Beyond City Limits
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports that state Rep. Gabi Canales, D-Alice, was busted on a DWI charge late Saturday night, June 7, after being stopped for speeding and a defective headlight. Canales says she was speeding but sober when driving home from a downtown Corpus Christi restaurant and was arrested when she refused to take a Breathalyzer test. Initially, she told a reporter that she "didn't know how to use" the equipment but later said she preferred a blood sample test as more accurate, and officers refused to administer one. The police say they found open liquor bottles in the car, but Canales says they were not hers and that she drank only some wine with dinner. Lacking an alcohol test, prosecutors are reviewing videotape of the incident in order to decide whether to pursue the case. -- Michael King
Sources very close to the ground tell us that Jim Ellis, political aide to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, has been in and out of Austin making plans for a July special session on congressional redistricting and that DeLay himself may join him. But Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told the Houston Chronicle he's inclined to maintain Senate practice requiring a two-thirds vote to bring a bill to the floor, and Speaker Tom Craddick says he won't raise the bloodily partisan subject in the House if the Senate refuses to cooperate. On Tuesday, the crucial swing vote in the Senate, Brownsville Democrat Eddie Lucio, told Quorum Report that it would take not only a map with at least five border seats to persuade him to support redistricting (the map passed by the House Redistricting Committee has five), but also the endorsement of both the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the League of United Latin-American Citizens. "I don't think the governor can get to 21 [Senate votes]," said Lucio. "His numbers don't add up right now, and that is why he hasn't been able to call a special session." -- M.K.
One Republican especially eager for redistricting is Mike Conaway, the Midland accountant and Personal Friend of Dubya who lost a June 3 run-off for Dist. 19 to former Lubbock City Council Member Randy Neugebauer by just 700 votes. Conaway says he'll run again if the Lege moves Midland and Odessa to a new district that also includes Big Spring and San Angelo. (The map approved by the House Redistricting Committee leaves Dist. 19 just as it is now.) According to the Midland Reporter-Telegram, Conaway is hanging on to his yard signs, and Sen. John Cornyn, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, and President Bush himself are said to be waiting for a chance to support Conaway in another race. -- M.K.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on June 5 spent four hours telling the House Judiciary Committee why, in his view, the USA PATRIOT Act must be renewed and expanded to provide the Dept. of Justice with more ammo to combat terrorism. Ashcroft said that the current law, set to expire in October 2005, contains several "weaknesses, which terrorists could exploit, undermining our defenses," the Los Angeles Times reported. Ashcroft's protestations have met with skepticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who've been less than pleased with the DOJ's responsiveness. "It's like pulling teeth to get answers [from the DOJ]," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told Roll Call. Meanwhile, a report issued June 2 by DOJ Inspector General Glenn A. Fine criticizes the department's handling of 762 immigrants detained after the 9/11 attacks. He writes that the DOJ's performance under the PATRIOT Act has shown "significant problems" -- one being that the feds made little effort to distinguish between real terrorists and those caught up in the investigation by chance. The full report is on line at www.usdoj.gov/oig/special/0603/full.pdf . -- J.S.
Sen. John Cornyn continues his effort to break the Democratic filibuster of President Bush's nominations of Priscilla Owen and Miguel Estrada to the federal appellate bench. Cornyn told a recent hearing of the Senate's Committee on Rules and Administration, "The current filibusters of judicial nominees, done not to ensure adequate debate, but to block a Senate majority from confirming judges, are unprecedented and wrong." He and Majority Leader Bill Frist hope to change Senate rules to allow a series of cloture votes diminishing from the currently required 60 votes eventually to a simple majority. A coalition of Texas activist groups led by Texans for Public Justice successfully lobbied the Senate against the nomination of Owen, whom they describe as an "activist" judge whose opinions have consistently been anti-consumer, anti-worker, and anti-women's rights. Ralph Neas of People for the American Way says that Cornyn is "new to the Senate" and apparently unwilling to recognize the consequences of changing the filibuster rules. "If they decide to change it," said Neas, "it will undo 200 years of Senate rules and traditions." -- M.K.
On Tuesday, June 10, The Washington Post called for a full investigation of $56,500 in campaign donations from Westar Energy Inc. to GOP Reps. Tom DeLay and Joe Barton of Texas and Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. Post staffer Thomas Edsall reported recently that a federal investigation has uncovered Westar documents indicating company executives believed that the donations meant "a seat at the table" for receiving favorable legislation -- and it is illegal to promise lawmaking in exchange for political donations. At least $25,000 of the Westar money went to DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, which figures prominently in the ongoing investigation of electioneering by the Texas Association of Business. Spokesmen for the legislators have denied any wrongdoing but, wrote Post editors in calling for a Dept. of Justice investigation, "Whether the campaign contributions were a quid pro quo for legislative action on a measure sought by Westar should not simply be a subject of debate between press secretaries and the media." -- M.K.
Weed Watch: After passage of the gargantuan Bush tax-cut package, Republican pundits summed up Democratic opposition as whining over the idea of "smaller government." But over in the House Government Reform Committee, GOP members were happy to back a bill reauthorizing the White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy, complete with $1 billion in new money for yet more anti-drug commercials that government studies have deemed completely impotent in reducing drug use. While that appropriation will likely pass, drug reformers claimed victory last week in defeating other, more sinister portions of the bill. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, lobbyists successfully defeated a provision that would've allowed ONDCP drug czar John Walters to spend up to $195 million per year in taxpayer money to campaign against state drug-reform ballot measures and individual pro-reform political candidates. For more on the ONDCP reauthorization bill, check out www.drugpolicy.org. -- J.S.