Off the Desk:
Austin's U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has earned a perfect score from the League of Conservation Voters. In the group's annual survey of Congress, the LCV rated Doggett, a Democrat, a perfect 100 on its scorecard of environmental votes - the highest score of any member of Congress. The average score for Doggett's peers in the U.S. House was 47. In the Senate, where the average score was 46, Texas Senators Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both Republicans, also scored perfectly - both earned zeroes on the LCV scale. The LCV scorecard is available at http://www.lcv.org... - R.B.
There are those who pity the poor working stiffs, and those who resolve to do something for them. Fortunately, Austin has some can-do enthusiasts who have organized a forum this weekend to address "A Living Wage for Workers." Several grassroots groups are sponsoring the event, to be held 9am-4pm Saturday at the AFL-CIO building, 11th and Lavaca. Panelists include LBJ School of Public Affairs economist James Kenneth Galbraith, County Judge Bill Aleshire, City Councilmembers Gus Garcia and Jackie Goodman, and Z Magazine's Carla Feldpausch...
Travis County election officials are still trying to round folks up to work the March 10 primaries and the March 7 early voting ballot board. The pay is $5.15 an hour. Call the Elections Division, 473-9553, for details...
Project Transitions' Top Drawer Thrift Store will host a reception for local students who rebuilt the storm-damaged chest of drawers that sat atop the thrift shop. The students, part of the "Totally Cool, Totally Art" program at Dougherty Arts Center, will attend the event, 5pm Friday, 4902 Burnet... - A.S.
CMTA Stands for...
Quick quiz: What does CMTA stand for? If Capital Metro Transit Authority doesn't immediately spring to mind, you're not alone. Austin American-Statesman senior editor Tom Barry apparently didn't know either and wrote a brief editorial titled "A Capital Omission," accusing Precinct 1 County Commissioner candidate Stacy Dukes-Rhone of trying to distance herself from the beleagured Capital Metro by not listing her tenure as a former board member on her campaign push card. As it turns out, though, Dukes-Rhone did list her experience with Cap Metro, but used the acronym CMTA - an abbreviation her campaign manager and attorney say is familiar to voters and has even been used in the Statesman.
Charging that the editorial is another example of the Statesman's vendetta against her and all things Capital Metro, Dukes-Rhone filed a defamation lawsuit in Travis County District Court last week, charging Barry and the newspaper caused irreparable harm to her reputation and to her campaign with a Feb. 21 editorial stating that Dukes-Rhone's "stint as one of the last appointed board members for Capital Metro is noticeably absent from the push card. It's not surprising considering that the board of the local transportation authority managed its affairs so badly that the Legislature replaced it with a board of elected officials." Dukes-Rhone's attorney, Brian Turner, said the court will not hear the case for at least another month, too late for the March 10 primary in which she faces Ron Davis and Darwin McKee for the Democratic nomination. American-Statesman editor Richard Oppel said the paper has no comment on the charges.
Was the editorial an honest error due to an unfamiliar abbreviation? While Dukes-Rhone's campaign manager Gray McBride said the Statesman uses CMTA in its own publication, a computer search of the newspaper's archives only turned up two instances the abbreviation was used, both times in letters from former Capital Metro board members. McBride said the decision to use CMTA was based on space, and pointed out that the acronym for SHADES, a nonprofit organization that helps young women, is also used on the push card. "It was a simple matter of economy," he said. (Robert Mueller Redevelopment Task Force and Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering seemed to fit on the card, however.) "We believe the average voter knows what [CMTA] is; maybe the average editorial writer doesn't," McBride said.
Charging the press with defamation is not an uncommon public relations tactic, say some familiar with media law. "This is not a comment on [this case] specifically, but sometimes people sue for libel, not because they are going to win, but for political benefit," said Robert Jensen, UT assistant journalism professor. But to accuse Dukes-Rhone of lying about her Cap Metro experience when the writers knew it was on the push card shows the "reckless disregard for the truth" element necessary for a public figure to prove she was defamed, says attorney Turner: "Defamation law gives y'all wide latitude to criticize and complain, as long as you're truthful. If it's false and you know it's false, y'all are dead in the water." - L.T.
PEER is Here
A year ago, a couple of employees from the Washington D.C. office of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility came to Austin to meet with employees of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. What they found was disturbing. "We found an incredible level of fear among state employees," said PEER employee Rob Perks. In response to that visit, PEER decided to create an office here in Austin. The group, an alliance of local, state, and federal employees who work at natural resource agencies, is designed to help employees speak out about issues, particularly those in which politics appears to be overwhelming good science. The group will likely focus much of its energy in Texas on water, air, and endangered species issues.
Scott Royder, the longtime legislative czar of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, will head PEER's Texas office. "PEER empowers employees who are concerned about pervasive special interest and political influence on agency decision-making," said Royder, in a press released issued Tuesday. Assisting Royder will be Dean Keddy-Hector, a former biologist at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept., one of several biologists who have left TPWD in recent years due to ongoing political battles within the agency. To contact PEER, call 441-4941. E-mail email@example.com. - R.B.
Did INS Act INXS?
On Jan. 26, a dozen plainclothed Immigration and Naturalization Service investigators from San Antonio arrived in Austin for five days of "worksite enforcement" in and around the capital city. By Friday their work was done. A press release from the office of INS spokesperson Ray Dudley proudly trumpeted the results: 55 worksites - including construction sites, restaurants, hotels, and landscape firms - were raided for undocumented workers. Agents arrested 31 "females" and 209 "males," according to the fact sheet, of which 229 were from Mexico. Of the 240 arrests made, 199 of the immigrants were back in Mexico that same night. "Worksite enforcement... aimed at protecting American jobs for legal workers... is one of our top priorities and we will continue to follow up on complaints from the public," San Antonio District Director Kenneth Pasquarell said in the statement.
What the press release did not mention is that six of those arrested were legal resident aliens who simply did not have their green cards with them. Resident aliens say this happens fairly often, as it did, for example, in the last major worksite raid conducted in Austin, in August 1996. "All non-citizens are required to carry proof of their status," says Dudley. "If they don't have their papers with them," he explains, "we give them two hours and free use of a phone" to provide documentation. If they still can't come up with it, it's off to Laredo, where they can ask for a hearing or be summarily deported. Thanks to new federal laws passed in 1997, deportation has never been quicker - nearly 112,000 people were deported last year (27,000 in Texas), a 62% increase from the previous year.
But if arrestees choose the hearing route, as about a dozen did following the January raids, the process may take a while. In the meantime, there's a "pretty darn nice" detention center in Laredo, according to Dudley, where they can await their appointment with a federal judge. In this most recent case, all six of the resident aliens mistakenly detained in Austin managed to have friends or relatives retrieve their documentation for them (fortunately, before they were taken to Laredo) and were subsequently released, according to Dudley. - N.B.
El Mejor Mayor
Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas has spent his first three months in office wading through false receipts, tracking down state-owned computers and real estate, and locating absentee employees on the city payroll. As the first mayor of Mexico City to be elected by popular vote, and the leader of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Cárdenas has promised to clean up the corruption created by 68 years of appointed leaders. He was in Austin Saturday to address even larger issues at the 18th annual Institute of Latin American Studies Student Association at UT.
Cárdenas' short but sweeping speech addressed the challenge of creating a global economy out of unequally developed nations. Inspired by the relatively balanced relationships between European Union countries and frustrated with the inequality of the U.S./Mexico relationship under NAFTA, he envisions the integration of Latin American politics and economics, similar to what is taking shape in Europe. "Latin America, as a political and economic bloc... would stand in much better conditions to negotiate with the hegemonic powers and become part of the globalization process on a more equal basis," he said.
Though he said many government leaders have given up their sense of social responsibility, he expressed faith that "the values of humanism and solidarity will again be common among men." Cárdenas is no stranger to the global stage. His father was a beloved Mexican president, and Cárdenas himself may have been elected president in 1988, but many have alleged that acts of fraud elevated Carlos Salinas to the top post. He was defeated for president again in 1994, and is expected to try again in 2000. - N.K.