Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The "65% Ruse" Is Not Only A Bad Idea, It Doesn't Work

Two premises you have to accept and must remember when reading today's article on the "65% Ruse". This has absolutely nothing to do with making public education better. Those who are proposing the "65% Ruse" do not believe in public education. This is nothing more than a scheme with a catchy name - like "supply-side economics" or "compassionate conservative" - to accelerate the destruction of our public schools and funded by the voucher crowd.

Here is the article in the Houston Chronicle today, Choosing sports over libraries is only one battle brewing under Gov. Perry's 65% spending directive:
The idea of freeing up billions of dollars for public education by requiring school districts to dedicate 65 percent of their budgets to the classroom sounds appealing.

Tax-conscious business leaders and voters across the country have embraced it as a way to more efficiently use existing funds to boost student test scores. Many school superintendents and teachers are opposed to the idea, saying it's nothing more than a gimmick that divides the education community.
Rich, business owners who already pay little or not taxes - that's what the current tax fight is about in case you forgot - want to pay the same or less taxes then they are now. As opposed to tax-unconscious business leaders? Voters across the country?
Tim Mooney, a spokesman for the group, said 65 percent spending mandates could be on the ballot in as many as 10 states this year.
Last time I checked there were 50 states, a little embellishment I'd say. They want to use funds, in what is in their opinion more efficiently, to boost test scores. Not improve education, boost test scores! If you want to know all about that just go check out this post, Taking on TAKS, over at Chris Bell's blog to see just how bad an idea that is.

A couple more interesting things about the "65% Ruse". First, it doesn't work:
As Texas education officials work to implement Gov. Rick Perry's directive that school districts use 65 percent of their funds in the classroom, a major study finds the spending target is not likely to raise student achievement.

Standard & Poor's analyzed data in Texas and eight other states considering instituting a 65 percent classroom spending requirement. It found no significant positive correlation between the percentage of funds that districts spend on instruction and the percentage of students who score proficient or higher on state reading and math tests.

"Interestingly, some of the highest-performing districts spend less than 65 percent, and some of the lowest-performing districts spend more than 65 percent. Student performance does not noticeably or consistently increase at 65 percent, or any other percentage spent on instruction," concluded the report.
Second, the Texas Education Commissioner former school district didn't comply with this and was top-rated when she was there:
Neeley's former school district, Galena Park, is an example of one that spent less than 65 percent in 2003 - the latest figures available from the Texas Education Agency -— but was top-rated at the time.

"The 65 percent rule is an arbitrary figure. That percentage has no meaning on how effective a school district is," said Mark Henry, current superintendent of Galena Park. "Some school districts have to spend more on social services and security and those items might not be figured into the 65 percent rule."
So why do this? The article does a good job of explaining why:
The idea of spending 65 percent in the classroom has been embraced by the business community and is gaining steam nationwide. It is being pushed by Patrick Byrne, the president of online retailer Overstock.com Inc. of Salt Lake City.

Byrne's money helped launch First Class Education, a nonprofit group that is spending millions of dollars to promote the issue through legislation and voter initiatives.

[...]

"We anticipate this will be a multi-million dollar campaign nationally and perhaps a multi-million campaign in most of these states," said Mooney.

He would not disclose any other donors of the group. Byrne also supports school vouchers, but Mooney said classroom spending is First Class Education's only issue.

Business groups often support educational reforms as a way to avoid higher taxes to pay for schools.
Like any right-wing plan it will make the rich, richer. That's why. How do you expect people that think government is evil to come up with a government fix for a problem? Pro-voucher, won't disclose donors. Why would someone not disclose who donates to them? Do those people or entities not want their names associated with this group? If this is such a great group and idea why wouldn't they? Exactly. To find out what the "65% Ruse" is all about and where it came from check out my initial post on this from last summer, Where Did The 65% Rule Come From?

Doesn't work and won't fix our current problems with quality education and underfunding but it sure has a catchy name. Sounds like trouble to me.


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Monday, January 30, 2006

Shady Is In The Eye Of The Beholder.

Toll road rules aren't shady, just unclear. Murderers aren't evil, just killers. He's not bald, just doesn't have any hair. She's not ugly, just hard to look at. It's not illegal, just against the law. Of course I could go on and on, but why? Ben Wear got called on the carpet by Rep. Mike Krusee for calling toll roads shady:
State Rep. Mike Krusee sought me out last week to say he didn't particularly care for my Jan. 23 column.

Krusee, a Williamson County Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee, hated the headline: "Hey, buddy, wanna buy a toll road?"

He said, with some justification, that it implied something crooked was going on.
Like this:, Comptroller Calls for Resignation of CTRMA Board Chairman and Member; Cites Favoritism and Self Interest in Special Report. Oh, that liberal media is at it again! After Krusee got done cussing him out--I mean--they had a quick discussion, voila! Toll roads are no longer shady anymore just unclear, murky, grey, hard to figure out, and easy to game the public with.

See if you can follow this bouncing ball: Cintra, the Spanish company that's going to own and collect the tolls on the roads Rep. Krusee is building for you to pay to drive on for as long as you live here, won't be able to set the tolls as they see fit. Nope. Cintra, with the approval of appointed RMA board members, not elected by the people, will OK a "methodology" for setting and raising tolls. See the difference? Check this out:
The actual method that I've heard officials toss around would be to tie toll rates to some sort of acceptable rate of return for the company's investment.

Sounds reasonable. But in practice, that would create a very large and complex black box of accounting that the public would have a hard time scrutinizing.

By the way, it's worth pointing out that we voters likewise won't get a chance to elect those who set rates on publicly run toll roads.
So there's no recourse:
But if you hate toll rates on Texas 130, you won't be able to fire Chairman Ric Williamson or the other four commissioners. Only the governor can do that, and he's hard to fire. Just ask Tony Sanchez.

And then there are managed lanes, where toll rates can vary by the minute based on traffic. You'd have to fire a computer in that case. Very sticky.
So when you drive on these roads and chunk your change into the bucket remember: he ain't crooked, just shady.


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President Will Tell Americans They Are Over-Insured

Over the weekend I saw this post over at Talking Points Memo which tells us that in the State Of The Union (SOTU) speech on Tuesday the president will say Americans are over-insured:
So the president thinks the problem is that people have too much health insurance. People are over-insured.

I don't think that's how most Americans see the problem, do you? I'm confident that they don't. Really confident.

But let's let them decide.
The LA Times has more, Health Plan to Revive Debate:
"We may be looking at the start of a fundamental shift in what we mean by health insurance, from a system where we share risks to one where it's up to individuals to make their own deals and bear their own risks," said Drew E. Altman, president of the nonpartisan California-based Kaiser Family Foundation.

"The danger," Altman said, "is that this new arrangement could work out very well for some people, especially the young, the healthy and the affluent, but be very bad for the health system as a whole."
That's exactly backwards of how insurance is supposed to work! Let's put together a system of health care insurance that makes it worse for the elderly, sick and poor!? Does that seem wrong to anyone other than me? With the recent debacle of the president's attempt to "fix" Social Security and the corrupt Medicare Part D drug plan the Republicans rammed through Congress, I can't believe any American would allow them to make changes like this:
However, the problems that Bush would be likely to face in making the case for substantial healthcare change run far deeper than what kind of tax deductions people would claim.

Most conservatives -— including those in the administration -— believe that the root cause of most problems with the nation's healthcare system is that most Americans are over-insured.

They argue that insurance keeps people from feeling the sting of prices and therefore from being wise consumers. Hence, conservatives' interest in making individuals take more risk and bear more responsibility for healthcare, retirement savings and other social safety nets.

But a wide array of polls reveal that, if anything, people feel underinsured, and have little interest in adding to the financial risks they face.
Feeling the sting of prices. Wow! I think it's time they felt the sting of a voter backlash!



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Republican "Culture Of Corruption" Explained

This is a great editorial from the Waco Tribune , Would you trust them? It takes issue, big time, with the Republican leaderships hiring of lobbyists with your tax dollars.
Aside from the personalities hired, Rep. Dunnam wondered this: The governor says we can't afford to address a host of needs, but can afford $1.1 million in such a way? Doesn't it have a vast congressional delegation looking after its interests in Washington? Isn't a Texan running the executive branch?

As a taxpayer, I'd love to know the multiplier effect -– all the federal dollars harvested to Texas' benefit -– for the money paid Maloney. I'd hate to think the party in power is the only entity doing the multiplying.
It details how your tax dollars were given to lobbyists and then those lobbyists donated large sums of money back to Republican causes.
Maloney is the former chief of staff of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. In 2003, Gov. Rick Perry hired Maloney at $180,000 a year to serve as a lobbyist for Texas in the nation's capital. Then, a curious thing happened. Over time, Maloney donated more than $75,000 in measured portions to Republican causes, nationally and in Texas.
It also has this illuminating dramatization of how DeLay's operation worked:
Dramatization: At the drivethrough, Mr. Congressman buys an Egg McPlenty using his Capitol per diem. Then he sends in a staffer who offers the employee who made the sale a coupon for free super nachos at Taco-Wow (Taco-Wow's in-kind donation to the congressman's re-election) in exchange for a tax-free contribution to a charity (let's call it Godly Citizens for Godly Citizenship) which is the exact price of an Egg McPlenty. The staffer then hands Mr. Congressman back what he paid for breakfast. They drive off.
Is that what Jesus would do?


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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Get On Board Or Get Out Of The Way!


Rick Perry(I) REP 2,632,591 57.80%
Tony Sanchez DEM 1,819,798 39.96%
Jeff Daiell LIB 66,720 1.46%
Rahul Mahajan GRN 32,187 0.70%
Elaine Eure Henderson W-I 1,715 0.03%
Earl W. (Bill) O'Neil W-I 976 0.02%

[...]

BILL LYON DEM 43,011 4.28%
DAN MORALES DEM 330,873 32.97%
TONY SANCHEZ DEM 609,383 60.73%
JOHN WORLDPEACE DEM 20,121 2.00%
That first set of numbers is what Tony "Money Bags" Sanchez did against Perry in the general election in 2002.

That second set of numbers is what Dan "Tobacco Lawsuit" Morales did and "Money Bags" in the Democratic Primary in 2002.

Also remember that the AFL-CIO hasn't fared to well in recent years.

And last why isn't John Worldpeace running again? I thought this was his year.

Now read this, Democratic governor hopefuls battle long shot talk. My alternative headline would have been, 300-plus fill hall in DFW area to see Democratic candidates:
A retired Texas AFL-CIO leader and advisers to two men who battled in the Democratic gubernatorial primary four years ago all but dismiss the chances of Chris Bell or Bob Gammage winning this year over better-funded candidates, including GOP Gov. Rick Perry.
As you can see from above each has quite a track record of campaign success. My guess though is that it was probably the candidates. What did these so-called Democrats have to say:
Four years ago, Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez and former Attorney General Dan Morales tiffed their way to a Democratic primary won by Sanchez, who spent millions before losing to Perry.

Sanchez's campaign manager, Glenn Smith, and Jim Moore, who worked for Morales, said last week that it's impossible to compare Gammage and Bell to their candidates, partly because Perry had more than $10 million in political cash in hand as of Jan. 1 while Bell and Gammage combined had less than $300,000.

"It's a resource question," Smith said. "When people are going to be spending $10 million-plus, they're going to have an advantage in getting public attention."

Moore, noting that Strayhorn has picked up money from such traditional Democratic allies as trial lawyers, said: "Even Democrats in this state don't believe in the Democratic Party. They don't have money, they don't have candidates, they don't have leadership. It strikes me as quite pathetic."

Joe Gunn, past president of the Texas AFL-CIO, enthusiastically backed Sanchez four years ago but also says he doesn't give Bell or Gammage much of a chance. He said Democratic activists should instead focus on local races, building toward strong statewide runs later.

"I don't want to see us throwing a bunch of money into an impossible race," Gunn said.
Did these three guys actually show up at this event and say this kind of stuff? If they did, that's pretty disgusting and rude. If these people were interested in getting Democrats elected they wouldn't be sitting around saying we don't have a chance they'd be out working for the candidates the Democrats are running and not going around saying it's a lost cause. Surely these people have a few connections that could donate - time, talents and treasure - to the Democrats. What's their alternative just turn tail and run, or not run anybody, as the case may be? Let's see: One of these guys was the campaign manager for a soon to be convicted felon and the other ran a candidate with more money than God and still couldn't get 40% of the vote and the other...didin't the AFL-CIO split up recently?

I'm just saying consider the source.

We are Democrats guys. We want to vote for Democrats. In order for that to happend we need Democrats to run for office, every office. Myabe that's too simple for you guys but it's a matter of principle with us. Oh yeah, and we don't care if you think it's a lost cause.

Fred Head said it best:
Head, the comptroller candidate, shook his head, saying after the forum that he doesn't expect the election to be about money.

"We're going to win," he said. "The people of Texas are ready to take government back."


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Saturday, January 28, 2006

What's Rep. John Carter's Answer To This Question?

There was a contest at the national blog Talking Points Memo this week to see who could be the first to get their Republican member of Congress to answer this question:
What does your member of Congress think? Should the president release records of the meetings he and his staff held with Jack Abramoff? Or not?
To take it another step further. Does he also believe the lame excuses the President has been giving for spying on Americans? Spies, Lies and Wiretaps
A bit over a week ago, President Bush and his men promised to provide the legal, constitutional and moral justifications for the sort of warrantless spying on Americans that has been illegal for nearly 30 years. Instead, we got the familiar mix of political spin, clumsy historical misinformation, contemptuous dismissals of civil liberties concerns, cynical attempts to paint dissents as anti-American and pro-terrorist, and a couple of big, dangerous lies.

The first was that the domestic spying program is carefully aimed only at people who are actively working with Al Qaeda, when actually it has violated the rights of countless innocent Americans. And the second was that the Bush team could have prevented the 9/11 attacks if only they had thought of eavesdropping without a warrant.
And while you're on the phone ask what he's going to do about the broken Medicare Part D drug plan that he voted for. Van de Putte: Problems with Medicare's program put Texans at risk:
Though I hope the result of this program will ultimately be positive, the troubles we are experiencing now are affecting our most vulnerable population - individuals who require life-sustaining medicines.
Here are the numbers for Rep. Carter's offices:
Washington, D.C. Office
408 CHOB
Washington, D.C. 20515
(202) 225-3864

Round Rock District Office
One Financial Centre
1717 North IH 35
Suite 303
Round Rock, TX 78664
(512) 246-1600

Bell County Office
6544B S. General Bruce Drive
Temple, TX 76502
Located next to the DPS office
254-933-1392
Then go here to get the latest news and the numbers to call to urge Senators to filibuster Alito.


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Elect Jim Stauber For State Representative District 20






Hello fellow members of “Stop Tolling Texas",
My name is Jim Stauber and I'm running for State Representative in District 20.

I want to be YOUR voice in our government.
Recently I received a questionnaire on a variety of transportation issues. I'’m happy to share with you my answers to the following questions:

  • Will you support legislation and actively campaign to require local economic impact studies, cost benefit studies and other viability studies for all toll roads and other transportation plans, including, but not limited to, the Trans Texas Corridor, rail, HOV, and HOT lanes to ensure accountability? Yes
  • Will you support legislation and actively campaign to allow the public to vote whether ANY local existing route (public freeway) will be shifted to a toll way or not? Yes
  • Will you support legislation and actively campaign to keep tolls off ALL public highways? Yes
  • Will you support legislation and actively campaign to close the Trans Texas Corridor/Eminent Domain loophole created in the last session? Yes
  • Will you support and campaign to prevent the control of our roads, rail and utilities from being handed over to private or/and foreign interests? Yes
  • Will you support and campaign for a requirement of non-elected RMA board members to disclose ALL real estate and business holdings, as well as support keeping RMA board members from serving when they can profit, have conflict of interests, or have a potential for self-enrichment? Yes
Tolls amount to double taxation. Secret deals and "sweetheart"” contracts written behind closed doors are just simply wrong. I will support and actively campaign for a thorough study of Cintras contract and labor practices.

Most importantly, we need to preserve our precious farm and ranch lands. We cannot continue to pave over one of Texas'’ greatest resources. As more and more family-owned farmland is taken out of production, we will become increasingly dependent on the corporate "mega-farms"” and foreign grown food products. This will curb competition and lead to higher prices in the future. We cannot take away the livelihoods of the good people who have worked so hard to preserve our proud Texas heritage. Small towns and farms will suffer under these plans. It'’s time for "“Toll Roads"” to be bulldozed out of Texas.

My opponent will be able to use Tom Delay and other special interests like an ATM. I won'’t have that luxury. In order to win against such an entrenched and well funded opponent I need your help.

Your donation of $10, $20, $50, $100 or more will go towards covering the cost and increasing the effectiveness of our campaign, including:

  • Professional signs, fliers & bumper stickers;
  • A world class web site;
  • A campaign to reach every voter by mail, phone and radio.

    With your help and that of our many hardworking and tireless volunteers WE CAN WIN!!!

    Let'’s Put Our Government Back to Work for You.


www.JStauber.com
or info@jstauber.com







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Karen Felthauser Gets Democracy For America Endorsement And Releases Web Site

Here's the link, DFA List.


Karen Felthauser is a long time DFA member, Williamson County Democratic Party member, and community activist. She recently decided to take the next step and run for the Texas State House in the 52nd District. Karen will make Texas a more socially progressive state by providing quality and affordable education for all Texans, protecting and conserving the state's public lands, and ensuring that everyone has access to quality, affordable health care. Your support can help Texas become a more responsible state. Karen has also released her web site go check it out and sign up for her newsletter, www.karenfelthauser.com




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Friday, January 27, 2006

Did Perry Go To Iraq Just For A Campaign Photo-Op?

John Kelso thinks so, Perry's Iraq trip: hope you like it, 'cause you're paying for it:
Gov. Rick Perry had been out of Texas for three days before the people were told he was in Iraq.

That's funny. I hadn't even noticed he was gone. Had you? Nah, probably not. I haven't seen any difference. Things seem to be running just as well around these parts without him.

[...]

But the question is, how long would he have to be holed up before anyone realized he wasn't around the Governor's Mansion?

I'm figuring about six months.

This is a fine Mesopotamia the government has gotten us into, isn't it? Your Defense Department is funding this weeklong junket. I wonder how much it costs taxpayers to send Rick to Iraq.

Let me rephrase that. I wonder how many holes of golf Tom DeLay can play in Scotland for the amount of money it costs to send Rick Perry to play G.I. Joe in Iraq.

"I don't think there's an answer on how much it's costing, because cost is normally formulated after the travel is completed," said Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a spokesman for the Defense Department at the Pentagon.

In other words, how much Perry's trip is going to cost you, the taxpayer, depends on how many times Rick Perry orders a 'rita from room service at Saddam's palace.

I think what Venable was really trying to tell me was to go pound sand.

[...]

So Perry can't put on a helmet like Dukakis did because he doesn't want to mess up his hair. Heck, his hair is a helmet. But who wants to bet me $100 that Perry's ads DON'T have some shots of military guys in Iraq standing next to him?

Anybody out there a big enough sucker to take that bet?
Pink Dome has this picture, Cockblocker Perry: Caption This Picture go caption it.


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DeLay Isn't A "Regular Guy"

Doesn't this, DeLay appearance cost Fox $14,000, run contrary to media attempts to make Tom DeLay out to be a "regular guy":
Four days after U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's stunning indictment last September in Travis County, the political talk show "Fox News Sunday" trumpeted an exclusive interview with the combative Texas Republican.

Unsaid, but revealed in documents DeLay later filed in the U.S. House, was that DeLay's Oct. 2 appearance cost Fox News $14,000.

The money rented a private jet to ferry DeLay from a small airport near his Sugar Land home to Fox studios in Washington. The next day, after engaging in a give and take with host Chris Wallace, DeLay and his Capitol Police security detail were flown back to suburban Houston.
I thought this part of the article was too much:
There is no doubt that DeLay was the nation's hottest news commodity last fall.

Just indicted and forced to step down as majority leader, DeLay was in the midst of a media blitz, lambasting Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle as a partisan zealot. But those appearances were typically short interviews.

An almost half-hour interview with DeLay was a coup for "Fox News Sunday." But it's hard to say whether Fox got its money's worth.
Fox? A coup? If I'm DeLay and I'm going to choose one news channel to be on..I mean where else was he going to go?




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More Analysis On HD 48

The thing about HD 48 to remember is that it's a well educated district and the usual Republican BS ain't working. Vouchers and a Republican lapdog doesn't play here. After a bad commentary earlier in the week on lobbying earlier in the week Harvey Kronberg rebounds with this excellent analysis of this race, A Texas House district declares independence:
This House district is one of the most politically sophisticated in Texas. Many lobbyists, political operatives and Capitol staff members live there. As a spectator sport, Texas politics is second only to University of Texas football. It is a moderate, white-collar district defined by good public schools and, in particular, a fierce loyalty to the Eanes schools. One lobbyist living in the district hit the nail on the head when he joked that the folks in that district want one thing -— more money for the high school so they can hire another calculus teacher to assure their children a better shot at a good college. Vouchers are not popular.

[...]

The political sophisticates in District 48 understand that success in Craddick's House precludes representing the district, especially one so independent.

Long-time Republican residents have confided to me that they voted for Howard. For a few, it was something personal about Bentzin or his commercials or his refusal to participate in a televised debate. But for many others, the thought was that a Democrat representing a Republican-leaning district owes nothing to Craddick but will be sensitive to local issues -— much like state Rep. Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs, a Democrat representing a Republican district.
Bentizin's in trouble because no matter who he brings in to blockwalk and how much money he pours in it doesn't change the fact that he's a "yes" vote for whatever Craddick, Perry, Dewhurst and all their financial backers plans are to finish off public education in this state. If you want to know who "they" are check out this story in today's Houston Chronicle, Is Norquist still the man?


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Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Austin Chronicle Has Three On District 48

These are all good reads. The first one, Democrats Unite Behind Howard for District 48, is about how this race is doing two things. Bringing Democrats together:
Whatever reasons the Democrats had for not uniting behind Donna Howard before last week's special election, disappeared almost as quickly as the Republicans' confidence in Ben Bentzin's ability to pull off an outright victory in House District 48. Now, GOP party activists are divided on whether Bentzin can turn around his lackluster performance against Howard in next month's run-off election.
And second, showing where the cracks are in the other party:
Meanwhile, GOP activists are split on how to position Bentzin in the run-off election. Some favor dumping more money into his campaign while others -– inlcuding the business lobby -– are questioning whether they would get a return on their investment. Still others believe a safer route would be to concede the run-off and spend the rest of the year building a case against Howard in the general election in November.
The next two focus on the numbers.

On the election itself, Big Ben Goes Bust:
Well, $40 a vote, or however much Ben Bentzin's spent so far, doesn't go as far as it used to. Especially when you don't spend it on effective get-out-the-vote efforts, as Big Ben certainly did not. The tale of the tape:
The demographics of district 48 (It's wealthy, educated and white):
So who lives in District 48? Looking at these demographic numbers from the state of Texas and the U.S. Census Bureau, a typical resident is: better educated and wealthier than the average Texan; likely to be more conservative than other Travis Co. residents, but more liberal than other Texans; and, while more likely to have kids in private schools than other Texans, not by much -– the overwhelming majority use public schools, no doubt a factor that swayed vote totals both in 2004 and in last week's special election in a more Democratic direction than normal.
Educated people believe everyone should be educated. So I believe that pretty much points to who will win the run-off.


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News Items And Corruption Watch

I hate it when I see an article like this, Strayhorn gets Democratic cash,(Exclusive: Many donors think independent bid is their only shot at unseating Perry). I sit down to read it and the first paragraph just made me mad!
Bernard Rapoport is a loyal Democrat who has helped bankroll a generation of party candidates. This year, he's putting his money on Republican Carole Keeton Strayhorn.
Bernard Rapoport may be a loyal Democrat but not as far as this race is concerned. If he was a loyal Democrat wouldn't he choose a Democratic candidate for governor and give to that person his support? Oh, and last time I checked OTG was running as an Independent. Or, is she still a Republican and just doing this to get elected? Will the Republicans take her back if she's elected? This and many more questions will be answered in the next episode of...

The state lobbying story keeps going. Drip, drip, drip.

Have you see the latest example of how Republicans say one thing and do the exact opposite? The state is looking out for home builders, not buyers:
In theory, at least, having a Texas Residential Construction Commission should be an effective way to resolve construction disputes between home builders and consumers.

A truly neutral but expert agency could quickly sort out frivolous complaints from a home buyer but nail truly shoddy work by a builder. And it could help resolve close calls without the time and expense of hiring lawyers and holding trials.

But such effectiveness was not the primary goal of home builders when they got the Texas Legislature to create the commission in 2003 over the opposition of consumer groups.

The builders' primary goal was to protect themselves from lawsuits filed by unhappy home buyers.

Thanks to the strong political influence of such home builders as Bob Perry and Dick Weekley, both of Houston, and to the $5 million in political contributions ($3.1 million from Bob Perry alone) to state candidates, parties and political action committees in the 2002 election cycle, the builders got the commission they wanted. The agency can force a home buyer to jump through more bureaucratic hoops before going to court, but it has little effective power to make an errant builder correct defects.
So what this means is that the legislature set up a commission that "in theory" is supposed to protect consumers but in reality protects the builder. One of the major donor/builders is the man responsible for the "Swiftboating" smears of John Kerry. So he's a Republican donor and the legislature is run by Republicans. Should we infer anything from that?


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Filibuster Alito

This post was spurred somewhat by this editorial in the NY Times, Senators in Need of a Spine:
Judge Samuel Alito Jr., whose entire history suggests that he holds extreme views about the expansive powers of the presidency and the limited role of Congress, will almost certainly be a Supreme Court justice soon. His elevation will come courtesy of a president whose grandiose vision of his own powers threatens to undermine the nation's basic philosophy of government -— and a Senate that seems eager to cooperate by rolling over and playing dead.

It is hard to imagine a moment when it would be more appropriate for senators to fight for a principle. Even a losing battle would draw the public's attention to the import of this nomination.
I've had two thoughts on why I think the Democrats should filibuster Alito for a while. First if not a this guy than what does this President have to nominate for the Democrats to filibuster. It's not a threat unless you use it. And second make the Republicans use their "Nuclear Option" and that will show the rest of the country just how far they will go. It may even crack a few on the Republican side. If the Republicans resorting to the "Nuclear Option", coupled with the domestic spying scandal, doesn't wake up the people in this country to the Republican Party's lack of respect for the constitution then maybe we're too far gone already.

Brains and Eggs has more and who to call.




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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Please Attend This Screening Of Democratic Candidates

YOUR ARE INVITED

TO THE

Travis-Williamson County Mexican American Democrats Screening and Endorsing Meeting

of Democratic Candidates

Date: Monday, January 30, 2006

Time: 6:30 P.M.

Location: Rio Grande Restuarant

1720 North Mays

Round Rock, Texas

PLEASE PLAN TO ATTEND


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Keep An Eye On The Media As The Abramoff Scandal Hits Texas

In case you missed it last week it came out that the Republican leadership in Texas has gotten all tangled up in the Jack Abramoff/K Street Project scandal - even though the Speaker and Lt. Gov. have been doing their best Sgt. Schultz, "I know nothing". Today the Statesman takes them to task for it, Texas' connection to partisan lobbying:
Gov. Rick Perry's seven-figure contracts for Washington lobbyists to do what taxpayers already pay a governmental relations staff to do looks like nothing more than partisan back scratching.

At the direction of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the GOP made lobbying a partisan activity. Under the plan, known as the K Street project, lobbying firms had to hire Republican loyalists, including some congressional staff members, to gain access to the GOP leadership. It was a perfect loop.

Perry gained access to that loop by hiring firms closely connected to DeLay and paying them more than $1 million. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick also signed off on the lobbying contracts, presented by the governor's staff.

[...]

DeLay's influence was so intense that he demanded the Texas Legislature redistrict the state in mid-census to increase GOP power in Washington. And on his whim, Texas Republicans complied.

In light of all that, Perry's lobbying contracts look like another sop to curry favor with the Republican power brokers. It's a shame that Texas taxpayers had to foot the bill for nothing more than tribute.
It's a great editorial and I recommend reading the whole thing. The unfortunate part in all of this is that like in the national media there appears to be an attempt to try and minimize this issue by saying both sides do it.

As an example I point to this commentary by Harvey Kronberg, Democrats can't have it both ways. And how are Democrats trying to "have it both ways" you ask? Well, because they are criticizing the Republican leadership in this state for being tangled up in what may be the biggest political scandal in our country's history, the "Democrats stepped on to a slippery slope" because they have not come out against schools and cities hiring lobbyists. Huh? I know they both have to do with spending "tax payer" money on lobbying but that's where the comparison ends. There has never been any hint of corruption or "tribute" on the part of cities or schools to either party. The Democratic leadership in Texas isn't responsible for the schools and cities hiring those lobbyists. Those lobbyists aren't just lobbying Democrats. As far as I know the only problem with the city and school lobbying has been Speaker Craddick throwing a temper tantrum because of their successful efforts in getting their voice heard. He perceived them to be the main reason his education plans didn't pass the house last year. I'm sure if those schools and cities would have been lobbying the legislature for tort reform Mr. Speaker wouldn't have had a problem.

As you can see my issue with Mr. Kronberg's commentary is that he's trying to compare a huge Republican scandal to an entirely separate issue that has no scandal tied to it whatsoever, involving either party. By comparing involvement in a huge scandal to something as minor as that makes it look like Mr. Kronberg is trying minimize the excesses that have occurred. Mr. Kronberg is one of, if not the preeminent, political analyst in the state. His Quorum Report is excellent and his analysis is usually spot on, but this time I think he's wrong. His site states they are non-partisan, and I'll accept that. But because of his status I felt this needed a response.

There was another part of his commentary that I took issue with as well. He goes on to describe why the lobbying the "Three Amigos" approved might be needed:
Elected officials have their own agendas. Sometimes they coincide with the governmental institutions they represent. Sometimes they don't.
Mr. Kronberg is a capitol insider and he knows a whole lot more about who our elected representatives represent than I do but I sure as hell thought they were elected to represent the people in their districts. Like I said his analysis is usually spot on but this time it seems like he just mailed it in.


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Come Meet The Candidates In Hutto On Friday

This Friday, January 27th The Hutto Business Update (HBU) is hosting a Meet The Candidates Night for candidates running for County Judge and Commissioners Court in Precinct 4. Both Democratic and Republican parties will have tables set up. Candidates from all other county and local legislative offices are also expected to attend, so there will be a chance to meet and talk with almost all the candidates.

It's at the Hutto High School cafeteria. Doors open at 6:15 with the Candidate Forum starting at 7:00pm sharp. Most candidates will be available before and after the forum. For more info on the HBU you can download their newsletter here (.pdf).




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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Senate Select Committee Met Today

Did you know the Senate Select Committee on Education Reform & Public School Finance met for the first time today? Did you know there was such a beast? Well they did and here is what the Chair had to say:
With a deadline looming, attempts this time will likely be more narrowly focused than the sweeping overhaul proposals of the past, said Republican Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano, chairwoman of the Senate Education Reform and Public School Finance Select Committee.

The scope of reform efforts must be limited to areas defined by Perry when he calls for the special session.

"I believe that one of the problems that plagued our efforts the last time and many times since ... I think we tried to do too much," Shapiro said Tuesday.

This time, she hopes the Legislature will focus on "a few things and doing a few things well."

Number one on the list will be finding a new tax structure to replace _ or relieve _ the state's dependence on property taxes. The property tax, which is levied by school districts, has become a statewide tax because districts don't have discretion to decide their own rates, the court ruled.

Simply lowering the property tax cap, as previous plans proposed, would not satisfy the court's mandate, Solicitor General Ted Cruz told the panel Tuesday. The final plan must allow tax rates to be set by the school districts, not the state, said Cruz, who represented the state in court.

The tax issue is the only measure that lawmakers must address to avoid school closures.

In addition to a new tax structure, Shapiro asked her committee to focus efforts on teacher pay initiatives, college readiness and reducing high school dropouts.

"The statistics ... prove to me that our high schools collectively are broken," Shapiro said, noting that a third of students who enter high school do not graduate and almost 30 percent of Texas students who go to college require remedial courses.

"That's unacceptable."
What about her House counterpart?
The House education committee has not scheduled meetings.

"We've spent almost ... the last two years full time on this issue. There's not a lot of new ideas," said Arlington Republican Rep. Kent Grusendorf, who has led House education overhaul efforts. "What we need is to get a consensus and move forward, I think that's possible."
What a ray of sunshine that was. You can read more from Sen. Shapiro in a interview she did with the Dallas Business Journal, DBJ Q&A: State Sen. Florence Shapiro:
DBJ: You recently were selected to lead a nine-member committee that will make recommedations to the full Senate. What will your committee do?

SHAPIRO: We will look at not only the taxing structure, but education reform.

DBJ: The Texas Supreme Court only mandated a change on the property tax issue by June 1, but it also mentioned other potential problems with the system. How do you interpret those comments?

SHAPIRO: They put up a real big yellow light.

DBJ: What do you expect to happen this spring?

SHAPIRO: Obviously we need a special session. I believe a decision must be made by the first of June.

DBJ: What happens if that deadline is not met?

SHAPIRO: Otherwise we shut down the schools.

DBJ: Do you think a decision will be reached in time?

SHAPIRO: Absolutely.

DBJ: Do you think you can accomplish these goals during the probable upcoming special session?

SHAPIRO: I'd like to do them before June.





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BOR Has More On OTG's Wind Testing - Via Chris Bell

Bell To Strayhorn: Give The Sugar Daddy Back His Money:
Via Chris Bell's blog, I noticed that AP has picked up on a speech he gave challenging Carole Four Names to give back $100,000 she took from voucher advocate James Leininger.



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What The Upcoming Specail Session Won't Fix

The main thing that is not being discussed by the Republican leadership leading up to the impending special session is the inadequate funding of our public schools and because of that how public education is suffering in our state. As John Sharp told us it's not what he and his commission have been tasked with, and he's right. Most people in Texas, I believe, think the coming session will deal with fixing school finance as a whole, inadequacies and all. Funding inadequacies won't be taken on in the upcoming session. Changing how we fund them at the current lever will. There are no interim committees looking at funding inadequacies. The people of this state are expecting that to be addressed and the Republican leadership doesn't even think it's a problem.

As you watch the debate in the upcoming session remember it will not be about whether we adequately fund our public schools. The session's focus will be taxes and a tax shift in particular. Period, end of story! I'm not saying that how we fund education in this state is not a problem, of course we need to change how schools are funded in Texas. But what the leadership of the Republican Party is looking for in the upcoming session is a dollar for dollar tax swap. They have to devise a system where property taxes can no longer be deemed a statewide property tax. Let's be clear on this, they do not want to add any new money to public schools. They believe we already spend plenty, some, I'm sure, believe we're already spending too much on public education. During the upcoming session they don't have to do anything to make schools better, increase teacher pay and the like. All they have to do is make it so the property tax is no longer levied so it works like a state property tax. That's what they must fix to keep the schools from closing. Unfortunately, that is probably all they will fix. It's a tax-swap session, not a school finance session.

Does that matter? Should they do anything else? Do the people in this state expect the session to address school finance? Well the short answer is YES! Today I came across a series of editorials that were published in the Wichita Falls Times Record News last week - (Workforce worries, Reality of education, and To show we care). From reading them it's apparent we need to address the inadequacies in our state's public education system. It's no longer about "Robin Hood", vouchers, standardized testing, NCLB. It's about educating young people so our state and our country have a future. With all the talking the Republicans do about the global economy and economic development it seems they would understand that we need an educated workforce for us to compete globally and develop our economy. If you look at what they do, not what they say, their actions show the exact opposite is true. It's a plan to keep the masses ignorant and happy just to have a job, any job. One name I've heard to describe their philosophy is "Cheap Labor Conservatives". I think it describes best what they truly want.

So when I read how John Sharp, former comptroller and tax accountant, all of the sudden react like he did yesterday to property tax rate change you'll have to forgive me if I'm skeptical:
Annual increases in property appraisals prompted Lubbock officials to reduce the city's tax rate, a concept that appeared to interest the state task force charged with finding ways to overhaul to the school funding system.

[...]

"Something about it just inherently is fair," said John Sharp, a Democrat chairing the commission. "I think that's something that this group is going to consider more and more."
I have to ask, how stupid do these people think we are?! If it was that simple the problem would have been fixed already. If John Sharp wanted a fair tax system he knows how to do it but now that he's crossed over he can't talk of a progressive tax system:
Standardized tests probably don'’t measure what they purport to measure. They certainly don'’t measure the educational experience. They don'’t keep kids from dropping out. They don'’t make kids want to go to a community college or university.

They are a fallback for politicians who pander to the public. And they keep those with the purse strings from having to deal with the second issue.

Test scores come cheap.

Real education does not.

But, our legislative leadership refuses over and over again to do what needs to be done to finance public education. Another special session is scheduled this spring to deal with the issue.

Right now, the National Education Association says Texas ranks 40th among the states in expenditures per student.
Others put us down lower.

The answer is simple: institute a state income tax. It's the only fair way to get the money Texas schools need.

We the people in this state and in this country have elected representatives or have become apathetic and allowed people into positions of power that are letting our children go uneducated. The editorials linked above paint a picture that shows how we have allowed our education system to fall into disrepair and what dire consequences we will face in the future unless we fix it soon. Like everything else the sooner we begin the process the cheaper it will be in the long run.

As you watch the upcoming special session and the ensuing battle over which tax to substitute for a property tax or maybe with John Sharp's current exciting new find, a game of rate changing, keep in mind that no matter how you slice it they aren't going to do anything to fix the problems in Texas' public education system. But also ask yourself this, something I've asked you to answer many times. How do you expect the Republican leadership in this state, that believes government is the problem, to use the government to fix this problem?


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Army Mom Challenges Delay's Last Disciple

Mary Beth Harrell's latest Dailykos diary is up, Army Mom Challenges Delay's Last Disciple. Go read, recommend and comment.


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Monday, January 23, 2006

Is OTG* The Lesser Of Two Evils?

The early strategy of OTG's campaign appears to be for her to shed her far right/right-wing stench. It's a strategy to not necessarily go to the left but to show her as a true "centrist" candidate. She is, at this point, getting attention for getting an endorsement from one group that has traditionally thrown their support to Democratic candidates. And she also got more attention this weekend for speaking to the leaders from the Industrial Areas Foundation and at the aforementioned toll road rally. Trying to show her populist side I guess. She said some interesting things:
"Let's be honest," said Strayhorn, an independent running for governor. "We need to say out loud that we need more dollars for education."

[...]

She supports a $3,000-a-year raise for teachers.

"We're at a critical crossroad in this state," she said. "We're either going to have public education or we're not going to have public education."

Strayhorn also wants to transform the state's current elementary and secondary public education system into a 14-year program, with two years of community or technical college for all students.

"I'd rather spend $2,500 (more) educating young Texans than $16,000 incarcerating them," she said.
"Let's be honest"? Really. Now she wants to spend more money on education. 14 years of public school? If you're willing to spend $2,500 why not $8,000? The point is, now that OTG has shed the Republican/anti-tax party and it's mantra it looks like she's ready to promise anybody, who's not a right-wing lapdog, whatever they want hear to get their vote.

Voters, except for those on the far right, are looking for an alternative. In the eyes of the anti-Perry voter, we are led to believe, only someone who they see as having a chance to win is a legitimate alternative to Perry. And many this early in the race seem to think the only other candidate that can win is OTG. They don't like Perry and they're going with OTG because at least she's saying the right things, now.

My question is, how do they know she's sincere, this time? She switches parties when it suits her. How do they know she won't switch her opinion from their groups once elected? Who knows what she will do when elected? She used to be for vouchers now she's against them. Was a Democrat, then a Republican and now an Independent. I won't even go into how many times she's changed spouses. This is apparently someone whose mind doesn't stay made up for long. And let's also not forget that two of her children work for the Bush administration. So who knows where her allegiances lie.

I'm sure the Republicans knew about loose affiliation problem back when she switched to their party. It was an equal opportunity situation for both of them, each using the other for their political goals. Rick Perry too has become more of right-winger over the years, he was a Democrat too once. See, the Republicans in order to gain power in Texas had to get the conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans, whichever name you prefer, to believe they weren't the far right ideologues that they really were, and are now known to be. Now that they have power they are going to try and run out all of those marginal, "centrist", Republicans and centralize power around the far right, pro-voucher, well financed base of the party.

Where does that leave Texas? Either taking the word of a person who changes allegiances over and over or choosing to fight for a Democratic candidate that really believes in putting more money into education, fighting against vouchers, fixing school finance right and funding health care. In other words Texans can choose between the lesser of two evils of the can choose a Democrat.

More reporting on the IAF conference here, Backers want money put toward schools, health care, job training.

* At this time I am abandoning my nickname of Carole ETC and will use the more accepted OTG ("One Tough Grandma") in it's place when referring to the comptroller.


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Toll Roads Are Shown As A Corporate Land Grab

It's been a while since I've talked about toll roads and I'm not sure why. But with today's article in the Statesman from Ben Wear, Hey, buddy, wanna buy a toll road?, it's time to take the issue up again. What this article makes clear, and I mean CRYSTAL CLEAR, is that this whole toll road bonanza occurring across the state is no more than a plan to take tax payer money and public land, and give it to corporations, and to a great extent out of state and foreign corporations.

But this is more than just toll roads. It's about a fundamental shift in how our government is run. It's not about lower taxes or saving tax payer money it's about a friendly relationship between corporations and government. If there's one thing President Bush's failed attempt to privatize Social Security showed us it's that when it comes to doing the best job for the people the government beats the private sector every time. Bush and his party did everything they could to beat up on Social Security and it didn't work. Why? Because Social Security works and there is no denying that. Their plan could not come close to doing what Social Security's main goal was from the beginning, guaranteed money for anyone who makes it to retirement age, dignity in old age. (Of course it later came to take care of those whose parents died before they were an adult, and most importantly for those who can't take care of themselves). No longer did the aged in America have to live in abject poverty.

But back to today's article. I have a problem with the second paragraph in the article. It's not about the writing or the writer, it's about what is now being accepted as a given in this debate:
Adjusting to the idea that in the future most new Texas expressways will be toll roads has been tough enough. Now it appears that a good number of those roads might be in private hands.
Now that the masses are accustomed to the idea paying to drive on highways they won't mind ceding public land to corporations - that pay, I'm assuming little or no taxes - but will profit enormously from that land. Doesn't that seem wrong to you? This is like what has happened with FCC ceding our control over the public airwaves. The ariwaves are a public resource, just like roads. Are we going to allow our elected representatives to permanently cede our ownership rights to this land to corporations that will just take our tax money and toll money for themselves? Well the answer is yes, and the Texas Transportation Committee (TTC) is on board:
"Texas is open for business," said the opening slide in a Texas Department of Transportation workshop put on last week for an overflow crowd of industry contractors, including toll road companies. The Texas Transportation Commission makes no bones about it: It wants companies to come to Texas, wallets open, and build or buy toll roads.

"We're prepared to make sure you're rewarded for taking on that risk," commission Chairman Ric Williamson told the crowd.
Warms you heart doesn't it. Wallets open, we've seen how that works in this state. The article goes to show how one of the fundamental selling points of toll roads has now gone by the wayside.
One of the primary sales points for toll roads has been that once the turnpikes are in place, with forevermore toll charges, the profits would be plowed back into the road system. The turnpikes would become unceasing fountains of transportation cash that would allow Texas to close what Williamson says is an $86 billion funding gap over the next quarter-century, and maybe build some passenger rail systems to boot.

So, if we sell the fountains now, we'd be flooded with transportation cash for projects, but we'd lose the future cash flow. The toll road operators, meanwhile -— no fools they -— would certainly do everything they could to pay Texas less than what those roads will eventually generate in revenue.
Don't worry ol' Mike "Turnpike" Krusee keeps it all in perspective.
That margin, the profit, is money that would go to their stockholders, not Texas roads.

"That could go both ways," Krusee said, noting that the roads might underperform and thus swing the transactions to Texas' favor. And if the state gets big money now, Krusee said, more roads could be built faster, and the state would see an economic development benefit from that acceleration.
Could but you know it won't, right Rep. Krusee? So the public benefit is that you will have a road to pay to drive on. Not much of a benefit. So if the public is not going to benefit why are our representatives doing this? What's in it for them? Here's a little More from "Turnpike" Mike:
Officials here in Austin, including state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, say they are open to the idea of selling the 66 miles of toll roads under construction on Austin's north and east sides. And, oh yes, the original plan for expanding Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360) involved a long-term concession agreement with a private operator.
It always makes the people of Austin happy when Mike Krusee is making their transportation decisions.

The benefit of toll roads has now has gone from the people getting money from the toll roads to pay for future projects to allowing corporations to assume the "risk" for these projects and allow them to get all the benefit from public property. That's not only wrong, it's abhorrent.

Ther was a rally in San Antonio this weekend, Anti-toll road group touts its campaign.


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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Molly Ivins Tells Us We Need Leadership, Now, To Win In '06

Molly Ivins says she's Not. Backing. Hillary. She's sick of all the milquetoast, centrist, DLC Democrat, wishy-washy, I don't want to offend a right-winger, BS that most of the national Democratic Party leaders have been playing for the last two decades, give or take:
I'd like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president.

Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone. This is not a Dick Morris election. Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak out on Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges.
She wants a party with a backbone, that CLEARLY stands for something like these kind of issues:
The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority (66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.

The majority (77 percent) thinks we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. The majority (87 percent) thinks big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax. That is the center, you fools. WHO ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

I listen to people like Rahm Emanuel superciliously explaining elementary politics to us clueless naifs outside the Beltway ("First, you have to win elections.") Can't you even read the damn polls?
What Molly is trying to tell us is that with the issues in our favor and weak national leadership, except Dean and a few others, we need to find some leadership fast. We must attack the Republicans first where it will hurt them the most, as being weak on security. For creating more terrorism, letting Osama go free, the Taliban's resurgence, not arming our soldiers. This must be done especially because Rove has said that's what they're going to run on. By doing this it will take away what they perceive to be their strength. It will also keep all those domestic issues Molly mentioned, which are in our favor, in the forefront in '06 and that's how we win back Congress '06.


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Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Plea For Assistance In HD 106

(Kay Hubener is running for the seat that Republican Ray Allen resigned yesterday. If she can win and Donna Howard wins in HD 48 and combined with Ana Hernandez's win in HD 143 that will give us three more Democrats in the house than we had during the last round of special sessions. Please help is you can.)

[This is a message from someone not affiliated with the campaign and has asked that people contribute and volunteer. This message was not initiated by or approved by Katy Hubener or her campaign.]
Katy Hubener, Democrat for Texas House District 106 (Grand Prairie and south Irving), needs immediate support from all those concerned about the future of education funding and one party control over Texas government. The ‘allegedly’ corrupt, retiring GOP incumbent resigned abruptly amid whispers of fat lobbying contracts. The special election to fill the seat is set for February 28. Governor Goodhair’s February Surprise must be won by Katy Hubener, the only candidate on the March 7 Democratic primary ballot. She needs immediate contributions and volunteers to win.

This is Katy Hubener’s second run for this seat. According to an October 6, 2004 editorial in the Dallas Morning News:
Ms. Hubener favors an expanded business tax as key to reforming the state's school finance system….Ms. Hubener says she'd vote to restore funding cuts to the Children's Health Insurance Program….By way of background, Ms. Hubener has education degrees from Texas Tech and Claremont Graduate University in California. Ms. Hubener served until recently as executive director of the Blue Skies Alliance, pressing to clean Dallas-Fort Worth's air so that asthmatic children can breathe and businesses can invest without fear that Washington would restrict economic development. She resigned the post to run for the Legislature, but not before she'd developed a reputation as somebody who could work across party lines. No less a Republican than Collin County Judge Ron Harris lauds Ms. Hubener as "wanting to find solutions" and "being reasonable to work with."
Katy Hubener almost took the seat in 2004: she took 48% of the vote in her first run for office, losing to the 12 year incumbent by 1,841 votes.

Katy Hubener is endorsed in 2006 by former state Democratic Party Chairman Ken Molberg, former Democratic Congressman John Bryant, former state Representative Harryette Earhardt, former Dallas City Councilman John Loza, current Democratic state Representatives Terri Hodge and Jesse Jones, Grand Prairie former Mayor Jerry Debo, two current Grand Prairie school board members, and several Dallas county precinct chairs.

Dallas County voters are furious over the collapse of Parkland Hospital's finances and the dangerous health conditions of the county jail inflicted by the long time Republican reign over the County Commissioners Court. Reports of mismanagement at the Clerks’ offices are revealing multi-million dollar annual inefficiencies and rock-bottom county employee morale. Republican judges’ gross bias towards prosecutors in local criminal courts embarrasses even GOP activists.

Democrats in Dallas County are rising to the challenge. Democrats are running for almost every criminal, civil and family court judgeship for the first time over twenty years. Energetic candidates are running for the down ballot county offices like County Clerk, District Clerk, and Treasurer and some actually have multi-candidate primary races. Democrats stand an excellent chance of taking a majority on the County Commissioners Court and the District Attorney's office as well. The Coppell/Valley Ranch Democratic Club fills its private room at Kelly's Grill to overflowing at each bimonthly meeting (in affluent Coppell!). In Dallas County’s rapid shift from red to blue House District 106 will likely move to the Democratic column in November.

Now we must step up to the plate and keep Governor Goodhair from sneaking a new Republican incumbent into office at the last minute. Katy Hubener must turn out her voters a week earlier than other Democrats and then again on March 7. She may even have to turn them out again for a runoff to the special election after that.

Everyone who cares about how the special session will their tax bills to pay for their kids’ local schools should go to www.KatyforTexas.com and donate as much money as they can to Katy Hubener’s campaign IMMEDIATELY. Come on, who can't afford $100? $50? Even $25? Compared to what you may wind up shelling out in new regressive taxes without Katy Hubener’s vote in Austin during the rapidly approaching special session it's a pressing investment in your future and the future of Texas.

The Katy Hubener campaign can be reached at: Katy for Texas, P.O. Box 542702, Grand Prairie TX 75054; 972-282-9301, fax 972-282-9302, Katy@ Katy for Texas.com, www.KatyforTexas.com


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Friday, January 20, 2006

John Sharp's Gordion Knot

I was not familiar with what a Gordion/Gordian Knot was - It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem - before reading this great editorial, Sharp commission tackles the Gordion knot. It does a very good job of pointing out what John Sharp believes his task to be:
In a keynote speech the following day at the Texas Public Policy Foundation'’s annual legislative orientation, Sharp reiterated the Tax Commission'’s objective. "“Our goal from the governor is to reduce property taxes by a substantial amount and put something else in its place."

Sharp said he had met with superintendents worried the commission was not taking school districts into consideration. "“We'’re not a school finance panel...… this is a tax panel," Sharp explained.
He then points to next year regularregualar session as when we can worry about school funding:
Sharp explained that the commission'’s focus is solely on taxes, not spending. "“You can'’t even have a debate right now on how much more money to put into schools," he said. "And the reason you can'’t have that debate is because you don't even have a [tax] system that can provide the money to bring in. The Legislature is going to have a very fierce debate in January once we get a platform of taxes that work. They are going to have a debate on more money, and they'’re going to have a debate on reform, and it ought to be a hell of a show."
Let's get to June first and then we can worry about next January. I've gotten in trouble before for questioning Sharp's Democratic loyalty. But he sure is getting cozy with the R's, and not some moderate R's but the real right wingers. Hanging out at the TPPF and roasting Karl Rove.

Another good editorial on the knot here, Editorial: Not worth it. Here's the first and last paragraph:
It was encouraging to see thoughtful Waco citizens turn out to speak when the Texas Tax Reform Commission convened here Wednesday. It was rewarding to hear constructive comments and not just anti-tax wailing.

[...]

But we need a better alternative to property taxes than a mishmash that's a back-door tax hike for most Texans, with a result that doesn't supply our schools with the resources they need.
Click on the link and go read what's in between.


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Come Meet Commissioner Precinct 2 Candidate Michael Hofmann

Michael Hofmann
Williamson County Commissioner Pct. 2
1st Fundraiser!
Saturday Jan. 21st 6:30pm

On 715 Discovery Blvd #403
Cedar Park, Texas 78613
512-259-7610 phone
Take 183 to Discovery Blvd. which is one light south of 1431
Follow Discovery pass the Police station and Library
Minuteman is in the warehouse unit at the end.
Can’t wait to see you there!!!
www.votehofmann.com




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Joe Barton Is Going Off The Rails On A Gravy Train

So your party is in trouble for corruption and your in campaign where your opponent is an Iraq War veteran, quick what would you do? Of course, a train ride for wealthy donors and PAC's. Annatopia has the skinny here, All Aboard the Gravy Train! Why didn't I think of that?
For the low, low price of $2000, individual donors can hobnob with Chairman Barton (as the invitation flyer emphasizes) for several hours. Entertainment includes a Saturday brunch, an "after hours tour of the Alamo", "cocktails", and an old GOP favorite: gambling (quick, someone call Jack Ambramoff!). The invitation promises that "During the ride, we'll have lots of time to talk". Even better, if you're a PAC representative, all this access can be yours for the bargain bin price of $5000
Go check out his opponent David Harris and drop him a few bucks if you can.




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Perry Getting Some Heat

Last week I posted on the media and the governor's race. This week things have changed. In the Statesman Gardner Selby has a little different report this week. Seems the governor's schedule has him a little flustered:
On the day I tagged along, Perry experienced one minor gaffe.

Following a script, he told supporters in Midland, "I wanted to kick off my campaign here in Abilene. . ."

"Midland!" folks hollered.

"Excuse me," the reddened guv said. "Only missed it by about 150 miles."
Reminds me of that commercial from a few years back where the musician at a concert calls out the wrong city name while he is on stage. Not only does he point out a Perry mistake he also quotes someone from the other party:
Charles Elliott, a longtime political scientist at Texas A&M University-Commerce and former member of the State Democratic Executive Committee, can't recall a governor seeking re-election by checklist. (George W. Bush defeated Gov. Ann Richards in 1994 by pounding four points.)

Elliott said Perry's list might raise more questions than votes.

Two examples:

Perry boasts of 300,000 new jobs in the state. Elliott wonders what kinds of jobs at what pay.

Perry touts lower home insurance rates; Elliott suggested that some companies have lowered rates, but others have not.

Perry characterized the gubernatorial race as a choice between prosperity or a "path charted by those who place their faith in government instead of people."

Elliott reacted: "Republicans routinely seek offices in governments which they regularly denigrate. That aside, both (Ronald) Reagan and (Bill) Clinton, along with a myriad of others, are wrong when they say the era of big government is over. It clearly is not..
Then comes this from the Star-Telegram, All hail the battered state. Here's a few excerpts:
Gov. Rick Perry's new re-election campaign commercial should make Texans feel good all over -- if they don't stop and think very hard.

The slick TV ad provides upbeat images of a field of bluebonnets, picturesque mountains, longhorns, the Texas flag, a classroom, a cowboy atop a horse silhouetted at sunset, towering skyscrapers and the Alamo, replete with stirring music. That's as much eye candy as any Texan could hope for in a mere 30 seconds.

[...]

But let's not get too taken away by the governor's new feel-good, be-proud TV ad, which paints a deceptively rosy picture of his lackluster job performance and the state's general condition.

Many of those new jobs that Perry talks about were required just to compensate for rapid population growth that has increased the number of people needing work. Much of the added education funding was needed just to compensate for growing student enrollments and inflation.

Texas remains a state with some very big problems, as well as some demographic rankings that we can't realistically feel good or proud about.
A little hard truth and of course the latest news of his ties to Abramoff, then Craddick and Dewhurt have hung him out to dry. It all add up to a not so good week for the governor.

The Texas Democratic Party wants you to give the governor a call to sever his ties with lobbyists.


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Thursday, January 19, 2006

HD 48 Wrap-UP

Was it low turnout? Was it voter disgust with R's? Was it liberal Travis County? Was it BB's ties to DeLay, etc? Was it just a blip on the radar screen? It's been said that elections are snapshot of the electorate at a certain point and time. Well I'm not sure if 14% voter turnout can be considered the electorate but I think this election tells us a few things.

Whatever you want to say about Todd Baxter the one thing he had that Ben Bentzin doesn't was a history as a candidate with these voters. Bentzin not having that, having run off the Republican competition, and having ties to certain people all work against him. I think Bill Miller has it about right, from the Austin Chronicle:
Lobbyist/political consultant Bill Miller, a Bentzin supporter who has close ties to House Speaker Tom Craddick and other GOP leaders, acknowledged there was "some kind of disconnect" in the Bentzin campaign. "You have to look at everything you did with a critical eye," he said. "You can't assume that anything you did was the right thing. That's where you start [with a run-off campaign]," he said, adding that a candidate's ability to connect with voters is crucial in small races such as this one. "Voters look at everything," he said. "You look at [a candidate's] associations, issues, presentation, demeanor... That counts for a ton in a special election. This is a small-turnout deal... there's no other wind blowing except what you create"
That's pretty harsh. Bentzin's got 30 days to try and change the wind.

The Chronicle story is good and also brings up the point that many Republicans coming out in support of Bentzin might have hurt him instead of helping him:
Democratic strategist Kelly Fero, a consultant for Howard, took the message a step further, citing Gov. Rick Perry's ringing endorsement of Bentzin -– while blasting Democrats -– as a likely factor in his lackluster showing. "Voters are in a foul mood and highly frustrated with the inability or unwillingness of this crowd to get the job done," he said. "Rick Perry came in the day before the election to endorse Bentzin... and clearly cost him votes, since he won the early vote, but lost big on election day." Indeed, not even the endorsements of Republican leaders in Congress could bump Bentzin's numbers to a more respectable level. U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, along with U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, had all backed Bentzin in the race.
But in the Statesman the Chair of the Travis County Republican Party had this to say, Democrats hopeful, Republicans vow to improve turnout:
"There were some turnout issues in this race, and some Republicans in the district thought that this was going to be an easy race, despite what we tried to tell them," said Alan Sager, chairman of the Travis County Republican Party. "That won't happen in the runoff."

Bentzin was attacked for hiring political consultant John Colyandro when he ran for the Texas Senate in 2002 and paying Colyandro, who wrote campaign mail pieces, through a printer.

Colyandro, an associate of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, has been indicted on money-laundering charges for his role in helping Republicans win a majority of state House seats that year. Bentzin has not been accused of wrongdoing.

"The Democrats used their usual slander, smear and McCarthyite tactics trying to link him to their favorite whipping boys, and these lies may have taken a toll," Sager said. "Ben tried to run a positive campaign while they ran a nasty, negative campaign, and their misrepresentations will be adequately answered in the runoff."
I think the results of this race hit him in the gut.

One last thing on this race. Last night I saw the piece KEYE did on this race last ningt at 10 (I can't find it online yet). But when they interviewed Bentzin he tried to tie his campaign to the recent Texas football national championship by saying something like his campaign is like Vince Young at halftime of the Rose Bowl. I'm not sure he watched the game or not because the Longhorns were winning at halftime.


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Perry's Tie To Abramoff

The most astonishing thing about this story is that they don't see anything wrong with what the did:
Texas Democrats called Wednesday for Gov. Rick Perry to cancel a $180,000-a-year state lobbying contract that they contend was used to funnel taxpayer money into Republican campaigns.

Mr. Perry's office called the allegations a "baseless, partisan move" and defended the contracts as nonpartisan.

Drew Maloney, a former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, was one of two lobbyists hired by the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations in 2003 to represent Texas interests in the nation's capital.

After he was awarded the contract, Mr. Maloney made more than $75,000 in contributions to Republican campaigns, both nationally and in Texas.

"It's unbelievable to find, in effect, laundering taxpayer money to put in the coffers of Republican politicians in the state of Texas," said state Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, the House Democratic leader.
Pointing out corruption is a partisan attack. Well maybe if a republican would point this out Democrats wouldn't have to. Non-partisan? How many Democrats in congress were ever lobbied by these people?

The Chronicle has more, Abramoff's tangled lobby extends to top levels of state government:
Not long ago, politicians who knew Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff considered themselves the luckiest people. After he pleaded guilty to fraud and become a federal witness, past associations with the former K Street king became political poison that is contaminating places as far from the D.C. beltway as Austin.

[...]

Together, the two deals will hand the pair of lobbyists more than $1 million in taxpayer funds by the end of next year, needlessly embroiling the state in the Washington lobbying scandal.

[...]

Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam called the deals "cronyism at its worst." It's hard to disagree. The target of the lobbyists' efforts was the Texas congressional delegation, a group that should be capable of representing Lone Star interests without expensive prompting by professional influence peddlers.





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Yesterday's TTRC Hearing

I've only been able to find one story, so far, on yesterday's hearing, Tax panel hears little of everything in Waco. There's not much new here. It's the usual lower property taxes, personal income tax, talk. There was this that looked new:
Ray Walthall, a local political science professor, pitched a two-tiered property tax plan he said he'd been working on for 30 years.
As us usual there was John Sharp talking about the franchise tax loophole - what would a TTRC hearing be without it after all? But the part of this article that caught my eye was this:
For nearly three hours, 11 members of a larger commission that Gov. Rick Perry asked to collect public input and propose a solution listened alertly, posed questions and even made a few light jokes.
11 members of a 24 member commission showed up?! If my math is correct that's less than half. Isn't this the governor's number one priority? Shouldn't there have been some sort of agreement that the members have to show up for the hearings? Or are these people too busy with their businesses, avoiding the franchise tax , to bother with showing up for some lowly commission hearings? The governor had the courage to appoint this group of mostly Republican businessmen to a commission where they can devise their own tax system. Then they don't even have the courtesy to show up for the meetings to hear the people speak. They should, at least, be trying to make it look good. It's just rude Gov. Perry for your friends and campaign contributors to treat you like that, especially in an election year.


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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Another Privatization Miracle

Due to the Republican scheme to privatize parts of our state government we are now having to pay more for the privatization than what we were promised by our representatives. That, obviously, makes taxpayer savings less than what we were promised. But in this day and age it is not the fault of the privatizing company (Convergys) for this increased cost, it's a state agency that was left with far fewer employees than needed to perform the oversight on the company.

From the Chronicle, State audit finds privatized payroll often late, wrong:
Health department staffers discovered overdrafts on their personal checking accounts last fall when a private payroll contractor missed deposit deadlines for 80 workers, according to a highly critical state audit released Tuesday.

Other state workers reported that they didn't get paid on time or they didn't get paid correctly, including for overtime.
From the Statesman, Agency disagrees with findings:
Jill Rauch, an administrative assistant at the Brenham State School, a residential facility for people with mental retardation, said that when she was applying for a different state job through the Access HR Web site, the application disappeared from the screen and she had to retype it. "It's frustrating," Rauch said. "Nobody's happy with it."

Will Rogers, spokesman for the Texas State Employees Union, has documented more than 140 employee complaints, many describing difficulties logging into the system or problems while trying to apply for a state job.
What do our current and former elected representatives have to say about this?
"Every time we look at saving money, clearly quality suffers. Privatization doesn't always save money or result in more efficiency," said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who opposed the social services overhaul passed in 2003.

Convergys spokeswoman Lauri Roderick said the company had no immediate comment on the audit's findings.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-College Station, who plans to discuss the audit along with Medicaid fraud allegations at a committee hearing today, did not immediately comment on the audit. Also unavailable was former state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, a lobbyist and the author of House Bill 2292, which mandates social services consolidation.
Why doesn't anyone responsible for this mess want to talk about it?


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Here's What Happens When You Give Republicans The Keys To The Car

They drive it off a cliff. Read this article, Medicare's botched drug benefit roll-out. It's truly sad what Republicans have done to seniors:
Medicare's $728 billion prescription-drug program was supposed to bring relief to seniors and subsidize our country's neediest beneficiaries. There would be a ''seamless transition,'' to the new program for low-income seniors, promised Mark McClellan, chief of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The actual roll-out has been an unmitigated disaster.

Many of the sickest and poorest beneficiaries nationwide are going without life-sustaining medication because of program failures, misinformation and confusion. The federal government has botched the roll-out of one of the most-expensive entitlement programs ever, and the frail elderly are paying the price in pain, aggravation and tears. Congress should rethink the program and fix flaws inherent in the overly complicated program.
Don't forget that your Congressman has been touting this plan for quite some time:
For many of our seniors, prescription drugs are a part of everyday life. Doctors prescribe them for short-term illnesses as well for as the management and treatment of chronic ailments such as high cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes. These necessary medications, however, can be expensive, and many people have been forced to cut back on their drug dosage or forgo them altogether because of cost. No senior should have to make that decision.

In recent weeks, you might have seen information about different Medicare plans available. Seniors will have many coverage choices that will provide access to generous benefits and low or no premiums.

[...]

When Congress crafted this legislation, it was a priority to introduce competition to the process. As expected, competition has had the intended effect -– it is driving down drug prices and premiums for our seniors. There are many plans available that have no premiums or no deductibles. According to Medicare, a typical beneficiary with no coverage today will save about 50 percent on prescription drug costs under the new program.
I don't think making seniors go without their medications was the intended effect, but eventually, it will supposedly cost less. Considering the cover-up of the cost and the unprecedented length of time they held the vote open on the final vote for this bill, it's no wonder Rep. Carter would rather go to a conference call at the DFW airport instead of being there for his constituents at the town hall meetings on this issue.


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