THE TEXAS OBSERVER WAS THERE FIRST with the story that former Texas senator Phil Gramm, GOP presi dential candidate John McCain’s top economic advisor, is largely responsible for today’s unprecedented economic crisis. Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk, The Audit THE PRESS AND PHIL GRAMM The alternative press leads on the policy roots of the credit crisis By Elinore Longobardi The alternative press has led the way on the story of Phil Gramm and the policy roots of the financial crisis, beating the mainstream business and other media rather badly about the face and neck…. In the interest of credit where credit is due, we note that Mother Jones, while notable for its force and persistence, was not the first publication to have looked closely at Gramm’s history Credit also goes to The Texas Observer, where a rigorous article by Patricia Kilday Hart, from last May, pinpoints Gramm as an architect of the financial crisis. Here is Hart on the circumstances of the 2000 legislation: “In the early evening of Friday, December 15, 2000, with Christmas break only hours away, the U.S. Senate rushed to pass an essential, 11,000-page government reauthorization bill. In what one legal textbook would later call ‘a stunning departure from normal legislative practice, the Senate tacked on a complex, 262-page amendment at the urging of Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. “There was little debate on the floor. According to the Congressional Record, Gramm promised that the amendment also known as the Commodity Futures Modernization Actalong with other landmark legislation he had authored, would usher in a new era for the U.S. financial services industry:” And did it ever. What inspired…[another reporter to ask McCain about Gramm]? Well, he didn’t mention any publication by name, but he appeared to give Mother Jones and The Texas Observer a nod when he explained, “Liberal writers raised this issue a month ago?’ The fact is, both the Mother Jones pieces and The Texas Observer piece are part of a small but important batch of articles appearing over the past several months that examine Gramm’s place in financial deregulation, and the resulting effects of that deregulation on the economy. Mother Jones and the Observer stand out for their depth and focus…. [P]ress criticism of Gramm has not gone unnoticed in Washington. On Sept. 17, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders demonstrated that politiciansor at least their aidesdo scan the press. He went to the trouble of reading to Congress a Sept. 15 post by blogger Peter Cohan criticizing Gramm’s deregulatory schemes, and he also mentioned The Texas Observer. because they know the system is rigged.” That may be so, but other elected Democrats in town seem to have made peace with the Escapees, if only out of fear, perhaps, of provoking them. “You learn to do your job and do it well as you can,” says Marion “Bid” Smith, the Democratic tax assessor-collector, whose duties include registering voters. “You make sure to provide services in their favor.” Benny Fogleman, the county Republican chairman, is more than happy with the Teals’ assault on the Escapees. “Sharon’s been very good for the Republican Party:’ he says. “I could have never brought the party to where we are without her.” Among some Democrats, though, the Escapees represent the one type of “voter fraud” that Texas Republicans are willing to tolerate. Since 2005, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has spent millions criminally prosecuting Democratic Party activists, almost all minorities, for infractions such as not including their signatures and addresses on the backs of ballots they mailed for senior citizens \(see “Vote by Mail, Go to Jail,” April In a lawsuit against the state of Texas that was settled in May, Gerry Hebert, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, represented several of the Democratic activists whom Abbott had prosecuted. One of the provisions the state had used against the activists made it a crime to possess the mail ballot of another voter. Another stipulated that the ballot envelopes had to include the helper’s signature. The Escapees’ mail-forwarding service involves the possession of thousands of ballots. The envelopes aren’t signed. “It just struck me as odd that you would have the AG taking a somewhat inconsistent approaches to two different groups of people:’ Hebert says. The case was settled before Hebert could raise the issue in a trial. But he contends that Republican attorneys general have a track record of protecting the Escapees. Hebert cites a letter from Andy Taylor, then an assistant attorney general, to Cathie Carr. Taylor represented the state of Texas in the 2000 litigation. In the November 2000 letter, Taylor thanks Carr for a “monogrammed polo shirt and honorary membership into the Escapees,” and confesses that he has “felt sorry for you and your fellow RVers during this controversyyou have been treated like pawns in a political chess game.” Last year, Republicans in the Texas Legislature came within one vote of passing legislation that would have required voters to present picture identification at the polls, a measure that Democrats contend would present unwarranted hurdles for low-income and minority voters. The measure is likely to be taken up again next year. Wood compares the Escapees to the Chicken Ranch, a brothel near La Grange that operated in the open for nearly 70 years. “It was illegal, but everyone said, ‘so what. No one did anything about it. The situation with the Escapees in Polk County is the same thing … If the Democrats had an operation like that, the attorney general would be down there tomorrow, and everybody would be indicted.” OCTOBER 3, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21
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