San Antonio Express-News. May 8, 2010.
Texans own the Alamo, not DRT
As a result of an act of the Texas Legislature in 1905, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas are the custodians of the Alamo. The group is not, however, the owner of the Alamo.
There's room for legitimate disagreement about whether the DRT's custodial relationship continues to be a good one for the Alamo, San Antonio and Texas. There can be no question that the Alamo belongs to the people of Texas.
That is why Gov. Rick Perry acted appropriately when he temporarily blocked an effort by the DRT to obtain a federal trademark for the words "The Alamo." If successful in obtaining the trademark, the DRT would be able to sell branded Alamo merchandise that it says would raise funds for Alamo preservation.
But as critics, including the Editorial Board of the Express-News, have pointed out, preservation doesn't appear to be a high priority for the group. Over the past three years, the newspaper reported, the DRT has budgeted only $350 for preservation.
Worse, there's no transparency in the DRT's Alamo operation. Financial audits go to the governor's office where they may or may not be reviewed and are then thrown away. A trademark would mean more money for the DRT, but no more accountability to the public.
The state's intervention in the trademark filing at the end of April created a 90-day delay in the process. A Perry spokeswoman quoted by the Express-News said the move allowed for "additional time to meet with the Daughters and determine the best interests of the state." Those interests should be as clear as a line in the sand.
If anyone is going to have a trademark on "The Alamo," it should be the people of Texas. The state should own the trademark. Then, if it is the will of the people, the Legislature can authorize the transfer of trademark royalties to the DRT for Alamo preservation — with appropriate transparency.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. May 4, 2010.
Keller ignores due diligence
The $100,000 ethics fine announced last week against Judge Sharon Keller, who presides over the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, represents the latest episode in a situation that seems to have spiraled out of her control.
But things were within her control at the beginning of the muddle that her professional reputation has become. It was her questionable decisions that led to this point.
In 2007, Keller could have exercised sound leadership and, at the very least, followed the court's own procedures for handling an attempted execution-day appeal from Death Row inmate Michael Wayne Richard.
Instead, she chose to be inflexible about closing time for the court clerk's office and didn't refer questions about the appeal to a fellow justice who'd been designated to receive them.
Keller's behavior fueled a furor that led to a judicial-conduct complaint against her. Though what happened has been distorted in the national press and the public's perception, Keller's actions discredited her and her court.
A special master's finding that she didn't break any rules or laws will be the subject of a hearing in June.
Early on in that brouhaha, Keller asked that the state pay for her lawyer because defending against charges from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct would be expensive. That request proved to be another dubious decision.
Because Keller comes from a wealthy Dallas family, The Dallas Morning News looked into her assets and discovered that she had substantial financial interests she hadn't reported on disclosure forms required of elected officials.
Keller amended her reports to the Texas Ethics Commission, saying that omissions were inadvertent and that she didn't know about some properties that included her name but were managed by her father.
A watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, jumped on the revelation to file a formal complaint with the ethics commission.
In an eight-page order released April 28, the ethics commission said that, even though Keller corrected her omissions, "the financial activity was not disclosed when the statements were due." ...
The $100,000 civil penalty is the highest the ethics commission has levied. Keller's critics say it's proof that she doesn't belong in the job she's held since 2000.
Keller's lawyer was quoted as saying she planned to appeal.
Lawyers are supposed to know about due diligence. In this case, due diligence meant doing the homework to provide complete and accurate disclosures, as required by law. Keller, remember, didn't have much sympathy for Michael Richard's lawyers when they didn't do all they could have to get their client's last-minute appeal filed.
Keller has some control here. She can pay the fine instead of putting herself and taxpayers through an appeal.
It's a breathtaking fine that takes a hard line on following the rules. But that's in line with Keller's own approach to enforcing the law.
Houston Chronicle. May 6, 2010.
To-do for Texas kids
Bitter as it was, the debate over health care reform muffled, a little, when it came to children's insurance. In the end, though, Congress failed to extend the coverage period for CHIP — insurance for kids of the working poor — from six months to one year. Even worse, the bill fell short on extending coverage for an even more urgent need: children's Medicaid, which insures the very poorest.
Texas can and must fill the gap by extending that Medicaid coverage, at the state level.
Why does a 12-month coverage period make such a difference for children's insurance? It's easy to suppose that if a parent is motivated to sign a child up for insurance, renewing the coverage every six months is no big deal. But extending the enrollment period for these children's insurance plans actually has a huge impact. ... That's because the problem with six-month insurance coverage in Texas isn't with parents. It's with the lumbering, inept, error-riddled state system for enrolling Texans in CHIP, food stamps and Medicaid. ...
As if that weren't enough, HHSC is also embroiled in an ongoing class-action suit for its failures to correctly enroll Texans in these desperately needed programs. ...
Texas has more than 2.2 million children enrolled in Medicaid. But we can't afford — ethically or economically — to pay for emergency room care and other 11th-hour treatments for the 700,000 kids who currently are eligible for the insurance but don't have it. A longer enrollment period, child advocates say, is still the single best way to increase the number of kids insured. If Congress had extended Medicaid coverage, they calculate, about 175,000 additional kids in Texas would now have coverage. ...
Luckily, Texas can increase child insurance in other ways before 2011. In a rare piece of good news on this front, new Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs has launched an ambitious program to improve the troubled system. His agency can't extend the coverage period — only the Legislature can do that — but he has significantly streamlined the convoluted, understaffed enrollment process. ...
But Suehs needs strong backing to clean up this mess. In this year leading to the next legislative session, HHSC needs to prepare for a deluge of new Medicaid applicants who will soon join as a result of the health care bill. The agency will also need support and energetic outreach to find and enroll the hundreds of thousands of those eligible who remain without Medicaid coverage.
One way or another, taxpayers always pay if fellow citizens can't afford health care. The cheapest way is through insurance — including the federally subsidized Medicaid for kids.
Suehs and the Health and Human Services Commission deserve all the help we can give to make Medicaid more accessible to the single group of Texans — low-income kids — who need it most.
The Dallas Morning News. May 3, 2010.
Perry takes right stand on Arizona law
Gov. Rick Perry's critics deride his political instincts and might even fear them. His supporters tend to admire those instincts.
What few Texans doubt is that he has them. Those instincts have helped him rise to the state's highest elected office and hold it for going on a decade. Love him or hate him, a campaigning Rick Perry is a Rick Perry to be reckoned with.
So when Arizona's new anti-illegal-immigration law boiled into a loud, angry national story, one had to wonder whether other states might think about adopting similar measures. Perry saw the Tea Party wave coming from miles away and has surfed it adroitly, so would it be such a large leap to embrace Arizona's flawed law?
Yes, actually. And this is where Perry is due praise both for his instincts and his political consistency.
On many issues, he may put the "right" in "right wing," but treatment of Latino residents under the broad umbrella of immigration reform isn't one of them. Perry, despite what you may believe, has repeatedly taken immigration stands that have irritated significant parts of his political base.
And like his predecessor, George W. Bush, Perry has pushed for stronger border security while rejecting harsh and punitive measures against Texas' Latino residents.
"I fully recognize and support a state's right and obligation to protect its citizens, but I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas," he said in a statement. ...
It's true that Perry is locked in a competitive gubernatorial race with Democrat Bill White, who took a day longer but ultimately ended up in the same place as Perry did on the Arizona law, which effectively requires local police to check the residency status of anyone who might cause "reasonable suspicion."
The Arizona law has sparked aggressive pushback nationwide, but Perry's statement almost certainly muted reaction in Texas. A downtown Dallas march expected to draw 100,000 or more people Saturday had only about a quarter of that, a sharp departure from past immigration rallies.
And if you believe Perry's stance was, at least in part, to keep from giving Democratic-leaning Latinos one more reason to vote against him in November, you could be right. Or wrong.
It's hard to accuse Perry of political opportunism today when his record also shows support for in-state tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants; opposition to the hundreds of miles of fencing along Texas' border with Mexico; and a careful distancing from the hardest-liners in his own party.
What he has said consistently is that the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to protect the borders and craft a reasonable, workable immigration system. It's tough to find fault with that, either.