Saturday, May 26, 2012

Election Bullies

If you have a television set, you could not have missed the almost non-stop commercials attacking Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton. What’s happening to Tuffy is an example of legislative/lobbyist bullying.

Tuffy is an affable, East Texas boy with seniority in the Texas House of Representatives, respected by his peers and chair of one of the major committees. He is being attacked mainly by special interests for the sin of standing by his constituents.

In short, what this campaign is about is money and power. The Texans for Lawsuit Reform, (TLR) who have dropped millions in numerous races around the state, want to make an example of Tuffy for not having marched to the beat of their drummer. The critical vote in this case was the vote on whether to protect insurance companies or Tuffy’s constituents.

The Texas Windstorm Pool (TWIA) is an agency created to allow insurance carriers who offer homeowner insurance to escape the threat or risk of insuring homes against storm losses. Prior to the recent session of the Legislature, an investigation revealed the corruption and incompetence of the Texas Windstorm Pool. There were payoffs to adjusters, hiring of incompetents, ignoring of pleas from homeowners desperate to have their homes repaired from storm damage, and almost every abuse an insurance adjuster is capable of. Under the leadership of such lobby groups as TLR, instead of holding the managers of Texas Windstorm Pool responsible --and instead of taking insurance companies which fund this association to task-- the Legislature decided to simply insulate this insurer of last resort and reduce their liability while making it harder for homeowners, particularly those in Southeast Texas, to recover from storm damage.

Given a choice, Tuffy had the courage to stand up to this special interest and vote with his constituents. Unfortunately, Tuffy is paying the price of a tough campaign. Because the pro-insurance, anti-lawsuit lobby is so stout in Austin, many of our statewide leaders are afraid to cross them or stand up to them. This is evidenced by the fact that upon their urging, Governor Perry and other statewide elected officials have seen fit to attempt to tell Southeast Texans whom they should vote for in a state representative’s race. This makes the issue crystal clear. Either the people of Southeast Texas in Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton’s district will own a state representative; or the special interest lobby will own one.

To be kind, Mr. White, Tuffy’s opponent, made it extremely clear early after his election that he did not know his way around Austin. Rumor has it Representative White was shocked to learn the salary of a state representative was not the same as a United States congressman. And, his approach to politics appears to be to throw as much mud at Tuffy Hamilton as possible without offering one single solution to the multiple problems faced by the Texas Legislature. We have not heard from Mr. White on how he proposes to adequately fund education, colleges, provide money for new roads and highways in Texas, or deal with the medical needs of older Texans. 

Hopefully, folks here in Southeast Texas will have the sense to not be blinded by non-stop, negative television ads, and will instead consider the merits and reject the lobby idea of the Golden Rule–that is, “He who has the gold will rule.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Uninformed People Make Uninformed Decisions

Who in their right mind would really want a convicted criminal who falsely claimed to have a college education, lied about his parents, and made up a resume that included hundreds of false claims such as excelling in sports and being an American hero? Even worse, if you could vote for such a person knowing the above bad traits, would you still consider voting for him when you learned he was in prison for threatening his fellow citizens? As I say, I doubt anyone in their right mind would seriously consider having such a person as the leader of the free world and commander-in-chief of our nation’s military.

Recently, the news media made a big to-do over the fact that Russell Judd, a federal inmate, polled 41% in the Democratic primary of West Virginia. The story seemed to imply such a result in that primary was a reflection on President Obama. Unfortunately, it says more about the voters in West Virginia than it does the President.

The lesson to be learned here is that when voters do not pay attention and vote without being well informed, it is possible to make extremely bad choices. I will concede that usually the choices are not bad enough to elect the sort of fellow who ran against Obama in West Virginia, but there are cases where a result almost as bad has occurred. Here in Texas, for example, the electorate selected a person for the Texas Supreme Court who had been involved in a murder plot and who was later discovered to have been nothing more than a criminal.

Unfortunately, the sin of voting while not well informed and failure to pay attention is not limited to the average voter. Members of our own Texas Legislature can, and have, been guilty of equal gullibility or worse. I recall in the 60's a legislative upset which gained quite a bit of publicity throughout the media.

It has always been customary--ever since there has been a state legislature--for members of the House and Senate to pass congratulatory resolutions as a matter of everyday business. This process allows the Legislature to commend or recognize citizens who generally have done good things. Unfortunately, the practice is so common as a part of the daily routine of the Legislature that little attention is paid to the substance of the text and approval is given generally without debate or serious inquiry as to the content of each resolution. In the early 60's, in order to bring focus to the procedure, a legislator from Waco, who was a former district attorney from McLennan County, introduced a resolution commending a gentleman for his efforts at population control. After the resolution had been passed unanimously, signed by the speaker and clerk of the House, it was then revealed to the public that the person being congratulated for his efforts at population control by the House of Representatives of Texas was none other than the Boston Strangler.

The lesson to be learned is almost as simple as legal advice given by lawyers every day to clients who enter into contracts to purchase insurance or who deal with titles to property: Read what you sign. Read what you subscribe to as a part of your belief or statement of fact. The advice is valid, certainly for the voting public.

It takes more than watching the evening news one or two evenings a week. It takes even more than reading regular periodicals such as national magazines or the daily newspaper. To be a good citizen and cast a meaningful vote, one needs to study the day-to-day activities of our government, and to understand the rules of the process and how government works at every level, and then do a close examination of what can be learned of each candidate in order to determine whether or not that candidate is qualified to serve in the office. But more importantly, you need to know whether or not that candidate, if elected, has interests aligned with your own.

All of this is said to make the point that if you wouldn’t vote for a phony, or a criminal convict, then why would you vote for a person who shared little in common with you? or catered to billionaires? or marched to the drum beat of the well-monied special interests?  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Conservative Republicans have been accused of being anti-science. The Texas state education board resists the theory of evolution and insists on equal space in textbooks for religious based theories of the creation of the earth. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has taken the state’s fight against pollution controls calculated to protect the ozone layer and guard against global warming to the federal court system. The lawsuit claims that there is not adequate science to prove global warming and that the EPA has no authority to regulate emissions of CO2.

While on the presidential campaign trail, Governor Perry, when asked about global warming, said there are opposing views in the scientific community concerning climate change, and he further indicated he was very skeptical about whether or not global warming really existed as a result of pollutants in the air.

Frankly, I believe the reason for such conservative opposition to well-established scientific fact lies not so much in disrespect for science, but simply is a money issue. Industry has hired multiple millions of dollars worth of lobbyists. They have recruited some scientists on their payroll to raise serious doubts about climate change or global warming being related to industrial pollution.

One only has to hark back to the nationwide issue related to smoking which went on for several generations. For years the tobacco industry produced scientists to testify solemnly that tobacco smoke was not the cause of medical ailments such as cancer, emphysema and other heart problems. It is almost indisputable today that these protestations from cigarette manufacturers were phony arguments to simply delay the inevitable attack on a very profitable industry.

It seems the same is true with the issue concerning global warming. As long as there is non-acceptance of scientific facts--about increased hurricanes for example, or the risks of doing nothing--as announced by the vast majority of worldwide scientists concerning this issue, there is a political basis for opposing stringent pollution controls on industry. Pollution controls cost industry money, and in turn lessen profits. Unfortunately, the lack of adequate pollution control causes sickness, disease and even death among Americans exposed to such pollutants that fill the air as a result of many industrial endeavors.

I submit the cost of cleaning up industrial emissions pales in comparison to the cost of human misery that uncontrolled emissions bring to us.

It’s time for Americans to wake up to scientific fact and quit buying into conservative politicians’ who are disparaging of citizens concerned with the environment as a bunch of nutty tree huggers.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The New Golden Rule

The United States Supreme Court has endorsed the “new golden rule” of politics. It is “Them 'what has the gold, rules.” Unfortunately, there is a significant number of billionaires in the United States who truly believe, down deep in their hearts, that those with millions of dollars should have a greater say in how this country is run than others.

Multimillionaires like the Koch brothers, Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio, and Bob Perry of Bob Perry Homes in Houston began a few years ago relentlessly to attack anyone who might stand in the way of their greed and to direct legislation enhancing their advantage. Unfortunately, they are, it seems, winning too many of the battles. These folks have already spent over $150 million sorting out the Republican candidate to oppose Barack Obama. You can rest assured that, with the super PACS already being formed by the likes of Karl Rove--Bush’s political guru--and others, over a billion dollars will be spent in an effort to buy the presidency of the United States. 

Millions and millions of dollars have already been spent to intimidate state legislatures and the Congress of the United States to avoid control of corporate pollution which causes cancer and other health problems, to keep the price of pharmaceutical drugs higher in the United States than in any other nation in the world, and to make sure injured people do not have the right that is guaranteed them, by the Constitution of the United States, to a jury trial by their peers.

If you believe money does not make a difference in politics, I would like to sell you some submerged land out South of Chambers County.

One only has to look back to the election between John Kerry and George Bush for proof of what money can do. Eighty-year old Harold Simmons of Dallas boasts of having spent $2.8 million to help finance the “Swift Boat” attack on John Kerry. If you will recall, it was a remorseless attack by a small group of people that managed to convince too many Americans that John Kerry’s military record was a fabrication. A look backward to the real facts of the situation now reveals most of the doubts cast on John Kerry’s military record were phony. Made up. A deliberate sham.

On the other hand, George Bush’s history of avoiding the draft in order to stay away from Vietnam was largely ignored. Not only does it appear George Bush used his father’s political influence to get into the Texas National Guard, but he even dodged his commitment to fly the military jets that were part of his home service defending Texas and Alabama.

If you really stop to think about it, how ridiculous is it that a real, honest-to-God hero--who actually got shot at in combat—was somehow deprecated as less than the military man he was, serving during a war in defense of his country, while a privileged high-ranking politician’s son with a disgraceful record became revered and elected as commander-in-chief of our nation’s military. 
Such a thing could not have happened without Harold Simmons’ $2.8 million and the large contributions of other fat cats interested in buying the presidency.

Harold Simmons has only been encouraged by past success. He now boasts that he is willing to spend what it will take to defeat President Obama in the coming election…and he has already given $15 million to try and do just that.