Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Texas Lege update from Glen Maxey

About 2 a.m. this morning, posted to his FB page.

Whoa, I'm bone tired.

LGBT people are finally, FINALLY free from all types of mischief and evilness. The Senate gets to debate the Cecil Bell amendment by Sen. Lucio put on a friggin' Garnet Coleman bill tomorrow. It's all for show. Garnet Coleman is one of the strongest allies of the LGBTQ community. They could amend all the anti-gay stuff they want on it and he'll strip it off in conference or just outright kill the bill before allowing it to pass with that crap on it. This is for record votes to say they did "something" about teh gays to their nutso base.
And lots of high stakes trading to make sure that other stuff didn't get amended onto bills today (labor dues, TWIA, etc.) and making sure an Ethics Bill of some sort passed. We didn't want that to die and give Abbott a reason to call a special session.

Campus carry got watered down... no clue what happens in conference. And the delaying tactics kept us from reaching the abortion insurance ban.

Four good Elections bills passed today. Three on Consent in the House, three in the Senate, all will be done by noon Wednesday.

And Lastly: Pigs have flown and landed. HB 1096, the bad voter registration bill, is NOT on the Calendar for tomorrow and is therefore DEAD. I am one proud lobbyist on that one. With its demise, no major voter suppression bills passed (well, except for Interstate Crosscheck which is only bad if implemented badly, and we have to stay on top of it to make sure it's not), and over forty good ones survived.

Just a few technical concurrences, and we're done. Thank the goddess and well, some bipartisanship for once.

I've been rough on Maxey in the past, but he has fought the good fight throughout this session.  He was also the counsel behind the Texas House Democrats' moving over to 'aye' on the pastor protection bill.  My hat is doffed and I am deeply bowing in his general direction (toward Austin).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Texas flood photos


I-45 near N. Main, on the north side of downtown Houston.  This is a regular occurrence every time we get a hard rain.  (Click the pictures for a larger view.)



Bridges over the Brazos River near Wimberley, Texas (above and below).


Zilker Park, Austin.


Rescued at Lamar Blvd. and 15th Street, Austin.


More Houston flood pictures here and here.

Update:


This picture reflects the scene less than a mile from my house.  As earlier recounted, we stayed high, dry, electrified, and safe.

Texas relies more on federal disaster funding than any other state, but its relationship with FEMA is often strained.

Why is Adrian Garcia complaining about Hickman's housecleaning at the HCSO?

Thanks to Neil for asking the right question.  The irony is as rich as a River Oaks address.

Among Ron Hickman's initial moves as sheriff was filling each of his first eight command posts with white males, a choice critics said shows a lack of vision in a jurisdiction as diverse as Harris County.

These employees range from a major in charge of criminal investigations to an assistant chief who oversees the jail.

Hickman called it insulting to question whether race or gender were considerations in his early staffing assignments.

"I'm still researching the top-level personnel. Given that I haven't finished assembling it," he said, "I think it would be unfair for me to say anything."

However, Adrian Garcia, the county's first Latino sheriff, called it "unconscionable" that all those on Hickman's command staff to date are white and male. Garcia resigned to run for mayor of Houston.

Let's not pretend any of this is 'more qualified' crap.  There was nothing wrong with the qualifications of the people that Garcia had working in his command.  There's probably not anything wrong with the qualifications of the conservative white dudes Hickman is bringing in, either.  This is about politics; "it's not what you know, it's who you know".

"A lot of African-American deputies have approached me … asking me to say something about this. We are going back to the days of (Sheriff) Tommy Thomas," said J.M. "Smokie" Phillips Jr., president of the Afro-American Sheriff's Deputy League. "They are expressing concern that we are going backwards to the old days of racism, the good old boys' system, discriminatory practices and disparity in treatment."

Robert Goerlitz, president of the Harris County Deputies Organization, which endorsed Hickman's appointment, said, "I think the choices are being made more based on ability than based on what race or gender (the individuals) are. It's detrimental to an organization when you make your decisions based on race or gender."

The president of the Mexican American Sheriffs Organization, Marty Rocha, declined to weigh in until Hickman completes his assignments.

"We're going to have to give him the opportunity to set up his command," Rocha said. "We're going to wait until he finishes. … It's not a done deal, and he's still moving folks back and forth."

Yes, it's probably fair to judge once all the FNGs are in place.

In the roughly two weeks since Commissioners Court appointed him to serve the remainder of Garcia's term, Hickman has lined up two-thirds of his command staff. He kept two members of Garcia's top staff, but most of his command picks came from Precinct 4, where Hickman was constable, or, in the case of one new hire, out of retirement.

The sheriff has roughly 25 discretionary positions, and the top dozen are given to staff members who oversee vast regions of the sheriff's $440 million operations. This upper echelon is referred to among insiders as "command."

Two weeks into Hickman's tenure, the demographic change in these leadership roles demonstrates a remarkable contrast to the makeup of Garcia's command. Garcia said he intentionally included qualified people of color and women in the top ranks.

[...]

The command group in place when Hickman entered the picture included two black men, two white women, a Hispanic male, an Asian-American male and four white males.

The two white males who remain joined Garcia's command in 2013. They are Majs. Clinton F. Greenwood, a commander of internal affairs, and Steven L. Marino, who heads patrol operations. Hickman has brought in six white males, five of whom worked for him in the Precinct 4 constable's office.

Hickman terminated Maj. Penny Crianza, a white woman who directed crime data analysis, ran the information technology division and had worked 23 years for the sheriff's office. Hickman demoted Maj. Debra A. Schmidt, a white woman who had implemented sweeping new protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex inmates and employees. Schmidt has served 29 years for the department.

Hickman transferred one black male, Maj. Edwin A. Davis, to a civilian post with a lower salary, and he fired another black male, Chief Deputy Marlin R. Suell, who led the investigation into abuses at the jail.
Hickman also dismissed Maj. Michael F. Wong, the first Asian-American male in command, who directed the sheriff's Homeland Security operation, which included the port, helicopter operations, marine units at the Houston Ship Channel and intelligence. And he fired Maj. Edison Toquica, a Hispanic male managing criminal investigations who spent 23 years with the sheriff's office.

Yes, you have to think that a white male Republican working in the constable's office is more qualified than some of these minorities and women with decades of service in the sheriff's department.  Because of course.

Adrian Garcia looks like a putz with his "unconscionable" remark.  And if he fails to get elected mayor, a lot of extra recrimination gets laid at his feet, as the new sheriff finishes up the four-year term Garcia was elected to only last November.  (That's right; the position of Harris County Sheriff won't be on the ballot again until 2018 2016, as Charles points out in the comments.  I confused it with County Judge, which is in 2018.)

Update: This correction changes my assessment.  Garcia, upon losing the mayor's race, could turn around and run for his old office again, assuming he had not lost too much credibility with the voters after giving it up and then failing in his bid to manage City Hall.  But I'd rather see CM Ed Gonzalez make a run.

Charles thinks the new guy deserves to tap his own people, but the only place I've ever seen where everybody got broomed out of the top management jobs before the new boss draws his first paycheck is the local auto dealership.  Reputable corporate managers may gradually -- over months or even a year or two -- replace key people with their friends; not in the first two weeks.  There's this little thing called institutional memory...

Campos actually got it right, although without being bold enough to be specific, as usual.

If I needed another reason not to vote for Garcia for mayor -- and I didn't -- then what transpires over the next three one-and-a-half years in the SO ought to be obvious enough to everyone to make up their own minds about the former sheriff.  As for Hickman: too early to pronounce him a failure, but he's headed fast down that road.

Update via Carl Whitmarsh, quoting Houston social justice activist Ray Hill:

"The appointment (by county commissioners of Sheriff Hickman) is until the 2016 election but his incumbency and that we are not getting an honest vote count in November elections in Harris County give him a wide lead... To be successful, a Democrat must have about an 8% lead to overcome the "adjustment" imposed by those who count the votes..."

"When Adrian Garcia resigned from being sheriff to make a kamikaze run for mayor, he abandoned the position to be filled by a classic good ol' boy who has now passed the high-paying jobs to his cronies, almost all white former close friends with the likes of Herman Short and Buster Kern..."

"Now Adrian wants to be rewarded for abandoning us to the mercy of the merciless. Think about that carefully"... and just for those who are wondering, there are very strong rumors that Democrats Constable Alan Rosen and City Councilmember C.o. Bradford are looking at making the race in 2016 as Democrats.

Bernie Sanders kicks off in Burlington today

Would someone please e-mail those Bold Progressives people and tell them?

For Democrats who had hoped to lure Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren into a presidential campaign, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders might be the next best thing.

Sanders, who is opening his official presidential campaign Tuesday in Burlington, Vermont, aims to ignite a grassroots fire among left-leaning Democrats wary of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He is laying out an agenda in step with the party's progressive wing and compatible with Warren's platform — reining in Wall Street banks, tackling college debt and creating a government-financed infrastructure jobs program.

"I think our views are parallel on many, many issues," Sanders said in an interview with The Associated Press, describing Warren as a "good friend."

I don't find much speculation -- certainly none that's assertive -- about his potential running mate.

For Sanders, a key question is electability. Clinton is in a commanding position by any measure. Yet his supporters in New Hampshire say his local ties and longstanding practice of holding town hall meetings and people-to-people campaigning — a staple in the nation's first primary state — could serve him well.

"Toward the Vermont border it's like a love-fest for Bernie," said Jerry Curran, an Amherst, New Hampshire, Democratic activist who has been involved in the draft Warren effort. "He's not your milquetoast left-winger. He's kind of a badass left-winger."


Richard and Margy Gerber of New York state plan to drive five hours to catch Sanders' hometown announcement. They also want to visit family in Burlington.

"I don't think I've ever been at a campaign announcement event in my life," Richard Gerber said.

Gerber remembers marching into Sanders' office during a visit to Burlington several years ago and telling a staffer that Sanders should run for president. Elevator doors opened, and Gerber suddenly found an opportunity to share the same message face-to-face with the senator himself.

"He sort of looked at me like I was crazy, I think, and just sort of thanked me for my support and got off of the elevator and went into his office," Gerber said, adding that he'd like to think his encouragement had something to do with the senator's decision.

Does Sanders have a shot at the presidency? "I'm realistic that it's not likely to happen," Gerber said, "but it'd be nice if it did."

And there you have the reality.  Wherever Sanders' campaign goes after today and wherever it ends -- shortly after the New Hampshire primary, I suspect, although he may still be on the ballot in March in Texas -- it's about sending a message.  No matter what anybody, including Sanders, may say.

He rejects the notion that he's simply in the race to shape the debate.

"Hillary Clinton is a candidate, I am a candidate," Sanders said. "I suspect there will be other candidates. The people in this country will make their choice."

Whether Sanders can tap into the party's Warren wing and influence Clinton's policy agenda remains unclear. But he has been on the forefront of liberal causes as Clinton has seemed to be tacking to the left.

Yes.  Ted Rall has some thoughts about Clinton's recent tilt.  And so do I.  It goes like this (again):

You can't tell us one day that Hillary is every bit as liberal or as progressive as Bernie, and the next day tell us that Bernie is too far to the left to get elected president.  (It would be as nonsensical to say that Sanders is too old, when Clinton herself is as almost old as Ronald Reagan was when first elected.)

You have to pick one argument.  You can't use both.

Meanwhile, you should let Democratic progressives -- the Warren wing -- have their moment in the sun without too much in the way of the continuing advancement of these obnoxious prevarications.

Once Sanders is out of the race, it will be your job to convince progressives that Clinton is someone they should get behind.  Personally speaking, I won't be doing that.  But you won't be able to blame me -- or anyone who refuses to get on the Clinton bandwagon for any reason whatsoever -- if she should lose.  Blaming the Green for the Democrat's loss is a 15-year old parlor game.  Let's stop playing it.

Votes are earned, not siphoned off.  Because the number of votes in an election is not zero-sum.  Because Clinton, through word and deed, has not demonstrated she is capable of earning mine.

Some additional reading if you are, or think you might be, like me:

-- Can the Democratic Party be used for good?

-- Debate: Bernie Sanders announces run for presidency. What should the left say?

-- Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders: Sheepdogging for Hillary and the Democrats in 2016

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Weekly Wrangle *updated with Texas weather conditions*

Update (Tuesday, May 26): Houston isn't as bad for me as it is for some others; there's a few limbs down in the yard and a blue kiddie pool in the middle of the street, but that's about all.  Only lost the satellite signal, not the electricity.  Didn't go out for dinner as planned.  Wife's office is closed this morning, so she'll work from home.   And a couple of posts are coming later, on the new sheriff's hirings and Bernie Sanders' campaign kickoff in Burlington, Vermont today, so don't touch that dial.


The Texas Progressive Alliance doesn't feel threatened by either Operation Jade Helm 15, or Texas biker gangs, in bringing you this Memorial weekend edition of the best lefty blog posts from across the state.


Off the Kuff takes a look behind the scenes at the deal struck between Houston's Metro and US Rep. John Culberson.

Lightseeker at Texas Kaos injects a little Colbert humor into his piece about craven Texas politicians that run away from crucial issues that will impact our future whether we like it or not. Knowing how the Titanic passengers felt...

Socratic Gadfly discusses how Pew Research's latest religious survey is another reason Democrats shouldn't make demographic assumptions about voters, in this case, Hispanic/Latino ones.

Dos Centavos also linked to an NPR article about the increasing relevance of the Latino vote for both Democrats and Republicans in the 2016 election. 

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wonders how Republicans can ignore real needs, promote xenophobia and violate labor standards for the DPS with one act.

Neil at All People Have Value took a walk in Houston Freedman's Town and in Galveston. He took good pictures. Everyday life is fun and interesting if you make some effort and look around. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson figures damn near everyone knows that our political systems are rigged. Those on the left, those on the right, and everyone in between. That frustration is being shown in many different ways all over the political spectrum. Where Left And Right Come Together.

'Mr. Tesla', according to Rep. Senfronia Thompson, was one of the biggest losers so far in the Texas Lege's 84th session. But so has been Rep. Senfronia Thompson, according to PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

From Drake's star-studded Houston Appreciation Weekend to the historic opening of two new light rail lines, Texas Leftist can say in earnest that it was a great week to be in the Bayou City.

Bluedaze publishes a letter from a pro-fracking addict who has recovered, and reminds all other addicts that a better life awaits.

Egberto Willies recounts a conversation with a conservative at a Starbucks, and the power of dialogue -- listening and talking.

========================

More Texas blogs with posts about Texas here!

Trail Blazers has the news that the Texas House has tentatively approved funding for police body cameras.

First Reading reports that Rep. Jonathan Stickland thinks he has proof that he was set up in the Great Red Light Camera Debate of 2015.

State Impact Texas had the lowdown on this year's El Nino -- complete with a Chris Farley video --  well before the flooding in Hays County over the weekend.

The Texas Observer has a Q&A with Dawn Paley, the author of Drug War Capitalism.

Better Texas Blog looks at what's left for the Texas Lege to finish up in the few remaining days of the regular session.

The Quintessential Curmudgeon wonders if we can ever break the chokehold of Christian theocracy in the Texas Legislature.

Austin Bakes is fundraising for Nepal.

Juanita Jean wants to know what it would take to stem the open carry tide.

Paradise in Hell points out that the "Texas Miracle" has a lot in common with the "North Dakota Miracle".

RG Ratcliffe interviews conservative video hucksters Hannah Giles and Joseph Basel, ICYMI.

Texas Clean Air Matters wants to know why our state's leadership is more concerned about the success of other states than they are about Texas.

Mark Bennett examines the criminal defense situation in Waco following the Twin Peaks shootings.

The Texas Election Law Blog highlights an actual case of alleged vote fraud in Weslaco, which like every other case of vote fraud we've seen would not have been prevented by voter ID.

Mike Collier notes that taxes are going up while the quality of schools and roads are going down.

And Talking Points Memo has an interview with the fellow organizing the Golden Triangle Militia in Orange County, David W. Smith.

Memorial Day Toons

Never Forget...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Huckabee trips on his own hypocrisy

For a guy who has made a comfortable living criticizing the parenting skills of the Obamas for allowing their children to listen to the music of Beyonce',  Mike Huckabee just skated out over ice too thin.


Some review.

Josh Duggar, the eldest of the "19 and Counting" children of the TV family, resigned from his post at the Family Research Council (an extremist Christian conservative organization founded by James Dobson, led by Tony Perkins, and labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) after it was revealed that he had sexually molested five young girls -- including some of his sisters -- in 2006, when he was 14 years old.

That was enough controversy and 'do as I say, not as I do' irony for everyone to use the entire Memorial Day weekend to digest, without having to look at the selfies of Duggar with Huckabee -- and Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz; roughly half of the GOP presidential field.  But Huck went on and threw some gasoline on the coals in the grill, posting a lengthy Facebook status update affirming his "support for the Duggar family," and saying that Duggar was being attacked by "blood-thirsty media" and deserves "our support."

That appears to have been a bridge too far for Huckabee's Facebook 'friends', who are tearing him to shreds on his own page.  A few of those "you've lost my vote" reactions are posted here, with a link to whatever Huckabee's FB page monitors have left up (I did not click over to check).

Media reaction, as you might imagine, has been swift and harsh.  Not quite 'bloodthirsty'.

Huckabee praised the Duggar family, who took over a year to bring the matter to law enforcement, saying that they “dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities.”

He adds that Josh is a good person who “confessed his sins to those he harmed [and] sought help,” despite the fact that, according to reports, Josh did not receive counseling and was only sent to live with a family friend who worked in the home remodeling business.

The former Arkansas governor saved his anger for the people who have cited the case to point out the disingenuousness of the reality TV stars and the conservative political activists who hold them up as a paragon of moral virtue, or as Josh referred to his family, “the epitome of conservative values.” They also have a record of depicting LGBT people as threats to children.

Coincidentally, Huckabee had just received the endorsement of his 2016 presidential bid from Jim Bob Duggar -- who was himself running for political office at the time of the molestations by his teenage son -- and wife Michelle.

(Huckabee's own son killed a dog at Boy Scout camp in 1998, when he was 17.  Later, David Huckabee became an Eagle Scout.  But that's a digression.)

Yeah, the schadenfreude would be delicious... if it weren't so sickening.

As the picture at the top demonstrates, Huckabee has enjoyed the company of a variety of child molesters recently without being called to account.  Until this week, and by his own hand.

Some people might point out that he has not just immolated his own presidential aspirations, but that he has done considerable damage to the other candidates like him, and to the segment of the electorate that demands a Christian conservative in the White House.  A development that plays directly into the hands of the corporate caucus of the GOP and its preferred choice(s).  That's probably a stretch.

After all, there's still Rick Perry, the perfect marriage of Christian conservative and crony capitalist.  But even he's got some explaining and a little scrubbing to do.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Pastors protected, 'Mr. Tesla' loses, high speed rail survives but not local control

Oh, and the state budget will have a tax cut for property owners and businesses.  No sales tax cut.  It's also pinching schools again.

-- In a  jiu jitsu move, Texas House Democrats decided they would not let themselves be branded as opponents of religious freedom by Republicans.  So they nearly all voted aye to shield preachers and ministers from being compelled to bake a gay cake perform a marriage ceremony if they so objected.

These are the games legislators play at the end of the session.

-- In a classic faceoff between the country-ass representatives and the big city ones, two lines of words were removed from the budget bill that allowed high-speed rail to live another day.

Budget writers on Thursday removed a Senate-inserted rider in the spending plan that said the Texas Department of Transportation couldn’t spend any state money on “subsidizing or assisting in the construction of high-speed passenger rail.”

[...]

The two-sentence provision in the massive, $210 billion state spending plan had proved nettlesome in late-session budget negotiations, pitting rural lawmakers against those who represent Texas’ two biggest metropolitan areas.

[...]

But bills aimed at stopping or slowing the project appear bottled up in both the House and the Senate. And with the budget rider shot down, (GOP Sen. Charles) Schwertner predicted that Texans “will rue the day” that they didn’t stop the project when they could.

This is another way you can distinguish progress from regress.  It's not always Democrats vs. Republicans.

-- In the latest example of the word 'local' in local control defined as "under the Capitol dome", legislators don't like it when counties sue polluters, so they're going to stop that.

If finally passed, House Bill 1794 would notch another victory for a wide range of business groups in a legislative session that’s been kind to industry at the expense of environmentalists and advocates for local control. The proposal would set a five-year statute of limitations and cap payouts at about $2 million when counties sue companies that have fouled their water or air.  

A 24-6 vote with no debate set the bill up for a final Senate vote. The legislation already sailed through the House, pushed by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth.

Proponents say that curbing civil penalties assessed on top of those doled out by state regulators would bolster economic certainty for companies and allow them to focus resources on cleaning up their messes.

Because that's been going so well along the San Jacinto River.

In the past five years, Harris County has brought about 10 such cases per year, with penalties averaging about $61,000 per case. But several high-profile environmental cases have resulted in bigger settlements with the county, including a January agreement with AT&T for about $5 million over leaking storage tanks. 
Lawyers for the county and the state recently won a $29.2 million settlement from McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. and Houston-based Waste Management Inc. for pollution in the San Jacinto Waste Pits in the eastern half of the country, where wastewater containing dioxin, highly toxic and carcinogenic, has festered for decades.

-- This session has marked several very big victories for corporations large and small.  'Mr. Tesla' was not one of the winners.

In a turn of events that isn’t terribly surprising, a bill to allow Tesla Motors to sell cars directly to consumers in Texas has failed to make it to the floor, with various state representatives offering excuses about not wanting to "piss off all the auto dealers."

We already know that Elon Musk doubled his lobbying expenses, and even spread another $150K among lawmakers this session, all for naught.  But it was left to "Miz T" to deliver the ignominious coup de grace.

The following criticism from Texas state Representative Senfronia Thompson highlights the challenge Tesla is up against.

“It would have been wiser if Mr. Tesla had sat down with the car dealers first,” Thompson said.
Yes, if only  Mr. Tesla came back from the dead to sit down for a nice little tete-a-tete with car dealers, perhaps then they could have hammered out a mutually beneficial agreement.

Thompson has had an extraordinarily bad session.  She also co-sponsored the anti-fracking ban legislation that many Houston Democrats foolishly voted for.  Twenty years -- ten terms -- in the Lege appears to have been one too many for her at this point.  She was once a progressive warrior, but it looks like she's either sold out or forgotten all she knows.  Sad.

Of all the Texas Democrats that have shamed themselves in the 84th, Senfronia Thompson stands alone at the top of the list.  If she doesn't make the Texas Monthly Top Ten 'Worst', then somebody hasn't been paying attention.

-- Oh jesus, I almost forgot to mention that poor women aren't allowed to use Planned Parenthood for their cancer screenings any longer.

With another ten days, 16 hours, and a few minutes remaining, it's difficult to comprehend that the worst might be yet to come.

Update: GOPLifer seems as disgusted as I am.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

American Phoenix funding source sleuthed out, wants his money back

One of the largest donors to the "foundation" that has been secretly filming Texas legislators in recent weeks turns out to be a billionaire and a harsh critic of higher education.  David Saleh Rauf and Lauren McGaughey at the HouChron did the gumshoe work.

A private foundation led by billionaire oilman and higher education critic Jeff Sandefer has given $200,000 in recent years to help bankroll a conservative nonprofit now at the center of a scheme to secretly film lawmakers and lobbyists, tax filings show.

Tax records for Sandefer's Ed Foundation, a philanthropic tax-exempt organization that spreads cash to dozens of causes, provide the first connection to a funding source for the group that over the last six months has strapped hidden cameras onto a band of operatives to track the state's political elite.

Reached for comment Thursday, Sandefer said he was not aware of the group's plan to secretly film lawmakers and was unhappy with his investment after he received no feedback on how the group was using his money.

"I was unaware that they were planning to film politicians. Our intent was that they were going to train journalists," Sandefer said. "We were unhappy with a lack of progress in training journalists and asked for the money back. And we did not receive any money back."

So you have to wonder what it is he wanted for his 200 large.

As a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, the American Phoenix Foundation does not have to disclose donors and has refused requests to do so, saying only that its source of money has stemmed from more than 11,000 small donors.

A private foundation like Sandefer's, however, must disclose all grantees and grant amounts on an annual filing to the IRS. Tax filings for Sandefer's foundation show $100,000 donations to the American Phoenix foundation in 2011 and 2013, the last publicly available information.

Sandefer, a board member of the Austin-based conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation and one-time adviser to former Gov. Rick Perry, said (Foundation founder Joseph) Basel approached him for the 2011 grant. After the first $100,000, Sandefer said he received no indication from Basel how the money was being used. After he agreed to give the foundation a second $100,000 in 2013, he expected a progress report but received none.

"We did not get into specifics of what they were going to do. I never got that far. I never heard a specific plan to do anything," Sandefer said. "I have no legal right to ask for that, but I would like my (second) contribution returned."

Sounds a little sour grape-y to me.  But my original suspicions have been confirmed.

State lawmakers who have been targeted by the secret videotaping operatives say they were not surprised to hear Sandefer's name as a potential major donor behind the group. Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said Sandefer's connection only heightened his suspicion that the group originally set out to target Republican House Speaker Joe Straus and his allies.

"It's all about transparency," said Larson, who said he has been approached six times this week by American Phoenix operatives. "It's unfortunate that some of the fringe elements in our party continue to take this approach to what we're doing in the Texas House."

Sandefer has been a prolific political donor in recent years, contributing more than more $1 million to conservative candidates and political action committees since 2010. That includes more than $400,000 to a political action committee called Accountability First that took aim at Straus and his top lieutenants during last year's primary. Sandefer also gave $100,000 to state Rep. Scott's Turner's campaign to challenge Straus for the position of House Speaker.

George Strake has also been a player with APF, albeit at the smaller tables.

A foundation run by former Texas Secretary of State and one-time state GOP chairman George Strake, a staunch Republican and former TPPF board member who has called for a more conservative House speaker, also gave the American Phoenix Foundation a total of $30,000 between 2011 and 2013 to help launch "training programs."

And The State Policy Network, a national umbrella group for conservative think tanks that counts TPPF and the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute among its state members, also gave a $25,000 grant to the Phoenix Foundation in 2012.

Combined, the grants reflect a total of $255,000 in funding to the American Phoenix Foundation over a three-year period.

More on Sandefer.

Sandefer has never sought elective office, but he once was one of the most influential men under the pink dome. A long-time friend and donor of then-Gov. Rick Perry, the ex-University of Texas adjutant professor drew widespread derision from the higher education community with his "Seven Breakthrough Solutions," a set of business-oriented policy recommendations for the state's public colleges and universities.

Other than a brief and controversial effort at Texas A&M to give teachers cash bonuses for good student evaluations, however, Sandefer's proposals largely have been rejected by higher education leaders.

What he did accomplish was to set off years of infighting at the University of Texas System, between those who supported Sandefer's approach and those that backed the flagship's president and its history of strong academic research. The feud continues to simmer, with new UT System Chancellor William McRaven now butting heads with regent Wallace Hall.

Isn't it amazing how these concentric circles all contain the name 'Rick Perry'?

"(Sandefer) was the mastermind, supposedly, of the greatest attack on excellence in higher education in the history of our state," said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a leading higher education policymaking and long-time critic of Sandefer's methods.

It's always nice to find out who the puppetmasters are in these schemes.  And even more fun when they turn their knives on each other.  Trust me; nobody's going anywhere until we find out how much Dan Patrick -- and perhaps Greg Abbott -- knew about this plot.