Saturday, May 25, 2013
Thursday, May 23, 2013
House panel dines; bill $22K
■ Chair says congratulatory meals a ritual
By Ross Ramsey
A remarkably expensive meeting of a key legislative committee took place this week: a $22,000-plus affair at an upscale downtown Austin steakhouse for the 15-member House Calendars Committee.
That panel, which sets the daily lineup of bills for consideration in the House and thus holds lifeor- death power over legislation, held its end-of-session dinner at Austin’s III Forks restaurant Sunday.
It cost $22,241.03 and required the use of 34 American Express cards, 11 MasterCards and 20 Visa cards. The committee chairman, state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, said there were about 140 people there, and most of them stayed for dinner.
That’s an extraordinary amount of money, as these things go, but the events themselves are common. In a tradition that stretches back as far as anyone can remember, committees in the Texas Legislature throw self-congratulatory dinners to celebrate the completion of their work.
“It’s a large gathering,” Hunter said of the Calendars dinner. “All committees do it. I don’t know how people have done it in the past. I don’t even know the amount. We invite the committee and we invite their staffs, and then we involve lobbyists and outside folks. Some of them are not lobbyists. I don’t know who paid. You can go find out.”
It was an expensive celebration, but the legislators and staffers who attended didn’t pay for it. The supporters and lobbyists who have been trying to influence legislative outcomes since the session began in January covered the tab.
That’s completely legal, as Hunter pointed out, as long as the lobbyists paying the bills report their expenses where everybody can go see them. Ethics rules limit lobbyists from spending more than $500 on entertainment on a particular legislator, but that limit doesn’t apply to food or drink.
The Sunday affair for the Calendars Committee was one of several held by various legislative committees working toward the close of the session next week.
The House Appropriations Committee was meeting across town at Olive and June, another high-end restaurant. The Public Education Committee was at Moonshine, a nice restaurant next to the convention center. Two committees — Agriculture and Livestock, and Culture, Recreation and Tourism — were holding their dinners at Ranch 616, a place on the edge of downtown Austin. House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, made the rounds, including a stop at III Forks, where he talked to attendees and left without eating. “Speaker Straus has stopped by most committee dinners to show his appreciation for members’ work this session,” said Jason Embry, a spokesman for Straus. “He briefly attended three committee dinners on Sunday but did not stay for dinner at any of them.”
What is unusual about the Calendars dinner — other than costing the equivalent of a new car — is that the restaurant tab got passed around and talked about.
It wasn’t just a dinner; Hunter formally posted it as an official meeting, although he said he took care to commence the eating and drinking after the committee’s official work for the session was complete.
“I can tell you that we had some people there that probably did not have an interest in anything specifically, but wanted to meet people,” Hunter said. “But do people work the calendar? Absolutely.”
Sunday was an important date. Under House rules, it was the deadline to complete the final agenda of bills in the House for the 83rd regular legislative session. That’s the day the committee decided, once and for all, which bills would be eligible for consideration during the last week of the session and which ones would die without a vote from the full House.
The meeting was posted, just like any other legislative committee meeting. Calendars had a meeting posted for 5:45 p.m. Sunday in a Capitol committee room, and another posted for 6:30 p.m. at the restaurant. According to the minutes, they set this week’s bills for consideration at the first meeting.
Not all of the 121 people at the dinner — that number is based on the number of $95 “banquets” on the check — paid for their supper. Beverages ran an additional $6,580, plus tax and tip. Somebody had a glass of juice for $2.75; elsewhere in the room, the restaurant was serving 24 bottles of pinot noir, 24 bottles of chardonnay, 27 bottles of cabernet and seven bottles of sauvignon blanc, each priced at between $51 and $68. Three other bottles of cabernet — a nicer one, apparently — cost $135 each. That’s on top of a long list of mixed drinks and beers. If you’re keeping count, that’s 85 bottles for 140 people.
The full tab was $18,584.55 and after a 20 percent tip was added on, the total came to $ 22,241.03.
That’s $183.81 per person, but only 65 guests produced their wallets. They divvied the tab evenly, most of them paying $340.07. A handful varied from that amount, with the smallest tab coming in at $338.12 and the biggest landing at $478.07.
Hunter said he didn’t pay and didn’t expect the members of his committee to do so, either.
“I’ve had committee dinners since I’ve been here for seven terms,” said Hunter, speaking in characteristically clipped phrases.
“Lobby pays. They follow rules. Everybody knows up front. And we even post it, so we are all in compliance.”
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The Congressional GOP is outraged over scandals with which they have played important roles, such as not funding increased embassy security, not passing a shield law to protect the press and failure to vote on the nominee to head the IRS. There is blame to go around.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Back before G.W. Bush was Governor of Texas he was the President of the Texas Rangers of the American League. I wrote him a letter wanting to know why the local radio affiliate had dropped the Rangers' games. Here is his response. He was most kind to send this. I wish he had stayed on with that job! The envelope is postmarked September 22, 1992.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Click on pics for larger image. This a clipping from the November 1994 issue of Luminaria, an art, local events, political news magazine I once worked for. This was during the first year of the Clinton administration and it is remarkable how many contentious issues seem to continue from one era into another.
Friday, May 10, 2013
There has been a lot of talk about the GOP's attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters. Their strategy was just revealed for the sham that it really is when Senator Lyndsey Graham said Hispanics want to come here because they want to escape the "hell holes" they live in. Very diplomatic that. Far worse was the report released by the Heritage Foundation authored by the so-called "Nationalist" writer Jason Richwine. The study claims that immigration reform will cost trillions of dollars because Hispanics drain tax payer money and contribute nothing to society. Richwine also says in a Harvard dissertation that Hispanics have lower IQs than Caucasians and that the United States should screen immigrants based on their IQ scores. This is very reminiscent of some European "Nationalists" who once promoted a theory called "eugenics."
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is known as "Silent Clarence" because his voice is rarely heard, certainly almost never in the court itself and only infrequently in public. Recently he made some strange comments during a C-Span interview.
Thomas said Obama was elected because he fit the mold of what the 'cultural elites"expect a black person to be.
Thomas said he did expect that the country would have a black president during his lifetime. “I always knew is that it would have to be a black president who was approved by the elites and the media because anybody they didn’t agree with, they would take apart,” he contended when speaking at a panel at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh last month.
“You pick your person,” he added. “Any black person who says something that is not the prescribed things that they expect from a black person will be picked apart.”
“There is a price to pay,” Thomas said, noting that he’d assumed a black president would be one the media agreed with.
Thomas said he met the president once in passing, when he visited the Supreme Court, but hasn’t spoken with him at length.
“I don’t do a lot of Washington and I’m not into politics, so I mean there’s not that many occasions,” he said. “I shook hands with him at the inauguration, very polite, but I’ve had no in-depth conversation.”
Thursday, May 2, 2013
My recent Sherlock Holmes novella, Sherlock Holmes and the Texas Adventure, has been released as an E book. It came into print last year in December. The book is my second Sherlock Holmes pastiche, the other is; The Case of the Grave Accusation, published year before last. It is also available in print or E book format. Both were published by MX Publishing, London, England.
Here is a link to Sherlock Holmes and the Texas Adventure, on Amazon and a link to an hilarious video review by Ross K. Foad.