“Did I do anything wrong? Did I?” state Rep. Borris Miles asked in response to a reporter's question, stiffening. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Miles -- who, outside his service in the state House is an insurance agent who services the Houston schools' flood insurance policy -- says he's made the same offer to others.
“I’ve offered this same trip to school boards across the state," including Dallas ISD and many school districts in Houston's suburbs, Miles said. "I’ve offered it to many of the representatives here in the House. I’ve offered it to union groups. To any people of influence.”
Miles wanted Texas Watchdog readers to know that he offered the same trip yesterday to a Watchdog reporter to whom he spoke for an hour at the state Capitol after the House adjourned for the day.
When asked if he thought it appropriate for an HISD vendor to offer the trip, Miles declined to comment, saying that a defense would imply that he had done something wrong, which he said he hadn’t done. “Y’all can spin that answer any way you want it, so I’m not going to comment,” he said.
The Houston Democrat offered to take most of the members of the HISD trustees to Costa Rica last year, offering them the chance to venture to the Central American nation to research "medical tourism" -- in which people travel to other countries to have medical treatment performed at much lower costs than back home. Only Marshall took him up on his offer, Miles said.
Both trips were paid for by the Costa Rican government, Miles said.
“In regards to the Medical Travel Conference and Medical Facilities tour in Costa Rica, I was an invited guest, just like Mr. Marshall," the legislator said in a written statement he also provided to Texas Watchdog. (Read the complete statement here.) "I was asked to extend an invitation to others who I felt might have any interest in looking into ways to reduce their health care spending for select procedures.
“More than 200 benefits professionals, business owners and public officials from across the U.S. have attended this conference. As best we can tell, the public officials number ... less than 2 percent. Which is really bad, because innovations tend to come to the public sector last.
“The state of Texas and its residents spend nearly $1 trillion -- with a 'T' on health care. The people of my district, 146, pay some of the highest costs for health care in the state and the nation. Instead of complaining about the new health care reform act, some of us have elected to take a more proactive role at looking into ways to lower those costs.”
He defended his work with HISD, saying he has had the flood insurance contract with the school district since 2004 -- that was two years before he was first elected to the state House, though campaign finance records show he was already politically active at that time and had donated to major Houston-area candidates. A spokesman for HISD said the district began doing business with Miles “on or about April 2005.”
(Miles lost a re-election bid in 2008 to rival Al Edwards; he defeated Edwards last year by a handful of votes in a sometimes-bizarre political season during which Miles, accepting Edwards' challenge, took a drug-urine test during a live radio broadcast.)
Miles is a close friend of two HISD trustees, trustees president Paula Harris and trustee and former Houston city councilwoman Carol Mims Galloway.
The Houston school district, the nation's seventh-largest, has flood insurance through Miles' agency for 94 buildings at 51 locations, as well as surety bonds through Miles, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said in an e-mail. Miles said three of his staffers manage nearly 170 policies for HISD.
The flood insurance actually comes from the federal flood insurance program, and Miles' agency, a Farmers Insurance firm, services the policy.
The school district has paid about $900,000 in premiums to Miles' agency. The legislator said his agency received only a small percentage of that amount, though he declined to say how small.
HISD did business with Miles' agency after he submitted the lowest bid of the two firms that responded to a request for proposal for the flood insurance, Spencer said, beating out McGriff, Seibels & Williams of Texas.
The Costa Rica offers were all made in the same way they were made to Houston ISD, by e-mail.
State legislators and candidates for legislative office are required to fill out an annual ethics form -- one that instructs filers to "identify any person or organization that has given a gift worth more than $250 to you, your spouse or a dependent child, and describe the gift." It also requires filers to "identify any person who provided you with necessary transportation, meals, or lodging ... in connection with a conference or similar event in which you rendered services, such as addressing an audience or participating in a seminar, that were more than perfunctory."
Miles' ethics form covering calendar year 2010, which he was required to file as a candidate for the state House, shows both sections marked "N/A" for "not applicable."
The trips would not appear on any of his ethics filings, Miles said, because it was offered when he was a private businessman, not an elected official.
Contact Mark Lisheron at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-299-2318. Contact Lynn Walsh at email@example.com, (713) 228-2850, or on Twitter at @LWalsh.
Photo of a map of Costa Rica, used via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.