Saturday, June 14, 2008

GOP convention adjourned

The Republican Party of Texas adopted the slate of delegates to the Republican National Convention this afternoon. Then it adopted a slate of presidential electors. Then, having completed all legally required business, the convention adjourned around 4:30 p.m.

Patterson at his wisecracking best

Jerry Patterson fired up the GOP crowd for John Cornyn yesterday, giving one of the more memorable speeches of the state convention.

He was introduced most aptly by the Tom Petty song "I Won't Back Down."

Patterson applied that description to Texas Republicans, maintaining "We will not be voting for Barack Hussein Obama."

He also quoted Mark Twain, saying, "I don't tell jokes. I just watch the Democrats and report the facts."

And of course he took the opportunity to criticize the media for misrepresenting stories involving him in the past, particularly controversies involving the Second Amendment, including but not limited to the most recent Christmas Mountains controversy.

"Government and the fourth estate also known as the media underestimate the ability of citizens to make good choices,” he said.

"If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed," he continued. "But if you do read the newspaper, you're misinformed."

He also compared John McCain to Barack Obama, saying McCain would "not back down" and that Obama's "'audacity of hope' is better described as an 'audacity of hype.'"

For Republican National Committee, it's Crocker and Adams

The Republican Party of Texas has elected as Republican National Committee Man and Woman Bill Crocker and Cathie Adams respectively.

Crocker, an incumbent, is a Texas lawyer and a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has a long Republican resume as a precinct chairman and election judge in Austin, among other things.

Adams is president of the Texas Eagle Forum and is an experienced Republican activist.

Borah Van Dormolen, the other candidate for the open seat as RNC woman, conceded to Adams even though the vote among the congressional districts was 21 to 11. Having three or more congressional district endorsements entitles a candidate to take the contest to the floor of the state convention. Paul Perry, having nowhere near 11, chose to do so. But Van Dormolen did not.

Van Dormolen was named a national at large delegate.

Speakers exhort convention crowd to vote in November

In anticipation of the national nominations committee’s report to the Republican Party of Texas State Convention, a series of get-out-the-vote speeches were delivered by Republican heavy-hitters. The first to take the stage was Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples. He expressed hope that the next president would “not punish hardworking taxpayers for their success,” and said that Democrats’ idea of change would bring about increased dependency on government. He said that the Democrats in federal government were “hiding from a national energy policy,” observing that when the Democrats took over Congress in January of 2007 the price of gasoline was $2.33 a gallon.

He also emphasized property rights, suggesting that students should learn the 14th amendment the way they have to learn the pledge of allegiance. (The 14th amendment says no one shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process.)

Following him was Roger Williams of Texas Victory 2008, whose goal is to increase voter turnout and ensure Republican success in the general election. He criticized the media for declaring the GOP to be “dead” in 2008. “Reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated, he said.

Williams was followed by Congressman Joe Barton, who again criticized the Democrats in Washington for voting “no on every energy initiative.” He exhorted the attendees to vote for the 19 Republican incumbents in the U.S. House (the largest Republican congressional delegation in the country), and to elect the new candidates, including Pete Olson, who is running for CD 22, Tom DeLay’s old seat which was captured by Nick Lampson after DeLay’s resignation from the U.S. House.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, and Justices Dale Wainwright and Phil Johnson followed, extolling the virtues of the rule of law, and emphasizing the duty of justices to interpret it and not write it anew.

Next came State Board of Education Vice Chairman David Bradley, flanked by fellow SBOE members Terri Leo and Gail Lowe. Bradley told frightening stories of school students who need calculators to find half of 24 and 4 times 3. He also took the opportunity to emphasize his belief in a Creator, rather than the belief that “our ancestors were apes.”

What does the GOP rules committee have to hide?

Republicans who wanted to attend a meeting of the party’s rules committee were greeted by a rather ominous sign Thursday evening. “The use of any electronic recording equipment will not be allowed during any meeting of the rules committee including but not limited to video or audio recording.” After enquiring further, I was told that the committee passed a rule banning recordings. I believe the committee’s action is ill-advised, improper, and inconsistent with the principles of open government. I will explain my concerns in more detail later.

But in all fairness, I would say that Republican Party of Texas spokesman Hans Klingler handled my concerns (and a rather pointed question) on this topic diplomatically and professionally, which is in marked contrast to several of his predecessors.

“I don’t know that there is fear on anybody’s part,” said Klingler in response to my question on the matter. “As they pass these rules each convention, certain parameters are set up around those meetings. I think it is something that definitely is going to be addressed. You and I visited about it last night. And I know that, obviously, you are a 110 percent open meetings guy and we respect that. Obviously, the party in its platform also agrees with that. I think it’s something that will definitely be addressed and taken up, and I brought it to the chairman’s attention.”

I hope Tina Benkiser (the chairman of the Texas GOP) does take this seriously. Here’s why I disagree with the rules committee’s action:

1. It’s totally unnecessary. Yes, the current leadership of the party has its critics who are vocal. But recording meetings makes it harder – not easier – to misrepresent what was said.

2. Every local and state governmental entity in Texas is required to allow recordings at its meetings (Government Code, section 551.023). Why should the Republican Party do in the conduct of its affairs what its elected officials are prohibited from doing. Let me be clear here, I’m not necessarily accusing the GOP of breaking the law. But just because something might be legal doesn’t make it right.

3. The Republican Party of Texas accepts public funds to administer its primary, and its rules pertain to such matters as the allocation of delegates, selection of presidential electors, and review of the platform by the party’s elected officials. (The party should be careful about arguing it’s a purely private entity. The Texas Democratic Party made that argument in the early part of the 20th century when defending a segregated primary, something Republicans emphatically reject.)

4. The Legislature does have some requirements for transparency in the party’s operations, which shows this is not a purely private matter. The election code discusses the composition of the state executive committee (section 171.002), requires filing of the party’s rules with the secretary of state (section 163.005), requires notice to delegates of the party convention (section 174.093), and expressly requires admittance of the print and broadcast media (section 174.002).

5. Democrats don’t do this stuff. The Democratic Party had a very tense discussion over who would be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. The meeting was conducted in public with tape recorders running, despite the disagreements and acrimony.

6. The rules committee’s actions create the appearance of a lack of transparency, which validates some of the claims the leadership’s critics make about the conduct of the convention.

The party is in a rather unique position. It’s not purely a governmental entity. The party could justify, for example, closing a meeting on which races to target financially. On the other hand, it’s not a purely private organization either, as it runs public elections.

The State Republican Executive Committee can’t have it both ways. Many of the party faithful believe that executive committee resolutions and the platform are the product of the elected representatives of the grassroots and as such merit an almost binding deference from the party’s elected officials. Well, the downside of elective office is one has to take recorded votes on controversial issues, which someone might criticize or voters might decide to use as a basis for not re-electing an incumbent. (The party in its own platform calls for recorded votes on all bills.) The party’s officers can’t expect the deference accorded to elected officials without the public accountability associated with elective office.

I hope the party addresses this matter on its own. If not, the Texas Legislature should address it in 2009 by applying the Texas Open Meetings Act to both major party conventions and any committees of those conventions.

Some interesting highlights from the GOP platform

The Republican Party adopted its platform yesterday. Here are a few interesting highlights:

* Most of the core elements of the platform are the same as in prior years, though they are expressed a bit differently.

* Like the Democratic platform, the GOP document calls for increased consumer protections for eminent domain. Both, however, ignore the question of whether property owners should get compensated for diminished access to their property, which was why Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill.

* Speaking of vetoes, the platform endorses Rep. Gary Elkins’s (R-Houston) amendment calling for a three-day veto override session after the regular session has concluded. Perry is not attacked by name, but this is one of several examples of some very subtle messages the grassroots are sending to the governor.

* The platform calls for reforming and eliminating anonymous complaints at the Texas Medical Board. In other words, the GOP convention is taking sides in a very complicated fight between Houston physician Steve Hotze and the medical board, which The Lone Star Report has profiled in past articles.

* The platform endorses “treatment pending transfer” for those facing the end of life – a mandate that requires hospitals and physicians to continue life-sustaining treatment upon request unless another facility can be found for the patient. Current law allows physicians to withdraw treatment they believe is medically inappropriate after notice and review by a hospital’s ethics or medical committee.

* The platform condemns legislative efforts to mess with the elected State Board of Education and expressly opposes both trying to take power over the Permanent School Fund away from the board and replacing textbooks with computerized laptops.

* The platform expressly calls for repeal of the tax on gross margins.

* The platform opposes giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, calls for binding audits of institutions of higher learning by the comptroller, and calls for a complete review of the tuition deregulation law.

* The gambling provision is one of the strongest ever in the GOP platform. It opposes all forms of expanded gambling and lists almost all of the ones under consideration by name, in case legislators are unclear on the concept.

* The platform calls for an investigation of “any public official” who has used eminent domain or foreign funding for the Trans-Texas Corridor.

* The platform is probably the most socially conservative in a long time, which is saying a lot for the GOP. Homosexuality is described as a practice that “tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases.” Affirmative action is described as “racism disguised as a social value.”

1st Court of Appeals throws out convention lawsuit

The First Court of Appeals has rejected an effort to get an injunction against the Republican Party of Texas. Wharton County GOP Chair Debra Medina and several other Republican activists had sued the party seeking to enforce a provision n the education code calling for the election of a permanent chairman of the convention before all other business. "Obviously, we think that we were following the convention rules and laws," said Republican Party of Texas spokesman Hans Klingler.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hutchison slams Perry transportation policies

After extolling the virtues of President George Bush and Sen. John McCain, criticizing Sen. Barack Obama, and praising Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison took a swipe at Gov. Rick Perry's controversial transportation policies. The U.S. Senator, around whom speculation has swirled about a possible run for Texas governor, went after tolling already-paid-for roads in particular. She called tolls on existing highways "a violation of the public trust, and that's why I strongly oppose the Trans-Texas Corridor."

She applauded theTexas Department of Transportation's decision earlier this week to expand I-69 using only existing rights of way. "Thank goodness!" she said.

She also affirmed her support of Second Amendment rights and the War in Iraq. She assured the audience that "between now and Election Day, I will work my heart out for our Republicans, for the hard-working taxpayers in our state, for our brave men and women who are overseas right now risking their lives to keep us safe and free."

She also said that her goal is to take Dallas County back from the Democrats and keep Harris County.

Cornyn speaks

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn spoke to the convention today, running the gambit of conservative political issues. He faces challenger State Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston) in the race for the U.S. Senate. Noriega spoke last week at the State Democratic Convention. Today was Cornyn's turn.

Cornyn suggested that a lot of Republicans in Washington have strayed from conservative principles. He touted his conservative bona fides to the audience in. He echoed Newt Gingrich's sentiments, for the most part. He spoke against abortion and "immoral experimentation in the name of science." He spoke against illegal immigration and high taxes.

He promised to reduce the size of government, insist on transparency, make the government friendlier to the free enterprise system, and continue to support the war on terror.

Gingrich calls for oil drilling in U.S.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke at the RPT convention calling on the U.S. Congress to repeal laws making it illegal to drill for oil in the several promising sites within the United States, including the Atlantic coast, the Eastern Gulf, and ANWR. He touted the slogan “Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less.”

He called at the convention attendees to sign the petition on the website, which calls on Congress to “act immediately to lower gasoline prices (and diesel and other fuel prices)* by authorizing the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries.” As he spoke this morning he said there were 680,000 signatures. There are now almost 730,000.

He also suggested that the president release a substantial portion of the strategic oil reserve, his one energy policy proposal that Sen. John Cornyn disagreed with.

Huckabee exhorts party to return to moral roots

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told the convention that it is important to resist what he called the "insidious" movement within the party to move away from social issues such as abortion and marriage and focus on economic issues only. He said the Republican party is strong "only when it remembers its roots of conservatism" -- pro-life pro-family etc.

He generously used religious imagery in his speech, referring to Jesus' rule to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." He suggested a connection between the size of government and the principles of its constituents. He said that when people do not follow the simple laws, like the Golden Rule, the laws have to become more complicated, and government grows. On the other hand, he suggested, when people are principled, there is less need for government intervention to deal with societal ills.

Romney defends McCain

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney spoke to the press shortly before speaking at the Republican Party of Texas Banquet this evening. He defended Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and declined to say whether he would accept a tap for vice president if it were offered to him, which he doubted. Romney extolled McCain as America's "foremost wastecutter." McCain has a record of consistently opposing earmarks and "pork."

Romney also observed that anti-war candidates like Sen. Barack Obama tend to have enthusiastic followings, but those do not always culminate in general election victories, as in the case of George McGovern. He also denounced Obama's economic plan, saying it would slow down the economy, where as McCain's would grow it.

Benkiser re-elected Republican Party of Texas chairman

Delegates to the Republican Party of Texas state convention re-elected Tina Benkiser as their chairman. Benkiser's opponent Paul Perry received the endorsement of three senate districts, and as such, was allowed to stage a floor fight. Benkiser received 3,884.53 votes, compared with 1,783.1 votes for Perry. It is a two-year term. Both Benkiser and Perry got to give a second speech today. Not much new in the speeches, but Perry defended his endorsement of Ron Paul for President saying that Ronald Reagan was considered by some a radical in 1976.

And now a word from RPT's convention sponsors

Since I blogged on the Democratic convention sponsors, it's only fair to mention the sponsors of the GOP convention. As I mentioned earlier, the utilties get high marks for bipartisanship. Texas Energy Futures and CenterPoint Energy sponsored both. Also, Verizon, A.T.&T. and Time Warner Cable sponsored both conventions as did Anheuser-Busch and Southwest Airlines and the Union Pacific Railroad. Sponsoring the GOP convention but not the Democratic convention were Lockheed Martin,, and Johnson and Johnson. The Texas Hospital Association sponsored both. The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) sponsored both conventions. (We are generally surprised when and teacher organization sponsors the GOP convention.) Wal-Mart only sponsored the GOP convention. (Would Wal-Mart have been welcome at the Democratic convention?) That's the sponsorship picture.

Thoughts on the chairman's race

There are a lot of things that can be said about Tina Benkiser. Like every elected official, there are people who sing her praises and people who criticise her. That said, Benkiser is not a mouthpiece for leadership. Sure, she doesn't directly attack the party's elected officials (nor should anyone expect her to). But she has been a lot more independent of them than her predecessor, Susan Weddington. On several occasions, Benkiser has taken the grassroots concerns to the leadership and spoken out on the behalf of the base of the party, which is more than I can say of her predecessor. Here are a few examples where Benkiser has taken a public stand on key conservative issues that differ from the stands taken from the party's leadership:

* gambling -- when leadership was thinking of using expanding gambling to pay for school finance, Benkiser spoke out about the party's opposition to gambling.
* HPV -- When Gov. Rick Perry tried to do an "opt out" mandate, requiring sixth-grade public school girls to get a vaccine from the sexually-transmitted Human Papiloma Virus (HPV), Benkiser expressed her opposition immediately (as did GOP legislators).
* Eminent domain -- Benkiser did a statewide media tour highlighting the party's support for property rights and the need for more action on this issue. (Perry vetoed a bill in 2007 that would have given land owners more rights in the condemnation process.)

And I've probably left out a few examples.

I sympathize with some of the concerns raised by the people who are disagree with Benkiser. The party leadership since the late 1990s has been heavy-handed in some instances, and I can understand where they are coming from on some of their concerns. But I felt it needed to be said that -- despite criticism from some in the party accusing her of being a mouthpiece -- Benkiser has, in fact, stood up to the elected officials on at least three key issues.