Friday, October 22, 2010


At one time I believed I was an expert at politics.  Of late I have had serious doubts about my political intuition.  Either my thinking has slipped a bit, or my current Democratic companions have gone off the chart. It appears to me that Nancy Pelosi, in her leadership role, has simply lost it.

At the end of 2008 Democrats took control of Congress and, in my estimation, had a golden opportunity to showcase the radical differences between the Democratic leadership and what the country had endured for eight years.  

Unfortunately, too many of the Democrats under Pelosi's leadership started doing the same things the nation had criticized the Republican Congress for doing.

Under the new Democratic leadership Congress did not curtail wasteful spending, failed to adopt a really strict ethics code, and did not end either the war in Iraq or Afghanistan promptly.

They fiddled around trying to get Republicans on board for compromises on health care and several other major proposals.  The Democratic effort resulted in delay and in watering down what would have been a decent health care bill had the Democrats had the guts to go on with their majority and pass it more closely aligned to what was originally introduced. 

The final political ploy by Pelosi and her leadership, which has made me wonder what in the world they were thinking, was to delay a vote on maintaining tax cuts for middle-class Americans until after the election.  It appears to me that forcing Republicans who wanted to preserve tax breaks for people making $7,000,000 a year at the expense of those making less than $250,000 a year is politically a “can’t lose” proposition.

It has been obvious for some time that Republicans have employed better political strategists and PR people than Democrats.  Prior to George Bush’s first election, you would have had a hard time convincing me that the American people could be persuaded to opt for a guy who fought the Vietnam War part time in Alabama over a fellow who actually got shot while serving in Vietnam.  The “Swift Boat” fraud clearly demonstrates that unlimited amounts of money can persuade gullible voters of almost anything. 

The current Texas governor’s race is another good example.  From the polls, it appears a guy who has had a government paycheck for over 25 years and yet has managed to become a multi-millionaire is being favored over a fellow who spent most of his life in business and earned a decent financial statement.  I guess Governor Perry and his friends recognize better business opportunities and investments than Democrats.  

An examination of the investigation by the Dallas Morning News as to the Texas Emerging Technology Fund reveals just how smart many Republican investors are. 
  • Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio invested $264,000 in Rick Perry’s campaign and was rewarded with 1.7 million to Gradalis, Inc., a firm that he controls.  
  • A fellow named David G. Nance, a former Perry appointee, invested $80,000 in Perry’s campaign and walked off with 4.5 million for his company, Convergen Live Sciences, Inc.  
  • Nance
  • One of Perry’s old college buddies, Phil Adams, gave Perry’s campaign $314,000 and was rewarded with 2.75 million of tax funds for his company. 

All in all, Perry’s buddies invested around $2,000,000 to Perry and gleaned 16 million from the tax supported Emerging Technology Fund.  What a deal!  I only wish I could find such a profitable investment. 

One can only dream of getting an eight-fold return on an investment.  But again, what do I know about politics, public relations or investments?  

To me, the real mystery is how a governor and a party so wise in all of these financial investments could allow our state to wind up 18 million dollars in the hole.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Some legislators mistakenly believe the best way to deter crime is to have increasingly tough punishments associated with findings of guilt.  This particular strategy does not necessarily work.  Texas has some of the most draconian punishments of any state.
A primary case in point is the use of the death penalty.

No state of the Union has executed as many people as has Texas in the past several years.  Yet, Texas’ murder rate exceeds that of other populace states.  Most criminologist and many lawyers recognize the fact that crime is best deterred when the criminal actor is apprehended.  The sureness of punishment is a far better deterrent than the likelihood or unlikelihood of severe punishment.

The Netherlands, for example, has a relatively low punishment indicator for most serious crimes having an average incarceration time of 4-6 months; and yet, the crime rate of the Netherlands is a small fraction of that in the State of Texas.

Punishment for murder, robbery or burglary is in Texas probably higher than most states in the Union. Yet, in a story published by The Houston Chronicle, Houston alone has over 200 unsolved murders.  The rate of solved burglaries in our area alone is much higher than you would expect.

Politicians vote for arcane and drastic measures for several reasons.  First, voting against crime and criminals is one of the easiest votes a politician will ever have to take.  Second, many politicians mistakenly believe raising the punishment level on various crimes is cheap.  As it happens, the real fact is that keeping a young man incarcerated in the Texas prison system is more expensive than keeping him enrolled in a master’s degree program at one of our colleges.  

The third reason for such blind allegiance to tougher measures on crime with politicians is the fear of being accused at election time of being soft on crime.   Unfortunately for the citizens of this state, many of the so-called “tough on crime” measures are actually counterproductive, as well as unrealistic and grossly unfair.  

The primary case in point is the growing list of crimes which require persons convicted of them to register as sex offenders.  The motives behind this legislation by State Senator Florence Shapiro of Dallas were good when first introduced but frankly have evolved into something which hinders law enforcement efforts as much as it might help deter sex offenders.

Ashley McIntosh
Senator Shapiro first passed the legislation in reaction of the kidnapping, sexual assault and death of a child in the Dallas area.  The law was dubbed Ashley’s Law and was aimed primarily at pedophiles who are clearly dangerous to the safety of our children.  Unluckily, the law has evolved to something else.

Currently, in Texas the list of sex offenders required to register with the local police is approximately 65,000 and growing daily.  Unfortunately, the list does not distinguish between the pedophile who stalks, kidnaps and sexually molests young children and the drunk who was convicted of indecent exposure while relieving himself outside the bar.  And, also included on the growing list are young men particularly who had oftentimes a fairly innocent relationship with a childhood sweetheart.  

There are numerous young men on the list who had consensual relations with their girlfriends while the young men were 19 or so and the girl was 15.  Many of these couples are happily married with children.  Conviction of a felony is punishment enough for these situations without the onus of a life sentence of being required to register as a sex offender. It is still sadly true that the breadwinner in the family has to register as a sex offender and is extremely limited as to where he can live.  He is restricted from being able to have relatives over with their children and probably finds it difficult once people learn he is on the list to find gainful employment with which to care for his family.

Originally, a meaningful list of sex offenders of truly dangerous offenders would allow police to quickly locate and pinpoint the location of the kind of sex offender we all fear.  However, now it is next to impossible for local police to keep up with registrants on such a list with their growing number.  Police note it is difficult, if not impossible, to thoroughly check whether or not people on the list are adhering strictly to restrictions placed on them by the law.

Watchful parents who take the trouble to check the list in their community are not told whether the guy down the street is a pedophile who committed some heinous act with an infant, or whether the young man is in trouble for having an affair with his girlfriend while they were both in high school.

The fear of being accused of standing on the side of sexual predators is so powerful that it is next to impossible to pass meaningful legislation to correct this situation.  In fact, during the recent session of the Legislature, Representative Todd Smith introduced and passed virtually unanimously through the House and Senate a bill to alleviate the problem of consensual sex between young people.  His opponent accused him of being on the side of sexual offenders in his next election effort, and the bill was vetoed by Governor Perry.

In the meantime law enforcement will continue to be confounded about which registered sex offenders are dangerous and which are not.  

Also, in the meantime, here is Henry, who was convicted in New Jersey at age 19 of sexual assault because he had fondled his 15-year old girlfriend outside of her clothing--even though at the time he truly believed she was older than 15, having been told that was her age. Although his offense was a misdemeanor in New Jersey, Henry will have to continue to register in Texas as a sexual offender even though he and his girlfriend, Sarah, are now married with children.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Even as a progressive, politically I agree with conservatives that government should not intrude itself into our daily lives any further than is necessary.  However, most of the differences between progressives and conservatives center around how much is necessary and what methods should be used to curb or slow the growth of government.

Not only does government seem to grow on a steady basis, but the governmental process as well seems to continue to expand.  For example, when a constitutional amendment initially authorized the federal income tax, the documents required only a few pages.   

Currently, the Internal Revenue Code, I daresay, occupies several shelves of books.  Congress has adopted a technique in the last several generations of passing a skeleton law and leaving an administrative agency, sometimes known as bureaucrats, to fill in the blanks with regulations.  Invariably the regulations far exceed the number of pages contained in the law.

Texas is not immune to such steady expansion of the governmental process.  A good example is the legislative process.  Even in the few short years since 1962 there have been major changes.

In 1962 in the House of Representatives in the State of Texas, the 150 state representatives filed a grand total of 1,088 House Bills, 332 of which were passed, 127 concurrent resolutions, 589 House resolutions and 80 proposed constitutional amendments.  In 2009, the most recent Legislative Session, State Representatives filed 4,836 House Bills, 867 of which passed, 285 concurrent resolutions, 3,140 ordinary House resolutions and 140 proposed constitutional amendments.

It is hard to believe that from 1963 to 2009, the needs of the State of Texas had grown so much that almost five times as many pieces of legislation were necessary to meet the needs of citizens of Texas.  

It is my fervent belief that technology rather than need is the culprit in this spectacular growth in the number of pieces of legislation offered, debated and passed by our legislature.  In 1962 computers were not in use, except by large corporations, mainly due to the fact computers were large, bulky and owned by only a few major businesses.  The laptop was unheard of and if a legislator had at his/her disposal an electronic typewriter, they were blessed.  Many bills were handwritten by each representative, passed on to a sparsely staffed Legislative Council, and each waited its turn to be drafted into a proper bill. 

In today’s legislative world bills are filed on computer disks and a multi-page bill of up to 1,000 pages can be whipped out with the flick of a button and altered or edited in a matter of minutes.  The staff of the Legislative Council is more than adequately staffed today, and generally each representative or senator has capable, fully staffed offices for assistance.

Even the system of debate has been altered by technology.  In 1963 if a House member was desirous of amending a bill on the floor, it was necessary to provide three copies of the proposed amendment to the Bill Clerk who then passed it to the Speaker who placed in line with others for consideration.  Without copying machines or access to computers, House members were required to be somewhat innovative in preparing and presenting amendments. 

The most common way to meet the three-copy rule was for a House member to have a legal pad at his or her disposal, along with three sheets of carbon papers.  Amendments were handwritten, pressing down on the paper, producing two legible carbon copies, which along with the original met the three-copy rule for an amendment.  As you can imagine, amendments were drafted using the fewest number of words necessary to accomplish the aim of the proposed amendor; and fewer amendments were offered.

In today’s House of Representatives in the Texas Legislature, with everyone having access to a computer, free access to unlimited copying, and other high-tech methods of complying with rules, small forests are devoured each session with the amount of paper used just on amendments.  The current rule in the House requires fifty copies of any particular amendment to be filed along with the original amendment; and if more are requested by members of the House, they too have to be reproduced and in short order. 

It may be thought to be facetious, but I am absolutely convinced, after watching the process for several years, and remembering the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of America, two very durable documents, were written with quill pen and ink by hand.  We should all wish the present-day legislation were given as much thought and consideration by the authors of such legislation as were given to those fine documents by our forefathers.  

While I wouldn’t be so facetious as to require that present-day amendments and bills be written with quill pen and ink, I do think it would be somewhat helpful and would enhance the quality of legislation and reduce the number of bills by requiring initial copies of legislation to be handwritten by their author.

Presently, lobbyists, with the inside help of a member of the Legislature, have access to the Legislative Council as well as members.  Bills are turned out wholesale and passed to members with the request that they be introduced and sponsored as their own particular idea of how the law should be influenced.  Were bills to be written by their author, we could be assured of whose bill it really was by comparing the handwriting with that of the named author.  

I daresay that giving members of the Legislature full credit for bills introduced would have a salutary effect on some of the silly measures introduced each session.  I doubt requiring handwritten legislative proposals would give us the quality of thought and durability as reflected in our United States Constitution, but I am convinced it would be a great step forward in the quality of legislation and the retardation of useless legislation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Keeping the peace

A recent conversation at the Beaumont City Council concerning a citizen review board to oversee police activities brought to mind legislation I proposed some time back when a member of the Senate.

I agree wholeheartedly that police forces in a democratic society should have oversight and be controlled by civilian authorities. I firmly believe the vast majority of policemen are well-intentioned, honest and take seriously their commission to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States and to serve the public. There are, however, those who develop an “us against them” attitude; and probably too many good police officers who will not tell on the bad ones.

I’m equally convinced a citizen review board is not in the best interest of good law enforcement, good local government, or a unifying force in any city. Civilian review boards too often become political and their decisions oftentimes rest on emotion rather than an objective review of the facts.

During a long, expensive and thorough investigation of police conduct some years back, I discovered some very disturbing facts about some local police departments. For example, I learned that two policemen who were caught red-handed burglarizing a bar, loading whiskey cases into the back of their patrol car. They were given the opportunity to resign rather than to be prosecuted. These two policemen went about 20 miles down the road and were, within a few weeks, employed by another city’s police force.

And, I know of one situation where deputy sheriffs were involved in a house burglary. Although there was adequate proof of this crime, the sheriff involved simply shrugged off the complaints and continued the employment of the deputies. There was no further appeal for the civilians complaining of the conduct of these police officers.

There certainly should be an avenue of rational appeal for a citizen who is aggrieved or concerned about unlawful or unethical conduct of a police officer.

To that end, my proposal would have involved a statute which provided that any citizen who had a complaint concerning a peace officer must first register that complaint in writing with the chief of police, head constable, sheriff, or whichever person was ultimate supervisor of the officer involved. After a reasonable opportunity to investigate the matter, the ranking officer would be required to report if any remedial conduct had occurred concerning the officer or punishment.

If the citizen then was unsatisfied with the answer or result, the citizen could appeal the matter in writing to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education [TCLEOSE]. One must have a certification from TCLEOSE in order to have the right to act as a peace officer, carry a weapon, etc. TCLEOSE would then be required to have an investigative branch with procedures for an orderly hearing where evidence could be presented both for the peace officer involved and the complainant.

The TCLEOSE board, itself, would be the ultimate arbiter of the facts and would have the authority to issue reprimands, suspensions or revocation of a peace officer’s right to serve as a peace officer. This would give an orderly process, would take it out of local politics, reduce the chance of emotional and divisive friction in a city and provide a fair hearing to both the accused peace officer and the aggrieved citizen.

 Like many of my wonderful ideas, however, advocates of civilian review boards didn’t think it was strong enough, and peace officers viewed it with suspicion. Therefore, it never got a meaningful hearing in the legislative process.

Maybe it’s time, however, for someone else to give it a try.