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George Hammerlein

Hammerlein, too

The Chron confirms the Lone Star Project report about Ed Johnson being reassigned in the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office, and adds on to it.

Two Harris County officials at the center of an ongoing dispute over what the Texas Democratic Party claims was an orchestrated effort to purge thousands of voters for partisan political reasons have been reassigned to duties outside the voter registration office, Tax Assessor-Collector Leo Vasquez said Friday.

Vasquez insisted the removal of Ed Johnson and George Hammerlein from voter registration duties was part of a larger office reorganization and was not related to a federal lawsuit by the Texas Democratic Party challenging the way the office handles the voter rolls.

Johnson’s impartiality has been questioned by Democratic Party officials, who noted that the associate voter registrar also was a paid director for Computer Data Systems, a private company owned by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, that sells voter registration data to Republican candidates.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with any outside influence,“ Vasquez said of the personnel shuffle. “Two of the people in the voter registration office, I thought their skill sets were better used elsewhere.”

The reorganization, he said, involves 20 employees.

Mighty convenient for this sort of thing to happen now and to have nothing to do with any pending legal dispute, that’s all I can say. Getting those two away from voter registration data did need to happen, though, so as far as that goes it’s all good.

Ed Johnson’s conflict of interest

As you know, there was a lawsuit filed against Paul Bettencourt and the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office over allegations of illegal mishandling of provisional ballots in the past November election. That suit was later expanded to include allegations of voter disenfranchisement by Bettencourt’s office. According to KHOU, some mighty interesting facts have come out so far in the deposition phase.

“This is as blatant a case of election corruption that I have seen,” said Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project, a Democrat activist group.

The Lone Star Project’s complaint revolves around Ed Johnson.

Johnson is the associate voter registrar at the Harris County Tax Assessor Collectors office, but according to state documents, that’s just his day job. Johnson is also a paid director of a small company that provides voter data to Republican candidates for office. That company, Campaign Data Systems, billed at least $140,000 in 2008.

Campaign Data Systems happens to be owned by Republican State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, who also happens to be one of the big pushers of voter ID bills. Johnson testified before the Senate about supposed instances of vote fraud. He tells the Republicans what they want to hear in the guise of a nonpartisan election official, while being on their payroll. Nice little scam they’ve got going there, no? I think we all have a better idea now why State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Ana Hernandez called for appointed Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez’s resignation over Johnson’s (and George Hammerlein’s) testimony, and it makes Vasquez’s response look that much weaker.

I’m sure the Lone Star Project will have plenty more to say on this soon, and I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, I’m thinking the campaign ads against Vasquez next year are going to write themselves. This is going to be fun.

Vasquez responds to Coleman and Hernandez

I received the following statement from the office of Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez, which was sent to KHOU and Fox 26 in response to the charges made by State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Ana Hernandez about the voter ID testimony given by staffers George Hammerlein and Ed Johnson.

Statement of Leo Vasquez,

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar

April 13, 2009

I am extremely disappointed in the lack of professionalism exhibited by State Representatives Coleman and Hernandez and demand from them a written apology to the dedicated public servants on my staff who they have maliciously accused of perjury. They executed this attack without first providing this office holder the professional courtesy of a face-to-face meeting.

At the specific invitation of St. Rep. Todd Smith, a colleague of Reps. Coleman and Hernandez, my office staff responded to the Chairman’s request to present data before the House Elections Committee. Our staff did so as a neutral resource witness only. I cannot imagine Reps. Coleman and Hernandez are advocating that the Harris County Tax Office should ignore the legislators of Texas. It is important to also note that our staff also took the opportunity while in Austin to work with other Democratic and Republican legislators and their staff on many other important pending legislative items.

As many of the Representatives’ miscellaneous and erroneous allegations relate to claims contained in a federal lawsuit pending against the Harris County Tax Office, it is inappropriate to make a comment on those. Any comment on pending litigation should be directed to the Harris County Attorney’s Office. I urge the Plaintiffs and their associates to try this case in a court of law, rather than in the media.

Finally, I must point out the Representatives’ poor grasp of simple facts. They boldly stated, “Leo Vasquez administers elections in Harris County.” We should be clear that I do not administer elections. I am the Voter Registrar and my office is committed to performing those duties in a non-partisan fashion, per the Texas Election Code, and on a fair and equal basis for all citizens of Harris County.

So there you have it. As I said before, there was a big lack of trust in this office by Democrats thanks to the widespread problems getting voter registrations processed last year as well as the longstanding partisan shilling of now-former Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt, and that mistrust still lingers after some early missteps by the TAC’s office after Vasquez took over. I also recommend you read Vince’s post about the disputed testimony. I think even if Ed Emmett draws a serious challenger next year, it’s clear what the top tier countywide race is going to be. Anyway, now you know what they had to say about this.