Political Intelligence

RICK GREEN BLUES.

Rick Green’s early days in office were sweet. After a hand recount of punched-card ballots kicked off the Dripping Springs Republican’s legislative career (by a 35 vote margin), he whiled away the 1999 session pushing bills to let certain kids forego vaccinations and to shield gun manufacturers from municipal lawsuits. But the 29-year-old lawyer/salesman’s fortune turned sour this year. Not only was he unable to extend the no-vaccination option to all kids, he proved to be a particularly bad student of political ethics, and ended up on Texas Monthly’s list of the session’s ten worst legislators.

Often enough, a state Rep can rely on his constituents to remain relatively ignorant of Capitol shenanigans. But Rob Baxter, who lives in Green’s district, is trying to educate his fellow Hill Country residents by setting up a website, dumprickgreen.com, to wage what Baxter calls the battle of “common sense vs. common greed.” (The site was still under construction at press time.) Baxter was incensed by Green’s bill to create a new water district for a big residential development on the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. He and the Goldenwood Neighborhood Association fear their water wells and Austin’s Barton Springs will be polluted by pesticide and fertilizer runoff from the golf course. That bill failed, thanks in part (says Baxter) to the dumprickgreen.com lapel buttons passed out on the House floor.

But there’s plenty more material for Baxter to work with outside his neck of the woods. For instance, attorney Green represented convicted Ponzi-schemer Melvin Cox before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Green said he helped out his 72-year-old former business partner, whom he named to the board of his nutritional supplement company in 1993, because he was a family friend. Not because of the $400,000 no-collateral loan Cox gave the Green family’s Amway-style multi-level marketing company, Krestmont International. (Cox traded the debt for ownership of another Green family enterprise, which was seized and sold off by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Krestmont ended up paying $12,000 to Cox’s bilked investors.)

Green sold his nutritional supplement company, Nutra 4 Life, before supporting legislation restricting minors’ access to one of its products, an herbal diet pill containing ephedrine. But he still hangs with the nutritional supplement crowd: For months Green has been featured on infomercials hawking “Focus Factor,” a dietary supplement that promotes “optimal brain function.” Green, filmed in his Capitol office, touts its benefits for children and seniors alike. (He didn’t receive any payment for services rendered.) After another round of furrowed brows, he announced his intention to be edited out of the syrupy ad, but the faux health talkshow still sports the smiling young ex-legislator-to-be.

THE INNOCENCE PATROL.

DNA isn’t everything. The legislature may have passed a bill making it easier for some inmates who claim they were wrongfully convicted to request DNA tests of physical evidence, but in many cases more in-depth investigations are required. So it’s good to know that things are rolling along at the University of Houston Law Center’s Innocence Network, in which teams of students research claims of wrongful conviction. Hatched by a meeting of criminal defense lawyers in 1999, the Network took shape under U of H law professor David Dow in March of 2000, following in the steps of programs in the Cardozo School of Law and the Northwestern University School of Law. Most cases are in Texas.

A case recently accepted by the network is that of Alvin Kelly, one of two men convicted in a 1984 murder of a family in Longview. Without physical evidence or a solid established motive, Kelly, 49, and Ronnie Lee Wilson, 43, were arrested for the killings. To this day, the word of one witness keeps Kelly and Wilson behind bars. Both men maintain that they were wrongfully convicted. After six years of fruitless investigating, prosecutors charged Kelly and Wilson with capital murder based on the sole testimony of Kelly’s ex-wife, Cynthia Cummings. Kelly received the death penalty. Wilson got 66 years in prison.

Donna Strong, a Corpus Christi English professor who learned of Wilson’s case through one of her students, has collected trial papers, affidavits and personal letters documenting prosecutorial misconduct and Cummings’ limited credibility. Several affidavits, including one from Cummings’ sister, suggest that prosecutors Russell Potts and Becky Simpson may have obtained Cummings’ testimony by informally pledging not to make a case against Cummings herself, even though information (including her own statements) place her at the scene of the murders. Potts declined to comment and Simpson did not return calls.

Other affidavits suggest that Cummings was forced to testify against Kelly and Wilson, even though other parties may have been involved with the murders. Kelly, with prior convictions for sexual assault and murder, remains on death row. Wilson will come up for parole next April.

Candace Anderson, one of two students with the Innocence Network researching Kelly’s case, hopes to finish the investigation this summer.

ON THE LINE AND SUBSTANDARD.

This just in: American companies with factories in Mexico do not pay their workers enough to live on. According to to Making The Invisible Visible: A Study of Maquila Workers in Mexico – 2000, a recently-released study conducted in 15 Mexican cities including Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo, the average worker at one of the foreign-owned assembly plants makes less than a third of what it would take to provide basic needs to a family of four.

The study, which challenges U.S.-based companies’ common assertion that workers are paid less in Mexico because the standard of living is lower and products and services are cheaper, was a joint project of the Center for Reflection, Education, and Action, San Antonio’s Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras in San Antonio (CJM) and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Some companies try to avoid criticism for not paying a living wage by giving gifts such as ambulances to maquiladora communities or donating money to city councils, says Martha Ojeda of CJM, “but the priority should be the salaries of the workers.” Several of the maquiladoras in the study manufacture goods for companies in the Fortune 500, including Johnson & Johnson, Alcoa and Ford.

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