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Written But Not Read

Some 14,000 true believers will congregate in Dallas for the state Republican convention on Friday and Saturday for a biennial ritual where, among other duties, they will attempt to distill the soul of the Texas GOP into a party platform — the manifesto intended as the ideal vision for the future of the Texas GOP.

Some 14,000 true believers will congregate in Dallas for the state Republican convention on Friday and Saturday for a biennial ritual where, among other duties, they will attempt to distill the soul of the Texas GOP into a party platform — the manifesto intended as the ideal vision for the future of the Texas GOP.

Just don’t ask them all to agree on it. If they did, “it'd be a very dull convention and a very short document," says Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

Other than electing a party chairman, developing a platform will be the main event at what is the largest political convention in the nation. This isn’t year of a presidential election, so delegates won’t even have the selection of their national representatives to the convention to distract them. But for all the vigorous discussion on the convention floor, how closely do the standard-bearers of the party — the elected officials — actually follow it?

Most will say the platform is a guide, not a yoke, and carefully avoid saying exactly which parts they disagree with. It represents “the consensus of the majority of the party that are there and voting; it's not the consensus of every Republican in the state,” says Patterson.

Still, convention attendees make up the party’s most unwavering supporters: In the words of state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, they are the “salt of the earth, rock-solid backbone of who we are.” Every statewide Republican elected official will be there to court them at a two-day gathering with photo-ops, ice cream socials and cowboy boot raffles (that’s at Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples’ booth) that verges on becoming a GOP-themed carnival. They are the elements of the Republican populace who truly care.

"I'm trying not to say yelling matches, but I’ve gotten into energetic debates,” says Chris DeCluitt, a State Republican Executive Committee member from Waco, who give or take a few years for graduate school, has attended every convention since 1988. “Luckily, they did not include much profanity," he says, adding, “I don't know anyone that doesn't have a disagreement with something in the platform.”

The document lays out positions on issues that range from the GOP’s bread-and-butter, like limited government and abortion, to the finer points of parliamentary procedure, like the Rosebush-Blocker (a bill set first in the Senate lineup so that a two-thirds vote is required to consider other legislation out of order; the GOP doesn't like it because it empowers the minority party), and those less pertinent to a state party’s plank, like foreign policy.

A sampling of the sundry subjects addressed in 2008, the last time the Republican Party of Texas met: the AIDS/HIV crisis (“All people, no matter what disease they may contract, are worthy of deep respect as humans; however, behavior has personal and social consequences”); affirmative action (“racism disguised as social virtue”); the Boy Scouts (we “reject any attempt to undermine or fundamentally change the ideals of the organization); and Internet taxation (they oppose it).

Staples calls the platform a “useful tool” for voters to determine which party most aligns with their beliefs, but says the electorate should judge candidates on their “individual positions” and what “they're going to do for this state or their district.”

Patterson says that though he largely agrees with the platform, he depends on his own philosophy to govern: “My principles guide my policies more than the party platform.”

Some Republican office-holders, like Attorney General Greg Abbott, don’t even read it. Though he’s elected on a partisan basis, Abbott notes his job “is to focus on ways to better protect the people here in the state of Texas and enforce the laws” — and doing that is not “focused on any particular platform.”

Russ Duerstine, an SREC member from San Angelo, says it’s not “reasonable” to expect Republican candidates to be in lockstep with the platform, “but it is a matter of degree as to how far off they are that starts causing friction.”

That “friction” may be what some conservative activists who believe opting in to the platform should be less-than-voluntary seek to avoid. As evidence of this, Peggy Venable, who directs the Texas Chapter of the anti-government spending group Americans for Prosperity, points to the resolutions introduced to require candidates to pledge their support of every aspect of the platform, calling it a “litmus test.”

Venable says she doesn’t think the platform has enough influence on Republican officeholders and that they too often compromise “policy for politics” to get elected. “Frankly, after the last national election, I think it's so much more important," she says, “Republican voters very loudly said they thought that elected officials on the Republican ticket had not adhered to the conservative values and principles in the platform.”

A concern that Republicans have strayed from the party platform prompted Patrick to form the “Independent Conservative Republicans of Texas,” a group made up of members of the Texas House and Senate who’ve promised to adhere to a five-part contract. But even though Patrick says he takes it “very seriously,” he looks at the platform adopted at the conventions more as a “guiding document.”

For his part, Patterson disagrees with the notion that any kind of litmus test should be required for Republican candidates. “There is a test, and it's called the primary,” he says, “That's the test, and that's the only test that counts. If someone is elected and is so far removed from the platform, then I doubt that they're going to win a primary.” With his primary win in hand, Patterson he knows he’s “already got all the votes there,” and says he attends the convention mostly to say thanks to the GOP's most ardent supporters.

According to DeCluitt, the convention may hold something else in store for elected officials like Patterson. He says they will find out “just how riled up not only people from their own district are, but the people from around the state." And he hopes that when they see that, they'll "understand that the people that are there, the Republican Party is watching how the officeholders do their jobs and will hold them responsible for their actions.”

The Color of Money

The Texas Democratic Party won Thursday's battle against the Green Party — but the war isn't over yet. A Travis County District Court judge granted a temporary restraining order that will prevent the Green Party from certifying any candidates for the November ballot for the next 14 days. The big question is whether the Green Party's use of out-of-state money to gather the more then 92,000 signatures it submitted to get on the ballot (well above the 44,000 necessary) violates state law. Democrats fear that the Green Party's resurgence is a GOP-fueled effort to peel away Democratic votes.

The Dallas Morning News broke the story that the charge to get the Greens on the ballot was led by Arizona-based GOP consultant Tim Mooney. It was funded by Take Initiative America, a Missouri group, and conducted by a firm in Chicago. TDP General Counsel Chad Dunn said, "The public should view this as a victory for fair elections." Ultimately, he said, his goal is to expose a "conspiracy between Dave Carney and Tim Mooney," the former being a prominent advisor to Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

In a press release that traced Carney’s ties to a group that Mooney ran to collect signatures for Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader in 2004, Democratic consultant Matt Angle called for Perry to fire Carney, saying, “Carney has worked directly with the Republican operatives who conceived and managed the Green Party ballot scam. Perry and Carney’s failure to disclose their connection to the scam is inexcusable. Both have betrayed the trust of Texas voters.”

Perry's campaign has said that the governor was not involved and has no knowledge of the Green Party's efforts. "Who is Matt Angle?" said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. "He would better serve his party by getting his candidate to apologize to the people of Texas for steering business to a company he profited off of during Hurricane Rita instead of making wild allegations."

The court will revisit the issue at a hearing set for 9 a.m. on June 24. In the meantime, Dunn says he will be in the discovery process getting to the bottom of what he referred to as "this Republican Rick Perry conspiracy."

The Other Other Party

The Texas GOP isn’t the only party having a ball this weekend. The Libertarian Party of Texas is hosting its own convention where the party will select its nominee to challenge Democrat Bill White and incumbent Rick Perry for governor this November. The field of five includes Jeff Daiell, Steve Nichols, Ed Tidwell, Smitty Smit and Katherine Youngblood Glass.

Highlights of the three-day event at the Austin Midtown Holiday Inn include a luncheon where Kinky Friedman, the 2006 independent candidate for governor and 2010 Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner, will talk about his ventures into state politics and also plug his latest book, Heroes of a Texas Childhood. Other guests include Dr. Mary Ruwart, the party’s 2008 candidate for the Libertarian presidential nomination, who will discuss the government’s impact on healthcare; author Tarrin Lupo and John Bush from Texans for Accountable Government.

The group will also nominate party officers and adopt its rules.

On the Job Training

The current list of former state officeholders who are now registered lobbyists totals 65 by our count, a list that includes a trio of former speakers, 48 who served only in the House, three who served only in the Senate, eight who served in both chambers, a Supreme Court chief justice, a member of the SBOE, a Railroad Commissioner and three former secretaries of state. There's a list over at The Texas Tribune. Best line in that story is from an unnamed former senator: "When you're a senator, you get treated like a prima donna, and you get used to it. I don't mean this disparagingly, but the House members get treated like shit already. They're used to it."

• One of those former lawmakers — Buddy Jones — is suing two of his former partners for leaving and taking a bunch of business along with them. Hillco Partners sued Brandon Aghamalian and Snapper Carr and the firm they joined, Focused Advocacy, alleging they breached their agreements by leaving and by taking along a book of business. The lawsuit is detailed, and includes a terminology we haven't seen since former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was identified in the sex scandal that brought him down; the firm's customers aren't identified by name but as "client number 1, client number 2," etc. They're going to the mattresses, apparently. Hillco's lawyers are Hampton Skelton and Brandon Gleason; the others hired Mike Slack, a former president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Coming to a theater near you this weekend: The Dallas Convention Center plays host to the biennial Republican Party Convention, where more than 10,000 delegates and alternates are expected. Observers anticipate more excitement this time around, as the brewing battle for the chairmanship comes to a vote. Also spicing things up is the first-time participation of Tea Party and 912 Project delegates, who will have a role in crafting the party platform and electing the new chairman. The TEA Partiers were denied a spot at the Democratic Party convention in Corpus Christi in two weeks; the Republican shut out this year is Debra Medina, one of the parties gubernatorial candidates. She'll hold a rally/party outside the Dallas event. Other sights on your tour: Kay Bailey Hutchison introducing (and endorsing?) Gov. Rick Perry at a Texas Federation of Republican Women breakfast on Friday morning. That'll be her only appearance; she's back to Washington for a Senate retreat, leaving the convention to the victor.

Democrat Bill White released tax returns for the years 2004-09 — after listening for months to nags from the Perry camp to do so. He said that should clear the way for the debates the governor has been ducking. But he found himself answering Perry's accusation that he was making money from a company that he called on as mayor to perform emergency services during Hurricane Rita. White was on the board of the Wedge Group, which owned a controlling stake in BTEC Turbines. He left the board when he became mayor, though he still got checks for deferred compensation. And later, after the BTEC stint was over, he invested $1 million in the company, later selling at a $500,000 profit. White created a side-by-side comparison of his and Perry's financial disclosures on his website and cited it as the reason for the delay in releasing his returns. The Perry campaign's initial reaction was to call for returns dating back to 1991 to cover all of his years of public service (U.S. Department of Energy and Texas Democratic Party chairman).

As legislators and agency officials scramble to cut their budgets in anticipation of a record budget shortfall, Perry is scoffing at the number they're using. The $18 billion estimate came from the House's top budget writer, after he held hearings on state finance in his role as head of the Appropriations Committee. Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, defended the resulting number as a reasonable forecast based on previous budgets, inflation, population growth and a current revenue shortage.

Everyone gives lip service to higher education, but will legislators be able to put their money where their yappers are? Universities across Texas have already had to scale back their budgets five percent this year, and are expected to absorb another 10 percent cut as part of the next budget cycle. University officials are worried they won't be able to cover continued double-digit growth at their institutions. They also worry that crucial financial aid programs will face the budget axe. Although financial aid programs were spared the five percent cut, there's no guarantee that they will escape being cut again. And there's word now that the cuts in financial aid were made anyhow; schools are getting word from The Higher Education Coordinating Board that they can't count on all of the TEXAS Grants, B-on-time, and other financial aid supposedly left untouched by the cutbacks

Just when it seemed that a deal for a nuclear waste dump in West Texas was all sewn up, opponents filed a lawsuit alleging that the funding of the project was the result of a questionable bond election. In May 2009, voters in Andrews County approved $75 million in bonds to build the disposal site, but the election results have been in contention since then. Although courts have decided that the outcome should stand, the litigants filed an appeal this week with the Texas Supreme Court.

A goof in a federal report led to a false report of oiled birds washing ashore in Texas. A multi-state tally released Sunday included numbers from Texas that were false, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported in a correction issued Monday. The Texas General Land Office is reporting that there has been no impact on Texas so far from the massive spill and that the westernmost edge of the oil is over one hundred miles east of Texas.

Violence along the border continues unabated, but Texas legislators can point to new Predator drone patrols as proof that they are taking action to secure the border. The drones were authorized to fly as of June 1 and began their patrols between Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and Big Bend National Park. Hutchison has asked for more drones and more pilots to increase security on the 2,000-mile border. Tensions have become so high along the border that when young Mexicans began throwing rocks at border agents, one agent responded by fatally shooting one of the youths. The Mexican government strongly condemned the shooting.

Lobbyists planning their strategies for next session don't want to get slowed down by the new metal detector checkpoints at the Capitol. That's why many of the hired guns are taking classes and applying for concealed handgun permits, which will allow them to breeze past the lines. Legislative employees are also waived through. The justification that these individuals have been pre-screened by having background checks, though, doesn't stand up to scrutiny, as only some employees of the Texas House have had their criminal backgrounds checked.

The Texas Transportation Commission asserted its authority over Texas Department of Transportation this week by holding hearings on the comprehensive audit of the agency. The audit, performed by Grant Thornton, made several recommendations regarding the structure of the agency. Executive Director Amadeo Saenz presented his response to some of the recommendations, but Commissioner Fred Underwood warned that the commission would be in charge of responding to the audit. Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi also made it clear that the commission will be the one to develop the action plan in response to the report's suggestions.

Political People and Their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry’s re-election campaign announced its statewide leadership team. The statewide chairmen are businessman Tom Hicks, transportation commissioner Ned Holmes, businessman Peter Holt, University of Texas regent James Huffines, businessman Red McCombs, University of Houston regent Mica Mosbacher, and Former UTIMCO chairman Bob Rowling.

Mabrie Jackson has resurfaced as the new president and CEO of the North Texas Commission. Jackson is the former Plano city councilwoman who lost a bid for the seat of former Republican Rep. Brian McCall to now-Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano. The former NTC head, Dan Petty, is transitioning into a consultant role through the 2011 North Texas Super Bowl XLV.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed:

Peter Flores, Louri O’Leary, Jason Kevin Patteson, and Carol Treadway to the State Employee Charitable Campaign Policy Committee.

Steve Leipsner of Austin to the Texas Real Estate Broker Lawyer Committee, which drafts and revises contract forms that are capable of being standardized to expedite real estate transactions and minimize controversy.

Kathleen Luedtke-Hoffmann of Garland to the Texas Board of Physical Therapy Examiners.

• Three members to the Texas County and District Retirement System Board of Trustees. They are Randall County Justice of the Peace Jerry Bigham, El Paso County Commissioner Daniel Haggerty, and Comal County Commissioner Jan Kennady.

Daniel Schaap of Canyon as the 47th District Court Judge serving Potter, Randall and Armstrong counties for a term to expire after the next general election.

• Eva Horton of San Angelo to the Upper Colorado River Authority Board of Directors.

• Jason Peeler of Floresville to the Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District.

Tomas Ramirez III of Devine to the Nueces River Authority Board of Directors.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. citizen Bobbie McDow, after witnessing the shooting death of 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez Güereca, the Juárez resident killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent after an alleged rock-throwing incident across the Rio Grande, in the El Paso Times: "I never saw that coming, that there would be a shooting over this. I'm not saying they (the teens) did the right thing, but kids are kids. It's like a little game of cat and mouse."

Brian Olsen, the executive director of a correctional employees’ union, on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's decision to drug test the state's prison guards, in the Austin American-Statesman: “At a time when they’re not filling positions, and a lot of people expect there could be layoffs, is this the best time to do this?”

Former Texas A&M football coach R.C. Slocum, on why universities are considering a realignment of the country's athletic conferences, in the Associated Press: "You look at the level of funding that all programs need to have, and it's a business decision that universities now have to make."

Houston political consultant Allen Blakemore on the state Republican convention, whose attendees, he says, will be riding high on anti-Democratic sentiment: "The rank-and-file delegates on the floor of that convention will be like kids waiting for Christmas. The only question they have now is, 'How big a present am I going to get?'"

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, in a letter to Ron Blatchley, chairman of the Texas State University System Board of Regents, on being passed over for the position of chancellor in favor of former Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano: “From my standpoint, y’all threw overboard a loyal, tried and true, longtime member of the crew in favor of (please pardon my unvarnished candor) a Johnny-come-lately opportunist.”

Energy mogul T. Boone Pickens to The Texas Tribune on the need for continued offshore drilling: "You know, we can drill those wells in the deep water. I don't think there's any question about that."

Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, explaining that he's not concerned about the possibility of a race heating up for his job, quoted in The Texas Tribune: "As far as politics goes, I'm focused on protecting our Republican incumbents and helping Republicans in the open seats. ... I'm focused on retaining and expanding the Republican majority in the House."

Michael Barnes, who's running for chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, on the qualifications of incumbent chair Boyd Richie, quoted in The Texas Tribune: "Since when is zero-for-29 a winning record?"

Lobbyist and former legislator Cliff Johnson, D-Palestine, on the utility of lobbyists cum lawmakers, quoted in The Texas Tribune: "When you have somebody who's more than 50 feet from the Capitol, they don't know what's going on in there. There's not a guide dog that can do it. You have to hire somebody to get through the administrative minefield."

Contributors: Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Ceryta Holm, David Muto and Morgan Smith


Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 23, 14 June 2010. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2010 by The Texas Tribune. 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) 716-8600 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 716-8611.

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