Reporting from the Texas Legislature, with investigation and analysis of the state's economy, public policy, education, and more. 

Stickland Says DPS Cleared Him In Sign-in Investigation

As you’ll recall, last month we had a blow-up where Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett ejected Representative Jonathan Stickland from his committee because people signed up to testify on Stickland’s bill banning red-light cameras who were not even in Austin. Stickland announced today that the Texas Rangers have cleared him of any involvement in the incident.

EmpowerTexans Has No Business Running Texas

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.

Lawmaker Infidelity Is Major Focus for Hidden Camera Group

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.

What Legislators Look Like On Hidden Cameras

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.

Here's What the 2015 Texas Legislature Has Had to Say About Abortion So Far

The Eighty-third Texas Legislature will always be known for the abortion debate that brought thousands to the Capitol, made a (very brief) international sensation out of former state senator Wendy Davis, and cemented “orange shirts” and “blue shirts” in the Texas political lexicon. And while the so-called omnibus abortion bill HB2 that passed out of the 2013 legislature remains in limbo at the moment—a status that could change at any time, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals makes its final ruling (although that’ll just lead to an inevitable Supreme Court appeal on the part of the loser)—the 2015 version of the Texas Legislature hasn’t been sleeping on abortion. 

This time out, there are no broad, sweeping laws being proposed or passed that upend abortion access throughout Texas, rather, there are a number of bills and amendments that are in various phases of the legislative process that could end up as laws by the end of the Eighty-fourth Legislature (and the increasingly likely special sessions that could follow). Here’s what they are and where they stand: 

How Teen Pregnancy May Have Saved Gay Marriage—UPDATED

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.

Hostages

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

Appeal to Reason

Maybe you wouldn’t want David Dow to be your BFF, and you probably wouldn’t want him to be your dinner party companion either. He has the burning eyes of a zealot, the sheared head and hollowed cheeks of a penitent, and the focus and drive of a cheetah. He does not suffer fools. Put another way, there’s no “Tons o’ Fun” sign flashing across the 55-year-old’s forehead.

The End Game

Here we are in the home stretch of the regular session, and this year, earlier than usual, the Lege is divided along chamber lines rather than party ones. Tax cuts, obviously, are the biggest point of contention between the House and the Senate. Both chambers have approved proposals that would cut the franchise tax collections by a bit more than $2bn each biennium; the rivalry there is not severe. The Senate, however, announced in February that it would seek an additional $2.1bn in “property tax relief”.

Hannah Giles, No Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly -- Library of Congress

One day last week, a confluence of events brought together the enlightening and the dark sides of undercover journalism. The first was the daily Google doodle celebrating the 151st birthday of pioneering woman journalist Nellie Bly. The second was the Houston Chronicle’s breaking story on “citizen journalists” taping 800 hours of undercover video of Texas legislators for the American Phoenix Foundation, whose public face is provocateur journalist Hannah Giles.

Giles is best known for posing as a prostitute with James O’Keefe as her pimp in an undercover sting of the liberal Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, ACORN, that tried to get workers to incriminate themselves on hidden cameras. It was the kind of work that made her father proud.

Her father is a conservative talk radio personality and blogger named Doug Giles, pronounced J-I-les. Giles runs the ClashDaily site from Florida and writes for TownHall. Doug also is the author of five books, including Raising Righteous and Rowdy Girls, about Hannah and her sister, Regis, the curator of a blog called Girls Just Want to Have Guns

Doug’s columns have had titles such as: I’m So Sick of Hearing About Gay Cakes; BREAKING: Massive Spike in Whites Setting Blacks on Fire; and WWJT: Who Would Jesus Torture? 

I told my inquiring host that as a patriotic white male Christian redneck, as far as I can deduce from the holy text, Jesus and the balance of Scripture seem to be okay with dunking Achmed if said butt munch has the 411 regarding the 10/20 of the next mass slaughter of innocent Americans. Call me crazy. I’m well aware, however, that I could be committing an exegetical error given the fact that I’m white and male and all. This is my cross.

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