Perry hits on immigration in debate

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry stood at center stage Thursday in the debate of second-tier Republican candidates for their party’s nomination for president and spoke repeatedly about immigration.

Perry, who had more support than his fellow candidates on the stage at the Fox News debate, said for him, the past four years have included much preparation and reflection to get him ready for his second run at the presidency. He didn’t mention the “Opps” moment in 2011 that derailed his candidacy during the last presidential race, nor did he talk about the indictments on two charges related to his effort to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign after her drunken driving arrest.

Perry was asked by a Fox News moderator about the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, businessman and television reality star Donald Trump.

The governor has been perhaps the most aggressive candidate in attacks on Trump, but one of the moderators told Perry that Trump “seems to be getting the better of you.”

Perry responded by mocking Trump for backing single-payer health care and using his celebrity — rather than his politics — to make a run for the presidency.

Perry also took a couple of opportunities to talk about the border and his experience trying to secure it.

He mentioned confronting President Barack Obama on a Texas tarmac in 2014 about the issue.

“The border is still porous,” he said in the debate.

No one else running for the GOP nomination has experience on the border, he said.

He called for more military personnel on the border in strategic  places, construction of some walls, installation of cameras and “quick response teams.”

Rep. Jonathan Stickland releases investigator’s tape of interview with Rep. Joe Pickett

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland has released portions of an audio recording of a police interrogation of his nemesis state Rep. Joe Pickett.

Pickett, the El Paso Democrat and Transportation Committee chairman who unceremoniously tossed Stickland from a hearing last month, admitted to an investigator from the Texas Rangers on May 14 that knew one of his staffers had called Stickland’s office on April 30, according to the recording.

JPRep. Joe Pickett

Pickett’s staffer, who used a fake name, called Stickland’s Capitol office before the Bedford Republican got thrown out of the Transportation Committee hearing for — as Pickett charged — improperly or illegally filling out committee forms in favor his House Bill 142, a proposal to ban red light cameras.

A story about the recording of the call was published here last week.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, wearing a gun lapel pin, smiles during debate of HB 910, an open carry bill, in the House Chamber at the Capitol on Friday April 17. (Photo by Jay Janner)
Rep. Jonathan Stickland in the House Chamber at the Capitol. (Photo by Jay Janner)

In the newly released audio, Pickett seemed to indicate that he was willing to use the recording as reasoning for ordering his staffer to investigate if Stickland was responsible for filling out witness forms in favor of his bill for people not in Austin — a charge, he said in committee, might amount to perjury.

Chuck as Walker, Texas Ranger
Chuck Norris as Walker, (fictional) Texas Ranger

“When (the staffer) played that for me, I didn’t get, ‘Oh, we got him.’ I just said, ‘That’s not enough,’” Pickett told the Ranger. “But it was enough for me to go and immediately tell (the staffer) to go sample some of the witnesses.”

Pickett said on the day of the hearing that possibly dozens of witness affirmation forms were being filled out for the hearing, which was on hold as House members met on the floor. And the number of forms didn’t reflect the number of people waiting to testify, he said.

“I had feeling that someone was manipulating our system,” Pickett said.

At that point. Pickett said that he “just did some checking.”

Stickland, too, said he did nothing wrong that spring day.

“I did not fill anything out. I did not tell anyone to fill anything out, and I had absolutely no knowledge of anyone filling anything out,” Stickland told the Statesman on Monday.

Further, he said he has not been told which rule or law was broken.

Stickland said the investigator gave his lawyer a copy of the interrogation.

Asked why the investigator handed over the recording, Stickland said: “We do not know.”

A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety was not immediately available, but as a matter of course, department doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations.

Stickland said he released the audio to help him get answers to some key questions, such as: Was the lead-up to the investigation a set-up to punish the tea party agitator? And who knew about it?

Pickett insisted Monday that his actions were reasonable.

“I didn’t set up anybody,” he said.

Since the incident, state Rep. John Kuempel, a Republican from Seguin and chairman of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, has launched an investigation with the help of the Rangers.

The investigation has focused on the process of how committees’ electronic witness documents — like the ones Stickland or his staff was accused of filling out — are being used and potentially abused.

No individual members are being targeted, Kuempel said previously.

Earlier on April 30, Stickland and Pickett had a heated exchange on the House floor, when Stickland used a parliamentary maneuver to kill Pickett’s House Bill 2346.

Hear the excepts of the Ranger’s interview with Pickett.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland says he might have proof that he was set up

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland has an audio recording he said could prove that he was set up.

On Friday, Stickland released an audio file from earlier in the session that he said is a recording of a staffer for state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who called Stickland’s Capitol office and used a fake name to prompt behavior that could have been used against the tea party agitator from Bedford.

Hear the audio:

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, wearing a gun lapel pin, smiles during debate of HB 910, an open carry bill, in the House Chamber at the Capitol on Friday April 17. (Photo by Jay Janner)
Rep. Jonathan Stickland in the House Chamber at the Capitol on April 17. (Photo by Jay Janner)

In the recording, which could not be verified, a man who said he was from Houston asked Stickland’s legislative director how the man might register his support for House Bill 142, a proposal by Stickland to ban red light cameras.

Stickland said he believes the caller hoped that the conservative Republican’s aide had offered to sign him up in support of the bill without the caller being present, which would be against House policy. The Stickland staffer simply explained the process to the caller, as heard on the recording.

“I was truly very angry to hear this for the first time, but also very sad,” Stickland said. “This crosses a line of decorum and honesty and questions integrity.”

When asked about the recording, Pickett said: “We don’t prompt anything.”

JP(Rep. Joe Pickett)

Stickland said the call appears to have been placed before Pickett, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, angrily tossed Stickland from a late night hearing of the committee on April 30 and accused him of the possible felony of tampering with a government document — by filling out a witness affirmation form in favor of the camera ban bill.

Since the ejection, state Rep. John Kuempel, a Republican from Seguin and chairman of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, said his committee would launch an investigation.

The investigation, being conducted by the Texas Rangers of the Department of Public Safety, has focused on the process of how committees’ electronic witness documents — like the ones Stickland or his staff was accused of filling out — are being used and potentially abused.

No individual members are being targeted, Kuempel said previously.

The investigation is ongoing.

Stickland said he believes it was Pickett’s staff on the recording, based on conversations with his lawyer, who has had conversations with DPS.

Earlier on April 30, Stickland and Pickett had a heated exchange on the House floor, when Stickland used a parliamentary maneuver to kill Pickett’s House Bill 2346.

At the time, Pickett seemed to good-naturedly poke fun at Stickland by delivering to him on the floor a large-print copy of the bill’s language, which would give limited powers of arrest to security officials at the Federal Reserve Bank. On the page were two stick figures to help Stickland understand the bill. The drawing depicted an armed Fed security guard, which was labeled “Good Guy,” and a masked bank robber with a “Bad Guy” tag.

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Rep. Sarah Davis tells American Phoenix Foundation to back off

A shaken state Rep. Sarah Davis asked one of the people collecting video of legislators to leave her alone as she walked out of the Texas House chamber on Thursday.

IMG_1426(Jon Basel of the American Phoenix Foundation)

When the Houston Republican left the chamber, she was approached by Jon Basel of the American Phoenix Foundation who tried to ask her questions — probably about late-term abortions, the questioners’ apparent issue du jour.

sarah davis(Rep. Sarah Davis)

But Davis took the opportunity to push back against the group that has been hounding lawmakers in recent weeks in their effort get video (often surreptitiously) to use in a package, which they said, will show hypocrisy and the cozy relationships with lawmakers and lobbyists.

“I need you stay away from me,” Davis told Basel, who had previously been giving a fake name to people at the Capitol. “I am a woman, and you are a man, dressed in black, following me everywhere I go. It is completely inappropriate and, quite frankly, it scares me so please leave me alone.”

See a video here.

Joe Basel, brother of the man in the video and CEO of the Foundation, questioned who made the tape of the encounter and who pays that person. (Incidentally, Joe Basel refused to disclose the funders of his foundation.)

“He asked her a question. Looked like a setup,” Joe Basel wrote in an email. “From watching all of our video feeds and her version, it feels like a lazy setup.”

American Phoenix Foundation operative may have mis-identified himself

One of the supposed video-gatherers associated with the American Phoenix Foundation — causing a stir among lawmakers and lobbyists — seems to have not been truthful about his identity to lawmakers and reporters.

The man who said his name is John Liam appears really to be Jon Basel, the brother of American Phoenix Foundation CEO Joe Basel.

The social media site Instagram shows the balding, chiseled-jaw and unflappable person known around the Capitol as John Liam, but the site contains photos of the same man identified as Jon Basel, also known by the Instagram handle hugginn_memory.

The site displays Basel/Liam as a mudbug-eating, skateboard-scooting, motorcycle-riding and vest-wearing young man.

The operative was asked this week if his name is truly Jon Basel, but he wouldn’t answer the question.

Here is a photo taken recently at the Capitol, when the man said his name was John Liam.

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Now, here are some Instagram pics of Jon Basel.

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Sixteen people from the foundation — presumably including Basel/Liam — have collected 800 hours of video on and off the Capitol grounds of lawmakers and lobbyists behaving badly, a foundation spokesman said recently. The group intends to package the video and release it in the coming weeks and months to show legislators’ hypocrisy as well as other acts of sex, violence and corruption, spokesman John Beria has said.

American Phoenix Foundation submits requests for records from legislators

The American Phoenix Foundation, the group that claims to have 800 hours of footage of state lawmakers and lobbyists, is submitting open records requests for documents from members of the Texas House.

John Beria, spokesman for the foundation, said the organization is asking all legislators for records in its quest to uncover instances of hypocrisy and bad behavior — including acts of sex, violence and corruption. The foundation has asked for:

“1. All documents, reports, memos, emails, and notes containing the word Phoenix your office has created or received from March 1, 2015 until today.
“2. All documents, reports, memos, emails, and notes pertaining to undercover video, secret video, or activists videotaping of legislators in and around the Texas state capitol during the current legislative term from March 1, 2015 until today”

“We’re asking for the information because we think it will assist our investigation,” Beria said.

Mentor of James O’Keefe connected to group taping lawmakers

A Texas lawyer that conservative video activist James O’Keefe described as a mentor and a genius has connections to the group that has been secretly filming lawmakers and lobbyists at the Texas Capitol.

Benjamin Wetmore lists with the Texas Bar Association the same post office box as the American Phoenix Foundation, which, according to a spokesman, has dispatched 16 people to the Capitol and events around Austin and has collected 800 hours of footage on lawmakers over the past six months. Additionally, the telephone number that Wetmore listed with the bar association goes to Joseph Basel, the CEO of the foundation.

Wetmore said he is the foundation’s general counsel.

O’Keefe told The New York Times in 2009 that Wetmore offered the advice to: “‘Take on the politically correct crowd on campus, satirically.’”

Wetmore referred questions to Basel or a spokesman about being an inspiration to the foundation’s leaders. Basel and the spokesman weren’t available for comment.  Wetmore did, however, add that “like most law grads I’m just grateful for having a job.”

O’Keefe, who became famous for posing as a pimp who trying to get advice from the community group Acorn about financing a brothel, said through a spokesman last week that he is not connected with the effort in Texas to show hypocrisy and bad behavior from lobbyists and legislators.

But O’Keefe, whose partner in the Acorn video would later become Basel’s wife, used to be associated with Basel. The two pleaded guilty to entering U.S. government property under false pretenses after being arrested in 2010 for allegedly trying to tamper with communications of a former U.S. senator from Louisiana.

Also Monday, The Houston Chronicle reported that the Texas Department of Public Safety told Logan Spence, the chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, that a group had been recording lawmakers before the news broke. But Spence did not ask authorities to brief senators because they didn’t appear to be targeted.

Lobbyists confront a Capitol inquisitor

A young man, who identified himself as John Liam, spoke to a few lobbyists and a journalist or two on Friday about the recent news relating to a nonprofit that claims to have 800 hours of secretly recorded footage of Capitol antics. The conversations were not always civil.

IMG_1426(Pictured: John Liam)

Outside of the Texas House chamber, several people demanded answers from Liam. They wanted to know if he worked for the American Phoenix Foundation, which was revealed earlier this week as an organization that has been collecting footage of political action (from inside and outside of the Capitol) that would, as a group spokesman said, show hypocrisy and nefarious behavior of lawmakers and lobbyists. Liam didn’t give specific answers.

Read the original Statesman story here.

Liam remained calm and seemingly unfazed by the questioning from Capitol insiders, which grew heated at times. He never revealed any specific information.

Lobbyist Steve Bresnen confronted Liam outside and wanted to know if he was secretly recording conversations in the lobby. Sticking with the theme, Liam wouldn’t answer.

Bresnen then asked who paid him. No answer.

Growing more irritated Bresnen said he, as a lobbyist, reports his clients to the state. He then again challenged Liam to divulge his employer.

“Be a man, man,” Bresnen said.

Liam clearly had been studying the players in the Texas Capitol. He knew the names and faces of lawmakers and lobbyists; he even knew that Bresnen’s wife was about to graduate from law school.

Liam also knew lobbyist Snapper Carr, who showed up on the scene with his camera phone in his hand as Bresnen was demanding answers. Liam explained that Carr’s photo was in a lobbyist directory. He also told Carr the he knew his wife’s name. The lobbyist responded by practically daring Liam to say her name again. Liam didn’t.

Asked later, if he was troubled by the confrontations, Liam said no, and he referenced the old “sticks and stones” saying.

“It’s pretty all right,” he said.

In a later conversation with the Statesman, Liam was not very forthcoming about his work at the Capitol.

“I’m just asking questions,” he said, “to see what their stances are on things.”

He also wouldn’t say if he worked for the American Phoenix Foundation.

“I just work for the people,” he said. “I don’t have anything else to say.”

Here’s a video of Liam talking about his work at the Capitol.

Texas filmamkers honored at Capitol

The Texas House honored two Texas filmmakers on Monday.

Academy Award-nominated film director and screenwriter Richard Linklater, who is known for such films as Boyhood and Dazed and Confused, and film director, screenwriter, producer Robert Rodríguez, whose titles include Sin City, Grindhouse and the recently announced Machete Kills in Space, posed for photos with lawmakers in the front of the Texas House chamber.

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Special thanks for Rep. Tony Dale for the photography.

Rep. Joe Pickett sticks it to Rep. Jonathan Stickland

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, subtly poked fun at one of his colleagues who was trying to derail one his bills Thursday.

Pickett walked from the front mic on the House floor to the lectern at the rear of the chamber, where state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, prepared his crusade to temporarily knock Pickett’s House Bill 2346 out of consideration.

Pickett said he was delivering to Stickland a large-print copy of the bill’s language, which would give limited powers of arrest to security officials at the Federal Reserve Bank.

But included on the page were two stick figures to help Stickland understand the bill.

Depicted was an armed Fed security guard, which was labelled “Good Guy,” and a masked bank robber with a “Bad Guy” tag.

See the illustration below.

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