in Houston, Texas
Website criticizes state Rep. Byron Cook, Eppstein Group threatens legal action
Tuesday, Apr 03, 2012, 07:20AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

If you don’t think the struggle for the soul of the Republican Party in Texas is occasionally unnerving, give State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook a call.

You might first want to assure his assistant you aren’t recording the conversation.

A Fort Worth political consulting firm that has done at least $75,000 worth of business with Cook over the last decade has threatened legal action unless AgendaWise, a conservative, Austin-based website that has been critical of Cook, disappears.

The tiny non-profit AgendaWise team, including executive director Daniel Greer, has no intention of doing any such thing, posting a big, black “Censorship” banner over blogs taunting Cook for his bullying.

On March 29, AgendaWise posted a 2-minute, 6-second audio recording of a woman describing how Cook, R-Corsicana, keeps his schedule.

We’ll let you judge what sort of case the audio makes -- check it out by clicking on the link -- but AgendaWise concludes from it that Cook’s failure to keep a schedule violates state law on records retention.

AgendaWise goes on to say Cook is also in violation for failing to keep a calendar and for throwing away his appointment records.

“Our intern placed the call,” Weston Hicks, the other half of the AgendaWise team, says. “He and the contact in Cook's office were calling each other by first names at that time. He gave her his AgendaWise email address in an earlier open records request.”

The intern neither identified himself as working for AgendaWise, nor did he mention the conversation was being recorded. The latter is legal in Texas, the former, a choice.

“We stayed well inside the law, which is always our goal,” Hicks says. “As activists, we are under no obligation to present ourselves as anything other than Texas citizens.”

In its blog post, AgendaWise said it had turned over the audio clip and other information about the exchange to the Travis County District Attorney’s office.

The following day, Tyler Hargrave sent an e-mail on behalf of the Election Group, also known as the Eppstein Group, to, the registrar for AgendaWise’s domain name.

Hargrave, who refers to himself as a shrewd political strategist and savvy social media whiz on the Eppstein Group’s website, demanded the company take down the website or remove the Byron Cook blog post.

“The statements and content published on the above site have been fraudulently obtained and are being maliciously used to greatly damage a Texas representative’s reputation and character,” Hargrave wrote. The e-mail was provided to Texas Watchdog by AgendaWise.

“We are also exploring an official complaint under Section 512(c) of the U.S. Copyright Law under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). If that decision is reached, you will be notified immediately,” the e-mail continued. “Please contact me immediately with a response.”

It isn’t clear whether the Election Group intends to file an official complaint. A call placed to Hargrave seeking comment was not returned.

Nor can Texas Watchdog be absolutely certain the Election Group made the threat of complaint at the explicit direction of Cook. A message left with the office of State Affairs this afternoon was not returned.

There is an amusing sidebar to the kerfuffle. Upset that a Cook assistant had been recorded in secret, Hargrave alleged in the e-mail that AgendaWise had edited the recording to further impugn Cook. Hargrave offered to provide the complete conversation, suggesting it had also been recorded in secret on the other end.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of 'Texas State Capitol' by flickr user jpellgen, used via a Creative Commons license.

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