Friday, April 29, 2005

Round Rock School Board Elections

If you live in Round Rock you owe it to yourself to read this article about the upcoming school board election, Round One at Round Rock. Well, I'm not sure if it's actually about the whole ballot or not, but it's definitely about three candidates running as a bloc that are backed by right-wing groups that hate any tax. This is all payback for the defeated bond of a few months back. This campaign is headed up and , who knows, maybe finance by The Republican Liberty Caucus which happily calls itself the "Ron Paul Republicans", Americans for Prosperity and John Gordon the self-proclaimed "Father of the Republican Party in Williamson County". The one thing you can be sure of is any organization with liberty or prosperity in their name has a limited definition of those terms and more than likely it has to do with how bad they believe taxes are. These are also organizations that more than likely think we would be better off without public education no matter how well it was working. Are these three involved in a conspiracy to end public education in Round Rock? No. They're are just three more Republicans that think their tax money is being wasted on public education. Here is the reason we don't know if these groups are financing these candidates or not:

Speaking of their resources, none of the three candidates had filed required campaign finance statements, due 30 days before the May 7 election, as of April 21. ("I know, I know, I'm behind. I have to do that really soon," said McFaull.) Nevertheless, the group has somehow come up with enough money to go on the radio – not too common in a school board race – although, as Sullivan points out, there are three campaign coffers footing the bill.
Gee, let me see, you're running for a position and complaining about other's mismanagement and these three candidates can't manage to meet "required" campaign deadlines? That doesn't seem like a very good impression to give to voters when running for the school board. If you're running behind on this what will you run behind on if you get elected Mr. McFaull? Here is the Chronicle link to all the candidates that are running, Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees.

Thanks to Carol Fielding for pointing me to this article. If you would like to see something posted here let me know, I'll even post your comment too. Also here is an excellent comment to yesterday's post about John Carter and Tom DeLay .


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Thursday, April 28, 2005

What A Friend Tom DeLay Has In John Carter

As the Republicans in Congress try to praise themselves for reversing rules that never should have been changed in the first place there were still Seven Texas Republicans oppose ethics rules reversal, and guess who one of them was?
Seven Texas Republicans oppose ethics rules reversal

04/28/2005

Associated Press

Seven Texas Republicans voted against the reversal of changes to House ethics committee rules that could open the way for another probe of Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

DeLay, however, voted for the reversal.

The House voted 406 to 20 Wednesday night to remove changes that Democrats charged were designed to protect DeLay. Republicans said the changes were made to bring fairness to ethics investigations.

Republicans who voted against the rules changes were Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton of Ennis and Reps. Michael Burgess of Flower Mound, John Carter of Round Rock, John Culberson of Houston, Louis Gohmert of Tyler, Ted Poe of Houston and Mac Thornberry of Amarillo.

"I know the Republican leadership is just trying to be magnanimous and accommodating, but the new rules were more fair in January when I voted for them the first time, and they are still more fair, so my vote stays the same, period," Gohmert said in a statement.

DeLay has been facing questions about overseas trips and his associations with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now under federal investigation. DeLay has denied any wrongdoing and said in a briefing with reporters he was willing to "turn over everything we have" to the committee when it begins functioning.
The New York Times today also has an article about a topic I pointed our earlier this month and that is that Congressman John Carter has not only received money from Tom DeLay he has also given to Tom DeLay's defense fund.


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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Our Commons

It's time to look at HJR 80, 380 Agreements, SB 1022 and corporate tax giveaways and something called OUR COMMONS.

If you're not familiar with who Thom Hartmann is than your missing out on great wealth of knowledge. I found him through his radio program. Unfortunately it's not on in our area yet, but you can listen over the internet. Thom writes articles about democracy for Common Dreams and has also written many books. But enough about him. The reason I bring him up is because he often talks about "the shared commons of our nation..
..including our air, water, transportation routes, airwaves and cable networks, communication systems, military, police, prisons, fire services, health care infrastructure, and courts must be held either by locally-controlled non-profit corporations or by government responsive to its citizens."
A similar topic he talks about is the fact that there are no self-made people. Somewhere along the line, successful people have piggy-backed on an idea or an invention or a technology that came before them. For example, the research for the internet was financed by the federal government. The American people paid for the research with their tax dollars for many years. Therefore all those making money off the internet owe a considerable debt of gratitude to all those previous Americans who sacrificed their time, treasure and talent to invent something that now allows others to prosper. Make sense? Well, how do you repay those that came before you? By doing the same that they did for you, of course.

So last week when I saw this article, Amendment would benefit Bee Cave mall, I got a little curious, and not just because Rep. Krusee is in the middle of it. When I first started reading it I was wondering why in the hell does Mike Krusee care so much about this? But not too far in, I found out why:
Krusee introduced the amendment at the request of the Texas Municipal League and the City of Round Rock, which has a 380 agreement with Dell Inc.
Very nice. But what is a "380 agreement"? Well, it refers to giving tax incentives in the form of grants and loans to businesses to entice them to build in your city, or as it is called for reasons of "economic development". We can debate whether this is a worthwhile use of taxpayer money and I think, like anything else, it depends. Depends on what? It depends on the state of things and what our priorities are. Now, if you refer back up to what was defined earlier as OUR COMMONS and see that most of that is in a shambles, it becomes apparent that we need to focus more on that than on giving away taxpayer money to build another mall.

The legislation I referred to earlier, HJR 80 and SB 1022, are attempts to make sure the line between "economic development" and your tax dollars is not severed. HJR 80, authored by Rep. Mike Krusee, is a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the recently-ruled-unconstitutional agreement in Bee Cave to become legal and not jeopardize any current or future tax giveaways. SB 1022 on the other hand is Sen. Barrientos' bill that depending on who you ask, is either:
a responsibly crafted measure that ensures proper oversight and environmental controls, or a giveaway to mall developer Chris Milam and his business associates.
The point in all of this is that taxpayer money is being given away to corporations in hopes of bringing economic development. I believe providing every American or Texan with health care would provide much better economic development. These agreements are not being made for the benefit of the people. They are being done to protect the interests of those who give money to these politicians. For too many years now, our commons have been ceded to corporations in the name of economic development. As you look at the state of our economies -- local, state, federal, global -- it becomes apparent who has been benefiting from the "economic development" of OUR COMMONS.


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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Glen Fine, Cedar Park City Council Place #1

A couple of articles the Hill Country News regarding the Cedar Park City Council Elections. Glen Fine is the only Democrat running in the elections and is running for Place 1.

This first article is from April 8th, CP Place 1 race is an introduction to the candidates. Glen Fine is a Democrat. I'm not sure if Lowell Moore has a party affiliation and Matt Powell is a Republican.

The next article is from last week THE POINT IS... It is time to panic - get out and vote. It's an article about voter apathy in Cedar Park:
Too many Cedar Park people think of themselves as "Austinites" because they work and shop in Austin. Newsflash, people: these candidates will be the ones who set your tax rate and decide the fate of your city through these next few critical years.
Taking a shot at the people of Cedar Park as still thinking of themselves as Autinites, that's gotta hurt. Next she finishes with a good summary of what's at stake in this election
The council is having a large turnover, with five seats up for grabs. This could easily change the dynamics of the council and you should get to know the candidates to find which ones will best represent your views, and then demand that they fulfill their promises.

Everyone talks about the future of Cedar Park, but the future is now. This next council will have a tremendous impact on what Cedar Park will look like when it is fully grown with nowhere to go. Don't you want to have a say in what it looks like?
Wouldn't it be great to elect a Democrat to the Cedar Park City Council at this critical stage? With voter apathy and because of that low turnout if we can turnout the vote for Glen Fine he should have a good chance to win.


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Monday, April 25, 2005

Rep. Mike Krusee Doesn't Trust Voters

Did you see this article on the front page of the Austin American Statesman yesterday, When does turnpike life begin?The article goes a long way around to say that there are two similar bills in the legislature this session trying to correct the same problem. The uproar surrounding the conversion of existing roads or road projects to toll roads. There are two problems with conversion as it is done now. The first is the timing of the conversion. Both bills will move, "the conversion point back from 'tires on the road' to 'you've got the contract.'" The second is that instead of letting a Mobility Authority decide if this should be done instead it should be the decision of the commissioner's court. Or as Rep. Krusee says,
"There was some concern that (regional mobility authority) directors were not directly accountable to the voters," Krusee said, making something of an understatement.
He doesn't trust the voters. It's not that he doesn't trust voters to do what's right. It's that he doesn't trust voters to do what he thinks is right. Let me ask you a question, I know, I ask a lot of questions. Who do you think Mike Krusee would have a better chance of getting on his side to convert existing roads or road projects to toll roads, the voters in Williamson County or the Williamson County Commissioner's Court? Why the Commissioner's Court, of course.

The next question needs to be, is there any difference between the CTRMA and the Williamson County Commissioner's Court? Take a look at this, again from the Comptroller's report on the CTRMA:
Executive Director’s Hiring

Mike Heiligenstein was a member of the Williamson County Commissioners Court until December 2003, and in that capacity voted for the formation of CTRMA and for the appointments of four of its board members. According to CTRMA’s Web site, he also “initiated the drive for transportation improvements that led to the passage of a $350 million dollar bond package” in Williamson County.

In 2004, however, the Texas Ethics Commission cited Heiligenstein and three other Williamson County commissioners for an ethics violation related to the promotion of that same bond package. The Ethics Commission found that the commissioners used public funds for political advertising in connection with the Williamson County Road Bonds Program. Each commissioner received and paid a $400 civil penalty for the violation. Several future CTRMA contractors also worked on this bond program.

CTRMA’s board offered Heiligenstein the executive director job on November 5, 2003. He continued to serve on the Williamson County Commissioners Court, voting at its December 2, 2003 hearing, and was formally selected for the CTRMA job on December 9.

Thus one of the persons responsible for creating CTRMA found himself in the authority’s top position.
So when you have this kind of overlap between a commissioner's court and a mobility authority what does it really matter which unaccountable board or commission decides to put a toll on our roads. Does anyone reading this believe that if Mike Krusee recommends a toll be put on a road in Williamson County that the all Republican commissioner's court would vote differently? Didn't I recently write about accountability? If I'm sounding like a broken record let me know.


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Accountability

Accountability? It's a nice enough word. When it comes to our government everybody wants it and thinks that it's not only a good thing, but a necessary thing. So, if everybody wants it, why don't we have it? Let's start at the beginning, shall we? What does accountability mean? Webster's gives us this definition:
the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions; "public officials lacking accountability"
Isn't it telling that Webster's used that sentence? The reason I don't think we have it in Williamson County is because for too long now, excluding the last election cycle, the Democratic Party in the county had not been a valid alternative. We have not run people in every race. We have not been the presence that we must be in this county. That is changing and with our hard work we will begin to be see that in reality by getting Democrats elected to office.

I bring all this up because I had a discussion with a family member this weekend about politics. They live in Williamson County and consider their political leanings to be more along the lines of a Libertarian. We talked about many, many things and the lack of accountability in our government, not just local but state and federal too, came up many times. Another very good and I think telling point that we talked about was this: I'm already voting for Democrats and none of them are getting elected, what can I do? Keep in mind this is an average person with a busy life. Most people don't have time, not to mention the willingness, to wade through the flood of misinformation in our media to find out what is really going on.

So one of the main questions we have to answer is: How in this unaccountable county that we live in can we get and keep Democrats involved to get some accountability back in our government? The hard part is making people believe that this is essential and that it is worth a little of their time while we try to get some accountability back in our county government? Because let's be honest this county didn't become dominated by that other party over night and we won't be able to kick them out overnight.

I believe that accountability is a theme that crosses party, ideological and even religious lines. Accountability is why the system of checks and balances was created. It's a truly profound American theme. When asked people will opt for it overwhelmingly. We must empower those in Williamson County that believe accountability is not only the legacy of our founders, but essential to the continuation of democracy, to get involved however they can. To take this opportunity and join us in changing the status quo leadership of our county and bringing tough accountability back to our government.

Do you want toll roads as far as the eye can see? Do you want corrupt county officialsthat were involved in scandals to remain in office just because there is no alternative on the ballot? Do you want radical legislators like Rep. Robert Talton to be able to get exclusionary laws like his passed without any scrutiny in the future?

There is a simple way to let people when you speak to them to show a clear difference between Democrats and their opposition. Democrats believe in holding corporations accountable and leaving people's personal lives to themselves. Republicans believe in limiting what you can do in your personal life and allowing corporations to be held disgracefully unaccountable. I wonder how much health care we could buy if those corporations would just pay 10% in taxes? That seems reasonable, doesn't it? I wonder what Mike Krusee, Dan Gattis, Steve Ogden, Sen.'s Cornyn and Hutchison, Gov. Perry and, of course, Congressman Carter think about that ? Accountability you say? Hmm, sounds like a good idea to me.


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Friday, April 22, 2005

Let's Plant Some Trees

To bring accountability back to Williamson County government we need to start getting Democrats elected. We need to start at the most base level and start working up. We need to start at with school boards, city councils and the commissioner's court. I was watching a debate on C-SPAN a couple of weeks ago and the discussion turned to the topic of how best to start playing catch-up when you are already behind and something one of the panelists said caught my attention, “My Uncle always said, 'the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second best time is today'”. I think that is where we stand as an opposition to the current unaccountable representation we now have in Williamson County. Not many trees were planted twenty years ago, so we need to start today.

If you know someone who would be great on your school board, city council, commissioner's court, or any other office for that matter, encourage them to run for office. If we want things to change we must contest every race in this county. We also need to make sure that anyone that wants to run for office in this county as a Democrat knows they have an organization to support them and back them up. We already have one such person running, Glen Fine is running for the Cedar Park City Council Place 1.

We are in need of candidates for the state legislature, U. S. Congress, etc.., but where do you get those candidates? That topic is the main point of this article, A Liberal Minor League,
2005 is an off year. There are no regularly scheduled elections for Congress, and liberal Democrats cannot do anything about conservative Republicans' complete and total domination of the federal government, right? Wrong, says Dean Nielsen, state director of Progressive Majority. This year, Nielsen says, liberals need to get busy building the farm team. "If we have any hope of taking back congressional seats," says Nielsen, "we have to start at the local level." Seventy-five percent of the members of Congress were once locally elected officials—members of city councils, county councils, port commissions, and school boards. For instance, nine out of 11 of Washington's congressional delegation began their political careers in local office. If Democrats want to take back the majority in Congress, Nielsen says, they need a pool of locally elected officials who are hungry to move up to the big leagues. "We believe in investing in people," he says.
Now let's get to work and plant some trees today.


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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Free Roads? That's What Mike Krusee Says.

Rep. Krusee has a fascination with building roads, toll roads in particular. First let's get one thing straight about this whole debate about roads and how to pay for them. Roads are not free and never will be, despite what Rep. Krusee says. Someone has to pay for them. That someone is the taxpayer. The only debate is over which taxpayers will pay the taxes and in what packaging or what type of marketing campaign will they come in. Yes, Virginia, even though Rep. Krusee won't tell you so, tolls on roads are a tax. It's just like all other tax games Republicans play: they shift the burden from a progressive tax -- the more you earn, the higher your tax rate -- to a regressive tax -- the less you earn, the higher your tax rate.

On Monday HB 2560 was debated in the House. The bill would allow cities and counties to keep a percentage of the tolls collected. If you have time, you can read the debate here. It's relatively short. Use the 'Find' option in your browser and type in 2560, then let the fun begin. I will try and summarize it here.

The debate on this bill consisted of two scuffles. First, it was Krusee vs. Rep. Pickett, a Democrat. Then it was on to Krusee vs. Rep. Kolkhorst, a Republican. Both were trying to get Rep. Krusee to admit that this bill is intended as an incentive to local governments to build toll roads. He would not. The other point that Rep. Pickett wanted to get across was the fact that the money the local government would collect did not have to go into the toll project it came from, which he finally admitted.

From what I gathered Rep. Krusee's point in all of this is:
  • the initial toll road is built with bond money, some of which comes from the local government;
  • the bond is then paid for with property taxes;
  • if the local government negotiates a percentage of the toll, it is "paid back" money to use on future road projects;
  • therefore the local government does not need to raise a bond for the next road project.
But in no way is that new road free, as Rep. Krusee tries to say. It was paid for with the money we paid in tolls/taxes. Aren't we just being sold the same line again? Wasn't that the whole theory of toll roads? That they get built quicker because they generate revenue? Then that revenue is used to pay for the bonds that were needed to build the road, for upkeep, and to build other roads. So why do we need a bill to allow local governments to recoup a percentage of the toll when that's already the case? And why do we need this further reasoning to build toll roads? Or as Rep. Pickett and Rep. Kolkhorst refer to it as an 'enticement'? One reason is because people would rather not have toll roads. The other is that if you can con someone into believing they're getting something for free, they will go for it every time.

But for all of this toll road talk, it still comes down to tolls or taxes. Would you rather pay a toll or pay property taxes? Property taxes are deductible from your federal income taxes. Tolls aren't. You're still paying either way. But who is paying more? The toll hurts the poor and middle class more than the wealthy. There are a couple more questions that still need to be clarified:
  • What keeps the local authority from spending this money on something else?
  • Won't future roads, 20 years from now, cost considerably more? Therefore causing the need for a bond to be raised for those projects?
If you read that debate from Monday, Krusee uses the words "opportunity", "paid back", "free", "avoid tax increase" and "future generations" over and over again. He's got his talking points down, and he's framing the issue. If you are against his bill, you are against all of those 'oppotunities'. He has to do this because Republicans can't say they're raising taxes, even though that's exactly what they're doing. The only problem is, they say to themselves, how do we get the money to build roads without overtly raising taxes? Build toll roads, of course! And give promises of free roads in the future.

The only people that seem to benefit from this are those that always benefit from roads being built: landowners and developers. The Comptroller pointed this out last month (Favoritism and Self-Enrichment) as part of her review of the CTRMA. No one was ever charged with a crime, but there sure is plenty of evidence that these people are going to make money off of this deal. It just looks bad.

Speaking of who benefits, during the debate, Rep. Krusee brought up "participation payments" which were passed last session. Do you know what these are? Participation payments are a deal for the landowner who owns the land where these roads are going. Instead of selling the land and getting a one-time payment, landowners can opt for participation payments which give them a percentage of the toll for up to 45 years. Or, as your governor explains it:
..."participation payments" for landowners [are] similar to a royalty in the oil and gas industry. That means landowners can choose to profit financially for decades or receive the traditional fair market value cash payment when the land is purchased.
So they get to keep their land, which goes up in value, and also get a take of the toll for 45 years. Rep. Krusee says this was done for the farmers. But if you read the entire article from the Farm Bureau the farmers don't seem to happy about it. It makes me wonder if maybe the legislature didn't have someone else in mind when they instituted participation payments. Hmmm...

The ultimate purpose of my posting today is to try to point out that billions and billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on toll roads and billions more will surely be collected. We need to pay attention to what is being done with that money. When our elected officials get involved in creating and changing laws regarding these roads, we need to pay extra close attention. Participation payments may be OK, I don't know. Do you? They sure put an Orwellian name on it, and that always makes me skeptical.

We're in this together, folks. Let's help each other out and keep an eye on this kind of thing. This has been a lot to pore over, so if you see something that's wrong or that you don't agree with, let me know. Remember, there are no free lunches--or, in this case, free roads.

Coming next: HJR 80, aka, Save the tax give-aways for developers and corporations.


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Monday, April 18, 2005

Gas Tax & Toll Roads Or Is It Gas Tax or Toll Roads?

This AAS editorial that ran last Thursday, Gas tax vs. tolls: Give us the choice, seems pointless to me. The main point of the story is that Austin Mayor Will Wynn and state Rep. Mark Strama want voters in a three county area -- Hays, Travis and Williamson -- to decide whether to have toll roads or increase the gas tax, but not both. Seems logical and democratic to me. There's only one problem, the gas tax increase has not been imposed yet and therefore cannot be voted on. This all comes up because last week at the CAMPO meeting,
"..an estimate by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization staff Monday night that an increase of about 3 cents a gallon to the gasoline tax in its three counties — Travis, Williamson and Hays — would raise enough money to offset the need to charge tolls on planned highway improvements.
Not to fear Rep. Mike Krusee (R- Round Rock) is "dubious" even though he favors the local option tax. His dubiousness makes him a toll and tax Republican. All of this seems pretty straight forward but then we get to what it would take for the local voters to actually be able to vote on this. See if you can stay with me on this:

  • First the legislature has to pass the Gas Tax Bill, HB 5.
  • Next the legislature has to pass a bill ( HB 1964 or SB 478) allowing a regional mobility authority to hold a vote on the gas tax.
  • But the initial tax bill, HB 5, which "smacks of a tax increase" and has little "legislative interest".
  • Therefore the gas tax will not be passed and because of this won't be an option on a local ballot anytime soon.
  • And were back to toll roads only.
So this is just the editorial board of the AAS showing their support for HB 5? Seems like it to me.

Now on to Rep. Krusee. It seems pretty easy for Mike Krusee to be for the local tax option that he knows will never be given to the voters. Think for just a second on the chances of not only a gas tax increase getting through the legislature this session but for them to let these three counties then opt out of that tax. The other thing is he's authoring the bill to raise the gas tax to pay for roads. It seems obvious to me that if both of these bills passed Mike Krusee would be campaigning for this tax increase to stay in place. I wonder how all those Republicans that voted for Mike Krusee feel now? Republicans are against taxes, right? Isn't one party rule great? With no threat of being thrown out of office Mike Krusee can run as a "Republican" and then raise taxes and increase the size of government and not have to worry about being held accountable.


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Friday, April 15, 2005

Bad Week For The Middle Class In Congress

This week the war on the middle and lower class continued in the U. S. House of Representatives with the passage of two bills. Our Congressman, John Carter, voted AYE on both of course. The main one was the Bankruptcy Bill. The Republicans and the credit card companies have been licking their chops waiting for this one to pass for years now. The other was the bill to permanently abolish the estate tax. Which will save all those billionaire families from being driven into poverty. The saddest part about both of these is the large numbers of Democrats that went along with both of these bills. These two bills provided great opportunities for Democrats in the house to draw a line and make a stand for the lower and middle class. It sure would have been a great issue for the 2006 campaign.

In my opinion this is one of the major problems with the Democratic Party. We want to be the "party of the people" but then do something like this. It makes it real hard to do that and then come the next election try to tell voters we are the "party of the people". My research into the bankruptcy bill has shown me, time and time again, that there was false information being spread about who files for bankruptcy. Those for the bill would frame this issue as if the only people filing for bankruptcy were people that ran up credit card debt and then didn't wan to pay it back. When in reality most were filing for completely different reasons:
In a letter to Congress recently posted on the Web site of the American Bankruptcy Institute, a nonpartisan professional organization, 92 law school professors of bankruptcy and commercial law said the proposed legislation "is deeply flawed, and will harm small businesses, the elderly, and families with children."

Contrary to the bill drafters' image of bankruptcy filers as deadbeats, said the letter, "the overwhelming majority of people in bankruptcy are in financial distress as a result of job loss, medical expense, divorce, or a combination of those causes."
In other words they're kicking people while they're down. This surely won't be happening as much now? Knowing this administration's record of job creation. So now that we've established why people are going into bankruptcy let's talk about the loopholes in the bill. Check this out:
In fact, for a bill purported to fight abuse, it leaves intact a huge loophole through which wealthy filers can protect millions - even billions - of dollars while being absolved of their debts. The loophole takes the form of a certain trust exempted from the requirement to liquidate. Also, the bill only narrows another loophole that permits the wealthy to protect their assets by putting them into mansions in five states that have no limits on exemptions for homes.
73 Democrats voted for this! Once again, this is the problem. If you're for the people you don't do this. It's that simple. Steve Soto from the Left Coaster says it better than I can:
I don’t care if you call yourself a member of the "New Democrat Coalition" or whatever other CYA label you want to give yourself. If you vote for the extremely wealthy yesterday and for the banks today, where I come from they call you a Republican.
These Democrats can't have it both ways and if you're wondering why so many people stay home or don't vote for Democrats it's because of actions like this. Many people feel there is nobody fighting for them and this reinforces that point of view. How will we defend this when block walking and trying to get someone vote Democratic?


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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Steve Ogden Too

Not only is Dan Gattis one of the House conferees for this sessions appropriations bill so is our Senator Steve Ogden. We sure are well represented, In The Pink Texas has the mugshots.


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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

That Legislature

Yesterday HJR 35 was killed in the Texas House of Representatives. Here is the caption from the bill:
Proposing a constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to limit the maximum average annual increase in the appraised value of real property for ad valorem tax purposes to five percent or more.
The maximum is now 10 percent. This was Governor Perry's self-proclaimed #1 priority this legislative session. Both of Williamson County's representatives (Gattis and Krusee) were with the Governor on this issue. From what I understand -- and please feel free to clarify -- this pretty much kills all the property tax "reform" for this session. Rep. Aaron Pena followed the action live and here is how he reported it at his blog, "That's it folks for this session."

But what was this all about? To me it all goes back to what I learned growing up. My Father always taught me that there is no such thing as a tax cut, only tax shifts. But on who pays taxes he always summed it up this way, "The rich won't, the poor can't, so the middle class pays all". In otherwords the only thing that changes is who pays. Republicans are for the rich paying as little as possible and everyone else paying the rest. Democrats are for the rich to pay their fare share, which they are not doing now, and the poor and middle class still paying their share as well. The Democrats also believe in using that money to pay for things that we all benefit from.

Now the proponents of this bill say it would have lowered taxes on all homeowners therefore giving relief to all homeowners. Hmm. Ask yourself this question, what happens if your school district, city, county, etc.. Starts taking in less money because of this? I'm sure you've got the picture. Bigger classes, fewer EMT's and police, or as the Bill Analysis(.pdf) said:
Elected officials still could raise rates for property or sales taxes or for fees if more revenue were required or if priorities and needs dictated greater expenditures for public goods and services.
And who does do those taxes hurt? Why the middle class and the poor, especially. So you see it is tax "reform".

So the Governor's #1 priority is dead, what's next? Well for Rep. Gattis it's off to the Conference Committee for SB 1. Who are those Democrats on the committee you ask? Well it's Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) and Rep. Vilma Luna (D-Corpus Christi). Rep. Luna is possibly being targeted by the party and Rep. Turner is also a member of the Craddick Democrats.


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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Are You A Democrat In Cedar Park?

If so you need to go meet Glen Fine. He's running for Cedar Park City Council, Place 1. A seat on the City Council in Cedar Park would be a great addition for us in Williamson County. We need more citizens like this that are willing to run for office in this county. So come out and meet your candidate, here is the information:
Cedar Park City Council Candidate, Glen Fine

Sunday, April 17th,

Meet and greet the Candidate

4:00 PM – 8:00 PM

1103 Deer Horn Cove

Cedar Park, TX 78613

Drinks and Refreshments will be provided.

Early Voting starts: April 23rd. Election Day May 7th.
Come out and meet Glen and help in any way you can to get him on the City Council!


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Sunday, April 10, 2005

There He (Congressman Carter) Goes Again

As Tom DeLay gets dragged deeper and deeper into his corrupt quicksand, our congressman, John Carter, is plenty happy to stand by his side: DeLay on the defensive
Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), an ardent DeLay supporter, said, “The minority party has decided they are going to super-saturate the media with inaccurate reports.”
I'm not sure I would expect anything else from a man who donated $5,000 to Tom DeLay's Legal Expense Fund from his own campaign stash. He obviously doesn't think he needs to save that money for the next election. I'm sure Congressman Carter believes the only way he could possibly lose in 2006 would be if he didn't back Tom DeLay and help DeLay make excuses for his misdeeds. With Congressman Carter taking in $10,000 from Mr. DeLay's PAC -- Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC) -- it sure makes it look like an I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you'll-scratch-mine kind of deal going on here.

Along with playing money games with Tom DeLay -- If you give $10,000 to my campaign, I'll give $5,000 to your Legal Expense Fund -- Congressman Carter is also a member, with Tom DeLay, of a fringe group that wants to impeach any judge that doesn't rule the way they like: DeLay says judges have 'overstepped' authority
He [Lamar Smith] and DeLay co-chair the 2-year-old Judicial Accountability Working Group, which includes Reps. John Culberson of Houston and John Carter of Round Rock. It aims to educate the public and Congress about judicial abuse and, Smith said, support judicial nominees who "will not substitute their own policy views for the law."
This is nothing more than a threat to judges and our traditionally independent judiciary just like all the others. In a district where a member of Congress has to worry about reelection, you might think they would be trying to run away from a corrupt, disgracefully greedy, abuser of power like Mr. DeLay instead of donating to his Legal Expense Fund from their own campaign stash. Not John Carter! This, obviously, is part of my ongoing strategy of tying John Carter to Tom DeLay. It's also part of highlighting another strategic theme, the arrogance of unchecked power.

One last thing: I know most people reading what I am writing here already know this stuff, and I'm mainly preaching to the choir. So I have a request. To help get this message out to those who don't already know this about their elected leaders, forward this to them or tell them yourself. Either way, let them know that there are people keeping an eye on Williamson County.


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Friday, April 08, 2005

Big Picture News

Although this blog is intended to shine a light on local issues we still need to keep an eye on the state and nation as it relates to us locally. Occasionally I will highlight those stories. Today's will show how the overall corruption in the Republican Party relates to a theme, unchecked power, I have made reference to lately.

But let's start with some Democratic news. So far Chris Bell is the only Democrat that appears to be running for governor next year. If you don't remember he is the former Congressman from the Houston area that was redistricted out of office by Tom DeLay and is responsible for filing the ethics charges against DeLay in the House last year. Check out his speech from last month, The Mandate of the New Mainstream. Here is the latest news about the Team Bell is putting together, from Off the Kuff.

The Republicans from Texas representing our state in DC have now resorted to making veiled threats against judges. Here is what the Houston Chronicle had to say about it, Sen. John Cornyn's comments linking violence against judges to their rulings are inaccurate and incendiary. He should repudiate them:
Sen. Cornyn and Rep. DeLay owe the country — and its dedicated judges — unconditional apologies and specific disavowal of their insensitive and irresponsible remarks.
At the least! Threatening Judges, that's pretty evil.

Watch them run from Tom DeLay!
The Governor, Speaker and Lt. Governor are all running from the responsibility of hiring a former DeLay staffer as a state paid lobbyist, Craddick says Perry pushed for lobbyist, and Craddick says no Perry did and..

Has Anybody Seen or Heard From John Carter Lately?
Other than a couple of articles referring to his visit to Killeen and his comments about gas prices and the energy bill, Congressman Carter has been very quiet over the last few weeks. Looking at his site, the Media Center in particular, I noticed that he had been writing an almost weekly column along with regular press releases. We are now two weeks without a column and have no press releases for April. DeLay got your tongue Congressman?

DeLay it appears is finally starting to stink pretty bad as evidenced by state Republicans not wanting to be associated with his ex-staffer. Speaking of DeLay's ex-staffer did you see this story? DeLay alumni earn at least $45 million for lobbying firms:
"When politicians, the Republican majority, decides it is above the law, the American people are now seeing that they have a price to pay – at the pump, for their pharmaceuticals, and in the absence of initiatives that would help grow our economy, and to feed our children, provide for the health of our people, protect our environment and, indeed, even provide for the common defense," said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
That's got to make you at least a little mad? It's great when Democrats fight back!


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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Leave Willie Alone Senator Ogden!

Our State Senator, Steve Ogden, doesn't want Willie Nelson's name on any part of SH 130 that runs through our county, Willie Nelson Turnpike hits roadblock. Why would he not want a road named after Texas icon Willie Nelson? Here is his excuse:
Asked about their reservations about Nelson, Ogden said he doesn't favor naming roads after people who are still alive and declined further comment.
So he doesn't like naming roads after people until they're dead. Really? Here is what the article then goes on to say:
He (Sen. Wentowrth) was in the Senate and Ogden in the House when the Legislature in 1995 and 1997 named roads for the first President Bush and former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, both very much alive.
Interesting, I think that makes him a liar! Senator Ogden didn't say anything after that. Senator Wentworth however was much more forthcoming:
"Let's be candid: This is a political deal," Wentworth said, Nelson "was out there having fund-raisers, raising money for (Democratic presidential hopeful) Dennis Kucinich against President Bush, and that was just last year."

[and]

"To compare a former president of the United States with a country singer, surely that's self-explanatory," Wentworth said.

[and]

The Legislature, in that same 1995 bill honoring Bentsen, named a road in Brazoria County after Nolan Ryan, at that point only just retired from his baseball career.

Wentworth and Ogden both voted for that bill. Ryan, a Republican, has never served as president of the United States.

[and]

But Ryan, unlike Nelson, also hasn't had any trouble with the Internal Revenue Service or brushes with the law over marijuana. To Wentworth, at least, Nelson's past matters.

"All of that figures into it, from my standpoint," Wentworth said. "He's not exactly a role model."

So it's payback for not supporting the president? For him to refer group Willie in the same category as GHW Bush is ludicrous, Willie has always been more loved and respected. Not to mention minimizing Willie's accomplishments by referring to him as just "a country singer"! They also voted for naming a road after St. Nolan but he plays for the right party so it's OK. Then the moralist Senator tells us that because Willie had trouble with the law, the IRS and marijuana -- just like our current president, by the way -- he's not a role model. If we needed a role model to name things after then everything would be named after Mother Teresa. Well after all the hypocritical statements by the Senators were over, what does Willie think about all of this?
Nelson was in Ireland, according to Barrientos, and unable to comment on all of this.

But Barrientos said that he had talked with the singer about the possible renaming and that Nelson "was kind of shy, even a little bashful about it. He said it would be an honor.
Willie is a humble man. I'm sure he will be embarrassed by it all. He probably just wants an answer to the question, What Ever Happened to Peace On Earth?

Don't forget to tell Senator Ogden what you think.

Update! Senator Ogden didn't object to this, HCR 178 from the 77th Legislature(scroll down):
On Tuesday, the Senate adopted a resolution honoring the recipients of the 2001 Texas Medal of Arts Awards. The recipients included Texas actors, musicians and other artists, along with art teachers and patrons. Among the honorees was actor Tommy Lee Jones, writer Horton Foote, pianist Van Cliburn and musicians Flaco and Santiago Jimenez. Willie Nelson also received a Texas Medal of Arts Awards, but did not attend the Senate proceeding.


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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Check Out the Sun City Democrats

Sun City Democrats have a great group. Here is my favorite link on their site, Democratic Beliefs and Accomplishments. Here are just a few:
* 8-hour workday
* Clean Air Act
* Women's Suffrage Amendment
* Balanced budget in 1998 as result of the Balanced Budget Act of 1993
* Social Security
* Medicare
Go look at the whole list it's a great reminder of what Democrats have done.


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The Arrogance Of Unchecked Power

Representative Raise Your Gas Tax's attempt, er, I mean Mike Krusee's attempt to increase the Gas Tax is floundering:

The sponsor of House Bill 5, state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, said early support among Republicans crested with Craddick's endorsement in February and has suffered recent defections, including one member who had sought to be a co-sponsor. Krusee, chairman of the Transportation Committee, said the bill probably will cool its heels in the Calendars Committee for an indefinite period.

"The members are experiencing tax fatigue," Krusee said of colleagues who passed a bill last month that would restructure the state's tax system. "We'll see if the fatigue passes."

I love what Jim Dunnam has to say though:

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the caucus has taken no position on HB 5.

"If we are fixing to turn every road into a toll road, why increase the gas tax?" he said.

I said something very similar a couple of weeks ago. But let's continue:

Krusee was asked whether House members had been hearing from any interest groups.

No, he said, "I would imagine it's political consultants they've been hearing from."

In other words in districts where Republicans actually face a reelection challenge they don't want to have raising taxes like this on their resume. With Rep. Krusee feeling secure and facing, in his mind or in the mind of his consultant, no election challenge, he obviously fells he can do whatever he pleases without any retribution. Oh the arrogance of unchecked power. I thought Republicans abhorred tax increases? Only on the rich, not on the average working person.

No matter where one stands on the issue of gay marriage or civil unions I think we can all agree that it's probably an issue that should be debated. Not Rep. Dan Gattis. He doesn't care what the resolution says he appears to be for anything that bans gay marriage or civil unions, no matter what else it does:

Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, an attorney on the committee, said he would have voted for it anyway.

"I think after hearing testimony until 3 a.m., it was beaten into their heads that something was wrong with it," he said. "I do not think it does what the opponents say that it does."

What are those things that other think are wrong with it you ask?
But Mr. Chisum added a section that also prohibited a legal status "similar to marriage," sparking debate on whether that would affect civil unions, custody contracts, living wills or the authority of businesses to allow health benefits for the gay partners of their employees.
Debate is the heart of our governmental system and for Rep. Gattis to arrogantly dismiss it shows how little he cares about other's opinions. For citizens to come to the committee and testify until 3 a.m. it must be a very important issue to them. And for Rep. Gattis to just brush it aside like that is pathetic. Oh the arrogance of unchecked power. These issues and our representatives intolerant views on them reinforce Williamson County's need for new leadership.


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Monday, April 04, 2005

Living Wage

One area that is being ignored -- well, I'm not sure ignored is the right word -- but it definitely isn't getting much attention and it's the plight of the average worker or labor as it used to be called. The biggest coup the Republicans have been able to pull off is, through the use of "moral values" -- or the business is good, government is bad crew -- they have been able to trick people into voting against their own economic best interests in favor of a party that supposedly stands with them on moral issues. It has also allowed the Republicans to take away, to a great extent, the Democrats mantle as the party of the people. That's what Thomas Frank's book What's The Matter With Kansas was about. I believe the minimum wage, or what I think is a better term for it, a living was is a great opportunity for the Democrats.

Last week I posted an article, How to Turn Your Red State Blue, which talked about the, "need to systematically expand the universe of access points to the progressive worldview and actively recruit people into the fold." One of these access points is to increase the minimum wage. Not only do we need to increase it but we need to frame it as and use the term LIVING WAGE. A former Republican President that dumped the Republicans and started his own party described a living wage like this:
We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living--a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit of reasonable saving for old age.
What an awesome phrase, "..a standard high enough to make morality possible". How is that for a party slogan? Democrats, Making Morality Possible! This is a great opportunity and a great issue to run on. Many in the opposition oppose raising the minimum wage using the excuse that it will increase unemployment. That has been debunked.

So why all the fuss? There are three bills in the Texas House this session attempting to raise the minimum wage in Texas. The one that everyone is signing onto is HB 816. I think it is imperative that we get our two State Representatives to take a stand on this bill. So give them a call or send them and e-mail: Dan Gattis or Mike Krusee. Being able to campaign against these guys in 2006 saying that they are against workers and the working man would be a good thing.

More from the Center of Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) on Getting the Facts Straight: Texas & the Minimum Wage (.pdf)


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