Thursday, June 24, 2010

Meet the Democratic Statewides: Uribe, Bailey, Hampton

As the state convention opens today in Corpus, this series on the Texas Democratic Party's slate of statewide candidates continues with the bios and introductory videos of the candidates for Commissioner of the General Land Office Hector Uribe, and the nominees for state Supreme Court Blake Bailey and Court of Criminal Appeals Keith Hampton.

Uribe's goal is to lead the GLO from 20th century hydrocarbon-based energy sources to 21st century renewable ones. Uribe will vigorously battle global warming by promoting renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, while preventing any negative impact to the revenue streams that flow into the Permanent School Fund.

Uribe has extensive experience in legislative and governmental advocacy, having served almost a decade in the Texas Senate and 3 years in the Texas House. Equal educational opportunity, economic development, and job creation were the hallmarks of Uribe’s tenure as a state senator.

He authored the bill to merge Pan American University into the UT System (it's now called UT-Kingsville), providing graduate programs to previously underserved college students in the Rio Grande Valley. He similarly authored the Texas Enterprise Zone Act, designed to create new businesses and jobs in economically depressed areas. His varied legislative committee assignments prepared him in a broad range of areas including the protection of our environment. He chaired the Senate’s standing subcommittee on Water and vice-chaired the joint subcommittee on Oil Spills and Water Pollution Abatement.

But again, the most significant differences come when you compare him to his opponent, incumbent Jerry Patterson. Look:

The Christmas Mountains, in the heart of the Big Bend region of Texas, were given to the state in 1991.  They should have been transferred to the National Park Service (NPS) and been made part of Big Bend National Park a long time ago.  However, Republican Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has prevented that from happening, insisting that he wants to sell the Mountains to a private entity.

The foundation that gave the land to Texas wanted the Christmas Mountains to remain public.  Patterson refused to transfer the Mountains to the NPS because he claimed to take issue with any entity that disallows firearms – but in reality, Patterson is just an ineffective steward of Texas’ public lands who is more interested in selling Texas off than preserving it. [Source: NPR, 10/22/07]

Congress lifted the ban on firearms in National Parks and President Obama signed the bill into law earlier this year.  Because Patterson claimed his refusal to transfer the Mountains stemmed from the NPS ban on firearms, the hope was that he would finally transfer the Mountains to the National Park Service.  However, instead of sticking to what he said, Patterson just moved the goal posts.  He now says his problem is that hunting would not be allowed in the Mountains under Park Service control. [Source: Washington Post, 2/19/10; San Antonio Express-News, 4/9/10]

If the ban on hunting in national parks were lifted, would Patterson finally drop the act and transfer the Mountains, or just come up with another excuse?

With Hector Uribe, there are no questions about integrity.  On Hector’s first day as Land Commissioner, he will transfer the Christmas Mountains to the National Park Service, so that they can be cared for responsibly and enjoyed by Texans for generations to come.

Uribe’s focus will be on protecting Texas’ rich and wild environment.  He will be a responsible steward of our vast public lands -- not an ideologue who keeps moving the goal posts however it suits him.

Bailey's pet peeve is the same as mine: the 100% Republican Texas Supreme Court is completely biased against little-guy plaintiffs and in favor of the biggest corporations.

In a recent, Blake Bailey pointed out that Wal-Mart is far more successful appealing lawsuits in Texas than anywhere else in the country. From 1998 to 2005, Wal-Mart has won 100% of the appeals brought against them in Texas; outside of Texas, Wal-Mart has only won 56% of their appeals.

That statistic is the most staggering of a long trend facing the Texas Supreme Court: they have a controversial history of supporting big business in their rulings. From 2005-2006, eighty-two percent of all rulings went in favor of defendants. The rulings themselves wouldn’t be as much of an issue, if it weren’t for the contributions that came along with them.

From 2000-2008, the more money donated to Texas’ Supreme Court justices, the higher the chance of success. A study conducted by the non-partisan consumer advocacy group, Texas Watch, showed that the success rate among donors who gave to the justices on the Supreme Court increased based on how much the donors gave. Here’s a breakdown of their findings:
  • 345 donors who had cases before the court gave less than $10,000. They had a success rate – a favorable court ruling – of 54%.
  • 44 donors who had cases before the court gave between $10,000 and $24,999. Those 44 donors had a 58% success rate on their cases.
  • 48 donors who had cases before the court gave more than $25,000. Those 48 donors had a whopping 64% success rate on their cases.
Justice should not be for sale, regardless of price or party. It is offensive to think that giving more money to the Texas Supreme Court justices will correlate with a higher success rate in the Court – but the findings detailed above demonstrate it to be true.

Bailey's opponent is recently-appointed Justice Eva Guzman... another of Rick Perry's ham-handed attempts at Hispanic outreach. Guzman has accepted large contributions from insurers and bragged on her website about how judicial "reform" has improved the business climate in Texas. Attorneys representing the state's largest insurance companies have even told Bailey point-blank that they were unconcerned about the verdict in a jury trial against his clients, because an appeal to the SCOTX virtually assured them of victory.

This "Supreme Court For Sale to Big Business" aspect is one of the most important things we can change in November.

Hampton is running for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 6. He is challenging two-term incumbent Republican Michael Keasler. When first elected in 1998, Keasler replaced the last Democrat to hold a seat on the Court. Since then the CCA has been under complete Republican control. Sound familiar?

Without any Democrats on the CCA for the past twelve years, the ideological spectrum of the Court has shifted dramatically to the right. One Republican judge on the Court, Lawrence Meyers, recently toured newspaper editorial boards promoting the state’s fairness, prompting Dallas Morning News Editor Michael Landauer to write, “Try not to laugh.” (Source: Dallas Morning News, June 2009). Scott Henson, an award-winning blogger who writes for the non-partisan criminal justice site Grits for Breakfast, wrote the following about the political nature of the CCA:

There is no liberal wing on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. There’s a conservative wing, to which Judge Johnson belongs, and a more or less totalitarian wing, in which Keasler and Meyers reside along with Presiding Judge Sharon Keller. (Source: Grits for Breakfast, June 2009)

The “totalitarian wing” of the Court has a well-documented and thoroughly perplexing history of unprofessional actions. From the “sleeping lawyer” case in October 2000, to investigations into the judicial conduct of Sharon Keller in 2007, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is in desperate need of professional, accountable judges on its bench.

In order to restore a semblance of fairness and justice to the Court, Texas Democrats can help elect Keith Hampton to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 6.

Later today: Bill White.

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