Naked City

Think Tank Bottom-Feeders

Last week at the Driskill, the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation held its second annual Policy Orientation for the Texas Legislature, an aptly named two-day forum during which the business lobby assigns this year's corporate agenda to a couple of hundred policy-makers, legislators, and their aides. What's the 2004 short order? No new taxes; a "free market" (for speculators) in water, health care, and telecommunications; school "choice" (i.e., vouchers); more tort reform, highways, and toll roads – nothing you haven't heard before. The TPPF tosses in among its panelists a couple of token progressives, but the Center for Public Policy Priorities' Anne Dunkelberg and Dick Lavine can only do so much.

More representative of the TPPF agenda was the afternoon spent on "Asbestos and Its Impact on Texas" – devoted to lamenting the terrible threat to state industry and "jobs" posed by all those malingering workers, conspiring with all those greedy trahl lawyers and doctors, to sue poor innocent "consumers" of asbestos: oil refineries, utilities, chemical manufacturers, and the like. All four of TPPF's panelists were on the latter side of the asbestos issue – state Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, the Senate's only M.D., who is carrying the lobby's asbestos bill; corporate defense attorney and state Rep. Bill Keffer, R-Dallas; Ed Pickle of Shell Oil; and Brown McCarroll attorney Kay Andrews, who specializes in corporate asbestos defense. This well-balanced group came to the startling conclusion that most asbestos lawsuits are meritless claims imposed upon healthy workers of "limited education" by unscrupulous lawyers and doctors, and that the occasional mesothelioma victim can be rushed through the courts individually in the few months before he or she dies. After failing last session, Janek hopes to round up sufficient votes to pass a Senate bill as early as a spring special session, and said opponents better get on board now, because "when I get my chance, it's going to be too late to negotiate."

That was the general tone of the festivities, reinforced by Gov. Perry's salutation to the "intellectual brainpower" in attendance. Among the brightest lights was anti-tax absolutist Grover Norquist, who called his co-panelist Dick Lavine a "Bolshevik," defined taxation as "taking money from people who have earned it and giving it to those who haven't earned it" (presumably the latter would include guests of the tax-exempt, "nonpartisan" TPPF), denounced graduated tax rates as "the [mass murderer] Richard Speck approach," and advocated abolishing public schools altogether: "Don't raise taxes, and don't fund monopolies!" The assembled elected officials – when not attacking "politicians" – generally took a more moderate line. Rather than abolish public education outright, they simply intend to starve it to death.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

78th Legislature, Texas Public Policy Foundation, TPPF, Center for Public Policy Priorities, Anne Dunkelberg, Dick Lavine, Kyle Janek, Grover Norquist

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