in Houston, Texas
barack obama
Pete Gallego, Randy Weber, Steve Stockman prevail in U.S. House races for Texas
Wednesday, Nov 07, 2012, 12:30PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
U.S. Capitol

Late into Tuesday night Democratic votes from the western border counties secured a seat in Congress for state Rep. Pete Gallego.

Gallego, of Alpine, took down first-term Republican Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, of San Antonio, to represent the people of the 48,000-square-mile 23rd Congressional District.

In one of the few true swing district races, with Democratic and Republican support evenly split, Gallego won 51.7 percent of the vote to Canseco’s 44.2 percent, pulling away as the votes were counted after midnight.

The margin of victory was slightly higher than the five percentage points Canseco garnered to oust incumbent Democrat Ciro Rodriguez in 2010.

There were few obvious election night surprises in a state that remained from the top of the ticket to the bottom a Republican stronghold.

As expected, Texas voters gave Mitt Romney an easy victory over President Barack Obama, 57.2 percent to 41.4 percent, according to unofficial results compiled by the Secretary of State.

Romney’s percentage margin was higher than the 12 percentage point win for Sen. John McCain over Obama in 2008. Romney, however, received 4.5 million votes, only slightly higher than the 4.48 million McCain received.

And while Romney was failing to inspire his Republican base, Texas delivered 3.3 million votes to the president, down from 3.5 million votes four years ago.

In Harris, Dallas, Travis and Bexar counties vote totals for Obama and Romney were down compared to their counterparts in 2008. The margins favoring the Democrat for every county but Harris were virtually unchanged. Harris, which went slightly for Obama in 2008, split at exactly 49.35 percent for Romney and Obama.

All of the millions spent in District 23 did not mean a more motivated Republican Party. Canseco was thought to have an advantage as a native son of the city with the greatest number of precincts in the district.

But throughout the night the lead he built from Bexar County voters dribbled away as the count wended its way through 28 more counties and a Gallego majority in El Paso.

Canseco raised $2.5 million, spent $1.9 million of it through the middle of October and burned through roughly $3 million in outside political contributions that paid for a hard-hitting, negative advertising campaign.

Gallego spent nearly all of the $1.5 million his campaign raised and about the same amount as Canseco coming from national political groups.

The winner, who forged a reputation for working effectively in a Republican dominated House, disavowed the brutal politicking of the past several months in his victory statement last night.

Pete GallegoPete Gallego

“What you will get over the next two years is not a political person but someone who will reach across the aisle,” Gallego said, according to the San Antonio Express News.

Randy Weber, who had the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, will succeed him in representing the 14th District after beating former Congressman Nick Lampson in another race that early on was close.

Weber got 53.5 percent of the vote, Lampson 44.6 percent.

Gallego and Weber will be joined in the Texas congressional delegation by Steve Stockman, in one of the more improbable comebacks in Texas political history.

Stockman crushed Democrat Max Martin with 70.8 percent of the vote to represent District 36 in East Texas, one of four new Congressional districts created by the state’s population growth.

Steve StockmanSteve Stockman

Stockman, a born-again drifter who fell into the conservative movement, was elected to Congress in 1994, part of a mid-term Republican backlash during the Clinton presidency.

After a single term, Stockman knocked around conservative politics, losing in a bid to join the Railroad Commission in 1998 and failing to get his name on the ballot to run for Congress in 2006.

When the Legislature completed its map of Congressional districts, Stockman had a voter base that matched his fundamental conservatism.

At the other end of the political spectrum, after vanquishing eight-term U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes in a mud-spattered Democratic primary, Beto O’Rourke, a former El Paso city council member, thumped Republican Barbara Carrasco in District 16.

In District 33, another new district, state Rep. Marc Veasey became the first African-American from Fort Worth elected to Congress.

Another state representative, Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, twin brother of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, won easily Tuesday night and replaces retiring U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez as the representative for District 20.

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

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Union lobbyists win access to White House, wealthy and powerful held at arm’s length, visitor’s logs show
Thursday, Oct 25, 2012, 10:28AM CST
By Staff Reports
white house

Lobbyists for the nation’s largest labor unions have had the run of the White House during its occupancy by a president who pledged from his first day in office to curb political influence.

At the same time President Obama personally limited access to the wealthy and powerful. Including labor leaders, union lobbyists made nearly 500 visits to the White House through June of this year during the Obama administration, according to a review of available White House visitors logs.

The Franklin Center created a database of the 879,401 visits by people who came to the White House for an official event or meeting from nearly 3 millions entries made up mostly of tourists.

Read more about what the center found in this story by Texas Watchdog Austin bureau chief Mark Lisheron.

Photo of White House by flickr user DuckofD3ath, used via a Creative Commons license.

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

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 or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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.

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The voter’s guide to Congressional primaries in Texas and the lay of the land post-redistricting
Wednesday, May 09, 2012, 08:00PM CST
By Mark Lisheron

Redistricting in a time of political discontent has made for robust democracy in races for U.S. Congress in Texas.

A dozen Republican candidates rushed into newly created District 36 in East Texas; 12 in a Central Texas District 25 redrawn for Republicans; and nine in the coastal District 14 Rep. Ron Paul is leaving.

Eleven Democrats are clawing their way to the May 29 primary in the new Democratic District 33 in the Dallas area. Eight are running in the new District 34 at Texas’ southern tip.

Challengers are testing 16 of the 22 incumbent Republicans and half of the eight sitting Democrats up for re-election in 2012. Longtime and popular Republican Reps. Joe Barton, Ralph Hall and Lamar Smith and Democratic Reps. Lloyd Doggett, Ruben Hinojosa, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Silvestre Reyes have multiple primary opponents.

Please see a list of all the Democratic candidates running for Congress here. You can find the complete list of Republicans here.

But for all of the acrid political turmoil in the creation of four new congressional districts and a protracted fight over boundaries that made its way to the Supreme Court and back, the makeup of the Texas delegation to Congress is not likely to change dramatically, Steve Bickerstaff says.

Bickerstaff is an election and redistricting expert at the University of Texas School of Law. His 2007 book, Lines in the Sand, is a study of congressional redistricting in Texas in 2003.

The interim congressional map, which has yet to get its federal approval, is a compromise product of overreach by a heavily Republican state Legislature legally entitled to draw boundaries as favorably as possible for Republicans, Bickerstaff says.

“All partisanship aside, the congressional map approved by the Legislature was of questionable legality,” Bickerstaff says. “It isn’t up to courts to decide what is fair. It is up to the courts to correct that questionable legality. Within the bounds of the Voting Rights Act, the Republicans did the best they could.”

Sherri GreenbergSherri Greenberg

This give and take is most apparent in the drawing of the four new congressional districts. District 36 has 12 Republican candidates and just one Democrat, including State Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, the only candidate from either party with any government experience above the local level.

District 33, on the other hand, was drawn with its Dallas-area African-American and Hispanic voting majority in mind, Sherri Greenberg, director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, says.

Little surprise, then, that state Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, an African-American, and Hispanic Dallas attorney Domingo Garcia have emerged as favorites from among the 11 Democrats running. The winner will almost certainly beat one of the three Republicans in that primary.

Hispanic voters in District 34 are likely to be represented by one of the eight Democrats in the primary. One of them, Armando Villalobos, the Cameron County district attorney, has pledged to go on with his bid in spite of having been indicted in connection with a series of briberies involving convicted former District Judge Abel Limas.

Less than two weeks before his arrest, Villalobos told the Brownsville Herald that he had experienced a dramatic drop in his campaign fundraising because of the "wackiness" of the primary.

Brownsville attorney Filemon Vela, whose late father was a U.S. district judge and mother the former mayor of Brownsville, is the favorite to represent a district stretching from the southeastern tip of Texas to the southern half of Gonzales County.

District 35 would also seem to favor a Democrat, Lloyd Doggett, of Austin, who is seeking his 10th two-year term in Congress. Doggett has so far vastly outraised and outspent Sylvia Romo, the Bexar County tax assessor.

But the state agreed to a district drawn to give Hispanic voters a 63 percent majority, giving a boost to Romo and Maria Luisa Alvarado, an overlooked political unknown when she ran for lieutenant governor in 2006.

In addition, the Legislature drew Doggett out of his original and neighboring District 25, which has drawn a very conservative slate of 12 Republicans, including former Railroad Commission chairman Michael Williams and former Secretary of State Roger Williams.

The winner is expected to beat unopposed Democratic primary candidate Elaine Henderson in November.

Robert BickerstaffRobert Bickerstaff

“To the mostly white, liberal voters in Travis County what was done to Lloyd Doggett was totally unfair,” Bickerstaff says. “That wasn’t the issue. The Voting Rights Act and what was legal for a district with a predominantly minority makeup was the issue.”

Legislative mapmakers also stretched the Gulf of Mexico District 27 pulling in voters almost to Travis County. The subtle changes were made to help Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, in what remains a swing district.

Farenthold scored one of the significant victories in the 2010 election knocking off Solomon Ortiz, a Democrat who had spent 28 years in Congress, but by just 799 votes. He had been outspent by more than two to one.

Farenthold is now the favorite, facing three Republican challengers with no political experience and relatively little money. (Please see the Federal Election Commission chart for all of the candidates for Congress in Texas by searching here.) Should he win he will face a similarly inexperienced and underfunded Democratic challenger chosen from among four in the primary.

On the other side of the state redistricting produced what is likely to be the most interesting congressional race this year in Texas. Political mavens are salivating over the possibility that recently minted Republican U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco will have to defend his seat for the 48,000 square mile District 23 from a challenge by longtime state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine.

But first Gallego is going to have to shake free of two Democratic primary challengers, one of them Ciro Rodriguez, who was beaten after serving two terms by Canseco. Gallego had raised nearly $600,000 through the first quarter of 2012 and Rodriguez less than $200,000.

Gallego is a clear favorite to face Canseco, who is unopposed in the Republican primary. After that, Bickerstaff says you can expect a close race in a district that gave Canseco a win in 2010 with less than 50 percent of the vote and which favored Barack Obama for president by 51-48 percent in 2008.

Political cartography has failed to quell bipartisan unrest. Months before redistricting went to court, grassroots Tea Party members promised to shake up a rather deeply entrenched Republican congressional delegation, considered by many outside of the state to be one of the most conservative in the country.

In April, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Houston political action committee, promised to help fund challengers to four longtime Texas incumbents it says have outworn their welcome. They are Republican Reps. Ralph Hall and Joe Barton and Democrats Eddie Bernice Johnson and Silvestré Reyes.

Of those on the Campaign’s target list, Johnson faces the toughest challenge, maybe the toughest primary challenge in her 10-term career representing the overwhelmingly Democratic 30th District in Dallas County.

Taj Clayton, a Harvard-educated Dallas lawyer who has never run for political office, has raised nearly $400,000, about $60,000 less than Johnson. Johnson’s other Democratic opponent is Barbara Mallory Caraway, who has represented Dallas for three terms in the state House of Representatives.

Reyes, who has served eight terms representing El Paso County’s District 16, is feeling heat from one of those challengers, Beto O’Rourke, a political newcomer who with the Campaign’s help raised nearly $400,000 in the first quarter of the year.

Reyes, having bankrolled more than $900,000, is spending the money on a campaign to warn voters of O’Rourke’s support for another international bridge for the region and the possible displacement of thousands of families if it is built.

O’Rourke has derided Reyes’ ads as uninformed scare tactics.

Rep. Joe Barton, who is seeking his 14th term serving District 6 south of Dallas, has drawn three opponents, and two of them, Joe Chow, the former mayor of Addison, and Itamar Gelbman, a former member of the Israeli Army, have raised more than $150,000 each.

Barton has over the past several months come under fire by the Washington Post and the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for his proficiency in winning federal funding for projects that benefit his relatives.

Rep. Lamar Smith joined Barton on both of those lists, but it is unlikely he will be damaged by it. Smith, seeking an eighth term to represent a Central Texas district north of San Antonio, had more than $1.3 million in cash while neither of his two Republican primary challengers had raised more than $25,000.

Democratic Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, on both of those lists as well, is probably as safe as Smith in spite of drawing four challengers in the Democratic primary and four in the Republican primary.

Hinojosa has served seven terms in the largely rural, Democratic 15th District adjacent to District 34 on the state’s southern tip.

And while it isn’t likely to shift the balance of power in the Texas congressional delegation, the addition of Jefferson County to a redrawn District 14 and the withdrawal of Rep. Paul has attracted nine Republicans and two Democrats to the primary.

Randy Weber, of Pearland, completing his second term as one of the most conservative members of the Texas House, is the only one of the nine Republican primary candidates with legislative experience.

But in the first quarter of this year Jay Old, a Beaumont attorney with deep family roots in Jefferson County, raised nearly $200,000 more than Weber and another Beaumont attorney, Michael Truncale, a Tea Party favorite and member of the executive committee of the state Republican Party.

Felicia Harris, a member of the Pearland City Council, has raised more than $200,000.

Each has spent his way to viability.

The wild card in November is Nick Lampson, who is expected to handle political unknown Linda Dailey in the Democratic primary.

Lampson served in the state’s old 9th District for four terms but lost his seat after the Legislature’s 2003 redistricting. He came back to win in a Republican 22nd District, but was beaten in 2008 after a single term.  

The question is how much the addition of Democrats from Beaumont might help a Democrat like Lampson in a still heavily Republican district.

Greenberg figures Republicans will probably end up with 26 of the 36 congressional seats in November, with the assumption that three of the four new districts go to Republicans.

Bickerstaff says the keys will be swing Districts 23 and 27. If both of those districts go to Democrats in November, Bickerstaff says that it is possible that after all of the political and legal effort that went into redistricting by the Republicans in the Legislature on the Republicans in Congress Republicans would gain exactly one seat.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or 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, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

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Two years later, ‘weak claims’ of states challenging health care act taken quite seriously by Supreme Court
Thursday, Mar 29, 2012, 11:41AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

On March 23, 2010, the day President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, the New York Times took careful note of the occasion, its pomp and celebration.

Near the top of the account was a description of the president’s curlicue signature; the 22 souvenir signing pens; the blue bracelet with the word, Tedstrong, for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, an inspiration for the reform care bill, on the president’s wrist.

Nine paragraphs down, the story mentions in a single sentence a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general in a dozen states contending the bill that would become known as Obamacare was unconstitutional.

When the lawsuit wasn’t being ignored it was being dismissed by the “experts.” Doug Kendall, founder of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal legal think tank in Washington, D.C., embodied what passed for analysis at the time.

“Their embarrassingly weak claims are political theater, not genuine constitutional arguments, and a waste of both taxpayer money and judicial resources,” Kendall wrote in an op-ed piece for the Detroit Free Press.

“At the center of the Florida suit is the claim that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is ‘an unprecedented encroachment on the sovereignty of the states,’ and thus a violation of the Constitution's 10th Amendment. This argument should produce laughter from the bench for the simple reason that states are entirely free to rid themselves of any burdens imposed by the act by withdrawing from the federal Medicaid program.

“The act reflects the genius of our federalist system, which makes the AGs' grandstanding in this lawsuit all the more unfortunate.”

Three full days of grandstanding over a laughable bit of political theater came to a close Wednesday with the press gripping the corners of the pall in preparation for the burial of Obamacare.

Supporters of the law must now think the unthinkable, as the Washington Post said this morning. What was once thought embarrassingly weak threatens to undo what the Post calls “the most far-reaching accomplishment of the Obama presidency” and redefine the power of the federal government.

As the redoubtable Fred Willard once said, “Wha’ happened?”

The law’s foundation, the requirement forcing every eligible American to buy insurance, happened. After a second day of brutal grilling, the conservative members of the court weighed scrapping the entire Affordable Care Act if the majority invalidates the insurance mandate, the Wall Street Journal reported today.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Wednesday said the court had a practical decision to make, that between “a wrecking operation” and “a salvage job,” according to the New York Times today.

To salvage the law, Justice Antonin Scalia said, would require something far more practical, heroic, frightening, something almost no member of Congress had done before casting a vote for the Affordable Care Act.

“You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?” the Times said Scalia asked a government lawyer. “Is this not totally unrealistic? That we’re going to go through this enormous bill item by item and decide each one?”

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

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President Obama thumps Gov. Rick Perry -- and a Dallas TV reporter: Featured Video
Tuesday, Apr 19, 2011, 10:07AM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
President Obama

President Obama says he loves Texas.

He does not, however, love Gov. Rick Perry. Or Dallas TV newsman Brad Watson.

The chief executive granted a few brief interviews recently to local news affiliates around the nation, including one to WFAA-TV from Dallas. That’s today’s featured video on the Texas Watchdog home page.

"Governor Perry helped balance the budget with about six billion dollars’ worth of federal help, which he happily took, and then started blaming the members of Congress who had offered that help," Obama told Watson.

The president also denied the allegations from some folks in Texas that Houston was turned down as a retirement home for any of the NASA space shuttles because the Obama Administration wanted to send the shuttles to places that could help the president's coming re-election bid.

"That's wrong," Obama said, adding that the decision on who got a shuttle was left to a commission. "The White House had nothing to do with it."

Speaking of the campaign, the prez says he won't write off Texas in 2012, but said Texas is a "pretty Republican state."

But it wasn't anything that the president said during the interview that got noticed by national news outlets like USA Today. Instead, they picked up on Obama's comments to Watson right after the interview ended:

"Let me finish my answers the next time we do an interview, all right?"

That one brought back memories of Dana Carvey's Ross Perot impersonation including the oft-repeated phrase "Can I finish?" We couldn’t find any video clips on the Web that included the “Can I finish?” line, but we did find an audio-only .wav file of a snippet of it, as well as video clips of Carvey’s Perot bit without the catchphrase.


Send your video clip suggestions to

Photo: President Obama talks with advisors in the Oval Office before a phone call with President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon to discuss the situation in Cote d’Ivoire, April 4, 2011. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Today's featured video: State Rep. Leo Berman's 'birther' bill
Monday, Feb 28, 2011, 09:46AM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
Berman video thumbnail

The president of the United States is a liar while "YouTubes are infallible."

That's the word from state Rep. Leo Berman, and it's today's featured video on the Texas Watchdog home page.

Berman, an archconservative Republican from Tyler, is backing a bill in the legislature this session that would require candidates for president to show their birth certificate to the Texas secretary of state. He doesn't believe President Barack Obama was really born in the United States, which is a requirement of the U.S. Constitution to be president.

He talks with the Texas Tribune's Thanh Tan about being dubbed a "birther," and dismisses both the Obama birth certificate that the state of Hawaii has verified, as well as the newspaper birth announcement published at the time of Obama's birth.

Got a good video clip? Texas Watchdog is always on the lookout for embeddable video clips on watchdog journalism, Texas government or politics, or government accountability or transparency. Shoot a note to

Patriot Act extension fails to pass House, issue no longer cleanly split by party
Wednesday, Feb 09, 2011, 11:17AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

For those of you who can remember back to a time when all New York City skyline photographs included two really big, nearly identical towers side by side, you probably are befuddled to learn that Republicans in the U.S. House rejected a call by a Democratic president to extend the USA Patriot Act.


Wasn't this, you're thinking, the law insisted upon by Republican President George W. Bush after the terror strike on the World Trade Center buildings on Sept. 11, 2001, and passed by Congress six weeks later? The law that prompted a lawsuit for invading Americans' privacy by the American Civil Liberties Union, the one that brought Vietnam War-style protesters into the streets and plays such a big role in Michael Moore's protest movie "Fahrenheit 9/11"?

Well, not exactly that one. It has been changed a few times, but the Patriot Act has in the past been a reliable and comforting demarcation line for Republicans and Democrats. At least it was until the election of Barack Obama, who has twice asked Congress to extend the law. Conservatives have delighted in tweaking the old Patriot Act protesters who twice have resisted taking to the streets to call out their president of choice.

Now it's the liberals' turn to do the tweaking. Both the Washington Post and Politico today have Democrats chortling themselves silly over what they see as a failure of House Republican leadership to line up support. In the face of such shame, some Republicans are blaming their own leadership, Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, Judiciary Committee chairman, and Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a senior Republican on the committee.

Read past all the two-party politicking, and you will find the Patriot Act vote redrew the demarcation line to separate lawmakers who favor the government using national security to define the scope of individual freedoms and those who don't.

Sounds suspiciously like a tea party at the House of Representatives.

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 MySpaceDiggFriendFeed, NewsVine and tumblr.

Photo of money by flickr user Tolka Rover, used via a Creative Commons license.

Texas third in tally of botched federal earmarks
Wednesday, Jan 05, 2011, 10:58AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

It isn't enough to flock like vultures to pick at the earmarked spoils of federal taxation or to spread the spoils around on questionable ventures. Politicians, apparently, have also developed a refined ability to make federal earmarks disappear.

Through a variety of circumstances almost always involving error, $13 billion in federal tax dollars earmarked for highway projects since 1991 in this country has gone unspent, according to a great package yesterday by USA Today. Of that total, the $417.4 million unspent in Texas is third only to New York and California.

What makes these 7,374 so-called orphan earmarks doubly damaging is they count against a state's total share of federal highway funds. USA Today estimates that these squandered earmarks have cost states $7.5 billion that could have been directed at other projects over the last 20 years.

Take the case of President Barack Obama and his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. As the Democratic senator and the Democratic representative of Illinois, respectively, Obama and Emanuel teamed up in 2005 to secure nearly $2 million in pork for a highway underpass for a Chicago suburb.

The problem was that the underpass project had already been started with other funding, canceling their earmark and costing their state the $2 million in shared federal gas tax revenue.

It could have been worse. The city of Atlanta has $2.7 million in earmarked money that, by law, can only be spent on projects specific to its 1996 Olympics. Look for the Georgia delegation to include a substantial earmark in an upcoming transportation bill for the construction of a time machine.

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 onMySpaceDiggFriendFeedNewsVine and tumblr.

Photo of a pig by flickr user turfcutter, used via a Creative Commons license.

Texas Watchdog surveys the federal stimulus, and economists wish warnings had been heeded
Tuesday, Dec 21, 2010, 08:50AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

So much has been said and written about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the so-called federal stimulus, that an act of polite defiance has been all but forgotten.

Just days after President Barack Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, a full-page advertisement appeared in the New York Times and most of the major newspapers in the country. At the top of the ad was a quote from Obama: "There is no disagreement that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jumpstart the economy."

Congress would a few weeks later endorse the new president's point of view by passing the $787 billion stimulus that has since ballooned to, depending upon which source you are relying upon, $814 billion or $862 billion. Given the accounting done so far for the stimulus, the final total may never be known.

Beneath Obama's quote in the ad in large letters was a reply. "With all due respect Mr. President, that is not true." And beneath the dissent were the signatures of 300 American economists, at least nine of them teaching and doing research in Texas.

For the past year, Texas Watchdog has followed the roughly $16.5 billion (this figure, too, is subject to some debate) from various federal agencies as it made its way into Texas. Texas Watchdog has written dozens of stories about the local, state and national impact of the stimulus. The stories have been guided by the two measures set out for the Recovery Act by the administration itself: that the money get into the economy, to stimulate it quickly, and that it create or retain jobs.

Many of these closely reported stories called into question not only the effectiveness by the presidential measures, but the programs themselves. Texas Watchdog has paid particular attention to the state's $326 million Weatherization Assistance Program, which was slow to get started and plagued by administrative, spending and workmanship problems throughout the year.

Following our reporting on shoddy work overseen by Sheltering Arms Senior Services of Houston, which has a $22.3 million weatherization contract, the director of its stimulus program was fired. Most recently, the agency overseeing the program, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, raised concerns of fraud with several of the local agencies doing the work.

We also questioned the return on the $290 million taxpayer investment in various energy programs, including $52 million to put solar panels on public buildings. We unsuccessfully challenged the transparency of a Houston nonprofit that refused to turn over the addresses of homes it had fixed up through the stimulus. And we wondered what would happen to a proposed high-speed rail system for the nation when the $10.5 billion in stimulus seed money ran out.

Once we started investigating job creation, things really got interesting. We wondered why a stimulus program that set out to create jobs spent so much money, sometimes millions, on so few jobs. We highlighted another agency's overblown jobs estimates, and that the Houston school district school district was using stimulus cash to pay for more than 200 employees it admitted it doesn't need. And we showed that for all the administration's promises of transparency, it's almost impossible to track the locations of jobs created by the stimulus.

Our reports on the absurdities embedded in the stimulus caught the attention of Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and John McCain, R-Ariz., in a report called Summertime Blues critical of the stimulus nationally. These stories were linked to by national watchdogs like ProPublica and the National Review and in Texas by Harvey Kronberg's much respected Quorum Report and the formidable newcomer, Texas Tribune

Texas Watchdog was among the very few news outlets who reported on the stimulus with the consistency and the seriousness the issue deserved. We continue to believe our readers deserved a careful look at how their many billions of dollars were being spent. And it made us wonder what those dissenting economists thought about the Recovery Act nearly two years after Congress passed it.


To be sure, there are economists who believe the stimulus did at least some of what it set out to do. Some think that while it did not supercharge the economy or reduce unemployment from its stubborn 9.5 percent rate, the stimulus kept the economy from slipping into a deeper recession. And there are other economists who think the stimulus failed because the government didn't commit enough tax money to it.

These are not the economists who begged with all due respect to differ with the president. Of the nine economists with Texas ties on the list, six responded to Texas Watchdog's offer to assess the stimulus, one replying by e-mail just moments after the Texas Watchdog invitation was sent. Not surprisingly, the six economics professors - Ryan Amacher at the University of Texas at Arlington, Samuel Bostaph, chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Dallas, Robert Collinge at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Earl Grinols at Baylor University, Roger Meiners at UT-Arlington and Roy Ruffin at the University of Houston - called the premise of the Recovery Act a failure. Several of the responses are angry.

Samuel BostaphBOSTAPH

"Frankly, I don't see any stimulus from the 'stimulus,'" Bostaph says. "Rather than falling, the unemployment rate has risen. Rather than falling, long-term interest rates are rising. Net job creation continues to be negative. The Bush and the Obama administrations should have let nature take its course and let the assets in the hands of failing enterprises move into the hands of those who could use them to create value, rather than to those who simply line their own pockets. A short recession and liquidation could have restructured the economy relatively quickly, such as was the case after WWI, WWII, the Dot-Com burst of the late '90s, and so on. Instead we face a Japan-like decades-long recession."

What would have been truly stimulating to the economy would have been sound tax and budget policies, Grinols says. Instead, government intervention with the stimulus and an uncertain tax future have caused American business leaders to hold cash reserves in record amounts rather than make new investments and hire new workers. This is the opposite of what the stimulus was intended to accomplish.

"One way to characterize Obama’s choices is that he selected wasteful, nearly ineffective means for doctrinaire reasons when better means were known, and he created repeated negative stimulus in the form of fear, harmful expectations, policy risk," Grinols says.



Collinge isn't surprised by the poor performance of stimulus-backed programs in Texas outlined in many of the Texas Watchdog stories. Waste and inefficiency are hallmarks of government programs that emphasize spending money quickly.

Robert CollingeCOLLINGE

"You can't just come in and do some feel-good projects," Collinge says. "Government programs, with their centralized planning, waste resources. And this wasted money is still reported as spending, as though we're getting a dollar of value for every dollar spent, when the the project would have been done more efficiently without the government interference."

As the stimulus moves into its final year, these economists have expressed deep worry about what is going to happen when the government spending stops. State institutions of higher education flush with staff hired to carry out stimulus and other federally-funded research will either be kept on with state-supported salaries or let go.

"It is becoming clear that the stimulus was little more than a way to prop up state spending--now what will they do?" Meiners asked. "Assuming that now ends, the states deep in a hole are in trouble. Illinois, Michigan, New York and California, especially, have been papering over deep problems. Maybe they will have to face reality now. We are told to prepare for a 5 - 10 percent university budget cut (a real cut), on top of the 8 percent cut we have had this year. It is beginning to cut deep."

That is only the short term. The language used to described the stimulus suggests that it has already been paid for with tax money. Taxpayers will bear the burden, all right, but it will come in the form of interest on top of the principal because the country borrowed to pay for the stimulus, Collinge says. Rather than liberate the economy, he says, the stimulus has shackled it to future debt.

"Where is the money for the stimulus coming from? If you were to actually raise taxes to fund these projects, the stimulus would be self-defeating, Collinge says. "We're borrowing to do it, and you can't do that forever. We're racking up debts that somebody has to pay for."


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 onMySpaceDiggFriendFeed, NewsVine and tumblr.

Photo of money by flickr user stopnlook, used via a Creative Commons license.

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