in Houston, Texas
Tea Party claims win as Ted Cruz secures GOP nomination for Senate
Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012, 11:29PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
The Apotheosis

In what might someday be seen as a turning point for the Republican Party in Texas, former state solicitor general Ted Cruz tonight upset Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for the United States Senate.

Cruz, who had not run for political office before, will be heavily favored in the Nov. 6 general election to beat Democrat Paul Sadler, who easily won his runoff Tuesday night.

Cruz defeated Dewhurst 57 percent to 43 percent with all of the statewide vote counted. Associated Press called the election for Cruz an hour-and-a-half after the polls closed with little more than 20 percent of the vote counted and Cruz ahead by 7 percent.

Outgoing U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison Tuesday night congratulated both candidates on a hard-fought campaign.

“In the coming months, I will do everything I can to support the election of Ted Cruz to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate and be available to him for any questions that will prepare him for the issues he will face,” she said in a prepared statement. “It is more important than ever that we have leaders who are committed to get our country back on track – focused on cutting spending and creating jobs to grow our economy.”

In two other key races for federal office, Roger Williams, the former Texas secretary of state, ran away from Central Texas Tea Party founder Wes Riddle for the Republican nomination for U.S. Congress in the 25th District. Williams trounced Riddle 58 percent to 42 percent with all precincts reporting.

And in what most thought would be a tight race to the finish, state Rep. Pete Gallego prevailed over former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the 23rd District. Gallego bested Rodriguez 55 percent to 45 percent with all precincts reporting.

While the full explanation for and the impact of Cruz’ victory will be parsed for months to come, Tea Party leaders and conservative fundraisers from outside Texas stepped forward Tuesday night to congratulate Cruz and to take some credit for the win.

Ted CruzTed Cruz

Cruz had laid the groundwork canvassing the state at least a year before small government conservatives began referring to themselves as Tea Party members and three years before he announced he would run for Senate.

Tea Party leaders in Texas identified him as one the key candidates in a statewide effort to oust incumbent Republicans in the May primaries. Dewhurst, a liked and respected conservative lieutenant governor for nine years, might have known there was trouble ahead when he failed to make it out of the primary without a runoff.

“This is a victory both for Ted and for the grassroots Tea Party movement,” Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate, who campaigned for Cruz in Texas, said in a Facebook post Tuesday night. “Go-along to get-along career politicians who hew the path of least resistance are no longer acceptable at a time when our country is drowning in debt and our children's futures are at stake.”

Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, the largest political action committee affiliate, said, “We saw an unquestionably strong and bold tea party conservative in Cruz. We saw Dewhurst as the anointed Austin politician that was exactly what we have been working to rid Washington of. And finally we saw the passion in the Texas tea party activists that could set the stage for this historic victory.”

Analysts will also be looking back on an engulfing wave of conservative money from outside the state donated mostly by the national Club for Growth and the Texas Conservatives Fund.

Open Secrets is reporting that outside groups spent $14.4 million, $3.2 million of it in the last week.

Dewhurst loaned his campaign $24.5 million, a factor driving what the nonprofit website called “the most expensive non-presidential race this cycle.”

Club for Growth Action, the conservative group's super PAC arm, plugged over $5.5 million into the contest.

“Tonight, Texas Republicans have shown Washington that the people do not work for the politicians – the politicians work for the people.” Chris Chocola, president of Club for Growth, said in a statement. “Ted Cruz won because he clearly articulated the pro-growth message that Republican voters across the country have responded to.”

Early voting last week was a tipoff the Cruz and Dewhurst race excited Republicans, an enthusiasm that favored Cruz. In five days 243,795 Republicans cast early runoff ballots, 3.3 percent of the state’s registered Republican voters, according to figures compiled by the Secretary of State.

In a much higher-profile, broader primary, with 12 days to vote early, 343,497 or 4.17 percent of Texas’ registered Republicans cast ballots.

While he said the race was too close to call, James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, told Texas Watchdog last week strong early voting would be a sign of which candidate had done the most to inspire their voting bases.

On Tuesday night, Rep. Gallego, D-Alpine, showed he was capable of reigniting his base. Having led from the start of the campaign, Gallego was beaten in the May 29 Democratic primary 46 to 41 percent by Rodriguez in the 48,000-square-mile 23rd District.

Gallego raised considerably more money than Rodriguez. Observers who followed the race closely said Rodriguez had been working door to door for much longer than Gallego in an attempt to avenge a loss to incumbent Republican, Francisco “Quico” Canseco.

The winner of the runoff will meet Canseco in the Nov. 6 general election.

Riddle’s same strategy of working the redrawn 25th District was to overcome Williams, a conservative who had raised and spent almost eight times as much money and had the advantage of having held a statewide appointed office.

Riddle, a retired lieutenant colonel, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army and novice candidate from Belton, surprised some by edging former Railroad Commission Chairman Mike Williams in the primary and forcing a runoff.


Editor's Note: This story was updated as election results were updated.

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

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Photo of the "Apotheosis of Washington" painting in the Capitol dome by flickr user carlosoliveirareis, used via a Creative Commons license.

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Compelling runoffs in Texas Congressional primaries, but will the voters come?
Monday, Jul 23, 2012, 01:49PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
voting card

Three of the most compelling elections in the last decade in Texas are likely to be decided on July 31 by a relative handful of voters.

Having commanded arguably the most powerful political office in the state for nine years and pouring nearly $25 million into a campaign, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst finds himself knotted up to the end with Ted Cruz, a former state solicitor general who has never held elective office, in the GOP runoff for U.S. Senate.

In the Republican primary in the redrawn 25th District, former secretary of state Roger Williams has raised nearly eight times as much money to stay ahead of Wes Riddle, Central Texas Tea Party founder whose tireless campaigning belies a maiden political candidacy.

And in the Democratic primary in the 23rd, Pete Gallego, the longtime West Texas state representative with more money and endorsements, now finds himself running from behind to catch former congressman Ciro Rodriguez.

Each of the runoffs was forced in a May 29 primary that drew less than 16 percent of registered voters, next to 2004 the worst turnout in a presidential election year in the last 20, according to turnout figures provided by the Secretary of State.

In 2000, runoff elections drew just 2.11 percent of registered Democrats and 1.93 percent of registered Republicans. In 1996, 4.97 percent of registered Democrats and 2.41 percent of registered Republicans cast votes in the runoff elections, according to the secretary of state’s figures.

“It’s the middle of summer, it’s the heat, it’s people taking vacations,” says Lydia Camarillo, who has done considerable canvassing in the 23rd District for the Southwest Voter Registration Project of San Antonio. “People think they’ve already voted in the primary. They have to be told they have to vote again. Those people have to be motivated to come out and vote.”

The advantage, all things being equal, goes to the candidates who have done the most to excite and inspire their respective voting bases, James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

Ted CruzTed Cruz

From presumptive heir to the seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in early spring, Dewhurst has steadily lost ground to Cruz, Henson says. As recently as May, before the primary, a survey by the Project showed Dewhurst leading Cruz 40 percent to 28 percent, with former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert getting 15 percent.

Primary results - Dewhurst getting 45 percent of the vote, Cruz, 34 percent, and Leppert, 13.4 percent - reflected the survey. The results also reflected how much ground Dewhurst had lost, Henson says.

Dewhurst’s own poll, released earlier this month, showed him ahead by 8 percentage points. Public Policy Polling, however, released a poll on July 12 that showed Cruz ahead of Dewhurst by 49 to 44 percent.

So much has the tenor of the race changed that some have questioned the value of Leppert endorsing Dewhurst two weeks before the election.

“You could see by the numbers Cruz making steady inroads,” Henson says. “I now think it’s going to be close. I’m not willing to bet the mortgage either way.”

Cruz has at the same time shown that all things don’t necessarily have to be equal.

David DewhurstDavid Dewhurst

Through mid-July, Cruz had raised $9 million, about two-and-a-half times less than Dewhurst who, according to the Houston Chronicle, has pumped about $16.5 million of his own money into the campaign so far.

Cruz raised $1.7 million from mid-May through the end of June alone, a sign of confidence in his continued strong showing.

The biggest reason for this ostensible surprise in the race was the consistent underestimation of the dissatisfaction of conservative Republicans with a candidate, Dewhurst, who appeared to have everything someone needed to become a U.S. senator, Henson says.

The media began following Cruz at the time he announced he was running for the Senate. Alice Linahan, a leading Tea Party organizer and member of the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, has been following Cruz for three years.

“He’s been out there with the people, talking to the people, having his picture taken with the people,” Linahan, who lives in Argyle, south of Denton, says. “When they talk about all the numbers, those polling experts have no idea what has been going on at the grassroots level.”

Tea Party leaders made it clear to Texas Watchdog last October they would be focused on cleaning house in the Republican Party long before they turned their attention to Democratic opponents.

“Definitely, Ted Cruz is what the Tea Party was looking for,” Linahan says. “David Dewhurst is seen as a kind of country club Republican. Anyone who has been in office that long has had to make backroom deals to get things done. They end up selling their soul.”

Corbin Casteel, a Republican consultant and strategist in Austin, acknowledges the depth of the Tea Party movement has become clearer to the mainstream in the party.

However, Casteel warned observers not to discount Dewhurst’s ability to deploy his personal fortune in the last days before the election. And in spite of a Tea Party distaste for deal-making, voters are being asked to choose a person who will serve without seniority in a body that still values comity and compromise.

“It should be very interesting. There’s no doubt Cruz’ voters are more excited right now, but no matter what, money still matters. This is going to be very close.”

Riddle takes to grassroots, Williams to massive advertising in District 25

Although the dollar amounts are much smaller, Casteel says he thinks money might matter even more to Roger Williams in fighting off Wes Riddle, whose voter base is much the same as motivated as the base for Cruz.

Wes RiddleWes Riddle

Riddle, a retired lieutenant colonel and a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army from Belton, remains a bit of a riddle outside of his core Tea Party support.

At 14.6 percent of the vote, Riddle finished well behind Williams, who polled 25 percent. But four of the others in a 12-candidate field received at least 9 percent of the vote, including former Railroad Commission Chairman Mike Williams.

It has been hard to draw the attention of voters away from all of the advertising bought by Williams, a successful car dealer in Weatherford. Williams had raised $2.7 million through mid-July and had $512,124 on hand, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Through the same period, Riddle had $47,527 remaining of the roughly $345,000 he had raised, according to the FEC data.

Riddle has compensated by relentlessly covering the 200-mile long, 11-county district. “His grassroots game has been second to none,” Casteel says.

He has connected with conservative voters in the same way Cruz has, says Linahan, who publicly endorsed Riddle. He is likely, she says, to benefit from a strong showing in the runoff by Cruz.

Although he recently won the endorsement of Texas Party hero Rep. Ron Paul, Riddle has not been as successful as Cruz in positioning himself to the right of his opponent. Fissures have developed among Tea Party membership in the district.

Roger WilliamsRoger Williams

When contacted for comment by Texas Watchdog, Angela Cox, the former chairman of the Johnson County Tea Party, said she had resigned her post to work for Williams.

“I have known Roger for several years and have always strongly supported him,” Cox said in an e-mail. “He is someone I believe that Tea Party members find to have the same beliefs that we have. He will do us a great job when he wins this campaign.”

Linahan says she intends to vote for Riddle, but says she thinks, perhaps, this is a race upon which Tea Party members are not willing to angrily split.

Chris Britton, a Republican consultant who lives in the district and who has friends who have or are working for both candidates, says he and the rest of the district have been bombarded by Williams ads.

As well as Riddle has done on the ground, Britton says, “I just feel like the momentum is with Williams.”

A tossup in vast 23rd District between Gallego, Rodriguez

Pete GallegoPete Gallego

Momentum has shifted sharply in the Democratic primary in the sprawling 23rd District, 48,000 square miles in all or parts of 29 counties from San Antonio to the El Paso County border.

From the time he announced his candidacy until the May 29 primary Rep. Pete Gallego was considered the frontrunner. His chief opponent, Ciro Rodriguez, had the taint of having lost to Canseco in the general election in 2010.

That political reproach was the spur Rodriguez needed. Much like Cruz, Rodriguez began campaigning long before anyone had announced for anything, while no one was looking.

When primary night was over, Rodriguez had won 46 percent of the vote, Gallego 41 percent. Suddenly, Rodriguez looked like he might be the best candidate to win back the congressional seat for Democrats, Camarillo says.

The race has been relatively quiet, with no major clashes between the two candidates. Gallego has $7,051 on hand as of mid-July after raising more than $844,000, according to the FEC. Rodriguez had more than $19,722, having raised more than $304,000, the FEC says.

Ciro RodriguezCiro Rodriguez

But rather than money, which proved to be a bit of a canard in the primary, Camarillo says she thinks the runoff will be decided by the motivation of the core voting bases for the candidates.

Gallego, from Alpine, represents a lot of territory, sparsely populated. Rodriguez, from San Antonio, remains very popular in a place where a third of the voters in the district live.

Beyond that, the primary demonstrated that even two well liked, politically established candidates could not necessarily bring out people who usually don’t vote in general elections, let alone a runoff.

“Leading up to the primary, Rodriguez outworked Gallego,” Camarillo says. “But Gallego has won his share of elections, too. He hasn’t been sitting back. I can’t call this one. I think it’s clearly a tossup.”

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

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Group backing Ted Cruz requests information; 2007 David Dewhurst speech favoring guest worker program removed from website
Friday, Jul 13, 2012, 11:11AM CST
By Steve Miller
David Dewhurst

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had for years kept on his state Web site a transcript of a 2007 speech he made supporting a guest worker program for illegal immigrants. Now it’s gone, and the Young Conservatives of Texas has filed an open records request to check it out.

The Austin-based group supports Ted Cruz, who is facing off in a July 31 Republican runoff election against Dewhurst in a bid for the U.S. Senate seat of Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is retiring.

The winner is most likely to head to Washington in the heavily Republican state.

Dewhurst’s 2007 speech was delivered when he was being honored as “Mr. South Texas” in Laredo.

“We need a human presence at the border and a humane presence at the border,” Dewhurst said. “I support secure borders both North and South and I support a guest worker program for those here today illegally. Labor and skilled workers are critical to our Texas economy. Our federal government needs to get its act together.”

Hard-line conservatives, including the young conservative group, are against anything with a whiff of amnesty for workers illegally in the U.S.

The open records request has as much to do with the removal of the statement from public view, though, as the actual statement.

In a press release, Jeff Morris, chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas, said, “We have known throughout this campaign that the Lt. Governor is running away from his record. But it is appalling that Mr. Dewhurst would try to delete the past in his effort to pull the wool over Texas voters’ eyes. If he expects to be our next Senator, Mr. Dewhurst should stand-by his moderate record and apologize for it, not try to hide from it, or deceive voters about it. We have filed our open records request so that Texas voters can know the full truth about David Dewhurst’s record.”

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

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Photo of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst from the website of the Texas state Senate.

As Senate candidates square off, a display of Texas' 'rightward drift'
Friday, May 04, 2012, 11:32AM CST
By Steve Miller

The U.S. Senate candidate forum in Houston Wednesday was summed up neatly in a headline by the San Antonio Express-News: “At Senate debate, Cruz rips Dewhurst, who rips Obama.” It’s a truth-telling header that speaks more to the lack of panache of either of the front-runners vying to take the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, the Tea Party favorite, has hammered on the notion that he is the real conservative in Republican primary, while his foe, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, has allowed Democrats to chair state Senate committees during his tenure under Gov. Rick Perry, which began in 2003.

The forum allowed each candidate to speak his piece about how he planned his own version of change, which Dewhurst used to promote himself and berate the Obama administration rather than to take on Cruz, whom he leads 38 to 26 percent, according to one poll.

"We need quite frankly, to send Barack Obama back to Chicago, get a good conservative Republican in the White House, that will follow a stable predictable course, so businesses know that the rug won't be pulled out from under their feet," KUHF in Houston reported Dewhurst as saying. "Invest it in creating millions and millions of new jobs, that will turn this country around."

The Texas Tribune reported that Dewhurst promised to apply “the Texas model” to his position in Washington if elected, a light touch on businesses that would enable growth. “We're seeing an avalanche of job-killing regulation" from Washington, D.C., Dewhurst said.

Among the best assessments of the Texas race for the Senate shows up of all places in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in an Associated Press column

The tone of the race is just one sign of the continuing rightward drift of politics in one of the most conservative states. With nearly 50 percent of Texas voters calling themselves "very conservative" in a recent poll, the competition in the GOP is now all about who's the purest and most doctrinaire. And longtime officeholders who rose in an earlier time can find themselves held up against the new breed of hard-liners who brook no compromise with the opposition.

KERA in Dallas has an excellent gathering spot for voters to check out the platforms of the candidates, a Republican primary field that also includes former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former ESPN analyst Craig James. Former state Rep. Paul Sadler and Sean Hubbard, a former sales and billing worker in Garland, are vying for the Democratic nomination, although the primary is expected to serve as the election for an office in which Democrats have little chance.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

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Photo of the Capitol via the Architect of the Capitol.

What does ‘states’ rights’ mean to Texans like Kelly Clarkson, Ron Paul?
Thursday, Jan 26, 2012, 11:04AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Kelly Clarkson

Texans are leading a movement to recast the perception of states’ rights as Antebellum code for racial oppression. Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Mario Loyola at the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies in Austin, Burleson’s own Kelly Clarkson.

Kelly Clarkson?

After tweeting to her gazillion fans, "I love Ron Paul," and following up with a radio interview saying, "He believes in states having their rights, and I think that that's very important,” Clarkson was inundated by people letting her know she made a big mistake, according to a national Associated Press story today.

"My eyes have been opened to so much hate," she wrote in contrition. "I do not support racism."

Clarkson, however, has helped open eyes to a generation of political thinking based not on racial politics but on the overreach of the federal government, the story says.

John Shelton Reed, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says the slavery connotation is lost on someone like the 29-year-old Clarkson.
"It's clear that we've turned some kind of page," he says.

Paul and Perry during his campaign for president have made vigorous reference to the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has thought it so important to its conservative message that it established the Tenth Amendment Center with Loyola as director.

Working with Ted Cruz, the former Texas Solicitor General and a candidate for U.S. Senate, Loyola laid out the Constitutional foundation for taking health care authority away from the federal government in the form of health care compacts.

In July, Texas became just the fourth state to approve a plan that would allow the state to enter into agreements with other states to run a health care system without federal direction.

Last April, Perry told an audience at the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas the authentic meaning of states’ rights has been eroded. "Over the years and decades,” he said, “Washington has extended its reach bit by bit, until the sound concepts behind the 10th Amendment were blurred and lost and the idea of states' rights has become increasingly disregarded."

Which doesn’t mean the phrase no longer recalls for some the states’ rights segregation platform of Sen. Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats in 1948 and Jim Crow laws in the South.

David Azerrad thinks conservatives would be better off staying away from the term altogether.

"In case you didn't know,” the assistant director of The Heritage Foundation's B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics, wrote in a blog post, “'states' rights' was the rallying cry of segregationists. Since no right-thinking conservative will keep company with such people, let's just drop the term states' rights once and for all."

Prof. Reed, however, thinks the emergence of a new, albeit original meaning of states’ rights might not be a bad thing.

"I do believe states' rights was a sound doctrine that got hijacked by some unsavory customers for a while — like, 150 years or so," he told Associated Press. "I'm professionally obliged to believe that knowledge is better than ignorance, but some kinds of forgetting are OK with me."
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of Kelly Clarkson by flickr user, used via a Creative Commons license.
Backers of health care compacts praise local control as Texas measure moves through Senate
Wednesday, May 04, 2011, 01:34PM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst found the quiet after the vote oddly deflating.

Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, had come to believe her bill was not just important for Texas, but a “save your country issue.” The House had passed her HB5 by a vote of 104-41, and while the split was along party lines, six Democrats had joined the majority.

What’s more, Kolkhorst, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, had put Texas in a position to join Georgia as only the second state to agree to engage in an interstate health care compact, something never undertaken before. With Senate passage of the comparable SB25 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and a signature from the governor, Texas would take its place at the front on a battle line to wrest control of health care for its citizens from the federal government. The agreement between states would put Texas on the way to receiving its federal health care funding as a block grant, with the state to decide the details.

Where, then, were all the front-page stories, the Capitol buzz, the start of a statewide political discussion? As proud of her work as she is, Kolkhorst says it might be the quietest major piece of legislation she has introduced in her 10 years in the House.

“I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little surprised,” Kolkhorst says, a few days after the April 21 vote. “I was quiet about this, too, at first, and that was part of the problem. This is a big deal in Texas and everywhere else. A chance to bring government closer to the people, to make it better and more responsive.”
Lois KolkhorstKOLKHORST

Kolkhorst isn’t alone in her feeling of dissonance. Last month Louisiana joined Texas and 11 other states considering entering into a health care compact. The news went unnoted by any of the major news outlets in the state.

Indeed, health care compacts appear to becoming a nationwide movement. Georgia has signed the bill into law. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has vetoed a similar bill after the House and Senate passed it. Houses in Missouri and Montana and the Senate in Oklahoma have passed health care compact bills. But all have received scant mainstream attention.

Why, then, should voters, taxpayers and citizens care about the future of health care compacts in Texas or anywhere else? What brings a normally measured state representative from Brenham to use life-and-death language to describe what is at stake with compacts?

The answer, to Leo Linbeck III, a Houston businessman and one of the founders of the national Health Care Compact Alliance, is as simple as it is profound. The right to decide on health care should be brought as close to the people who pay for it as possible.

“Congress takes it for granted that they should decide,” Linbeck says. “We don’t think that’s right. I think people instinctively know the decisions are being made in the wrong place.”

Prompted by Obamacare

The health care compact movement grew out of the passage of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 

Conservative scholars point to the 10th section of Article 1 of the United States Constitution. With the consent of Congress, states may and do enter into compacts with one another.

In their report for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, former Texas solicitor general and U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz, and Mario Loyola, could find no reason why states couldn’t agree to treat health care as another form of commerce. They placed health care compacts at the head of a list of goals for a broad-based effort by the states to take back authority from the federal government.

From the report:

“We propose an interstate compact to create an alternative state-based regulation of health care. The compact would provide that member States are free to choose their preferred model for health care policy; that they may opt out of Obamacare entirely; that they may choose to receive federal Medicaid funds as block grants without strings attached; and would otherwise accommodate maximum state flexibility.”

The inexorable growth of Medicare and Medicaid and the new state burdens heaped on health care by the Affordable Care Act made it clear to people like Linbeck that the only way to reform health care was to remove the federal government from the equation.

“It can’t be solved on that scale,” Linbeck says. “There’s no precedent for it in human history. Approaching the problem the same way it has been approached the past 40 years will probably result in the same mess.”

Kolkhorst says the states can control health care for their individual populations more efficiently and less expensively. The idea ought to make bipartisan sense, but she says she understood that a majority of Democrats in the House stood by a Democratic president for a health care bill they support.

Texas Watchdog contacted the two Democratic members of the House Select Committee on Sovereignty, the committee appointed to oversee the health care compact and other state’s rights legislation. Neither Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, the vice-chairman of the committee, nor Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, both of whom voted against HB 5, returned messages left with their staffs.

Garnet ColemanCOLEMAN

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, an unwavering opponent who spoke out against the bill prior to the vote, says he is certain the federal government’s response to a challenge to its authority will be a reduction in federal health care funding. Both the people who need Medicare and Medicaid protection and state governments trying to pay for it will be hurt, he says.

“When block grants are done, even with an increase for inflation, it’s not an increase for medical inflation,” Coleman, a member of Kolkhorst’s Public Health Committee, said. “Medical inflation is double regular inflation.”

Balkanization of health care

Opponents have been dismissive of health care compacts because of its novel and untested use of the Constitution, said Nick Dranias, director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the conservative Goldwater Institute in Phoenix. Some have labeled the vote like that in the Texas House as symbolic, assuming a U.S. Senate controlled by Democrats and a Democratic president would not consent to a state health care compact, he says.

As momentum builds for a health care compact, opposition has begun to mass. The AARP, which worked closely on the Affordable Care Act, will have a lot to say about severing what has been a reliable federal lifeline, Linbeck says.

“We’ve seen opposition start to emerge from people who feed at the trough in the current system,” he says. “They (AARP) got a billion-dollar payoff with Obamacare. They have a huge financial interest.”

That is “a ridiculous statement. … We would gladly forego every dime of revenue for a health care system that works for everyone,” Shelley Courington, a spokesperson for AARP in Tennessee, says.

AARP is skeptical that states can act together to create a system better than the one coordinated by the federal government, Courington says.

Courington can imagine a balkanized tangle of bureaucracies, with patients getting lost in the places where coverage doesn’t overlap.

“That’s a little bit overwhelming to think about,” Courington says. “They’re saying, ‘We’ll do a better job.’ That’s a little hard to swallow, too. What if you go on vacation to Las Vegas and get sick if you are covered by another state’s plan? There are just a lot of questions here.”

Big insurance companies, doctors and hospitals, some of whom bridle under the current system, will also resist the uncertainty of increased state control, Dranias says.

Critics looking at the climb from the vantage of a single state, Georgia, are skeptical that enough states will join to create a critical mass to force Congress to seriously consider a compact, Dranias says.

And that is too bad, he says, because a long view is the more reliable one for health care compacts. The Senate and the presidency may change as soon as 2012. The Supreme Court may rule against the states in their health care act suit, making the compacts avenue even more important.

“To be blunt, if Texas passes this and there are only two states, I still see this as pretty powerful stuff,” Dranias says. “Here you have states trying something completely untested, demonstrating the political will to wrest control of health care from the federal government. I’m thrilled.”

Kolkhorst says she isn’t even sure the states will finally agree to a health care compact. Should the movement to state control continue, however, Kolkhorst says she is certain Congress will act before it has to.

“Oh, they will do something. History has shown that Congress always acts before the states rise up completely,” Kolkhorst says. “They don’t want to lose control altogether. I see it as a responsibility to have a health care system in this country that works.”

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of a person giving a flu shot by flickr user Lance McCord, used via a Creative Commons license.
Editor's note: Texas Watchdog in 2008 recieved generous start-up funding from the Chicago-based Sam Adams alliance, whose chairman and CEO is Eric O'Keefe. O'Keefe is also chairman of the Health Care Compact Alliance.
Control of Texas’ health care system would revert to state under proposal from Rep. Lois Kolkhorst challenging Obamacare
Tuesday, Mar 08, 2011, 04:12PM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst has filed a bill asking that Texas join other states in wresting control of their health care systems from the federal government.

In House Bill 5 by Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, Texas becomes the eighth state in which legislators are using Constitutional grounds to form interstate health care compacts that would supersede the authority of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to determine how states run their health care programs.

Within the past week lawmakers in Georgia and Colorado filed similar bills. Arizona, Montana, North Dakota and Tennessee followed Missouri’s lead in calling for legislative support for compact agreements.

"For too long, we've watched the federal government struggle to control how public health care assistance is delivered,” Kolkhorst said in a release issued today. “Forming a compact with fellow states will bring decisions closer to home. There's a feeling that states will be the best innovators of health care reform, especially if President Obama's Affordable Care Act continues to be found unconstitutional by the courts.”

Kolkhorst’s bill asks that the federal government fund its portion of health care in Texas through a block grant free of the mandates for how the money is spent.

“One of the major priorities of the bill is to seek a block grant from the federal government so that our state can better predict costs and can better serve the people who rely on public health services," she said.

At the end of January, Rep. Tryon Lewis, R-Odessa, filed House Bill 1008 that applied the same interstate compact principles solely to Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor. At the time, Lewis told the Washington Times he filed the bill in the hopes that states would join together to force the federal government to acknowledge that change was necessary.

“If that many partners come to them and say we can’t pay for this anymore, we’ve got to change, I think the likelihood is high that something could be done,” Lewis said, “because otherwise the states may have to say we can’t [afford Medicaid], because we can’t, and then all the burden would go on the federal government.”

A 170 percent increase in the cost of Medicaid since 2000 in Texas was a chief impetus for the compact bill, according to Kolkhorst. The largest public health care program in the state is on its way to overwhelming the entire state budget, according to a study done by the Cato Institute for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Arlene Wohlgemuth, director of the Foundation’s Center for Health Care Policy, who has been advocating in this legislative session for free market alternatives in health care, said today the health care compact is her priority for Texas.

It is the Foundation’s Center for Tenth Amendment Studies that laid some of the Constitutional groundwork for the interstate compact movement. While interstate compacts have been largely used by state to negotiate matters of commerce and transportation there was no legal reason not to apply them to health care, center fellows Mario Loyola and Ted Cruz said. Cruz is a  candidate for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s U.S. Senate seat and former Texas solicitor general.

“The compact would provide that member States are free to choose their preferred model for health care policy; that they may opt out of Obamacare entirely; that they may choose to receive federal Medicaid funds as block grants without strings attached; and would otherwise accommodate maximum state flexibility,” a report issued in November by Cruz and Loyola,  \titled “Reclaiming the Constitution: Towards an Agenda for State Action,” said.

“The compact would contain a ‘notwithstanding’ clause providing that the operation of any federal law contrary to the provisions of the compact is suspended as to the signatory States. Congressional consent would be sought, and once obtained, would transform the compact into federal law.”

However legal, feasible and attractive, the support of interstate compacts by conservatives including tea party members is certain to gather opposition by those who see them as a legal circumvention of the Congressional votes that produced the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

As pointed out by The Weekly Standard, success with compacts would threaten the entire power structure of Washington, a threat that has been successfully thrown back many times before.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on, and put our RSS feed in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, NewsVine and tumblr.

Photo of pills by flickr user RambergMediaImages, used via a Creative Commons license.
Today's featured video: U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz talks about himself, Obama, immigration
Friday, Feb 04, 2011, 09:49AM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
Ted Cruz

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Cruz is a prominent candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being left vacant by Kay Bailey Hutchison.

And he's the subject of today's featured video on the Texas Watchdog home page.

In this seven-minute piece, Cruz talks with the Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom about himself, immigration, President Obama, and two men he admires, President Ronald Reagan and former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm.

In his comments on immigration, he tells how his dad fled Cuba in 1957 to come to Austin. He talks about why he doesn't support amnesty for people in the U.S. who are here illegally, and says he never will. He says he believes in American exceptionalism, and criticizes Obama as "the most radical president ever to occupy the White House." 

What do you think about his comments? Please feel free to post your thoughts below.

See a great video clip about Texas politics or government, watchdog journalism, or government transparency or accountability? Let us know. We're always looking for interesting video pieces to feature on our home page. Shoot an e-mail to

  • 1
KTRK: On Big Screens for Billionaires, Comptroller Susan Combs Silent
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