Open Government – with no strings attached

In Texas the law is clear. Governing bodies must conduct the people’s business in public or else face some serious penalties. This statute has protected the public and elected representatives alike for the past 42 years with a basic premise: Public bodies should deliberate in public.

The days of making backroom good ol’ boy deals in private are a thing of the past because the Texas Legislature outlawed it by passing the Open Meetings Act in 1967, and strengthening it in 1973 after the infamous Sharps-town scandal.

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Test 1: Before Saving the Nation’s Banks, Jones Bailed Out Houston

As the world struggles to come to grips with the global financial crisis, it might be instructive to look at how Jesse Jones and other Houston leaders dealt with an earlier banking calamity.

The Chronicle’s Loren Steffy recently published an interview with Jones biographer Steven Fenberg describing how Jones, chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, saved the nation’s banking system.

Before he went to Washington in 1932 to serve on the RFC board, Jones saved Houston’s banks. In effect he created a Houston Deposit Insurance Corporation before Congress created the federal version (FDIC).

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SUSPICOUS AYE IN TEXAS HOUSE

Fraudulent voting in the Texas House of Representatives has been going on for a long time. It reached a new low last year when the House passed the “voter ID” bill to prevent fraudulent voting at the polls, of which there is little evidence.

Of fraudulent voting in the House there is ample evidence. It’s called “button-pushing.” Channel 42 in Austin filmed Texas House members voting fraudulently to keep other people from voting fraudulently. Google “You-Tube-Texas Legislation” and see the action.

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MEMORIES OF KARL ROVE

I had no Republican opponent when I first ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1972 and was re-elected in 1974 and 1978 without much opposition, but in 1982 the Repubs decided my free ride was over. My opponent was George Strake, a Houston oilman who had been appointed Secretary of State by Governor Bill Clements.

Little did I know what dark forces confronted me! Karl Rove was Strake’s campaign manger!

Strake came after me with the usual Rove stuff—I spent too much state money and I was soft on illegal aliens. Worse than that, the state budget had grown! It certainly had, but not by nearly enough. Texas, then as now, was one of the fastest growing states and trails the nation in public education and public services.

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LADY BIRD JOHNSON

The Hobbys and the Johnsons have been friends for three generations now, bound together by broadcasting and government.

Mrs. Johnson was the broadcaster in the family.

Luci Baines Johnson grew up in both businesses, as did I.

Sam Ealy Johnson, President Johnson’s father, and I.W. Culp, my grandfather, served together in the Texas House of Representatives.

Mrs. Johnson began her broadcasting career as the owner of a radio station in Austin then bought a television station. Of course the call letters of both stations were and are KLBJ. Mrs. Johnson later bought stations in other Texas cities.

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POLL TAX

The poll tax was eliminated by the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it was used by former Confederate States to keep poor people, black and white, from voting.

But the Texas Legislature never ratified the amendment. It almost, but not quite, did so in the last session. The proposed legislation was sponsored by two black Houston legislators: Representative Alma Allen and Senator Rodney Ellis. House Joint Resolution 39 passed the House unanimously (Speaker Craddick abstaining). It passed the Senate State Affairs Committee unanimously and was put on the Uncontested Calendar.

But, somehow, it never passed the Senate.

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A HISTORY LESSON FOR GOVERNOR PERRY’S BENEFIT

Governor Pick Perry doesn’t like the way higher education is funded. He wants to micromanage it.

He doesn’t care that higher education is poorly funded. (Texas ranks 50th in percentage of high school graduates, 27th in college graduates.) The issue is neither higher education nor funding, issues about which he knows little and cares less.

The issue is the power of the Governor vs. the power of Legislature. The Texas Constitution gives the Governor the power of line item veto. The Governor can veto certain “items of appropriation” without vetoing the whole appropriations act. The line-item veto is almost meaningless because the Legislature can package items to keep a Governor from micromanaging.

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HOW TOM DELAY GOT STUCK ON THE BALLOT

Poor Tom Delay! He can’t get off the ballot.

Poor Republicans! They can’t get him off the ballot!

Why?

Because in the early 1980s, both parties ignored their own voters in the primaries and replaced candidates whom the voters had nominated (“stalking horses”) with candidates more acceptable to the party leadership. Just as the Republican Party has unsuccessfully tried to do now by replacing Tom DeLay.

In other words, the Republicans are lying in a bed they helped to make. The result is likely to be that the only Republican seat to be lost as the result of DeLay’s shenanigans will be the one DeLay has resigned.

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THE PRIVATIZATION OF PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION

Public support for higher education is declining all over the country. In state after state support is going down. Tuition is going up.

In 2002, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University barely made the US News & World Report top fifty.

That’s right—the top FIFTY.

And that was three years ago in the good old days. Today, UT-Austin is 46th. A&M is 62nd.

Texas is spinning downward. We have already plunged past mediocrity in health care, poverty, and environment. Must we do so in education as well?

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PARDON ME!

President Clinton’s end-of-term pardons have come in for a lot of criticism. Executive clemency, as Presidential or Gubernatorial pardons are called, has played its part in Texas history, too.

Governor Sam Houston pardoned murderess Mary Monroe because the Texas Supreme Court opinion upholding her conviction had been written by Oran Roberts, then heading the convention that would lead Texas into secession.

“I’ll pardon her”, Houston said. “No citizen should be deprived of liberty by such a fellow.” The pardon itself simply reads “It being shown to me by petitions and facts presented that there is reason for the exercise of executive clemency….”. Seems reasonable to me.

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