DIALOGUE / point! The confirmation hearing of TNRCC commissioner’s McBee and Baker, which I attended, was a farce and an insult to the public’s intelligence. What made it particularly disgusting was [the] conduct of the questioning Senators. The shallow and limited questions they asked, Senator Barrientos in particular, were aimed more at political posturing and self-promotion than the examination of the commissioners. What was telling about the performance of the Senators in this confirmation process, was that it was such a poor performance. It was as if they knew they could get away with it. It was no coincidence that the main-stream environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and Consumers Union did not speak out against the appointees. To do so would have embarrassed the Democratic Senators who apparently had decided in advance to vote for confirmation…. Now that the Observer has taken the Senators to task, they have circled to defend themselves. Not surprisingly, Mary Kelly of the Austin-based Texas Center for Policy Studies, who also did’not oppose the confirmations, came to the Senators’ defense. The ten Senators who criticized the Observer in their Letter to the Editor obviously spent more time preparing the letter than they did in preparing for the hearing. Again, they insult our intelligence by characterizing the hearing as a meaningful process. The hearing was an opportunity for the Senators and the public to hold these commissioners accountable. After all, they oversee one of our largest and most powerful agencies. Unfortunately, the mainstream environmental groups and their politician “friends” passed up that opportunity. We learned little about McBee’s and Baker’s actions, and the hearing certainly raised more questions than it answeredespecially about partisan environmental politics in Austin. What pressures guided the Democratic Senators in their rubber stamping the Governor’s appointees? Why did they vote for confirmation even before they had received all the information they requested of McBee and Baker? And, why did the Austin-based environmental organizations, who had been openly critical of McBee and Baker, suddenly back off and remain silent? Their failure to criticize TNRCC appointees under the Richards’ administration is common knowledge. But why would they back off from the Republican appointees who they said were doing a horrible job? Were it not for a few mostly out-of-town grassroots environmentalists and the objective coverage of the Texas Observer, one would think McBee and Baker had experienced an overnight conversion from being the lapdogs of industry into the watchdogs of the public. We in the real world know better. Keep up the good reporting! Rick Abraham, Director Texans United Education Fund Houston DEMS’ DEFENSE Because I always read magazines from back to front, I completely missed your article on the Val Verde County vote case that ran in the March 14 issue \(“Kachel’s I strongly ‘disagree with the statement, “Absent from the fight are the Democrats, who have thus far allowed Bonilla, Hutchison, Garza, Bush, and Phil Gramm to frame the issue as an assault on the right of military personnel to vote. The demagoguery has been as easy as it has been shameless.” […] When the Texas Democratic Party has been contacted by other publications, I have strongly reiterated the Party’s strong support of the rights of military personnel to vote lawfully in Texas elections. The State Democratic Executive Committee unanimously passed a resolution in January to that effect. We also challenged Secretary of State Garza to be as zealous in enforcing absentee voting laws for the military as he was last November, when he sent “warnings” to all 254 Texas county clerks about potential vote fraud from elderly and disabled residents of Texas nursing homes, who clearly are residents of our state. Under the Department of Defense’s own guidelines, the question of residency includes intent to return to an area. Obviously, the legality of the 800 votes cast by absentee military voters in Val Verde County will be decided by the courts. In the meantime, Mr. White and the Texas Democratic Party staff have devoted a great deal of time in the past few months to the lawsuits pending in Val Verde County. At no point has any reporter from the ObserVer contacted me or Chairman White about the Val Verde election challenge. To say that we have been “absent from the fight” completely ignores the energetic and concerted efforts of Val Verde County Democratic Chair Lee McHugh, who has worked with local Democrats to conduct her own investigations of the military votes, meet with other reporters, and still manage to maintain good relationships with many of the military personnel in Del Rio. The Texas Democratic Party has worked with Ms. McHugh on an almost daily basis. Because the lawsuit was initially filed by Texas Rural Legal Aid, the Texas Democratic party leadership made a decision that we would be very careful about even the appearance of involvement in the lawsuit. We did not wish to add fuel to Phil Gramm’s “fire” that the lawsuit was politically motivated. Foremost in our minds was protecting the continued funding for the Legal Services Corporation, as delegates to the Democratic state convention endorsed in our party’s 1996 platform. Once TRLA’s involvement in the lawsuit was taken over by voting rights attorney David Richards, Texas Democrats were asked to contribute to the costs of the litigation. Unfortunately, following an expensive campaign year that included the court-ordered congressional elections last December, the Texas Democratic Party’s coffers are stretched to the limit. To date, the Observer is to be commended for its excellent reportage on the Val Verde County voting case. In Val Verde County, Democrats are leading the fight to clarify the rights of military voters and to prevent the dilution of votes of lawful residents. As a result, we have been subject to Republican demagoguery about opposing the rights of military voters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Texas Democrats want military voters to lawfully participate in the electoral process. We have said so on more than one occasion, both as a political party and as individuals. Please feel free to contact the Texas Democratic Party if you have any further questions about our involvement in the Val Verde case, or any other, issue. Ann Marie Kilday Director of Communications Texas Democratic Party APRIL 25, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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