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‘ u EDITORIAL Foundations and Empire After four years of Republican dominance in Austin, you can throw a dart at the organizational chart of Texas government and reliably hit a state agency corrupted by influence peddling of some sort. There’s no better example of the pay-to-play culture that has infected Texas politics in recent years than the brief history of the Texas Residential Construction Commission. Created in 2003, the agency with a mouthful of a name is supposed to police the homebuilding industry by helping consumers who move into new homes, only to find that the foundation is cracked, the roof leaks, or the electric outlets ignite fires. It’s almost as if the agency was designed to benefit the biggest names in the home construction business. Wait a second! It was. The commission developed a lengthy bureaucratic process that delays disgruntled homeowners from taking their builders to court or arbitration. It also rips off small construction firms, requiring builders to register with the commission for the handsome fee of $500. This pseudolicensing process is a sham. As we report on page 16 of this issue, many builders whose licenses have been revoked are blatantly building anyway, and the commission lacks the resources and power to stop them. The TRCC oversees bad builders in the same blind-eye manner with which Major League Baseball handles its steroid-infused sluggers. That’s the way it was supposed to be. The Residential Construction Commission was created to help keep the state’s major homebuilding companieswho are some of the state’s most prolific contributors to political campaignsout of court. Exhibit A is one Bob Perry, head of Houston-based Perry Homes. Mr. Perry gets sued a lot: His company has been named in more than 60 lawsuits in Harris County alone in the past 15 years, according to court records. He’s also Texas’ No.1 campaign contributor, a veritable ATM for Republican candidates: Since 2001, he’s contributed $15 million to campaigns in Texas, largely to the GOP. For that kind of dough, you can apparently receive your own state agency. Perry’s corporate attorney not only wrote most of the bill that created the TRCC, but also serves on its board. Perry is just the most blatant example. The pet bills and programs the legislative leadership has muscled through to appease a crony or major campaign contributor during the past four years are too numerous to list. Recently, though, there have been hopeful signs that the culture of influence peddling has begun to wane. House Speaker Tom Craddick’s once-unshakable grip on the lower chamber has weakened considerably. Craddick can no longer force donor-friendly legislation through the House, and state reps have shown a dangerous appetite for democracy lately. In early May, House members voted to overrule one of Craddick’s parliamentary rulingsa stinging rebuke for the speaker that only fed speculation he won’t win a fourth term on the dais. When the House wasn’t bucking Craddick, it was embarrassing one of his main financial backersSan Antonio millionaire and school voucher zealot James Leininger. He’s one of the few GOP moneymen who hasn’t received a legislative goodie since 2003. In the 2006 election cycle, Leininger spent nearly $5 million on pro-voucher candidates. But when vouchers came before the House in Marchin an amendment to the state budgetit went down hard, 129-8. \(Leininger Even the Residential Construction Commission may undergo reform. House Bill 1038 would give the TRCC greater enforcement authority to better regulate homebuilders. The Texas Legislature, God bless it, may always be a fountain of bad policy and short-sighted legislation. But it’s starting to look a bit more like a democracy. THE TEXAS OBSERVER I VOLUME 99, NO. 10 I A Journal of Free Voices Since 1954 Founding Editor Ronnie Dugger Executive Editor Jake Bernstein Managing Editor David Pasztor Associate Editor Dave Mann Publisher Charlotte McCann Associate Publisher Julia Austin Circulation Manager Lara George Tucker Art Director/Webmaster Matt Omohundro Investigative Reporter Eileen Welsome Poetry Editor Naomi Shihab Nye Copy Editor Rusty Todd Staff Writer Forrest Wilder Blogger Matt Wright Admin. Assts Nhu Truong, Christy Wagner Legislative Interns Megan Headley, Patrick Michel Web Design Intern Daniel Carter Editorial Interns Jun Wang, A.J. Bauer Contributing Writers Nate Blakeslee, Gabriela Bocagrande, Robert Bryce, Michael Erard, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Steven G. Kellman, James McWilliams, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, Karen Olsson, John Ross, Andrew Wheat Staff Photographers Alan Pogue, Jana Birchum, Steve Satterwhite Contributing Artists Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Gary Oliver, Doug Potter Editorial Advisory Board David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Sissy Farenthold, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid Texas Democracy Foundation Board D’Ann Johnson, Jim Marston, Bernard Rapoport, Geoffrey Rips, Sharron Rush, Kelly White, In Memoriam Molly lvins, 1944-2007 Bob Eckhardt, 1913-2001, Cliff Olofson,1931-1995 The Texas Observer \(ISSN 0040-4519/ righted 2007, is published biweekly except during January and August when there is a 4 week break between non-profit foundation, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Telephone E-mail World Wide Web DownHome page . Periodicals Postage paid at Austin, TX and at additional mailing offices. Subscriptions One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13 per year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 pre paid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes The Texas Observer is indexed in Access: The Supplementary Index to Periodicals; Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981, The Texas Observer Index. POSTMASTER Send address changes to: The Texas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Books & the Culture is funded in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts. MAY 18, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3