in Houston, Texas
Judicial panel may keep records secret, Texas AG says
Tuesday, Dec 11, 2012, 03:28PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Raiders of the Lost Ark

It is at great personal risk that Texas Watchdog discloses that Attorney General Greg Abbott agrees that Texas law allows the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to operate in utter secrecy.

Imagine our surprise when doing a search that instead of finding a blank page the commission has a website with just enough words on it to prove the agency exists.

Having failed to turn into a pillar of pink granite we can conclude that at least for now it is safe to continue on typing the name State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Just don’t say the name aloud while reading this story.

You see, many of us were under the impression the commission was a public body much like any other, subject to laws governing the disclosure of its operations and to regular review by the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission.

How wrong we all were. The Commission on Judicial Conduct, claiming the law afforded them a blanket confidentiality almost unheard of in state government, refused in March to turn over any documents related to its reviews of judges and the judicial process in Texas.

Commission meetings are off limits to the public. State auditors were denied the documents. Low-level government employees were urged to look away from the secret papers when they were removed from a golden winged ark that had been buried for thousands of years.

(We admit to having gotten carried away with a Raiders of the Lost Ark metaphor here.)

The Sunset Commission threw up its hands at the time, saying a review was impossible, and asked for an opinion of the attorney general.

Understanding judges needed some buffer from political pressure and disgruntled plaintiffs, the commission wrote, the public ought to be able to see for itself whether judicial conduct was adequately scrutinized.

The public, with a little help from the Legislature, made sure that wasn’t going to happen by approving the adding of Section 1-a to Article 5 of the Texas Constitution in 1965.

Under that section all commission proceedings are confidential, Abbott said in an opinion he issued last week. Only an exception signed into law by the Legislature could circumvent the confidentiality protections.

In a wholly unexpected move, Seana Willing, executive director for the commission, declined to discuss Abbott’s ruling with the Austin American-Statesman. Nor were reporters allowed to gaze upon Willing’s face.

We were kidding about that last one. We think.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Texas state payroll shrinks, though not in higher ed or at the DMV
Thursday, Nov 01, 2012, 12:10PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
plate

Social services, criminal justice and education were largely responsible for reducing the state payroll by ½ a percent in the past fiscal quarter in Texas.

The reduction of 1,620 full-time positions, bringing the total down from 297,502.9 positions, was nearly offset by the addition of 1,587.6 positions in the state’s institutions of higher education, according to a new report by the state Auditor comparing employment in the previous quarter to the same period in 2011. (See a chart tracking the change here.)

While total higher education staffing increased by 1.1 percent to 148,557.9 full-time equivalencies, the number of administrators jumped by 2.4 percent over the same period a year ago to 3,023.6 positions.

The Department of Aging and Disability Services reduced its staff over a year to 16,878.8 positions. The reduction of 721.2 positions was the biggest single loss for a state agency, according to the study.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice Department dropped a combined 1,101.7 jobs from the end of August 2011.

The Texas Education Agency, which began laying off employees during a tough legislative session on public education in 2011, reduced staff by 226.2 to 701.6 positions, a 24.4 percent drop, the highest percentage decrease among major departmental employers.

The Texas House under Speaker Joe Straus and the Senate, headed by Lt. David Dewhurst, both conservative Republicans who have called for smaller state government, made double-digit percentage reductions, shedding more than 100 employee positions each.

It is important to note that in June through August of 2011 the Legislature was just completing a session and in the same quarter this year the Legislature had been adjourned for more than a year.

The Department of Public Safety, in the midst of a $63 million spending spree to open driver’s license megacenters across the state, brought its staffing to 8,692.8 positions by adding 347 jobs, more than any state agency.

Texas state employees


The Department of Motor Vehicles grew its staff by 151.3 positions to 730.2 positions or 26.1 percent, the highest percentage increase of any major state agency.

Governor Rick Perry, another high-profile, small government conservative, added 3.9 positions in a year, bringing his staff to 264.1 positions.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose staff handled a Supreme Court challenge to Obamacare that was not upheld and a Supreme Court redistricting fight this year, increased his office’s staffing by .3 percent, 13.7 positions added to a staff of 4,057.2 positions.

The General Land Office, headed by conservative Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who is running for lieutenant governor in 2014, boosted his staff by 20.9 positions or 3.6 percent to 600.9 positions.

However, Patterson’s agency was called on in August of 2011 to take over nearly $3 billion in federal funding that had not yet been distributed in relief for the victims of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

The Department of Rural Affairs, one of the agencies criticized for its handling of the Hurricane Ike funding, was abolished by the Legislature, a reduction of all of its 70.6 positions, the Auditor’s report says.

The other agency with Ike responsibilities, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, lost 52.2 or 14.4 percent of its staff during the same period. Michael Gerber, the executive director of the agency, resigned at the end of August of 2011.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Texas AG Greg Abbott racks up $2.58 million in taxpayer costs from suing feds since Obama took office
Monday, Sep 10, 2012, 12:56PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
gavel

In an astonishing coincidence few could have foreseen, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed eight times as many lawsuits against the federal government under President Barack Obama than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Abbott has sued the United States 24 times at a cost to Texas taxpayers of $2.58 million over Obama’s time in office, according to an Associated Press story today.

By examining records obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act, Associated Press determined assistant attorneys general and staff rolled up more than 14,000 hours working on the Supreme Court Challenge to Obamacare, the state Legislature’s recent redistricting and a string of wins over Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Abbott, a Republican who first took office in 2002, sued the federal government a total of three times between 2004 and 2007, years when Bush served as president. He has become a leader among Republican attorneys general in recognizing a change in presidential administrations.

In his five-year strategic plan for the Attorney General’s office, Abbott’s first three principles for the philosophy of state government are:

  • First and foremost, Texas matters most. This is the overarching, guiding principle by which we will make decisions. Our state, and its future, is more important than party, politics, or individual recognition.
  • Government should be limited in size and mission, but it must be highly effective in performing the tasks it undertakes.
  • Decisions affecting individual Texans, in most instances, are best made by those individuals, their families, and the local government closest to their communities.

Abbott told Associated Press his hard line with the federal government constituted "a fight against the unprecedented ideology coming from the Obama administration."

Critics including Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, Texas House Democratic Caucus leader, said all the suing was expensive at a time of budget austerity for the Legislature.

How expensive? For this we consulted the Attorney General’s 2012 budget and employed the vaunted Texas Watchdog calculator.

Although its budget figures do not include 2009, Obama’s first year in office, the $2.58 million spent on federal lawsuits represents .9 percent of the $274 million budgeted for all litigation, legal services and counseling between 2010 and 2012, according to the budget.

The budget for litigation, legal services and counseling has increased by 22.1 percent, from $81.6 million in 2010 to $99.6 million budgeted for 2012. Total federal lawsuit expenses represent 14.3 percent of the $18 million increase over the last three budget years.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Influence from behind the scenes: State Sen. Tommy Williams aided lawyers filing voter fraud complaint in Woodlands residency case
Thursday, Aug 23, 2012, 10:02AM CST
By Steve Miller
state Capitol

State Sen. Tommy Williams played a key role as attorneys tied to the Woodland Road Utility District pushed for voter fraud charges against seven Woodlands residents who sought to usurp the sitting board of the district.

In an email on Sept. 15, 2010, Williams provided a step-by-step guide on filing a complaint to James Stilwell, the lawyer for three ousted board members, who accused the Woodlands residents of violating state residency laws to skew a vote in the district to remove them.

“A few moments ago, I concluded a conference call with the attorney general’s office on the voter fraud in the 23 June township election,” Williams said in an email to attorney Stilwell and Bruce Tough, a local lawyer and a Woodlands Township board member.

Both Tough and his father, Coulson, are political donors to Williams, a Republican who represents The Woodlands.

Williams personally shepherded the complaint to the AG’s office, email records show.

While Williams asserted that it was a case of voter fraud, at the time of the September email, no charges of voter fraud had been announced.  In a December 2010 email between Ann McGeehan, director of elections at the Secretary of State’s office and Clete Buckaloo, director of law enforcement at the AG’s office, McGeehan refers to them as “alleged illegal voters.” By then, in an email to Williams’ office, Stilwell was referring to the case as the “RUD criminal investigation.”

The charges were announced with the indictment in March.

Tommy WilliamsTommy Williams

Williams in the September exchange offered the use of his legislative director, Jason Baxter, in “making sure this is handed off to the right person,” offering that Baxter could “walk it over and put it in the right person’s hands at the SOS office.”

On the same date, Stilwell emailed Williams, advising him that he had sent a package of documents to him and to state election officials regarding the voter fraud allegations.

“Many thanks for all your help…” Stilwell signed off. It was five days after Stilwell sent his complaint to the Secretary of State’s office.

Williams, along with state Attorney General Greg Abbott, has received tens of thousands of dollars in political donations from Schwartz, Page, & Harding, the law firm that handles day-to-day legal matters for the road utility district.

The accused voters were among 10 who registered at a hotel within the district north of Houston in order to vote in the May 8, 2010, election for the RUD board.

The coup was initially successful with the incumbents voted out, but a state district judge later ruled that the 10 voted fraudulently and handed the election to the incumbents.

Williams was also in possession of court documents generated in the case, according to the state Senate Secretary’s response to an open records request.

Among the items provided to Texas Watchdog were the original request for voter information for the 10 from lawyers for the ousted board members, court reporter transcriptions from hearings in a lawsuit filed by the temporarily unseated board members of the district against the newly registered voters, and the brief filed by the incumbent board members with the state appellate court that is part of the appeals file.

Several of those indicted earlier this year on voter fraud charges have alleged that Williams was working with the utility district to prosecute them.

A lawyer for one of the indicted individuals said the involvement of Williams, if true, shows that “big business is running the show.”

“That has been our concern all along,” said Kelly Case, who is representing Adrian Heath, who spearheaded the move to register at a hotel in the utility district after reading a Texas Watchdog story about voters registered to a vacant lot and a federal building. “We had thought that Williams had been pushing this along.”

Case said that “it seemed odd” that the attorney general’s office would take up the case “on his own.”

Williams declined to comment.

“We support the vigorous enforcement of our elections laws,” he wrote in the Sept. 15, 2010, email, to lawyers for the board members.

Stilwell did not return phone calls.

The next hearing in the case is schedule for November. The charges are a third-degree felony.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Texas' vague residency rules may hurt potential voter fraud case in Upshur County
Thursday, Aug 02, 2012, 12:34PM CST
By Curt Olson
vote

Voter residency isn’t always what it seems.

This could be the flaw in charges of potential voter fraud in Upshur County, as reported by the Longview News-Journal.

Upshur County Republican party Chairman Ken Ambrose has filed a complaint with the Texas Office of Attorney General regarding possible voter fraud in the May primary. He contends at least six people participated in early in the May election who had questionable addresses. He said two of those in question, Lloyd Glenn Leach and Ken Patterson, will soon be former county GOP precinct chairmen.

Ambrose contends Leach’s residence was in foreclosed and Patterson’s residence is a home that has been vacant for several years, as the News-Journal reports.

Ambrose wants help from the AG to know how to stop people from voting in the county where they don’t have proper residency.

However, this could be where Ambrose’s complaint dies, as Texas Watchdog has reported on voter residency in the past here and here.

Texas has a  broad definition of “residency” in state code. Residency can be determined by the voter. Here is the rule in law:

"'Residence' means domicile, that is, one's home and fixed place of habitation to which one intends to return after any temporary absence.”

Voter residency complaints can be taken to election officials, and could end up in court, but this rarely happens, Watchdog’s Steve Miller has reported.

Attorney General Greg Abbott has said he has prosecuted 50 voter fraud cases, but they involve incidents of voting by dead people, those who vote twice and foreign nationals who are illegally registered to vote.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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Felicia Harris, Randy Weber vie for GOP nod to succeed Ron Paul in Congress
Friday, Jul 13, 2012, 05:44PM CST
By Curt Olson
Capitol

Playing to anti-Washington sentiment, the two candidates in the GOP primary runoff to succeed Ron Paul in Congress have each staked their claim to being more Texan, and unlike Washington, than the other.

In Texas, after all, one day officials are hurling verbal rebukes at President Barack Obama and federal lawmakers about the $16 trillion national debt. On another day, they’re challenging moves by federal regulators that hurt oil and gas production, the engine of the Texas economy.

That scorn has spilled into the race for Paul’s old district, where two-term state Rep. Randy Weber, a self-employed businessman, faces lawyer and Pearland city councilmember Felicia Harris, in the July 31 primary runoff for District 14. Harris stepped down from her post July 1.

The district just south and southeast of Houston has the counties of Jefferson, Galveston and Brazoria. In the May GOP primary, Weber received 27.6 percent of the vote, Harris, 18.9 percent.

Both claim the conservative brand based on endorsements and track records.

Weber received Paul’s endorsement in June, while Harris has been endorsed by GOP U.S. Reps. Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Bill Flores of Bryan and Ted Poe of Jefferson County. Harris also has endorsements from GOP U.S. Reps. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Jeb Hensarling of Athens and Francisco Canseco of San Antonio.

Randy WeberRandy Weber

Weber counters with Texas-based endorsements from Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Comptroller Susan Combs, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, and Texas Rangers owner Nolan Ryan.

Touting his Texas endorsements, Weber said the choice comes down to “the Washington way or the Texas model.”

Harris doesn’t back away stating she has support from people in the district who identify with the Tea Party movement.

With early voting July 23-July 27, Perry held a rally for Weber on Wednesday in Galveston.

In a phone interview, Weber said Harris’ Washington endorsements are tainted with votes by Olson, Flores, Granger, Hensarling and Canseco to raise the debt ceiling nearly one year ago. Poe voted against it, as did Paul.

“I think the Harris campaign’s in a world of hurt,” said Weber. “If you like the way things are going in Washington, D.C., vote for Harris.”

Harris’ website states her stance against raising the federal debt ceiling, She questions Weber’s own conservative credibility.

“Mr. Weber forgets his own record,” Harris said.

Felicia HarrisFelicia Harris

She points to key votes by Weber in the Texas Legislature in 2011 that gave him a 48 percent conservative rating with Texas Eagle Forum, a key conservative organization in the state.

She also highlights Weber’s vote for Texas Senate Bill 1 in the June 2011 special session (See page 659). SB1 compelled Amazon to charge Texans sales tax, which the comptroller started collecting July 1.

Harris said this raised taxes.

“He says he won’t raise taxes, but look at what he did?” Harris asked.

She said Americans ridicule members of Congress because “they say one thing and do another.”

Weber fires back that as a Pearland City Council member, Harris increased property taxes and city spending. He also contends she has been absent from 30 percent of city meetings.

Mark Jones, chairman of Rice University’s political science department, sees a close race.

He said after the May primary he gave the edge to Weber because of support by Texas establishment Republicans. He said that has evened out with Harris’ endorsements from several members of Texas’ congressional delegation.

“It helps there’s no doubt about it. It’s a key ace in the hole,” Jones said of Paul’s endorsement of Weber. “Paul has a core of dedicated supporters, but a lot of the Tea Party people are going with Harris.”

Despite the fight over conservative cred, Weber and Harris are strikingly similar on the big issues. They agree on repealing Obamacare, needing to cut the national debt, and creating jobs, specifically in the oil and gas-rich district on the Gulf of Mexico.

Both seek less regulation on energy businesses and play up their expertise in this area. Weber pointed to his service on the House Environmental Regulation committee, which has some jurisdiction over oil and gas, during his first term. Harris said she has represented energy businesses as a lawyer.

Weber has a potential advantage having represented a segment of Brazoria County, including almost all of Pearland, as part of his state House District 29, and the name recognition that comes with a state office.

But Harris said 53 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the primary voted for someone other than Weber or herself. Since the primary, Harris has been endorsed by two primary opponents, Robert Gonzales, founder and chairman of the Clear Lake Tea Party, and school administrator John Gay.

“Mr. Weber hasn’t been endorsed by any of the other candidates,” Harris said.

Meanwhile, there’s still time on the calendar before runoff election ballots are cast to have some debates.

Harris has said she would like some debates, but it’s uncertain at this time.

“We’ve given her three or four dates,” Weber said.

“He has told me he doesn’t want debates,” Harris responds.

Jones handicapped the race heading into November, when the winner will face former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson.

He said the district leans Republican although Lampson has a past of being a conservative Democrat. Jones envisions the winner of the GOP runoff succeeding Paul in the U.S. House.

“Obama at the top of the ticket is too much to overcome,” Jones said.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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Woodlands residents tangle with powerful forces over alleged voter fraud in utility district election
Tuesday, Jul 10, 2012, 09:11AM CST
By Steve Miller
vote

When seven voters in a suburb north of Houston set out to upend an election there, they didn’t realize the powerful contingent they were upsetting.

The Woodlands voters are being prosecuted for fraud in a 2010 election for claiming residency at a hotel in the Woodlands Road Utility District. The district is supported by well-heeled developers and represented by a law firm that’s donated tens of thousands of dollars to state campaigns including that of Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office is prosecuting the case.

Records show that Abbott has received $14,500 in campaign contributions since 2002 from the law firm Schwartz, Page, & Harding, which handles legal affairs for the Woodland Road Utility District as well as Woodlands Township and several other districts in The Woodlands.

The legal complaint to the state that led to the indictment in March of the alleged illegal voters was submitted not by local legal authorities but by James Stilwell, an attorney representing the sitting board members of the Woodland utility district.

Stilwell outlined the alleged infractions in a Sept. 10, 2010, letter to Ann McGeehan, director of the elections division of the Texas Secretary of State office.

Stilwell cc’ed the secretary of state’s general counsel and Mike Page of Schwartz, Page, & Harding. But he also cc’ed several others with no apparent connection to the case, including state Sen. Tommy Williams on the complaint, as well as state Rep. Rob Eissler and Bruce Tough, chairman of The Woodlands Township. Williams and Eissler’s districts include the utility district.

An Abbott spokesman said the case was accepted on the referral of the Secretary of State.

Stilwell did not return calls or emails.

The Williams campaign fund has received $25,500 from Schwartz, Page, & Harding since 2003. Eissler’s campaign has received $19,000 from the firm since 2002.

A lawyer representing one of the indicted voters, Kelly Case, said he will explore any involvement by Williams, “once we depose him or subpoena him to testify, as we are planning to do.” Williams did not return calls or e-mails for comment.

Case claimed that the charges were filed despite the reluctance of Montgomery District Attorney Brett Ligon.

“...Ligon refused to prosecute these cases as he did not feel that they were criminal violations,” Case said. “He continues to maintain that position. I suppose that after not being able to convince Mr. Ligon to file charges, that Stilwell sought satisfaction elsewhere.”

Brett LigonBrett Ligon

Ligon, though, said his office, hindered by its relatively small size, took statements and handed the case to the voter fraud division of the AG’s office, which did its own investigation. In an interview, Ligon said he grappled with the notion of “state of mind” residency that the state uses in most cases.

“The secretary of state’s office said it comes down to state of mind,” Ligon said. “That is very difficult to pursue.”

Abbott has made strong statements in the past about the need to police voter fraud and his commitment to doing so.

His office has prosecuted numerous cases of voter fraud, mostly South Texas cases of vote harvesting in the Hispanic community.

Abbott in April claimed the need for the state’s voter ID law to be upheld by the feds, citing 57 election fraud prosecutions beginning in 2012.

Of those, most have involved illegal possession of another’s ballot, and a number of the cases fell under the broad charge of illegal voting, which can involve anything from voting while ineligible to voter impersonation.

The Woodlands voters were indicted in March, accused of illegal voting by registering at a hotel within the boundaries of the RUD and using the hotel as their home address. The Woodlands seven were frustrated at not having a voice in the special district, which has issued $75 million in debt since its formation in 1991.

In the district’s first election, they were hoping to gain enough votes to remove the sitting board members. They relied on previous statements from state election officials that claimed the residency requirement can be determined “by the voter.” Joined by three others who were never indicted, they won the election and removed three sitting board members by a 10-2 vote. The results were later overturned by a sitting judge in Montgomery County.

The utility district board until 2010 met in an 11th floor room at 24 Waterway, a building owned by Woodlands land baron and multimillionaire developer Dirk Laukien, who was one of two voters, along with his wife, Kate, casting votes that allowed the three sitting board members of the district up for re-election to remain in light of the judge’s ruling.

The Laukiens were the only registered voters in the district prior to the failed registration of the Woodlands activists, according to an email six weeks before the election from Page to Adrian Heath, the leader of the rogue voters.

The 11th floor office is also the registered address for the Woodlands Development Co PAC, which has delivered $2,500 to state Sen. Williams since 2007.

Suite 1100 is also the address listed over the last several years for a number of power broker companies in the development game around The Woodlands.

The Woodlands Operating Co. was registered to the address briefly in 2009, state records show. Richard Derr, who is treasurer of the PAC, represented the operating company at district meetings for years. Derr, in fact, made suggestions on projects to the board, according to meeting minutes.

The RUD wrote checks in 2008 and 2009 to the Woodlands Land Development Corp., which records show is managed by an operation called TWLDC Holdings GP, L.L.C. which also listed on state records in 2010 its address as 24 Waterway, #1100.

Case said he believes that Abbott’s office “is trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. ... Either that or someone with a political ax to grind has made this their cause.”

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Texas AG Greg Abbott and his Republican counterparts amass power, challenge federal authority
Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012, 10:53AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Greg AbbottGreg Abbott

Texan Greg Abbott is one of the commanders of a new legion of Republican attorneys general in defiance across a broad front of federal legal authority.

Doubling their number to 24 since 2000, these tightly knit Republican AGs have over the past two years coordinated challenges to ObamaCare, its contraception mandate and the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a penetrating analysis today by Reuters.

"There seems to be, in addition to the size, an intensified cohesion and collegiality among the (Republican) AGs," Abbott told Reuters. "Part of it is based on personality. Part of it is based on sense of purpose."

On March 26 Abbott won an appeal of the EPA’s rejection of the state’s permitting process for some power plants. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the EPA had exceeded its authority in making its ruling.

The state’s top attorneys have pushed back against federal challenges to voter identification laws and redistricting maps passed by their legislatures.

The Reuters story singles out Abbott for his role in questioning the validity today of a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that forces Texas and other southern states to have all changes to their voting district maps approved by the federal government.

While the Supreme Court did not directly address the issue, the court voted unanimously that the lower federal courts had overreached in redrawing district maps passed by the Texas Legislature.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Supreme Court hears arguments today on health care requirement that all individuals buy health insurance; Texas AG: Law has ‘gripped the entire nation’
Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012, 09:49AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
gavel

The Supreme Court has set aside two hours today to hear why requiring Americans to buy health insurance has or does not have legal grounding in the Constitution.

This is the second of three days of testimony in a lawsuit to invalidate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, brought by Texas, 25 other states, the National Federation of Independent Business and two individual plaintiffs.

The court is expected to rule on the suit sometime in June.

As articulated by Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas, the lawsuit contends the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, violates the Constitution by forcing Americans to engage in commerce without their consent under threat of penalty.

The legal defense for the health care law is expected to argue that the universal need for health care creates an environment in which everyone is engaged in its commerce, whether through health insurance, their own savings or at the expense of the government and the American health care system, according to a story today by the Washington Post.

Justices on Monday showed little inclination toward an argument that they withhold judgment on Obamacare until after 2014 when the insurance mandate takes effect and only after lawsuits are brought challenging the mandate and the penalties, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.

Court-appointed attorney Robert Long invoked the Anti-Injunction Act, put in place by the federal government in the 1800s to keep tax revenue flowing by giving itself the power to delay lawsuits over tax assessments.

The argument has neither the support of the authors of the health care act nor its opponents.

Following Monday’s arguments, Abbott, Gov. Rick Perry and Comptroller Susan Combs reiterated their calls for the repeal of Obamacare, the Dallas Morning News says.

"I have been here to the U.S. Supreme Court multiple times, and I've never seen crowds like this,” Abbott said in a press release issued Monday. “The entire plaza around the Supreme Court is completely crowded with protesters against Obamacare and with supporters of Obamacare. This shows that this law is something that has gripped the entire nation.”

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Competitive Congressional race in West Texas emerges following redistricting squabble
Thursday, Mar 01, 2012, 11:50AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Capitol

Barring a final disgruntled pitch in a fourth court, Texas has the maps it needs to get through at least this next election cycle.

The San Antonio panel is expected to release its written rationale for the map changes it made, finalize the primary date now set for May 29 and issue candidate filing rules and dates sometime before the end of Friday.

And for all of the purported injustices committed against both political parties, a fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court produced exactly one competitive race for Congress between a Republican and a Democrat, according to a nice analysis of the new maps by the Washington bureau of the Dallas Morning News.

State Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, who has for 21 years represented the 39,000 square miles of West Texas that is District 74, is going after Republican U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, who has a little more than a year in representing much of the same territory in the 48,000 square mile Congressional District 23.

The race is expected to attract national campaign money.

The Morning News surmises that of the other 35 congressional districts (Texas added four by population growth) 24 are pretty solidly Republican and 11 cozily Democratic.

State Attorney General Greg Abbott, who argued in court that the Legislature and not the federal government has the responsibility for creating the state’s political districts, praised the newly approved maps.

“As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous, clear direction to the district court, these new interim maps more accurately reflect the decisions of elected Texas legislators,” Abbott said in a statement.

As expected, Abbott’s general satisfaction was not shared with the parties that took the original maps approved by the Legislature to court. “This was a total devastation for the Latino community across Texas,” Luis Vera, attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, told the Washington Post.

The story goes on to doubt whether yet another appeal might be filed after the panel of three judges in San Antonio that rejected the Legislature’s maps approved the latest iterations.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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 de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of U.S. Capitol Building by flickr user Glyn Lowe Photos, used via a Creative Commons license.

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