Council argues over which lobbyists should represent the City
Partisan politics flared up in the City Council chambers recently when the City’s external-relations department introduced its lobby team for the upcoming special and regular sessions of the Texas Legislature.
The special session, which Governor Rick Perry called to resolve the state’s public school financing policy, begins in April. The regular session begins in January 2007.
The new team, recommended by Intergovernmental Relations Manager Ray Baray, includes Harold Oliver; Austin lobbyist James Jonas; J.E. “Buster” Brown, a former Republican Texas senator; Tris Castañeda, a member of the City’s lobby team since 1996; Susan Rocha, on the team since 1995; and Christopher Shields, a team member since 1996. City Attorney Michael Bernard and Assistant City Manager Erik Walsh will lead the crew.
By a vote of eight to three, with Elena Guajardo, Patti Radle, and Roland Gutierrez voting no, the lobbyists are headed to Austin on behalf of the City, but not without some fireworks.
Baray attempted to pull Oliver’s nomination because Oliver had allowed his lobbyist registration in Austin to expire. But Oliver assured Baray that he had taken care of the problem, and the Texas Ethics Commission confirmed that Oliver filed with that agency on February 23.
District 10’s Chip Haass said he wanted Shields, an expert in taxation, special districts, economic development, and related fields, to serve on the lobby team. District 8 Councilman Art Hall sponsored an amendment to add Jonas to the team.
| “I’ve owned up to it being
a mistake. I did it with
my partisan hat on.”
– lobbyist James Jonas
Councilman Kevin Wolff of District 9 went partisan and announced that he is a Republican and that he would vote for both Shields and Jonas. Shields raised some eyebrows because he is the director of the Texas Gaming Commission, which plans to push for casinos in Texas when the legislature convenes, and Gutierrez questions where his priorities will be in the case of conflict of interest. Jonas is a member of the Bexar County Republican Party.
District 3’s Gutierrez, who has operated his law firm for eight years, went into lawyer mode on the City Council dais. “I want everybody to know why Wolff stated he’s a good Republican ... I’m a pretty darn good Democrat. It is not prudent to hire Jonas. We need a lobbyist that is not going to make this City have a target on its back.”
The problem, Gutierrez said, is a letter that Jonas signed and sent to a potential contributor to the Republican cause in June 2004, endorsing Republican Jeffrey Hibbs against Democrat Jim Dunnam in Waco’s House District 57. Dunnam, in his 10th year as a state representative, is the highest-ranking Democrat in the statehouse.
“You may not know Jeffrey, who is an outstanding conservative,” Jonas wrote to David Swift of San Antonio, “but you certainly know Jim Dunnam, the career liberal Democrat. The Austin insider. The leader of the infamous and cowardly Democrat walkout last year.”
The “Democrat walkout” refers to the Demos’ retreat to Ardmore, Oklahoma, to delay a Tom DeLay scheme to redistrict Texas congressional districts to favor Republican candidates. Jonas’ letter invited Swift to a fundraiser for Hibbs at a local residence. “Jeffrey thinks and acts like us,” Jonas wrote. “He’s a conservative and a Republican.”
Jonas admitted to Council that he signed the “Texans for Jeffrey Hibbs” letter, but said that he did not read it. “I’ve owned up to it being a mistake,” he said. “I did it with my partisan hat on.”
“This will put a tremendous burden on the City of San Antonio,” Gutierrez told Jonas. “How can you be effective for the City of San Antonio with this in mind?”
Gutierrez says he doesn’t endorse judicial candidates in the Bexar County Courthouse, since he has to work in those courts through his law practice. “I’ll never say one bad word about a judge in office, and I don’t expect lobbyists for the City of San Antonio to say some bad and negative things about our state representatives, whether they be Republican or Democrat, because we have to work with them.
“This is not about Republicans and Democrats. Jonas’ efficacy is in question.”
Baray told Council that he had not seen the letter from Jonas to Swift. Mayor Phil Hardberger acknowledged the letter “was ill-advised,” but he said he supports naming Jonas to the City lobbyist team. “We’ve got a big load we want you to carry,” he said as he called for the vote.
“The City will determine if a conflict of interest exists with the City, San Antonio Water System, and City Public Service,” said Baray, who added that the lobbyists’ activities in Austin also will be scrutinized for conflicts of interest with other clients. “Jonas has a wide range of expertise.” He added that Jonas would not be called upon to lobby Dunnam in Austin. •
By Michael Cary