Tom Craddick left the speakership as he came into it: amid a self-created controversy over whether his activities were legal. The AP story says that Craddick had his files wiped clean by the Legislative Council on Monday, January 12, his last day in office. It is not clear at this point whether any laws were broken. One of the interesting aspects of the story is the convenient presence at Lege Council — which, according to AP, handles “computer issues” for the Legislature — of some longtime Craddick loyalists. One is Milton Rister, the executive director of the Legislative Council. In the 2006 releaseannouncing Rister’s appoint, Craddick describes Rister as “a long-time colleague who has extensive experience in the Legislature.” Well, sort of. He had been chief of staff for Senator Jane Nelson. Otherwise, most of his “experience” had been as a political operative. His resume included Senior Advisor and Director of Research for Dewhurst and Executive Director of the Republican Party of Texas. Senfronia Thompson wrote Dewhurst, Craddick, and the ten lawmakers on the committee that oversees Lege Council to object to Rister’s appointment: It has come to my attention that the Council is scheduled to approve a new Council director Wednesday morning, Milton Rister, a political operative, who has worked against sitting members of both Houses. Mr. Rister will more than likely work with some of these members in his capacity as the Executive Director of the Legislative Council. Mr. Rister’s devisive presence may create a perceived erosion of the confidentiality, independence, discretion, and credibility of the non-partisan Legislative Council. As one of the most senior legislators and a former member of the Legislative Council, I urge your reconsideration of this ill-considered and ill-timed appointment. Texas Legislators must be able to depend on the Legislative Council to draft potential legislation according to the members request and for those requests to remain confidential. This has always been the policy of the Legislative Council. Having an Executive Director, with such a well-documented political agenda could stifle many legislators’ willingness to make use of the such a valuable legislative asset. The bipartisan traditions of the Texas Legislature have been honored by such diverse persons as George W. Bush and Ann Richards. At the core of this tradition, is an independent and dependable Legislative Council. I pray a more suitable candidate can be found to fill the shoes of true non-partisan Texas heroes like Bob Johnson and Bob Kelly. Bloggers on the left also weighed in. This was from the now-defunct Pink Dome: TRLCC (Leininger’s PAC) also spent $15,000 with Keep Texas Strong. According to Williamson County Assumed Name records, Keep Texas Strong is a proprietorship owned by Milton Rister” This is the same Milton Rister that came to Austin with Tom Craddick; who helped run the 76 in ’96 and 8 in ’98 campaigns; who worked with Rove to handpick certain legislators; who worked for TRMPAC, TLR, and both Dewhurst and Craddick. Another Craddick loyalist is Anne Billingsley, whom the AP story quoted liberally as the spokeswoman for the Council. Billingsley served as a policy analyst for Craddick for almost three years, until June 2008, when she became Deputy Legislative Director at the Council. Regular readers and commenters of this blog are no doubt aware that Rister’s role and job performance at Legislative Council have been the subject of frequent negative comments, not by me but by readers. Most of these attacks were directed at his past activities. I have consistently said that Mr. Rister should be judged by his present performance, not by what he has done in the past. His present performance now includes assenting to the wiping out of Craddick’s computer files. There should be an immediate investigation of the Council’s role, and what Rister knew and when he knew it. This unseemly episode, hopefully the last that Tom Craddick will inflict upon the political process, is going to be a test of two people. One is Joe Straus. He may come under heavy pressure from Democrats and ABCs to investigate the incident. This could be a subject for the General Investigating committee, and the new speaker should appoint a strong committee (which would be unusual) that will have the confidence of the members and the public. Mr. Straus may also want to consider whether Milton Rister should continue in his present position. In the short term, the speaker should make an immediate effort to see that all available data from Craddick’s computers is preserved and retrieved. The second person who is in the spotlight is the new Travis County DA, Rosemary Lehmberg. She is going to be the person who determines whether any laws have been broken. She needs to make clear that she intends to be a strong watchdong over the Legislature. If she doesn’t send that signal, it will be open season for fun and games at the Capitol. She too should start the data retrieval effort at once. It is too bad that this had to happen. But it’s not surprising.
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