Political Intelligence



El Paso Rep Norma Chávez walked from El Paso to Sierra Blanca, part of a large protest of the now-defunct Sierra Blanca nuclear waste dump. While most of the session’s dump-related legislation consists of bills that would make the T.N.R.C.C. permitting process more favorable to industry (see “Up Uher’s,” page 32), Chávez offers a creative proposal designed to keep toxic waste dumps off both sides of the border. The second-term housemember is fine tuning a bill to incorporate the La Paz Accords into Texas law. The Accords, negotiated but not ratified as a treaty between the U.S. and Mexico, are often invoked but rarely applied, because they lack the force of law. One La Paz provision would prohibit the siting of toxic waste disposal facilities within ninety miles of the Mexico-U.S. border. If passed, Chávez’s bill would amount to half a treaty, codifying an agreement that will protect 1,200 miles of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Even if it fails to pass, the La Paz bill will focus the Legislature’s attention on the environmental ravages along the Rio Grande.


For those who missed the GOP boat before the November elections, amnesty is here – for a price. Some newly-elected Republicans, including Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry and Supreme Court Justice Harriet O’Neill, sent letters to financial backers of their opponents, inviting those individuals to contribute to the victors, post-election and posthaste. O’Neill invited supporters of her Democratic opponent, Rose Spector, to attend her sending-off party, and to leave a donation on the way out. The event raised $60,000.

That money now resides in O’Neill’s coffers, as she is not up for reelection until 2004. Technically judges use their officeholder accounts (leftover campaign funds plus any new donations) for conference travel and professional development. Critics contend, however, that in reality judges build their accounts to intimidate potential election opponents. Following an election during which Republican candidates for the Court outspent Democrats more than five to one, this concern is front and center.

A court-appointed committee studied the issue, and Texas Lawyer reports that the committee will recommend a cap of $150,000 on officeholder accounts for Justices. Two Republican Justices – Greg Abbott and Craig Enoch – are said to be well over that limit. Any such restriction would likely be welcome to lawyers sick of paying at the Courtroom door.


Last month, an Observer reader currently enduring winter in Moscow reported that she’d seen some curious footage on the evening news – demonstrators at the city’s U.S. embassy, wearing Klan robes and cutting Texas off a map of the United States. Turns out these were members of a Russian far-right group, the Navi Society, expressing their “solidarity with the national independence struggles of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Northern Mexico, the Hawaiian Kingdom, the island of Guam and other Pacific Ocean islands, Puerto Rico and [American] Indian territories,” according to the English-language weekly Moscow Times. The demonstrators held up placards reading “Kill the U.S.” and “The U.S. is a Prison of Peoples,” smashed a television, and ended with cries of “Glory to Russia.”

Curiouser yet was the suggestion made by the daily Kommersant after the event: that the demonstration was in fact all but endorsed by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, as a means of scoring political points. Given the mayor’s past vocal opposition to extremist groups, and given that the demonstrators were given permission to demonstrate despite their obvious extremism, the newspaper postulated that Luzhkov might be setting up a straw group which he will publicly put down sometime in the future.


A spirited band of atheists descended on the town of Comfort February 20, to bid adieu to the limestone monument that went up in the town park last summer. (Shortly after the arrival of the monument, intended to honor the German Freethinkers who settled parts of the Hill Country, a couple of local residents circulated a petition and placed ads in local newspapers decrying the “monument to atheism” (see “Up Against the Rock in Comfort,” November 6). The town has since decided to replace the large hunk of limestone with a different hunk of limestone. According to Hill Country Freethinkers member and invasion participant Julie Fisher, roughly forty people (many wearing t-shirts reading “The Great Atheist Invasion of Comfort, Texas, 1999”) and one atheist dog conducted morning exercises in the park, then split into teams to accomplish their friendly takeover of local luncheon establishments.

Fisher reports being well-received at one restaurant, Arlene’s. After lunch, she continues, the atheists went antique shopping in downtown Comfort, and “a few good buys were made.” Their mission ended with ice cream at Ingenhuett’s General Store. They plan to return next year.