There will be a special session to finish work left undone by the Legislature, but the final date hasn't been chosen, and Gov. Rick Perry has declined to say what's going to be on the agenda.
Several issues have dominated the conversation about special session topics: Extending the lives of five agencies that were left to die at the end of the regular session, authorizing the sale of $2 billion in transportation bonds approved by voters almost two years ago, and changing state law to allow the Texas Department of Transportation to proceed with public-private partnerships (also called Comprehensive Development Agreements, or CDAs), and a revolving fund using those bonds to go forward without waiting for the next regular legislative session.
Perry confined his remarks to renewing the expiration dates on five agencies the Legislature stranded at the end of the regular session.
"The way I see this, these are really pretty simple to address and we can get in here and, I think, in a very short period of time, take care of the people's business and let the members get on back to their joyous vacations and whatever else they have going on... ," Perry said. "We'll do it, hopefully, sooner rather than later."
The Senate closed the session on the first day of the month without voting to extend the lives of five agencies that were up for a periodic review. If those "sunset" reviews aren't completed in time, lawmakers typically extend the automatic shutdown dates for the agencies in question. That didn't happen this time because of a House-Senate spat.
Transportation, insurance and three other agencies are now set to go out of business in September 2010 unless lawmakers return before then.
Transportation has some particular problems to fix. The expiration date is at the top of the list. If the agency doesn't get its date changed, officials there have doubts about whether they can legally let new contracts. Next on their list: Lawmakers didn't authorize the sale of $2 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2007. The state budget would let TXDOT sell the bonds starting in January, but the agency can't do anything without the authorization. That bond money is needed for about a third of the "lettings" in next year's agency budget. The Legislature also stopped before approving a revolving fund that would have leveraged the transportation bonds — borrowed against them — to raise up to $5 billion more for toll roads and other projects. And that ties into the CDAs, or partnerships between private firms and the state on toll roads and other projects. That all goes on the back burner for two years if the Legislature doesn't act.
That argues for a special session sooner rather than later, but there's the matter of a political year in 2010, and Perry wants to avoid anything that looks like things aren't running smoothly in Austin. He'll be running against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, arguing that things aren't running smoothly in Washington. A legislative mess now could turn into a political mess in the March primary.
Democrats fear Perry will add Voter ID to the agenda if he calls a special session. That could be an obstacle to a deal on the transportation issues. Perry could cut a deal with the Democrats — fix transportation and we'll leave Voter ID alone — but that could upset his own supporters.
Perry hasn't said for sure what will be on the agenda — and what won't. But if he wants a short session, as he has said, it's not likely that he'll add anything controversial to the list.
Enough for Another, If it's a GOP Majority
House Speaker Joe Straus released the names of 111 state representatives who he says have pledged to elect him to a second term as speaker in January 2011.
Straus says a few more names have trickled in since he released this list — he's now released two supplemental lists — and says he's confident he's got the support he needs for another two years in the job.
Straus' Republicans hold a 76-74 majority in the Texas House. A few of the Democrats who pledged to the speaker did so, he said, with the understanding that they'll leave the fold if Democrats win the majority in the next election cycle. "Most just signed the pledge card," he said.
Straus hasn't presented the members with a set of ideas about what he'd do with a second term — that'll come later, he said. But he wants to "play a role in setting the agenda" in his second session — something he didn't have time to develop in his sudden rise from sophomore member to speaker in January.
The full lists follow.
Democrats (55): Roberto Alonzo, Carol Alvarado, Rafael Anchia, Valinda Bolton, Joaquin Castro, Norma Chavez, Ellen Cohen, Garnet Coleman, Joseph "Joe" Deshotel, Dawnna Dukes, Craig Eiland, Kirk England, David Farabee, Jessica Farrar, Stephen Frost, Pete Gallego, Veronica Gonzales, Ryan Guillen, Roland Gutierrez, Ana Hernandez, Abel Herrero, Scott Hochberg, Mark Homer, Chuck Hopson, Donna Howard, Carol Kent, Tracy King, Eddie Lucio III, Diana Maldonado, Marisa Marquez, Armando "Mando" Martinez, Ruth Jones McClendon, Jim McReynolds, Jose Menendez, Robert Miklos, Joseph Moody, Rene Oliveira, Solomon Ortiz Jr., Aaron Peña, Joseph "Joe" Pickett, Paula Pierson, Chente Quintanilla, Richard Peña Raymond, Allan Ritter, Eddie Rodriguez, Patrick Rose, Mark Strama, Kristi Thibaut, Senfronia Thompson, Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, Chris Turner, Allen Vaught, Marc Veasey, Michael "Mike" Villarreal, and Tara Rios Ybarra.
Republicans (56): Charles "Doc" Anderson, Jimmie Don Aycock, Dwayne Bohac, Dennis Bonnen, Dan Branch, Betty Brown, Angie Chen Button, Byron Cook, Frank Corte Jr., Brandon Creighton, Drew Darby, John Davis, Joe Driver, Rob Eissler, Gary Elkins, Charlie Geren, Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, Richard "Rick" Hardcastle, Patricia Harless, Linda Harper-Brown, Bryan Hughes, Todd Hunter, Carl Isett, Jim Jackson, Delwin Jones, James "Jim" Keffer, Susan King, Tim Kleinschmidt, Lois Kolkhorst, Edmund Kuempel, Jodie Laubenberg, Ken Legler, Jerry Madden, Brian McCall, Thomas "Tommy" Merritt, Doug Miller, Sid Miller, Rob Orr, John Otto, Tan Parker, Diane Patrick, Ken Paxton, Larry Phillips, Jim Pitts, Debbie Riddle, Ralph Sheffield, Mark Shelton, Todd Smith, John Smithee, Burt Solomons, Joe Straus, David Swinford, Larry Taylor, Vicki Truitt, Randy Weber, and John Zerwas.
Democrats (19): Alma Allen, Lon Burnam, Yvonne Davis, Jim Dunnam, Harold Dutton, Al Edwards, Joe Farias, Kino Flores, Helen Giddings, Joe Heflin, Terri Hodge, David Leibowitz, Barbara Mallory Caraway, Trey Martinez Fischer, Elliot Naishtat, Dora Olivo, Sylvester Turner, Hubert Vo, and Armando Walle.
Republicans (20): Leo Berman, Fred Brown, Bill Callegari, Warren Chisum, Wayne Christian, Joe Crabb, Tom Craddick, Myra Crownover, Allen Fletcher, Dan Flynn, Dan Gattis, Kelly Hancock, Will Hartnett, Harvey Hilderbran, Charlie Howard, Phil King, Tryon Lewis, Geanie Morrison, Wayne Smith, and Beverly Woolley.
While the governor is frozen out of fundraising by state law, his primary challenger is not, and says her finance committee will match contributions to her campaign from now until the end of the month.
In her latest pitch to potential supporters, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison says her finance committee will match contributions. But that comes after she takes some jabs at Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican, for what she calls mismanagement and a failure of leadership.
"As I travel the state, people have expressed frustration with the current leadership in Austin. They tell me the Governor is putting his personal political agenda in front of an agenda that will move the state forward. And you know what, I agree with them," she wrote.
"We find ourselves at a crossroads. People from all parts of Texas feel it is time for a change in Austin.
"After nearly a decade in office, our Governor is not offering a clear vision of how we can solve the issues facing a changing state. And there is a real sense that our leadership in Austin is getting distracted and consumed attempting to clean up the mismanagement problems caused at the Governor's agencies. Picking a fight with the federal government is not a long-term strategy to move Texas forward... ," the letter said
Elected state officials can't raise money during a legislative session or during the 20-day veto period that follows. That blocks Perry and other Texas pols from trying to fill their treasuries before the end of the current reporting period, which ends June 30. But federally elected officials like Hutchison aren't bound by that law, so she gets to work the circuit while he can't. And it's one reason why she should be able to show bigger numbers when those reports are unveiled July 15.
"Once again the only thing the Senator has to offer is negative Washington rhetoric," said Perry spokesman Mark Miner after seeing Hutchison's pitch. "The thousands of people moving to Texas she mentions in the letter are the result of a fiscally responsible government, jobs, good schools and roads and low taxes, all a result of the work by Governor Perry and the Legislature. If the Senator's idea of success is what's going on in Washington, all Texans should be concerned."
Hutchison's entire letter is available online.
Rister's Next Thing
Milton Rister, who resigned last week as executive director of the Texas Legislative Council, is exploring a run for the Texas House.
Rister, a Georgetown Republican, is looking at the HD-20 seat currently held by Republican Dan Gattis.
There's a string here that starts with speculation that Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, will leave the Legislature; he told the Austin American-Statesman last week that he'll make a decision in the fall. Gattis is a possible candidate for that Senate seat and has told supporters he'd be interested. That would leave his spot open.
Gattis says he talked with Rister and thinks it's a conditional thing. Gattis says he will definitely run for Senate if Ogden does retire. In that case, Rister would run for the Gattis seat. Rister, reached later, confirmed that, saying he'll support Ogden and Gattis if they seek reelection to the jobs they've got now.
Rister, a former political consultant for former House Speaker Tom Craddick and others, held staff positions with Sen. Jane Nelson, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and was executive director of the Republican Party of Texas before signing on as head of the TLC three years ago.
He announced his resignation from that job last week.
He's run for office twice before: In 1986, for Midland County Commissioner, and in 1994 for Williamson County Judge. He got 14 percent in the first race, and 42 percent in the second. "I'm shooting for 51 percent this time," he says.
As expected, Comptroller Susan Combs says the state has all the money it needs for the budget lawmakers approved during the legislative session.
Combs didn't comment on the economy or offer any reservations in her letter to state leaders. She just said there's enough in the till to cover the bills.
Texas lawmakers filed 12,226 bills and resolutions during the regular session, or nearly 2,000 more than they filed in 2007 — the previous record year.
If you throw out resolutions — including the 190 proposed constitutional amendments, the 372 non-binding "concurrent resolutions" whose main purpose is to display the Legislature's opinions, and the 4,245 plain resolutions mostly used for commemoration, memorials and such — they filed 7,419 House and Senate bills. That's more than ever — a 19.9 percent increase over the 2007 total.
Take solace: They passed 1,459 bills — 23 fewer than two years ago.
The statistics from the last ten sessions (courtesy of the Texas Legislative Reference Library) show the latest one was busier than average, if down a bit from the last. They were busier than average both in terms of bills filed and bills passed. They set the record for filings, but fell well short of the 1999 high-water mark of 1,622 for bills passed.
They were off the charts with all their resolving stuff.
One number is still missing. At this posting, Gov. Rick Perry had vetoed only one bill and was still going through the stacks sent by legislators. This is his fifth legislative session as governor and he's vetoed 200 bills — an average of 50 per session. His biggest total was in 2001, when he zapped 82 bills; his low was in 2005, when he let all but 19 become law.
Tom Schieffer announced chairs for his Democratic bid for governor. The co-chairs for his campaign are former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa and political activist and lobbyist Susan Longley. There's a "senior advisory committee" co-chaired by former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, and Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston. Schieffer's finance committee will be co-chaired by former state representative and U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Lyndon Olson Jr. of Waco and Fort Worth philanthropist Alann Sampson. Schieffer, a former state rep and U.S. Ambassador (to Australia and Japan), plans to kick off his campaign later this summer. Schieffer also picked up an endorsement from the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners, notable mainly because that's his first statewide endorsement. Schieffer is pulling together a run for governor next year.
Former Tyler Mayor Joey Seeber will run for Rep. Leo Berman's seat in the Texas House next year. Berman, a Republican, plans to run for governor in 2010. Seeber, who served on the city council for three terms and then as mayor for three terms, plans to run in the Republican primary for that HB-6 seat.
Dallas attorney Eric "EJ" Johnson plans to run for the House seat currently held by Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas. Johnson has degrees from Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and says he'll focus on education and health care issues.
Bill and Rita Clements — the former governor and first lady — signed on as honorary chairs for Elizabeth Ames Jones' exploratory run for the U.S. Senate. Jones, a Texas Railroad Commissioner, has her eye on the seat Kay Bailey Hutchison is expected to yield on her way to a run for governor next year. Jones also launched a new website for her Senate campaign.
Perry Takes a Spill
Gov. Rick Perry broke his collarbone in a mountain biking accident. Here's the official statement: "At approximately 7:30 pm tonight Gov. Perry broke his right collarbone and received a minor abrasion to his right elbow due to a mountain biking accident near his residence. He was taken to the emergency room at Seton Medical Center Austin..."
The governor's own statement at a bill signing a couple of days later was more colorful: "Down a hill that looked substantially less steep than it was. Back wheel over helmet. Shoulder on ground. And I feel fine... I'm back at work, and veto pen is ready."
Texas Monthly's Best and Worst
The magazine's biennial argument has begun — and it has definitely begun, if you look at the comments on the link to their article. Their lists:
Best Legislators: Sens. John Carona, 53, R-Dallas, Robert Duncan, 55, R-Lubbock, and Kirk Watson, 51, D-Austin, and Reps. Craig Eiland, 47, D-Galveston, Rob Eissler, 58, R-The Woodlands, Brian McCall, 50, R-Plano, John Otto, 60, R-Dayton, Jim Pitts, 62, R-Waxahachie, Senfronia Thompson, 70, D-Houston, and John Zerwas, 54, R-Richmond.
Worst Legislators: Sen. Troy Fraser, 59, R-Horseshoe Bay, Mario Gallegos Jr., 58, D-Houston, and Tommy Williams, 52, R-The Woodlands, and Reps. Wayne Christian, 58, R-Center, Yvonne Davis, 54, D-Dallas, Jim Dunnam, 54, D-Waco, Allen Fletcher, 54, R-Tomball, Kino Flores, 50, D-Palmview, Richard Peña Raymond, 48, D-Laredo, and Debbie Riddle, 59, R-Tomball.
Political People and Their Moves
Ed Whitacre Jr., retired chairman of Dallas-based AT&T Corp., will take the reins at General Motors after a bailout transition there. He's a longtime player in Texas public affairs and headed the board of regents at the Texas Tech University System.
Judge Lawrence Meyers will run for reelection to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a post he's held since the 1992 elections. A win next year would mean a fourth term for Meyer, who's the longest serving member of that court.
Angela Olige is the new assistant commissioner over the Texas Department of Agriculture's food and nutrition division. She had been a deputy assistant in that division.
Joe DaSilva is the new executive director at the Texas Pharmacy Association. CEO Jim Martin is leaving that association at the end of the month and DaSilva will take his spot. DaSilva has most recently been running his own lobby shop; he was at the Texas Hospital Association for 28 years before that.
Matt Mackowiak, formerly the spokesman for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, is opening his own politics and public affairs shop. The Potomac Strategy Group will have offices in Austin and Washington, D.C.
Indicted: Former county attorney, county judge, and state Rep. Luther Jones of El Paso, on federal charges of bribery and mail fraud stemming from a long-running public corruption investigation in that city.
Deaths: Former Rep. Frank Eikenburg, R-Plano, of complications from liver cancer. He was 64.
Quotes of the Week
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, telling The Dallas Morning News that a special session wouldn't be necessary if she were governor: "I would hope not. Because I would be hands-on, working hard through the session and I would be working with the Legislature, which is what I think the governor should do."
State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, talking about a possible mayoral bid in the Houston Chronicle: "I'm not trying to dance on the stage or have people speculating... I will take a look at how this race has unfolded, whether people are looking for another option and whether or not people think that I would be a good fit for where the city is at this time."
Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Caperton v. Massey that campaign donations can be grounds to remove a judge from a case: "Caperton decision challenges us to do more to remove the perception that judicial campaign contributions influence decisions in Texas courts. Caperton identified a core problem that exists in Texas even with expenditure limits. Judges and judicial candidates now must raise hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars to support their election efforts."
House Speaker Joe Straus, in the San Antonio Express-News: "I'm pro-business, so my position is that we don't need to go back on tort reform. But I'm also not Tom Craddick, so I'm trying to figure out how to be fair — and what's really driving this is that the Democrats are wholly owned by the trial lawyers."
House Parliamentarian Denise Davis, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the prospect of a special session: "I haven't checked to see if I'm still married. I'm scared to call home."
Texas Weekly: Volume 26, Issue 23, 15 June 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.