Political Intelligence

POLLUTERS’ CABAL?

Two years ago, as industry leaders finally agreed there would be some pollution control program for the state’s 1,000 grandfathered plants (which have operated since 1971 with obsolete pollution control systems), there was a sense that Governor Bush was eager to serve the interests of industry and not exactly obsessive about the issue of public health. At times, even some industry representatives in the working group the Governor convened found it hard to believe they would get off so easy. In one memo (forwarded to the TNRCC and recently obtained by an Open Records request by Peter Altman of SEED, an Austin based environmental coalition), DuPont’s Jim Kennedy wrote: “Clearly the ‘insiders’ from oil & gas believe that the Governor’s office will ‘persuade’ the TNRCC to accept whatever program is developed between the industry group and the Governor’s Office. I don’t believe that will be the case.” Kennedy was also critical of discussions at the June 19, 1997, meeting, when industry officials proposed that the industry group and the Governor’s office would develop a program to control the grandfathered facilities and “take it to some broad-based group, including public representatives, who would then tweak it a little bit and approve it.” Kennedy called such a process unrealistic and argued that if public support were essential “the public will have to be involved much earlier in the process. This thought was pretty much dismissed – I believe mainly because the leadership doesn’t have any real value for public involvement.” Another memo demonstrates why industry was so confident. At a July 27, 1997, meeting, Governor Bush’s environmental affairs director John Howard told the industry representatives that they would have a voluntary program “but given the newspaper coverage and the plans for an interim legislative study, we needed to demonstrate some real progress before the next legislative session begins.” Before the next session began, in January of this year, twenty-eight of the state’s 1,000 grandfathered polluters had pledged to participate in the voluntary program and three of the twenty-eight had actually installed new pollution control devices. The Legislature is currently considering two bills that would regulate the grandfathered plants (see “One Hearing, Two Bills,” page 14).

BAD NEWS BURIED.

If you live in Dallas and missed the story about the Governor’s office first pressuring, then firing, a political appointee for what appears to be fulfilling the responsibilities of her job, perhaps that’s because the brief wire service story about the Texas Funeral Service Commission appeared on page thirty-one of the Dallas Morning News. The story (also reported by Robert Elder in the Wall Street Journal and Robert Bryce in the Austin Chronicle) has Bush Chief of Staff Joe Allbaugh calling Texas Funeral Service Commission director Eliza May and demanding that she explain her agency’s inspection of two funeral homes – which is precisely what her agency is charged with doing. The inspected facilities are owned by Houston-based multinational Service Corporation International, which owns 3,442 funeral homes, 443 cemeteries, and 191 crematoria. Also present at the meeting with Allbaugh and May was Houston Democratic Senator John Whitmire, who had received $5,000 in campaign contributions from S.C.I., Funeral Commission Chair Charles McNeil, and an S.C.I. attorney.

May’s investigation of the funeral homes led to $450,000 in fines against the company, which is alleged to have embalmed bodies in unlicensed facilities, and allowed unsupervised apprentices to embalm bodies. The investigation also ultimately lead to May’s firing by the Governor, an action she is now contesting in a lawsuit against the Texas Funeral Service Commission and S.C.I.’s chief executive. S.C.I. contributed $35,000 to the Governor’s 1998 election campaign, but Bush’s press office maintains there is nothing improper about the Governor’s chief of staff attending a meeting in which a state employee faced complaints from a member of the industry she is charged with regulating. Allbaugh’s role was that of a listener, the Governor’s office said.

GOOD NEWS LEADS.

Governor Bush told reporters gathered on the lawn of Governor’s Mansion in February that he would be testing the commitment of the Republicans urging him to run for the presidency – and his ability to raise money within the federal $1,000-per-person cap. In Texas, the sky is the limit for contributors, who are only required to mail the check and report it to the Ethics Commission. Enron C.E.O. and Bush family friend Kenneth Lay, for example, chipped in $75,000 last election cycle. And fundamentalist Christian tort-reformer and voucher proponent James Leininger of San Antonio wrote a check for $65,000, according to filings at the Ethics Commission.

It seems that Bush is going to do all right with the federal limits. In an interview with Richard Berke of The New York Times, Bush said he expects to raise $4 million in the year’s first quarter reporting period (see below). In the same March 31, front-page story in the Times, former Vice President Dan Quayle predicted that he will raise $2 million, then reminded Berke that the late John Connally raised $13 million but won only one delegate at the 1980 Republican convention. To which the Times reporter added the requisite mention of Senator Phil Gramm’s failed 1994 presidential campaign – which raised $12 million and never even made it to the convention.

FOREHINDSIGHT.

Perhaps the best legislative line of the fortnight was the question House Environmental Affairs Committee Chair Warren Chisum asked Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission Executive Director Jeff Saitas. “Do you foresee any unanticipated consequences?” Chisum asked, during a twelve-hour hearing of two environmental bills. Saitas was stumped for a moment – then responded that one of his responsibilities as a director of a state agency is “to foresee unforeseen problems.”

WHO’S ON TOP?

Governor Bush is not an official candidate, but is officially raising money – more than $6 million since March 2. He hopes raise enough to ignore the voluntary federal spending caps. “If Bush succeeds in buying a primary victory with millions of dollars, you can bet the soft-money coffers of the Republican Party will explode with contributions from his corporate cronies,” complained a spokesperson for Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based watchdog group. TPJ warns that “a Bush victory might require bunkbeds in the Lincoln bedroom.”

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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