The jefe of the Texas House of Representatives is in hot water this week over vicarious $50,000 contributions to Craddick D campaigns — in alleged violation of a state law that prohibits candidates for speaker from buying seats through the ballot box. Watchdog group Texans for Public Justice (the proverbial thorn in the culo of corrupt politicians and lobbyists everywhere) has filed a complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle over a $250,000 contribution made from Speaker Tom Craddick’s campaign to a political action committee which in turn doled out checks of $50,000 apiece to four incumbent Tom cats who are clawing their way to reelection this fall.
Texas Jobs and Opportunities PAC had been dormant for 18 months when it received the sudden infusion of Craddick cash on January 10. The very next day, the PAC cut checks to Democatic State Reps Kino Flores (Mission), Aaron Peña (Edinburg), Kevin Bailey (Houston), and Dawnna “What Happens In Vegas, Stays In Vegas” Dukes (Austin) — a chain of transactions so liquidly sequential that TPJ Director Craig McDonald called them “coordinated and illegal.”
Although Dukes had the good sense (or feelings of sheer panic) to return her check uncashed, Bailey, Peña, and Flores ran straight to the bank. Bailey told the Houston Chronicle it was the largest contribution his campaign has ever received. Earle’s office has yet to weigh in on the scandal du jour. Only Peña is unlikely to be too badly impacted by taking the money. His Democratic Primary opponent, civil engineer Eddie Saenz, is presently fighting a DWI rap he snagged late last year.
A few weeks ago, Texas looked like a day-late, dollar-short afterthought in the 2008 presidential-primary season. But as State Representative Juan Garcia (D-Corpus Christi) noted during a Barack Obama campaign conference call on February 11, with Super Tuesday failing to bring clarity to the Democratic contest, the Lone Star State is now “the center of the electoral universe.”
Garcia and Obama senior policy adviser Austan Goolsbie (a Waco native) used the conference call to promote Obama’s Texas push, which began on February 12 with a new television ad, and to tout the Illinois senator’s health-care plan. Hillary Clinton has gained traction during the campaign by arguing that her health plan provides universal coverage while Obama’s plan will result in millions of Americans voluntarily opting out of coverage.
The Queque asked Goolsbie to defend Obama’s proposal against arguments that if individuals are not required to get health insurance, voluntarily uninsured people who wind up needing medical care will drive up insurance premiums for everyone.
“The basis of `Obama’s` plan is to get the costs down and make it affordable,” said Goolsbie, adding that for the 18-24-year-old “young invincibles,” “mandates don’t work,” as proven by a Massachusetts mandated-insurance plan which the state’s 18-24-year-olds mostly ignored. Obama’s answer is to allow those up to 25 to remain on their parents’ insurance.
Queque felt like a dork for asking a question about substantive policy matters while the other journalists focused on, uh, political strategy: When is Obama coming to Texas? (Soon.); Would Obama agree to throw down with Clinton in a series of Texas debates? (At least one debate, for sure.); Who is Obama’s favorite Jonas Brother? (OK, we made up that last one).
“And we keep on waiting,” said Esperanza Executive Director Graciela Sanchez when the Queque called to chitchat about Judge Xavier Rodriguez’s hotly anticipated parade-ordinance ruling. The U.S. District Court justice held out hope of a ruling before February 8, the day the City’s new public-demonstration law required Esperanza to register its annual
International Women’s Day March, but as of Tuesday at noon, the word from his chambers is that he’s “still working on it.” The San Antonio Free Speech Coalition, which includes Esperanza, asked Rodriguez to throw out the ordinance because it favors some parades — which get a pass on expenses above $3,000 — over others and would charge organizers of some First Amendment marches.
“We’ve gone ahead and talked to the police” — a face-to-face sitdown was scheduled for
1 p.m. Tuesday — “and let them know that we’re going to be marching anyway,” said Sanchez, adding that they “kind of giggled again at the craziness of the ordinance,” which the Queque dubbed the Flash Mob Rule because the $500 fine is far less than the cost of your average permitted march, and spontaneous gatherings are free.
The Coalition and its legal counsel haven’t been sitting idle while they wait on Rodriguez’s ruling, judging by Sanchez’s familiarity with the arbitrary nature of SA’s parade levies: “It really is about who you know at City Council,” she said, or who does the math. Two separate but nearly identical applications for the same immigrants-rights march last year netted a $9,000 estimate (permit denied because the applicant failed to pay for a prior parade), and a $3,000 tab — even though the applications appear to have been evaluated by the same officer. •