For the tea party, it’s Sine Die on a wing and a prayer

Good morning Austin:

Below is a Facebook post Sunday from Julie McCarty, head of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party. That’s McCarty and me and photographer Ralph Barrera in the House Gallery  Thursday morning.

julie and me

Earlier in the week a group of us went to the Capitol, and as usual we began our visit by praying in the House gallery. A reporter met me there to interview me, and his photographer shot a bunch of pictures of our group in prayer (which he apologized for but I thought was pretty cool because I WANT folks statewide to see where our strength and direction come from!). I don’t know if or when his article will come out, but one thing he said to me really made me think, and then today’s sermon at First Baptist Grapevine solidified it for me. The reporter said to me, “So it sounds like you are disappointed in the session, yet you don’t seem discouraged.” It caught me off-guard because discouragement never crossed my mind! I told him God calls us to the work – I’m not quitting until He quits! In the sermon today, Pastor Doug talked about dream killers — tools of the devil — who try to knock us off course. We may not understand the obstacles in our path to what God has called us to do, but we don’t have to. God shows us the “why” usually at the end. And we’re just gettin’ started.

In the two-and-a-half years since I came to Texas, the role of the tea party, especially as manifested in the election of Ted Cruz to the Senate and Dan Patrick as lieutenant governor, has been the most compelling political story.

One of the first stories I wrote on my arrival was about the impending arrival in Austin of a very large new freshman class of legislators. I focused on two incoming new state representatives – Jonathan Stickland and Jason Villalba.

I wrote:

State Rep.-elect Jonathan Stickland is 29. He left high school early and got a GED. He had never held or run for office before. His local elected officialdom was virtually unanimous in its preference for his Republican primary opponent. If he has a charisma it’s in his super-ordinariness. And he doesn’t even have the “r” in his last name that everyone assumes is supposed to be there.

And there, in brief, are the keys to Stickland’s stunning success. Every strike against him, he marvels, turned out to be an advantage in what turned out to be a crushing, 20-point primary victory. Each provided a way for people to remember and identify with him. He just had to own it, live it, be it.

Now, Stickland is one of the reasons why the new Texas House, when it convenes Tuesday for its biennial session, will be swollen with freshman – 43 in all. Together with 24 sophomores, the new and the near-new will make up close to half the 150 members of the House.

Stickland was “discovered” by Julie McCarty, president of the board of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, who was especially impressed with the way he confronted U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound, at a town hall meeting after Burgess voted in 2011 to raise the debt limit.

“Jonathan was so well spoken, and it wasn’t just that he had good points to make. They were so well-thought out and easy to understand,” said McCarty. “It was truly the voice of the people.”

“Honestly, I never considered running until I got an email from Julie McCarty at 11:45 at night, sitting in front of my home computer eating a bowl of ice cream,” recalled Stickland. “My wife was leaning over me and started laughing. Then she said, ‘Crap, you might be able to do that.’”

(This is the photo I took of Jonathan Stickland on our first encounter.)

Stickland 1.0
Stickland 1.0

Well, as we all now know, Jonathan Stickland turned out to be a tea party prodigy, and I have always found Julie McCarty to be accessible, responsive and, as per her Facebook post above, perpetually upbeat in a realm in which negativity can easily take hold.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland during debate of an open carry bill at the Capitol on Friday April 17, 2015. JAY JANNER
Rep. Jonathan Stickland 2.0 during debate of an open carry bill at the Capitol on Friday April 17, 2015. JAY JANNER

I have also found her very interesting because she remains at once a political outsider – essentially a political amateur, as opposed to a professional – and a political force to be reckoned with.

If there was any doubt about that, it was settled for me as I was preparing to go meet McCarty in the House Gallery Thursday morning. I was listening to the Texas Tribune live stream of Evan Smith’s conversation assessing the Senate session with state Sens. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills; Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; and José Rodríguez, D-El Paso.

A little better than a half hour into the discussion, Smith said to Hancock:

You all had the numbers to do anything you wanted, right, and you changed the rules at the beginning so that you all could really do anything you wanted, yet you didn’t get same-sex marriage legislation passed, in the end in-state tuition for undocumented students is not going to be overturned as the law of the state of Texas, the bill to deny insurance coverage for abortion …. that’s ultimately not going to be the law of the state. Can you go back home to the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, one of the tea party strongholds of the state, and look Julie McCarty in the eye and say, “This was a good session for grassroots conservatives?”

Yes,” Hancock said. “I don’t go back home and focus on one group. This was a good session for Texans. That’s who I represent.”

Photo by Ralph Barrera
Photo by Ralph Barrera

When I saw McCarty an hour later, I related the exchange and she was naturally delighted that, “can you look Julie McCarty in the eye,” was now a kind of litmus test for grassroots conservative credibility.

“You just made my day,” McCarty said. “That’s awesome. I want him to have to think if he is going to have to do that.”

 

julie1
Photo by Ralph Barrera

 

In Sunday’s Statesman I wrote about how the fondest tea party hopes had been foiled in the session. The argument essentially tracked the tea party/Michael Quinn Sullivan complaint that the House under Speaker Joe Straus had checked tea party influence being exerted by Patrick’s election to lead an increasingly conservative Senate. That was the essence of every weekly MQS conference call.

The story  – Confounding expectations, in the 84th session, the center-right held – began as follows:

On Thursday, in the enveloping twilight of the 84th session of the Texas Legislature, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a second-term Republican from Southlake who arrived in Austin last session as the tactical genius behind a torrent of Tarrant County tea party victories, looked over all that the session had accomplished and saw that it was good.

“We got a lot of stuff done,” Capriglione said. “From a conservative perspective we did everything from open carry, campus carry to E-Verify and the border. From a more traditional Republican perspective, we funded schools at a higher rate, we took care of transportation, we took care of all the big infrastructure issues, and we cut taxes on top of that.”

After winning re-election, Capriglione stunned a November meeting of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, telling them he would be voting for Joe Straus for House speaker, and not tea party challenger Rep. Scott Turner of Frisco — who ended up with only 19 votes.

With that act of apostasy, Capriglione cast aside the role of dissident to become part of an overwhelming bipartisan majority in a House that has served as an effective counterweight to newly elected Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s assertive rightward leadership in the Senate and provided the ballast the new governor, Greg Abbott, needed to pursue a less ideological agenda, free of entangling wedge issues.

On Thursday, with a few days left in the session, I asked McCarty what she hoped might still be accomplished.

We’re looking at open carry, campus carry, trying to do what we can to salvage  the bones that they might throw to us. There’s not a lot that’s been accomplished this session that we’re happy about and they’re going to have to do something  so that they can campaign as conservatives. Right? It’s going to be election season and if they’ve got nothing to  campaign on what are they going to do, so they’ve got to throw us something. So we’ll see what we can salvage.

Photo by Ralph Barrera

“I think we knew from the git-go it was going to be a tough session,” McCarty said, saying she got her first sign that this session was not going to be what she hoped it would be at a pre-inaugural gala dinner in Austin with a joint guest list put together by Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick. There were only four tea party couples at the dinner, she said, all Patrick invitees.

It was the first time that it really impacted me that true conservatives are in the minority and so, I came into the session with a completely different perspective, that instead of being frustrated that we have this near supermajority of Republicans in the House and we should get all this done, it doesn’t matter if they’re putting Republican by their name because they are not conservatives. So my expectations were lowered. Now they didn’t even meet my low expectations.”

It’s like we have two different things going on because you can look at the Senate and be so excited but we have this balance of the House that does nothing but disappoint, so it’s been a lot more emotional this time. It’s what was expected but it was a lot more emotional because it was a roller coaster of excited versus being stepped on.

Half of the people, they’re uneducated, so when the Senate passes something they think, “Oh, it’s done, Texas is so conservative, we did this and this and this,” and then I’ll tell them, “Oh no, we don’t have open carry, oh no we don’t have a better budget, we don’t have anything,” and they’re like, they’ll  send me headlines, “Senate passes such and such,” and they don’t understand it, they don’t  know how it works and how they have to keep fighting. so, we’ll keep educating.

She said Thursday’s trip to Austin it was her fifth lobby visit of the session – “not nearly as many as I expected and I regret that in a big way.”

She explained:

First time we came down in a big group it was amazing watching the folks on the floor see us, and I’m talking about the good guys, the guys all tea parties believe are on our side, but they’re not working together this session. There’s no unity amongst them this session, and then they see us, sitting in the gallery and they’re all from different groups around North Texas, and all of a sudden they’re talking and … just that day we watched bad bills get killed, and we’re texting, and we’re like, “Matt, how come you haven’t signed on to this?”

“Gio, how come …,”  Of course Gio ignores us every time. But  we were here and right before our eyes we watched how we were making a difference. And so we’ve come once a week since then.

That’s why I regret not being here more. It’s like when you’re speeding down the road and you see a cop, you slow down. We want to be that cop.

McCarty said she was “not happy” with Gov. Abbott.

The only thing he actually fought for is pre-K, and everybody knows we’re not happy with the pre-K. For the life of me I can’t figure out why that’s the one he decided to use his political clout on, but he did.

He had so much potential and he wasted it

Perry always disappointed me in the same way. Perry was much more conservative than he laid down the law and he could have and probably wanted to do more and his advisers I think held him back. I thought Abbott would actually be stronger than Perry and Abbott is weaker than Perry. So Perry wasn’t all that but Abbott is weaker.”

Of Patrick:

I am  very happy with the work Dan Patrick has done … I know there are other tea party leaders that – you know tea party leaders are watchdogs, so we are very, very critical of everything, and that includes Dan Patrick and, sure we can go to Dan Patrick and say, “Well, why didn’t you push harder for this?” or, “Why didn’t you do this and this and this?” But he has to answer to more than just the tea party and I can very easily cut him slack because out of any elected officials anywhere in the state of Texas, Dan Patrick has given us the loudest voice  and I appreciate that and I’m not going to stab him in the back for it.

Like Stickland, McCarty said the 84th session is mostly useful because, “It’s good ammo, that’s what this session was – good ammo to clean house.”

It was at that point that I made my comment that she seemed “disgusted but not discouraged.”

“Oh, never discouraged. You saw us praying here. We get our motivation from God. We really feel like this is what we’re called to do and we have a responsibility to do it, so how can you be discouraged?

I asked what they prayed for?

Photo by Ralph Barrera
Photo by Ralph Barrera

“Wisdom,” McCarty said. “Letting our words be his words. That’s wisdom.

And Stickland is still the main man, right?

“Absolutely. You’re not going to get better than Jonathan,” she said. Rep. Matt “Rinaldi is really close.”

But Stickland “is so much more flamboyant. Jonathan speaks like one of us because he came from us, he speaks like one of us, and so we relate to him and he’s not afraid to say things, and Rinaldi can fight just as hard and he is brilliant, but he just doesn’t have that flavor that Jonathan offers. And I would be crushed if Jonathan lost his number one ranking.”

“I told Jonathan on the phone the other day, `I don’t care what vote you have to take, you don’t lose that first place (standing).'”

“We have different styles,” Rinaldi said yesterday.

Rep. Matt Rinaldi
Rep. Matt Rinaldi

“It’s like a football game – some people are the guys who get on the stat sheet and pass a lot of bills with their names on it. Some people are the guys how block, the power fullback who busts through the line. Some people are the coaches who are marking the x’s and o’s. Everybody has their own role. It’s how you fill that role.”

While Stickland disparaged the 84th as the “do-nothing session,” Rinaldi was less dismissive.

In the last ten years I think it’s one of the more conservative sessions. I think that has lot to do with the changes we made the last election season. I think we had a more conservative House body. I think we had a much more conservative Senate body and Senate leadership and I think that result is one of more conservative sessions in the last ten years.

We had a budget  that stayed within inflation plus population growth.Iit didn’t grow the real size of government and I think tha’s always the centerpiece. Compared to other session I think we did well.

When looked at objectively on the amount of Republicans we have in each chamber and the major issues that our nation and our state are facing, now I think it’s less successful when viewed from that perspective. We missed a lot of opportunities to address huge issues that face the state such as reforming education, such as doing something to address the Supreme Court’s impending decision, which will redefine marriage as it’s  existed for the last  2,000 years. I don’t think we’ve done enough to address illegal immigration, which is one of the biggest issues that Texans face right now. We put $800 million into border security, which I think was a great start, but we did nothing to address the magnets that bring illegal immigrants to the state of Texas, and I think that was a great failing as well.  And there were just bills in the House that didn’t make the floor because of games that I think were played, like the abortion bill that would have prohibited insurers from insuring abortion, like the marriage bill, bills that should have been voted on, should have had a vote and just didn’t.

All that said, Rinaldi said he had a direct impact on legislation like the border security bill, open carry, and other legislation, including deregulating the barber industry in Texas.

I think after one session I’m optimistic because I think I’ve had more of an effect as a freshman than I thought I would. You have an effect  in so many more ways than you dream that you could coming into this large body, and that gives you hope that you can actually change things going forward.

Does he want to do it again?

I’m absolutely going to do it again. You can’t not once you realize all the good you can do.

Rinaldi said he didn’t suffer any negative repercussions for being one of 19 members to vote against Straus for speaker.

But listening to him, I couldn’t help but wonder whether, if he returns for another session, he would still be aligning himself as a hard-core Sticklandite, or whether he might emerge as the next Capriglione.

 

Freshman State Rep. Dist. 98 Giovanni Capriglione sets up his coffee maker while moving in to his office at the Texas state capitol for the first time on Sat., Jan 5, 2013 Photographer, Landis Images
Freshman State Rep. Dist. 98 Giovanni Capriglione sets up his coffee maker while moving in to his office at the Texas state capitol for the first time on Sat., Jan 5, 2013 Photographer, Landis Images

 

“We’ll do our best to get rid of Gio after this session, ” McCarty said in the House Gallery Thursday. “It’s not going to be pretty …. it’s sad for all of us.”

I asked about an opponent for Capriglione. “You have somebody yet?”

“Not announced,” said McCarty, which I took to mean that she had someone, but that she was not yet ready to announce who it was.

Capriglione told me he was not worried, and, as I wrote in Sunday’s story:

He’s already framing the debate in his head.

“I’ll go to their meetings and ask how many people hate Texas, how many people think we’re on the wrong path?” Capriglione said. “I don’t hate Texas. I love Texas.”

 Rep. Giovanni Capriglione speaks with a colleage at the House Chambers at the Capitol in Austin, Tx., on Friday, May 29, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON
Rep. Giovanni Capriglione speaks with a colleage at the House Chambers at the Capitol in Austin, Tx., on Friday, May 29, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON

 

 

 

How an Empower Texans video and AgendaWise blog foreshadowed American Phoenix

Good morning Austin:

Back in January, Empower Texans produced a music video knock-off of the classic stalker love song, Every Breath You Take by Sting and The Police.

It’s a great song – hypnotic and creepy.

Here are the original lyrics:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you.

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you.

Oh can’t you see
You belong to me?
How my poor heart aches with every step you take.

Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you.

And so forth. Scorned lover as Big Brother.

Now, watch Empower Texans’ version.

When it was released, Empower Texans wrote:

What happens in Austin no longer stays in Austin, with Texans more engaged than ever in their government. And those citizens have a simple message for those in public office: “we’ll be watching you.”

And here are the reworked lyrics:

Every hand you shake,
Every cent you take,
Every vow you break,
Every vote you make,
We’ll be watching you!

Every single day,
Every word you say,
Every game you play,
Every time you stray,
We’ll be watching you!

Oh, can’t you see,
You represent me?
How my wallet aches,
With every vote you make!

Every hand you shake,
Every cent you take,
Every vow you break,
Every vote you make,
We’ll be watching you!

I recall what you said during the race,
The policies you promised to embrace,
Now, it seems like you’re all over the place!
Did your values disappear without a trace?
We keep waiting, watching, hoping, please!

Good stuff. Very original. if you look at the fine print below, you will note that neither Sting nor The Police endorse Empower Texans.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 06.25.31

Back in March, I asked Michael Quinn Sullivan, the Sting of Empower Texans, about the video, which I thought was, like The Police original, kind of cool and kind of creepy.

“Well you know someone has to do something to keep the 80s alive,” Sullivan said.

I asked who the people in the video were.

“Most of them are just some grassroots activists from around the state,” he said.

And they made the music?

“They were lip-synching to a cover band.”

“We were just having fun with it more than anything.” he said. “It was a fun project more than anything else.”

Or to quote another 80s anthem:

Oh daddy dear you know you’re still number one
But girls they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have fun

But fast forward to the past week and word that a group of 16 people in the employ of something called the American Phoenix Foundation – whose politics, from the available evidence, seem to mirror Sullivan’s – have been secretly videotaping lawmakers at the Capitol and around town since the beginning of the session.

From the American-Statesman’s  Tim Eaton:

Using both hand-held and hidden recording devices, a local nonprofit has amassed about 800 hours of video footage of state lawmakers and lobbyists that the group’s leaders said Tuesday will be released to show the hypocrisy and bad behavior they found in and around the Texas Capitol.

The footage — none of which has been released — was recorded over the past six months with hand-held video recorders, detachable lens cameras and hidden recording devices, said Jon Beria, a spokesman for the Austin-based American Phoenix Foundation. The group’s “citizen journalists” recorded members of the Legislature at the Capitol as well as at bars and restaurants around Austin, he said.

The group will document sex, violence and corruption among lawmakers and lobbyists when its recordings are released, Beria said.

“With 800 hours, we can afford to show these people for what they really are,” Beria told the American-Statesman.

xxxxxx

The American Phoenix Foundation doesn’t endorse one particular political persuasion, Beria said. Rather, the group is “anti-incumbent” and dedicated to exposing public officials who are too cozy with lobbyists and speak one way on the campaign trail but act differently when they come to the Capitol, he said.

But the group’s CEO, Joe Basel, is a partner in a political consulting firm, C3 Strategies, that has done work for some of the most conservative members of the Legislature, including Sens. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, and Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.

Reporting that story, Eaton emailed Sullivan: “I was wondering if you knew anything about it, or knew who finances the group.”

“Just what I read in the DMN and Houston Chronicle,” Sullivan replied. “Know of Joe Basel and his work. Whoever he has in his sights is probably in for a really bad time ahead.”

But wait a minute.

Look at that video, produced even as the surreptitious videotaping was getting underway.

As every good conspiracy theorist knows, there are no coincidences.

“That video seems so clearly to foreshadow the American Phoenix Foundation project, it must have been by intention. Is that correct?” I wrote Sullivan last night.

His reply:

That’s crazy. The video was talking about legislative records. Note the opening scene with our newspaper and previous “index” mailings.

And those are grassroots activists in the video.

You guys and your tinfoil hats…

Well, yes, the video does open with a shot of two Empowerment Texans scorecards – Matt Schaefer’s A-plus and Byron Cook’s F.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 05.44.05

But look at this guy looking at you.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 06.07.16

My tinfoil is getting pretty hot.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 06.08.41

In actuality, the guy doing the videotaping – or at least one of the guys – looks exactly like this, as captured last week by Eaton just outside the House chamber, where he had been cornered by some angry lobbyists, or, as Eaton put it more elegantly: Lobbyists confront a Capital inquisitor.

 

IMG_1426

He identified himself as John Liam. But he looks a lot like Michael Kelly, who plays Doug Stamper, “the icy, Machiavellian fixer to Frank Underwood on House of Cards,” or so I’m told, because I’ve never seen House of Cards.

michaeljosephkelly

I ran into Eaton and Liam at the close of their first encounter last week, and then ran into Liam outside the House Chamber yesterday evening.

He handed me his card.

phoenix1

 

phoenix2

I asked him what happened to the “I” in “If,” and he said it was simply a bad job of cutting the cards. Couldn’t tell if this was amateurish, or some clever, practiced amateurishness.

Liam, if that’s his real name, is a cool customer. He didn’t get hot and didn’t seem bothered getting accosted by the lobbyists last week. He was perfectly OK with talking with me.

My hunch is that he is some kind of cyborg – both a man and a camera – and emotionally distant.

I asked a few questions to no effect and tried making sympathetic small talk.

I mentioned his resemblance to Stamper, and he said, “Yeah, it’s the hairline.”

I said, you’re lucky, with me, it’s Larry David, who I love but whose looks aren’t what I’m shooting for. I mean I have way more hair. But I get it a lot, most recently at the Zappa Plays Zappa concert at Emo’s, where a very drunk woman (and, as far as I know, neither a member of the legislator or the lobby)  grabbed me and demanded that I “stop looking like Larry David.” I wish I could, or rather I don’t think I do. Her boyfriend suggested she let go of me and leave me alone.

My Larry David story drew no discernible response from Liam. He said he had never heard of Larry David.

Really?

It’s not exactly like sussing out the Nazi double-agent in the POW camp with some trick baseball question – “Hey,  that Joe DiMaggio is a helluva short stop, am I right? ” –  but he doesn’t know who Larry David is?

Definite cyborg.

But, then, I acknowledged, I’ve never seen House of Cards.

He said something to the effect that “we live in different spheres.”

I guess so – NetFlix and HBO.

OK, so MQS says his video did not intentionally foreshadow Liam and company.

But. let’s move to Exhibit B – this remarkable post from Weston Hicks at AgendaWise back in January, under the headline, Sex and politics in Austin

‘Political chastity’ is not a common term, but it should be. Just ask General Petraeus.

What the term signifies has huge implications in the world of legislative outcomes, and should be of paramount importance to grassroots activists. The grassroots don’t want their hard work capsized because of lechers in Austin who can’t protect their own influence from being hijacked by political concubines.

Political chastity is the discipline of interested political actors not to sleep with one another. The reason this is so important, and much more than a “private matter,” is that politics is a cold war.

Part of the genius of our political system is that the energy past peoples put into armed revolutions, invasions, and coups now has a non-violent, legitimate outlet: democratic activity. If you don’t like the regime in power you don’t have to organize a militia and start killing. The founding fathers gave you a legitimate way to respond.

Still, all of this should not obscure the fact that, though cold, our politics is, after a fashion, a war.

To be sure, this is a fact special interests do everything possible to obscure or redefine. They want everyone pointed toward the same goal – theirs. They like it to be all one big, happy family, and they misuse the word “civil” a lot to this end.

But it is not one big happy family to the voters who put them there. Especially not now.

In war, sleeping with the enemy is a serious offense. In World War II women who slept with German occupiers were treated harshly and ostracized. The reason is simple – the act signifies vulnerability and openness. Someone who has slept with the enemy has significantly compromised their ability to deny the enemy access to vital communal information, and, to some extent, they’ve compromised their ability to say “no” to the enemy.

Believe it or not, Austin has actual political whores. They don’t think of themselves that way, but others do, and that is what they are. They may be a disgrace to their families, but they are rife in Austin.

In their minds they are just being “liberated women,” only they are professionally rewarded for being “liberated” in the vicinity of men with crucial intelligence or strategic access to power. It is especially important to find weak links to access in the Austin clan who don’t pledge allegiance to the current special interest regime – conservatives – and this caliber of woman can do this job uniquely well.

According to the Washington Times, General Petraeus slept with his biographer, shared classified secrets. The Justice Department is currently deciding whether or not to bring Petraeus up on charges.

Political concubines commonly work for the media or lobby, and they troll for weak-minded, lecherous staffers and legislators.

King Solomon was the wisest man in history. He wrote a wisdom course, a catechism, for his beloved son, the crown prince. He wanted his boy to be a good king.

We know this book by the name “Proverbs,” and it is the most renowned and important book of wisdom ever written.

Here is what the wisest man who ever lived taught his son, the crown Prince (Proverbs 7):

My son, keep my words; store up my commands within you. Keep my commands and live, and my instruction like the pupil of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister”; call understanding “friend,” so she might guard you against the mysterious woman, from the foreign woman who flatters you. When from the window of my house, from behind the screen, I gazed down, I looked among the naive young men and noticed among the youth, one who had no sense. He was crossing the street at her corner and walked down the path to her house in the early evening, at the onset of night and darkness. All of a sudden a woman approaches him, dressed like a prostitute and with a cunning mind. She is noisy and defiant; her feet don’t stay long in her own house. She has one foot in the street, one foot in the public square. She lies in wait at every corner. She grabs him and kisses him. Her face is brazen as she speaks to him: “I’ve made a sacrifice of well-being; today I fulfilled my solemn promises. So I’ve come out to meet you, seeking you, and I have found you. I’ve spread my bed with luxurious covers, with colored linens from Egypt. I’ve sprinkled my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deep of love until morning; let’s savor our lovemaking. For my husband isn’t home; he’s gone far away. He took a pouch of money with him; he won’t come home till full moon.” She seduces him with all her talk. She entices him with her flattery. He goes headlong after her, like an ox to the slaughter, like a deer leaping into a trap, until an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird hurrying to the snare, not aware that it will cost him his life. (end passage)

The arrow also pierces the liver of the grassroots, who have grown accustomed to, though not accepting of, the pain of betrayal from people they trusted and helped. It is a testament to grassroots commitment and optimism that they continue to offer their trust anew, but they’ve recently become less tolerant of the people who betray them, and this is very good for Texas.

It is important for legislators to make sure they, and the oxen they hire, don’t go to slaughter behind a media or lobby concubine. Claiming this kind of thing is simply “a private matter” is nothing more than a declaration of weak leadership. It is not only a private matter. It involves their political bride – their district.

Legislators who respect their political marriage to the voters of their district will stay away from political call girls, whose currency is political information and access, and whose aim is conservative derailment. They will let it be known that they expect the same from their staff.

After all, political fidelity matters almost as much a marital fidelity, and you just never know anymore who’s watching.

Here is how AgendaWise describes itself:

AgendaWise Texas is a web-based, non-profit 501(c)(3) research and information organization committed to providing transparency in the Texas political discourse.

AgendaWise understands the era of naiveté in media and public life is over and information is shaped by messengers. Seeking to aid Texans desire to become more intelligent information consumers, AgendaWise seeks to uncover associations of actors in the political discourse including donors, media sources, and charities, analyzing themes and choices made by such actors.

In addition to being an information outpost, AgendaWise is a responder to unfair political attacks. We seek to clarify misdirection, bring perspective to bias, and illuminate untruths in Texas political discourse.

And here is the AgendaWise bio on Weston Hicks.

Weston Hicks researches and writes about associations in the Texas political realm, media choices, and political strategy. He has a B.A. in History from the University of Texas at El Paso and a J.D. from University of Texas School of Law. He enjoys spending time with wife and five children, reading, and playing sports outside. You can reach him at whicks@agendawise.com.

And here is a portion of a critique of that Hicks post from Christopher Hooks – Hooks on Hicks – at the Texas Observer (note language).

Do you read AgendaWise? I’m kidding, nobody does. The site, part of Tim Dunn and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s far-right messaging network that’s been trying for years to unseat House Speaker Joe Straus, provides a scribble-space for two bloggers, Weston Hicks and Daniel Greer. Under the noses of the Capitol establishment, they’ve carved out, with the help of a significant amount of pissed-away donor money, a space for some of the most surreal and hallucinatory writing about Austin’s politics scene.

That’s not to say that it’s good. Hicks and Greer write like children who were raised by wolves and learned to talk at an under-18 Ren Faire live-action role-playing tournament. They make extremely grandiose pronouncements, using curiously out-of-time language, about pretty ordinary shit. Did you know, for example, that our serially middling attorney general, Ken Paxton, is “a hope for all western governments?”

I’m being mean about their turgid prose because—and this is only slightly more important than the quality of their writing—they also have a tendency to be assholes. Greer had to take a brief leave of absence from AgendaWise when he got caught calling moderate GOP state reps “fags,” and “joked” that gay people got AIDS instead of making babies when they have sex because of “#naturallaw.”

This week brings another fine example of the AgendaWise canon. It’s got a juicy title.

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At parts, Hicks seems to be using the idea of this slutty whore woman as a metaphor, but at points it seems like he’s talking about an actual, specific woman. He caps the piece with a long and disturbing passage from the book of Proverbs about the dangers of consorting with bad, naughty, and slutty women, which ends thusly:

She seduces him with all her talk. She entices him with her flattery. He goes headlong after her, like an ox to the slaughter, like a deer leaping into a trap, until an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird hurrying to the snare, not aware that it will cost him his life.

The piece is a psychosexual nightmare and crazily misogynist, and if Hicks had written it in high school he’d be called to the counselor’s office. You could read the piece and believe that Hicks was calling almost all of the women who work at the Capitol whores.

But I think we can discern, behind this dark mess, what has happened. Hicks, as we’ve previously discussed, knows deep of sex and love, like a man should. Perhaps … a woman caught his eye? A woman of the cause? Perhaps there was a spark, and perhaps, some weeks later, the woman left. Her heart led her in a different direction. She took a job in Straus’ office.

I emailed Hicks last night – “This post from the beginning of the session seems pretty clear foreshadowing of what’s now unfolding and suggests involvement or foreknowledge of the work being done by the American Phoenix Foundation. Am I on to something?”

Haven’t heard back yet, but I also emailed Joe Basel asking whether Empower Texans’ video or AgendaWise’s blog suggested foreknowledge of what he was up to.

No, Basel replied:

They were not a party to our project. As one of several groups that engage in Capitol-watching, these links look like they have a similar mindset, but they were not a party to this project, as we’ve said several times.

Very well. I guess I’ll have to keep my conspiracy mojo going with Jade Helm.

But then there’s this.

I guess sometime yesterday, The Texas Tribune added this at the bottom of its original story on the videotaping: (*Clarification: Since publishing this story, The Texas Tribune has been unable to verify that John Beria is the real name of the person who identified himself as a spokesman for the American Phoenix Foundation.)

So, in my email to Basel I also asked, if he was actually also John Beria, or was John Liam actually John Beria, or was John Liam, actually Basel’s brother, Jon, and why did Beria on the phone tell Eaton he spelled Jon without an “h,” but then send him an email with an address that included the “h,” and if John Beria really exists, can he prove his existence?

Yes, very Chinatown.

But maybe that’s where the Texas Legislature is headed – “Forget it citizens of Texas. It’s Chinatown.”

Basel didn’t answer those questions.

And when I ran into John Liam right after sending that email, I said, hey, I was just asking Basel whether you were really his brother, Jon (if he has a brother Jon).

“I’m John,” the man who calls himself John Liam replied flatly. “You’re Jon. There are a lot of Johns.”

Definite cyborg.

 

 

9 + 6: Keeping score on Common Core

Good morning Austin:

On Sunday, Gov. Abbott debated former Education Secretary William Bennett on the Common Core standards on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.

Trey Craft, 11, a sixth grade Mathlete at Daniel Morgan MIddle School in Winchester, Va., concentrates on a math problem during the Blue Ridge MATHCOUNTS Competition Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, at Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School in Frederick County, Va. (AP Photo/The Winchester Star, Jeff Taylor)
Trey Craft, 11, a sixth grade Mathlete at Daniel Morgan MIddle School in Winchester, Va., concentrates on a math problem during the Blue Ridge MATHCOUNTS Competition Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, at Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School in Frederick County, Va. (AP Photo/The Winchester Star, Jeff Taylor)

Here is an excerpt from that debate:

ABBOTT: Well, let’s clarify a couple of things. First of all, what I believe is the correct approach for education is to return genuine local control, which is what I have charted the pathway for as governor. And we will improve our schools from the bottom up by allowing teachers to excel, by increasing parental involvement, by engaging students. And the best way to do that is not with these one size fits all mandates from Washington, D.C. Or even from Austin, Texas. But instead giving flexibility at the local level …

WALLACE: But let me…

ABBOTT: Starting with building a strong foundation.

WALLACE: We want to have a debate.

BENNETT: Local control is what we have. And local control is what we should have. Curriculum is set locally.

ABBOTT: I’ve got to disagree.

BENNETT: Curriculum is set — but you just said you want a local control. You’ve got local control. You decided that Common Core wouldn’t be in Texas, so it’s not in Texas. And Texas can teach math any way it wants. But what Texas can’t do is change the nature of mathematics and what mathematical reasoning and mathematical sequence becomes. Excuse me.

WALLACE: Governor?

Gov. Greg Abbott, left, and Bill Bennett debate Common Core on Fox News Sunday February 1, 2014.
Gov. Greg Abbott, left, and Bill Bennett debate Common Core on Fox News Sunday February 1, 2014.

 

ABBOTT: Chris, I have got to strenuously disagree with that. And this is going to be easy, frankly. I hope all your viewers will go to Google and plug in nine plus six Common Core. And when you do that, if you just plug in nine plus six Common Core, you will find a video that shows the way that math is taught under Common Core. And remember this …

WALLACE: But wait, put me out of my misery because I would think nine plus six is 15. So, what’s the deal?

ABBOTT: You would think so. And when you plug in nine plus six common core you’ll find it’s going to take you more than a minute to see how a teacher teaches a student to learn how to add nine plus six.

WALLACE: Is that true?

ABBOTT: These are the — Chris, these are the Common Core standards that are now being pushed down from the top that we must get away from.

WALLACE: Wait, wait, wait. Excuse me, you made your point. Go ahead.

BENNETT: It’s an easy way to resolve this. I haven’t seen this but I’m going to tell you if it’s crazy, it probably isn’t Common Core. It’s probably one of these myths that’s developed. We understand why it’s developed. Here is what the audience can do. Here is what you can really do. Download the standards themselves. The Common Core standards. That’s what they did in Idaho, that’s what they did in Utah and they said to the citizens, do you have any objection to any of this? Not what someone said the standards were. Not what Google reported. Not what some citizens group decided was Common Core, but the actual standards themselves. They are public. And anybody can examine those standards. You tell me what’s wrong with saying, kids should learn how to parse and diagram sentencing, memorize, read the Declaration of Independence. That’s what I want to know what’s wrong with it?

Lauren Carroll at PolitiFact took a look at this yesterday.

But, first let’s go to the videotape. Here is what you get when, as instructed, you Google “nine plus six Common Core.”

From Carroll’s fact check:

In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed a law prohibiting school districts from using Common Core in their lesson plans. On Fox News Sunday, Abbott argued that Common Core — the proposed set of education standards that has become a political football — is a bad idea. He directed viewers toward some evidence.

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In the video, a teacher gives an addition lesson directed at early elementary school-age children. She adds nine and six by first splitting the six into one and five, then adding the one to the nine to make 10. So the problem becomes 10 plus five equals 15.

“Our young learners might not be altogether comfortable thinking about what 9 plus 6 is. They are quite comfortable thinking about their friend 10,” the teacher says.” Now our students are seeing that we have 10 plus 5…. That is much more comfortable than looking at 9 plus 6.”

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It turns out that this method is in line with what the Common Core standards drafters had in mind, but it’s not a bizarre concept, as Abbott implies. Math teachers have been using methods like this for decades.

The standards

First, let’s clarify a couple things. Abbott said these standards are being pushed down “from the top” — meaning the federal level. Common Core is not a federal mandate — adopting these standards is voluntary for states (though they can have better access to federal education money if they take them on).

Additionally, Common Core does not prescribe or require any particular method of teaching. Nowhere in the standards does it say that teachers must teach addition by first splitting numbers up to create 10. Common Core standards, rather, identify concepts that students should learn at each grade level — not how teachers should teach them.

That being said, the standards do suggest that teachers use methods similar to that used in the video to teach first-graders how to add and subtract within the number 20. It suggests:

“Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9)… and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).”

Math education experts told us that the method used in the video are in line with the Common Core standards’ intention — which is to teach children foundational math strategies that they can use for more sophisticated problems down the line.

Although it does take the teacher in the video just under a minute to teach the equation, it’s not as if the teacher has to go through those motions for every single addition problem. She’s teaching a strategy that students can apply to other problems on their own.

“What Gov. Abbott is missing is that the teacher in the video is doing much more than teaching a fact,” said Valerie Mills, president of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics. “She is helping students to build an understanding of operations (addition in this case) and of how our number system works.”

That way, when a child is older and has to add larger numbers, they can use the strategy to add quickly. (For example 149 plus 236 becomes 150 plus 235 to make 385.)

It’s also worth noting that one of the reporters in the video says, “When you and I were in school, we used to memorize that nine plus six is 15. Not anymore.”

That’s actually not the case. By second grade, according to the Common Core standards, students are expected to have these facts memorized, after they learn the foundations of how to add in first grade.

How different is this?

Abbott makes it seem like this way of teaching addition is a deviation from what schools already do.

Diane Briars, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said teachers have used techniques like splitting a number into parts of 10 for addition — rather than straight memorization — since the 1950s at least, and the research showing its benefits goes back to the 1920s. She sent us pages in a textbook from the 1990s that includes the method from the video.

“It has long been best practice for early childhood math,” Briars said.

In fact, they match up with Texas’ state standards for first-grade math, said William McCallum, a University of Arizona math professor who was involved in drafting the Common Core standards.

The Texas standards say for first-graders:

“Students extend their use of addition and subtraction beyond the actions of joining and separating to include comparing and combining. Students use properties of operations and the relationship between addition and subtraction to solve problems.”

And, more explicitly, students are expected to “apply basic fact strategies to add and subtract within 20, including making 10 and decomposing a number leading to a 10.”

“The general belief is that the Texas state standards are modeled word for word on the Common Core state standards,” Mills said.

Here was the PolitiFact ruling:

Abbott said that under Common Core standards, it takes “more than a minute” to teach a student “how to add nine plus six.”

There is a video that shows a teacher demonstrating how to add nine plus six to make 15, and it takes just under a minute. But the method she uses is not explicitly required by the Common Core standards, though the standards suggest this approach for teaching addition to first-graders.

Abbott’s claim is misleading, though, in that it implies that this method takes an unusually long time or teaches something in a new way. These methods have been around for years and pre-date Common Core. In fact, they align with Texas’ own state standards.

The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context, so we rate it Half True.

I don’t know. That seems generous to me. For a politician, “half true” isn’t half bad. At the very least, I think it should be labeled “half false,” or maybe, “half true but thoroughly misleading.”

I mean, why would the governor go on national television as the point man against Common Core and as his  coup de grâce urge viewers to look at a video that shows a teacher employing a method that is identical to that contained within Texas’ own standards.

Indeed, the way the Texas standard is written, the strategy being used by the teacher in the video is an expectation, while in Common Core it is just one of a number of options.

“You could make the case that Texas requires this even more than the Common Core,” McCallum, the University of Arizona math professor who led the team that developed the Common Core math standards, told me when I talked to him yesterday.

Both the Common Core and Texas standards require second graders to have memorized single-digit addition.

This does not change that requirement, it is simply a way to get there that makes it easier for the child to get there.

“This is an aid to memorization,” said McCallum.

And, McCallum said, it has the added virtue of helping the child conceptualize what’s going on, to “see what’s going on under the hood – it’s a little trick and once you see that, those facts are easier to understand.”

An understanding, a trick, that can be used over and over again.

And all in just under a minute.

I think the teacher in the video makes two mistakes.

1) Like the Texas standard, she uses the word “decompose,” which has the unsavory whiff of postmodernist deconstruction and leftist undermining of all that is tried and true.

2) Her line that children “are quite comfortable thinking about their friend, 10,” allows fertile minds to wonder, “Who is this 10?” and “Is he that creepy kid in the hoodie hanging outside the playground?”)

 

Lurking beneath this, is, I think, a longing for one-room schooldays of boys in overalls and girls in Laura Ingalls Wilder prairie dresses sharing their McGuffey Readers (“the child modeled in this book is prompt, good, kind, honest and truthful) and reciting, in unison, their times tables, a sharp rap on the knuckles for any act of errancy, and nothing in the lesson plan on evolution, climate change or this thing called Base 10

If you follow Abbott’s instructions to Google nine plus six Common Core, you were likely led to the video through what McCalllum correctly characterizes as “sites all dripping with mockery of this newfangled way of doing things.”

Here, for example, from Glenn Beck’s The Blaze website, there was this: Watch This Math Teacher Take Almost an Entire Minute Explaining How to Add 9 Plus 6 Using Common Core Math

And from the Young Conservatives website, this: Hilarious: It Takes this Teacher 56 Seconds to Explain 9+6=15 Using Common Core Principles…

But, in fact, McCallum said, there is nothing new about it.

“Their grandparents were learning this way, probably their great grandparents were learning this way,” McCallum said.

What is going on, with this derision, McCallum is, “you take some math fact that adults can do instantly and then you mock how long it takes to teach kids to do the math.” Almost an entire minute.

I was frankly disappointed when I Googled as instructed by the governor.

As Bennett said in their Fox debate:

Common core has been vilified because there’s been tremendous amount of misinformation about Common Core that it requires teaching of Islamic radicalism, you have to read all of Barack Obama’s speeches. It’s a code of political correctness. A whole mythology is built up around common core.

 “Common Core has become a word to describe something you don’t like,” said McCallum.

I expected nine plus six Common Core would have conjured up a shocking and surreal video that, at the very least, would reveal the walrus was Barack.

Gov. Abbott would have been better off referring people to this video.

So, as PolitiFact put it, what the governor said was “half true,” but as McCallum put it, “it’s all misleading.” The half that is true is “furthering another message, which is false.”

Also, as noted in the PolitiFact analysis,  In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed a law prohibiting school districts from using Common Core in their lesson plans. 

“Isn’t that contrary to local control?” McCallum asked

But Abbott has already carved out exceptions to local control, decrying the patchwork quilt” of local bans on everything from paper and plastic bags to fracking that he said threatens to turn Texas into California.

Meanwhile, at the higher education level, the governor has set his sights on raising five Texas universities into the ranks of the nation’s top ten public universities, where, right now, he has noted, “five of the top 10 public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas,”

To that end, here from a press release from the governor’s office last week:

 Under Governor Abbott’s proposal, which requires legislative approval, the Governor’s University Research Initiative would be available to provide matching funds to Texas public universities for the recruitment of Nobel Laureates and National Academy members. Governor Abbott particularly urges Texas colleges and universities to focus on recruiting nationally and internationally recognized researchers in fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Because there are substantial start-up costs associated with recruiting nationally-renowned researchers, the Governor’s University Research Initiative would be available to help ensure Texas public universities have access to additional recruitment resources. Any Texas public institution of higher education seeking to recruit a Nobel Laureate, Academy Member, or their equivalent would be eligible to seek matching funds on a dollar-for-dollar basis from the Governor’s University Research Initiative.

Well, lets hope those Nobel Laureates and Academy Members weren’t tuned to Fox News Sunday, and I would recommend against including a videotape of the Common Core debate in the recruitment package.

As part of his push to raise the quality of higher education in Texas, Abbott also named Sara Martinez Tucker to UT System Board of Regents. From the governor’s office:

Sara Martinez Tucker is the CEO of the National Math + Science Initiative, where she oversees the Initiative’s work to transform schools into centers of college readiness, produce and excellent STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers and engage students to develop strong interests in STEM fields. Martinez Tucker was born and raised in Laredo and received a Bachelor’s degree and MBA from The University of Texas at Austin. She has also received honorary degrees from the University of Notre Dame, Boston College, and the University of Maryland. Martinez Tucker previously served as the Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education in the final years of the Bush administration after spending nearly a decade as CEO of the California-based Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Martinez Tucker currently resides with her family in Dallas.

And here, the reaction from Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan

Coming out of the gate with appointments, the team advising Gov. Greg Abbott seems to have made an initial early misstep by appointing an advocate of “common core” to the University of Texas board of regents. This is most surprising, given the strong stance Abbott has taken in opposing Common Core in specific and the federalization of education in general.

Among Abbott’s appointees to the UT Board of Regents announced on Thursday is Sara Martinez Tucker, the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative. Writing in US News and World Report in February of 2014, she praised the controversial Common Core initiative being promoted by the Obama Administration

“We should move the discussion to ‘how’ Common Core will be implemented – not ‘if’ Common Core should be implemented,” she wrote.

That, in fact, is the headline.

Under that headline, Martinez Tucker wrote:

To help our country meet the demand for the STEM jobs we need to remain competitive, schools need to do a better job of preparing students for college. And we can fix what’s wrong with America’s public school system if we get tougher in the classroom and raise academic standards everywhere. We need to introduce all high school students to college-level material – not just those who are already destined for college. And most importantly, we need to align the skills that are being taught in the classroom with what employers value in the workplace.

That’s where Common Core comes in.

Oh my. Well, she undoubtedly wrote this before complying with the Abbott directive to Google nine plus six Common Core.

Or perhaps Abbott’s appearance on Fox as the national point man against Common Core has something to do with inoculating himself against criticism that his appointment of Martinez Tucker reveals him to be soft on the Obamacare of education standards.

Of course, inoculation takes us from the realm of math to science and that other vexing, hot-button political issue in the Republican Party – vaccination.

But that’s for another day. In the meantime, here is a very useful Politico breakdown of where prospective Republican candidates stand on the appropriateness of mandatory vaccinations.

To receive First Reading as soon as it’s published, sign up for the Politics newsletter here. (http://www.statesman.com/newsletters/subscriptions/)
 

 

Aycock announces resignation of lobbyist daughter, blames Michael Quinn Sullivan

Texas House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock announced on Friday that his daughter — an education lobbyist — would step down amid persistent questions from conservative activists over a possible conflict of interest.

Aycock’s daugther, Michelle Smith, worked for various education groups as a lobbyist for HillCo Partners and also served as executive director of the Fast Growth School Coalition.

“Her employment predates my service as chair of the House Public Education Committee. We have both filed the required disclosure forms, and I announced that I would recuse myself on issues related to her clients,” Aycock, R-Killeen, said in a statement Friday. “Despite these measures, the comments have persisted.”

Last week during a question-and-answer session following an interview with the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, an audience member asked Aycock how he would handle the relationship during this year’s legislative session, which began Jan. 13. (House Speaker Joe Straus has not yet announced committee assignments for the 140-day session, but Aycock is expected to be re-appointed to his current position).

“I find it ironic that anti-education forces felt it necessary to critique a former teacher with a PhD in education improvement from Texas State University in order to apply pressure to me,” Aycock said Friday, referring to Smith. “It is especially ironic since most of the comments seem to emanate from a small group centered largely around Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose own efforts to avoid lobbyist registration have become legendary.”

Sullivan is an influential conservative activist whose group Empower Texans has criticized Aycock for his position on private school vouchers. Last year, the Texas Ethics Commission fined Sullivan $10,000 after finding that he violated state law by failing to register as a lobbyist. He is fighting the fine in court.

“In the hope that this distraction is now behind, I look forward to passionately working to improve the education of our 5.2 million Texas school children,” Aycock said.

State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Republican from Killeen who chairs the House Public Education Committee
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Republican from Killeen who chairs the House Public Education Committee

Jane Nelson: I’m mad some think I want to harm ethics commission

Michael Quinn Sullivan
Michael Quinn Sullivan

When the Texas Senate unveiled its base budget proposal Tuesday, eyebrows raised when prominent conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan was among the first to notice that the two-year spending plan cut total funding to the Texas Ethics Commission by more than a third.

In a post on his website, the Empower Texans president — who currently is fighting an ethics commission fine in court — listed the nearly 37 percent funding cut as one of five commendable, “stand out” attributes of the budget crafted by state Sen. Jane Nelson, the Republican from Flower Mound who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee. (The others included zeroing out funding for both the Texas Racing Commission and the Public Integrity Unit at the Travis County District Attorney’s office, which — like the ethics commission — investigates state officials).

“Nelson’s budget is the first step in making good on promises made by Republicans in the 2014 election cycle,” Sullivan wrote.

As Nelson’s office explained Tuesday, the funding cut to the ethics commission is attributable to a one-time, $3.5 million allocation made in 2013 for a new and improved electronic system that was not restored. The House base budget proposal — released Jan. 15 — mostly maintains that amount, however, reducing total funding to the ethics commission by less than 4 percent.

Asked about the funding difference on Wednesday, Nelson said she was mad about insinuations that she wants to harm the ethics commission, and emphasized the money was temporary.

“I am ticked off at the spin that’s being put on this. The money that they’re not getting was one-time funding,” she said. “It never ever crossed my mind to do anything to the ethics commission.”

“We’ve got enough conflict on real issues,” she continued. “I don’t want conflict to be there on issues that (are) not a conflict… You know, I was reading some of the blogs last night and it was — no, that’s not what we did.”

Asked why the House decided to mostly keep the one-time funding, a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus said that after the e-filing project concluded the commission “demonstrated other needs — including enhancements to the e-filing system — that directly relate to administering and enforcing the state’s ethics laws.”

“The House budget allows the Ethics Commission to continue to fulfill its very important role in the legislative process and in our democracy,” Jason Embry said in a statement.

Last August, the commission requested funding “for items beyond initial design” of a new and improved system for filing campaign finance reports and lobby and personal financial statements, including $150,000 to create a library of online training videos showing how to use the system, $175,000 to “fix any code defects” and $500,000 to add “functional enhancements” to the system that “will benefit the public and persons who use the system to file reports.” The system — expected to be a vast improvement over the current system — is supposed to come online this year and includes a mobile app.

It will “result in more accurate information for the public,” according to the commission, and also will “contain comprehensive management tools, including a robust database that will allow the commission to verify the completeness and accuracy of disclosure information.”

Asked what will happen if the agency does not receive those funds, Executive Director Natalia Luna Ashley said “At the end of the day, the Texas Ethics Commission will serve the public the very best way that it can with the resources that it’s given.”

“The budget process – it’s that, it’s a process, and we’re at the beginning stages of it,” she noted.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chairwoman of Senate Finance Committee
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee