Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Governor’s mansion

The state of the state

Is strong, according to Rick Perry. So strong, in fact, that we’re going to kick the legs out of social services, because clearly we don’t need them.

When the state faced a budget crisis in 2003, Gov. Rick Perry’s office released a budget proposal that was full of zeros, stating that each agency would have to justify every dollar they spent. In 2011, the Governor has taken a different approach, releasing a budget with numbers.

Perry’s budget proposal slashes spending on the Health and Human Services Commission (providing about half of what the agency requested), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (providing only two-thirds of what the agency requested) and the Public Utilities Commission (only giving the PUC about 10% of what the agency requested).

Health and Human Services provides the state funding for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program. TCEQ regulates polluters, such as coal power plants and oil refineries. The TCEQ has been engaged in a long running battle with the EPA, which has long held that the TCEQ is far too lax when it comes to enforcing environmental law. The Public Utilities Commission regulates the state’s utilities and power grid. The state’s grid suffered from rolling blackouts during one of the coldest weeks in recent memory in Texas.

What’s a few blackouts among rugged individuals? Naturally, Perry doesn’t share in the sacrifice he’s calling on others to make, as his budget (a copy of which you can see here) calls for more money for his slush funds the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund. He also extracts some revenge on the Historical Commission for not giving his wife what she wanted in the reconstruction of the Governor’s Mansion. Classy.

You can read the full text of Perry’s remarks here if you really want to. My reaction is that the Lege is already working on budget proposals, and they’ve already heard a lot of testimony from people who would be directly harmed by them, about which the Governor might know something if he weren’t off traipsing around the country. He still wouldn’t care, of course, but at least he might know. Other reactions of which I’m aware:

Texas Liberal

Texas Watch

BOR, which has a few more reactions from others here

State Sen. Kirk Watson

Texas Forward

Various other legislative Democrats

The Texas State Teachers’ Association

State Rep. Armando Walle

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

State Rep. Mike Villarreal

Paul Burka and Patricia Kilday Hart, who notes that Perry essentially refuted the idea of tuition deregulation in this speech

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez

State Rep. Lon Burnam

In the Pink

EoW

State Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna

State Rep. Carol Alvarado

Abby Rapoport

Nick Anderson

Back to Basics PAC back on the air

From the “Stuff That Happened While I Had Put Down The Internet” department, here’s an update on the Back to Basics PAC, which produced and ran a great TV ad about Rick Perry’s budget hypocrisy.

Since we’ve released the ad showcasing the double-faced hypocrisy of Governor Perry, Texans have taken notice, and we’ve clearly struck a nerve with Governor Perry and the Texas GOP. The day after our ad aired on a $250,000 buy in Houston, Dallas, and Austin, the Texas GOP filed a frivolous complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission to try to shut us down.

Their ethics complaint was based on a lie. We hand-delivered a letter to Ms. Rosemary Edwards, the head of the Travis County Republican Party, demanding an apology from them.

You can see the ad here, and you can make a contribution here to keep their ad running if you are so inclined.

TPJ files ethics complaint against Perry

It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit watchdog group, filed a complaint [Wednesday] urging the Texas Ethics Commission to require Gov. Rick Perry to provide detailed reports of campaign spending on living and entertainment expenditures related to the Governor’s Mansion.

TPJ alleges that Perry violated campaign disclosure laws by not itemizing how it spent more than $800,000 for such items as food, beverages and flowers. Instead of itemizing the spending, the campaign routinely reports lump sums as much as $63,000 as simply “Mansion Fund.” Since 2001, the campaign reported 145 “Mansion Fund” expenditures totaling more than $816,000, according to TPJ.

Seems straightforward enough, but there’s always room for the TEC to pull a Bill Ceverha maneuver and force the Lege to clean up after them. Never underestimate the possibility of shenanigans, that’s all I’m saying. A statement from the Bill White campaign is beneath the fold.

(more…)

PPP poll: Perry 43, White 43

This will likely shake things up a bit.

One of the biggest questions about the 2010 election cycle, which we still don’t really know the answer to, is whether it will be solely an anti-Democratic year or more broadly an anti-incumbent year. Our newest Texas poll would seem to suggest voter fatigue toward long serving politicians in both parties- Republican Governor Rick Perry is now tied at 43 with Democratic challenger Bill White.

Texas would seem an unlikely candidate to provide Democrats their biggest win of the election cycle but the Governor’s race there is a reminder that candidates matter. Perry is an unusually weak incumbent, while White is an unusually strong challenger. Only 36% of voters in the state like the job Perry is doing while 49% disapprove. Among independents the numbers are particularly bad- just 27% give Perry good marks to 55% who think he’s doing a poor job. White meanwhile is better known and better liked than most challengers running across the country this year. 37% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to 25% with an unfavorable one and he posts positive numbers with independents at a 35/24 spread.

The full poll memo is here. There are two main differences I see between this and other polls that we’ve seen, namely the Trib poll and the millions of Rasmussen results. One is that PPP’s sample is registered voters, not “likely” voters. Rasmussen applies a voter screen, and the Trib poll was done via “proprietary opt-in survey panel”, which tends to give you a more engaged sample, something that is borne out in their crosstab data – see, for example page 5. It’s possible Perry’s support is more concentrated among those who really will vote. We don’t have any way to judge that from this data.

The other thing is that the PPP sample is more disapproving of Perry than the Trib and especially Rasmussen. Perry’s approval numbers weren’t stellar in the Trib poll from last month, but they were in positive territory, 41.7 approve to 39.8 disapprove. It’s also possible that the Governor’s mansion stuff is sticking to him and dragging his numbers down. You’ll note that while White’s 43% support is fairly consistent with most other polls, including a PPP poll from February (*) that had Perry up 48-42, Perry’s 43% is his lowest showing yet, dipping below the 44% he got (against 35 for White) in the May Trib poll. As with any other result, one data point can only tell you so much – we’ll have to see if any other pollster out there sees something similar.

Anyway. This is the strongest result White has seen yet, and an encouraging if not conclusive sign that people may be turning against Perry. Burka, BOR, and Abby Rapoport have more.

(*) PPP referenced a Perry/White poll from four months ago, but all I could find in their archives was a poll of the primaries. Maybe they had a general election poll but didn’t publicize it, I don’t know.

UPDATE: Never mind, here’s that earlier PPP poll. And Texas Politics has some interesting data points.

What Becky Moeller says

I like this statement by Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller so much, I’m printing it in full:

Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller issued this statement at a news conference held near the site of the Republican State Convention in Dallas:

Hello. My name is Becky Moeller. I am president of the Texas AFL-CIO, a state labor federation consisting of more than 200,000 affiliated union members who advocate for working families in Texas.

On May 19, the Texas AFL-CIO publicly offered Gov. Rick Perry the use of this manufactured home as alternative housing for $1 a year. We added some amenities for illustrative purposes to give it a homey touch, including a 50-year-old stuffed German shepherd (not a coyote) that has sentimental value to me, issues of Food and Wine magazine and a goodly supply of hair product.

The governor’s spokesman pooh-poohed the idea, saying we have better uses for our resources. We are interpreting that response and the ensuing silence over the last few weeks as a “no” and we are working on the matter of a worthwhile permanent use for this fine single-wide residence. But first we have a point or two to make at the state political conventions.

Some have described our offer as a “political stunt”. We have used what may be a colorful tactic to make a very serious point.

When the Legislature convenes in 2011, Texans face what may be the most austere budget picture ever, with a shortfall estimated as high as $18 billion. So far, our state’s leaders have asked virtually all state agencies to cut 5 percent from the current budget and propose an additional 10 percent of cuts in the next budget.

These exercises are the norm in tough economic times, but the choices faced by the Legislature are considerably broader than some of the early political-season rhetoric would have you believe. Rather than “cut bone” in critical state programs like education, health care and infrastructure, the Texas AFL-CIO has suggested, for example, that the Rainy Day Fund, which will be nearly $10 billion by next January, should be spent down before a single state job or core program is eliminated or harmed.

In this picture, the governor’s taxpayer-funded lifestyle is not a big issue, but it is hugely symbolic. We don’t begrudge Gov. Perry comfortable living quarters. The People’s Mansion, which was tragically gutted by an arsonist, is a state treasure that we look forward to seeing restored across the street from our office. But in the midst of leadership calls for cuts in public schools, universities, hospitals and infrastructure agencies, we think our leaders should set an example.

When we heard from the governor’s spokeswoman that Gov. Perry was setting that example by making do with a full-time chef and a part-time chef on the taxpayer dime, we believed strongly that the wrong message was being sent.

The record will reflect that when Gov. Perry cut his own budget, he simply cut some unspent funds from the economic development money that he controls. While generating jobs is important to our state, the program is controversial and does not touch on the day-to-day operations of the governor’s office. Meanwhile, AP reported that taxpayers have spent $600,000 to date to house Gov. Perry in a $10,000-a-month mansion in a gated community 14 miles from the Capitol. Gov. Perry has said he was forced to make this choice by the Department of Public Safety and the Legislature, though the evidence for that assertion seems to be wanting.

We think the issue is simple. At a time when Texans are hurting for jobs and the state is preparing for a time of austerity, the governor of Texas – who is calling for less government and more cuts — should set an example of sacrifice. Maybe the manufactured home you see here isn’t to the governor’s liking and maybe the Texas AFL-CIO parking lot is not the best venue for a temporary gubernatorial residence. We would assert, however, that a cloistered millionaires’ neighborhood rented on the people’s dime shouldn’t be to the liking of Texans. Anyone who thinks this manufactured home isn’t serious ought to take a close look at the governor’s temporary digs and consider who is less serious about the times and issues our state faces.

The only thing I’d add is to note that as Lisa Falkenberg has shown, even Perry has now backed away from his ridiculous “DPS made me do it” statement. Besides that, it’s spot on.

Dunnam to Perry: Give me some names

So as you know, there was a story last month about Rick Perry’s swanky and expensive rental mansion, which he and his wife have been using while the Governor’s Mansion is undergoing repairs. Turns out that the rather lavish lifestyle he’s enjoyed while directing everybody else in the state to cut their budgets has dogged him a bit. He was asked about it in an interview with KENS-TV in San Antonio, and he gave a fascinating answer. BOR has a transcription:

Vaughn: Governor, I know that you’re tied into social media. I follow you on twitter and Facebook, so I went to my Facebook followers and asked them if they had some questions for you. You call yourself a fiscal conservative. You know that the mansion burned down. You are spending your time in a rental mansion. Tell me if I’m wrong or right. $10,000 a month for rent. So far that’s 600,000 dollars. This person says, “Governor is that necessary to spend that much money?”

Perry: I think it’s like 9000 dollars a month, but the fact is, the dollar amount is not what’s important here. I wish the mansion hadn’t burned down. When we were asked to move out of the Governor’s mansion downtown, Anita and I said look whatever we need to do, and then the detail, the governor’s protective detail, those are the individuals that make the decision about where we are going to live. There’s requirements about where we live, and they made those decisions.

Vaughn: Couldn’t you live in a smaller place, less expensive.

Perry: That’s up to them. If we moved closer into town — We’re 14 mi out of town because that’s the closest place they were able to find that had the requirements. You have a substantial number of people on the detail that actually take up the bulk of that room. We’re going to live wherever the Legislature and Department of Public Safety direct us to live. So hopefully we’ll get the mansion back in shape very soon and this issue won’t be on the table.

Vaughn: How do you respond to your challenger Bill White? He says he would live in a really nice apartment.

Perry: I say, let’s get focused on what’s really important.

So Perry says he doesn’t have a choice, he’s just living where the Lege and the DPS told him to live. In response, Jim Dunnam, who is a member of the legislature, sent Perry a letter asking him a few questions about that, since doesn’t remember the Lege doing anything like that. Go read it and see what he has to say. But don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer.

AFL-CIO offers Perry cheaper housing

There’s some first-class snark in this press release I got from the Texas AFL-CIO today. The speaker is Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller.

In light of the state’s historically huge budget shortfall and new cuts that will place hundreds if not thousands of state employees on the brink of losing their livelihood, the Texas AFL-CIO stands ready to offer Gov. Perry an opportunity to trade down. We are offering this modest but perfectly comfortable substitute for the extravagant $10,000-a-month, taxpayer-funded rental mansion beset by coyotes.

In keeping with the reality faced by Texans in tough economic times, Gov. Perry might find that using taxpayer dollars to live like an ordinary Texan, rather than like a king, sends a better message.

We are offering the use of this h for $1 a year, compared to $10,000 a month plus many other expenses at the rental mansion. If Gov. Perry accepts our offer, we will work out furnishings, connections and any reasonable details to make certain the building is comfortable for temporary living.

Although it was just delivered, we have tried to bring some homey touches to the manufactured home you see here. Among the amenities, Gov. Perry will find Food and Wine Magazine, a 50-year-old stuffed German shepherd from my personal collection that is not a coyote, and a short-term supply of hair product.

As the Governor well knows, it’s hard to beat this location. The home is within a short walk of the Capitol and in view of the people’s Mansion. The Republican Party of Texas folks next door can join the Department of Public Safety officers across the street in keeping an eye on the place.

The fire at the Governor’s Mansion was a tragedy that has kept the governor out of our neighborhood far longer than anticipated. But we think it is a continuing mistake for Texans to spend an additional $600,000 – and counting – in mansion rent when the state could easily have bought the governor a very comfortable temporary home in that price range, then sold it at little net cost.

The place is a single-wide trailer, which they had parked in front of their headquarters. Not surprisingly, Perry turned them down. Whatever I may day about the dollar amounts involved, there’s no arguing with the AFL-CIO’s math here. People who actually care about managing costs think of stuff like that, unlike our Governor.

Perry’s rental crib

This AP story about the Governor’s rented mansion is certainly entertaining.

With the state facing a budget shortfall of at least $11 billion, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent almost $600,000 in public money during the past two years to live in a sprawling rental home in the hills above the capital, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

It costs more than $10,000 a month in rent, utilities and upkeep to house Perry in a five-bedroom, seven-bath mansion that has pecan-wood floors, a gourmet kitchen and three dining rooms. Perry has also spent $130,000 in campaign donations to throw parties, buy food and drink, and pay for cable TV and a host of other services since he moved in, the records show.

The public spending on Perry’s rental comes as the state grapples with a budget shortfall forecast to reach at least $11 billion over the next two years. Perry has asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 5 percent and the Republican House speaker has begun to consider furloughs and shortened workweeks for state employees.

I think we all agree that I’m not a Rick Perry fan, but let’s try to maintain some perspective. In the context of the state budget, this doesn’t even qualify as a drop in the bucket. (I had the same complaint about a Chron article about the spending behavior of Houston City Council members.) Look, the official Governor’s Mansion is undergoing reconstruction after that tragic arson fire from a few years ago. Perry’s gotta live somewhere, and wherever that is will be on the taxpayers’ dime, as it should be. I don’t expect him to shack up in some garage apartment. Yeah, he could have found cheaper digs, but the swankienda he is inhabiting isn’t the cause of the state’s budget woes. Don’t get me wrong, Rick Perry is directly responsible for a big chunk of the deficit we currently face. It’s just not because of where he’s hanging his coyote gun.

Now having said that, you’d think a guy who’s demanded across-the-board budget reductions from every state department might want to show a little leadership on the issue and not be so ostentatious in his lifestyle. I mean seriously, a thousand bucks for an “emergency repair” of the Governor’s filtered ice machine? What, is he too delicate to use ice from unfiltered water? You can buy a pretty decent fridge for a thousand bucks these days; they might have even been able to get one of those cash-for-clunkers rebates for the old appliance. You’ve got to figure that every state employee who’s had to get by on less is a teeny bit resentful about this. The inevitable attack ad writes itself, too.

We should be more concerned about this:

For the 28 months from September 2007 through the end of 2009, the campaign-funded “Mansion Fund” has incurred costs of over $130,000, including more than $56,000 for food and beverages. Thousands more were spent on flowers, tent set-ups and other rentals, the cable bill, invitations and unspecified “services.”

That spending tops more than $810,000 in all since Perry took office in 2001.

[…]

Perry’s state disclosure reports describe the $810,000 directed to the “Mansion Fund” generically as “Mansion Expenditures,” despite state requirements that recipients of political dollars be listed by name along with a description of the goods or services they provide.

There’s a reason we the people normally pay for the Governor’s living expenses: It’s not a hot idea to let a bunch of anonymous campaign supporters provide him with his Bud Lite and Cheetos. As is always the case with this Governor, who’s getting what in return for their generosity? I can live with the thousand-dollar Neiman-Marcus window coverings and the $8400 in heated pool maintenance costs. In return, I’d prefer that the fat cats keep out of the Perry pantry. BOR, Hair Balls, Nick Anderson, and Harold Cook have more.

Interim DPS director retiring

What the hell is going on at the Department of Public Safety?

he director of the Texas Department of Public Safety is resigning amid allegations that he touched women at the agency in an unprofessional way, “demonstratively” blew kisses to one and called a veteran employee “his girl.”

Col. Stanley Clark’s resignation is effective May 31, but he will no longer be performing any duties at DPS, according to a spokeswoman.

Clark, 60, has led the agency since becoming interim director in September. He succeeded Col. Tommy Davis, who retired in the wake of a fire that severely damaged the Governor’s Mansion on DPS’ watch.

“This is an elite law enforcement agency. We expect all our employees to demonstrate the highest degree of professionalism,” Allan Polunsky, chairman of the Texas Public Safety Commission, said in a statement. “The director must set the example for all employees in their workplace communications.

“Col. Clark has acknowledged his failure to adhere to those high standards and has chosen to retire at the end of this month,” Polunsky said. “We are disappointed by this matter, and we are committed to moving on in our search for a director.”

The story has more details; it’s all very creepy. This guy was there on a temporary basis after the last guy was apparently forced out over DPS’ failures to prevent or apprehend the person responsible for the fire that damaged the Governor’s mansion in 2007. All I can say is I hope whoever they find via that national search knows what he or she is getting into. Grits has more.