One of the hottest primary races is the battle in El Paso between Pat Haggerty and Dee Margo, who was recruited to run against Haggerty by Tom Craddick. Craddick’s previous opposition to funding the Texas Tech medical school in El Paso has become an issue in the race. Eliot Shapleigh, who won reelection in 2006 by defeating Margo, has jumped into the fray to counter the claim by Margo contributor Woody Hunt that Craddick has been a supporter of the medical school.

Readers may recall a couple of incidents from that might suggest otherwise:

* During the 2003 debate over the medical malpractice constitutional amendment that later became known as Proposition 12, Chente Quintanilla, a freshman House member, went public (to Gary Scharrer of the El Paso Times) with the bombshell that then-Appropriations chairman Talmadge Heflin had conditioned medical school funding on the support of three members of the El Paso delegation for the constitutional amendment

* During the Shapleigh-Margo race, Shapleigh accused Margo of asking Craddick not to fund the medical school until after the election, so that he could blame Shapleigh. Subsequently, it came to light that a Tech regent had indeed secured funding for the school, but the minutes of the regents’ meeting were silent about it. This lent credence to Shapleigh’s charge.

Now, back to the present. This is an excerpt from a story that ran in the El Paso Times on January 21, in which Woody Hunt defends Craddick:

The race, Hunt said, has nothing to do with Craddick but is about more effective Republican leadership in the only GOP-represented district in El Paso.

Hunt defended Craddick as a supporter of the medical school in El Paso.

Craddick was the only one of the top three state leaders to object for more than two years to providing funding for the Texas Tech University campus in El Paso.

But Hunt said ineffective local lawmakers were to blame for the holdup. Legislators finally approved $48 million for the school last year. Had it not been for state Rep. Norma Chavez, the only El Paso legislator to support Craddick, Hunt said, the funding may not have happened.

“That (Craddick) was somehow a barrier to that success does not reflect my own experience as someone who was involved in the process,” Hunt said.

Hunt has a point that El Paso does not have an effective legislative delegation. But even if El Paso sent five people to the House who were randomly selected from the drunk tank at the county jail, the medical school should have been funded. It is too important to the city, the region, and the state to be used as a political football: four years of funding for health care and research have been lost forever. Woody Hunt knows that.

So does Shapleigh. He fired off the following letter to Hunt:

Dear Woody,

I read in the EI Paso Times where you are quoted as defending “(Tom) Craddick as a supporter of the medical school in El Paso.”(1)

As one who is elected to represent us in Austin, I can tell you that Tom Craddick personally cut Medical School funding in every session from 2003 through 2005, including several special sessions.

In the Senate, we passed funding for the Medical School in three separate budgets. Each time, Craddick removed funding from the budget.

In 2005, on the last day to pass conference committee reports, Craddick removed the $65 million that we in the Senate had placed in the budget,(2) and instead re-routed $13 million to his clinic in Midland and cut the rest. (3)

In October 2006, in his interview with the Times, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst confirmed that “the problem was in the House.” He went on to say that “I put it on the budget every chance I got. (4)

From the time he took office as Speaker in 2003, Craddick consistently threatened Medical School cuts unless our House members voted for other legislation which was not in the interest of the people we serve. (5) For example, in March 2005, all five House members voted against Craddick’s version of HB 2, the school tax bill, where only households making more than $100,593 per year would pay less in taxes. (6) In other words, in El Paso, the top 6% got a tax cut, and the bottom 94% got a tax hike.

Our House delegation made the right call — tax cuts for Craddick’s donors are not more important than tax hikes on El Paso homeowners. As you now know, Craddick did not fund the Medical School in the 2005 session.

Ultimately, we all serve the people of El Paso. Our “effectiveness” is not whether we vote for Craddick’s agenda, but whether we vote for El Paso’s agenda.

Very truly yours,

Eliot Shapleigh

I) “Plenty of cash backs bids to oust longtime EI Paso legislators,” Brandi Grissom, El Paso Times, January 21, 2008. (Exhibit A).

2) Texas Senate Journal, 79th Legislature – Regular Session, 78th Day, May 25, 2005 at 3644. (Exhibit B).

3) Senate Bill 1 Conference Committee Report, 79th Legislature – Regular Session (General Appropriation Act), Sept. 28, 2005 at IX-91. (Exhibit C).

4) “Lt. gov. blames House for lack of med school funding,” David Crowder, El Paso Times, October 21, 2006. (Exhibit D).

5) “Legislator denies offering funds,” Gary Scharrer, El Paso Times, March 28, 2003. (Exhibit E).

6) “School Funding Bill is OK’d,” Gary Scharrer, El Paso Times, March 10, 2005. (Exhibit F).