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Openly Hostile

Kay Bailey Hutchison says Texas government should be more transparent. Rick Perry says it already is. Let the sniping begin.

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Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Chair Jose Cuevas made headlines last year by soliciting donations from restaurateurs under his agency's jurisdiction.

Under Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s newly released transparency plan, that would have been illegal. And he’s not happy about it.

The “political solution to everything is create a new law,” he complains.

But Hutchison's plan — released Monday — would include numerous new laws, particularly in spots where Gov. Rick Perry and his supporters have previously found themselves on political thin ice. Among the proposals: prevent former Governor’s Office employees from lobbying the Capitol for at least a year, and limit lobbyists’ food and beverage expenditures to $500 per year per lawmaker.

“Under Rick Perry ... we’ve seen policy made by cronyism,” says Hutchison spokesman Joe Pounder.

Hutchison would allow lawmakers to return to Austin for special sessions — called by the lawmakers themselves — to override gubernatorial vetoes. Under current law, a veto after a certain date on the calendar is out of legislative reach. Perry used one such veto to kill an eminent domain bill that was dear to the Texas Farm Bureau, a group that supports Hutchison as a result.

She would knock appointees out of office six weeks after their terms expire if they haven't been reappointed, whether their replacements have been named or not. At various points in his administration, Perry appointees have served for months and months after their terms were up.

She would bar gubernatorial aides from lobbying the governor, and would bar lobbyists hired by that office from working on matters affecting their former clients.

She also repeated her proposal to limit Texas governors to two terms. That last one has backfired on her before, since she said she'd leave the U.S. Senate after two terms and then ran for — and is now serving — a third.

"It's a little hypocrital to put forward an ethics plan when you have no credibility on the issue," says Mark Miner, a spokesman for the Perry campaign.

The Perry campaign responded to the new plan with a lengthy press release on Hutchison’s 1993 ethics plan, a detailed proposal that was never seen after that year's campaign.

Plus, the Perry campaign said, his governor’s office already has transparency guidelines, and in fact, point to the state's award for best website from Sunshine Week, an open government group founded by media, libraries and others to promote transparency in government (some of which also support The Texas Tribune). Miner eagerly pointed out that those who work in the Governor’s Office cannot lobby their former employee for at least a year (they can, however, lobby the Legislature and the rest of the executive branch). And there’s already a daily $50 cap on food and beverages provided by lobbyists to the governor and his staff.

Pounder brushes aside such distinctions. “What we’re approving is an aggregate annual cap,” he explains.

Even with a limit of $500 per lawmaker, lobbyists could still spend tens of thousands given the number of lawmakers. But it’s a start, say the Hutchison folks, and one that other candidates could adopt.

“Bill has talked a lot about the need to appoint people based on the contributions they’re going to make to the state, not their political contributions,” says Katy Bacon, spokesperson for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White.

Each of Hutchison's proposals recalls a minor or major scandal for Perry — the time his former chief-of-staff left the office and immediately began lobbying for Merck (maker of the first approved HPV shots for pre-teens), or the time Texas Tech regent Mark Griffin felt compelled to resign after supporting Hutchison.

Or take the TABC scandal.

Cuevas is still serving as commission chair, though his term ended in November. He says trying to legislate what Hutchison wants to legislate doesn’t work: “Any time you start barring people from helping support their [candidate]... hurts the process.”

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