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Corporate Politics

The U.S. Supreme Court freed corporations and unions from a century-old ban on political spending Thursday, ruling that restrictions on their electioneering expenditures violate their First Amendment Rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court freed corporations and unions from a century-old ban on political spending Thursday, ruling that restrictions on their electioneering expenditures violate their First Amendment Rights.

In broad terms, the 5-4 decision means corporations and unions can run all the ads they want, so long as they don't coordinate their efforts and messages and plans with the campaigns they're promoting, or with other third-party groups that have similar political interests. A corporation that wants Jane Doe for Governor, for instance, could spend without limit on TV ads to urge voters to elect her, so long as they aren't working in concert with the Doe campaign. The ruling applies to for-profit and non-profit corporations and to unions, opening a door that has been closed, for the most part, since the early 1900s. In its ruling, the court said that door ought to be open, and the penalties for passing through it abolished.

"When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."

The ruling doesn't apply to contributions. Corporations and unions are barred from giving directly to political candidates and that ban remains untouched by the ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.

The ruling will change campaign finance in Texas, where corporations and unions face similar restrictions to those in federal law. The March 2 primary elections might be affected — they're now less than six weeks away — but political financial practice here and across the U.S. could undergo serious changes before the general election in November. The ruling opens a new and potentially huge spigot of political money.

The 183-page ruling on expenditures prompted reactions from "cataclysmic" to "fantastic" from election law experts who were eagerly awaiting the ruling. One faction thinks the ruling will flood the political markets with corporate cash, and that that's not a good idea.

"One thing about the political system — it doesn't need more corporate or big business influence," said Fred Lewis of Austin, who lobbies on ethics and campaign finance issues. "The corporate prohibition has been upheld until today — it got upheld by conservative courts. It got upheld by liberal courts. It got upheld."

And there are the First Amendment purists who agreed with the court's view that the existing prohibitions on corporate spending in politics were unconstitutional. The majority was explicit on that point: "If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."

Elsewhere, they wrote that transparency will protect voters from the onslaught of campaigning the ruling might unleash. "The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion.

The court undid a couple of its previous rulings to get to its decision, and also unraveled restrictions — in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws — against running corporation- or union-sponsored issue ads in the last days before an election. That earned the majority the wrath of Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the dissent in the case. "Essentially, five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law," Stevens wrote.

The case started with a partisan documentary called "Hillary: The Movie" that was sharply critical of the former First Lady and then-presidential candidate. Citizens United, the corporation that wanted to distribute the movie on cable, for free, through video on demand services, sued the Federal Election Commission, asking the courts if that was permissible. Lower courts said no, ruling that the documentary was designed to sway voters and that the distribution would constitute corporate spending expressly advocating her defeat. The Supreme Court agreed with that assessment of the content, but said corporations can't be barred from political speech.

PAC Animals

It seemed destined for trouble—after the dust of special sessions had settled, several new political action committees in the House had come to join the veteran PACs of the GOP. We wondered at the time if the new players would crowd out the old, and who would emerge victorious.

The results are in and the winner is... everyone. At least according to themselves.

At $174,000, the state party's fundraising wing raised the most, while Speaker Joe Straus's new leadership PAC, the Texas House Leadership Fund, has the most cash on hand with $130,000.

But the other new PACs are pleased with their performance.

"We're among the leaders and we're the newest kid on the block," says Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, who's chairing the new Texas Republican Representatives Campaign Committee.

They landed on their feet, raising $55,000 (primarily from state representatives on the board) and hold around $31,000 in the bank.

"It's something we probably should have done a long time ago," says Hilderbran.

Designed to work like the National Republican Campaign Committee, which fundraises for Republicans in the Congress, the TRRCC is aimed primarily at helping incumbent Republicans and turning (or keeping) open seats red.

Hilderbran concedes that they're "not going to be as ambitious as some of the other groups."

That role was left for Rep. Phil King and GOPAC-TX, which he's overseeing. This new PAC has focused on unseating incumbent Democrats at all levels, and it is pushing systemic change.

They don't have much activity to show for it, though. The committee only raised $5,000 last year, ending 2009 with $66,511 on hand.

"We poured everything into recruiting," says King, who points to GOPAC's efforts in various races count offices like Justice of the Peace and commissioner that he believes may help Republicans at higher levels.

King points to the various campaign training schools they've put on to teach the candidates they've recruited. The PAC will stay out of primaries, however, and even if the Republican candidate winds up a moderate, King says they'll support them in the general.

The old guard isn't too worried about the competition. Pat Robbins at Associated Republicans of Texas says, "Anytime anything happens, you'll find people saying 'I'm starting a new PAC.'"

ART has $108,000 on hand, but Robbins says their fundraising efforts have just begun. The PAC has decided to "leave our folks alone for a little while and then hit them hard," according to Robbins, who explained that because the group doesn't get involved in primaries, their main fundraising efforts come before general elections.

That PAC has a group of fresh board members, the backing of the Speaker, and is getting the full attention of veteran political consultant Todd Olsen. Expect a strong effort to raise money and help Republican candidates once the general election season is underway.

Overall, none of the PAC leaders said they felt a decrease because of the competition.

And the party PACs aren't the only way to build political armories. Texans for Joe Straus, the speaker's personal PAC, has raised $2.6 million, with $1.8 million on hand at the end of the year.

— Abby Rapoport

Money in Hot House Races

Statewide races might raise the most cash, but candidates for Texas House seats are stacking up some serious ammo.

A review of finance reports for the reporting period that began in July and ended in December 2009 revealed some candidates are capable of raising money in the six-figure range. Some, however, are also resigned to borrowing to support their campaigns.

Rep. Chuck Hopson's switch earlier this year from Democrat to Republican might have displeased some of his colleagues, but no repercussions are evident in his finance reports. The Jacksonville legislator reported a healthy $142,320 in contributions during the filing period. His closest threat in HD-11, financially, is challenger Michael Banks, who really isn't close at all. Banks' report indicates he's spent all he's raised, $5,730, and taken out a $78,000 loan. His total contributions maintained as of the year-end were $8,550, compared to Hopson's $176,000. The district's other GOP hopeful, Allan Cain, reports goose eggs in every category.

The soon-to-be-vacated seat of Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, has pitted his former challenger Sandra Rodriguez against Sergio Munoz Jr., the son of the former state legislator. Rodriguez almost dethroned Flores in the 2008 race for HD-36 and has raised $189,000 to Munoz's $48,675. She's spent $124,000, which leaves her with $43,000 in contributions. Munoz, after spending $150,500 of his cash, was down to $2,700 in political contributions at year-end. There is no GOP or Libertarian challenger in the race.

Dentist and state Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra, D-South Padre, is trying to stay in the House for a second term and holding her own in the fundraising contest. During the last six months of 2009, she collected $148,000 and spent $124,000. She has $23,000 in the till and an outstanding loan balance of $19,650. Challenger Jose Manuel Lozano isn't in bad shape, having raked in $103,100 in less than six months. He's spent $38,660 and has $51,600 on hand. His report reflects he has no outstanding loan balance.

Austin Democrat Valinda Bolton won't know her opponent in the HD-47 race until November. She's raised $48,700, spent $17,015 and has more than $53,500 available. The incumbent will face one of three GOP challengers, including Paul Workman, whose PAC 'Workman for Texas' has raised $73,000 for his campaign. The PAC has spent $17,900, has more than $68,000 on hand and an outstanding loan balance of $15,000. Workman, who didn't report any individual contributions or expenditures, will face Holly White Turner, who's managed $3,220 in contributions, spent $2,040, has $2,300 on hand and a loan balance of $70,000. Republican challenger David Sewell is also in the race and collected $11,450. He's only spent $350 and has $11,100 available. Libertarian candidates Joe Edgar and Kris Bailey have not filed reports, according to the Texas Ethics Commission's website.

Round Rock Democrat Diana Maldonado has a half-dozen hopefuls after her HD-52 seat. She's collected $106,000 in contributions, spent $34,500 and has a healthy $94,600 still stashed away. Unchallenged in the primary, she will face one of four GOP challengers, including John Gordon, who leads fellow party members with $50,345. Gordon has spent $37,000 and has $18,650 on hand. Larry Gonzales isn't too far behind, having raised $44,600 and spent $11,700. He has $33,100 on hand. Stephen Casey gathered a modest $1,460 in contributions and has $215 left after political expenditures of $1,550. Rounding out the GOP ticket is Alyssa Eacono, who has raised $6,000 for her campaign. Libertarian candidate Charles McCoy did not file a report, according to the state Web site, and Lillian Simmons, also a Libertarian, reported she had neither raised nor spent any money.

Rep. Delwin Jones doesn't have to wait until November to know his fate — he faces two GOP challengers in the primary. The longtime Lubbock politician from HD-83 raised more than $66,600 during the filing period and has $42,600 left after expenditures of $38,000. His figures are second, however, to challenger Zach Brady's impressive contribution total of $115,700. Brady's not afraid to spend — he went through $96,000 and has $23,000 remaining. Challenger Charles Perry raised a little more than $28,200 and spent $27,650. Perry's outstanding loan balance was $49,300 and he had $45,000 on hand at the end of the year.

There is some nice money floating around in the race for HD-98, currently held by Keller Republican Vicki Truitt. Despite collecting $167,280 and spending more than $76,000, Truitt has nearly $186,000 remaining in her war chest. She has five challengers, but not one who's raising money like she is. Challenger Giovanni Capriglione collected $350, though he managed to spend $18,200. He has $250 remaining. Also vying for the seat is Diane Thorpe, who recorded no collections but spent $815 toward her campaign. In the mix, too, are Republican Rick DeOtte and Libertarians Mark Frohman and Paul Wilson. DeOtte had $100 on hand at year-end. No reports were available for the other two.

Embattled state Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, faces a formidable foe in challenger Eric Johnson. There is no GOP or Libertarian candidate on the ballot for HD-100 and Johnson appears in a good position for an all-out blitz leading up to the primary (Hodge has the endorsements, though). Johnson has collected $110,600 to Hodge's $49,000. Despite spending more than $51,000 to her $10,700 Johnson has $104,700 remaining, compared to her $49,000. There's also the Terry Hodge Defense Fund, a PAC established to raise money for Hodge's legal defense stemming from her 2008 indictment on federal bribery charges. It had $1,333 at Dec. 31.

The four GOP candidates hoping to represent HD-127 in Harris County have also been up to the task, financially, with Dr. Susan Curling's PAC leading the way. The outfit has raised more than $158,000, has an outstanding loan balance of $100,000 and has spent $176,000 with $83,500 left on hand. Martin Basaldua has raised $116,000 individually, spent $27,000 and has $76,000 on hand. Basaldua also has a loan balance of $25,000. Candidate Dan Huberty raised $62,000 and has $21,200 on hand after spending $74,000. Huberty's outstanding loan balance is $15,000. Candidate Addie Wiseman's cash balance is a solid $32,000 after collecting $50,000 and spending $42,375. Her outstanding loan balance as of the filing deadline was $24,300. The lone Democrat in the race is Joe Montemayor and has until November to add to his modest showing. So far he's raised $1,000, spent $1,400 and has $1,000 on hand.

— Julian Aguilar

Another Man's Answer

The Sunset Commission may not produce the prettiest bills, but don't expect the process to change any time soon.

While the commission is officially charged with increasing efficiency and eliminating waste in state agencies, the bills often become sites of policy wars. Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, says that that fundamental problem can't get resolved without buy-in from both chambers.

"We would have to change the rules in the Senate and the House in order to just focus on the structure and the effectiveness, to see whether or not the agency meets the standards," he says. Hinojosa said that while he would consider offering a rule next session to that effect, he's "not sure that it would pass."

While Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the commission's vice chair, was optimistic about the ability to bring change, Hinojosa argues that the Sunset bills often represent the last opportunity to pass policy — making them prime targets for amendments.

They are "the last train leaving the station," he says.

The senator argues that's why the sunset bill for the Texas Department of Transportation ended up getting scrapped and pushed into a safety net bill. Other Senate policy bills were held up as the House waded through the local calendar's "chub-a-thon." That left senators like John Carona, R-Dallas, with little choice when he saw his policy bill dying in the House, and ultimately led to the bill's fate.

"It's always hard to avoid the situation that happened last session," Hinojosa says. "The vast majority of times we're able to work things out by compromise that is acceptable to everyone."

He's hoping that will be the case this cycle, as the commission takes on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Water Development Board, which have the potential for inciting political flare-ups.

—Abby Rapoport

A GOP Target in Southwest Austin

Democrat Valinda Bolton is in "the only Republican seat left in Travis County," but three "pretty much equally conservative" Republicans stand ready to change that, according to Travis County Republican Party Executive Director Michele Samuelson.

In a year like 2010, which pollsters predict will be good for Republicans, "if there is a district in Travis County that's going to be easier to flip, it's going to be that one," Samuelson said.

Samuelson said that GOP and consultant studies of HD 47, which cuts north to south across western Travis County, show that Bolton won the seat in 2008 not "because of the down-ballot effect from the Barack Obama campaign," but because GOP candidates didn't pay enough attention to the district early on in their campaigns.

This year, Samuelson said, Republicans won't make that mistake, and primary voters will have their eye on who will be the most successful against Bolton in November.

Candidates David Sewell and Holly White Turner, who are both attorneys, and Paul Workman, who owns a construction business, all cited the economy, taxes, and transportation as issues concerning district voters.

Chad Wilbanks, Sewell's campaign manager, added education to the list.

"Every family that has kids in a public school wants to make sure their kids get the best education possible," Wilbanks said. "And part of getting the best education is making sure the teachers have the right tools to help them teach, and quite frankly making sure that the schools are safe."

Turner said the time she's spent knocking on doors showed her that members of the community were "frustrated, and ready for a conservative to represent them."

Workman said his business know-how set him apart from Sewell and Turner.

"There's two lawyers running against a thirty-five year business person," Workman said, "I've got experience, I know what's made payroll, I've created jobs, and I understand what it is to run a business when times get hard. And I'm not sure they do understand that."

—Morgan Smith

Field Notes

Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, filed an amendment to her campaign finance report, usually a sign that someone made an accounting mistake or found something unreported that should have been reported. Not this time: Her first report listed the candidate as Betty Frown. All fixed now.

• Republican Party Chair Cathie Adams endorsed Cindy Burkette, but did it before she was chair. Burkette gets to keep the endorsement (like Gov. Rick Perry), but can't ID the chair as the chair. That's against Party rules. Burkette is one of the Republicans vying for a chance to unseat state Rep. Robert Miklos, D-Mesquite, next November.

Michael Banks is wondering why incumbent Chuck Hopson, who was a Democrat until switching parties in the Fall, hasn't shown up at recent county Republican club meetings in Cherokee and Rusk County. Like Banks, challenger Allan Cain spoke at both events. Meanwhile, Hopson, who has been endorsed by several Texas Republican heavyweights, says his transition to his new party has continued to go smoothly.

Van Taylor secured the endorsement of U.S. Representative Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas. "That definitely certifies my conservative credentials," he says. Taylor faces Wayne Richard and Mabrie Griffith Jackson in the HD-66 primary.

• Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, has spent $76,472, more money than any other state rep. Her challengers in HD-98 are stepping up their campaigns. Giovanni Capriglione received the endorsement of the Young Conservatives of Texas. Rich DeOtte filed late and is still building the infrastructure of his campaign, but his website has gone up. Both think the campaign will be won on the ground and are focusing on knocking on doors.

• Restaurant owner Victor Leal not only has the endorsement of outgoing state Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, he has more money than his opponent, Walter "Four" Price IV. According to a recent filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, Leal is starting off with $69,961 in the bank thanks to a $50,000 personal loan and donations from the likes of state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and others. Price did not report any loans or contributions.

• It was a good week for Eric Johnson, who's challenging Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, for District-100. The Dallas Morning News gave him their support with some rather cold comments about the incumbent. "While Johnson aspires to spur change and help at-risk students succeed, Hodge seems to personify the soft bigotry of low expectations," the editorial board wrote. The representative's camp wasn't too surprised or worried. Hodge "has support in this community that is deeper than folks at The Dallas Morning News and possibly Mr. Johnson recognize," said her campaign manager, Cliff Walker. But it's still another setback for Hodge, who has long battled bribery charges and is set to go on trial only days after the Democratic primary. Since there's no Republican running, the primary will effectively determine the general election.

• West Texas oil doesn't always translate into campaign donations. But House District 83 contender Zach Brady apparently knows where to dig. The lawyer has raised $115,000 — almost twice the $66,000 that incumbent Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock has. That might be hurting him on the local paper front. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal wrote that Brady's fortunes came as payback from a lifetime of political donations. "It was time to collect some political IOUs," wrote the paper. Brady's campaign maintains the vast majority of his donations are from either West Texas or old friends. Charles Perry, who's also running for the seat, has only raised $28,000 but also loaned his campaign an extra $49,000.

• Those battling for Rep. Dan Gattis' old seat exchanged (very) mild barbs at a forum on Wednesday. The roster includes Milton Rister, the former head of the Texas Legislative Council and former Cedar Park City Councilman Stephen Thomas, as well as gun instructor Patsy Williams and physician Charles Schwertner. Predictably, the participants were proud of their performances. "I had an opportunity to demonstrate my depth of knowledge as compared to my opponents," says Rister, while Thomas said it was clear to the audience that "I knew what I was talking about and was pro-business." Best quote (from Rister, on a question about climate change legislation: "I don't know how the Texas Legislature can control the temperature of the Sun."

—Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Abby Rapoport, Morgan Smith

The Week, in the Rearview Mirror

1) Gov. Rick Perry's campaign received $50,000 from a suspicious source: heavyweight Democratic donor John McHale, who's supported Barack Obama, George Soros, and yes, current Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White (though that was for his Senate campaign). The Austin-based tech millionaire forked over the contribution on the day White switched to the governor's race, spurring rumors of a strategy to help Perry, who some Democrats believe will be easier for White to beat in November.

2) Texas Tea Partiers are grinning about the new freshman senator from Massachusetts, who rode Tea Party sentiments to victory. In Texas, 11 members of Congress face challengers allied with the far right grassroots group hoping to coast on Scott Brown's momentum. Members of the Texas delegation under siege include House veterans Lamar Smith, Ralph Hall, and Pete Sessions.

3) Sharon Keller, the judge who closed courtroom doors to a last-minute death penalty appeal, will likely stay on the bench, though a master to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct said her conduct was "not exemplary" and "highly questionable." In a statement, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judge said she "takes to heart the advice that she should strive to be more collegial and that the court's internal communications should improve."

4) Sarah Palin will travel to Houston in February and it won't be for a moose hunt. The former VP candidate, who has already endorsed Gov. Rick Perry, will appear with him at a campaign rally on Super Bowl Sunday.

5) A Democratic blogger spawned "scarf-gate" when he photographed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami wearing a scarf that said "Palestine" on one end and "Jerusalem is ours" on the other during Houston's MLK day parade. The Shami campaign said Derek King, the nephew of Martin Luther King Jr., took the scarf from his own neck and placed it over the hair care magnate's shoulders, and the candidate thought it would be rude to take it off.

6) If there's a Republican runoff, voters will have Debra Medina to blame (unless, of course, she's in it). After Medina's performance in last week's GOP debate, the grassroots Republican tripled her poll numbers in Rasmussen Reports, earning her inclusion in the next debate. And, if current polling trends continue, with neither Gov. Rick Perry nor U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison breaking 50%, Medina could be the reason the two candidates back on the ballot in April.

7) Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus sent out a letter last Friday to all state agencies saying they want to see what a five percent cut might look like. Agencies have until February 15 to turn in their plans for reaching that mark.

8) A controversial plan to add 3,000 square feet — two stories and a basement —to the Governor's Mansion was abandoned. State Preservation Board director executive John Sneed released a brief statement saying the addition had been "withdrawn from consideration" with little in the way of explanation. He issued that news on Friday night, which is known in the PR business as "carrying out the trash" since it's likely to get little attention.

9) When Democrat Hank Gilbert dropped out of the governor's race and endorsed the then-recent entrant Farouk Shami, rumors swirled — and were denied — that a financial agreement was involved. According to recent campaign finance reports, it seems the now-ag commissioner candidate Gilbert got $150,000 from Shami. On top of that, Shami forgot to mention it in his campaign report.

10) U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison rolled out some major celebrity endorsements this week, including baseball legend Nolan Ryan, former Secretary of State James Baker, and, this morning, former President George H.W. Bush. Baker and Bush join several other "Bushies" that have joined Team Kay, including Karen Hughes, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove.

11) The State Board of Education, after a week of intense deliberations, failed to finish a review of the state's social studies curriculum. The first-round vote will now take place in March. From that vote, standards will be determined that will be available for public hearing in May.

12) Renewed calls for heightened security at the Texas Capitol began on Thursday after a shooter opened fire on its south steps. The shooter was seen in the Governor's Business Office on the first floor and looked around. He was then spotted behaving strangely in the office of Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. He opened fire shortly after leaving. "Several of us in the past have called for added security measures at the Capitol," said Patrick. "Today's event recalls the fact that we need to reevaluate people's access freely into our building. Currently, anyone can walk in at anytime. That's not a safe situation. "

— Reeve Hamilton and Morgan Smith

Political People and Their Moves

This isn't what we'd name a committee on how to pay for public education in Texas, but it's the name picked by your state leaders: Select Committee on Public School Finance Weights, Allotments and Adjustments. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus want that panel to examine and recommend changes to the formulas used to funnel state money to public school systems around the state. The members include Sens. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; and Royce West, D-Dallas; and Reps. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen; Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; Scott Hochberg, D-Houston; and Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio. It's also got non-legislators, including Leonard Culwell, superintendent of the Garland ISD; Harrison Keller, Vice Provost for Higher Education Policy and Research at the University of Texas; Richard Middleton, superintendent of the North East ISD in San Antonio; and Larry Kellner of Houston, president of Emerald Creek, a private investment firm and former CEO of Continental Airlines. Shapiro and Eissler, who chair the education committees in the two chambers, will head the panel.

Arrested: Fausto Cardenas, the 24-year-old accused of firing a gun on the Capitol grounds around lunchtime one day this week.

Quotes of the Week

Speaker Joe Straus, asked at the TribLive event about pundits tagging his first term in the chair as the "Seinfeld session —the session about nothing": "Seinfeld's ratings were awfully high, as I recall."

Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, during Saturday's nullification rally at the state Capitol, on the need for more conservatives, quote by the Austin American-Statesman: "Washington is dominated by Socialists... Socialists do not believe in God. Their god is the state."

In the Huffington Post, Tom Jensen, a pollster at the Public Policy Polling firm, on John Edwards' extremely negative reputation among voters in both parties: "What we find is that Republicans will forgive you for cheating on your wife as long as you are a Republican. Democrats are not forgiving Edwards."

Rock star and political commentator Ted Nugent on Fox Business, describing who's behind current legislation: "The insanity and the buffoonish-ness that is pandemic across political America today has got a big 'R' and a big 'D' next to its name."

State Board of Education member David Bradley in the San Antonio Express-News on his colleague Mary Helen Berlanga's opposition to putting Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardoza in the history standards, as opposed to Justice Sonia Sotomayor: "She rejected him. The other guy was not a liberal Hispanic. He's Portuguese. That wasn't brown enough."

Long-shot Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Felix Alvarado to the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, referring to fellow candidate Bill White: "The anointed one is in the race now, but the race is so disjointed that nobody will get a big share of the votes."

State Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, to The Texas Tribune on Tea Party candidates in the Republican Party: "I have not been impressed by the Tea Party candidates that I've seen or met because they're talking about Washington issues and running for state offices and haven't bothered to learn the state issues and haven't bothered to be up on the offices they're running for. So that cheapens the whole process."

Tea Party-er Felicia Cravens to the Houston Chronicle on voters' power over Congress: "We have to reach the varmints we can get to, Congress varmints have got the most power over us, and they're the ones who listen when you grab their collar."

Texas Weekly's Op-Ed

Guest Column: The 2010 Agenda: Water

The unexpected announcement by Kip Averitt, R-Waco, that he will be leaving the Texas Senate has not only left a key leadership vacancy at the helm of the powerful Natural Resources Committee — it's thrown the funding of the Texas Water Plan into question. The price tag for meeting the water demands of Texas over the next half century is expected to be $31 billion, and Averitt had been gearing up for a major push in the next legislative session to secure the money, or at least to start the pipeline flowing.

According to the current edition of the plan, which is produced by the Texas Water Development Board every five years, the state's population is expected to double between now and 2060, from around 21 million to 46 million. Because of that growth, our water needs will increase by 27 percent. Already in Texas, we've granted permission for more water to be withdrawn from many of our rivers than is actually in them, and we've not managed to create a workable system for managing groundwater which now provides the majority of our supplies.

Against this backdrop and in the wake of Averitt's departure, the water picture might at first seem grim, but a fresh look at the issue is exactly what's needed. The $31 billion is slated to fund 4,500 projects that will to generate an additional 9 million acre feet of water per year to meet the growing demand. In the main, these are the kinds of projects you'd expect: new reservoirs, water distribution and transmission infrastructure, wastewater treatment and flood control. Yet while the shopping list clearly includes some must-haves, and while the plan gives some support to conservation and lip service to "environmental needs," it can be generally described as more of the same.

The reality is that no matter how many new dams and other water supply projects we build in Texas, the essential components of our hydrologic system are our watersheds and recharge zones. If we lose their vital functions, we won't be able to build enough water infrastructure to meet our goals. Because Texas is almost entirely privately owned, these critical ecological services occur on private property and are thus subject to being permanently impaired by relentless fragmentation and adverse development taking place across the state. Ironically, rural landowners in Texas are generally doing a better job of protecting our watersheds, but the pressures of property and inheritance taxes and encroaching urban development, among other factors, are pushing them off the land faster here than anyplace else.

Though the legislature has been loathe to grant counties the authority to preserve critical watersheds in rapidly urbanizing areas such as the Texas Hill Country, local governments have stepped up to provide millions of dollars of bond funding to purchase landowners' development rights, enabling them to remain on the property and pass it along to their heirs but at the same time protect its essential water supply function in perpetuity.

The push for funding for the Texas Water Plan provides the state with the opportunity to do the same. Recent experience has emphatically demonstrated that more and more landowners in are embracing the concept of selling or donating their development rights through "conservation easements," thus preserving the habitat and ecological services on family lands for future generations of Texans — including the millions who will be demanding more and more water in the future. Any significant effort to sink billions of dollars into new water projects must include funding to protect the important lands where the first raindrops fall.

Andrew Sansom, the executive director of the River Systems Institute at Texas State University in San Marcos, was formerly executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Guest Column: The 2010 Agenda: Open Government

Count the smart phones in Capitol corridors. Check Facebook and Twitter to "follow" your favorite elected official. Watch city council members on the dais texting during meetings. What are they saying, and is it any of our business? Of course it is.

The explosion of social media constitutes a radical shift in the way we communicate. Erik Qualman, writing in Socialnomics, says it's the biggest cultural shift since the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, current state law doesn't address the communication transformation that has made the Facebook population the fourth largest country in the world. And because of this legislative technology gap, the public is left wondering what government business is being conducted on social media and what we're missing.

During their off-season, Texas lawmakers keep busy with interim charges, which are like practice sessions for the upcoming legislative session. We should be pleased that, alongside property taxes and eminent domain and the plight of feral hogs, transparency and public access made the suggestion list in two committees: State Affairs and Government Organization. This means that Texans could finally see some modernization of laws in these areas, which haven't had a major overhaul since 1999.

One study suggestion asks the State Affairs committee to consider whether technological advances and social media might affect how government officials communicate, and whether the existing laws still guarantee the openness and transparency originally intended. Indeed, 2010 finds the Public Information Act mired in obsolete language, with only drive-by nods to e-mail correspondence and electronic data. No mention of social media; no meaningful acknowledgment of digital transparency.

Compared with other states, Texas alternates between merely 'okay' and downright 'bad' in rankings of how transparently government bodies conduct open meetings and respond to requests for public information. Part of the poor showing can be blamed on confusion and lack of clarity about how digital communication and record-keeping fits into existing law.

Here's a short list of top priority updates to open government laws:

* Add new definitions that encompass wireless transmission devices and social media.

* Allowing for existing exceptions, specify that all e-mail communication sent through government servers should be considered public — regardless of who owns the electronic device, computer, Blackberry or cell phone.

* Clarify that all e-mail discussing official business is public whether it's sent on a private device, on a private account, or through a private server.

* Standardize the records-retention rules across all government bodies. At the moment, each state agency can determine how long to keep data. With virtually infinite digital storage capacity, it's hard to understand why the governor's office is deleting emails after seven days.

* Make it clear that privatization of government functions does not exempt compliance with the Public Information Act. Voters need access to privatization costs when government entities outsource their functions to third-party vendors. The continuing debacle with IBM and the Department of Information Resources is a notorious example of lax accountability. The same cost provisions should apply to private companies in producing information requested under the Open Records Act as apply to governmental agencies.

* And while the committees are studying how to gain digital transparency, why not require public agencies to report their performance on open government? For example: a year-end tally of how many open records requests were received, how many attorney general rulings were sought and how many disclosures were made with and without the attorney general's intervention. Perhaps even provide a penalty for recalcitrant government bodies that stall disclosure by asking for the AG's rulings on information that has been previously ruled public.

Texas lawmakers would be revolutionary heroes if they would update the open government laws and drag them Tweeting and IM-ing into the 21st century.

Wanda Garner Cash, the Griff Singer Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, is a past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation and the former editor and publisher of The Baytown Sun.

Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 3, 25 January 2010. 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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