Sun May 17, 2015 10:44 pm By Erica Grieder

On Friday afternoon, I paid a quick visit to my actual office for the first time since Monday, and noticed something on my desk, which is half-covered with documents that I haven’t decided what to do with, including this one. It was a copy of a letter that EmpowerTexans sent to subscribers in Denton County on April 13th, which an unamused (and conspiracy-minded) recipient had forwarded to Texas Monthly’s general mailbag, which you can see below the jump.

I don’t remember when exactly I received it, or whether I gave it much thought at the time. The letter was clearly a sinister mishmash of lies, illogic, and typos, but the same could be said of most EmpowerTexans essays. And between JudicialWatch’s fabrications, AgendaWise’s feverish imaginings, the Lieutenant Governor’s Grassroots Advisory Board unhinged analysis of public education, Molly White’s response to her critics, the open-carry advocates who flipped out at Dan Patrick for telling them a truth they didn’t want to hear, the right-wing carnie who set her internet goons on me when I disputed her assertion that my April feature on this year’s open carry debate was “sexist”, etc, etc, etc, it’s not in itself the most lurid, risible, or wrong-headed thing I’ve read all session. But I do remember why I held on to this letter. And on Friday, as a result of intervening developments, I was glad I did; in light of subsequent events I’m afraid this is a fairly disturbing document.

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Fri May 15, 2015 12:36 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

Yesterday, I did a story here on an award-winning hidden camera investigation that was done of state legislators in Tennessee by a television station. The reporter involved told me they intentionally did not use footage that would just embarrass legislators, such as one of a lawmaker propositioning one of their undercover producers for sex. He told me that they wanted to just use video that went to how lobbyists influence public policy after hours in bars and restaurants.

But in an interview with Lauren McGaughy of the Houston Chronicle, American Phoenix Foundation organizers Hannah Giles and Joesph Basel, who are married, admitted their motivation was marital infidelity by politicians – although they denied their work was either partisan or aimed at supporters of House Speaker Joe Straus. They told McGaughy that they got the idea for their investigation when Giles attended a Republican meeting of House and Senate members in Washington, D.C.

HG: They just assumed I’m like this like super conservative, like “do anything for Republicans” type person. So, I was always invited to the back rooms. So, there’s this like underground restaurant club thing Republicans frequent, members of the House and Senate. We go down there on a Tuesday night – it’s almost midnight – to this restaurant and several high-profile members of the House of Representatives were down there with women that were not their wives.

JB: There were no wives in sight.

HG: There were no wives at all. And they were just down there and we were blown away. And it was that night that we started saying that we have to – if the voter, their constituency knew what they were up to – you can’t swear on the Bible and then go cheat on your wife.

JB: The Republicans made us do it. In D.C. So, we’ve been dreaming about doing this.

HG: Our thing is, it’s not Republicans or Democrats. It’s a political class. And once you’re in that political class, once you have that power –

JB: And our Texas videos will show that very clearly. This is systemic.


Thu May 14, 2015 7:04 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

The back room of the Italian restaurant was so dimly lit that the camera hidden in a young television producer’s purse could pick up only silhouettes of the House speaker’s inner circle enjoying a fine dinner with the chief lobbyist for an insurance company. But the camera’s audio told the story. “We know who supports us, and that’s who we take care of,” the lobbyist says. “As long as we receive support from you, you will definitely receive support from us.” The lawmakers broke into a round of applause.

That hidden camera work in the after-hours bars and restaurants that were the haunts of Tennessee’s top lawmakers won Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams awards from the Investigative Reporters and Editors as well as the Society of Professional journalists. It also prompted a major undercover FBI operation called the Tennessee Waltz that led to the conviction of the state Senate Chairman John Ford on bribery charges.

In William’s piece, Ford can be seen asking lobbyists for Super Bowl tickets. Unfortunately, the video was lost in a station computer upgrade, but the Web story still exists:

“I need four tickets,” Ford tells them. “I’ll take two, but I need four.”

Later, Ford confides to an undercover NewsChannel 5 producer: “I always get tickets.”

“My friends don’t take me to the Super Bowl,” the producer tells Ford.

“These really are not friends,” he replies. “These are corporate people, like corporate sponsors.”

With Texas lawmakers sweating out a hidden camera investigation by a conservative group called the American Phoenix Foundation, I thought it was important to talk to some journalism professionals about hidden camera investigations. So I reached out to Williams in Tennessee and Brian Collister at KXAN in Austin and former Houston television journalist Wayne Dolcefino.

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Thu May 14, 2015 8:56 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Update: Cecil Bell’s anti-gay-marriage bill died in the House’s deadline crunch Thursday night. It was obvious the fight was over by about 10:30 p.m., when anti-gay-marriage advocate Steven Hotze and Glen Maxey, the first openly gay member of the Legislature, both left the building.


Original post: For the House to beat a midnight deadline and bring up for debate Representative Cecil Bell’s bill to bar county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses, the chamber would have to work at a pace of nine minutes per bill. That’s unlikely. Bell’s bill is about 100th on the calendar on a day when the House has 900 minutes to debate and vote on bills before they die under the chamber’s rules.

The cynic in me says the placement of Bell’s bill far down on the calendar was no accident, and perhaps neither was the painful debate last night over judicial bypass for minors to obtain an abortion.

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Wed May 13, 2015 10:01 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

In the cold war of tax negotiations, the hostages are licensed open carry of handguns and border security—topics that are bound, gaged and held in committee. Is either chamber willing to shoot the hostages to get its way? Get your candles. We’re starting a vigil.

Open carry

SB 17 – The House received the open carry bill from the Senate on March 18, and it was not referred to the committee on homeland security until May 5. 

HB 910 – The Senate received the bill on April 21. It was referred to the Senate State Affairs security committee on May 6. 

Border security

HB 11 – Received by the Senate on March 23 and referred to the Senate border security committee on March 25. 

SB 3 – The House received the bill on April 21 and referred it to the homeland security committee on May 5. 

Bring up the spooky music with a driving beat like an anxiously thumping heart.

Please, feel free to add other hostages in the comment section.