Governor's critics strike again
Tue April 21, 2009 6:18 am

This time it was on Dan Flynn's Sunset bill to abolish the Office of State-Federal Relations, which is subject to legislative oversight, and transfer the functions to the governor's office. A similar bill died last session. You cannot mention the word "governor" in the House without stirring certain members--Tommy Merritt, Lon Burnam--to action. This was no exception. Merritt: "We're taking $1.5 million that the Legislature controls and give it to the governor so he can go play around in Washington D.C." Flynn: "We streamlined operations by putting everything together and moving it to one area." Veronica Gonzalez went to the back mike to support Flynn: "These issues were vetted in committee." Heflin noted that the bill calls for the executive director to be appointed by the governor but strikes the Senate's role to advise and consent to the appointment. "Why are we opening an office of the governor in Washington? We're giving away all of our authority." Merritt again: "We transfer the power to hire lobbyists and they can work against you in your districts." Homer noted that the bill requires the governor to notify the speaker and lieutenant governor but doesn't specify where or when. Merritt: "They don't have the ability to override him."

Poor Flynn was overwhelmed. Corte tried to come to the rescue: "This is about whether we are going to have representation in Washington. Regardless of who the governor is, we need someone working on our behalf." Merritt questioned Corte: "When you abolish this agency, we lose legislative oversight. Who will have this oversight?" Corte: "The governor." Oops. Not the best answer. In fact, the Legislature has oversight over the governor's office. Flynn tried to make the point that we had 34 congressmen to consult, which did not impress Democrats, many of whom have Republican congressmen who were elected following the Tom DeLay-inspired mid-census redistricting. Coleman supported Merritt's argument that the Legislature was ceding its authority: "My objection is we're moving this agency to the executive branch, and the legislative branch should not give its authority to the executive branch."

Strama made an interesting argument from the back mike, addressing Coleman: "You're making an argument on principle. I want to talk practical politics. After the Republican sweep in 1994, if you had a big business in Washington, D.C., would you have hired Republicans?" Coleman said yes. "And in 2006, when the Democrats swept into power, would you have gotten rid of the Republicans and hired Democrats?" Again Coleman answered yes. Strama: "It's not a question of what is the ideal platonic structure of the agency, nor is it a question of who is in the governor's office. This arguyment is about getting for Texas what Texas needs from decision makers and policy makers in Washington." At this point Kolkhorst, a co-author, came to the rescue: "What if we were able to postpone this bill? Could we postpone and work on amendments?" The correct procedure was to move to recommit the bill to committee, and it was done without objection.

Keffer summed up matters with one of the best lines of the session: "If we secede, can we use that office for our ambassadorship?"

Readers with long memories may recall that the Office of State-Federal Relations was the subject of controversy back in 2006, when Perry, Dewhurst, and Craddick agreed to hire Cassidy and Associates, a lobbying firm whose principal, Todd Boulanger, was described in a Chronicle article as "a close associate of Jack Abramoff." The contract was for $330,000.

The world will little note nor long remember this debate. But I do think that it was politically significant. First, Keffer's comment indicates the depth of dissatisfaction toward Perry among the Republicans. Second, the Democrats have smoothly shifted their sights from Craddick to Perry.

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