Rick Perry made true on his threat to veto funding for the Public Integritiy Unit if Rosemary Lehmberg did not resign from her office. She, as one would hope from their public officials, refused to be coerced. But now the state's funding for the state's one Public Integrity Unit has disappeared.
So. There goes our ethics. Perry also veteod individual ethics bills from this legislative session. When it comes to ethical government, he just doesn't care.
Thankfully, not quite all is lost. Despite no funding for the next budget for the $3.5 Million unit, Travis County prosecutors might still have their jobs and the local DA's office might still keep our politicians honest.
Rick Perry can't stop messing with Texas, and with Travis County.
Yesterday, Rick Perry threatened to line-item veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit, which has statewide prosecutorial authority over fraud and corruption, if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg does not resign.
The PIU is expected to receive $7.5 million from the state over the biennium to support its ongoing prosecutions in more than 400 cases, ranging from insurance fraud to public corruption investigations, according to Assistant Travis County District Attorney Gregg Cox, who runs the unit.
I've previously argued that Lehmberg needs to stay to prevent Perry from getting his dirty hands on the PIU, among many other reasons. Now, it appears that Perry's motives may be even more self-serving.
As Progress Texas noted yesterday, Perry may be trying to shut down the PIU to stop the investigation of CPRIT and his alleged efforts to divert state cancer research funds to his donors and cronies.
Now, it turns out Perry's mere threat to veto funding if Lehmberg does not resign may be a violation of the Texas Penal Code.
According to the article, Watkins supports a domestic partner registry. In an interview with the Voice, Watkins made this argument for equality:
"This is America, and we shouldn't discriminate against anyone for whatever reason, and so I think it's a disservice for us as Americans to say that just because you are a certain lifestyle, that you can't have the same rights as someone else," Watkins told the Voice. "I think it goes towards, you know, when we were going through the civil rights movement, issues that we dealt with back then, which, basically, I can understand very clearly because of who I am. ..."
"It goes back to quality of life issues, and as a DA, I'm responsible for improving the quality of the lives of all of the citizens I represent," Watkins said. "I'm the lawyer for everybody in Dallas County, and so I can't be against something that will make your life better. So I'm for whatever we need to do in Dallas County to make the quality of life better, and in my opinion to have that - marriage equality and the registry - it makes lives better for citizens of Dallas County."
While gay marriage is as yet not recognized in Texas, currently, several jurisdictions in Texas recognize domestic partnership benefits. They include Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Dallas, and Fort Worth, as well as El Paso County, Travis County, and the Pflugerville ISD. The issue was brought to the fore nearly a month ago when Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a non-binding, advisory opinion that political subdivisions in Texas could not recognize domestic partnerships and notably, Austin City Manager Marc Ott volleyed with a perfunctory: "[W]e do not intend to change domestic partner eligibility for our benefits program at this time."
April can be the cruelest month. In a defeat for civil rights and home rule in Texas, Texas Attorney Greg Abbott scaled back rights for same-sex couples in cities such as Austin, Pflugerville, El Paso, Fort Worth, and others.
In November, State Senator Dan Patrick sent a request for an official opinion to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, asking this question:
"Does Art. 1, §32 of the Texas Constitution that defines marriage as one man and one woman and prohibits government recognition of any legal status identical or similar to marriage preclude political subdivisions of Texas from providing so-called domestic partnership benefits to their employees?"
Patrick had been upset that insurance benefits were offered to members of same-sex couples in Travis County, the City of Austin, Pflugerville ISD, El Paso, Fort Worth, the City of San Antonio, and El Paso County.
Abbott's letter first argues that Section 32 - the section in question - applies to Texas cities, counties, and school districts (no word yet on municipal utility districts or MUDs). It then asks whether these political subdivisions have created or recognized a legal status, and, if so, whether that legal status is identical or similar to marriage.
Abbott's letter answers "yes" to both questions, at the end stating that Section 32 "prohibits political subdivisions from creating a legal status of domestic partnership and recognizing that status by offering public benefits based upon it," but not before cautioning that the U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 might make this very letter unenforceable.
(Thanks to redistricting expert Michael Li for this update! - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)
It remains to be seen how the Texas redistricting saga will play out. But if the court were to restore a Travis County-centered district, what might it look like?
And what would become of the current Hispanic opportunity district (CD-35) - drawn by the Texas Legislature and incorporated into the court's second interim map - once the populous Hispanic parts of Travis County are removed?
The joint map advisory filed by 6 of 8 plaintiff groups with the court in San Antonio has suggested at least a couple of options.
Lehmberg was taken into custody this morning.
Photo credit: Austin-American Statesman
This morning, Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunk driving. She was sentenced to 45 days in jail and taken into custody immediately. She was also given the maximum $4,000 fine and her license was revoked for 180 days.
On Wednesday, Austin attorney Kerry O'Brien filed suit to remove Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg from office after her DWI arrest last week. "Lehmberg violated the public trust, demeaned her office and created a substantial risk of injury to others," O'Brien said.
Today, Lehmberg's lawyer David Sheppard defended Lehmberg in a statement that emphasized Lehmberg's admittance to her "terrible mistake" and the fact that she will serve the longest sentence ever handed out, of 45 days. "Rosemary is a woman of her word, she's served this county for 35 years as a valuable public servant, she runs probably the best district attorney's office in the state of Texas if not the nation. This is a terrible mistake on her part but it really should not override the fact that she has accepted responsibility today," Sheppard writes.
He also revealed that tapes of Lehmberg's initial arrest would be released in the coming days and that "[t]here have been some very serious misstatements and inaccuracies said both in the news media and in a lawsuit about Ms. Lehmberg spitting and kicking at officers. I can categorically tell you that did not happen."
The Travis County DA's office said that senior staff will take over operations, "the same as when the officeholder is away from the office."
The Statesman captured video of Lehmberg's sentencing:
Read Attorney David Sheppard's statement below the jump.
When Sarah Eckhardt tells people that she is considering a run for County Judge, she's serious. She isn't just thinking about it, either; she's doing almost everything she can to obtain a full picture of the political landscape.
Yesterday, Eckhardt's campaign released results from a February poll claiming that she has 51% name recognition among likely Travis County Democratic Primary voters. That's significantly larger than the name recognition number that the poll found for her potential opposition, Andy Brown, who clocked in at 32%.
The methodological stated in the press release:
Findings are based on an interactive voice response survey conducted by KCZ Consulting on Sunday, February 10th, 2013 among a sample of 634 registered voters likely to vote in the 2014 Democratic Primary for Travis County Judge. The sample holds a +/- 3.7% margin of error.
This is a surprising finding that, if true, bucks some conventional wisdom. Many figured that Brown would lead in this category, as he has now appeared three times on the countywide ballot, and he is constantly in campaign mode simply as the spokesman for the Travis County Democratic Party. Eckhardt, meanwhile, has appeared on the countywide ballot two times, each time for just 1/4 of the county. There are still many reasons for Eckhardt's name ID to be this high, but each explanation would be speculative.
According to Eckhardt consultant Ed Espinosa, "Strong name ID means that if Sarah Eckhardt decides to enter the race, she won't have to spent a ton of money building her profile." That's good news for her in light of Andy Brown's already large financial warchest. Brown's cash advantage will allow him to catch up in name ID by the time March 2014 rolls around and maybe even give himself an ID advantage.
The issuing of this press release leads one to wonder when Eckhardt will more formally announce her electoral intentions. The resign-to-run law prohibits her from announcing a candidacy before December 1, 2013, without resigning her current office representing Precinct 2 on the Commissioners Court. An official announcement now, therefore, would lose her many good policy opportunities on the court, and she'll do go out of her way to avoid saying she's a candidate. But this sure looks like a campaign for county judge. For that matter, I thought Andy Brown was a full candidate, too, though he "hastened to note that he hasn't officially announced yet either." Brown isn't required to give up the Travis County Democratic Chairmanship to run, but he definitely wants to appear as committed to his job as Eckhardt appears committed to hers. Both politicians definitely sound pretty close to two real candidates for County Judge to me, however, and Eckhardt's press release makes clear that the race is already on, if it wasn't already.
Former candidate for Travis County Constable Michael Cargill is also the owner of Central Texas Gun Works in South Austin. While the City of Austin and Travis County are working to curb gun shows within their jurisdiction, Cargill will, this Sunday, auction off a Bushmaster AR 15 to raise money for an employee's daughter who has Atrial Septal Defect. The weapon is the one used by the shooter at Sandy Hook and even though the company that owns the manufacturer has put its shares up for sale the gun has been flying off the shelves since renewed talks of an assault weapons ban.
Cargill is no stranger to controversy. A gay African-American would typically find a warmer home in the Democratic Party, especially in Austin, but his enthusiasm for gun culture and questionable campaign tactics were enough to turn off Travis County voters. During the Democratic Party primary this spring he ran against incumbent Adan Ballesteros, dubbing him the "Cocaine Constable", for which he was sued. He also received help from the Ron-Paul supporting SuperPAC Liberty for All, which is run by a young, eccentric East Texan with a large inheritance.
The following was posted on Cargill's Facebook page Monday:
"Baby Eli has an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD)...So we are having a silent auction (Bushmaster AR 15, 5.56/ 223) to help Baby Eli so he doesn't require open heart surgery. Eli is 11 months old and his father is an employee at Central Texas Gun Works. So please stop by between today and Sunday Central Texas Gun Works 321 W Ben White #203, Austin, TX 78704. Starting Bid $1200."
A private, for-profit healthcare system is putting their own bottom line over the health of our community right here in Travis County.
St. David's Healthcare, a private, for-profit hospital system, is now campaigning against Central Health Proposition 1 because its passage would hurt their corporate bottom line. The Austin American-Statesman reported today that St. David's has come out against the local ballot proposition to raise funds to support bringing a medical school to Austin. Sadly, their motivation is all about putting their corporate profits above our community health.
The Seton family of hospitals, which are the one of the major providers in the Travis County healthcare district, are non-profit healthcare providers, and thus are more concerned with healthy patient outcomes than corporate bottom lines.
St. David's has been involved in discussions about Prop 1 and efforts to bring a medical school to Austin since the very beginning of the process. But now that they're not going to make enough money if it passes, they've decided to come out against it during the first week of early voting. It's a cruddy move that could very well result in preventing Travis County residents from accessing the healthcare that they desperately need.
St. David's is controlled by HCA, a gigantic corporation that controls 163 hospitals across the country and is owned by -- wait for it -- Bain Capital, the private equity firm started by Mitt Romney.
St. David's parent corporation is raking in record profits as healthcare costs spiral out of control. HCA-controlled hospitals like St. David's have increased their profits by finding ways to squeeze more money out of private insurance corporations.
So let's get this straight. A private, for-profit hospital system (St. David's) owned by a private equity firm (Bain Capital) that was founded by Mitt Romney is campaigning against a ballot measure (Central Health Prop 1) that will expand non-profit healthcare and provide increased access to healthcare for all Travis County residents, especially the neediest.
Texas has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the country. It's a disgrace. Even Travis County has 200,000 uninsured residents, many of whom are working families. Central Health will expand access to healthcare for the uninsured, and support a broad network of providers to address a wide range of healthcare needs.
But since its passage will mean that St. David's won't be able to profit as much off providing healthcare to the poor, they're opposing Prop 1.
This doesn't quite pass the smell test. St. David's can't get a big enough piece of the financial pie to make it worth their corporate backers' time, so they want to make sure no one else can provide expanded healthcare options either.
Prop 1 shouldn't be about whether a big corporation can make enough money off of sick Travis County residents, but thanks to St. David's craven political move, the election may well now hinge on their last-ditch effort to put their own profits above our community health.
Central Health Proposition 1 will provide greater access to healthcare for all Travis County residents. Burnt Orange Report unanimously endorses a vote FOR Proposition 1.
This is one of the most important measures on our Travis County ballot this year, and we strongly encourage voters to learn about the many excellent community benefits Prop 1 will provide, starting with world-class medical care. Austinites who currently must travel out-of-town to seek cutting-edge care will instead be able to receive care here. It will create 15,000 permanent jobs and generate $2 billion in economic activity each year.
Prop 1 will expand access to care, especially for the 200,000 uninsured Travis County residents. 60% of those folks work and don't have or can't afford employer-provided insurance. Prop 1 will save taxpayer money by helping people without insurance avoid the emergency room. Preventative healthcare is more cost-efficient and less expensive than a visit to the ER.
Importantly, Prop 1 does not pay for construction of a physical medical school -- instead, it funds access to healthcare by funding and expanding healthcare programs. The University of Texas has contributed $25 million in perpetuity and $5 million per year for the first eight years to fund maintenance and operation of a medical school. Additionally, the Seton family of hospitals has pledged $250 million towards construction of a teaching hospital. All of that funding for the medical school disappears if Prop 1 does not pass.
Proposition 1 will fill critical gaps in our healthcare delivery system, improve healthcare and access to healthcare for Travis County residents, and result in a healthier community. We unanimously and enthusiastically endorse a vote FOR Central Health Proposition 1!
Early Voting: Monday October 22 - Friday November 2 --- Election Day: Tuesday, November 6
Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement. Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff employed by campaigns abstain from voting on those races.