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Interactive map profiles candidates for Texas House speaker

Friday, Jan 02, 2009, 02:44PM CST
By Jennifer Peebles

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Texas House speaker candidates
A map detailing the declared candidates for Texas state House speaker, including the incumbent speaker, Tom Craddick, and his challengers from both parties - each candidate is a balloon, red or blue, depending on their party. We also look at two influential House members who aren't running for speaker but who could play key roles in who will win: Democrat Jim Dunnam and GOP Rep. Warren Chisum. They're represented by push pins. UPDATE, 8:30 p.m. Jan. 5: We're continuing to update our map as the speaker's race progresses: With support solidifying behind Rep. Joe Straus, and many candidates dropping out of the race, we've changed the dropouts' icons to a cloudy sky drawing. We've also added one more push pin, Rep. Charlie Geren, a key member of the "ABC" Republicans, who are backing Straus.

Chisum omitted legislative pay from disclosure form

When you're the chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee, you probably need to have an eye for numbers -- how much this costs, how much that costs, how much this program or initiative will cost, how much this person or that person is paid.

In that case, it might be a little ironic to learn what the chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee left off his personal financial disclosure form last year: His own legislative salary, paid to him by the state.

State Rep. Warren Chisum, who chaired House Appropriations in the last legislative session and is now a key player in the fight over who will be the next state House speaker, checked the "not applicable" box on section 1a of his form, according to records from the Texas Ethics Commission.

However, records from the state comptroller's office show the Pampa Republican was paid $7,200 last year for his work as a state House member -- $600 a month.

The state law that mandates the personal financial disclosure forms says that filers must disclose all sources of occupational income, said Tim Sorrells, deputy general counsel and spokesman for the Texas Ethics Commission. There's "nothing specifically in the law that excludes legislative salaries," he said, and no, there's also not an exemption for occupations that don't generate much income -- there's nothing that says you don't have to list income from a certain job if you make less than $10,000 from it, for instance.

You can see Chisum's financial disclosure, as well as other important information concerning him and other key players in the race for House speaker in an interactive map that Texas Watchdog is making public today. Readers can quickly see biographical data about the candidates, access links to their ethics forms and campaign finance data, and view their contact information. (Click on the link above for the map, or go to the bottom of this story.)

We've got a call in to Chisum's Austin office for comment on this story. We initially called about it back in October, when we were considering including this factoid in a larger story we did about legislators' personal financial disclosure forms -- the Austin office referred our calls to an office in Chisum's district, and we left a message with a nice lady there but never did get a response back. We called again this morning and left a message on the voicemail in Austin. We'll be glad to update this story when we get a response from the representative or his office.

Others disclosed legislative income

Other lawmakers did disclose their legislative salaries on their forms. On House Speaker Tom Craddick's form, the first employer he lists in section 1a is "Texas House of Representatives," for which he lists an address of 105 W. 15th Street, Austin.

Elsewhere in his form, Chisum disclosed that he received income from energy and oil companies, an individual retirement account, certificates of deposit and a family partnership involved in ranching, oil and gas and investments.

Texas Watchdog also reported last fall that Chisum was one of several state legislators to disclose having receiving gifts in the course of their official duties -- his included a semi-automatic handgun from the members of the House Appropriations Committee and a framed picture from the Free Market Foundation of Plano.

What does the apparent omission mean for Chisum? It depends. For the Ethics Commission to look into it or even penalize him, someone would have to file a complaint about it, Sorrells said. The Ethics Commission can issue fines, generally of up to $5,000.

Whether Chisum will again be chairman of House Appropriations in the coming legislative session has yet to be determined, as that post -- and other House committee assignments -- will be filled after the House members pick a speaker. Craddick, a Midland Republican, is facing 12 of his fellow House members who are trying knock him off the perch he has held since 2003.

Given the one-vote majority the GOP holds in the 150-member lower house, Craddick's replacement could come from either party, depending on which candidates can garner the most support from the rival party. Eight of the declared speaker candidates are Republicans, and five are Democrats.

Lawmakers vy for speaker post

While Chisum isn't among the candidates for speaker, he could still play a pivotal role in choosing the next speaker. Texas Monthly's Paul Burka has written about the "30 or so hardcore" Republicans in the House, the largest bloc on the GOP side:
I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone — Warren Chisum, maybe, if he doesn’t become a candidate himself — organize them and take them as a group to one of the contenders, most likely [Rep. John] Smithee [of Amarillo].

Across the aisle from him, Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, has also lined up a bloc, sometimes called the Dunnam D's, to try to prevent Craddick's reappointment. His office released a petition earlier this week signed by 64 of the 74 House Dems, saying they'd pledged to vote against Craddick. (Click on Dunnam's name to see a story Texas Watchdog wrote about Dunnam in October concerning a possible conflict of interest he may have been involved with.)

To help the public keep the candidates straight, Texas Watchdog today is rolling out a new interactive Google Map (above) profiling each of the declared candidates for speaker (and Chisum and Dunnam as well). Readers can quickly see biographical data about the candidates, access links to their ethics forms and campaign finance data, and view their contact information. (To see our interactive Google Map larger, click here.)

UPDATE: 11:20 a.m. Jan. 6: Chisum tells Texas Watchdog that he didn't disclose his legislative pay on his ethics form because he doesn't consider legislators to be state employees -- but he said he'd contact the Texas Ethics Commission for clarification.

Chisum 2007 Disclosure Form
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