Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday read: American town halls more contentious than ever

There will be about 500 congressional town hall meetings during this summer
's recess from Capitol Hill, involving 153 of the 535 members of Congress, according to a database maintained by Knowlegis. That's down from 659 meetings in the summer of 2009, when tea party groups used the gatherings to target Democrats for their support of a health-care overhaul.

Join in on the comments in the Post or click on "comments" below the story

Reprinted from the Washington Post, Published August 27 | Read the complete story

By David A. Fahrenthold

Greenland, N.H. — This is the pitiful state of the American town hall meeting: Even the people who invented it can’t make it work anymore.

“ORDAH!” In the Greenland town hall, a man was yelling at Rep. Frank C. Guinta (R-N.H.) for splurging on glossy paper for his office mailings, while another constituent was trying to interrupt, shouting aimlessly: “Our nation is about to go into crisis.”

“ORDAH!” somebody yelled again. But there was no order.

In this same town, the residents of Greenland gather every spring to settle their differences in a civil, orderly, traditional New England town meeting. This month, Guinta couldn’t even get them to shut up long enough to finish a thought.

“I want everyone who’s here to have an opportunity to give their opinion,” said Guinta, a freshman legislator with the look of a crestfallen teddy bear. “So let’s just try to respect everyone’s time, um . . . ”

He was interrupted.

“So let’s go back to the costs on the glossy!” the first yeller demanded.

Why is Congress so partisan and divisive? Why is American politics so confrontational and contentious? The answer may have something to do with the broken state of the national town hall meeting, a staple of congressman-voter interaction, and of American democracy more generally.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Letter to editor slams Republicans for opposing payroll tax cut

It looks like Smith, Canseco and Hensarling never saw a millionaire tax break they didn’t like

Note: Both the San Antonio Express News and the Seguin Gazette published this letter to the editor today from Melissa Dufresne of Guadalupe County:

Send your comments and questions to J.C. Dufresne of Cibolo Tx,, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the letter

President Obama has proposed to extend the payroll tax cut for low income Americans. Since the TEA Party acronym stands for “taxed enough already” you’d think that TEA Party Republicans would jump on that and agree with the President for a change. You’d think wrong.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) told the AP “It's always a net positive to let taxpayers keep more of what they earn, but not all tax relief is created equal for the purposes of helping to get the economy moving again.”

Rep. David Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he also opposed the 12-month tax cut because it would cost the government about $120 billion next year if it were renewed.

According to the Washington Post the Bush tax cuts amount to about $130 billion per year so I guess that means Republicans will now be against renewing those too. Why aren’t we hearing Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio/
202-225-4236) and Quico Canseco (R-San Antonio/202-225-4511) coming out in favor of either continuing the payroll tax cuts or not renewing the Bush tax cuts? Is expecting logical consistency too much to ask?

It looks like Smith, Canseco and Hensarling never saw a millionaire tax break they didn’t like.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Whisenant dumps longtime Dripping Springs constituents for a younger crowd

With little explanation, Whisenant switched horses on Tuesday and voted to cut out a significant portion of his Dripping Springs constituents in order to bring Texas State University and Hometown Kyle into his precinct

Editor's note: We've heard the newly redrawn county commissioner Precinct 4, anchored in Dripping Springs and represented by Commissioner Ray Whisenant, is being described as the "trash precinct." It was tossed all the pieces the county's three other commissioners could not or would not accommodate in their own turf. The trip ending with the county's final redistricting map M2 – re-approved this week after last week's false start – was no less than a wild and wooly Wild West show. Political aspirations won the day. Common sense came up short.

The infamous 'no man's' gap

Consider that the redrawn Pct 4 includes Dripping Springs, fans out west to the Blanco County line and now at its extreme southeastern end hooks in the grounds of Texas State University. The precinct's two bulging territories, on its western and southern ends, are connected by a narrow gap inside which lies the Driftwood Post Office. It is a precinct with very different and disparate communities – the sun, the moon and the stars – and overlaps three emergency services districts, to boot. Mr. Whisenant may need to build a new satellite office or two to fairly serve constituents in his far-flung new kingdom. Did anyone consider the potential cost to taxpayers? To top it off, the finally approved map M2 falls just a hair shy of the maximum population deviation allowed by federal law (10%) at 9.44%.

Send your comments and questions to, to Commissioner Whisenant at or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

RoundUp News Analysis
Map M2/Click to enlarge
In a surprise move on Tuesday, Commissioner Whisenant voted to dump longtime Dripping Springs constituents by voting yes for the M2 redistricting map that was presented to the commissioners court.

The move, which has the effect of bringing Home Town Kyle and Texas State University into Whisenant’s Precinct 4, was in stark contrast to his earlier position. It also significantly reduced the voting strength of the Dripping Springs community.

Weeks ago, Commissioner Whisenant, in an effort to keep his Dripping Springs constituents united, presented redistricting map O to commissioners court as an alternative to the M2 plan. Whisenant cited several reasons why it was important to give Dripping Springs a strong united voice that was not diluted by adding ‘unlike’ communities such as Texas State University and Home Town Kyle.

Texas State – hook, line and sinker

However, with little explanation, Whisenant switched horses on Tuesday and voted to cut out a significant portion of his Dripping Springs constituents in order to bring Texas State University and Hometown Kyle into his precinct.

On August 16, Map M2 was voted in on a 3/2 split of commissioners court (Jones, Conley, Cobb voting yes - Ingalsbe, Whisenant voting no). Because the agenda item posting for the vote was deemed to be ‘administratively deficient,’ the maps were brought forward again for another vote on August 23rd.

Instead of voting against Map M2 as he had a week earlier, Whisenant flip-flopped and voted for it.

During the August 23rd court meeting, Whisenant read a letter into the record citing actions he had taken since the August 16th vote — his vote against the inclusion of parts of Home Town Kyle and Texas State. Whisenant said he sent letters to the City of San Marcos, City of Kyle and Texas State University on August 17th welcoming them him into his precinct.

Whisenant is reported to have assured constituents that he would not vote for map M2, whether it be to ratify a previous vote or for the map itself. Then, on August 23rd, Whisenant did what he assured his constituents he would never do – vote for map M2.

One commissioners court observer commented, “this business of redistricting still has to pass muster with the Department of Justice. Sometimes I think these local characters get just a little bit too full of themselves. Let’s wait a little while longer and see how the DOJ views this.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

LCRA tables sale of water/wastewater assets to Canadian firm

Concerned taxpayers are hoping elected officials will be more open than they have been on the thus far unsuccessful LCRA water infrastructure project that has cost taxpayers in the range of $60,000 worth of due diligence studies

Note: This statement was provided by LCRA's public information office: The LCRA Board approved the following motion on divestiture today: “I move that the Board table the Divestiture matter until the September Board meeting; and direct staff to work with BMO to contact the individual customer bidders and the Coalition for further discussion concerning their bids; and further explore possible improvements to the bid of Corix Infrastructure and other bidders for the balance of the system.”

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. O'Dell at or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

By Charles O'Dell

Contributing Editor

Except for the shouting, it may yet be all over for one proposed Hays County water project, but it’s just beginning for another water project still in the shadows.

Twenty-three of twenty seven LCRA water/wastewater assets, including the Hwy 290 water line to Dripping Springs, were on the dock today to be sold to a Canadian water and wastewater firm, Corix. But LCRA's board, emerging from executive session, decided to table the sale until September. Their staff and outside financial advisor, BMO Capital Markets, had recommended approving the sale to Corix.

Hays County Commissioner Ray Whisenant was among several Hays Countians who attended today's board meeting and spoke on behalf of the county's interests.

The recently reactivated Hays County Water and Sewer Authority joined in the bidding through the Utility District Corporation, an entity formed by cooperating governments in Hays and Travis counties specifically to purchase some of the water assets LCRA is selling.

Texas Special District Local Laws Code section 8503.020 requires an affirmative vote of three-fourths by the LCRA board (12 votes) and that was expected to occur today.

Approval by the LCRA board would have authorized its staff to negotiate and enter into agreements to sell all of their water and wastewater utility assets, properties and related operations of the Water Utility.

History 101 on Government/Business Cooperation at Public Expense

What led up to today’s LCRA announcement?

Beginning in the mid 1990’s, LCRA embarked on a ten year $300 million buying spree of small community water systems and the construction of new water distribution infrastructure that promoted high-density development in Western Travis County and Northwestern Hays County.

On May 9, 2000, Hays County commissioners’ court created the Hays County Water and Sewer Authority under the guise of a “drought emergency” to jump-start the stalled LCRA Hwy 290 water line construction to Dripping Springs. The drought emergency was reportedly a water well in Sunset Canyon had gone dry.

The primary purpose of the new Water and Sewer Authority was to, “expand surface water service while reducing demands on the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers, insuring a safe reliable water source for all residents of Hays County.”

Touted as promoting water availability in unincorporated areas of the county, virtually all surface water in Hays County actually serves municipalities and high density users in extraterritorial jurisdictions of municipalities, not in unincorporated areas.

As part of the 290 water line deal, LCRA agreed to pay a 6% water utility franchise fee to Hays County. That Agreement fell by the wayside until 2004 when a non-profit organization, HaysCAN, made inquires to the County Auditor, asking for an accounting of the fees collected to date. No fees had been collected and the Agreement had been forgotten.

At commissioners’ court, LCRA officials agreed to make a one-time payment of $10,000 to the County to cover past omissions, and to begin making regular payments of the 6% fee for LCRA water sold in Hays County to Sunset Canyon, Belterra, High Point and other new subdivisions. Sales of water to the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corp were exempt from the franchise fee.

The DSWSC contract calls for use of up to one million gallons per day of LCRA water.

On November 16, 2005, following an exhaustive review and analysis of thousands of LCRA documents obtained through Open Records, HaysCAN presented findings to the LCRA board that showed they were pursuing a flawed business plan that had been instigated by then LCRA General Manager, Joe Beal.

The HaysCAN report concluded that the LCRA water business plan:

1. Captured community water and wastewater systems with faulty projections and promises,
2. Sought certificates of Necessity and Convenience (CCN) to exclude competition from lower-cost utilities,
3. Financed hundreds of millions of dollars in capital markets while attempting to integrate non-viable systems acquired on the basis of a flawed business plan,
4. Failed to inform board members until after open record requests were filed by a public entity, that many of the business plan projections were unreliable, and
5. Disguised a policy of higher impact fees/utility rates, and stimulation of new high-density residential development as the true business plan strategy.

In 2006, the LCRA board reviewed, with support from outside consultants, the Water Utility’s strategic direction. By August 2007, the Board directed staff to begin divesting some parts of the Water Utility to give it better focus and move the Water Utility toward financial self-sustainability.

In August 2007, Joe Beal retired from LCRA and went to live in Bastrop.

On November 17, 2010, the LCRA board directed its general manager to seek qualified buyers for all remaining assets comprising the Water Utility.

On April 27, 2011, Hays County commissioners’ court in a 4 –1 vote (Pct 2 Commissioner Mark Jones voting No) approved forming a Utility Development Corporation that is part of a coalition of other local government corporations that bid on some of the LCRA water assets, including the 290 line in Hays County.

On June 15, 2011, Mark Kennedy, acting attorney for both Hays County commissioners’ court and the Hays County Water and Sewer Authority, ordered a Certificate of Formation of a non-profit corporation for Hays County Water and Sewer Authority, Inc. Apparently, the original incorporation documents had been lost by the County.

What’s Next?

With the LCRA board's tabling of the sale of its water assets to Corix, efforts by the HCWSA to purchase 290 water infrastructure appears still to have a lifeline. So what else is on the HCWSA agenda?

On August 15, 2011, Pct 4 Commissioner Whisenant, who is President of the Hays County Water and Sewer Authority, Inc., and County Judge Bert Cobb, M.D., entered into an unsolicited Letter of Intent with Forestar Group Inc., “or an entity owned or controlled by it”, to, “enter into a Wholesale water supply Agreement for the water supply project. Forestar is a Delaware incorporated real estate firm.

The parties intend to pursue terms of this Letter of Intent as an Economic Development Negotiation. The parties’ participation in development of infrastructure within Hays County is designed to assure the ability to convey wholesale water supplies among retail suppliers in Hays County.

The language in this Letter of Intent and the secrecy surrounding its genesis is creating major concerns among many Hays County taxpayers. They are hoping elected officials will be more open on this new project than they have been on the thus far unsuccessful LCRA water infrastructure project that has cost taxpayers in the range of $60,000 worth of due diligence studies.

As co-founder of Hays Community Action Network (HaysCAN) in 2003, Mr. O'Dell strives to carry out the mission of ensuring open, accessible and accountable government. He is a long time and close observer of the workings of the Hays County County Commissioners Court. He earned a degree in Agricultural Education and a Masters in Ag Economics at Texas Tech, and, later a Ph.D. at The University of Maryland while employed as a Research Economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. Texas born and raised on a family farm, O'Dell is a Hays County Master Naturalist and is a past president of the board of the Ethical Society of Austin.

LCRA board agenda includes possible action on water system bidders

The LCRA board of directors is meeting this morning to discuss taking action on possible buyers for its water and wastewater systems, agenda item #23. Hays County and a coalition of Central Texas communities have bid on several of the systems – Hays County for the Hwy 290/Dripping Springs surface water pipeline portion of LCRA's West Travis County Regional Water System. However, the RoundUp has learned that LCRA's divestiture consultant has recommended a bid from a Canadian based company, Corix, to purchase a large bulk of LCRA systems, including the West Travis system. Corix provides service to more than 200 water systems and 650,000 customers in North America. Here's a press release on Corix's newly remodeled Corix Utilities U.S., Inc. headquarters in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

The board meeting is being held at the LCRA General Office complex at 3700 Lake Austin Blvd. in Austin. You can download the agenda at this link: LCRA's main switchboard number is 512.473.3200.

Groundwater district sounds "Emergency" Stage 5 alarm – conserve your water!

We must all work together throughout this severe and historical drought to conserve water. The drop of water you save may be your own

The advisory below was sent yesterday from the office of the general manager of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District. It affects all well owners in western Hays County. The drought has forced most groundwater districts across the state to issue similar conservation restrictions, some with tough backup enforcement action.

– Related Story –
(HTGCD lies in the same groundwater management area, GMA 9, as the CCGCD)

From the Boerne Star published Tuesday Aug. 23 | By Brian Cartwright | County adds clout to water rules
Kendall County Commissioners Court gave their consent to the declaration of a local disaster by County Judge Gaylan Schroeder during their regular meeting Monday, giving the Kendall County Sheriff’s Department, constables and the county attorney authority to assist the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District in detecting and prosecuting violators of groundwater use restrictions. Violators can be fined up to $1,000 or confined in the county jail for up to 180 days. CCGCD General Manager Micah Voulgaris told the court that “74.5 percent of the state is in the exceptional drought category and that’s as bad as it gets.”

In Kendall County, all 40 wells monitored by the conservation district are below their historical averages and the average water level in the middle Trinity aquifer has dropped 28 feet since January, Voulgaris said. The Guadalupe River at Comfort, which normally flows at 60 cubic feet per second, is now flowing at seven cfs, and the river has stopped flowing downstream at Spring Branch in Comal County.

Groundwater conservation districts have the ability to issue fines of up to $10,000 per day per violation, but must work through a district court, which can be a lengthy process.
The declaration by the county allows violators to be dealt with quicker.

Send your comments and questions to, to the District at or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

Dripping Springs, Tx – To all western Hays County residents, exempt well owners, non-exempt well owners, land owners, businesses, commercial, agricultural, irrigation, schools, banks and home owners associations: the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (District) is asking that you recognize the severity of this strangle-hold drought we are all facing.

The District records discharge flow rates (drought triggers) of the Pedernales and Blanco Rivers which can be viewed on our website under Drought Management. These “drought triggers” have now fallen past Critical Stage and linger in Emergency Stage.

Now is the time to take it upon yourselves to exercise all practical restraint in conserving water. The sky is not falling and there is groundwater in the subsurface, but until the rains return water table levels of the Trinity Aquifer will continue to drop.

Map of area inside the HTGCD
click to enlarge

Those of you who are connected to a public water service, each provider will set their rules on usage and watering dates and times. The same is true for home owners associations, as each community may set restrictions on water usage.

Approximately 90% of western Hays County residents, however, do not have formal regulations on watering days or times, as they are Exempt. These are domestic, agricultural and residential well owners. The District can only ask that you participate in reducing your groundwater production. We must all work together throughout this severe and historical drought to conserve water. The drop of water you save may be your own.

Rick Broun
General Manager
Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District

Monday, August 22, 2011

Redistricting is a distraction; real story is the jockeying for county's Top Dog

Former Pct 2 Commissioner and defeated county judge candidate, Jeff Barton (D), was also pushing Kinney’s map O. We believe it was simply a matter of joining forces to keep Conley in check

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. O'Dell at or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

From left, Commissioners Ingalsbe and
Whisenant, and Wally Kinney speaking at last
week's county redistricting public hearing/RoundUp Photos

By Charles O'Dell
Contributing Editor

Redistricting in Hays County has been little more than an emotional process diverting public attention away from major long-term special interest efforts underway, and an opportunity for Pct 3 County Commissioner, Will Conley (R), to demonstrate who’s Top Dog in Hays County.

County budget problems, skyrocketing county debt, Hays County Water and Sewer Authority actions involving opaque dealings with a Delaware incorporated real estate group, and covert dealings regarding the LCRA water infrastructure divestiture are just a few of the major special interest efforts underway by our local elected officials.

As for the distracting redistricting process, Dripping Springs Republicans Linda and Wally Kinney had a falling out with Conley so Pct 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant (R) is pushing the Kinney redistricting map O. Linda Kinney was/is Vice Chair of the Hays County Republican Party, election campaign manager for Whisenant and is now his paid Precinct 4 Assistant.

Conley angles to keep his top dog status,
but for how much longer?

In a classic case of “good ole boy” self-interests creating strange bedfellows, former Pct 2 Commissioner and defeated county judge candidate, Jeff Barton (D), was also pushing Kinney’s map O. We believe it was simply a matter of joining forces to keep Conley in check.

Conley endorsed Pct 2 Commissioner Mark Jones’ (R) map M2, commenting, “Precinct lines make no difference to me. I can be elected in any precinct lines.” I’m sure Conley believes that, and Conley’s endorsement of map M2 suits his immediate political purposes.

For others, map M2 is important primarily because it most accurately represents the actual voter mix in Pct 1 and does not perpetuate the false impression of a Hispanic majority precinct. That may be why four-term incumbent Pct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe (D) abandoned her own map P and endorsed the Kinney map O along with the Bartons, since map O gives Ingalsbe the same political advantage as her map P.

Ingalsbe continues to push for a majority “minority precinct” so she can maintain her stranglehold on Pct 1 with a Hispanic patronage system. Southside Community Center, partially funded by Hays County taxpayers, is the heart of that political patronage system.

Long-term commissioners’ court observers understand the annual Southside subsidy is a quid pro quo for Ingalsbe’s support of Barton and Conley projects and for election votes.

Southside Executive Director Ruben Garza is Ingalsbe’s “go to guy” for citizen advisory appointments. Ingalsbe’s most recent Garza appointment is as a member on the Hays County Water and Sewer Authority board. Ralph Gonzales, Ingalsbe’s father and former Pct 1 Commissioner before being convicted of tax evasion, works for/with Ruben Garza in creating an effective voter block through a system of patronage and control of elderly voters living in taxpayer supported Southside facilities.

The argument of map O having a smaller “deviation” from the average precinct voter total is meaningless and irrelevant, especially when compared to the realities of map M2.

Federal law allows for a maximum deviation of ten percent from average total count among county precincts. Consider countywide elections in which typically fewer than twenty five percent of registered voters go to the polls. A nine percent deviation (1,800 voters) for map M2 pales in comparison to 30,000 voters not voting within each precinct.

The whining about map M2 is promoted by the Kinneys and the Bartons who need to hold Conley in check if they are to keep “skin” in the Hays County special interest game.

Map M2 isn’t about election outcomes; it’s about who’s going to benefit from special interest projects financed by Hays County taxpayers. Map M2 fairly represents voter mix in all four commissioner precincts, and most fairly represents voter mix in Precinct 1.

Barton got the special interest road bond passed before he lost in his 2010 bid for county judge, and he had special interest commitments to keep, especially regarding FM1626.

Unfortunately for Barton, federal environmental impact study (EIS) requirements put work on FM1626 in limbo until Conley managed to circumvent the required studies by getting US Fish & Wildlife to expedite EIS through the County’s Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). That’s one of the reasons Conley traveled to Washington, D.C. in early April at taxpayer expense.

Our “streamlined” HCP is now at the heart of a broader effort to expedite development throughout Hays County and to pave the way for public financing of water and transportation infrastructure for developers.

Whining about adoption of map M2 also distracts voter attention while Pct 4 Commissioner Whisenant positions the Hays County Water and Sewer Authority in a scheme that lacks public planning, or that Whisenant isn’t revealing to the public. Either way, HCWSA, the entity that County Judge Jim Powers pushed through in 2000, to jump start the LCRA 290 water line to Dripping Springs, is now being positioned to facilitate new development in Hays County and make some folks a lot of money at taxpayer expense.

Redistricting in Hays County is a distracting internal power play to see who is Top Dog and will benefit most from special interests come election time. Voters will have less say about election outcomes than the special interests, and right now with County Judge Bert Cobb in his pocket, Conley is Hays County Top Dog.

In Texas schools, a criminal response to misbehavior

Debate over ticketing heated up in January after a 200-page report from Texas Appleseed, a public interest law center, documented 275,000 juvenile tickets in fiscal 2009, including 120,000 for truancy. The statewide data did not separate school tickets from those issued in other settings.

A new study, linking the school disciplinary records of nearly one million Texas students with their individual juvenile justice records, is focusing national attention on the "school-to-prison pipeline" – and Texas Appleseed and other advocates are calling for swift implementation of reforms.
Note: Today is Back to School Day for thousands of Central Texas elementary and secondary school students. We wish them all good luck and a productive and peaceful school year. This story from the Washington Post examines how discipline, in many cases, is applied in Texas public schools. It raises many questions. Is this the best approach, can it be improved, is it a harsh response to misbehavior that is pushing students to future lives inside the criminal justice system?

Send your comments and questions to your local school administration office and school boards or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

Reprinted from the Washington Post
Published Aug. 21, 2011
By Donna St. George

Read the complete story

SPRING, TEX. — In a small courtroom north of Houston, a fourth-grader walked up to the bench with his mother.

Too short to see the judge, he stood on a stool. He was dressed in a polo shirt and dark slacks on a sweltering summer morning.

“Guilty,” the boy’s mother heard him say. He had been part of a scuffle on a school bus.

In another generation, he might have received only a scolding from the principal or a period of detention. But an array of get-tough policies in U.S. schools in the past two decades has brought many students into contact with police and courts — part of a trend some experts call the criminalization of student discipline.

Now, such practices are under scrutiny nationally. Federal officials want to limit punishments that push students from the classroom to courtroom, and a growing number of state and local leaders are raising similar concerns.

In Texas, the specter of harsh discipline has been especially clear. Here, police issue tickets: Class C misdemeanor citations for offensive language, class disruption, schoolyard fights. Thousands of students land in court, with fines of up to $500. Students with outstanding tickets may be arrested after age 17.

Texas also stands out for opening up millions of student records to a landmark study of discipline, released in July. The study shows that 6 in 10 students were suspended or expelled at least once from seventh grade on. After their first suspension, they were nearly three times more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system the next year, compared with students with no such disciplinary referrals.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday read: Texas pol emerges as Perry critic

“It was a little jarring when it started. But then I realized it was pretty cagey,” said Harold Cook, a veteran Austin-based Democratic consultant. “Doggett has a fight against him in a Democratic primary, and those voters aren’t Rick Perry fans. It’s a pretty good move on his part.”

– Related Stories –

New York Times | Published Aug. 20 2011 | By Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo – Perry mines Texas system to raise cash for campaigns – Mr. Perry leapt into the Republican presidential primary this month preceded by his reputation as a thoroughbred fund-raiser. But a review of Mr. Perry’s years in office reveals that one of his most potent fund-raising tools is the very government he heads.

Washington Post | Published Aug. 20 2011 | By Michael A. Fletcher | Perry criticizes government while Texas benefits from it
The Texas economy also has benefited from the huge sums spent by the federal government. The state is home to several large military installations as well as NASA, which helped Texas reap more than $227 billion in federal spending in 2009 — more than double its 2001 total, according to the Census Bureau.

By Alexander Keyssar, Stirling professor of history and social policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School and the author of “The Right to Vote: the Contested History of Democracy in the United States.” | The real grand bargain coming undone – [I]t’s difficult not to see a determined campaign to dismantle a broad societal bargain that served much of the nation well for decades. To a historian, the agenda of today’s conservatives looks like a bizarre effort to return to the Gilded Age, an era with little regulation of business, no social insurance and no legal protections for workers. This agenda, moreover, calls for the destruction or weakening of institutions without acknowledging (or perhaps understanding) why they came into being.

Note: Austin-based U. S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett was first elected to Congress in 1994. He has represented Hays County and the 25th Congressional District since 2005. Doggett is now campaigning for reelection in a new 35th District. He is facing a challenge in the March Democratic primary from San Antonio State Rep. Joaquin Castro. The 35th is a long, narrow district that stretches from eastern Travis County south to eastern and southern Bexar County. It also takes in a slice of eastern Hays County that includes portions of Buda, Kyle and San Marcos. The 35th District may yet again be redrawn as the state's congressional redistricting plan, adopted earlier this summer by the Republican-dominated Legislature, is being challenged in federal court.

Send your comments and news tips to or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story | By Alex Isenstadt
Published Aug. 20, 2011
Read the complete story

Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett isn’t running against Rick Perry, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he’s targeting the Republican presidential candidate.

While Perry’s actual opponents have so far taken only vague jabs at the Texas governor, Doggett, a long-serving liberal, has emerged as Perry’s chief attack dog.

He’s taken to MSNBC to hammer the governor over his handling of public schools in Texas. He’s spoken at an anti-Perry rally on the steps of the state capitol, tweaking the governor for carrying a concealed firearm and vowing to “sound the alarm” about Perry across the country. On his Facebook page, he’s poked Perry for his “boot-in-mouth syndrome.”

Doggett’s latest attack came Friday afternoon, when he hosted a conference call with reporters in which he railed against Perry’s assertion that he’s presided over a jobs boom in the state – a claim the Democrat ripped as a “Texas tall tale.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dripping school board calls for November tax increase election

Voters will be asked to consider an increase of 13 cents in the maintenance and operations portion of the current tax rate, to $1.17 per $100 property valuation. The increase would amount to a $346.71 tax increase on an average home in the district

DSISD Board President
Tim Kurpiewski

Statesman, Friday, Aug. 19 2011 | By Laura Heinauer | Dripping Springs school superintendent resigns; board sets vote on tax rate, bonds – The Dripping Springs school district announced Superintendent Mard Herrick's resignation Thursday evening, the same night the school board called a referendum for November that would allow trustees to set the maximum operations tax rate allowed under state law. The board voted 5-1 to accept Herrick's resignation. Trustee John Adams voted against it, and Trustee Caroline Pekarek was absent.

For more details
, read the press release from the school district at this link: Click on the last title under August 2011, DSISD to Move Forward with Two Items on November Ballot.

Send your comments and questions to, to Peter at, to DSISD Board President Tim Kurpiewski at, 512.894.0007,
to the superintendent's office,, 512.858.3002, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

DSISD Board Voted to Take Your Homes From You

By Peter Stern
Guest Commentary

The Dripping Springs School Board has voted to increase the tax rate to the highest level under the law during one of the worst economic depressions ever in the state. How does the Board justify doing so? This is going to hit residents hard.

Superintendent Mard Herrick resigned on the same night the Board voted to raise the tax rate. Hays County currently has the highest home foreclosure number in its history. It is raising taxes when Texas has the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. The DSISD Board continues to show that it is out of touch with the residents it serves.

Public education is supposed to serve the community, NOT destroy it.

This is a bad move by the Board. If other school districts follow suit, it will enable opposing forces to challenge the very existence of public education. Some of those forces are an increase in home schooling, public education will be unaffordable for many more poor and middle class residents, there may be a surge in home foreclosures in the district, a school voucher program may be passed this time when the Legislature convenes that will draw tax dollars from school districts that will enable parents to use their school taxes to pay for their children’s private and charter school education.

Texas already is at the bottom of the list of states providing a quality education for its children. With this latest ploy, the DSISD Board is striving to be last on the list.

Property owners would be wise to challenge the Board's decision.

Peter Stern, a Vietnam war veteran, is a Driftwood, Tx – based columnist. His writings about Texas education issues and politics appear in a variety of publications.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rick Perry and the Neo Neo-Republicans

Most ominously, the new Tea partiers want to cut the budget of the federal agencies working to get the dangerous chemicals out of water we drink and toxic pollution out of the air we breathe


Statesman, Aug. 19, 2011 | Texas unemployment hits its highest mark since 1987 | By Jason Embry – Texas added 29,300 jobs in the month, but the unemployment rate increased from 8.2 percent to 8.4 percent. The private sector added 38,700 jobs, but Texas lost almost 10,000 government jobs.

Send your comments and news tips to, to Rocky at or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

By Rocky Boschert
Financial Editor

In a recent article by Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post, he makes the case that Rick Perry’s Texas has become an Anglo version of Mexico north. Using various economic indicators as well as a range of business welfare enticements more commonly associated with third world nations — low wages, no benefits, high rates of poverty, scant taxes, few environmental regulations, generous corporate subsidies, and cutting education budgets indiscriminately – Texas has morphed itself into a business domicile state where workers come cheap, compliant, and strangely passive.

Hence, Perry’s media misinformation hype for his presidential bid is this state’s questionable record of quality good paying job creation at a time when the national economy is again headed toward a double dip recession. Of course Texas has created jobs; but most of those jobs are a result of continually high oil prices (helping take our nation back into recession) as well as a business-friendly supply of low paid service workers.

Yet what is most ironic (and a clear sign of Perry’s economic ignorance) is his recent rant calling Fed Chair Ben Bernanke “treasonous” for printing money. Apparently beyond Perry’s realm of understanding, it is the printing of US dollars that has forced a supply and demand decline in the value of the dollar – inversely keeping oil prices high – that directly benefits the Texas economy.

Perry shows himself again as the consummate hypocrite, now part of the religious right “the devil is everyone but us” political wing of the Republican Party. Meyerson’s article ignores the worst effects that would occur under a Perry or general Republican Tea Party agenda.

First, for 150 million workers, the new Tea partiers want to push through further cuts in the already starved federal programs aimed at diminishing the yearly 58,000 fatalities in workplace-related disease and trauma including workers injured and wounded.

Second, there are over 300 million Americans. Each year, more than 7,000 die from contaminated food and more than 300,000 are hospitalized. The Tea partiers plan to push cuts through the House to further underfund FDA food safety programs, even though last year Congress strengthened the FDA's authority and expanded its responsibilities, including closer inspection of hazardous foodstuffs increasingly coming from communist China.

Third, there are 60 million investors in company stocks in America. The Tea partiers threw tantrums and got more cuts to the appropriations for law enforcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. This would further cut the number of federal cops on the Wall Street crime beat as Wall Street crime increases.

Most ominously, the new Tea partiers want to cut the budget of the federal agencies working to get the dangerous chemicals out of water we drink and toxic pollution out of the air we breathe, simply for the reason of ideological bullying. And there are millions of women and children with special health needs who depend on federal programs for assistance. The House Tea Party members want to slash the modest budgets for these programs.

Regarding transportation safety, there are 200 million drivers in America. The Tea partiers intend to cut the already measly auto safety budget of the Transportation Department. The auto safety budget is less than a third of the budget they allowed for guarding the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

The Tea baggers have also stated they are opposed to last year's auto and bus safety bill giving long-overdue authority to safety regulators. The bill was supported by Democrats and Republicans but was blocked by Senator Tom Coburn, a physician no less. Minority Tea bagger rule blocked 99 senators who signed off on unanimous consent to get this life-saving legislation through the Senate.

There are 30 million American workers, polls show, who would like to discuss trade union representation for them in negotiations with local economy destroyers like Wal-Mart. See, Tea Party politicians do not want American workers to have rights. For example, the Tea Baggers were instrumental in blocking the budget for the FAA in late July and early August over $16 million in safety funding for a few rural airports. Union issues were the reason for the holdup. Because of this action, the Tea partiers forced the U.S. government to lose $30 million a day in airline ticket taxes.

Clearly the Tea baggers hate taxes, especially on the rich and corporations, even though they are the lowest tax rates in 20 years. The Tea Party Republicans in the US Congress and in the various State legislatures insult over 50 percent of Tea partiers nationally and 70 percent of Republicans polled who thought at least some additional tax revenues should be part of the deficit-reduction program passing through Congress.

The Tea Party as currently represented in Congress is more interested in wielding the axe against public works programs, education, housing, public health, auto, drug and consumer safety, and medical research. Yet they leave alone the hugely expensive, cost-over-run weapons systems and the tax wasteful Pentagon war machine.

It is one thing for Perry to lack empathy, along with his nutty REP running mates and his Tea Party lemmings in the US Congress and many states – already well-to-do and/or consuming a nice salary and a bevy of benefits. But America needs to call Perry and his destructive ilk out on their downright ideologically-inebriated animosity toward the domestic necessities of the American people.

Right wing tea party economic and social agenda anarchists may well sink the Republican Party, but we cannot let them take most Americans down in the process.

County schedules re-vote on redistricting map

"Please represent the will of your constituents and not merely of Will Conley."

Editor's Note: County Judge Bert Cobb's Chief of Staff Lon Shell has confirmed that the commissioners court's vote this week to adopt the county's new redistricting Map M2 will be revisited at next Tuesday's Aug. 23 commissioners court meeting. "The item will be posted as discussion and possible action to ratify and confirm the court's adoption of map M2 . . . to make sure the item is clarified that the item is open for action," Shell said.

Almost immediately after the conclusion of Tuesday's, Aug. 16, public hearing and the court's 3-2 vote to adopt Map M2, court observers began pointing out a technical legal failure in procedure – the public hearing was never officially opened by County Judge Bert Cobb for possible action, and a vote. Hence, next week's re-vote. Shell said the confirmation vote will be posted under the court's miscellaneous agenda items. The procedural glitch has caused some citizens to begin lobbying commissioners anew for a change in their vote, to support the more popular Map O.
Fyi, to the curious, Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley, R-Wimberley, is making it perfectly clear that the court's vote is not going to change.

Here's one open letter sent yesterday to Conley from Wimberley area resident Barbara Hopson . . .

Send your comments and questions to, to Lon Shell at, to Judge Cobb at, 512.393.2205, to Commissioner Conley at, 512.847.3159, to Ms. Hopson at, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the letter

Will Conley

Dear Commissioner Conley,

I understand that the vote taken by the commissioners to choose a redistricting map was not valid because of a procedural error. If that is indeed so – and when the judge and commissioners vote again on the plans – I urge you this time to vote for Plan O.

If you truly do represent your constituents, you will vote for Plan O because:

1) 12 of the 14 speakers (including me) at the final public hearing supported Plan O;

2) Plan O is fairer to Precinct 3 than is Plan M2 because Plan O has Precinct 3 at only 817 fewer people than the Ideal Number of 39,277 people, while Plan M2 has the precinct at 1815 people under the Ideal;

3) Plan O keeps Hilliard Road residents in one precinct, while the Plan M2 boundary runs right down the middle of that street; and,

4) Plan M2 has the highest Total Deviation (9.44%) of the four maps discussed and has the second-highest Total Deviation of all the maps considered for this redistricting. Plan O has only 5.55% Total Deviation, nowhere near being likely to trigger a Department of Justice review.

Please represent the will of your constituents and not merely of Will Conley.

Barbara Hopson, Wimberley

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New county redistricting map, M2, wins on a vote of 3 to 2

Judge Cobb turned to Commissioners Ingalsbe and Whisenant to ask if, in the spirit of unity, they would support Map M2. Their answer was, No.

Note: This is a first blush report on today's commissioners court action to adopt a new county commissioner precinct map. Like it or not, the map with its newly drawn boundary lines will be in effect until the next U. S. Census in 2020. According to testimony at the public hearing, the new redistricting map/plan will be forwarded to the U. S. Department of Justice for approval to ensure that it meets the guidelines of the federal Voting Rights Act. The review will take about 60 days. Justice officials are likely to key in on whether the new map preserves the minority Hispanic district (Precinct 1) around San Marcos, currently represented by Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe.

Send your comments and questions to, to County Judge Bert Cobb at, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

By Bob Ochoa

Map M2 is finally adopted
commissioners court.
(See the current map below)
Click on maps to enlarge

County Courthouse, San Marcos Tx – For a county redistricting process that started in relative obscurity five months ago in March with the appointment of a 4-member redistricting committee, the end, today, came after a spirited, and at times contentious, public hearing.

At one point in the hour and a half hearing that ended around 3:15 p.m., a red-faced County Judge Bert Cobb slammed down his gavel, cutting off a speaker and threatened to have him removed from the courtroom. Cobb later described the speaker as a provocateur.

The public hearing drew a not quite standing room only crowd. Four large maps, each with slightly differently drawn county commissioner precincts, stood at the back of the commissioners' courtroom.

A lot of detailed questions, answers and information was exchanged during the public comments portion of the public hearing. About a dozen citizens spoke, most voicing their support for Map O. They said it did the best job of preserving communities of interest and avoided splitting the city of Kyle area into three commissioner precincts.

As it turned out, a large subdivision on Kyle's west side, Hometown Kyle, was removed from inside Kyle and Buda-based Precinct 2 represented by Commissioner Mark Jones, and placed inside Dripping Springs-based Precinct 4, under Map M2. It was one of the biggest pieces of collateral damage in the redrawing of commissioner precincts.

With the public comments over, Judge Cobb queried the county's redistricting consultant, attorney Rolando Rios of San Antonio: "I have reviewed all this and I am in a quandary. I need guidance (to) have a map that goes up there to DOJ (US Dept of Justice) and is not rejected."

Rios assured Cobb that either of the maps, O and M2, stood a good chance of passing federal review. "I'm a lawyer. We can't guarantee anything," Rios said. "I think whatever plan you select has a good chance."

Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, San Marcos, who had favored Map P, announced "in the spirit of cooperation" that she was throwing her support behind Map O. "I'm not getting everything I want out of the map but I want to support it. The (population) deviation is less than the M maps," Ingalsbe said. "It certainly follows the senatorial and congressional lines more than the other maps."

Commissioner Jones, who along with Cobb has the most to lose politically with constituents unhappy with the new precinct lines, explained the tough quandary he was in. "The problem is I represent 52,000 people in Precinct 2 with six cities, and they all want to be in Precinct 2. Ten subdivisions feel just as strongly . . . We (Precinct 2) have to lose 13,000 (people to the other three precincts). It's not an easy decision, one I struggle with . . . pray about. Hometown Kyle are my neighbors. If there were any way to do it with the best interests of all in Precinct 2 I would do it . . . I have to pick between Hometown Kyle, Uhland, Hays City and those ten subdivisions . . . "

Judge Cobb, standing, Ingalsbe on left,
and Jones huddle after the vote

After some comments from Commissioners Will Conley (Pct. 3) and Ray Whisenant (Pct. 4), Conley moved to adopt Map M2. Jones seconded Conley's motion. Commissioner Whisenant offered into the record data on voting age populations, backing up his Map O.

Judge Cobb turned to Commissioners Ingalsbe and Whisenant to ask if, in the spirit of unity, they would support Map M2. Their answer was, No. Commissioner Ingalsbe asked Judge Cobb if he would support Map O. Cobb said his job was to support the interests of the entire county.

"I understand where each of you is coming from," Cobb told commissioners. "Unfortunately this is putting me in the Solomon position of dividing the baby." He asked those who did not support his decision to be kind to him.

The roll was called and the votes were announced: Ingalsbe - No; Jones - Yes; Conley- Yes; Whisenant - No; and Cobb - Yes. The county's redistricting Map M2 was finally adopted. You could hear sighs of relief coming from the dais.

Map of current commissioner precincts

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tuesday is final public hearing on county redistricting; choose your favorite map

Map O is the favorite of Pct. 4
Commissioner Ray Whisenant.
(Click on map to enlarge)

Send your comments and news tips to, to County Judge Bert Cobb at, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

Tuesday, Aug. 16, the final public hearing on county commissioner precinct redistricting will be held at 1:30 p.m. at the courthouse, 3rd floor. The Court probably will make the choice of one of four maps still under consideration.

You can download and view the maps in Pdf format at this link:

The meeting should last only about an hour. Folks are urged to attend if only to tell the commissioners court which map you favor. All you have to do is step up to the microphone and say, "I'm in favor of Map ____."

The four maps being considered are M1 Final (Conley's choice), M2 (Jones), O (Whisenant), and P (Ingalsbe). It looks like Judge Cobb may be the tie breaker, so it's important that you be there to let him know what you think.

The map chosen will form the precinct boundaries for the next 10 years.

Bets are now being taken on which map prevails, and if Judge Cobb can survive his deciding vote unscathed. Who will he side with: Whisenant, Jones, Igalsbe or Conley?

Map M1 proposed by Conley

Sunday, August 14, 2011

As Texas Dries Out, Life Falters and Fades

“Texas is going to get hotter and drier,” said Malcolm Cleaveland, a professor at the University of Arkansas who led the researchers. Indeed, rainfall modeling shows that rising temperatures and more arid conditions over the last few decades are likely to increase in the 21st century.

Editor's Note: Wishful thinking aside, the signs and scientific studies show that mother nature, climate warming and Texas' exploding population are on a colossal collision course.
The age of plentiful water has passed us. As it is, the water supply is barely keeping up with the state's current population. What will it look like in 20 or 50 years? A completely new way of thinking and planning is needed to manage the huge challenges ahead. Protecting, not over extending or exploiting, our natural water resources will be among the biggest challenges. So far, the response from our elected policymakers is coming up dreadfully short.

Click on the "comments" below the story to add your thoughts and ideas

Reprinted from the New York Times
Read the
complete story

By Richard Parker
Published Aug. 13, 2011


THE drought that grips Texas is a natural disaster in slow motion. Life itself slows down, falters and begins to fade.

Out here, in the low hills west of Austin, the ground under my boots is split and cracked, the creek below the house bone-white and dry. Even the Blanco River’s usually cool, spring-fed water is warm and still.

Droughts have come to Texas before, but this time it’s a killing heat that grips the state. Even the tough, rangy whitetail deer are starting to die. Last spring, an old, dark-faced doe that comes around from time to time stood in my front yard, her body plump with pregnancy. But her ribs were starting to show; the fawn inside was unlikely to make it far past birth.

Folks around here say this is unlike any drought Texas has ever seen. In a way that’s right; it’s the worst single drought year on record. But, as scientists now tell us, historically droughts here can last decades. Worse, when the rain does fall, it evaporates faster and faster as the American Southwest become drier, threatening to turn Texas into desert. As bad as this year’s drought is, the long view tells us that things could get much worse.

The drought is already changing the way we look at the land, the way we do business and live our lives. All over Texas, the country’s largest beef-producing state, ranchers are selling off herds early, losing millions of dollars, or hanging on just to watch the animals die for lack of water. Thirsty cows can even die from too much water; dehydrated and moved to water, the cows gulp it down too greedily, bloat up — and keel over dead.

On the Storm Ranch, 6,000 acres of rolling Hill Country, the saplings are dying for lack of roots long enough to reach for deep water through the caliche and limestone soil, like the older Spanish oaks and southern maples. “I haven’t seen it this bad in a long time,” said the ranch’s owner, Josh Storm.

Richard Parker is a journalist in Texas who writes for McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Perry makes it official: He's running for president

Exclusive Newsweek interview: The Rick Perry who said he would
dismantle Social Security and Medicare

From The Root: Danger, Prayerful Candidates


Reprinted from the Dallas Morning-News

Read the complete story

By Christy Hoppe
Morning-News Austin Bureau | Published Saturday Aug. 13, 12:43pm

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Rick Perry said Saturday he’s running for president to “get America working again” and to bring Texas’ economic success and vision of limited government to Washington.

“That's why, with the support of my family, and unwavering belief in the goodness of America, I declare to you today my candidacy for President of the United States,” he told a crowd of conservative bloggers meeting in South Carolina, the first southern state that will vote in the Republican nominating contest.

“It is time for Americans to believe again -- to believe that the promise of our future is far greater than even the best days of our past,” he said.

Perry, 61, the longest-serving governor in Texas history with more than a decade in office, took direct aim at Democratic incumbent Barack Obama more so than any of his rivals for the Republican nomination.

Congressional redistricting political machinations unsealed

“What this shows is an ongoing, months-long effort in which the Republican congressional delegation was working hand in glove with the Republican leadership in Austin to draw districts that protected and expanded Republican control . . . ”
“For (example), we agree that we are not going to seek (Justice Department) preclearance but will go to a three judge panel in D.C.,” (Congressman Lamar) Smith wrote in an email sent April 3 to Denise Davis, chief of staff for Straus. He went on to outline questions that he thought needed to be answered to plan taking the state's redistricting maps to federal court.
Note: Well, what can we say, "Par for the course for politics?" Congressman Smith (21st District), who was one of the lead dogs in this charade, will be representing a third of Hays County if the Republicans' lawsuit is successful and the Texas redistricting plan passes muster. Hays County is split into three congressional districts under the Republican plan. Democrats are challenging the plan in separate lawsuits which have been combined in a San Antonio federal court.

Just for fun, enterprising Hays County citizens might want to inquire about the emails passing between county officials (judge, commissioners, county attorney and consultant Mr. Rios) and private citizens in the county's own redistricting game.
A final redistricting map (with new commissioner precinct boundaries) is expected to be voted on at a public hearing of the commissioners court, scheduled Tuesday Aug. 16 1:30pm at the courthouse.

Click here for a view of the fascinating congressional redistricting-related emails. In some, Hays County is even mentioned.

Send your comments and news tips to, to the Express-News (complete story link), to Congressman Smith, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the story

By Nolan Hicks | San Antonio Express-News
Updated Friday Aug. 12, 2011

Read the complete story

Emails unsealed Thursday (Aug. 11) by a federal judge show that key Republicans involved in Texas redistricting voiced concerns that their plans could violate the Voting Rights Act and actively considered bypassing the Justice Department two months before the Legislature passed a redrawn congressional map.

The more than 400 pages of emails they sent between October 2010 and June show key staffers for Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who was chosen by the Texas congressional delegation to be their point person on redistricting, were in frequent contact — swapping map proposals, news stories and questions about the law via email.

“What this shows is an ongoing, months-long effort in which the Republican congressional delegation was working hand in glove with the Republican leadership in Austin to draw districts that protected and expanded Republican control,” said Matt Angle, a longtime Democratic consultant who helped to organize one of the redistricting lawsuits currently pending in federal court in San Antonio.

“They were aware and sensitive to the fact that they were likely to violate the Voting Rights Act and were warning each other not to put in writing what they were clearly saying to each other,” he said.

Republicans have long said publicly that any of the redistricting maps passed during the last Legislative session do not reduce opportunities for minority representation in either the Texas Legislature or in the Texas congressional delegation.

“It's a purely partisan statement,” said Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, regarding a recently filed redistricting lawsuit.

Two months before either redistricting committee in the Texas Legislature had voted out a congressional redistricting map, key Republicans involved in Texas redistricting were actively considering bypassing the traditional Justice Department approval of redistricting maps, opting to take the fight over redistricting straight to federal court in Washington D.C.