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Gov. Rick Perry addresses the Republican state convention in Fort Worth. June 5, 2014.
Christopher Hooks
Rick Perry speaking at the 2014 state Republican convention.

The New York Times dutifully took note of Toyota’s late-April announcement that it will move its corporate headquarters from Southern California to Plano over the next three years. The nation’s paper of record reported that as many as 4,000 employees may be relocated, and then added a celebratory couple of sentences:

“The move is a victory for Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and his campaign to woo businesses from California. Toyota considered several sites in the United States before deciding on the Dallas area, where taxes, real estate and other costs are considerably lower than California’s.”

The Times piece neglected to mention that the move by Toyota—a company posting $23 billion in 2013 profits—will be greased with $40 million from Rick Perry’s Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF).

The TEF is an under-scrutinized program that Texas’ mainstream media routinely ignores. Worse, the fund’s “successes” are often celebrated blindly.

Perry advertises the TEF as a carrot to lure jobs to Texas. But critics have long maintained that it’s more a Perry slush fund designed to help political patrons. The TEF has drawn the attention of Mother Jones, which did a takedown last year. And critics on the left and the right have called it one of the biggest examples of corporate welfare in America. For example: In 2012, Apple, Inc. got $21 million from the TEF (despite having more cash in its coffers than the United Kingdom has in its treasury) to help open a new Austin campus, and last year Chevron ($240 billion in 2012 revenue) picked up $12 million in TEF money for an office expansion in Houston (see “Oiling the Skids for Chevron in Houston,” July 29, 2013).

The problem is that there’s little evidence the TEF money does what Perry says it’s supposed to. And since the money is appropriated by the Legislature out of the state’s general fund, it’s effectively taken out of the hands of desperately necessary and chronically underfunded programs throughout the state: children’s health insurance, environmental remediation, mental health services, anti-poverty programs, and on and on. But in the recent breathless media coverage about Toyota, precious few Texas reporters have explored Perry’s largesse, and whether the Toyota money—one of TEF’s biggest gifts ever—could be put to better use. 

Even fewer members of the Texas media are holding Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott to account about their respective plans for the TEF once Perry leaves office. The Texas Tribune did take a stab at it earlier this year, and in a more recent and incredibly prescient instance, The Beaumont Enterprise ran an editorial two days before the Toyota announcement asking whether Davis or Abbott would have offered the grant. The paper boldly said that Perry’s “pet” project needed “a strict accounting of all profits and losses.” 

But why aren’t Texas news outlets doing their own audits of every dollar Perry has handed to Oracle, Dow Chemical, Home Depot, Visa, Frito-Lay, Kohl’s Department Stores, Facebook, Petco, Lockheed Martin, T-Mobile, even the U.S. Bowling Congress?

Lauren McGaughy of the Houston Chronicle, the state’s biggest paper, did a story in which Toyota admitted that the car giant didn’t actually care about the $40 million, thank you very much. “That wasn’t one of the major reasons (in) deciding to go to Texas,” Toyota spokesperson Amanda Rice told the Chronicle.  

Texas Monthly, meanwhile, opined that TEF’s Toyota grant is “Expensive, to be sure, but hopefully the investment will put a muffler on critics.” And mirroring The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News wrote that “Toyota’s decision to build a new North American headquarters in Plano gives Gov. Rick Perry more bragging rights.” The TEF is mentioned in that piece’s ninth paragraph, but with no reference to its controversies. 

Echoing the others, Forbes posted a horserace piece concentrating almost exclusively on the “Texas vs. California” angle. Forbes trotted out one of the state’s stalwart quote machines on economic development, Southern Methodist University’s Bernard Weinstein, who told the magazine that Texas could offer Toyota “some excellent suburban school systems where, I assume, most of the kids [of Toyota staffers] will be attending.”

It was perhaps an unsubtle nod to the fact that the white-collar Toyota employees coming to Texas will be earning salaries in the six-figure range.

And maybe it was an unsubtle reminder as well that the Texas media needs to do more to report on whether it’s good public policy to throw money we can’t afford at companies that don’t need it.   

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Jeremy Schwab, author of the Texas GOP platform's reparative therapy plank
Jeremy Schwab

The man who authored a plank endorsing reparative therapy in the Texas GOP platform is Jeremy Schwab, the founder of an ex-gay ministry called Joel 2:25 International.

Schwab is also an actor who’s appeared in films including “My Father’s Daughter,” “True Romance” and “Zombie Campout,” according to IMDb. (His YouTube acting reel even includes a commercial for Mozilla Firefox that coincidentally features a homophobic shower scene.)

Schwab isn’t using his full name in media interviews about the reparative therapy plank — due to fear of retaliation, according to KRLD. But what about the safety of LGBTQ youth who are harmed by reparative therapy?

Schwab appears to maintain multiple Facebook pages, including one under Jeremy Joel, but on his personal page we find proof that he authored the resolution. On the day it passed, he posted this update thanking Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams and others: Screen shot 2014-06-11 at 10.07.13 AM

In response to a comment seeking details, Schwab wrote this:

Screen shot 2014-06-11 at 10.08.01 AM

Schwab tells the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy that the GOP platform amendment he initially proposed to Adams is being distorted by the media. In a post on his “My Journey” blog on Tuesday, he explains further. “There are many of us who experience Same-Sex Attraction, but do NOT want to embrace the modern ‘Gay’ label and have moral beliefs that mean Gay Relationships are NOT an option for us at all,” Schwab writes. Schwab goes on to argue that reparative therapy isn’t harmful and can be effective—despite the conclusions of the American Psychological Association.

In another post that includes the packet he sent to GOP delegates proposing the platform amendment, Schwab discusses how he became an activist against bans on reparative therapy for minors like those that have passed California and New Jersey.

“Reparative Therapy and this type of ministry work played a significant role in saving my life and I have been blessed to help many others over the past four years,” Schwab writes. “Recently though, this ministry work has been under attack across the country and in some states Republican legislators and Governors have been silent or complicit in passing these laws.” According to an interview posted on YouTube, Schwab lived an active gay life for about six years. He had two long-term relationships and attended a gay church but remained religiously conflicted and dissatisfied.

In 2009, he sought treatment from California psychologist Joseph Nicolosi, a founder and former president of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Nicolisi referred Schwab to an ex-gay retreat called Journey Into Manhood, which he says reduced his same-sex attraction by 50 percent in one weekend.

In the 2012 YouTube interview, Schwab said his same-sex attraction had dropped to 10 percent and he looked forward to the possibility of marrying a woman. “I don’t believe that I was created gay,” Schwab said. “I believe it’s something that developed over time.” Watch the interview below.

Pete Sessions: Blimp King. House Speaker?

Texas' congressional delegation could soon control two of the top leadership positions in the House and Senate—and what a kingdom of leadership riches we have to offer.
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Dallas)
House
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Dallas)

Last night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning primary loss to an Ayn Rand-loving college professor named Dave Brat sent the political world into full freak-out mode. A failure to win re-nomination by a sitting House Majority Leader is unprecedented in the history of Congress. And if you could describe his loss as a tea party victory—there’s some debate about what last night really means—Cantor’s is the biggest scalp the movement has ever claimed.

Last night will remain in the minds of “moderate” or “establishment” Republicans for a generation, even though, in truth, Cantor was an exemplar of neither. And his resignation from the House leadership team has ramifications for this Congress, where conventional wisdom now assesses the chances for immigration reform as even deader than they were previously.

But: onward and upward. Before the smarmy corpse of Cantor’s political career was even cold, the struggle to seize his leadership position was underway. For some in the House GOP—who must now feel that no amount of money or prestige or recognition from Beltway ThoughtLeaders can protect them from an increasingly agitated base—it might have the feel of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But in fairness, the House Republican Caucus isn’t so much like the Titanic as the iceberg that hit the Titanic, inasmuch as the House GOP is an aimless, rudderless mass that sinks everything it touches.

The leadership struggle brings excitement for Texas Republicans. Two Texan congressman have slipped themselves into the race to become the second most powerful Republican in the House—Jeb Hensarling (R-Dallas) is widely considered to be vying for a leadership position, and Pete Sessions (R-Dallas), might have been the first to declare his intent to run for the job.

For some time, Sen. John Cornyn has held the number two spot among Senate Republicans. In the unlikely event Sen. Mitch McConnell fails to win re-election, Cornyn is the favorite to replace him. If Hensarling or Sessions become majority leader, they would become frontrunners to replace House Speaker John Boehner if (or really, when) Boehner steps down, or is kneecapped by his conservative members.

Hensarling appears to be virtually incapable of passing legislation, as Politico reported in March. Though he chairs a powerful House committee, he’s watched his bills sink into the swamp through his inability or unwillingness to compromise or count votes. So he’s a natural fit for House GOP leadership.

But if we’re going to put a Texan in line to become speaker of the House, someday, I vote for Sessions—not just because of his ties to felon ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and legendary conman Allen Stanford. Not just because he jokingly compared the House GOP to the Taliban. Not just because he got special loans from subprime lenders before the housing bubble collapsed. (Though a House panel later ruled that he didn’t financially benefit.)

Sessions deserves our support for this—a tale of Washington pork-barrel corruption so weird, so outlandish, that it feels like it could have come from a particularly whacked-out Simpsons episode. I give you: Blimpgate. From a 2010 Politico article:

Rep. Pete Sessions — the chief of the Republicans’ campaign arm in the House — says on his website that earmarks have become “a symbol of a broken Washington to the American people.”

Yet in 2008, Sessions himself steered a $1.6 million earmark for dirigible research to an Illinois company whose president acknowledges having no experience in government contracting, let alone in building blimps.

What the company did have: the help of Adrian Plesha, a former Sessions aide with a criminal record who has made more than $446,000 lobbying on its behalf.

When asked about the earmark, Sessions’ staff said the money would help create jobs in his district in Dallas.

But the company that received the earmarked funds, Jim G. Ferguson & Associates, is based in the suburbs of Chicago, with another office in San Antonio — nearly 300 miles from Dallas. And while Sessions used a Dallas address for the company when he submitted his earmark request to the House Appropriations Committee last year, one of the two men who control the company says that address is merely the home of one of his close friends.

Speaker Sessions—now that’s change we can believe in.

Dan Patrick, addressing an anti-gay rights rally, wants you to know that he is not backing down.
Christopher Hooks
Dan Patrick, addressing an anti-gay rights rally, wants you to know that he is not backing down.

The Republican Party’s convention in Fort Worth this weekend provided an uncommon opportunity to see many Republican lawmakers mix with the party’s rank and file, and each other. That’s a lot of egos in one room. The 2014 convention was a sort of changing of the guard—so it’s an opportunity, too, to take stock of the changing fortunes of the party’s future (and former) leaders.

Dan Patrick, nominee for lieutenant governor

Candidates often treat party conventions as a way to pivot from the red-meat rhetoric of the primary to the conciliatory language of the general election. Often, politicians use the convention to pledge that they’ll govern for all citizens, not just the people who made them the nominee of their party. Dan Patrick wants you to know—emphatically and insistently—that this is not his intention.

“You elected me, not the media and not the Democrats,” Patrick told the convention in a fiery Sunday morning speech. As lieutenant governor, he said, he would wake up every morning and think first of the people in that room—representatives of the some five percent of Texas voters who exercised their franchise in the Republican primary runoff. He would think of them first, and no one else. He’s their man. He is not yours.

In the speech, he talked about reaching out to Hispanic and African-American voters. It was a lie that they were natural Democrats. But his desire to broaden the GOP’s big tent was hard to square with the role he played in the convention’s platform fight over immigration. He had tried to water down the pro-guest worker “Texas Solution” to get the base to support it, but that gambit failed—and the hard-line plank that passed instead was taken from his own campaign website. While it was being debated on the floor, Patrick’s distinctive “Secure our Border” signs, in the shape of a white-picket fence, lined the arena’s railings. And when the whole thing was over, some delegates scoured the area for left-behind signs to take home as souvenirs.

Dan Patrick's particularly unsubtle booth in the convention exhibition hall.
Christopher Hooks
Dan Patrick’s particularly unsubtle booth in the convention exhibition hall.

It’s in the eye of the beholder, but it seemed possible, at times, to detect a harder edge to Patrick’s public persona than he displayed in the primary. That’s really saying something. Had the brutal last month of the runoff, and Patrick’s victory, changed his outlook? At the campaign’s booth in the convention’s trade show, Patrick’s free swag had been covered with stickers that directed readers to Proverbs 21:31. For those unfamiliar, the full passage was written on the huge white banner that draped Patrick’s booth: “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.” Is Patrick the horse? Is the day of battle coming, or has it passed? Would he carry this martial outlook with him to the Senate?

After his speech, I asked Patrick’s campaign staff if he’d be making other public appearances. They didn’t know. One had seen him at the Omni earlier. “Dan has a mind of his own,” he said.

Greg Abbott, nominee for governor

Abbott kept a peculiarly low profile at the convention. His main address pivoted on a novel rhetorical framework: He laid out his plan to ready Texas for the state’s bicentennial in 2036. After 20 years of one-party rule in the state, the effort to present a vision for the future is admirable, I suppose. But the plan itself was unsurprisingly empty. For the Texans of 2036, Abbott will end road funding diversions and destroy CSCOPE—two demands of the conservative base that might have vanished from Texans’ radar by 2016, let alone 2036. He also plans to make Texas “number one in education,” a declaration which has all the substance of a New Year’s resolution-maker who declares their intent to become “number one in exercise.”

Scott Turner, announced candidate for Speaker of the House

State Rep. Scott Turner addresses delegates at a June 5 meet-and-greet.
Timothy Faust
State Rep. Scott Turner addresses delegates at a June 5 meet-and-greet.

Abbott aims to lead the state, and Patrick aims to lead the Senate. Who will lead the House? Many conservatives hate House Speaker Joe Straus, who’s set to be the most moderate Republican in a position of power in state government after November. They bungled an effort to run a competitor for speaker for the 2013 session, and the groups mobilizing against him are trying to back a serious candidate for speaker next go-round in the form of state Rep. Scott Turner (R-Frisco), a charismatic former football player. Turner had one of the biggest installations in the convention’s trade show, and Turner’s meet and greet attracted hundreds of delegates. Turner buttons and novelty items flooded the convention.

Elsewhere, anti-Straus groups papered the convention with flyers accusing Straus of corruption. In the party’s platform, there was a call to amend the constitution to make the speaker of the House a statewide elected position.

The 2016 presidential hopefuls

Ted Cruz at a wildly popular event in the convention's exhibition hall.
Timothy Faust
Ted Cruz at a wildly popular event in the convention’s exhibition hall.

Rick Perry helped kick off the convention, then left. (Then showed up at the X Games in Austin.) He might be the most important governor in Texas history, so it’s remarkable how much he feels like old news. He placed fourth in the convention’s 2016 straw poll, behind even conservative icon and non-politician Ben Carson.

Ted Cruz remains the gold standard of Texas tea-party politicians. Two years after his shock victory, his buttons were still the fastest-selling at the convention. After he addressed the convention, swarms of delegates skipped Rand Paul’s speech to take pictures with Cruz at the trade show. Cruz crushed his opponents in the straw poll, winning 43.4 percent of the vote.

While delegates lined up by the hundreds to take pictures of Cruz, a lonely cardboard cutout of Paul sat across the aisle.

George P. Bush, nominee for land commissioner

George P. Bush's high-tech installation at the exhibition hall.
Christopher Hooks
George P. Bush’s high-tech installation at the exhibition hall.

Bush continued his expensive campaign to win the hearts of conservatives. He’s raised vast amounts of money even though he ran against one no-name, no-money candidate in the primary, and is facing a candidate that’s barely better equipped in the general election. How to spend that money? Bush was the only candidate who became a sponsor of the convention—putting his name up alongside other leading lights of the conservative movement, like Verizon and Anheuser-Busch.

Bush paid for a huge space near the front of the convention’s trade show, which looked like the kind of pop-up installation tech companies build at South by Southwest. Though the space boasted comfy chairs and cell-phone charging stations, it seemed to be undervisited.

David Dewhurst, outgoing lt. governor

Like Perry’s, this was Dewhurst’s last convention in office. Given how divisive the primary was, it’s hard to blame him for skipping it entirely and jetting to France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Dewhurst made the obligatory call for party unity in the two-minute video that was played at the convention, but he also found time for some sweet footage of American bombers, under a musical riff from Saving Private Ryan.

“As Democrat dollars flow into our state from beyond our borders,” Dewhurst asked, “will we respond with overwhelming force, as the Allies did?”

Given that, near the beginning of his political career, Dewhurst’s campaign team once inserted a photo of a Luftwaffe officer into an ad honoring American servicemen, it’s a bit rich that Dew’s saying goodbye to the party by comparing Democrats to the Nazi army. But there you go.

Buffalo Bayou Brouhaha

Harris County Flood Control District Map showing showing the spanof Buffalo Bayou slated for the district's proposed "demonstration project."
Courtesy Harris County Flood Control District
Harris County Flood Control District map showing showing the span of Buffalo Bayou slated for the district's proposed "demonstration project."

 

To those unfamiliar with the mysteries of Houston, a visit to Hogg Bird Sanctuary yields surprising results. When you turn at the traffic-choked intersection of Memorial Drive and Westcott, then park in the lot across from Bayou Bend, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston satellite location that was once home to Ima Hogg, you don’t expect that you’re about to enter a wooded wonderland. But once you’ve stepped out of the parking lot and into the sanctuary, carved out of forest and terrain that’s downright hilly by Houston standards, you feel almost completely removed from the roaring city just a few yards away.

With a few more steps you’re at the edge of a steep and unexpectedly tall cliff overlooking an oxbow bend in the bayou below, its graceful arc framed by trees. You’re standing in one of the most dramatic spots, natural or man-made, the city has to offer. Given Houston’s when-in-doubt-pave-it ethos, the thought that you’re on the edge of a highly developed and well-monied neighborhood just minutes from downtown produces a touch of vertigo.

This stretch of Buffalo Bayou might be beautiful, but it is not altogether healthy. Decades of intense development, along with the construction of two rather fragile and frequently flushed upstream dams, have constrained the bayou’s floodplain while increasing the volume it’s expected to carry. As a result, erosion has become a sizeable problem—one that the Harris County Flood Control District is attempting to address with a highly contentious “stream restoration” known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project.

According to the HCFCD website, “Erosion in the project area has caused bank failures, loss of public and private land, and a reduction in ecological functions, such as water quality and habitat.” The sheer cliff at the Hogg Bird Sanctuary is, in part, a result of this erosion.

The problem became severe enough that the Bayou Preservation Association, founded in the 1960s by environmental activist Terry Hershey, among others, to protect Buffalo Bayou from the brutal concrete channelizations that other Houston-area bayous suffered at the hands of the HCFCD and the Army Corps of Engineers, undertook a study of how to deal with erosion in 2010.

According to the HCFCD website, “experts in the fields of fluvial geomorphology and natural channel design” were brought in to perform studies and make recommendations. Based in part on the Bayou Preservation Association’s study, the HCFCD is seeking a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to implement its recommendations.

In the HCFCD’s demonstration project, 5,800 feet of the bayou winding through the Hogg Bird Sanctuary and Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood will have its vegetation, including its riparian forest, scraped bare. Then the banks will be graded to a gentle slope, among other steps, to “restore Buffalo Bayou to a natural, stable condition.”

Despite its origins in the Bayou Preservation Association, the plan has provoked a thunderous backlash from environmental and community activists, who say it’s far too drastic. Led by environmental attorney Jim Blackburn, activist Frank Salzhandler, writer Olive Hershey and others, opponents claim that the project will destroy the bayou in its attempt to save it. They point out that even if vegetation eventually grows back on the bayou’s razed banks, hundreds of species of birds and animals now living there will be forced from their habitat. The bayou itself, opponents say, will be transformed into “a drainage ditch,” like Houston’s other channelized bayous, albeit without their concrete lining. They argue that erosion can be addressed through less destructive measures, and that in any event the HCFCD proposal is “not real science,” as more than one activist argued at a recent community meeting.

Crying “follow the money,” some attendees at that meeting expressed outrage that their beloved bayou would be reshaped in part to benefit the River Oaks Country Club, whose golf course has suffered erosion at its riverine edges. (River Oaks Country Club has agreed to pay one-third of the $6 million project’s costs, with the City of Houston and the Harris County Flood Control District paying the rest). Carlos Calbillo, a community activist from the heavily Latino Second Ward, suggested that the project could be a stalking horse for further development of a San Antonio Riverwalk-type development to the stretch of the bayou that runs through the eastside ward.

Proponents, on the other hand, say the plan is necessary, if regrettable. “Our board voted to support the project only after much careful deliberation,” says Shellye Arnold, executive director of the Memorial Park Conservancy (Buffalo Bayou runs through Memorial Park). She says that if erosion is not addressed, “the bayou is going to fall in on itself.”

Due to the intensity of public response, the Army Corps of Engineers recently extended the comment period regarding the HCFCD proposal until June 30. The Corps can ultimately approve the proposal, or reject it based on a number of criteria, including its potential impact on water quality and its cumulative—as opposed to localized—effect on the waterway. Public comments serve as the equivalent of a public hearing in the Corps’ permitting process, and both sides are urging their supporters to weigh in.

Click here for more information on how to make a comment.

What Compounding Pharmacies Want From Greg Abbott

Compounding pharmacies' interests run far deeper than secrecy over the lethal injection drug supply.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
Patrick Michels
Attorney General Greg Abbott

For years, when lawyers, activists and reporters asked for details about Texas’ lethal injection drug supply—where the state buys its drugs, or the size of its drug stockpile—prison officials have fought to keep the information secret.

In 2012, Texas Department of Criminal Justice lawyers warned that outing the source would create “a substantial risk of physical harm to the supplier,” specifically from an anti-death penalty group it compared to a violent prison gang.

But over the last few years, Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office has repeatedly ruled that those details should, indeed, be public, noting a prior ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that “vague assertions of risk will not carry the day.” In the 2012 case, Abbott didn’t buy TDCJ’s risk assessment, forcing the agency to name Houston’s Physician Sales & Services as its supplier at the time.

As his office put it in a ruling that year, “while we acknowledge the department’s concerns, we find you have not established disclosure of the information at issue would create a substantial threat of physical harm to any individual.”

But in late May, Abbott’s office did an about-face, denying a request to name Texas’ latest supplier because this time, it said, the “assertions of risk” were no longer so vague.

As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, like so many others, has wondered: “What exactly has changed? Texans are left to guess.”

The ruling from Abbott’s office cites threats last year against The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy, whose owner was horrified to learn he’d been outed as the drugs’ source, apparently after TDCJ assured him anonymity. When his pharmacy’s name got out, he asked for the drugs back. TDCJ refused, and activists spoiled his suburban forest peace with protests outside the pharmacy. The owner says he lost business and received violent threats.

To protect its latest supplier from a similar fate, TDCJ asked Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw to vet the threats made last year. McCraw—who lent an air of seriousness to last year’s ludicrous “poopgate” incident at the Capitol, and who’s outfitted DPS patrols on the Rio Grande capable of withstanding an onslaught from the British Navy—agreed the threats against The Woodlands pharmacy were very real. “Pharmacies by design are easily accessible to the public and present a soft target to violent attacks,” he wrote, ably describing pretty much any retail business.

The state has also refused to release details of those threats, save this thrilling peek behind the curtain McCraw gave The Texas Tribune: “It was information provided to us and that we looked at.”

Surely that settles it, right?

Not quite. What McCraw’s threat-down leaves out is the national trend toward keeping lethal injection drug suppliers anonymous. After European drug manufacturers quit selling drugs for lethal injections, states turned to domestic compounding pharmacies instead, where the drugs can be ordered in small amounts and made on-demand. One by one, states have passed laws or made rules keeping their sources secret (prompting challenges in some states, like Oklahoma and Missouri), but in Texas—where the Legislature won’t reconvene till next January—there was nothing to protect an innocent pharmacy from profiting off the death of a guilty man. Nothing, that is, until Abbott’s latest ruling.

And then there’s the money.

A week before Abbott’s ruling, the Austin-based watchdog Texans for Public Justice released a report on Abbott’s fourth-most-generous donor in the last year, Conroe compounding pharmacist Richie Ray. As TPJ notes, Ray catapulted into the top tier of Abbott-backers with a $250,000 donation in January—a few months after the mess in The Woodlands, and days after the first of this year’s wave of botched executions.

Because Ray’s pharmacy isn’t certified as a “sterile” facility that can produce drugs for injection, his pharmacy couldn’t be Texas’ latest source. And, in a statement provided to the Observer, Ray is unequivocal that his business has nothing to do with lethal injections: “Richie’s Specialty Pharmacy has never compounded drugs that were used for executions, and we never will. Furthermore, in my 17 years as a licensed pharmacist, I have never compounded drugs that were used for executions, and I never will.”

But as a national leader in pharmacy trade groups, and a major donor to pharmacists’ political allies, he’s taken an active role on behalf of the entire industry. So was Ray hoping to buy Texas’ secrecy, and protect a fellow compounder?

Mother Jones suggested as much in a piece that ran May 28, one day before Abbott’s office ruled to keep Texas’ drug source anonymous. And sure, any time a compounding pharmacy is outed as a source for death row, it’s bad press for the whole industry—but Ray’s political agenda is surely bigger and more complex than the death penalty drugs.

Compounding pharmacies are already locked in a bigger fight—one that more directly affects their bottom line—over how they’ll be regulated by the FDA. That fight involves lawmakers and lobbyists at the state and federal levels, and Ray and his staff have been instrumental in bankrolling compounders’ interests.

Until now, the FDA had oversight of big drug manufacturers, but compounding pharmacies—which had long been little mom-and-pop shops that made drugs for pets or lollipop medications for kids—were left to state regulation. As compounders have grown, so have horror stories about tainted drug batches shipped from compounders to customers nationwide. In its report TPJ recalled the case of Dallas-based ApotheCure, whose drugs killed three patients in Oregon in 2007. Cedar Park-based Specialty Compounding was linked to infections last year in more than a dozen patients. And most notoriously, tainted drugs from the New England Compounding Center killed at least 64 people and infected more than 700 more with meningitis.

That outbreak prompted a quick response from Congress: for the first time, large-scale compounding pharmacies are set for federal regulation, with standards similar to drug manufacturers. But which businesses will fall under federal watch as “outsourcing pharmacies,” and how much that’ll cost them, is all up to rule makers at the FDA.

“That’s kind of the issue that is still unresolved,” says Robert Floyd, an Austin lobbyist for the Alliance of Independent Pharmacists. “At what level does a compound pharmacist have to make a decision to be an outsourcing facility and meet federal licensing, pay federal fees … where is that line going to be drawn?”

That may explain why so many on Ray’s pharmacy staff bet so generously on support from U.S. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming in 2012, or why Ray has employed top lobbyists like Craig Chick, a former adviser to House Speaker Joe Straus, and David Marwitz, who also lobbies for the Texas Pharmacy Association. In his statement to the Observer, Ray said he’s worked for years to educate the public, and lawmakers, “about what appropriate quality evidence-based compounding services should look like and how they can best serve the public safely.”

Richie’s Specialty Pharmacy, isn’t a high-volume producer likely to be caught up in the outsourcing regulation—one of its specialties is a pain cream—but it’d be important to Ray to spread a message about compounding that’s less about meningitis outbreaks or lethal injections.

Floyd provided the Observer with a statement he says “reflects the position of most compounding pharmacies” on execution drugs. In brief, this is one fight the industry wants to be left out of:

While we have no formal position on compounding pharmacies’ preparation of drugs used in executions, the pharmacy profession recognizes an individual practitioner’s right to refuse to dispense a medication based upon his or her personal, ethical and religious beliefs. In a very few cases, compounding pharmacies have been asked by a state government to prepare drugs used in executions because pharmaceutical manufacturers have unilaterally restricted distribution. We believe state corrections agencies should work first with the pharmacy services providers—the companies that provide medications to prisoners within their systems—to source or compound drugs for executions before soliciting a traditional compounding pharmacy.

Before the twin controversies over some compounding pharmacies’ dangerous products—whether accidentally or intentionally lethal—the industry got little attention and light federal regulation. What the industry likely wants, most of all, is to keep it that way.

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Backs to the Future


At the Texas Republican Party’s convention in Fort Worth, it’s 2010 again.


Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri address the Republican Party of Texas' 2014 convention. June 7, 2014
Christopher Hooks
Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri addresses the Republican Party of Texas' 2014 convention. June 7, 2014

Does the Republican Party of Texas need to become more “inclusive” for the sake of its electoral future? For many people, including a significant number of the party’s leaders and strategists, the answer is “yes.” For many of the party’s activist stalwarts, who gathered at the Fort Worth Convention Center this weekend to set the party’s course, the answer is emphatically, passionately, and angrily “no.”

The “Texas Solution,” the much-touted effort from the Republican Party of Texas to move toward acceptance of some kind of immigration reform, is dead. The measure, which was written into the party platform in 2012 and called for an expanded guest worker program, had been watered down in the convention’s drafting process—but it was replaced wholesale on the convention floor by hard-line immigration language that spells the end, for now, of one of the state party’s highest-profile dalliances with reform.

The new language emphasizes cracking down on immigration, calls for the end of in-state tuition as well as a raft of other measures, and waters down the guest worker provisions into almost total insignificance. “Once the borders are verifiably secure,” the plank reads, “and E-Verify system use is fully enforced, [the party calls for] creation of a visa classification for non-specialty industries which have determined actual and persistent labor shortages.”

The Republican Party now has, effectively, the immigration platform it had in 2010, the peak tea party year. It’s a remarkable reversal for several reasons. The Texas Solution’s inclusion in the party platform in 2012 was highly contentious among delegates at the time, but it was just as highly touted by party elders who wanted to show the GOP was evolving on an issue central to the future of a state with an increasing number of Hispanic voters—and a continuing need for a steady supply of labor.

But Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who was the most significant backer of the Texas Solution in 2012, was absent this year—shying away from the convention after an incredibly contentious lieutenant governor primary in which he backed David Dewhurst. In his place this year was ascendant lt. governor nominee Dan Patrick, whose tough-on-immigration campaign helped make today’s result inevitable.

Behind the scenes, Patrick and the GOP nominee for governor Attorney General Greg Abbott, had tried to weaken the immigration plank in the run-up to the floor fight to make it more acceptable to the base. But that gambit failed. The new plank contains language taken more or less directly from Dan Patrick’s campaign website. The heated rhetoric candidates use in primaries has consequences.

The platform is a statement of principles, and no more. But these principles happen to be Dan Patrick’s principles. The Republican Party of Texas’ 2014 platform calls for the abolition of “sanctuary cities,” and the abolition of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants—a measure Republicans passed through the Legislature just a few years ago. The Republican consensus is shifting, and the platform fight is a preview of what the Legislature could look like under Lt. Gov Dan Patrick, who, come November, could lead a Texas Senate drifting significantly further to the right.

Norman Adams, left, and Steven Hotze, right, two prominent supporters of the so-called Texas Solution, at the back mic during a heated floor debate.
Christopher Hooks
Norman Adams, left, and Steven Hotze, right, two prominent supporters of the so-called Texas Solution, at the back mic during a heated floor debate.

Only one other issue made it to the floor Saturday afternoon: medical marijuana. The party had flirted with endorsing medical pot during the platform drafting process earlier in the week, but eventually stripped it out. Some activists succeeded in pushing it to the floor, but delegates voted the efforts down. The issue’s appearance at the convention at all was a victory for the pro-medical marijuana crowd, who won a surprising degree of support.

But if that showed incremental progress, consider what didn’t make it to the floor. Consider also that it’s 2014. The new Republican Party of Texas platform endorses what’s known as “reparative therapy,” the practice of training LGBT people to “convert” to heterosexuality. The platform committees dropped some archaic anti-gay language, but added a provision recognizing the “the value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.”

Delegates who objected to the language wrote amendments attempting to alter it, but they never got a chance to introduce them on the floor. Debate over the platform was ended after five hours, and pro-gay Republicans were out of luck.

“I want every Republican elected. I’m here today trying to get Republicans elected,” said Rudy Oeftering, a vice president of the Texas Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group that had been banned from having a booth at the convention’s trade shows. But he admonished reporters on the convention floor to keep focus on the plank, even if the state party didn’t feel like talking about it.

“Every reporter should be asking every Republican candidate if they believe in reparative therapy. If they believe that homosexuality is a choice,” he said. “If you’re going to put language like this in the platform to drive away voters, then every Republican candidate should be accountable for what’s in the platform. The platform itself says that every candidate needs to take a position on this.”

There was one other thing the GOP got around to before adjourning—deleting a four word sentence in support of “net neutrality,” an effort seeking to ensure internet providers to charge the same amount for all internet traffic. Net neutrality is a complex issue, but it basically pits internet providers and their shareholders against internet users and web companies like Google and Netflix

.

Delegates had been explicitly banned from introducing amendments on the floor—they were supposed to be in at 6pm the previous night—but when Congressman Randy Weber ambled to a back mike with four state reps. by his side, including Bryan Hughes and Steve Toth, Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri proposed the convention make a special allowance for the officeholders to propose an amendment. They were the only officeholders to speak on the platform all day.

Weber pointed to the sentence endorsing net neutrality. “I don’t know how the hell that got in there,” he said. (Presumably, because Republican delegates on the platform committee wrote it in.) Weber handed the show off to state Rep. Hughes, who told the crowd: “If you love Obamacare, you’ll love net neutrality,” he said.

There was a very brief debate, and the delegates quickly acquiesced to the special request from the legislators and congressman. Verizon and Time Warner Cable, both internet providers resolutely set against net neutrality, were major sponsors of the convention.

So on immigration, the GOP returns to 2010—and we now know that the last-minute wishes of telecommunications companies are more important to the party than the very existence and identities of gay people. What an election year 2014 has been—and it’s just starting.

Texas GOP Convention 2014
Timothy Faust
Texas GOP Convention 2014

For connoisseurs of WTF—I’m looking at you trolls—there is but one ur-text, the guiding document from which all others emanate, and are compared to. And though it is based on immutable laws of nature and God, it is nevertheless a living document too, revised every couple years by a gathering of wise men and women, who puzzle and debate over the text with the passion and intensity of a gathering of Talmudic scholars. I am of course referring to the Texas Republican Party platform.

The Texas GOP convention is meeting this week in Fort Worth and one of the most important items of business is revising the Platform—a task that is taken very, very seriously by many of the delegates. The Platform isn’t binding on Republican elected officials (though some in the grassroots would like it to be) but it matters for symbolic reasons. It’s also a fascinating glimpse into the id of conservatism. The folks who write it are the true believers and this is their wish list, their vision of a world that conforms to their ideals and beliefs. The Platform (I’m capitalizing “platform” in honor of The Platform’s RANDOM use of Capital Letters) is also contested ground: the turf on which the GOP’s various factions fight, usually over brown people and immigration.

This year’s Platform debate features a reprise of sorts from last year, when less xenophobic, more practical GOP-ers jettisoned a part of the platform that ranted at length against amnesty and undocumented immigrants. The reformers instead fashioned something grandiosely named the “Texas Solution,” a rather vague and untenable guest worker program that was nevertheless widely praised in the media because it seemed at least somewhat tethered to reality.

The anti-amnesty crowd this year wants to delete the “Texas Solution”—an updated version of which cleared the temporary Platform committee—and that fight is likely headed to the floor of the convention for a public fight.

Meanwhile, what’s in the Platform at this point? Here are some of the items that caught my eye in an early draft that leaked Wednesday.

Unlike the 2012 Platform, this year’s Platform takes on climate change—or what the GOP calls “climate change”—that international, multi-decade conspiracy among thousands of scientists and governments to artificially increase the planet’s temperature in order to secure that sweet, sweet grant money.

While we all strive to be good stewards of the earth, “climate change” is a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives. We urge government at all levels to ignore any plea for money to fund global climate change or “climate justice” initiatives.

The Platform committee has left in its unequivocal opposition to the United Nations’ diabolical Agenda 21.

The Republican Party of Texas should expose all United Nations Agenda 21 treaty policies and its supporting organizations, agreements and contracts.

They also are freaked out about various international commie plots to control the kiddos: CSCOPE, Common Core and “UN Inclusion.”

We oppose use of a national or international core curricula in the State of Texas (i.e. Common Core, CSCOPE, UN Inclusion, etc.)

They like the 10th Amendment (God-given states’ rights) and the 2nd Amendment (God-given gun rights). But the GOP is not too happy with the pesky 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of senators, like, say, Ted Cruz.

The draft Platform calls for the “full repeal” of the 17th.

Return the appointment of U.S. Senators by the State Legislatures.

The Platform addresses socialism: It’s bad. Against it.

Socialism breeds mediocrity. America is exceptional. Therefore,
the Republican Party of Texas opposes socialism, in all of its
forms.

Note: If America is exceptional and socialism isn’t (since it’s mediocre) therefore Barack Obama has not plunged America into socialism. QED.

The Platform has arguably gone backwards on The Gay Issue, at least in one respect. The draft actually endorses the wholly discredited, cruel and laughable-if-it-wasn’t-so-damaging “reparative therapy” racket that attempts to turn gay people straight.

Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin.

Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values. We recognize the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.

Oh, wow, The Platform endorses “a woman’s right to choose…”

We strongly support a women’s [sic] right to choose to devote her life to her family and children.

The UN Treaty on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every nation on the planet except for Somalia, South Sudan and the United States.

We unequivocally oppose the United States Senate’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Well, it goes on like this for 40 pages. The copy I have does not appear to be written in crayon but you can look for yourself.

Ted Cruz addresses an anti-gay marriage rally during the Republican state convention on June 5, 2014.
Christopher Hooks
Ted Cruz addresses an anti-gay marriage rally during the Republican state convention on June 5, 2014.

At the Republican state convention in Fort Worth, GOP leadership has been trying to cattle-prod the base in the direction of immigration reform, with mixed success. But there are other issues in the platform that fall under the general question of party “inclusivity,” issues that are stuck in neutral—perhaps none so much as the question of how the party should treat gay people.

Earlier this year, a federal court nixed the state’s anti-gay marriage amendment—and while that’s being appealed, it increasingly feels like gay marriage will become a reality across the country soon. Republicans in bluer states have acquiesced to that reality. But for a considerable number of people in Texas, the idea of homosexuality remains absolutely terrifying. And the state’s biggest names and brightest stars are still resolutely on their side.

On Thursday night, hundreds of convention attendees gathered in the ballroom of the swanky Omni hotel, at the heart of the action, at an event sponsored by the Conservative Republicans of Texas, one of the state’s largest Republican PACs. The emcee for the night was Houston megachurch Pastor Steve Riggle, who’s been active in opposing Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance and famously compared making Christians sell products for gay weddings to forcing a Jewish baker to make a swastika cake.

In attendance: most of the state GOP’s new leading lights. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, lt. governor hopeful Dan Patrick, and much of the rest of the state slate, like Ken Paxton. But first: the assembled watched a 30-minute long video made by a reedy Massachusetts anti-gay activist named Brian Camenker, whose group, MassResistance, has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The video aims to depict the quasi-totalitarian social order that descended on Massachusetts after gay marriage was legalized in that state. It’s incredibly fearful, if somewhat crude, propaganda. The film alternates between stories of Massachusetts Christians who were allegedly penalized for holding anti-gay views, and in-your-face depictions of certain aspects of gay sexuality (If you’ve never seen hundreds of older white people in formal dress look at a picture of a “leather daddy” together, it’s really something to behold.)

And it put the fear of god into the audience, who gasped their way through the film until it seemed like many could barely stand it. A young mother and her husband stood in the back, cradling an infant, as if the world was falling apart around them.

Enter Ted Cruz, the night’s first speaker, who Riggle called “the next president of the United States.” These are Cruz’s people, and they love him as they would Moses. Earlier, Riggle joked that each of the night’s long list of speakers would get five minutes, but Cruz could talk as long as he wanted. He was greeted by riotous applause.

Cruz lived up to their expectations. “From the dawn of time, marriage has been the foundation of our civilization. The basic building block, going back to the Garden, where God said it was not good for man to be alone. And so God made Adam a companion from his own rib so they might live together and raise children up in the world.”

Heterosexual marriage was the bedrock of the natural order. “There was a time that that was not considered to be a controversial statement,” he said. “There was a time that a duck hunter in Louisiana wouldn’t be threatened with losing his TV show for saying something like that.”

Marriage is “under assault in a way that is pervasive and unrelenting,” and the assault was emanating, first, from President Obama. Three things needed to be done to beat him back, Cruz said. Prayer was one. Legislation to protect state laws on marriage was another. And the third was to win elections, including the presidential election in 2016.

Patrick came next. Cruz appealed to the religious folks’ sense of the way things were—but Patrick played more directly on his audience’s fear. He seemed even more cocksure than he did in the primary. Alluding to Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance, he asked: How could Democrats say that Republicans were waging a war on women, when Democrats were passing laws that would allow men to use their bathrooms?

Younger Republicans may be a lot squishier on homosexuality than their elders, but that’s not translating to much real change in the party. In a draft of the party’s platform being circulated in Fort Worth, the party embraces the idea that gay people can be made un-gay with therapy. Gay rights are making steady progress nationally, but this increasingly fearful cohort holds great sway in the GOP.

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