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.

BNSF sponsors Democratic convention but not Republican convention

When I was at the Democratic convention last week, I took note of who the corporate sponsors of the convention were. I assumed -- correctly -- that most of the corporate sponsors of the Democratic convention would also sponsor the Republican convention.

I thought I would catch one of the utilities playing only one side of the fence, because House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco killed a bill in the closing days of the 2007 legislative session that some of the utilities didn't like. Much to my surprise, almost all of the utilities who sponsored the Democratic convention did an equivilent sponsorship at the GOP gathering. (My apologies to the fine utilities that we have in Texas and the many fine people who work for them.)

Instead, I caught one of the railroads -- the BNSF (formerly Burlington Northern Santa Fe) -- sponsoring the Democratic convention and not the Republican convention. When I asked BNSF for comment, I received the following response from Joseph Faust: "BNSF has sponsored the Republican state convention in the past and will likely do so again in the future. This year we focused on the Democratic state convention in Austin for the first time. BNSF promotes a fair and balanced political process by supporting candidates and events of both major political parties."

Chairman candidates make their case to convention delegates

Yesterday, the candidates for GOP chairman made their case to the delegates. Incumbent Tina Benkiser is being challenged by Paul Perry of Ellis County. Ellis's speech was largely a policy speech. He thrashed the Trans-Texas Corridor. He talked about making the party more responsive to the grass-roots and a party that follows its rules. Much of his speech was devoted to the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Benkiser discussed her approach to being chairman of the Republican Party. She talked about working for the grass-roots and how to run an effective party. She said she wanted to grow the party's infrastructure with integrity and promote conservative prinicples. She talked about going to Washington DC to help express concerns about immigration and her recent media tour to talk about protecting private property. Instead of speaking from the podium, Benkiser walked from side to side looking straight at the delegates, a technique that worked very effectively. She emphasized the need for "battle-tested" warriors to lead the party into the next election and highlighted her experience working for conservative ideas.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dewhurst breaks major policy ground in speech

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst decided to give a policy speech to delegates at the Republican State Convention. Dewhurst called for passage of a constitutional amendment tightening the constitutional spending limit. He proposed limiting the increases in government spending to inflation and population growth, excepting federal mandates. (Perry mentioned this item in his speech as well.)

Dewhurst brought the house down with his attacks on the Texas Department of Transportation and the Trans-Texas Corridor. "For the last four years we've provided TxDOT $42 billion in cash and bond money. TxDOT needs to build roads, reduce congestion and stop making excuses!" Dewhurst said.

And the Trans-Texas Corridor? Folks, you can't build toll roads in rual Texas! For Heaven's sake -- don't mess with Texas private property rights!" Dewhurst added.

Dewhurst also called for either lowering the revenue cap on local government or putting a cap on increased property tax revenue. He also said he wants to look for alternatives to property tax funding and he said he wants to take a serious look at the margin tax next session.

Not surprisingly, Dewhurst's desire to pass a bill requiring picture identification to vote got prominent mention in the speech. (The question many have is what is more important to the Lieutenant Governor: passing the voter identification bill or the Senate's tradition requiring a two-thirds vote before bills are considered.)

For the most part, the speech was well-received. Dewhurst did get razzed by the crowd a bit when he suggested putting fingerprints and citizenship status on the magnetic strip on the back of a drivers' license. But his core points were well received and provide an interesting preview of his agenda for next session.

Rick Perry speech well received

Gov. Rick Perry addressed the convention this afternoon and gave one of the most effective speeches of his governorship. Perry started by mentioning the fire at the governor's mansion and emphasizing that the mansion will get restored. "It's a place where good people have pondered grand things for a great state," Perry said of the mansion. "And it will be again."

Perry then talked about how proud he is to govern a state where people respect human life. He highlighted the parental notification and parental consent laws he helped to pass. He then lauded the Texas economy and the state's record on job creation. Perry cited the 2003 legislative session as critical to the state's economic success, in particular tort reform and the decision not to raise taxes. Perry also called for a revised state constitutional spending cap.

One of Perry's better applause lines was on the subject of change. "When Democrats talk about change they really mean the change they'll be sucking out of your pockets, along with your dollar bills." He also pledged to support more police on the border and to oppose giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants.

At the end, Perry brought in a group of musicians. He noted that "like a musical instrument with a unique and pleasing tone, we can only do so much alone" (then one musician plays). But if you assemble these instruments under the direction of an inspired leader, with an agreed upon song and a common purpose, you'll have more than a mob; you have a movement." (then a whole band starts playing)

The speech was well received. Here's the key. When Perry gave his State of the State address, he rubbed it in to the legislators. He made prominent mention of both the Trans-Texas Corridor and the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine (HPV) mandate, two of his policy initiatives that infuriate legislators and grass roots activists alike. This time he avoided both entirely.

Highlights of statewide elected official's speeches

Most of the statewide elected officials addressed the convention today. Here are the highlights of their speeches:
Comptroller Susan Combs: Combs emphasized her support for transparency in government. "It's always your money," she said. Combs also emphasized how she has worked to save taxpayers money at the comptroller's office. She also called on the Republican party to commit to its core prinicples.

Attorney General Greg Abbott: The attorney general focused on the first and second amendments to the United States Constitution. He talked about how his office defended the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds. He also discussed the Second Amendment and his support for interpreting the Second Amendment as an individual right to keep and bear arms. The Texas Attorney General signed an amicus brief before the US Supreme Court supporting an individual right to keep and bear arms. His best applause line was when he told the convention that Barack Obama "has given us hope of an America without Hillary Clinton as president."

Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams: Williams emphasized the importance of a strong domestic oil and gas industry and the need for more domestic oil production. Williams emphasized the importance of nuclear power. He also warned that the "cap and trade" global warming bills pending in Congress would be extremely expensive and harmful to America's national security and economy. He blasted House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam (D-Waco) for killing the retail electricity bill (SB 482) in the 2007 legislative bill. The bill would have provided additional consumer protections and Williams put some of the blame on Dunnam for recent hikes in retail electric prices.

Circling the wagons

Earlier, we wrote about the website, the debate over the party rules, and the efforts by Ron Paul supporters to have more influence at the convention. Since we did that, it's only fair to talk about the other side of the equation.

The Pro-Life, Pro-Family Coalition includes representatives from most of the major social conservative organizations and, for the most part, supports the current leadership of the party. The group has endorsed Party Chairman Tina Benkiser for re-election. It has sent a mass-email to GOP activists. “Also,” according to a coalition e-mail, “an organized effort is underway to ‘take over’ the convention, trying to elect National Delegates who have declared that they will not support the Republican nominee...The current State Party Rules have worked very well for our conservative grassroots activists. Any attempt to change our Rules by those who do not hold to our pro-life, pro-family values must be opposed, and we would caution against any amendments that would substantially alter the current Rules.”

The group includes many heavy-hitters from the social conservative movement. Some of the key players in the coalition include (groups listed for identification only) Kelly Shackelford (Free Market Foundation), Merry-Lynn Gerstenschlager (Texas Eagle Forum), David Barton (former party vice chairman, Wallbuilders), Joe Pojman (Texas Alliance for Life), and many more.

Portrait vs. Landscape

We start our coverage of the Republican convention with a quick description of the building layout. (We did the same thing with the Democrats). The convention is on the ground floor of the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. The Democratic convention hall was like printing portrait. The podium was at the top of the page and there was a long series of rows of delegates thereafter. The GOP convention is like a landscape printout. It's lengthwise. The podium is in top, centered. The delegate seats fan around the podium. There is a large podium stage center for the main speaker, with a side podium stage right (of course) for an additional speaker. There are two large banks of tables on either side of the main podium for party officials. The exhibit area is easier to reach in this convention hall. It's just to south of the main convention floor.
Unlike the Democratic convention, there is no wireless Internet connection at the George Brown Center. So the Lone Star Report decided to co-sponsor the blogger booth (which is part of the Americans for Prosperity Booth on the convention floor). I'll be blogging from this booth throughout the convention. Feel free to come by and visit.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Lawsuit against state GOP dismissed. Polland to appeal

Harris County Court at Law Judge Roberta Lloyd has dismissed the lawsuit against the Republican Party of Texas. The lawsuit, filed by several GOP activists, seeks to order the party to follow the Texas Election Code, which requires the election of a permanent chair of the convention before conducting any party business. The court ruled it did not have jurisdiction in the matter. The court had previously issued a temporary restraining order against the party, which has since expired. “For all of Gary Polland’s and Debra Medina’s histrionics, both have shown an incredible lack of understanding of the Party process or the Texas Election Code," said Republican Party of Texas Spokesman Hans Klingler. "The Republican State Convention has always and will continue to be conducted in full compliance with the law and the rules passed by the grassroots. If someone wishes to change the law, they have an opportunity next year when the Texas Legislature convenes. You would think two political operatives like them would know that?” Klingler questioned.

Gary Polland is the attorney who filed the lawsuit and a former chairman of the Harris County GOP. Debra Medina is the current chair of the Wharton County GOP and a plaintiff in the suit. Said Polland, "Instead of the party coming in and debating the issue on the merits, [the party] filed what I believe is a spurrious motion to say the court had no jurisdiction, even though the election code specifically says injuctive relief is one of the available options for people having trouble in having the election code followed." Polland added that the judge ruled that the proper remedy is not an injunction but a writ of mandamus, which is handled by appellate courts in Texas. Polland said he will file an emergency appeal with the Court of Appeals. "We are hopeful the Court of Appeals will follow the rule of law, and inform the court [it does] in fact have jurisdiction and the case can go forward." Polland said he has not decided whether to file for a writ of mandamus. He added the First Court of Appeals rejected the Republican Party's request for a writ of mandamus.

"In my statements, you don't hear any personal attacks or slams on anybody or their motives or anything else their doing," Polland said. "Our motives are very pure. Follow the law ... we want the rule of law followed by our party because we're better than the Democrats."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Democratic convention adjourned

Having completed all required business, the 2008 Texas State Democratic Convention adjourned at 12:07 a.m., Sunday, June 8.

National delegate slate approved

The convention has approved the Texas slate to the Democratic National Convention. The vote on the at-large portion of that slate was about two-thirds in favor, one-third against.

Fireworks break out late night over national convention delegates

A lot of Democratic state convention attendees are disappointed they don't get to go to Denver to be a national delegate. Several of them are trying to get the at-large slate voted down. Their main argument is that the demographics of the list do not comply with the demographic representation goals adopted as a part of the state's delegate selection plan. The convention debated whether to adopt the slate recommended by the nominations committee. This is now going to a roll call vote of the convention delegates (and it's 11:25 p.m.) This is the latest I've seen a party convention go in either party in the ten years I've been covering Texas politics.

Terri Hodge calls for clean government

Talk about ironies. Rep. Terri Hodge (D-Dallas), who was the subject of a federal indictment last year relating to misconduct in office, took to the microphone accusing the Democratic convention of conducting its business in private. She said the Obama campaign was holding a caucus in private to determine the delegates to the Democratic National Convention behind closed doors. She asked the convention chairman whether this is in compliance with the rules of the Democratic Party and the Texas Open Meetings Act. (I guess she missed all the kum-bay-yah lectures coming from the podium Friday evening).

The Texas Chairman of the Obama Campaign, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, told reporters that the at-large slate was considered and approved in a public meeting that complied with the rules of the party. He also said he understands the frustration of the many good people who were not able to be selected as national delegates.

Now I think I've seen it all. Terri Hodge trying to lecture anyone on clean government ...

Democratic convention goes into overtime

The Democratic State Convention has gone into overtime. Most of the time, the party conventions adjourn by 7. It's 9:30 p.m. central time and the only press people still present in the press room are myself and the Austin American-Statesman's W. Gardner Selby. All business of the party has been completed except the naming of the at-large delegates to the Democratic National Convention. In some ways, the Democrats have a nice problem to have. There are so many people who want delegate slots that they are having trouble picking which ones to send. I've heard there is a rules challenge pending at the nominations committee. Once the at-large delegates are ratified, all business of the convention will have been completed, and the convention can be adjourned.

Party platform adopted

The convention has adopted the nearly 40-page Texas Democratic Party platform that platform committee chairman Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston described as "beliefs that are shaped by Democratic values." The following are highlights on which LSR will expound later this week.

The platform proclaims that all Texans should have access to a "quality public education, from childhood through college." It also states that tuition should be affordable, calling for repeal of tuition deregulation and a lowering of tuition in the state. It also calls for the federal government to fully fund No Child Left Behind. The platform also supports the top-ten percent rule, which guarantees high school students in the top ten percent of their graduating class admission to the state-run higher education institution of their choice.

It also goes after the "unscrupulous homebuilders" by calling for a "reshaping of the Texas Residential Construction Commission to include homeowner representation and empowering it with the authority to take meaningful actoin on their behalf."

The platform also calls for universal health care, the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program, education and services for HIV and STDs, state funding for stem cell research, preservation of "choice" and the encouragement of "family planning."

Greenhouse gases must be reduced, the platform says. It calls for alternative energy includingsolar, thermal and wind. Coleman said that the environment "is as important as anything."

In criminal justice, the platform calls for further reforms of the Texas Youth Commission, aswell as work on the incarceration rate in the state, which is the second highest among the 50 states. It also calls for a moratorium on the death penalty and the development of the "Innocence Project" which deals with cases of alleged wrongful convictions.

The platform also takes shots at the Trans-Texas Corridor -- at least Gov. Rick Perry's vision thereof. "Eminent domain should not work against our people," Coleman said. He went on to say that Perry's vision of the TTC would benefit corporations and be "no benefit" to Texans. The platform places more emphasis on eminent domain issues and curtailing abuses of it than in years past.

And of course, the platform denounces photo ID to vote or other voter ID measures. It also calls for an end to the "Iraq occupation" as Coleman described it. It also calls for a "new G.I. bill" to address veterans' affairs. Several speakers at the convention have argued that the government needs to provide returning veterans more resources to reenter society.

The platform was adopted with few if any audible nays from the audience.

Precinct conventions in Spanish?

The Democratic Party has amended its rules in a way that may require precinct conventions be conducted in Spanish. Specifically, the convention required in presidential years that proceedings at precinct conventions be conducted in English and, upon request of any participant, any language in which the U.S. Department of Justice has required ballots be printed. In other words, if there are ballots in Spanish (which the voting rights act sometimes requires), then any participant can request that the precinct convention be conducted in Spanish. I wonder how the Republicans would react to this rule change and whether it gets mentioned in their platform.

Where's the fire

We've seen a lot of things at party conventions before, but this is the first time we've seen the convention hall evacuated. In the middle of the debate over the "Texas Two-Step" (see below), the fire alarm sounded, and convention delegates were instructed to evacuate the building. A smoke detector was apparently set off in the kitchen. The Austin Fire Department checked it out, and gave the all clear. Then delegates finished voting on the two-step.

Fight breaks out over caucus system

A fight has broken-out on the convention floor over the current system where delegates to the Democratic national convention are allocated to the presidential candidates based both on the primary and on the results of the caucuses, as expresed by the convention delegates. Chairman Boyd Richie has created a commission led by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) to hold hearings across the state and make recommendations to the party on how to reform its National Delegate Selection Plan. More than 30 percent of the delegates to the convention signed a petition requesting a vote on the matter. West made a motion to table consideration of the caucus system until after his commission has finished its work. The motion to table is succeeding easily. The issue came up again when the party rules were considered. Again, the motion was tabled easily.


In an earlier post we wrote that Eddie Lucio III was appointed chairman of the special committee on the National Delegate Selection Process (the one looking at the "Texas Two-Step Process"). The actual chairman is Sen. Royce West of Dallas. We regret the error.

Richie easily holds onto chair

The final numbers:

Boyd Richie got 4,823.9 votes, for 63.24 percent.
Roy Laverne Brooks got 1,283.9 votes, for 16.83 percent.
David Van Os got 1,520.2 votes, for 19.93 percent.

Richie thanked the crowd and vowed to "turn Texas blue" in November.

Candidates vie for chair of TDP

Three candidates - David Van Os, vice chair Roy Laverne Brooks and current chairman Boyd Richie - just threw their hats in the ring to be the next chair of the Texas Democratic Party.

Van Os, an attorney, gave a fiery speech emphasizing an intention to campaign in all 254 Texas counties and put the state in play for the presidential election. He referred to President George W. Bush and company as a "gang of criminals," and referred to John McCain as "McBush."

"I want to win those five seats too" (needed in the Texas House to regain a Democratic majority), Van Os told the crowd, but also said he wants to "shoot for the stars" and make as many gains as possible for the party in Texas in November. "It's not good enough to say we're just gonna win a few more seats," he said.

The speech of Roy Laverne Brooks, a long time member of the Texas Democratic Black Coalition, was subdued and brief by comparison, emphasizing that "we can do it together."

Richie's strategy during his years as chairman, with which Van Os has openly taken issue, has been to target a handful of vulnerable Republican seats during each election cycle. Tha strategy has led to the gradual dwindling of the Republican majority in the Texas House since 2003.

"We have found our voice, our confidence is back," he said.

He highlighted the goals of winning back the majority in the House, "turning Harris County blue," giving "John Cornyn a pink slip" presumably by electing Rick Noriega to the U.S. Senate, and finally electing Barack Obama president.

"Let's get out there and kick a little Republican rump," he concluded.

Democrats have contested chairman's race

Texas Democrats will have a contested race for party chairman. Current chairman Boyd Richie will face current vice chair Roy Laverne Brooks and David Van Os. There will be a roll call vote by Senate District. Also, there will be a roll call vote on one of the Democratic National Committee slots between Sue Lovell and Roslyn Shorter

Ray puts quite a spin on Attorney General's "settlement"

Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Galena Park) is speaking about what he views as the evils of requiring prospective voters to show identification before voting. He was introduced by Willie Ray, the plaintiff in the Texas Democratic Party's lawsuit trying to stop Attorney General Greg Abbott's crackdown on voter fraud.

Ray claimed that the Democratic Party "won" her lawsuit, and Abbott settled. Here's what really happened.
* A federal judge in East Texas appointed by Bill Clinton tried to enter an injunction. That injunction was set aside by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which ruled against the party twice.
* The Democratic Party did not get any concessions out of Abbott. The state did not pay attorneys fees, which are normally awarded in civil rights cases. The plaintiffs dismissed with prejudice their lawsuit.
* Abbott did not make any concessions about what cases he will and will not prosecute. What really happened is Abbott read into the record the current Attorney General's policy, which guides the office's attorneys on which cases the office will and will not prosecute. In fact, the statement itself said that it is not intended to limit the discretion of the office.

Railroad Commission nominee Thompson takes shot at oil and gas industry

The Democratic Nominee for the Texas Railroad Commission Mark Thompson took a shot at the state's oil and gas industry during his speech from the podium. "Under the leadership of Republican Michael Williams, the Railroad Commission has allowed the oil and gas industry to exploit the people of Texas and damage the environment," Thompson said. He then followed that up with a litany of pipeline accidents and other environmental decisions he disagrees with.

Obama wins Texas Democrat delegation

Barack Obama has won the Texas Democratic Delegation to the Democratic National Convention in spite of trailing three points in the primary election on March 4.

How did he pull it off? From the looks of things, Obama's people read the rules and learned how to two-step. Here are the numbers.

Texas has 228 total delegates. Thirty-five of those are superdelegates who can vote for whomever they please. That leaves 193 total pledged non-super delegates. That in turn is broken down to three different subcategories. The first is delegates from the primary elections - 126. The Party Leaders and Elected Officials ("PLEO" delegates) - 25. Finally at large - 42. The latter two categories are allocated to presidential candidates based on a presidential preference poll of Texas State Democratic Convention delegates.

Hillary won ONE of those subcategories - the primary delegates, 65 to Obama's 61. But the PLEO delegates went to Obama 14 to 11, and the At Large delegates went to him 24 to 18. So of the 193 non-super delegates, 99 went to Obama and 94 to Clinton.

So the upshot: even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in Texas 50.8 to Obama's 47.4, Obama won because his people learned to two-step. As a result Obama got the majority of pledge delegates.

There were 7,239 total delegate votes cast at the convention's preference poll. Of those, 3,088 went to Hillary Clinton (42.7 percent). Barack Obama got 4,144 (57.3). Seven are still undecided, but that hardly seems to throw the finale into question.

We interrupt these messages from the Democratic convention for this brief GOP announcement

It appears the Republicans will have a contested chairman's race on their hands and one that could get quite ugly. Paul Perry, a Republican activist from Ellis County has announced for GOP chairman against the incumbent Tina Benkiser. "My intention as chairman of the Republican Party of Texas is to make the will of the grassroots known to our officeholders and to assist in strengthening the Republican Party in a manner that will make the grassroots proud," he said. "I want to set a high standard for following the rule of the Republican Party and for operating as transparently as possible." The Republican base is frustrated with a party whose elected officials have, in the view of much of its base, have abandoned the principles of the party. The Trans-Texas Corridor has infuriated rural Republicans, and Perry plans on making that an issue in the Chairman's race. The theme of a party that has lost its way is one that resonates among GOP partisans (just look at Dan Patrick's victory in Senate District 7). That said, current Chairman Tina Benkiser was front-and-center in criticizing leadership's later aborted attempt to use expanded gambling to pay for school finance, and she criticized Gov. Rick Perry when he tried to mandate that sixth grade girls get a vaccination for the sexually-transmitted human papiloma virus (HPV) unless parents opt out. More recently, she has called for tougher restrictions on the state's use of eminent domain to force private land owners to sell to the governor. Fasten your safety belts.

Clinton concedes

At the Texas Democratic Convention, the convention was interrupted to her a taped feed of Hillary Clinton's convention speech. Hillary Clinton has now officially conceded and has announced that she is suspending her campaign. She called on her supporters to work hard to elect Barack Obama. Just about every single speaker from the podium at the convention is going on and on and on about the importance of unity and not dividing the party. In fact, the calls for unity are so frequent that it almost makes it seems like there are still fires of disunity smoldering that the party leadership is determined to put out.

Friday, June 6, 2008

And now a word from the convention sponsors ...

One of the big myths about politics is that the business community is conservative. Not true. Large corporations are self-interested, which is fine but certainly not the same thing as conservative. They'll take (and seek) government contracts, subsidies, guaranteed rates of return and other such goodies. For that reason, a lot of major corporations play both sides of the fence, and some actually favor Democrats.
Anheuser Busch is one of the most visible corporate sponsors at the convention (see booth picture at right. Another extremely visible company is Energy Future Holdings, the holding company formerly known as TXU. It's three subsidiaries TXU Energy (the retailer), Oncor (the wires company), and Luminant (the generation company) all have booths. I wonder if we'll see any reference in the platform to the way that House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam killed Senate Bill 482, a retail electric competition bill a lot of lobbyists for a certain large electric company were paid not to like, in the last two days of the 2007 Legislative Session. Hmmm. I'm not holding my breath. (Speaking of utilities, CenterPoint Energy, the wires company serving Houston, is also a sponsor.)
All sides of the telco wars are major sponsors. Verizon has a booth. A.T.&T. and Time Warner Cable are both sponsors of the convention. The BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad are both co-sponsors. Southwest Airlines has an ad in the program and is a sponsor. Chesapeake Energy and Atmos Energy and the Texas Association of Realtors and Microsoft are also sponsors, as is the Texas Association of Manufactured Homes. The Texas Hosptial Association had a booth and sponsored the convention, but many, many Democrats are strong proponents of providing more state funds for health care, so it's not surprising to see THA working with both parties.
By the way, I'll be taking attendance at the Republican convention to see which companies sponsored both conventions, and which ones sponsored only one ...

Presidential preference poll delayed

The Democratic Party was expected to announced the results of its presidential preference poll today. But convention chairman Kirk Watson told the convention that there are so many delegates the count cannot be completed, and the result will be announced tomorrow morning. Some of the delegates are privately suspicious something questionable is occurring, but I've also learned that sometimes the public explanation can be taken at face value. Remember about one-third of the national delegates are bound to vote based on the presidential delegate preference poll. We'll see if the theme of unity -- expressed throughout the convention -- will continue through the convention.

Democrats adopt credentials report, permanent chair without controversy

Many Austin observers questions whether there would be a knock-down, drag out fight over credentials at today's Democratic State Convention. The reason for this suspicion is that, unlike the Republicans who allocate national convention delegates to presidential candidates solely on the basis of the primary results, Democrats allocate about one-third of the national convention delegates to the presidential candidate preferences of state convention delegates. (This is why both presidential candidates emphasized to their supporters the importance of attending both the caucuses and voting in the primary.) That's why the credentials process mattered, because the presidential preferences of the delegates determine how some of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention have to vote.

But the fight never materialized. Permanent (and temporary) credentials chairman David Escamilla said that only a couple of issues before the committee were not decided by unanimous agreement, including support from both the Obama and Clinton campaigns. The convention unanimously adopted the credentials report and elected Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) as the permanent chair of the convention.

After winning election, Watson announced the chairmen of the other committees. The party committess matter because they usually draft important documents like the platform and rules that are often either completely or largely adopted by the convention. The committees mostly meet tomorrow at 8 a.m. and then present their report to the convention during the afternoon.

Committee chairs:

Rules: Molly Beth Malcolm (former Chair Texas Democratic Pary)

Resolutions: Dennis Teel

Nominations of party officers: Rose Salas

Platform: Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston)

Delegates at-large: Jan Soifer

Special Committee on Delegate Selection: Eddie Lucio III (convenes at 1 p.m. for testimony on the delegate selection process) The special committee will take public testimony at the Austin Hilton on whether the Democrats should continue to allocate delegates on the basis of both the caucus (convention delegate preference and the primary).

Virgina Gov. Tim Kaine talks for Obama

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine spoke on behalf of Barack Obama following the Texas House parade. He started off the speech by monologuing at length in Spanish, commending Obama for "walking with the people."

Kaine told the crowd that Obama "wanted to be here" but needed to take the weekend off to spend with his family after a long fought primary with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Kaine went on to tell the crowd that the election bore the highest stakes he had ever seen. He said a John McCain presidency would amount to a third Bush term, as McCain stands with Bush on the Iraq War, economic policies, and health care.

The confidence of the Democrats shown as well in his speech, as he told the Texas crowd of Democrat gains being made in Virginia. He predicted that the traditionally red state would see a second Senate seat won by a Democrat, for example.

Democratic House candidates project optimism

The past two cycles, even at Democratic conventions, there wasn't much serious talk of a Democratic majority in the House. This convention was different. When the current Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives, several of them -- even the ones who aren't always the hard-core partisans -- were talking of retaking the House. Several current representatives asked the crowd to give us "just five more colleagues" (the number needed for a majority.) Many Austin observers are still skeptical that a numeric majority will happen. But after 2006, the possibility is taken seriously. Republican activists can't take this election for granted, because Democrats are hungry and confident.

Noreiga lambastes Cornyn

In his speech to the state convention today, U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega blasted U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. There were few new policy proposals, but here are the key issues that Noriega used to attack Cornyn:
* Voting against the bill expanding the Children's Health Insurance Bill to the upper middle class and adults
* Not voting to allow drugs to be imported to Canada
* Voting for individually-directed investment accounts for social security, which Noriega characterized as privatization
* Not voting for a higher minimum wage
* Voting to build a wall along the border. He characterized Cornyn's opposition to illegal immigation as promoting "fear and intolerance," though Noriega did call for tougher action against employers who exploit illegal labor

Noreiga called for pulling troops out of Iraq "as quickly and safely as possible."

House Democrats parade the stage

"Healing" is a big theme tonight.

Rep. Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville), a Clinton supporter, affirmed his support of the Hillary Clinton to kick off the parade of House Democrats on the stage at the state Democrat Convention.

Shouts of "Yes we can" erupted in the audience.

Jim Dunnam cracked that "for purposes of this convention, Speaker Tom Craddick is not recognized."

A parade of other House Democrats (from the looks of things, almost all of them) took the stage to announce support for Barack Obama and exhort the attendees "take back the House."

Rep. Scott Hochberg from Houston said "I see Democrats as far as I can see, and it looks great." Hochberg and Rep. Jessica Farrar among others told the audience that they only need "five more seats" to win a majority. A surprisingly unambitious vision.

Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, head of the House Democrat caucus, rapped up the House parade by holding a mock moment of silence for Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert, Karl Rove, and "thank God, George Bush."

Chelsea Clinton speaks

Chelsea Clinton just confirmed that her mother Hillary Clinton will announce tomorrow that she intends tosupport Sen. Barack Obama for President, and will confirm her commitment to electing Democrats to the White House.

Competing shouts of “HILL-A-RY” and “O-BA-MA” briefly erupted following the former first daughters remarks.

Rifle Association gets warm reception at Democratic convention

Many of my friends are surprised to know that, in Texas, there is a strong bi-partisan constituency for gun rights. The Texas State Rifle Association has had a booth at both parties' conventions for as long as I can remember. This morning, the Democratic Gun Owners' caucus held a meeting, and the room was overflowing. Congressional candidate Larry Joe Doherty spoke. (The Gun Owners' caucus is not formally affiliated with TSRA.) Former House Speaker Pete Laney has long been a friend of the Second Amendment, and the Texas State Rifle Association took out a full-page ad in the convention program. The ad lists Democratic senators and representatives who achieved A ratings from the TSRA. Three Democratic Senators received A ratings (Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (A+) of McAllen, Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, and John Whitmire of Houston. Twenty-five House Democrats received A ratings (more than one-third of the caucus) and five received A+ ratings from TSRA. The A+ rated House Democrats are Stephen Frost of New Boston, Mark Homer of Paris, Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville, Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs, and David Farabee of Wichita Falls.

The lay of the land

This year's Texas Democratic State Convention is being held at the Austin Convention Center downtown. The building is rectangular. The main convention hall is Exhibit Halls 2, 3, and 4 on the West end of the building. The exhibit hall is on the North end of the building, and the Hillary Clinton campaign has a huge tent just across the street from the exhibit hall. The convention facility is rectangular and long. The stage has two screens on either sides, with banners for the convention sponsors. The press area is to the convention chairman's right (just under the Hillary Clinton banner). There is a big banner for Barack Obama to the chairman's left. The theme of this year's convention is "Moving Texas Forward" and the logo is the same as last years. A banner with the convention logo appears behind the Chairman' podium.

Why Noreiga's press conference came hours before his speech

Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate Rick Noriega held his press availability at 1 p.m. today. His speech will be after 6 p.m. For those not used to dealing with the press: here's why. The daily newspapers have deadlines that are usually around the close of business. Also, there are several TV cameras and satellite trucks present today. By holding his press availability in the early afternoon, Noreiga gets in tomorrow's papers and on the 6 p.m. newscasts. I've been to past years' conventions -- in both parties -- where I heard great speeches or saw news break, and it didn't make the papers or the evening newscasts because it occurred after deadline. The papers will hold the morning edition up if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama came to speak, but most editors probably wouldn't hold up production for other speakers. Other campaign press aides should take note: reporters can't print stuff if they get it after deadline.

Noreiga objects to overuse of eminent domain

Rep. Rick Noreiga (D-Houston), candidate for U.S. Senate, held a news conference at 1 p.m. today. Most of the news conference was the usual niceties. Noreiga is excited by the enthusiasm that he sees from Democrats; he believes the voters are ready for change; and he's excited to be on the same ticket with Barack Obama and believes that the South Texas voters who backed Hillary Clinton will also turn out for Obama. That said, I asked Obama whether the Trans-Texas Corridor will be an issue in his race (and mentioned U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's very public dust-up with Gov. Rick Perry on that issue). "More than anything else on that issue that is important to Texans is the government's seizure of property," Noreiga said, agreeing with the proposition that it will be an issue in his race.

In addition to transportation, Noreiga repeated his endorsement of the Warner-Lieberman climate change bill and slammed U.S. Sen. John Cornyn for not endorsing it.

One rather amusing exchange occurred between the Houston Chronicle's Rick Casey and Noriega. During the press conference, Noriega was asked about his fundraising. He noted that he is not getting money from drug companies and their PACs. So Casey asked Noreiga, if elected, would he take that money. Noreiga wouldn't answer Casey's question, saying he "would cross that bridge when he comes to it."

Turner calls for end to tuition deregulation

While this wasn't formally a convention event, it involved Democrats and is worth discussing, none the less.

Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) held a news conference at the Capitol this morning to call for repeal of tuition deregulation, a law that allows university regents to hike tuition without first obtaining the approval of the Texas Legislature. Most of the attendees at the press conference were "Craddick D's," Democrats who are part of Speaker Tom Craddick's leadership team. Speakers at the press conference included Reps. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio), Tracy King (D-Batesville), Helen Giddings (D-Dallas), and Rep.-elect Al Edwards (D-Houston). Some non-Craddick D's speakers included Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) and Reps. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), and Ellen Cohen (D-Houston). Turner announced that he would file a bill to repeal tuition deregulation in the upcoming legislative session. McClendon called tuition deregulation a "disaster" and said she supports full repeal and urged university administrators to make a better case before the Legislature for full funding.

Here was my question to Turner was how does he plan to get his bill passed, given that Speaker Tom Craddick, Gov. Rick Perry, and House Higher Education chair Geanie Morrison all have enthusiastically supported the law in the past. In response, McClendon suggested that Texans call their legislators and that will impact the process.

Chelsea Clinton confirmed for Democratic convention

The Democratic Party has officially confirmed that Chelsea Clinton has confirmed as a speaker for the Texas Democratic Convention. Clinton will represent her mother, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton and she will be followed by U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's representative, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. Therefore, here are the main events for the day: at 3 p.m. Senate District caucuses will meet. At 6 p.m. the general session will convene. Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston), the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, will be the first big-name speaker. Later in the evening Chelsea Clinton will speak followed by Kaine.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Now that the press has decided that Barack Obama has clinched the nomination, the brass at the Democratic party is working overtime to promote "party unity." Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) -- an Obama supporter -- and Abel Herrero (D-Robstown) a Clinton supporter issued a joint appeal for party unity. Meanwhile, other Democrats decided to host a "unity pub crawl" this evening. Obama's headquarters is at the ClubDeVille on Red River, while the Hillary Clinton folk are hanging out at Bull McCabe's Irish Pub. It should be interesting to see if Peace and Harmony indeed break out at tomorrow's convention, and also how many delegates show up to convention with a hangover...

What are the GOP rules critics trying to accomplish?

One thing I'd love to see in the comments section to this blog: an explanation of exactly what the GOP rules critics are trying to accomplish. (See my post below for a basic explanation of this issue.) When Tom Pauken took over the Texas GOP from the establishment, I understood his purpose. The party apparatus was supposed to represent the grassroots of the party and serve as a counter-balance to the Bush-Rove machine that really doesn't care about principle and never has.

That said, throughout this election cycle, the Ron Paul Revolution folks are making a splash. What's the end game? Do they want to affect the state platform (and to what end)? Do they want their people on the State Republican Executive Committee, and what would they do when there?

I know many Republicans -- and not just the Ron Paul faction -- are fed up with elected officials who have abandoned principle and want to get the GOP away from special interests and the culture of Washington DC and back to its ideological roots. But how does one get from A to B. Now that's a fascinating question.

Texas GOP convention: Let's get ready to rummmmble

The Democrats may be trying to come together as a party (we'll see if that happens later this weekend), but never-fear, we can always count on Texas Republicans to produce some good political theater. Every presidential year, a handful of delegates stage a fight over the rules and procedures of the Texas GOP. They question whether the leadership is playing fair and stage a fight on the convention floor.

It is clear that there will likely be a floor fight at the GOP convention over the election of a permanent chairman. The permanent chairman interprets the rules from the podium and has a variety of procedural powers, including the all-important decision of whom to recognize to speak.

This cycle, the courts are getting involved. Gary Polland, a solid conservative and former chairman of the Harris County GOP, is representing a group of concerned GOP delegates and has succeeded in procuring a temporary restraining order directing the GOP to follow state law (which the party argues it always does anyway) requiring election of the permanent chairman before transacting any business. The Houston Chronicle even wrote a story on the court case.

Some interpret this as a fight between the Ron Paul faction of the party and the leadership. While some of the upset Republicans are, in fact, Ron Paul-backers, this fight goes beyond that issue, and has occurred at past conventions. Long-time party activist Robert X. Johnson has frequently taken the party brass to task in the past over the technicalities of party rules. Those critical of the party leadership have even set up a website to express their concerns. Should be fun to watch.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama not coming to Texas Democratic convention

Well, it looks like Sen. Barack Obama won't be able to make it to the Texas Democratic Convention. But he is sending Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a national co-chair of the campaign, to speak on his behalf. “I look forward to traveling to Texas this weekend and seeing firsthand the grassroots movement for change that has inspired men and women of all ages all across the Lone Star State to get involved in the political process,” said Kaine. “It is time for all of us to come together and focus our efforts on winning in November. Voters in Texas and across the country have the opportunity to unite behind Senator Obama and his vision for bringing people together and his effort to move this country forward.” Kaine is estimated to speak at the Friday evening session. No official word yet on what the Hillary Clinton campaign will do.

Obama's decision is fascinating, considering that the convention will actually award delegates to the Democratic National Convention. This is a critical difference between the GOP and Democratic state convention. All GOP delegates must vote based on the results of the primary. About one-third of the Texas Democratic delegates, however, are either superdelegates (and can vote for whom they please) or are pledged based on the presidential preferences expressed by state convention delegates on the sign-in sheets at the beginning of the convention. In addition to delegates pledged via sign-in sheets, the convention will also elect the Texas delegation to the Democratic National Committee, all of whom are superdelegates. In short, the Texas Democratic Convention matters in the presidential race. I guess Obama believes the press headlines that he's clinched the nomination.

Even though Obama himself will not be attending the convention in person, some tribute is in order for his campaign staff. The national media, last February, had assumed Hillary Clinton would win Texas in a runaway. Obama's people read the rules. They noticed that the Democratic Party's rules award high numbers of delegates to parts of the state where they are strong (Austin, Houston, Dallas), whereas the parts of the state where Clinton ran strong (South and rural Texas) had fewer delegates. Thus, even though Clinton numerically won the popular vote, Obama -- by running a smart and aggressive campaign here -- achieved near parity in the delegate count.