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April 17th, 2012:

Interview with Pete Gallego

Pete Gallego

There are two Congressional districts in Texas that are on the national radar as November battlefields. One is CD14 thanks mostly to the candidacy of Nick Lampson, and the other is CD23, which flipped to the Democrats in 2006 after the last redistricting litigation concluded in the Supreme Court, then flipped back to the Republicans in the 2010 tsunami. Running to take the seat back from freshman GOP Rep. Quico Canseco are a couple of familiar names, the first of which is State Rep. Pete Gallego, seeking to move up after serving eleven terms in the State House. Gallego has been the Chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and has been a leader of the House Democratic Caucus. He has served as the Chair of numerous committees, most recently the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, where he has championed a number of key reforms, including eyewitness identification procedures. Here’s what we talked about:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Perry’s budget suicide pact

I have four things to say about this.

What Rick Perry wants to do with the extra revenue

Borrowing a tactic from national anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, Gov. Rick Perry used a tax day appearance in Houston to propose a no-new-taxes pledge for Texas lawmakers, a pledge that would, in his words, “lead to a stronger Texas.”

[…]

Perry laid out a five-part Texas Budget Compact that, in addition to no new taxes, called for truth in budgeting, a constitutional limit on spending tied to the growth of population and inflation, preserving a strong Rainy Day Fund and cutting unnecessary and duplicative programs and agencies.

He also urged the continuation of the small-business exemption to the Texas franchise tax.

“Each and every member of the legislature or anyone aspiring to become a member of the legislature should sign on,” Perry said.

[…]

Jeff Moseley, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Houston Partnership, endorsed Perry’s compact.

“The pro-business policies and accountable and responsible budgets adopted by Gov. Perry and legislators have given Texas an enormous advantage when competing for high-paying jobs, and helped Houston prosper to become the top region for corporate relocations in the U.S. in two of the last five years, including in 2011, and these principles will keep us on that path,” he said.

1. Everybody recognizes this as a gimmick, right? I mean, there’s nothing new here, just the same old rhetoric wrapped up in a slightly different package. Beyond that, there’s no purpose to any of this. I mean, what exactly is the point of pouring money into the Rainy Day Fund? The original purpose of this fund was to provide economic stability in times of budgetary crisis, but apparently we’re not doing that any more. The Rainy Day Fund isn’t a trust that generates revenue for something; unless the Lege explicitly authorizes it, whatever goes into the Rainy Day Fund stays there. What’s the point of a fund that never gets used? We may as well convert it to cash and stuff it under a mattress. For that matter, we may as well rake it into a pile and make a bonfire. That’s more than we’re getting out of it now.

2. Putting it another way, politicians love to say that taxes are the people’s money. Well, sometimes the people want to spend their money on things they need. You know, like schools and roads and a statewide water plan, that sort of thing. How many schools and roads and reservoirs do you think we’d have now if we’d only spent money based on some arbitrary inflation-plus-population-growth formula over the past hundred years?

3. By signing on to this frivolity, the Greater Houston Partnership has officially declared that it is no longer a voice for reasoned public policy. From this point forward, whenever you see them advocate for something like education reform, you can safely ignore them because they’re not serious about it. Which is a shame, because we need more organizations that take these matters seriously, but that’s the path they’ve chosen.

4. As you might expect, Democrats have been loudly critical of this. My inbox is filled with statements from various legislators – Reps. Jessica Farrar, Garnet Coleman, Mike Villarreal, Sens. Jose Rodriguez, and Kirk Watson, for example. Which is good, and what they should be doing, but let’s be honest: Barring an even greater wave than what we saw in 2010, the fate of this piece of fluff is up to the Republicans. There are a number of incumbent Republicans who have carried a pro-public education banner in the past, and a number of Republican challengers who are running as the pro-public education alternative. As with the GHP, if any of these candidates sign on to this pledge, they are declaring that they don’t really mean it. (They can follow this example if they need to.) I sincerely hope that endorsing organizations whose missions are pro-public education realize that, or else we’re going to be right back where we were after the 2013 legislative session.

More on the size of the SBOE and its districts

The House Redistricting Committee is holding its hearing today on whether the 15-member State Board of Education and its ginormous districts are appropriately sized.

SBOE Districts

A House Redistricting committee will study the merits of expanding the board to creating smaller districts, which are now nearly double the size of state Senate or congressional districts.

A hearing on Tuesday is unlikely to produce a consensus as many conservatives prefer the current configuration.

Conservative blogger and retired educator Donna Garner wrote recently that a larger board will become more unwieldy, less effective and erode the influence of conservative members.

“If more SBOE districts are created, then this will mean an even better chance for the left-leaning Republicans and the Democrats in the Texas Legislature to divide up SBOE districts so that conservative influence will be marginalized,” Garner wrote.

House Redistricting Chair Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, recommended that House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, order an interim study on possible board expansion.

“What concerned me were the size of the districts and the sheer number of people in those districts,” Solomons said. “You start wondering, ‘is that just too many people, especially since they don’t have any real staff?’”

Solomons’ committee will issue a report later this year for future lawmakers to consider.

“You need to do something so there’s a sense that you’re representing the people in your district and the children in the school districts and the parents of school children,” he said. “How do you communicate with all these people?”

Actually, SBOE districts are more than twice the size of Senate and Congressional districts, as there are fewer than half as many of SBOE districts as there are the others. Garner’s complaint that a larger SBOE would mean less influence for conservatives is both accurate and what I consider a feature – it’s also the direct result of a larger SBOE being necessarily more diverse and representative of the state as a whole. As for her other complaints, it’s nigh impossible to imagine the SBOE being less effective than it already is, and the “more unwieldy” argument is just silly; the State House has ten times as many members, and for all its many flaws it generally manages to get stuff done in a short period of time.

As I’ve said before, the question is not so much whether the SBOE is the right size but why we need it to be geographically based. If it must be that way, then I’d suggest making SBOE and State Senate districts one and the same, which if nothing else would save time and money in the redistricting process. Beyond that, I have no idea what the best thing to do with it is. I look forward to seeing what the committee recommends.

Re-Plant Houston

Memorial Park is about to get some needed attention.

As last year’s drought killed thousands of trees in Memorial Park, caretakers realized it was time to speed the pace of a long-planned reforestation.

On Friday, Mayor Annise Parker announced that removal of invasive species and dead trees from the 1,500-acre park’s forested areas is scheduled to begin Monday. The work is preparation for planting about $1 million worth of seedlings in the fall, she said at a news conference in the park’s picnic area.

[…]

Nancy Sullivan, executive director of the nonprofit Memorial Park Conservancy, said it was fortunate that a plan to rejuvenate the forest was written before the drought took its toll.

Completed in 2010, the plan originally called for replanting to take a decade. Now, the time frame will be shortened to a couple of years, she said.

“We’re going to turn this into an opportunity,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to create the best, the healthiest, the most vibrant (forest possible). We’re going to have a regenerating forest that will never experience this again.”

The press release on this is here. To be a part of the RE-Plant Houston and RE-Plant Memorial Park effort, visit the following websites:

To RE-Plant Memorial Park visit the Memorial Park Conservancy
To RE-Plant the Memorial Park Golf Course visit the Houston Parks Board
To RE-Plant MacGregor Park and Mason Park visit Trees for Houston
To RE-Plant Hermann Park visit the Hermann Park Conservancy