Playing With Fire

Perry gets credit when good bills pass (but no blame if they fail)

Gov. Perry: Because signing a bill is exactly like authoring it and seeing it through committee
Gov. Perry: Because signing a bill is exactly like authoring it and seeing it through committee (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

The funny thing about being governor is that you can claim credit for bills that you signed but then claim blissful ignorance about anything that didn't make it to your desk. Gov. Rick Perry got to play both those cards on Friday when it came to firefighter safety.

On Friday, Sept. 10, Perry was in Austin to be endorsed by the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters. In their press release, Perry's campaign stressed that TSAFF President Guy Turner said the union backed Perry "for his long friendship and support" for workers' rights for his 15,000 members.

What didn't get mentioned was that, as Turner also noted, the union has a "friendly incumbent" endorsement policy: Simply translated, that means that as long as a candidate doesn't go on the war path against them, the union won't go for the other guy.

Turner also wanted to give credit to Perry for signing firefighter-friendly bills like 2005's Senate Bill 310 (authored by Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville), and 2001's SB 382, authored by Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston. Perry even got credit for signing House Bill 4560, authored by Austin Democrat Rep. Elliott Naishtat.

So if Perry gets credit for doing nothing more than signing a bill, what about the bills that didn't get passed, even with majority support?

Last session, Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin, authored HB 3477. It was a simple bill that would allow emergency service districts to hold short-term tax elections to pay for bonds for buildings and equipment. At the moment, ESDs (which provide fire response in unincorporated areas) are severely overstretched, and their response times are suffering, primarily because of a lack of a kit or places to put it.

The bill sputtered out on the House floor for one simple reason: "The caption on the bill actually has ad valorem in it," Bolton explained at the time. That means it needed a true supermajority of 100 votes to pass, and even though it scored a whopping 98-44, greater than two-thirds, truly bipartisan slate of support, it still died.

When asked about the bill on Friday, Perry responded: "I don't know the ins and outs of the legislation. It didn't get to my desk, and the fact of the matter is, unless we have a better opportunity to look at what the legislation said, what it was being debated, how it was amended, I think to sit here and make a statement on legislation we haven't seen is a bit out of the ordinary."

But how likely is it that Perry was unaware of a supermajority bill that was on the cusp of passing? Bolton's chief of staff Elizabeth Hartman said that while she was unsure whether the representative talked directly with the governor or his office, "Valinda worked the floor really hard and we had quite a few Republicans vote for the bill." She also went on an education program to bring her fellow legislators up to speed on the issue "because a lot of the representatives didn't know what an emergency service district was or that they even had some."

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Election 2010, Rick Perry, Valinda Bolton, Texas State Association of Firefighters, Elizabeth Hartman, Emergency Service District, TSAFF President Guy Turner

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