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Otto: Border, transportation top Legislature’s priority list

By Joshua Yates / Photographer jyates@itemonline.com

State representative says retirement benefits will create financial problem in a few years

Securing the border and putting money into transportation will be the headline acts in the next session of the Texas Legislature.

That’s what State Rep. John Otto told a group from the Walker County Retired Teachers Association during a talk Friday morning in Huntsville.

“Number one, the priority will be transportation,” Otto said. “Speaker (Joe) Strauss wants to get rid of all diversion from the gas tax. … (He wants) every penny of the gas tax to go to Texas roads and highways.”

Otto said that part of the gas tax goes to paying Department of Public Safety officers. The plan is to restore all funds back into transportation from the gas tax and finding other budgets to pull from to pay state troopers.

Another priority will be border security. Otto said the issue is more than just about illegal immigrants.

“It’s also about the drug cartels (and other issues) associated with it,” Otto explained. “DPS is in the middle of a surge right now. The governor (Rick Perry) has already called in the (Texas National Guard).”

Issues associated with the influx of people across the border impact education. Some children are put into Texas public schools, which Otto says could have been a negative surprise for school districts.

“If the district didn’t know the kids were coming, … they won’t get any money until settle-up (when the districts get money for attendance from the state),” he said. “It will also skew accountability. How do you grant waivers for accountability if you don’t know what the problem is?”

Teachers, administrators and retired teachers at the meeting also heard about plans for the retirement and insurance programs. Public school teachers and retirees are members of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, while other state employees are members of the Employee Retirement System of Texas.

Otto said he supports keeping the plan the same and mitigating increases over the next few years. In the last legislative session, lawmakers focused on reforming the insurance and retirement funds to be financially sound.

By Stephen Green / Staff Reporter sgreen@itemonline.com

Didn’t see this coming from the liberal media

Photo: downtrend.com

Many columnists like to make predictions. That includes me.

But, I didn’t even think of prognosticating that the national liberal media, on the eve of the midterm elections, would become critics of Democrats they have historically supported, protected and promoted.

If I had, I would have been dismissed as delusional. As it turns out, I would have also been right.

When using the term liberal to characterize much of the mainstream print and electronic media, I ruffle some feathers. Nevertheless, the label fits, and a recent report in The Washington Post confirms it.

Citing the latest results in The American Journalist in the Digital Age — a survey conducted by professors of journalism at Indiana University since 1971 — journalists who choose a side and identify themselves as Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of four to one.

That’s the largest disparity ever recorded in the survey.

Let’s take a look at just a few examples of what we’ve been seeing in recent days.

Beginning with President Obama, the media appear to have finally acknowledged that his low popularity among citizens across the country actually reflects his failed leadership in about every area of domestic and foreign policy.

Few of his fellow Democrats facing serious Republican challengers in either house of Congress want his help. That is a profound statement that they fear being identified with him.

Republican candidates everywhere are doing something their rivals are not doing. They are running ads connecting their opponents with the president.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has even used NBC’s Chuck Todd’s critical analysis of McConnell’s Democratic challenger’s refusal to say whether she voted for President Obama. Todd said she had “disqualified herself” in the campaign.

Todd later criticized McConnell for putting him in one of his ads — an indication that journalists on the left may be checking themselves.

Syndicated liberal editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich acknowledged the phenomena in one of his pictures worth a thousand words.

A few days ago he published a devastating drawing of the president and his younger daughter approaching the door to her school on the day of open house. Sasha says to her father, “I’m in a close race for hall monitor, so we don’t know each other. …”

Ouch!

Perhaps the greatest evidence of the media turning on a Democratic candidate can be found in our own state’s gubernatorial race.

By now, everyone has seen Wendy Davis’ “wheelchair ad” on television or across the Internet.

The historically left-leaning Time magazine awarded her miserable commercial its prize as the “most ill-advised political ad of 2014.” Time went on to say “the ad comes off as a rather desperate attempt to garner attention” for a candidate who is trailing her opponent by a significant distance in the polls….

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2014/10/18/6209731/didnt-see-this-coming-from-the.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

BY RICHARD GREENE

Thank you Mayor Annise Parker!

Photo: HCRP Website

This election season has been very boring in Harris County. So much so that I was concerned that Republican turnout would be lower than it should be. But thanks to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, conservative Republicans are fired up and it just so happens that early voting starts next week! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

By now you know the problem. Parker and her right hand man, City Attorney Dave Feldman, stepped deep in it when they decided to subpoena the sermons and notes of five pastors. The subpoenas are supposedly related to the lawsuit filed by former Harris County Republican Party Chair Jared Woodfill and others in an attempt to repeal the Houston UNequal Rights Ordinance (HURO). Parker tried backpedaling when even her own supporters were outraged but Kevin Whited over at blogHOUSTON shows us that she isn’t telling the whole story about her knowledge and support of the subpoenas.

Public servants should tell the truth

The vigor with which Mayor Parker AND City Attorney Feldman were defending the city’s legal action just hours before makes it difficult to take their later statements seriously. It requires one to believe Mayor Parker was incompetent enough to defend a policy she clearly didn’t understand, only to “see the light” a few hours later (okay, when it comes to the mayor, that degree of incompetence actually IS plausible). It further requires one to believe that one of the most highly paid public officials in Texas, the city’s top legal official and one who CLEARLY relishes his power and position, somehow had an utterly incompetent moment in which he was completely absent on important Parker Administration legal policymaking. That is FAR LESS plausible.

We understand that politicians often feel the need to say anything to get past a bad media cycle, but we would really prefer they tell the truth.

Click here to read the entire post at blogHOUSTON.com.

If you click over and read the entire post, Whited lays out the timeline in detail. Too bad “professional” journalists refused to to the work that he did and allowed her to try and change the story without challenge. Terrible job by the “journalists” at the professional media outlets on this one.

Anyway, back to the “Thank you”. The pushback was so strong that even new Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson weighed in. Now that is news. Simpson has been mostly missing in action on the front lines in Harris County, focusing on building the professional organization that he promised voters. I give him many kudos for that – I have been very impressed with his new organization, from the new offices, to the youth movement in phone banking, to the weekly coordinated block walks, to the walk lists given to precinct chairs, and certainly to the fundraising. The latest HCRP state finance report continues the trend of judges funding the bulk of the party (which Simpson roundly criticized) but also has another $60,000 from Dick Weekly and a few other contributions from business interests. There can be no question that Simpson has kept his campaign promises about the organization and finances of the party.

But overall, the activities in Harris County have not been of the type that makes people want to get out and vote. Professionalism comes with a price and that is boredom. Plus “social conservatives” have felt excluded from the new party structure as most of the focus has been on limiting their message and focusing on “liberty” and “efficiency”. I mean, yeah, Harris County Works, but using that as a get out the vote measure? I don’t think so. Have you ever been to a county office and waited an hour or me to finish your business? Same thing with Republican Judges Work. Sure they do, except when they don’t. And the messaging is different between the two. Harris County Works urges you to consider voting for down ballot Republicans but the spearhead of that effort, County Judge Ed Emmett, refuses to advocate straight ticket voting. Republican Judges Work urges voters to vote straight ticket so that down ballot judges will keep their seats, regardless of their competence.

So when Annise Parker and team decided to bully a few pastors, it was a welcome relief to those of us hoping that Republicans turn out in droves and reject the majority of Democratic candidates. Believe me, this issue has fired up social conservatives enough that I think they will overlook the party’s slighting them and at least vote for top ticket Republicans like Greg Abbott. Hopefully they will either not vote straight ticket or vote straight ticket and crossover where necessary because as Judge Emmett told me, voting straight ticket without considering the individual candidates leads to incompetent people getting elected, whether it be in the Obama wave of 2008 or the tea party wave of 2010. And quite frankly, the Republicans do not have a great candidate in all races on your ballot this year. But if the price of having the majority of Republicans get elected is to have a few that shouldn’t be in office, I think most Texans will be willing to pay that price.

Hopefully Simpson will see the opportunity that Parker has provided for the HCRP and take full advantage of it. He can be professional and still help promote the bullying tactics of Democrats like Annise Parker, especially since his friend Sen. Ted Cruz was smart enough to see the opportunity and used it to promote his fledgling presidential campaign. My bet is that Simpson takes advantage of the opening and floods the base with emails about it, urging them to turnout and block this nonsense.

So thanks again Mayor Parker! You rock.

By David Jennings

Keepers of the Faith and Flag, Out Standing in their Field

Photo: Patrick Michels

Rural East Texans answer a hedonistic party in their midst with a sober celebration of God, country and conservatism.

They came from Dallas and Van, College Station and Canton, even from surrounding states, as many as 5,000 of them, some as young as 13, to party in a Van Zandt County pasture on a Saturday night. Word spread fast on Facebook and Twitter. “Heading to Gods country with 2 bins full of Jell-O shots for #PB3,” one reveler wrote on Instagram with shot of himself behind the wheel. They handed over $5 at the gate, drank Crown and fruity Bacardi, smoked pot and spice and had sex in the open field. Used condoms and party cups littered the field.

Entertainment: the Dallas rap duo Yung Nation, White Boy Boogie and DJ CP. Bathroom facilities: primitive. Event security: a goateed kid in a neon vest, with a bow and arrow and a sword. Once the authorities arrived, it took hours to clear the crowd, care for the wounded (fistfights, flying beer bottles) and respond to reported gunfire. While Yung Nation never made it onstage, “Project Beall 3” exceeded its organizer’s wildest expectations. Taylor Beall, the party’s eponymous planner and a 2013 graduate from nearby Brownsboro High School, delivered his elegy on Twitter at 4 a.m.: “Crazy and fun night but NEVER again!”

The Project Beall 3 crowd

The Project Beall 3 crowd lit up in the night on June 14.

In the weeks that followed the party on June 14, locals in the rural East Texas county just west of Tyler set to holding him to that promise. Word spread of the backroads bacchanal from KMOO radio and local TV to the San Antonio Express-News, with news that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the state comptroller were investigating. Officials from nearby towns like Ben Wheeler and Edom intensified their social media monitoring to prevent a “Project Beall 4.”

Locals said that Project Beall 3 had, for various reasons, crossed the line. Social media helped attract a huge crowd, with out-of-towners drawn to the rap artists on the bill. The audience in June had been largely black, while Van Zandt County is nearly all white, but the outraged locals didn’t mention race outright. Folks said they knew it sounded like, complaining about a bunch of loud kids, their hip-hop, and their rebellious ways—but they were certain that what happened in June was seriously troubling.

Beall was a small-town East Texas kid. He earned mention in the Brownsboro paper for playing basketball and football for his high school. But the party he threw came to symbolize, for many, the creeping influence of an unruly outside world. Whether the teenagers at the party recognized it, they had been wooed to the wrong side of a battle for Van Zandt County’s soul, smoking and drinking away its idyllic past. The kids, older locals agreed, just don’t party like they used to.

While lots of folks talked, one man took action. Van Zandt County veterinarian Dwayne Collins, unwilling to cede this dusty ground to youth’s basest instincts, responded in kind with the “Ben Wheeler God & Country Pasture Party.” Collins, chairman of the Edom TEA Party, assembled a program of cowboy church bands, preachers and speakers for the counter-party. A boy named Texas would sing the national anthem. Collins alerted sheriff’s deputies and volunteer firefighters for security, arranged for a cookout and rented a stage, a sound system and dozens of port-a-johns. This, he told the Van Zandt News, would look nothing like that “drunken drug fest” in June.

Edom veterinarian Dwayne Collins

Patrick Michels

Edom veterinarian Dwayne Collins addresses the crowd.

So on a pleasant Saturday evening in early September, under a tower of clouds and a stunning sunset, a new crowd descended on Van Zandt County to, in effect, take back the pasture.

Roadside “NO ALCOHOL” signs marked the bumpy way to the moral high ground. Friendly folks collected $20 per vehicle—each ticket good for entry in the drawing for a copy of the American Patriot’s Bible—and volunteers helped direct the parking. Beyond a treeline, a small crowd settled into folding lawn chairs they’d been advised to bring, and carried on conversations at a respectful volume. The night’s program began with a scene equal parts Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kinkade: a trio of Boy Scouts slowly raising the Stars and Stripes while, across the shimmering pond behind them, three crosses keep watch atop a replica Calvary Hill.

Collins appeared onstage in a straw cowboy hat and a denim shirt with a Texas flag for a left sleeve. He considered the events of three months ago, on a field like this one just three miles down the road. That, he said, was “a pasture party of a different kind. It was just a manifestation of the problems we’re facing in our society today.” This party, Collins said, wasn’t just a response to one “drunken drug fest” in a field last summer, but to the new way of life it celebrated. “If we lose America, it’s because we’ve lost God. And I firmly believe that.”

A youth minister introduced a contingent of high schoolers at the mic—just the sort of kids who might be peer-pressured into a Project Beall nightmare. “Ain’t it good to be in a family-friendly environment?” he hollered. By now the skies had darkened and the wind had cooled. Pointing out the storm building behind him, he asked the gathered hundreds to join him for a prayer. “We’re just gonna rebuke this rain!” he said. He asked Jesus to bend the wall of clouds around the pasture so the night could continue.

Three crosses on the opposite bank of a pond

Patrick Michels

Three crosses stand at the Ben Wheeler God & Country Pasture Party

I caught up with Collins as he shook hands in the crowd. “I’d like to have that 5,000 that showed up at the last party,” he told me. By his count, tonight’s attendance was 250—maybe folks were scared off by rain in the forecast. Collins told me he put on this party because he had a need to make a difference, to make something positive of the mess in June. “I’m not so prudish to say I didn’t sit on the back of a tailgate and drink a six-pack when I was a kid,” Collins said, but what happened down the road just doesn’t compare.

I asked a few more folks about the party in June, and why it had provoked such a strong reaction. Bobby Stamper with the Edom Volunteer Fire Department told me that what bothered him most was, “for lack of a better term, the debauchery. … We had our wild days growing up, don’t get me wrong. World was a different place then, too.”

On the phone later, I caught up with Van Zandt County Constable Pat Jordan, who’d been part of the response to Project Beall 3. He said no local charges had been filed, after all. The comptroller and TABC have each closed their cases too. The kids who attended the party won’t talk and the landowners professed ignorance about the whole thing. “They said all these people were trespassing on their property,” Jordan told me. “We don’t believe that. It was right out their back door and there were thousands of them.”

Project Beall 3 was the biggest illegal party Jordan has ever had to deal with, and he doesn’t expect there’ll be another one like it. Today, he says his office has focused on prevention—scanning social media and trying to ruin illicit pasture parties before they begin. Some outdoor parties he approved of, like Collins’ pastors-in-a-pasture tribute to “God and Country.”

And Jordan mentioned another party his office checked out this summer that turned out to be fine. “I don’t want to get into trying to profile anyone,” Jordan told me, “but you know, this had some country singers come to it, so I don’t think it was as attractive for the younger kids—they’re not so attracted to the country music scene. Especially the kids that typically want to drink and do drugs and things like that.”

Jordan was especially concerned by all the contraband officers found in June—”mountains of liquor bottles” and foil pouches from synthetic marijuana. “Our society’s got to where they accept more,” Jordan said. “I mean, I’m not all that old, I’m 56 years old, but lordy mercy, man, the things that the kids do nowadays and the substances that’s available to them now than when I was a kid—it’s just totally different.”

One man who saw no reason for concern: Yung Nation’s manager, Quinn Taylor. I called him hoping to reach a member of the rap duo, either B. Reed or Fooley Faime, but Taylor said it wouldn’t be worthwhile. Some party in a pasture way outside Dallas, all those months ago? “They don’t remember it honestly,” he told me. Taylor remembered, though. He agreed that the party could have used more security—he said Yung Nation never performed that night because nobody could clear the stage for them. Still, the scene wouldn’t compare to crowds he’s seen in Dallas or Denton. “From one to 10, it was probably a three on the badness scale,” Taylor told me. However the locals reacted, he figured, says more about them than the party. “It’s a smaller hick town, so anything that happens… They don’t have anything else to talk about.”

Pastor Dan Cummins of Bullard

Patrick Michels

Pastor Dan Cummins speaks at the Ben Wheeler God & Country Pasture Party

 

A light rain began to fall. A few couples in lawn chairs popped open umbrellas. Folks began clustering under camp shelters or tents. By then, the night’s speakers had only hinted at what greater dangers the “drunken drug fest” down the road signified. The band sang only generally about why Thomas Jefferson would be frightened by the state of the nation. It had been a tame affair until now, but the crowd was still on board as the message took a darker turn. It was time to get down to specifics, and for that job Collins welcomes Pastor Dan Cummins to the stage.

Cummins, pastor at Bullard’s Bridlewood Church, has for years hosted religious events and prayer services in the U.S. Capitol for lawmakers—inspired in part by Rick Perry’s 2011 prayer rally, “The Response”—with help from Congressman Louie Gohmert and House Speaker John Boehner.

His message, generally, was two-fold: that folks in Texas see a truth that few others in the nation understand, and that good Christians like this crowd had better get out and vote. Even on a night when they may not pray away the rain, Cummins spoke with conviction and hope: Despite the odds, despite appearances, this country is not a lost cause for conservative Christians.

“In spite of what you hear from the lamestream media,” Cummins told the crowd, “in spite of what our president says, that America is no longer a Christian nation, I’m here to tell you that God ain’t through with America yet.”

Cummins’ speech intensified, and so did the weather around him. The downpour began and the lawnchair-dwelling audience retreated to the cookout shelters. From the distance, a series of exclamations carried clearly through the wind. “Our forefathers were murdered by kings and despots!” “Google Margaret Sanger!” “We have the most anti-God administration, we have the most anti-God Senate, because non-voting Christians let them in!”

“We get it in Texas,” Cummins said, “that men use the men’s room and ladies use the ladies’ room. And if you are confused about which one to use, then take your business out behind the barn so we don’t have to hear it, much less smell it!” As Cummins finished his riff on “gender-confused” bathrooms, a little boy under the roof put on an adult-sized firefighter’s jacket and began swinging his shoulders. “I’m wearing a dress,” the boy announced to the adults around him. “I’m going to church in this!”

Someone came up behind Cummins and held a large umbrella over his head. After so much talk early in the night about innocence and family-friendly entertainment, the shift to Cummins’ fire-and-brimstone speech was jarring. But the crowd went with him, laughing at his digs at politicians and coastal folks, hollering back at the right spots. Cummins dwelled for a while on abortion.

“In black communities, 65 percent of deaths are not caused by gang-bangers and gang activity. Sixty-five percent of deaths in the black community are from abortion!” Cummins explained why, say, Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson would never complain about the fact: “You can’t shake down a poor black baby, dead or alive.”

“Thirty-two thousand babies murdered!” he yelled. “Their heads were decapitated, their limbs were ripped from their bodies!”

A scattered few were left to applaud from the grass when Cummins wrapped up; most were huddled under the roofs and tents further back. Collins made a brief announcement that the party was called for rain, and the teardown commenced quickly.

I found Collins one more time in the crowd. He was clearly disappointed, but prone as ever to positive thinking. “It was all worth it if one person turned their life around,” he told me. Collins wondered if any kids from that party in June had turned up tonight—he doubted any would admit it if they had. But Collins said that’s what was most important to him, even though he couldn’t compete with their crowds and the weather turned on him and he’d sure be taking a hit on the equipment rentals, he’d made his response. For tonight, at least, the field was his.

by Patrick Michels 

Rangel: Democrats try to make progress in West Texas

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

AUSTIN — Some humor helps to understand the big hurdles West Texas Democratic candidates face in Texas Legislature races.

Just ask Ed Tishler.

Tishler, the lone challenger state Rep. John Frullo, R-Lubbock, faces in the Nov. 4 election, jokingly described himself as “a kamikaze pilot.”

After all, running as a Democrat for a legislative or congressional seat in West Texas, the reddest region in the state, is the equivalent of committing political suicide, Tishler quipped.

“I am a Democrat but only 34 percent of the people in Lubbock vote for Democrats,” he said about the unlikely possibility of unseating Frullo in Texas House District 84. Actually, in the 2012 election the top Democratic vote-getter in the county — State Board of Education District 15 candidate Steven Schafersman — received less than 30 percent of the vote.

All kidding aside, in order to rebuild the Democratic brand in West Texas, the party needs candidates willing to become sacrificial lambs, Tishler acknowledged.

No political party dominates forever and the day will come when Democrats compete again in the region, he predicted. Meanwhile, Tishler and other Democrats running for legislative seats are paving the way for successful candidates in the foreseeable future, perhaps by the end of this decade or the beginning of the next.

Former Potter County Democratic Party chairman Abel Bosquez sees it the same way.

The demographics in the Texas Panhandle and in the South Plains are changing in favor of his party, mainly because of the rapid growth of the Hispanic population, Bosquez has long argued. However, before Democrats start winning legislative races, the party must recruit candidates willing to accept defeat at the polls, as he has done since 2010 when he first ran against Amarillo’s GOP Rep. Four Price in HD 87.

Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Will Hailer said turning West Texas blue is a priority because the party’s success depends on it.

“Democrats understand that we’re not going to be able to win races without building a strong team across the state,” Hailer said in a mid-summer interview.

“So, the future of Texas relies in places like West Texas,” he said. “Democrats need to start winning races in Lubbock, Midland, Odessa, in all of those places.”

This means the party must also recruit strong candidates, Hailer and local party leaders said.

The most recent recruits, former Sweetwater Mayor Greg Wortham and Lubbock attorney Max Tarbox, are the type the party must keep recruiting, they stressed.

Although Wortham received 13 percent of the vote in the Sept. 9 special election in Texas Senate District 28 Lubbock Republican Charles Perry won, he is an attorney with government and private sector experience. Wortham worked for two state senators and in 1980 he interned for former U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene.

Equally important, Wortham was the first Democrat since 1996 to run in SD 28, party leaders noted.

The same goes for Tarbox who is running against Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican and also an attorney, for the open seat in HD 83, the seat Perry gave up to run for the Senate.

Tarbox, the first Democrat to run in HD 83 since 2006, agreed it is critical to recruit strong candidates.

“We need candidates the voters take seriously,” he told me. “Candidates ready to serve if they are elected.”

But despite the party’s recent candidate-recruiting success in West Texas, one perennial problem continues: The Democrats’ struggle to raise money for competitive races.

In the latest campaign finance report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, Bosquez reported less than $6,000 and Tarbox less than $4,000, a fraction of what Price and Burrows had in the bank on Sept. 25. Tishler didn’t raise any money because he said he won’t accept contributions from special interest groups.

Unless West Texas Democrats raise the tens of thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars former Rep. Joe Heflin of Crosbyton — the last Democratic legislator from the region — used to raise, they will continue having one strike against them.

 

By ENRIQUE RANGEL

Promising to Redirect Budget Money Spent on Those Pet Projects

Photo: File 

In a campaign commercial, Attorney General Greg Abbott rolls down a freeway ramp next to a stalled line of cars, ready with a self-deprecating wisecrack: “A guy in a wheelchair can move faster than traffic on some roads in Texas.”

Mr. Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, proposes to spend billions more for roads “without raising taxes, fees or tolls” — paying for it by “insuring money dedicated for roads will be spent only on roads, and no more taking highway funds by the Legislature to pay for their pet projects.”

Perhaps it is not the program he means, but the biggest recipient of those redirected highway dollars is the Texas Department of Public Safety, which not only polices the highways but also, lately, the state’s border with Mexico. Mr. Abbott is not making up the part about pet projects, but one person’s pet project is another’s essential program. A small slice of the transportation pie — $11.9 million — goes to Mr. Abbott’s own office for legal work on transportation and public safety matters.

This is one of those rare moments when a bit of budget legerdemain becomes a political issue. To avoid tax increases while keeping state services going, lawmakers have diverted money from its original intended uses. Over the last few years, they have had more money available — thanks mainly to the current oil and gas boom — and have started cleaning up some of their spending habits.

Some, like State Senator Kirk Watson, Democrat of Austin, have been harping on this for the better part of a decade, playing the part of the dietitian telling budget writers to lay off the doughnuts. Now it is in vogue.

“Nobody wanted to talk about it,” Mr. Watson said. “Now everybody wants to talk about it.”

The state actually has enough money to pull this off, especially if lawmakers take care of the shift over several budgets instead of all at once. House Speaker Joe Straus has picked up the idea, suggesting well before Mr. Abbott and other candidates did that lawmakers should stop raiding the transportation budget.

But there is a catch: That means the diverted money has to be replaced, and that means more spending.

It is a lot of money. One trick involves leaving dedicated money unspent and using those accounts to balance the state budget, in effect borrowing unused funds to pay for other programs. Those accounts had $4.9 billion in them two years ago, up from $3.7 billion two years before that.

Diversions — the budget writers’ term for taking money that is intended for one thing and spending it on another — is what Mr. Abbott and others, from both political parties, are chasing. In the current budget, only 83 percent of the $10.9 billion in the state’s highway account goes to the Department of Transportation. The biggest diversion — $812.6 million — goes to the Department of Public Safety, on the grounds that the highway patrol and the highways it is patrolling are closely related.

In 2013, Mr. Watson came close to passing legislation phasing out the shell games in the budget over eight years. It fell short, but lawmakers did make some changes. The Lufkin Tourist Information Center used to get $150,000 from the highway account. The Texas Historical Commission was in there, too. About $1 billion was directed back to its stated purpose in the current budget.

What was once a budget secret is now a political cause, as this year’s campaign talk demonstrates. Mr. Watson said he would file legislation again after the November election.

Meanwhile, Mr. Straus has the House working on a plan to leave $1.3 billion in the highway fund that would otherwise go elsewhere. He has done this before, without success, starting the 2013 session with a plea for budget repairs. This year, he started earlier, and with a new governor and lieutenant governor taking office in January, he might gain some allies.

All they have to do is figure out how to either cut the budget to fit or find $1.3 billion to pay for the state police and the Department of Motor Vehicles and other items caught in the “pet projects” net.

The issue is ripe, if lawmakers are willing to spend some money or cut some programs.

By ROSS RAMSEY

Paxton a ‘weak’ candidate for Texas AG benefiting from GOP reign, professor says

Photo: Paxton Campaign 

AUSTIN (Legal Newsline) – Texans are no stranger to droughts, especially Democrats who run for state offices in the Lone Star State.

And perhaps the most parched race this election cycle is the race for attorney general – a contest in which state Sen. Ken Paxton, the GOP contender, could find his way into an office considered a stepping-stone to the governor’s mansion despite being a “weak” candidate in the eyes of some because of his violation of the Texas Securities Act.

“Even though Ken Paxton is a weak attorney general candidate – lack of funds, his Securities Act violation and an ongoing criminal complaint against him – he’s going to be swept into office,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “The Republican slate will win despite the weakness of some of the candidates.”

Paxton

On May 2, the Texas State Securities Board issued a disciplinary order against the attorney from McKinney, finding Paxton solicited investment clients without being registered with the state – a required act under the act.

Two months later, on July 18, Texans for Public Justice, an Austin watchdog group, filed a criminal complaint with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, seeking a formal investigation into allegations that Paxton committed one or more felonies when he failed to register as an investment adviser representative of Mowery Capital Management.

Following the securities board ruling, Paxton declined to exercise his right of appeal, admitting to state regulators that he solicited clientswas, compensated for his services and hid the income he received on his state personal financial disclosures.

He was fined $1,000 for the transgression.

Regardless of the continuing controversy, the Paxton campaign released a poll on Sept. 1, showing voters favored the state senator over this Democratic rival, attorney Sam Houston, by a 52-to-28 percent margin.

Not everyone, however, sees the survey as proof Paxton will win come November.

Houston believes the Paxton campaign released the questionable poll as a “clumsy attempt to steal the news coverage” away from the fact the state senator is refusing to accept his debate challenges.

“It (the survey) was done by a pollster well-known for creating polls that purport to be fair but only include Republicans and conservatives,” Houston said. “A real poll that we had done showed that once voters knew about Mr. Paxton’s legal failings, they switched their votes to me. That is the message I am taking all over the state.”

Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, a Republican polling firm, conducted the survey of 1,003 likely voters from Aug. 24 to Aug. 26.

The poll was released a day before Houston’s call for a debate.

On his campaign website, Houston displays a “Debate Challenge Clock” that counts the days, hours, minutes and even seconds since Paxton declined to go head-to-head with the civil litigator.

When asked why he thought Paxton is refusing to debate, Houston said the answer is “simple.”

“Ken Paxton has admitted to a crime — a third-degree felony — and he doesn’t want to have to answer for that to the people of Texas,” Houston said.

“He is the subject of a criminal complaint. Mr. Paxton has hidden behind his spokesperson and refused to speak to the media; he even went so far as to have his spokesperson physically restrain a reporter from asking him any questions. I feel very confident that if we can tell voters who our opponent is, we will win.”

The Paxton campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

“There is no greater violation of trust between an attorney and his clients than conflict of interest,” Houston said.

“Paxton was steering clients to a financial firm that was then paying him a portion of the fee charged to his clients. He made money on both sides of the deal. Paxton voted on the Texas Securities Act, not once but twice, and that act says what he did is a third-degree felony. How can Texans trust that Paxton would act in their interests if he were to be elected attorney general?”

Political entanglements and banter aside, Paxton continues to receive strong support and endorsements from right-leaning individuals and groups, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and most recently from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the state’s largest civil justice reform organization.

“Sen. Paxton is a principled conservative who understands the importance of lawsuit reform in creating jobs and assuring access to doctors and health care throughout the state,” Richard Weekley, TLR co-founder and CEO, said in an Aug. 15 endorsement for Paxton.

“As a member of the Texas House of Representatives and as a state senator, Ken Paxton supported tort reforms leading to a fair and balanced civil justice system. Sen. Paxton will be an attorney general who is committed to justice and fairness for every Texan and one who will stand up for the Tenth Amendment and the state of Texas against the unwarranted intrusions by the federal government.”

TLR PAC, the political arm of TLR, declined to comment any further on the race beyond the endorsement, offering no thoughts on Paxton’s violation or Houston, who in a past interview with Legal Newsline said the Attorney General’s Office “ought to be about bringing in money and protecting consumer rights.”

Protecting state rights and fending off federal overreach is what resonates most with Texas voters and is the ideology fueling GOP dominance, says Jillson, the SMU professor from Dallas.

“From statehood to the 1960s, Republicans were closed out (of Texas state offices) just as effectively as Democrats are held out now,” Jillson said. “It used to be the Democrats who stood up for state rights.”

Jillson believes for Democrats to stand a chance on Election Day, they must adopt “center-right” positions and “sound reasonably conservative.”

And more than just saying the “right” thing, there are other factors preventing Democrats from being elected to state offices, she says.

Because no Texas Democrat has won in the past two decades, the left has no choice but to put forth inexperienced candidates. And without name recognition, donors shy away from funding them, making it nearly impossible for Democratic nominees to match the financial backing of their GOP rivals, Jillson said.

Such is the case in the Texas attorney general’s race.

Heading into the final months of the election cycle, Paxton holds the financial edge, according to the latest finance campaign reports on file with the Texas Ethics Commission.

From May 18 to June 30, Paxton raised $882,386.78 and still maintained nearly $386,000 in his war chest, in spite of being caught up in a costly primary runoff battle with state Rep. Dan Branch.

From Jan. 1 to June 30, Houston raised more than $169,000, with a large portion of that amount supplied by medical professionals and his fellow trial lawyers, including a $5,000 donation from the asbestos law firm Provost Umphrey in Beaumont.

“It’s not surprising that the legal community would support me rather than a person who violates state laws and ethical rules,” Houston said. “I have also spent many years helping physicians and others in the medical field resolve legal disputes – they know me to be a lawyer they can trust and they are supporting my candidacy because they believe I will be an attorney general they can trust.”

Houston’s firm – Shepherd, Scott, Clawater & Houston – has supplied around $10,000 in total contributions, including monetary and in-kind.

Sue Davis, Houston’s campaign manager, says they have raised another $100,000 since the last report and have multiple more fundraisers scheduled.

Some of Paxton’s larger and more notable contributors include Cash Store owner Trevor Ahlberg ($25,000); the Austin firm Blackridge ($25,000); the Ryan Texas PAC ($100,000); Dallas business investor Chart Westcott ($50,000); and billionaire Pastor Farris Wilks ($100,000).

While funding, name recognition and controversy all factor into any campaign, the fact remains two-thirds of Texans vote straight ticket on Election day, Jillson says, making it apparent that when Lone Star Republicans close the voting booth curtain, they ultimately say to themselves: “Our guy on his worst day is still better than his guy on his best day.”

 

By DAVID YATES

Joaquin Castro endorses Hillary Clinton

Photo: Politico

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) is endorsing Hillary Clinton through an email sent out by the low-dollar super PAC looking to galvanize support for a candidacy in 2016.

Castro made the endorsement in an email that Ready for Hillary sent out Monday, which was obtained by POLITICO.

There’s no doubt about it: Hillary is the best person to Continue reading

MAYOR PARKER SPEAKS AT SOUTH KOREA’S EWHA WOMEN’S UNIVERSITY

Photo: Miya Shay

When American Missionary Mary Scranton founded Ewha Women’s University in the 1880′s, she probably could have never imagined the legacy of her vision. For more than a century, it has been the place to educate a new generation of women leaders in Korea. Today, the picturesque and modern campus is home to nearly 25,000 students, including Tiyoung Le.

“(I love it) Because Ewha university teaches girls, they can do anything, and girls are same as boys,” enthused Le.

Part of that teaching involves bringing in female leaders to speak from around the world. On Tuesday, it was Mayor Annise Parker who spoke to a budding group of future leaders. Her 20 minute speech focused on building international relationships, and nurturing future leaders. In a room of almost all women, she encouraged them to look into unexpected career paths.

“It’s still important for women for women to decide that politics is an important career,” said Parker. “You have the opportunity to have a President, but women in politics is unusual.”

South Korea’s current President is Park Geun-hye, the first woman elected to that post. 

“Korea has no woman mayor, not yet,” said student Yunjae Nam, “So (this is) really impressive.”

Among the crowd of budding future leaders, there were also a few guys. The university has a smattering of male exchange students. During the speech, one stood out in his family maroon and white Texas A&M shirt. Turns out, Spaniard Roberto Munoz studied as an exchange student in Texas before coming to Korea in the same capacity.

“It different but it’s interesting to see how woman’s university works,” says Munoz. “It’s another experience for me, like Texas A&M is unique and Ewha is unique.”

Mary Scranton would have been proud.

By Miya Shay

Divorce Law Out Of Synch With Same-Sex Marriage

Photo credit: BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images

NEW YORK (AP) — Cori Jo Long, 31, and Brooke Powell, 30, did everything right before they married. They fell in love slowly, based on years of friendship stretching back to high school. They planned their nuptials carefully for about a year, choosing to travel from Texas to New Hampshire in 2010 as same-sex marriage spread.

Sadly, bad times set in three years later, but uncoupling has proven far more difficult. The two women are now trapped in a state of bitter, desperate “wedlock,” an emerging antithesis to same-sex marriage victories for those who want to divorce but can’t find a way around legal snarls that prevent it.

Texas doesn’t recognize the marriage of Long and Powell, and a judge there ruled recently he had no jurisdiction to either void the union or formally grant a divorce.

“It’s hard to feel like you don’t exist, like you’re invisible under the law,” Powell said by phone from Fort Worth, Texas.

Added Long: “It’s a limbo. It’s waiting and seeing. That’s all I can do.”

The wait may be a long one as they pursue appeals. Thankfully, the two aren’t fighting over kids, an area particularly difficult in matters of same-sex divorce for couples who traveled to a state granting the freedom to marry from a state that doesn’t.

Same-sex marriage is allowed in 19 states and the District of Columbia, but laws governing divorce have not kept pace, creating a contradictory patchwork that could take years to resolve.

“It’s a mess, the inability to get divorced,” said Beth Littrell, a senior attorney for the civil rights group Lambda Legal’s Southern regional office in Atlanta.

It’s difficult to calculate precisely how many same-sex couples have divorced, but watchdogs like Littrell are keeping a close eye on the way judges and state legislatures are responding to wedlock and other divorce-related problems.

“I get hundreds of calls,” New York divorce attorney David Centeno said. “They don’t realize that they’re entering into a marriage that’s kind of like jail. You can’t get out of it unless you move here to New York and you meet the residency requirements. It’s heartbreaking. There needs to be some sort of national reform.”

Divorce procedure is generally inconsistent from state to state, but the process has become more streamlined for same-sex couples who travel to a marriage recognition state to tie the knot. If they’re seeking an uncontested divorce, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota and Vermont — along with the District of Columbia — have loosened residency requirements, though they won’t address child custody, visitation, support or other issues related to uncoupling.

In Iowa and 12 other marriage-granting states, however, residency must be established to divorce, taking anywhere from six months to a year or more.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of wedlock is settling child custody battles, said Littrell and others. Fights over kids are usually decided in heterosexual divorces in the state where kids live, said Cathy Sakimura, family law director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

For same-sex couples in states where marriage or civil unions aren’t recognized, child-related divorce disputes are murky.

“It’s all very challenging for people,” Sakimura said. “If people have adopted, for instance, then they can just file a separate custody action in their state as an unmarried couple after they divorce, but for people who have not, they may find themselves in a situation where one parent is not going to be recognized. It can be a huge problem.”

By adoption, Sakimura means primarily so-called second-parent or co-parent adoptions. In some areas, that step is intended for unmarried couples — of the same or different sexes — when one partner has biological ties to children and the other doesn’t.

That, too, presents legal challenges: Appellate courts in seven states — Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin — have ruled that second-parent adoptions are not permissible for unmarried couples, Littrell noted.

In 19 other states, all of which have same-sex marriage bans in their state constitutions, laws are unclear whether both parents can create a legal relationship to children they are raising there.

In those states, Littrell said, if same-sex partners — married or otherwise — break up, courts likely treat them as legal strangers to each other in custody fights. Without a finalized adoption, judges may also treat the “non-legal” parent as a legal stranger, or third party, to a child.

“Without recognition as a parent, that spouse has little, if any, legal standing to ask for visitation or custody of the child they love and raised,” she said.

Not all same-sex couples with children have taken the adoption step when allowed, Sakimura said. Some may consider it unnecessary or too costly.

“Everybody who is not a biological parent, we definitely recommend they adopt if they can. That way even if they get stuck in a situation where they can’t get divorced or they can’t do a custody action as a part of their divorce, they can often be helped,” Sakimura said.

Attorney Elizabeth Schwartz in Miami, a family law specialist and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocate, said there can be “portability problems” in same-sex child custody battles from state to state, especially when moving from one state that recognizes same-sex marriage to one that doesn’t.

Florida does not recognize same-sex marriage and Schwartz finds herself educating others in the legal field about the importance of second-parent adoptions for such couples.

Regardless, Schwartz said, she and LGBT experts believe the legal emphasis is in the wrong place when it comes to settling child custody, visitation and support.

“We need to make the legal bond about the bond of parent to child,” she said, “not just parent to co-parent.”

NY AP via WCCO CBS Channel 4