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POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Out with the Good LIBERAL LION LEAVING The Texas State Senate puts a lot of stock in congeniality. Members often justify an unpopular vote to their constituents by saying they just want “to help move the process along.” Since Republicans took charge in 1999, most Democratic senators have shown a high degree of flexibility, often changing positions on a single vote numerous times in an effort to get a little bit more out of the deal. It’s this political culture of elasticity that made the tenure of Austin Democratic Senator Gonzalo Barrientoswho announced his retirement on September 7so exceptional. When Barrientos committed on an issue, you never had to wonder where he stood. When most senators agreed to support a budget they knew was a turkey, for “the process,” Barrientos would stand up and denounce it, even though its passage was a certainty. He’d chide his colleagues with the truth: they could do better. In particular, they could do better for the constituencies that Barrientos most cared about: the poor, kids, the elderly, the disabled, and, as he said at his retirement announcement, “anyone who has been traditionally discriminated against.” Barrientos, 64, knew from discrimination. Born in Galveston into a family of migrant farm workers, he lived the civil rights movement and became one of the state’s first Latino legislators, winning a place in the House in 1974. He served five terms in the House and moved to the Senate in 1984. “Things have changed in the Legislature,” said Barrientos. “Some of the old camaraderie and goodwill has succumbed to partisanship.” Yet, in typical bulldog fashion, he said he was proudest of the unsuccessful fights he launched in the new GOP era. After serving out his term through 2006, Barrientos said he hopes to launch a Spanish-language radio talk show to take on the right-wing supremacy on the radio dial. “My heart is telling me to continue to fight for the things I believe in but to find another way to continue that fight.” INDICTMENT FEVER The end of summer saw a wave of seven new indictments issued by a Travis grand jury over the misuse of corporate money in the GOP’s 2002 election campaign. At press time, the grand total of indictments in the ongoing investigation stands at 39. Four of the new indictments were levied against the Texas Association of Business, which spent $2.3 million in corporate cash on television ads and more than four million mail pieces in a largely successful attempt to eliminate almost two dozen Democrats in 2002. \(See “The Rise of the Machine,” August This is the first time the TAB has been formally charged. When presenting the indictments, Travis County DA Ronnie Earle made sure to emphasize that the investigation had taken two and a half years in part because the TAB had tried to stymie it through multiple appeals. Andy Taylor, the mastermind of that defense strategy and a man quick with a quote, was oddly nowhere to be found in press accounts of the indictments. The TAB’s more experienced criminal defense attorney, Roy Minton, has argued that the business organization’s campaign was covered by the First Amendment and pre-approved by lawyers. The TAB’s indictments feature more than 100 counts, including fraudulent solicitation of money from corporations, illegal corporate contributions, illegal expenditures, and coordinating these illegal efforts with “other groups, PACs, individuals, and entities.” Each count is a third-degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of $20,000. The indictments also revealed, for the first time, the full list of the 28 companies and associations that contributed to the TAB’s secret corporate campaign. Not surprisingly, the list of donors is dominated by insurance companies who were under fire during the 2002 campaign for skyrocketing rates. Also included in the list are two Texas public works engineering firmsJ.F. Thompson, Inc. and Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation. They gave a combined total of $100,000 to the campaign. It’s unclear if the two companies hoped their donations would curry favor with state leaders when it came to contracting for Texas’ massive highway project, the Trans-Texas Corridor. Repeated calls for comment to both firms were not returned. A search of state records by the campaign watchdog group Texans for Public Justice revealed that James Dannenbaum is a generous campaign funder, personally giving $275,697 in the 2004 election cycle and $225,650 in 2002, mostly to Republicans. While the TAB indictments did not include charges against specific individuals, a number of them were mentioned prominently in statements such as “And the Grand Jury further presents that the conduct that constituted the commission of said offense was authorized, requested, commanded, performed, and recklessly tolerated by a high managerial agent of the Texas Association of Business, namely, [TAB President] William Hammond.” The indictments also mentioned Mike Toomey, a highprofile lobbyist and former chief of staff to Governor Rick Perry, as well as TAB staffers Lara Laneri Keel, Jack Campbell, and lobbyist Eric Glenn. The prominent mention of these individuals in the indictments has led to speculation that they too could be indicted at a later date. The indictments did not ignore the Tom DeLay-founded Texans for a either. Prosecutors seem to be tightening their case against TRMPAC and its operators by refining several of the 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 23, 2005