Wanted: adult supervision

May 9, 2009 By Paul Burka

The House was out of control Thursday during the debate on the TxDOT Sunset bill. The process was living proof of the old saying that there are two things you should never see being made: sausage and legislation. This was not serious lawmaking. It was an orgy--an orgy of hatred for TxDOT. Why bother to offer amendments at all? Why not just make personal privilege speeches that say, "I hate TxDOT worse than you do." "No, I hate TxDOT worse than you ever dreamed of hating them." Then vote for the person who hates TxDOT the most and let him or her write the bill. The Republicans got so caught up in the frenzy that they voted for a governance scheme that included a statewide elected chairman. Overcome by their own blood lust, they didn't stop to think that the reason the Democrats were pushing it was that they have a fighting chance to win a statewide office that has no incumbent. Phil King got it. He pointed out that the plan would have to go through preclearance with the Justice Department. That didn't slow anybody down. The governing proposal that carried the day was the Leibowitz amendment. It called for 15 commissioners, with one elected statewide and the others to be elected from the 14 Court of Appeals districts. Did anybody realize that this "reform" gives Houston two commissioners, one from the first district, one from the fourteenth? Otto, in opposition, pointed out that commissioners will be beholden to the population centers in their districts. The rural counties don't have enough population to form districts of their own, so they will inevitably be attached to urban counties. Otto said Liberty County, in his district, will be swallowed up by Houston. Actually, Liberty County is in the 9th Court of Appeals district, so it will be swallowed up by Jefferson County. The outcome, for Liberty County, is the same: the roads will be built in Jefferson County. For the umpteenth time, I was reminded that Texas politics is less about R versus D than it is about rural versus urban. For most of Texas history, the rurals prevailed, but from this point forward--and especially after the 2011 redistricting--the urbans are going win.

TLR responds (to my cheap shot)

Apr 28, 2009 By Paul Burka

I received the following e-mail in response to my discussion yesterday of Leibowitz's bill that was a formal re-codification of certain statutes. The bill itself is of little interest. However, it contains a statement of legislative intent to direct the judiciary to read the bill as nonsubstantive. In other words, the courts should not regard the re-codification as changing the law in any way, the "plain meaning" rule notwithstanding. What aroused TLR's ire was this innocent comment that I made about the Texas Supreme Court's propensity to disregard such statements of legislative intent and apply the "plain meaning" rule anyway: So long as the Texas Supreme Court remains a wholly owned subsidiary of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the Legislature engages in recodification at its peril and should be prepared for the Court to rewrite the laws at will to accomplish the purposes of its sponsors. Sherry Silvester responded for TLR: I am disappointed that you used the same cheap shot phrase you employed in October to belittle both TLR and the Texas Supreme Court. The cheap shot is just as inaccurate now as it was in October, when I first refuted it. Here’s the link to your archive and here are updates which add even more weight to the argument. In terms of “owning the court,” final campaign finance reports revealed that personal injury trial lawyers spent $1.4 million (literally laundered overnight through the Texas Democratic Party) to defeat three members of the Texas Supreme Court. The question I asked in October still stands: “…how can TLR, which is limited to $25,000 per judge in million dollar plus campaigns, acquire this ownership? The people who want to own courts include personal injury trial lawyers like Mikal Watts, who bragged that he virtually owned the 13th Court of Appeals, (Houston Chronicle, 9.5.2007). As noted in the report released yesterday by Texans for Public Justice (certainly not friends of ours), personal injury trial lawyers increased their spending in the last election cycle by at least 211%. Our analysis of 2008 campaign spending revealed that personal injury trial lawyers provided almost 25% of all campaign funding, more than any other business or industry in Texas. One could say that the Texas Democratic Party is a “wholly owned subsidiary of personal injury trial lawyers,” without fear of challenge, but I’ve never heard you make that comment. [OK, I'll say it: "The Texas Democratic Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the trial lawyers." The difference is that Texas Supreme Court is a much more valuable subsidiary than the Texas Democratic Party, which is valueless.] Financial control of the Democratic Party by trial lawyers is unfortunate because it impedes efforts by Democrats to win statewide office. [I don't think that trial lawyers are the reason why Democrats can't win statewide office. I think that the reason is that the Democratic party lost its credibility as an opposition party when Bullock (and Laney) embraced Bush, and the party has not produced a credible statewide candidate since. With the exception of the 2008 Texas presidential primary, Democrats have been demoralized ever since.]

Entergy crisis

Apr 28, 2009 By Paul Burka

Today’s calendar includes HB 3545 by Leibowitz. Here is what the House Research Organization says the bill does: HB 3545 would codify, without substantive change, various statutes omitted during prior recodifications, conform codifications enacted by the 80th Legislature to other laws enacted by that Legislature that did not amend the…