Scoring Republican candidates

RepublicanPartyofTexas

According to John Reynold of the Quorum Report, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee has suggested that the party create a “scorecard” to track how closely legislators voted inline with the state party platform. Jason Moore argued that voters are “tired of hearing people run for office saying one thing and going down (to Austin) and doing something else.”

Like most Texans, I’ve never heard a candidate read from their state party platform and the idea that the party’s platform is what candidates are “saying” to voters is laughable to everyone except those executive committee members silly enough to think anyone read those platforms.

Unlike most Texans, I have read the platforms of the two parties. The Republican platform is 25 pages and loaded with provisions that are out of line with mainstream Republicans.

For example: “We demand elimination of presidential authority to issue executive orders and other mandates lacking congressional approval, as well as repeal of all previous executive orders and mandates.” George W. Bush (Republican of Texas) violated this plank of the platform 284 during his presidency. I’m sure that Dick Cheney (Republican of Texas Wyoming) would tell you that if we limit presidential powers in this way that the terrorists win.

The platform opposes using eminent domain for private or public economic development. This would have precluded the Cowboys’ new stadium. Again, the terrorists (and worse, the Redskins) win.

Another planks calls for a Constitutional amendment creating a three-day session that would allow the governor’s veto to be over-ridden. Rick Perry (currently a high ranking Republican) opposes this.

The platform calls call No Child Left Behind a massive failure and calls for its repeal. (Another plank George W. Bush would not feel good about)

The platform committee is certainly entitled to their opinion. However, there are several problems with turning their work into a “test” of elected officials:

(1) The executive committee may claim that their platform is an authentic “grassroots” document. However, no one pays attention to the selection of the party leader who wrote the platform while many, many more people pay attention to the selection of Presidents, Governors, and legislators. Calling out elected Republicans for straying from the path of a document no one has read is not the best way to build a happy family. A little modesty from the party leader would be a good idea. After all, when you’re talking about Bush and Perry you’re talking about the guys who have led the party in Texas since 1994. They have a little credibility with Republican voters.

(2) A party platform scorecard would be used in Republican primaries. In fact, it would have no other use. Most state parties are not looking to take sides in these nominating contests. Further, giving Texas Republicans yet another excuse to ignore the state platform will embarrass the party’s executive committee much more than someone like Rick Perry.

(3) Who is going to measure whether or not legislation match the platform. The Texas Republican platform is a political campaign document. It makes strident arguments, complete with exclamation points (“No amnesty! No how. No way.”). That’s hard to match up with the sober, careful language of legislation. You want to stir up confusion and animosity? Start parsing words closely and then casting judgment based on that.

All this illustrates that you can’t really take a political party that seriously. These organizations play a role, but their authority comes from party members who generally play little attention to the organization itself. Ultmately, the power in the party will be in the hands of the candidates that win votes (and elections).

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Progessive Texas?

Texans support for legal recognition of homosexual unions.

Texans support for legal recognition of homosexual unions.

The latest Texas Lyceum Poll of 860 respondents reported that Texans are much more supportive of allowing civil unions and/or same-sex marriages than many people thought.

It’s surprising that over half of Texans support some kind of legal recognition of same-sex unions with 32% of Texans said they would support civil unions while another 25% think same-sex marriages should be permitted. Only 36% oppose allowing either form of legal recognition.

The poll broke support for various legal arrangements by party. Not surprisingly, Democrats show the highest level of support for gay marriages. Perhaps most surprising, 37% of Texas Republicans support civil unions. Combined with the 14% of Republicans who support gay marriages, a narrow majority of Republicans support some form of legal recognition of gay unions.

Support for Gay Unions by Party Identification

Support for Gay Unions by Party Identification

Some people may question if this poll accurately reflect the views of Texans. However, another explanation is that Texans are not the social conservatives they’ve been labeled. There has always been a strong libertarian streak in the state and many Texans don’t care what their neighbors are doing in their bedroom and their fondness for equality an privacy outweigh any reservations that have about homosexuality.

Perry’s call for a special session

Here’s Governor Perry’s official “call” for a special session. The highlighted wording is important because it defines the issues that can be considered at the special session. Clearly, Perry wants the Legislature renew those agencies that got sunset and then go home without getting into issues like voter id.

TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME:

WHEREAS, the legislature adjourned the 81st Regular Legislative Session without enacting sunset legislation for several state agencies that were subject to sunset review by the 81st Legislature; and

WHEREAS, without legislative action, the state’s Sunset Act, Chapter 325, Government Code, in conjunction with statutory law applicable to those agencies, abolishes the agencies on September 1, 2009, and requires each of the agencies to begin on that date a wind-down process that will culminate in the termination and cessation of all activities of each agency on September 1, 2010; and

WHEREAS, the Sunset Advisory Commission, in its report presented to the legislature and the governor at the 81st Regular Legislative Session, recommended that the agencies be continued in existence; and

WHEREAS, the continuation of the existence of the agencies is crucial for the operation of state governmental activities; and

WHEREAS, passage of enabling legislation to implement the authority granted in Article III, Section 49-p, of the Texas Constitution to issue general obligation bonds for highway improvement projects is necessary to assist in providing adequate financing for future transportation infrastructure; and

WHEREAS, the general statutory authority to enter into comprehensive development agreements expires in August 2009, and, with limited means of funding transportation projects, comprehensive development agreements are a necessary tool for providing financing for future transportation infrastructure; and

WHEREAS, the people have placed the constitutional power to call and convene the legislature into special session in the hands of the Chief Executive Officer of the State;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICK PERRY, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF TEXAS, by the authority vested in me by Article IV, Section 8, of the Texas Constitution, do hereby call an extraordinary session of the 81st Legislature, to be convened in the City of Austin, commencing at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the 1st day of July 2009, for the following purposes:

To consider legislation that provides for extending the existence of several state agencies that were subject to sunset review by the 81st Legislature and will be abolished without legislative action under the state’s Sunset Act, that changes the review schedule for certain state agencies to balance the workload of the Sunset Advisory Commission.

To consider legislation relating to the issuance by the Texas Transportation Commission, pursuant to Article III, Section 49-p, of the Texas Constitution, of general obligation bonds for highway improvement projects, and to the creation, administration, financing and use of a Texas Transportation Revolving Fund to provide financial assistance for transportation projects.

To consider legislation relating to the date on which the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation and a regional mobility authority to enter into a comprehensive development agreement expires.

The Secretary of State will take notice of this action and will notify the members of the legislature of my action.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have signed my name officially and caused the Seal of the State to be affixed hereto at Austin, this the 25th day of June, 2009.

Update: There’s a interesting story in the Dallas Morning News about the various requests for Perry to expand the call for the session. Perry is showing no interest in adding issues to the agenda. It’s interesting that Perry’s legislative agenda continues to be so timid. Voter ID and other conservative initiatives remain stalled. It looks like Perry prefers to enter the 2010 campaign talking about the economy relative to other states and avoiding the risk of seeing his leadership on social and other issues spurned by legislators.

Perry’s 2009 Vetoes

Governor Perry continued his tradition of offering up a few surprises in his vetoes. In particular, two of the 35 bills Perry vetoed his year shocked bill supporters.

SB 488 would have protected “vulnerable road users” from vehicles passing them too closely (passenger cars pass no closer than 3 feet, trucks no closer than six feet) and rules about turning  too closely to them. According to a Houston Chronicles story, cycling groups considered this bill their highest priority and are frustrated because they never heard any objections from the Governor before the veto. The Governor’s justification for the veto is that similar issues are already addressed by law. It’s not clear why Perry prefers the current law over the language of SB 488. Give Perry credit, he signed the veto with an arm injured in a cycling accident.

Perry’s veto of a bill which would have kept former Harris County employees from lobbying or benefiting from contract they worked on for two years. The idea was to stop the revolving door. Perry’s objection to SB 2468 was that the bill was unconstitutional because it created criminalized activity on a local, rather than state-wide, level. Unfortunately, Perry did not discover this until very, very late in the process.

There was one especially interesting non-action. Perry let HB 770 to pass into law without his signature despite controversy about Rep. Wayne Christian’s role in amending the bill and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson’s strong objections. (In fact, Patterson’s response was: “My option is just to say, ‘Screw you, Wayne Christian,’ because the Legislature didn’t pass this, one guy passed this.”) Perry’s argument is that there is need for further discussion of the issues of property rights and redevelopment. The issue of property rights is complicated on the shoreline when the beach moves significantly with every major storm. Unfortunately, Perry didn’t make time for this kind of discussion during the session. It also seems that more discussion would have occurred had he vetoed the bill. At the same time, he could have erased any claims of unethical activity.

Perry used his line-item veto power to removed $97.2 million from general revenue spending. This amounted to about .12% of the $80.7 billion in general revenue spending for the next biennium (or .005% of total spending). Most of the money cut was spending for bills that did not pass the Legislature.

Update: The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star Telegram seem to have the same questions about Perry’s veto strategy.

Also, Perry seems also to have surprised retired teachers who believed that Perry has promised to support a bill that would add an additional retired teacher on the board of the Teachers Retirement System. Perry’s argument for vetoing HB 2656 was that the board  “financial expertise” should not be diluted. Clearly, being told that you’re dumber than today’s financial experts stung the state’s teachers.