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POLITIIAL INTELLIGENCE Unholy Rollers PRAISE PERRY Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst spent the evening before their inauguration with the people who brung them to the dance: the religious right. Perry and Dewhurst were among those invited to speak at a “Pastor’s Policy Briefing” at the Renaissance Austin Hotel. Sponsored by a secretive organization called the Texas Restoration Project, the event drew more than 700 pastors. \(Some 1,500 had signed up, but roughly half canceled because of bad weather, said Kelly Shackelford, president of the Free Market Foundation, a conservative interSharing the stage with Perry and Dewhurst were two Ohio politicians, Kenneth Blackwell, the state’s controversial outgoing secretary of state who lost a bid to become governor in 2006, and former congressman Bob McEwen. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee canceled due to the icy weather. The Rev. Laurence White, a Houston minister who has a prophet’s stern demeanor, was on hand to give the opening remarks. A pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church, White often compares the moral free fall in the United States to the behavior in Nazi Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. White was hurrying through the hotel lobby when an Observer reporter waylaid him to ask if the event was open to the press. He shot a long-suffering glance at a colleague, then boomed out indignantly, “This is not a political or a public happening.” The Texas Restoration Project is modeled on the Ohio Restoration Project, which mobilized in 2004 to get conservative pastors and their congregations involved in the political process. Similar groups have sprung up in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. “New groups like the restoration projects are focused on activating conservative evangelical pastors as political campaign operatives,” according to a statement released prior to the event by Austin-based watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. White confirmed that the Texas Restoration Project was picking up the tab for the pastors’ meals and hotel rooms, a bill likely to run into the thousands of dollars. Rooms at the Arboretum’s Renaissance Austin Hotel, for example, were going for $349 plus tax on the night of the shindig. Numerous pastors were spending the night at that hotel, and others were being bussed in from six hotels in the upscale Arboretum area. The pastors wore suits and ties. Their wives were more flamboyantly dressed, carrying small handbags and wearing long chiffon skirts. The Rev. White declined to say who was funding the Restoration Project. “They’re donors who believe the Christian point of view is an important part of the political dialogue and important for our country,” he said. Past supporters of the project have included Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim, the wealthy East Texas chicken rancher, and San Antonio’s James Leininger, the hospital-bed magnate and school-voucher zealot. Shackelford, contacted the day after the event, said the speeches weren’t overly political. Dewhurst spoke about some of the measures he would like the Legislature to take up this session, including a bill that would require every public school employee to submit to a criminal background check. Perry, the sole gubernatorial candidate to speak at the six other project events in 2005, thanked the pastors for their support, emphasized the importance of standing up for what’s right, and asked the group to pray for him. Perry often asks people to pray for him when he talks to religious organizations. The governor has been a great friend to conservative Christians, said the Rev. White. “Perry has been a steadfast supporter of pro-life and pro-family values,” he said. In his inaugural speech the next day, Perry referred to the prophet Isaiah, mentioned Saint Paul, reflected on the Good Samaritan, and talked of forgiveness, redemption, grace, and God. “There is nothing so powerful as the testimony of a changed life and a redeemed soul,” he said. “Without forgiveness and compassion, there can be no redemption. And where would sinners like me be if there weren’t?” Where indeed? SOTTO VOCE SPEAKER PACS The recent Texas House speaker election turned on procedural matters of if, how, and when its members’ votes would be disclosed. This prompted speechifying over what kind of disclosure would best honor the Alamo martyrs or hew closest to scriptures in Genesis. Left unsaid was that Texas’ antiquated system for reporting speaker committee finances may blaspheme both Davy Crockett and Yahweh. As a result of recent reforms, candidates for state office are required to provide detailed disclosures of their campaign finances. Yet the special disclosures made by candidates to be speakerone of the state’s most powerful officesare vastly inferior. Like most state politicians, speaker candidates file disclosures with the Texas Ethics Commission in an electronic format that is easy to publish on the Internet. Indeed, the Ethics Commission posts these reports on its Web siteexcept for speaker filings. The commission relegates those reports to paper files in Austin that are difficult for out-of-towners to access. An Ethics Commission attorney said state law requires the agency to post regular campaign data on the Internet, but not those of speaker committees. The agency lacks resources to go beyond its legal mandates, the attorney said. Yet the agency also appears to be 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 26, 2007