Tue June 23, 2015 4:53 pm By Erica Grieder

Earlier today Konni Burton, the Republican senator from Fort Worth, took the capitol press corps to task on Twitter for its collective disinterest in the EmpowerTexans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibilty’s biennial “Fiscal Responsibility Index,” which was released yesterday. As is typically the case with that particular ranking, the legislators who earned the highest praise were self-declared “fiscal conservatives,” including Burton herself. She was one of three senators, along with Bob Hall and Van Taylor, to receive a perfect score, and the implication, at least, was that the media had ignored this achievement because it didn’t fit our narrative.

I can’t speak for all media, obviously. But I can explain to readers why I ignored this index. I agreed with some of its conclusions (Burton, for example, is clearly a fiscal conservative, and I thought she was the best of the Senate’s true freshmen.) Still, as I said yesterday, the Fiscal Responsibility Index is too garbled to be meaningful. The methodology is distorted, and—as with all scorecards—overly simplistic. That’s why its results are so erratic. 

Just to make sure I’m clear: It’s true that I don’t respect EmpowerTexans as a group or take most of its “work” seriously. But I’m not dismissing the Fiscal Responsibility Index just because I don’t like Michael Quinn Sullivan or his fiscally subliterate belligerence. I’m dismissing the analysis because it’s not good analysis.

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Mon June 22, 2015 8:22 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Dylann Roof, photo from his website

Sadly, the shooting deaths of nine African-Americans in Charleston apparently were rooted in a white nationalist web site run by the Council of Conservative Citizens. The president of that group is a former St. Louis, Missouri, school board member who now lives in Longview and is a political donor to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Greg Abbott, among others.

In a manifesto that became public this weekend, accused Emanuel AME church shooter Dylann Roof said he became convinced of the need to start a race war after reading about black on white crime on a web site run by the Council. In response, Council President Earl P. Holt III of Longview issued a statement condemning the killings as “despicable,” while at the same time defending Roof’s views on race.

It has been brought to the attention of the Council of Conservative Citizens that Dylann Roof — the alleged perpetrator of mass murder in Charleston this week — credits the CofCC website for his knowledge of black-on-white violent crime.

This is not surprising: The CofCC is one of perhaps three websites in the world that accurately and honestly report black-on-white violent crime, and in particular, the seemingly endless incidents involving black-on-white murder…

The CofCC is hardly responsible for the actions of this deranged individual merely because he gleaned accurate information from our website.

The Guardian newspaper this morning reported that Holt has donated $65,000 to several Republican presidential candidates, including $8,500 Cruz, who is refunding the money. A quick search of the Texas Ethics Commission site turned up a $500 donation from Holt to Abbott in 2013, as well as contributions to state legislators, Matthew Schaefer, Konni Burton, and David Simpson, as well as Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown. Holt also was among a group of “grassroots Texans” who signed a letter in 2012 urging David Dewhurst to debate Cruz in the U.S. Senate race. (I’m sure the refund checks will be in the mail by the end of today, and in fairness to the candidates, few campaigns can vet the background of all their donors.)

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Fri June 19, 2015 3:37 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

The Texas Supreme Court today ruled that Governor Greg Abbott, while serving as the state’s attorney general, missed an opportunity to intervene in a timely fashion to challenge a same-sex divorce.

The record reveals that the State, while fully aware of the public import of this private dispute, had adequate opportunity to intervene and simply failed to diligently assert its rights. This is not a case in which the State was unaware of the litigation or blindsided by the result.

Abbott issued a statement disagreeing with the court.

“The Texas Supreme Court’s decision is disappointing and legally incorrect. The Court mistakenly relied on a technicality to allow this divorce to proceed. Importantly, the Supreme Court did not address the Texas Constitution’s definition of marriage—and marriage in Texas remains an institution between one man and one woman. The Texas Constitution continues to stand as the governing law for marriage in the State of Texas. The State and all political subdivisions in Texas remain prohibited by the Texas Constitution from giving effect to a same-sex marriage or any document recognizing one—including the divorce decree in this case.”

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Fri June 19, 2015 8:32 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

Missouri speaker texts

Hannah Giles and Joe Basel of The American Phoenix Foundation may now be wishing they had focused their undercover hidden camera investigation on the Missouri legislature instead of the one in Texas. As you’ll recall, the Texas House spent much of the final weeks of the legislative session grinding its collective teeth over the Phoenix Foundation teasing that secret video will reveal Texas legislators acting badly in the bars after hours.

But, relying on nothing more than one of the all time best police reports, today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a tawdry tale of Show-me State Legislators Gone Wild!

“The culture allows for a lot of immature, sort of sophomoric behavior,” said former Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue. “There are a lot of people who revisit the college years, the fraternity years, while they’re down there, and everybody knows it.”

Jefferson City, Missouri, is a sleepy little town on the banks of the namesake river, 30 miles south of my alma mater, the University of Missouri at Columbia. I got my first experience covering state government and politics there as a student reporter, but I never saw anything like this. In fact, someday, I’ll tell you how I ended up in a prayer circle with John Ashcroft. But I did know that there were places where legislators and lobbyists went at night, including a bar called The Library. Sorry, honey, I won’t be home for dinner; I’m at the library.

To get the full impact of the Missouri scandal, you’re going to have to read the story, but here’s the tease:

Nine vodkas mixed with sugar-free Red Bull served in plastic cups.

A lobbyist for the Democratic governor having an affair with the Republican House whip.

Her nickname for him? Fifty, as in Fifty Shades of Grey.

The lobbyist rats out her Democratic boss, allowing her Republican lover to orchestrate a House override of the governor’s veto of an income tax cut.

The Republican whip becomes speaker but resigns after revelations of sexy text messages with a 19-year-old college intern.

Piggyback rides in a bar.

The story originally started breaking in the Kansas City Star, with a focus on the intern and the text messages, as displayed above. After weeks of fighting the newspaper behind the scenes, the speaker made a swift departure once the text messages became public. 

“I have acknowledged making a serious error in judgment by sending the text messages. It was wrong and I am truly sorry,” Diehl said in a written statement Thursday afternoon. “Too often, we hear leaders say they’re sorry but are unwilling to accept the consequences. … I am willing to face the consequences.”

A question for the American Phoenix Foundation: Hannah, Joe, can you beat this?
Thu June 18, 2015 2:06 pm By Erica Grieder

Earlier today R.G. and I sat down with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune for a live conversation about our picks for Best & Worst Legislators. The discussion covered some of the questions that commenters have raised since we announced the picks, so if anyone else is wondering about Jane Nelson, you might want to take a look. 

The video is available here. I enjoyed the discussion overall, but a particular highlight from me was the question, around the 43-minute mark, from an audience member who asked about the untimely demise of HB 984, which would give adult adoptees the option of tracking down their original birth certificates. Really, it was an assassination: the measure, by Joe Deshotel, received unanimous support in committee, and passed the House on a 138-1 vote. It then received unanimous support in the Senate State Affairs Committee, and would almost certainly have passed on the floor– the Senate sponsor, Brandon Creighton, had lined up 14 co-sponsors, ranging across the ideological spectrum from Jose Menendez to Brian Birdwell—if it hadn’t been taken off the intent calendar for reasons that were never specified.

At the time, I had heard the reason: Donna Campbell is against the idea, and this year scuttled the effort by asking the lieutenant governor to remove it from the intent calendar. She succeeded, apparently, and no one really noticed: the bill hadn’t attracted much attention in the first place, and it was removed from the intent calendar in the final days of session. Still, taking a bill off the intent calendar as a favor to a pal is a total breach of process values, and it was obviously unfair to the bill’s many supporters and the advocates who had worked to build support for the issue. And, as it happens, I had heard about the episode from my sources; it helps explain why Campbell appears on the worst list. But as you’ll see in the July issue, it’s not mentioned in her write-up–all of the write-ups are too short to be comprehensive–and it hadn’t come up during our discussion with Evan. The questioner, however, turned out to be an advocate for adoptees, and therefore one of the people who had been trampled by Campbell. If she hadn’t been there, this probably would have been one of the many episodes of any legislative session that are lost to the shifting sands of time.

All this by way of saying that we really do appreciate those of you leaving thoughtful comments, and all the sources we talked to over the course of the session. The list can’t cover everything that happened, or address every legislator’s involvement, or corroborate and relay every good observation. We are paying attention, though—so thanks, and thanks for reading.