Last week Patti Hart posted a link to Evan Smith’s interview with Governor Perry, which will appear in our May issue. The governor took out after House Democratic Caucus chair Jim Dunnam, whom he inexplicably called “James,” as someone who “doesn’t really have an interest in finding a solution” to the TYC mess but “has an interest in stirring up political, partisan, venomous rhetoric.” In response, Dunnam wrote Smith the following letter dated March 16:
Dear Mr. Smith,
I want to thank you and TEXAS MONTHLY for your continued efforts to bring Texas politics to your readers. While I have agreed and disagreed from time to time with your editorial positions, I believe your magazine is a consistent and important component to informing Texans about the importance of what is going on in Austin.
I am actually writing about a specific reference I am told Governor Perry made about me personally in a recent interview with you. I am informed that regarding the ongoing TYC matters, the governor compared himself to me, saying “as opposed to James Dunnam, who doesn’t really have an interest in finding a solution to this.”
While I can’t remember being called “James” in a very long time, I would like to point out the more important inaccuracies in his statement. I have three TYC facilities in my House district — two in Mart, and one in Marlin. Over 1,000 TYC employees work in my district and TYC has the capacity to detain over 1,000 youth in these facilities. The Marlin Orientation & Assessment Unit in my district is the gateway facility for all youth — male and female — committed to the Texas Youth Commission by juvenile courts across the state of Texas. Virtually every child in TYC passes through my district. Not only do I have an interest in finding a solution, more importantly I have proposed specific solutions.
Four days after the TYC story broke, I filed H.B. 2340 to appoint a conservator over the TYC Board. I have also filed H.B. 3384 to appoint a Special Prosecutor to place the investigation and prosecution of all aspects of the TYC situation under one central office. Both of the bills were filed with Republican Joint-Authorship — I believe this is not a partisan issue. As of the bill filing deadline, a complete package of House Bills (2335, 2340, 3309, 3384, 3521, 3625, and 3701) have been filed to address all of the TYC issues, and I support them all. In addition, as a member of the House Corrections Committee, I have used that position to urge immediate action on these matters.
Along with a Republican House member, I called on Governor Perry to send Texas Rangers to each and every TYC facility on March 2nd, and I am glad that Perry finally did so four days later on March 6th. I called on the governor to set up a DPS hotline so that confidential information could be gathered immediately about the abuse and cover up. Thankfully, Perry also followed this request four days later.
Obviously, as Democratic House Leader, I often take a leading role hen Democrats disagree with Governor Perry’s policy positions. However, regarding TYC, my voice first and foremost is that of individual State Representative speaking out for my district. I worked hard to locate the Mart facilities within my district and am proud of the many hard working employees of TYC in my district. I not only have an interest in solving this problem, it is my job.
It is my understanding that your magazine will not be running the governor’s interview containing the personal attack on me until its May edition. Given the clear and demonstrable inaccuracy of the governor’s personal comment about me, I felt I should at least write and respond. I believe Texans would be better served by the governor providing real leadership on this issue rather than him making inaccurate statements about individual legislators.
If you are interested, I would invite you or one of your writers or investigators to accompany me on a visit to any of the facilities in my district. Since Marlin is the induction facility and Mart houses the most difficult portion of the male population, I believe they provide a unique and broad look at TYC operations.
Keep asking the tough questions — even of me.
State Representative, District 57