or $10.37 per vote. Their Republican opponents spent $16.1 million, or $12.83 per vote. Democrats won 20 of the 31 legislative contests here. Oh, and losers outspent winners in 11 of 31 of the legislative races, and in two of six of the statewide races on this list.
Flotsam & Jetsam
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, got kudos from the Texas Association of Business and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas for his vote against the Lilly Ledbetter Act — a federal law that holds employers financially responsible for all wage discrimination against employees and not just the last 180 days of it. Not mentioned in that Kudos Report: U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who voted for the bill and who's (probably) running for governor next year. TAB's political action committee has supported all three — Cornyn, Hutchison, and Perry — in the past. The Texas AFL-CIO praised the new federal law and took at swipe at the business groups: "... it looks like TAB and ABC are already on the campaign trail... Hutchison had it right when she voted for the final version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but she tried and failed to obtain a version that employers like those in TAB and ABC would have preferred. The selective nature of the TAB-ABC news release is interesting."
Most Texans favor a statewide ban on smoking "in indoor workplaces and public facilities including public buildings, offices, restaurants, and bars," according to a poll done for Smoke-Free Texas. That group is back — with bicyclist Lance Armstrong in front — to try to win a smoking ban from the Texas Legislature. The pollster for the group — Austin-based Baselice & Associates — found 68 percent of Texans favor a ban, while 28 percent oppose one. Non-smokers and former smokers were for a ban; smokers were split 46-49 against one. Texas is one of 26 states without a ban, according to the group. They've got one opponent already: The Libertarian Party of Texas. The folks there say they'll fight a state law banning smoking on private property. They contend the decision should be left to the property owner.
Cintra US, the Spanish highway firm that sparked a debate about foreign ownership of Texas highways, won a second major contract — this one to build and operate a toll road in north Texas. They'll work on I-820 and State Highway 121/183, putting up all but $600 million of the $2 billion price and collecting tolls on some lanes of those roads for the next 52 years. One of their partners: the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System. If the deal goes as expected, construction will start next year, and the road they're working on gets a new name: North Tarrant Express.
The Young Conservatives of Texas want college tuition regulated to cut rising prices and also say they're in favor of free markets. They like the idea — touted by the governor in his State of the State speech — of shrinking "special items" funding to individual universities and funneling that money instead into the Texas Grants program. They want the Top 10 rule repealed, want the comptroller to have the power to audit public universities, and think those schools should come up for Sunset review every 12 years like most state agencies. They'd like to submit university regents, appointed by the governor, to recall elections. The rest of that agenda is on their website .
A top Texas judge is appealing a ruling that he violated state ethics laws by accepting a discount on legal representation. Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht wants a state district court to overturn the Texas Ethics Commission, which said the discount amount to a campaign contribution. Hecht says the fee paid to the Jackson Walker law firm was reasonable. And he points out that the state considers the discount a campaign contribution but would have considered it legal for the firm to perform the work for free, a distinction that, he says in his appeal, "makes no sense."
Political People and Their Moves
Kay Bailey Hutchison hired Rick Wiley, a former exec with the Wisconsin Republican Party and a veteran of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign, to run her campaign for governor, according to Roll Call.
Charles Sorber takes over as interim president at the University of Texas Pan American; they're looking for a permanent replacement for Blandina "Bambi" Cardenas, who resigned. Sorber was president of UT Permian Basin and is a professor emeritus in the engineering school at UT Austin.
Retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman will be interim dean at the UT Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs wile they look for a replacement for James Steinberg, who left for a nomination as Deputy U.S. Secretary of State. The school also signed San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley as a part-time professor.
Former state Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels, joins the Texas Civil Justice League as legislative counsel. And with the departure of Lisa Kaufman, now Speaker Joe Straus' chief policy wonk, George Christian is back at TCJL as general counsel.
Scott Armey, a former Denton County judge and commissioner and the son of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, is out of the General Services Administration (with the rest of the Bushies), where he was a regional administrator, and is opening a consulting shop. He's bringing along Tye DeBerry, his number two at GSA.
Freshman Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, staffed up: Jim Sheer, formerly in Attorney General Greg Abbott's legislative office, is chief of staff; Jonathan Stinson, most recently with former Sen. Kim Brimer, will be legislative director. And Ryan Hutchison, Kyle Kamrath, and Drew Lawson signed on as legislative aides. Lawson and Hutchison worked in the private sector; Kamrath worked in the Texas House before leaving to run a congressional campaign in Tennessee.
Kathryn Freeman signs on as a media specialist with Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. She'll replace Tiffany Champion, a new mom who's going to spend time with the baby.
Titles, titles. We over-promoted Max Jones last week. He's the coordinator for legislative and regulatory stuff at the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association. Jim Reaves remains the director of same. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
Deaths : Texas Parks & Wildlife Commissioner John Parker, a former homebuilder from Lufkin. He was 73.
Quotes of the Week
Rod Blagojevich, speaking to the Illinois Senate before a unanimous vote to throw him out of office and bar him from holding any public office in the future, quoted in the Chicago Tribune: "There hasn't been a single piece of information that proves any wrongdoing. How can you throw a governor out of office with insufficient and incomplete evidence?"
Illinois Sen. Matt Murphy, reacting to that speech, in the same paper: "He reminded us today in real detail that he is an unusually good liar."
Gov. Rick Perry, talking about gasoline tax increases with The Dallas Morning News: "Here is my problem with the gas tax, just a flat gas tax increase: Does the guy in Van Horn need to be paying for the roads in Dallas? No. That's the reason, the political reason, that you are not going to see some big gas tax increase."
Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen of Texas, quoted in a Houston Chronicle story on the $12.8 million spent by lobbyists on lawmakers over the last four years: "Legislators aren't going to bite the hands that feed them. The biggest lobbyists and the biggest industries are feeding your legislators richly every night here in Austin."
Lance Armstrong, at an anti-smoking rally at the Capitol, quoted by KVUE-TV: "Well, I have decided to retire from racing and run for governor in 2010. Kidding. Kidding. Kidding!"
San Antonio's Henry Cisneros, asked by KERA-FM in Dallas whether he's running for governor: " Well, I could say no. But, um, obviously one has to think about it. I think the answer is no. But who knows."
Texas Weekly: Volume 26, Issue 4, 2 February 2009. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2009 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.