Saturday, December 15, 2007

Greg Abbott, Tom Craddick, and the best government money can buy

After 180 days of careful contemplation, the TxOAG issued a 31-page opinion regarding the question of whether the Speaker of the Texas House is a statewide officer.

The answer: he has no opinion. Mostly.

The two Republicans who wrote to "General Abbott", however, do have one:

" now appears that the integrity of Texas Government is still at a critical crossroads," say State Representative Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) & State Representative Byron Cook (R-Corsicana)

"In football terms, the Attorney General's advisory opinion has punted this issue to the courts and has fumbled in its attempted summary. Craddick is elected from his Midland district which is only 1/150th of the people of Texas. Based on this, we strongly disagree with the unprecedented contention that the office of Speaker is a statewide officer.

"Furthermore, it is unprecedented to contend that the House Speaker is subject to removal by a vote of the Texas Senate. Sadly, the Attorney General's advisory opinion only reaffirms the adage: 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Tom Craddick's declaration of 'absolute authority' is an abuse of power and undermines the basic premise of democracy in Texas government.

"We firmly believe Craddick's application of 'absolute authority' has violated constitutional rights of members of the legislature and the constituents they serve. We firmly believe our state constitution did not create the Texas House Speaker post as a dictatorial position.

"It is our understanding of the state constitution that the Speaker is a legislative post constructed to serve the members of the Texas House of Representatives as a presiding officer over its operation. Because of the Attorney General's own admission of a lack of clarity by past Court cases, it now appears that the integrity of Texas Government is still at a critical crossroads.

"Enough is enough. The people of Texas need to let their local representatives know that they've had enough of Tom Craddick's one-man dictatorship."

Even Republicans are tired of the corruption in Texas government (not enough of them, obviously, but still, this qualifies as progress).

What do you suppose they'll actually do about it, though?

Update: South Texas Chisme rounds up the links from the MSM and the blogosphere summarizing the disarray. Vince thinks it's a total win for Craddick, including the AG's suggestion that impeachment would not force the election of another speaker, but Harvey Kronberg finds some flaws in the legal reasoning (bold emphasis his):

We are still trying to sort out Greg Abbott's opinion regarding Tom Craddick's constitutional assertions of power. The consensus of non-government attorney's (sic) we have spoken to is that it is much verbiage without much meaning.

What seems truly bizarre to this reader is that more deference was given to Knox v. Johsnon (sic) in which an appeals court decides a state hospital superintendent is considered a state officer than to the 1871 precedent in which the House removed a speaker. In fact, although the state constitutional convention of 1845 is referenced, the 1871 precedent is not.

In parsing through arcane case law, the Attorney General never looks to other states or federal examples where nearly identical constitutional issues have been adjudicated -- something at least one expert told QR was the starting point of such a discussion in which no case law existed.

And of course, the Abbott opinion never seriously looks at the precedents cited in the briefs hostile to his conclusion.

More reaction likely.

Friday, December 14, 2007

What's wrong with telecom immunity anyway?


Dear United States Senate,

Please pass a bill that gives me immunity from breaking the law. Now -- and this is awkward -- I can't tell you which law I broke or when I first broke it, or the specifics of how I came to break that law. I can't tell you what the results of my breaking of the law have been, and I cannot tell you how long I have been breaking the law. I can, however, assure you that I broke whichever law I broke for a very good reason, which is that President George W. Bush told me to break it.

I can't tell you whether or not George W. Bush had the authority to tell me to break the law, because I can't tell you how I broke the law. So maybe I didn't break the law at all, because George W. Bush says I didn't, but on the other hand George W. Bush lacks the power to declare who did or did not break the law, because it is not for him to say, so I probably did break the law, in a manner I can't discuss.

Anyway, I think you will agree that the only available option is to pass a law declaring that it is OK that I broke whatever law I broke, if I broke it, because if you do not I will be sad and people will be mad at me and possibly try to hold me accountable for breaking the law that I can't tell you I broke.

It is very important to give me blanket immunity for breaking the law, whichever law I broke, for reasons that I am also not allowed to tell you. Please get right on it -- preferably tomorrow. If you have time.

P.S. I am not a crackpot.

Harry Reid is bringing the FISA bill up for a vote today Monday -- placing, as the NYT notes ...

... Democratic senators like Christopher Dodd and Russ Feingold in the absurd position of having to stage filibusters against their own party’s leadership to try to forestall more harm to civil liberties.

And mcjoan finishes:

Reid won't only be going against Feingold and Dodd on this. He'll be going against Daniel Akaka and Bob Menendez--not your average liberal firebrands, but Senators who signed on to that letter opposing telco amnesty.

He's also be going against Senators Biden, Clinton, and Obama, all of whom will hopefully remember their promise to support Dodd's filibuster, if necessary.

It's time for some real leadership in the Senate, for someone to stand up to Bush. This would be a great place to start, and our presidential candidates are just the people for the job.

With the news earlier this week about Nancy Pelosi assisting in the waterboarding of our democracy, I would have to say that I'm at the end of the line with my Democrat Congressional leadership. This FISA bill needs to go down in flames, one way or another.

Or else the Democrats in Washington are going to.

Update (12/15): The vote is now scheduled for Monday. For the next three days I will be calling Democratic Senators in other states requesting their assistance in thwarting this retroactive immunity legislation, since I do not have any goddamned Senators in my state who represent me in Washington.

2007 Texan(s) of the Year


The Texas Progressive Alliance is proud to announce the Texas House leadership team of state representatives Jim Dunnam, Garnet Coleman, and Pete Gallego as our 2007 recipients of the Texan of the Year award.

There may not be three individuals who have done more for Democrats in the state of Texas over the past four years than Dunnam, Coleman, and Gallego. Together in 2007, they led the way for the resurgence of the Texas Democratic Party. They were on the front lines battling Speaker Craddick in the final days of the session, and are now poised to add to the Democratic gains in the House as they continue their roles as co-chairs of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

Their work together is imperative to the continued progress of Democrats in Texas, but it's their individual efforts that really demonstrate how this leadership team brings out the best in one another for the good of all Texans. Here's a brief highlight of what each of these leaders did over the past year:

Jim Dunnam

Where Democrats had a mere 62 members in the House in 2003, today there are 70, including Kirk England, who announced his intention to switch parties and run as a Democrat in the next cycle. And with the extra troops there was mustered a full frontal assault on Craddick's corrupt leadership, launched by a single question from the Waco Democrat: "Mr. Speaker, what is the process of removing the Speaker of the Texas House?" His mastery of the House rules was incredible to watch.

During the 80th legislative session, Dunnam led efforts to clean up the mess Rick Perry and the Republican leadership made at the Texas Youth Commission. He worked with Coleman and Gallego to lead the fight against expanding tax cuts for the richest 10% of Texans at the expense of health care and education. He passed numerous bills for his district but will forever be remembered for the efforts he made on the House floor, challenging the absolute power of Speaker Craddick.

Garnet Coleman

Coleman is one of the most progressive members of the Texas House. He filed over sixty pieces of legislation, including ending tuition deregulation, overturning the ban on gay marriage, and preventing the construction of new toll roads anywhere in the state of Texas. But beyond those strong policy positions, he successfully passed legislation to expand health care opportunities for former foster children and double the funding for cancer research. He continued his fight to fully restore CHIP -- an effort he's worked for ever since Craddick and his allies kicked hundreds of thousands of kids off their state-sponsored health care beginning in 2003.

Beyond his legislative work, Coleman is the top fundraiser for Texas Democrats and is well-known for his non-stop efforts in supporting House Democrats across the state. He chairs the Legislative Study Group, which received a Silver Star award from the TPA for its policy work.

Pete Gallego

Gallego is the chair of of the largest bipartisan legislative caucus in the Texas House, the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus. He also sits on the national board of NALEO. He was a top lieutenant for Speaker Pete Laney, and his work from that better time allows him to remain one of the most trusted members of the Texas House.

His policy issues are far-reaching and range from helping protect our state's natural resources to preventing those horrid voter ID bills behind the scenes. Gallego also tempered some of the more controversial issues of the session, including immigration and security. He often makes waves quietly inside the Capitol, but his efforts help thousands of Texans from all walks of life.

Together, Representatives Gallego, Dunnam, and Coleman are extremely deserving of our 2007 Texan of the Year award.