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detriment of South Texas. “The people for Prop. 12 and the medical lobby and the insurance lobby support my opponent and are taking, in my opinion, anti-Democratic positions,” Pena said. The race is shaping up as a proxy fight between Flores and Pena. It’s the kind of tussle that will shape the personality of the House Democratic Caucus. With right-wing Republicans likely running the Lege for several more sessions, races like this one will help determine whether we’ll see more Flores-style bargainers or Pena-like grenade-throwers. Freedom And Folly This has been a good summer for justice in Tulia, Texas. It began in Austin on June 2 when Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a bill to release 12 remaining prisoners wrongfully busted by the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force. Observer readers know the Tulia story well thanks to former editor Nate Blakeslee \(See “The Color of broke it three years ago. Now nearly the entire world has learned the sordid tale of freelance narc Tom Coleman and his 18-month undercover operation that led to the arrest of 46 people in Tulia, 39 of whom were black. Task force officials and prosecutors knew that Coleman was a liar and a racist. But despite Coleman’s personal unreliability and uncorroborated testimony, at least nine ended up serving four years in prison before their release this summer. Two months prior to the law’s passage, Coleman testified during an evidentiary hearing ordered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In his ruling after the hearing, a visiting magistrate from Dallas, Judge Ron Chapman, urged the Court of Criminal Appeals to grant new trials to those convicted in Coleman’s sting. Chapman has characterized elements of Coleman’s testimony as “blatant perjury.” The itinerant law man was indicted for perjury in April. He pled not guilty. The first hearing in that case will be this September 25. Within a couple weeks of the June bill signing, the 12 were officially free. After that, pressure grew on Perry to pardon all of Coleman’s Tulia victims. Even the typically tight-fisted Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously recommended the pardons. Then on Friday, August 22, Perry granted full pardons for 35 of those caught in the Tulia sting. It was a joyous day, a long time coming for the Tulia victims. But the story is not over. That same day attorney Jeff Blackburn filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two Tulia victims, naming Coleman, District Attorney Terry McEachern, and Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart as defendants. The Amarillo-based Blackburn also cited a total of 29 cities and counties in the region that participate in the regional narcotics task force. It remains to be seen how many others will sue. But mixed in with the glad tidings of freedom are the seeds of future problems. Two weeks before the pardon, on August 14th, the local media reported that the Panhandle Narcotics Task Force, for whom Coleman worked, has received $800,000 in federal money distributed through Governor Perry’s office. While the money can be used for a variety of different purposesfrom domestic violence prevention to homeland securitythe bulk of it was granted for drug enforcement. \(Perry included a paltry $70,000 for domesTexas ACLU Executive Director Will Harrell thinks the task force grant signals a failure by Perry to grasp what is really to blame for the Tulia mess. “While clearly acknowledging the wrongdoing in Tulia, [Perry] doesn’t have the vision to recognize that this is the result of structural problems with the task forces,” concludes Harrell. “Until he does, it’s only a matter of time before this happens again.” Spared From The Knife For the time being there is one less rip in the social safety net Republicans are bent on dismantling. On September 1, thanks to budget cleaving by the 78th Legislature, hundreds of thousands of Texans awoke without the health benefits on which they previously had relied. Thanks to a last minute legal action, thousands of recipients receiving unemployment benefits fared a little better. About 25,000 welfare recipients stood to lose their Medicaid under a mean-spirited little provision of House Bill 2292 that passed last spring. The bill tightened welfare guidelines \(known in policy parlance as personal responsibility agreeMedicaid. Under the provision that was supposed to take effect this September, if welfare recipients don’t live up to the new standards, they will not only lose welfare, but also Medicaid benefits. It’s the kind of short-sighted policy that will save the state a few bucks next year, but will likely sock municipalities with higher health care costs when these people seek treatment in public emergency rooms. At an Aug. 5 meeting, the Texas Workforce Commission tried to slip the new policy into its rules through an “emergency order,” without public notice. The progressive folks at the Austin-based Center for Public bureaucratic sleight of hand and filed suit, claiming the commission violated the open meetings act. On August 29, state district Judge Darlene Byrne issued a temporary injunction preventing the commission from implementing the new policy. A hearing has been set for October 27. The reprieve, it appears, may be short-lived. 9/12/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13