Mon May 25, 2015 8:24 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

The Texas Monthly politics team is starting to narrow down the list of the Best and Worst members of the 84th Legislature. We observe and we talk to legislators, lobbyists and reporters. We also want to hear from you. If you have any nominations, name them in the comments below, and, please, tell us why you think a particular lawmaker should be included in the list of the Best and the Worst of 2015. 

Mon May 25, 2015 8:09 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

As we pause today to pay respect to those who gave the “last full measure of their devotion” to their country, it is worth noting that the Texas House last night voted against cutting college benefits to military veterans.

Lawmakers are trying to maintain the so-called Hazlewood Act, which provides free college to military veterans. In 2009, it was expanded to include the children of veterans, who now dominate the program. According to an Associated Press report in the Austin American-Statesman the cost rose from $24.7 million in 2010 to $169 million last year. A bill passed by the Senate would have drastically reduced eligibility for the program.

 “How hypocritical that on the eve of Memorial Day, the day after our memorial day service, that this Legislature is trying to break its promise to veterans and their families,” said El Paso Democratic Rep. Cesar Blanco. He was referring to the House and Senate gathering in a special session Saturday to honor Texans killed in military service.

 

A watered-down version of the bill passed, allowing the children of veterans to obtain college benefits only if they have lived in the state for eight years. 

The Right Wing Stumbles On Abortion

After several legislative sessions of getting legislation passed restricting abortion, advocates found themselves stumbling over roadblocks on Sunday.

 

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Sun May 24, 2015 10:41 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Roscoe Dean Jr.A Georgia state senator named Roscoe Emory Dean Jr. and a small town city manager named Thomas Bigley taught me the real dangers to democracy of dark money and of leaving prosecutions of corrupt officials up to their local district attorneys. Roscoe and Tom tried to raise $10 million from Colombian drug lords to finance Dean’s campaign for governor.

My experiences from covering Dean’s corruption has made me disappointed in the various “ethics reforms” bouncing around the Texas Legislature this year. The reforms often are petty and political, while others are designed to turn legislators and state officials into a special class of people not subject to the same laws as everyone else in the state. And as much as I dislike so-called dark money, don’t expect an ethics bill that includes its disclosure to get past Governor Greg Abbott. As a Texas Supreme Court justice in 1998, Abbott wrote the opinion protecting donors to political groups from being subject to disclosure.

 

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Thu May 21, 2015 12:19 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

A new report in the Houston Chronicle discloses that higher-education critic Jeff Sandefer gave $200,000 to the American Phoenix Foundation, but he wants his money back because he does not like the group’s hidden camera investigation of legislators and says the money was not used for educational puposes as he expected. 

Reached for comment Thursday, Sandefer said he was not aware of the group’s plan to secretly film lawmakers and was unhappy with his investment after he received no feedback on how the group was using his money.

“I was unaware that they were planning to film politicians. Our intent was that they were going to train journalists,” Sandefer said. “We were unhappy with a lack of progress in training journalists and asked for the money back. And we did not receive any money back.”

Wed May 20, 2015 9:43 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

The lobby has spent the following totals this session on state legislators, their staff and other state officials, as well as family members.

$1.8 million on food and meals

$147,000 on entertainment

$184,000 on gifts.

Some of this spending is on receptions or lobbyists delivering food to legislative offices, but reporting requirements are so weak that it really is impossible to know who is receiving this largess. The links go to PDF documents on a download from the Texas Ethics Commission. To explore further on your own, click here. 

Ethics reform was a major item for Governor Greg Abbott, but it appears to be stuck and about to die.

If any lobbyists or groups that are listed in the above reports want to comment to explain their spending, please, feel free.