Friday, June 09, 2006

The Fort Worth Hilton

... which serves as the Texas Democratic Party's convention hotel (and where I am writing this) was formerly the Hotel Texas, the place where President John F. Kennedy and the First Lady slept the night of November 21st, 1963. The next morning, after a speech in the hotel's ballroom and a press conference directly in front of the hotel, the president's motorcade departed for a short flight to Love Field in Dallas, taking with it the final moments of a more innocent America.

In the side foyer of the hotel is a photographic recollection of this bit of history. More on the convention events later.

P.S. : I have a first-edition copy of An Inconvenient Truth, signed by the book's author Al Gore, donated to our statewide candidates as a silent auction item. If you're reading this and attending the convention, come by and place a bid on it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

RIP, Mary Kay Merriman

Mary Kay Merriman, Democratic activist, League of Women Voters member, and wife of Progressive Populist Caucus chair emeritus Stan Merriman, passed away suddenly yesterday.

David Van Os posted these remarks:

The fact that we are going to have a wide open, democratic election for state party chair is in large part a result of Stan Merriman's labors over the past 4 years to re-democratize the Texas Democratic Party. The fact that the Progressive Populist Caucus meeting is going to draw huge interest and will have heavy impact is a direct result of Stan's labors over the past 4 years in building the Caucus. The fact that the State Party Platform of 2004 was one of the most progressive in the history of the Texas Democratic Party is a direct result of Stan's labors. The fact that the 2006 platform will no doubt continue the same spirit is likewise a result of Stan's work. The fact that the face of the Texas Democratic Party in Convention this week will reflect a much more grassroots oriented party than it did 4 years ago is likewise a direct result of Stan's ceaseless labors, much of which are unknown to most but are undeniable to those who know.

Stan Merriman has been one of the most committed progressives that I have ever known. My family's thoughts and prayers go to him now at a time of incalculable loss.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Texas property insurers want another big raise

My friend John Cobarruvias, the blog-prietor of Bay Area Houston and president of Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings, submitted this editorial on State Farm's homeowners insurance rate increase:

It is beyond belief that the State Farm Mutual Insurance company has filed with the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) to raise homeowner's rates as much as 39% across the state. This request will be the first challenge for the new TDI Commissioner Mike Geeslin and the leadership of Texas, and they need to stand up for the consumers and show State Farm the door.

In 2002 Texas had the highest homeowner's insurance rates in the nation. After the massive insurance reforms proposed during the 2003 legislative session, rates are now twice the national average and Texas again has among the highest rates in the nation, second only to Louisiana. If that isn't bad enough, deductibles are much higher and coverage such as foundation, water, sewer and mold is now optional, at an additional cost.

The promised reforms of the 2003 session were a complete and total failure of the leadership of the state. Then- insurance commissioner Jose Montemayor -- now CEO of an insurance investment outfit -- caved in to every request of the industry. After conducting hearings on toxic mold, he removed mold coverage without any reduction in rates or any worthwhile measures to prevent the cause of mold contamination. He allowed the use of credit scoring, giving the industry the right to increase rates based upon an owner's credit history. And he authorized the use of HO-A policies, which made foundation, water, and sewer damage insurable only as additional expensive policy riders. And yet not one single penny of rate reduction was realized by homeowners.

The Texas Legislature, led by Governor Rick Perry, wasn't much help either. They failed to protect homeowners by passing business-friendly legislation that provided absolutely no rate relief for consumers. The Texas Attorney General at the time, John Cornyn, filed lawsuits against the insurance companies questioning changes in their rates, but the suits were frivolous because Cornyn never intended to -- and never did -- follow through on the charges filed against the insurance industry. The present Attorney General, Greg Abbott, has also done nothing to defend Texas consumers.

The insurance industry, the TDI, the attorney general's office, and the state legislature has provided a steady stream of excuses to homeowners while rates have doubled and tripled and coverage has been slashed. And now State Farm wants to raise rates as much as 39%.

It is clear the current Texas political leadership has absolutely no interest in protecting consumers. The property tax relief passed in the recent special session will be offset by the out-of-control increases in property insurance, all while the insurers have enjoyed record profits. And the insurance industry has now found another excuse, "reinsurance"; the insurance purchased by insurance companies to protect themselves. Never over the last 4 years has reinsurance been used by Texas insurers. This is a sure sign that in the face of windfall profits, the industry is grasping for excuses to justify additional rate increases.

As in 2002, and as if on cue, insurance companies will file excessive rate increases right before the 2006 elections. Our elected officials will again have a chance to file frivolous lawsuits and make empty promises on the campaign trail, giving lip service to 'lower rates'.

Governor Perry, Attorney General Abbott, and Insurance Commissioner Geeslin should stand up for the consumers and show State Farm the door, or the voters in Texas should show them the door in November.

John will be hosting a consumer caucus on the Texas Residential Construction Commission -- what Chris Bell called "a case study in corruption" -- next Saturday at the Texas Democratic Party Convention in Fort Worth.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Texas GOP's Festival of Hate

The anger and hatred spewing out of the mouths of the Texas Republicans, gathered in San Antonio this weekend for their biannual state convention, once again manages to reach astounding proportions.

Just when we thought we couldn't be appalled any more ...

Party chair Tina Benkiser kicked off the convention by telling delegates that immigrants should learn English and embrace American values and that "amnesty" for illegal immigrants "is simply another word for surrender."

Houston Chronicle

"Unfortunately, that (undocumented immigration) has given way to multi-culturalism and hyphenated Americans and people whose loyalty is to a different flag," (Benkiser) said.

San Antonio Express

(Gov. Rick) Perry's director of homeland security, Steve McCraw, described the influx of illegal immigrants as a "tsunami" that could include "an army of jihadists."

More from some of the GOP delegates, concerned about the rage:

"I don't like the rhetoric," said Reggie Gonzales, of Houston, state chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. "Being a proud American of Mexican descent, I don't like the overtones."

"I was a strong supporter of Perry until this last (legislative) session. I felt like he stabbed conservatives in the back," (delegate Andy) Pittman said. "I don't think he realizes right now that he's got the grass-roots upset."

Previous three quotations from here. I salute Rick Perry and the Texas Republicans for their cluelessness in continuing to pave the way for their vainglorious defeat in November.

As we move toward the Texas Democratic Party convention weekend in Fort Worth on June 8-10, posting here will be even lighter than usual. In my capacity as statewide coordinator for the Van Os campaign and in addition to serving as a delegate and being requested to run for the platform committee from my Senate district (a post I'm likely to decline based on my workload as political hack/blogmeister), I'll probably have some live-blogging from the floor and the various caucii, as well as some of the social/political events.

Our biggest news ought to be a rather interesting contest shaping up for state party Chair between Boyd Richie, Glen Maxey, Charlie Urbina-Jones and Lakesha Rogers. I can promise you that we'll be much more positive and upbeat than our counterparts in spite of the current Republican-induced state of our state.

Update (6/6/06): I've been wanting to type 666 for about a week now ... Vince Leibowitz applies more smackdown, as does Stace Medellin and John Coby and Trey McBlogger . And John Cornyn's Box Turtle at In the Pink Texas.