Naked City

Off the Desk:

After a four-month hiatus, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman returned to work last week with a bold proposal: impeach George W. Bush. Oh, sure the guv hasn't even declared himself a candidate, but Friedman jokes that the idea isn't so ludicrous when you consider that many right-wing Republicans have been calling for Clinton's head "ever since they laid eyes on him.

"Well, I just laid eyes on George W., and I don'tlike his looks. I don't like his voice. I don't like his past carousing. And I don't like his suggestion that only Christians get to go to Heaven. I want him out, and I want him out before he's even in. I want him out before he even thinks of being in."

The AISD Board of Trustees will hold a series of town hall meetings to gather public input on proposed school boundary changes. The schedule is:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 27 at Reagan High School, *Thu, Jan. 28 at Bowie High,
  • Mon, Feb. 1 at Mendez Middle School,
  • Tue, Feb. 2 at Anderson High,
  • Wed, Feb. 3 at the Carruth Administration Bldg,
  • Thu, Feb. 4 at Travis High School.

All meetings begin at 7pm. The meeting at Travis High will be conducted in Spanish. There will be formal public hearing on the boundary changes at 6:30pm Monday, Feb. 22 at Carruth Administration Building. The board plans to voteon the final plan 6:30pm on Thu, Feb. 25. For more info, call the Boundary Hotline at 414-1200 or see http://www.austin.isd.tenet.edu. --L.T.

Lt. Gov.-elect Rick Perry got carried away in his own hyperbole last Thursday during the swearing in of new Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza. During his homage to outgoing Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, Perry told the assembled crowd that he would be seeking Bullock's view on matters for some time to come. "I know exactly where he's going," Perry told the crowd. Then, turning to Bullock from the podium, he said, "We're going to be calling you for advice and tips and counsel." Well, gee. Does Perry know that Bullock is working at Public Strategies Inc., one of the state's most influential public image/positioning firms? Or that PSI's clients include some of the state's biggest companies, which just might have business pending at the legislature? Perry's pronouncement can only be good news for PSI, which was founded by Bullock's longtime friend, Jack Martin. In fact, given Perry's pledge, Bullock's hourly rate probably just went up by $100 or so. ...

Need more proof that the Railroad Commission has become merely a lucrative way station on the path to higher office? Look no further than the oath of office given to new Commissioner Tony Garza last week. In addition to swearing to uphold the laws of the U.S. and the state, Garza was required to affirm that he is not "directly or indirectly interested in any railroad, nor in the bonds, stock, mortgages, securities, contracts or earnings of any railroad." This, despite the fact that the commission has had no authority to regulate the state's railroads since 1980, when Congress passed the Staggers Act. This session, the legislature will once again try to combine the commission's duties with those of another agency like the Public Utility Commission. But don't look for it to happen. ...

Michelle Kay, former Statesman reporter and campaign spokesperson for Attorney General John Cornyn, has taken a job workingfor new Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander. According to the Comptroller's office, Kay will begin working on Jan. 19 as a writer on special projects in the communications division. Meanwhile, Kay's counterpart on the campaign trail, Audrey Duff, the former Chronicle politics editor who was campaign spokesperson for Jim Mattox in his failed attempt to win the AG's office, will be moving to Washington D.C. to work as U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett's press secretary. --R.B.


A Bitter Pill

Travis County's rural communities are learning of a new hitch in Seton Healthcare's plan to take over the county's public health system: Family planning and reproductive services will not be available in Seton's clinics. As a Catholic- funded organization, Seton is prohibited by the church from counseling women about abortions or the use of contraceptives. That means clinic patients requesting family planning will be referred to clinics run by another private healthcare network, Austin Regional Clinic (ARC), further fragmenting the county's health system. Rural communities already stand to lose the "one-stop" delivery of medical and social assistance, as well as discounted medicine for sliding fee-scale patients, if the Seton plan is adopted by the Travis Co. Commissioners Court. All ARC locations are in Austin, remote from rural areas, and family-planning professionals say that makes it less likely women will seek reproductive services.

"They build up their courage to [seek family planning], but if they go to their local clinic and are told, 'You've got to go somewhere else,' that is definitely a barrier," says Planned Parenthood of Austin's executive director Glenda Parks.

Patients and staff at the South Rural Health Center in Del Valle, where teen pregnancy is a persistent problem, spoke up to let Travis Co. officials know they don't appreciate the county allowing family planning to be taken from the heart of their community. The nearest ARC location for Del Valle patients is on South First, and only one clinic, at Far West and Mo-Pac, will be open later than 5pm and on Saturdays.

Seton has been under pressure from the Vatican to do away with even its third-party delivery of family planning service at Brackenridge Hospital, and has managed to keep the service only with the support of Austin Bishop John McCarthy.

More hearings on the Seton plan are scheduled throughout the remainder of January:

  • Wed, Jan. 13: East Rural Community Center in Manor, at 1pm and 6pm;
  • Thu, Jan. 14: Northwest Rural Community Center in Jonestown at 7pm;
  • Wed, Jan. 20: West Rural Community Center in Oak Hill, 6:30 pm, and North Rural Community Center in Pflugerville, 11am;
  • Thu, Jan. 21: West Rural Community Center, 11am, and Pflugerville Middle School, 7pm;
  • Wed, Feb. 3: Travis Co. Comm. Court, 6pm.

    --K.F.


Opening Day

Amid the platitudes during the swearing in of Senate members on Tuesday, there was one memorable line. Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, was seconding the nomination of Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, to the position of Senate president pro tempore. Referring to last year's infamous trial of TV personality Oprah Winfrey on charges that she had libeled state beef producers, Brown declared that Bivins was so persuasive that "by the time he leaves office, he'll have Oprah eating beef again."

On the House side, Speaker Pete Laney,
D-Hale Center, echoed comments made by Lt. Gov.-elect Rick Perry that education should be the primary focus of the legislature during this session. But after being sworn into office, Laney gave a short speech during which he mentioned a topic that has received scant attention and even less support in the legislature during recent years: campaign finance reform. In an oblique reference to the money poured into state races by conservative millionaire James Leininger, Laney said that political races are increasingly "dominated by people who contribute millions of dollars," and that that type of activity "undermines public confidence in our political system" and "contributes to the alarming decline in voter participation." He then went on to say that campaign finance issues should be a priority for members of the House during this session. --R.B.


Battle Brewing

On the eve of the 76th legislative session, theLesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (LGRL) was already in full offensive swing against two proposed bills that would ban same-sex couples from adopting children or becoming foster parents. Opponents say that HB382, filed by Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and HB415, filed by Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, call for individual investigations of all family members who are currently adoptive or foster families.

"It's not as though we had enough families wanting to adopt," Rep. Debra Danburg, D- Houston, said Monday. "The bills are not intended to help children. They are a retaliatory, retributive slap against a personal lifestyle."

And they won't be cheap, either. According to a study commissioned by the LGRL, and completed by Houston economist Carol T.F. Bennett, the taxpayer cost to implement the proposals will come to $10.8 million in the first year, and nearly $50 million over the next five years. That's money which could be used instead to hire 33 new full-time Child Protective Services caseworkers -- a pressing concern in light of recent news of the rise in child deaths due to child abuse in Texas over the last year, said Bennett. "The heightened scarcity [of potential foster families] created by the bill and the intrusiveness of the ban will cost even more for Texas in the long run," she said.

But Chisum disagrees: "The law is not based on the supply of parents, it's based on what's good for the kids. It's a frivolous argument. They haven't demonstrated that there is a shortage [of potential parents] out there." To Chisum, the proposed bill represents a way to make sure children are "out of harm's way." When asked if that meant that any child in any same-sex parent home was in danger, Chisum didn't miss a beat. "Yes, absolutely, that's in harm's way."

Others are hoping that Chisum and Talton's brand of logic will sink on the House floor this session. "This legislation is wrongheaded and cruel, and pure and simple it's political," said Glen Maxey, D-Austin. "It's about politics, not about children who need parenting." --J.S.


Return to Senders

Attempts by the anti-sanctions group Campaign for a Just Peace in the Middle East to send medical supplies, toys, infant formula and other supplies to aid groups in Iraq ended as expected last Friday, when a group of about 40 protesters was turned away at the U.S. Post Office's downtown branch. Post office officials told the group that "all services are suspended to Iraq" by Congressional mandate until further notice. Protester Jere Locke quoted United Nations statistics that indicate that more than 4,500 children under the age of five die every month as a result of the sanctions, and called the continuing embargo evidence of the United States' continuing campaign of "genocide" against civilians in Iraq.

Unfazed by the post office's refusal to accept the supplies, activists said they would mail the packages instead to Voices in the Wilderness, a Catholic anti-sanction group which has repeatedly violated U.S. law to bring supplies into Iraq, and which is currently battling a $163,000 fine by the Office of Foreign Acquisition Control, said campaign member Thad Crouch.

"On moral and legal grounds, we reject the sanctions system," said campaign member Bob Jensen, reading from a prepared statement. "As citizens of the United States and members of the human community, we declare our solidarity with the people of Iraq. ... We encourage all Americans to search their hearts and ask ... 'Do you want the U.S. government to continue to kill the children of Iraq in your name?'"

Local peace groups will again demonstrate against the sanctions this Friday, Jan. 15, at 5pm at the Capitol. For info, call 263-1883. --E.C.B.

Speaking of Governor Coy, Bush still won't say if he's running for president. But last Thursday, he said "I'll send a signal at some point during this legislative session as to whether I won't run." So does that mean he's decided? Who knows? But Bush obviously relishes his position as an unannounced candidate. That way, members of the Capitol press corps will keep asking if he's running or not. Still, his non-candidacy hasn't stopped other presidential hopefuls from attacking him. Last Friday, Lamar Alexander, who has all but announced his plans to run for the White House, attacked Bush for using the term "compassionate conservative." Alexander told CNN that those words "mean exactly nothing," and added that political candidates should have a "resolution for the new millennium: No more 'weasel words'." Also on the Bush front, a poll of New Hampshire Republicans showed Elizabeth Dole, another unofficial presidential hopeful, leading Bush in that state, 27% to 23% ...

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