Political Intelligence



Counterpunch reports that the Army’s current counterattack to the continuing public protests against Fort Benning’s School of the Americas (a.k.a “School of Assassins”) is a classic one: change the name. Under draft federal legislation now being circulated in Congress by the U.S. Army lobbyists, “the butchers of tomorrow will learn their skills at the “United States Military Institute for Hemispheric Security Cooperation,” or U.S.M.I.H.S.C.

Try finding a nasty translation for that one. According to the February 1-15 Counterpunch, the contemplated name change is part of a series of cosmetic measures including more training of law enforcement and civilian personnel, provision for “democratic enhancement training” with courses in “peace operations” and a human rights requirement, expansion of the “Board of Visitors” to include more high-profile supporters, and perhaps moving some of the more objectionable coursework abroad or to less well-known U.S. installations. At the same time, the newsletter reports, the S.O.A.’s Board is hoping to increase the School’s funding while publicly discrediting longtime opponents, like Father Roy Bourgeois, as “un-American.” For more detail, see the website at www.counterpunch.org.


Although the presidential campaign has stolen most of the headlines this primary season, state pollwatchers have been entertained by the Republican battle for Senate District 3, where three candidates are wrassling for the right to oppose Democrat David Fisher, who is unopposed in the primary. District 3 is the key battleground for control of the Senate, where Republicans hold only a one vote margin (16-15). Incumbent Republican Drew Nixon finally decided to abandon the seat in the wake of his embarrassing Austin arrest (during the 1997 session) for soliciting a prostitute who turned out to be a cop, and illegal gun possession. (Also in play is District 2, where incumbent Democrat David Cain currently remains favored to win in November.)

Of the three Republican candidates, Conroe building contractor Van Brookshire is running a self-funded, low-profile race, but Todd Staples, an incumbent House member from Palestine, and Woodlands homebuilder Les Tarrance have been happily slinging money (estimated to reach nearly $500,000 each by primary time) and mud at each other for several weeks. Tarrance (brother of national Republican pollster Lance Tarrance) has accused Staples of being a do-nothing and distant representative, while Staples calls Tarrance a “carpetbagger” for moving into the district to run for Senate, and a “deadbeat” for failing to pay state franchise taxes for several years.

Both candidates recite predictable right-wing mantras — less government, abortion restrictions, lower taxes — differing only on school vouchers, which Staples supports and Tarrance says he opposes. But by their friends you will know them. Tarrance is backed by former Governor Bill Clements and big Dallas GOP donor Louis Beecherl, with endorsements from the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Association of Builders, and the Texas Municipal Police Officers Association. Staples counts among his supporters several dozen Republican legislators (including Senate colleagues John Carona and Florence Shapiro), the Texas Farm Bureau, and the Texas Association of Realtors. He also touts approval of his House voting record from the state Eagle Forum and the Christian Coalition.

With friends like those, Political Intelligence wonders, who needs principles? Staples still appears to have the inside track, although Tarrance hails from the heavily Republican Woodlands and may make it a race. The question remains whether the loser will bloody the winner badly enough to help Democrat Fisher (who can for the moment stand aside looking noble) in November.


Seabrook citizens sent an open letter to Governor Bush March 2, asking him to take action against plans by an international joint venture of Elf Atochem and Nippon Shokubai to build an American Acryl acrylic acid plant in Seabrook. According to the letter, the plant, to be built within one to three miles of every home in Seabrook, will emit over 800,000 pounds of toxic and smog-forming chemicals, “roughly the equivalent of adding almost 8,000 cars to Seabrook and Clear Lake.” The letter would also include a hazardous waste incinerator, likely to emit PCBs and dioxins into the neighboring air.

The letter points to Elf Atochem’s poor environmental record in the Houston area, and argues that the T.N.R.C.C. has allowed the company to evade proper pollution control scrutiny by using planning loopholes and declaring many of the potential hazardous emissions “confidential,” despite citizen protests to the Attorney General. Partly because of a rushed permitting process, state administrative judge Mike Rogan was scheduled to make a decision March 3 on three air pollution permits for the plant.

“So time is of the essence,” wrote the citizens, “we make a plea for you, Governor Bush, to stop the issuance of the air permits and not allow this foreign-owned plant to be built. We understand that your campaign accepted money from this company, but perhaps you did not know the complete facts that we have discovered, and if you did know how your citizens could be harmed by this foreign-owned chemical company you would of course do the right thing to protect us.”

If the Governor or his aides received the letter, it apparently had little effect: Neil Carman of the Sierra Club told Political Intelligence that the administrative judge “slam-dunked” the approval for Elf Atochem, as expected. Perhaps Sam Wyly of Bush’s “Republicans for Clean Air” can use the decision as an another occasion to explain why the Governor is a true friend of the environment.


If the money doesn’t flow, the wheels don’t turn, the vote doesn’t get turned out, and candidates go down in flames. John Sharp predicts a well-funded Democratic effort this year. “I’ve committed to raising my hundred to two hundred [thousand], and a bunch of other people are doing it,” he said. Democrats are focusing their cash on a few key House races, plus the all-important Senate District 3 race which will determine who will have a sixteen-to-fifteen advantage in the Senate. According to a report in Ross Ramsey’s Texas Weekly, Republican Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry is warning lobbyists that he is keeping track of who is siding with David Fisher, the Democratic candidate in this race, and who is supporting the Republican cause. Donors to Fisher may find it difficult to ply their trade in the next legislative session.

Republicans in all state races will receive a boost from the Governor’s presidential campaign, as the best-funded candidate in history floods the airwaves with TV and radio ads. The national Democratic party, meanwhile, is unlikely to spend any money challenging the Governor in Texas (assuming he gets the nomination). But they did get a boost in the form of an assurance from House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who has reportedly promised that all Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee money raised in Texas will be spent on Texas races. That means more TV and other advertising in districts where a Democratic Congressman has a contested race, which will boost turnout for all Democratic candidates. It also frees up other Democratic money to go to state-level candidates. As John Sharp observes, even in the disastrous 1998 elections, state-level Democrats candidates did well in districts which also hosted a Congressional contest.


In the mind of Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter, Wyatt Earp still patrols the high plains, Ronald Reagan presides over the White House, the sheriff’s word is still the law of the land, the Texas Attorney General is just another lawyer, and the drug war is the only war we’ve got. As Nate Blakeslee reported (“The Law West of the Pecos,” December 10) the prodigious drug warrior’s latest project is S.T.A.R. (Sheriffs of Texas Agreed Response), a weekend posse of sheriff’s deputies from across the state. Ostensibly conceived as a statewide emergency response team, Painter and his chief deputy Clayton McKinney have been training the group in drug interdiction and tactical (i.e., S.W.A.T.) operations, complete with armored personnel carriers, automatic weapons, fatigues, etc.

S.T.A.R. has become an issue in Painter’s campaign for his fifth term as sheriff. Republican primary opponent Mike Hall labeled the operation a waste of taxpayers’ money and Midland County deputies’ time. He says he will discontinue it if he wins the primary (there is no Democratic candidate). Now County Judge Bill Morrow has requested a ruling from John Cornyn about the legality of S.T.A.R., asking specifically if (1) the sheriff has the authority to contract with other sheriffs without approval of the commissioners court, and (2) whether S.T.A.R. conflicts with the state’s own Emergency Management System. The state’s emergency plan, created by statute, “is a pretty complicated system,” Morrow told Political Intelligence. Each governmental entity has its prescribed duties and obligations — none of which call for army tanks or armored personnel carriers, Morrow points out. At issue is the county’s liability for damage to people or property during a S.T.A.R. operation or training session, several of which have taken place hundreds of miles from Midland. It’s the same issue that fueled Painter’s battle with an earlier commissioners court, when then-County Judge Bro Seltzer successfully reined in Painter’s out-of-county drug operations. The judge has yet to hear from the Attorney General, but Painter and company apparently aren’t holding their breath. “If they outlaw the agreement, hell, we don’t care,” Clayton McKinney told the Midland Reporter-Telegram. “It don’t change anything.” It appears the voters of Midland County will get their say before the A.G. does: the Republican primary is March 14.


Ever since he helped put together the Houston “Straight Slate” to punish a mayor and city council members who backed gay and lesbian employment rights, Dr. Steve Hotze has been doing God’s work in the Devil’s city. The Houston Republican M.D. promotes what he considers a Bible-based political philosophy, and in the March primary is supporting a candidate who defines the extreme right in Harris County politics. Chuck Rosenthal is one of five Republicans in the race to oppose Jim Dougherty, the lone Democrat hoping to replace retiring Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes.

Houston Chronicle political reporter Julie Mason described Republican D.A. candidate forums as pretty close to “howling at the moon.” Mason took Rosenthal to task for describing the D.A.’s office as insensitive to minorities — then referring to Asians as “Orientals.” And while it’s hard to imagine anyone with stronger capital punishment convictions than Holmes — his office leads the nation in capital murder prosecutions — Rosenthal promises to bring a novel twist to the application of the state’s death penalty statute. He describes the death penalty as a “biblical proposition,” and argues that “government is instituted by God and has the authority to carry out God’s law.” Rosenthal told the Chronicle he realizes that some people have concerns about God in politics. “I understand the squeamishness of it.”


Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Harris County set a record at the Texas Ethics Commission, which levied a $5,000 fine against the PAC that has a history of attacking moderate Republicans. Two other Hotze PACs, Citizens for Restoration (which advocates New Testament content in public school curriculum) and the Houston Republican Forum were also fined a combined total of $1,900. Charges include failure to comply with state law requiring full disclosure of the source and use of political funds, and failure to properly label and identify political mailings. Hotze is a major player in Houston Republican politics and at one time his tactics were so divisive that there were two Harris County Republican parties.

One complaint was filed by Betsy Lake, the former Republican Party Chair driven from office by the Hotze Repubs. Hotze’s pre-primary mailings make or break county Republican candidates, and one of the fines levied was for a pre-primary mailing that appeared to be a party mailout but listed only PAC endorsements. Hotze also recently went after an incumbent George W. Bush appointee to the bench in Houston, supporting the challenger.

According to Houston Press political columnist Tim Fleck, Hotze’s snubbing of Judge Martha Hill Jamison, a Democrat-turned-Republican, started a foodfight at a prayer luncheon where Phil Gramm was the keynote speaker. Hotze stiffed another luncheon guest, Republican Judge Sharolyn Wood, who has served on the bench in Houston for eighteen years. Hotze endorsed a mediator, K. Allan Davis, who got the PAC’s blessing because he is a devout Baptist. Several contributors called demanding that Conservative Republicans of Harris County return money contributed to sponsor the prayer luncheon.