On the Lege

Loyalty Pays Off

When House committee assignments were handed out, Democrats Patrick Rose (l) of Dripping Springs and Dawnna Dukes (r) of Austin benefited from their loyalty to Speaker Tom Craddick.
When House committee assignments were handed out, Democrats Patrick Rose (l) of Dripping Springs and Dawnna Dukes (r) of Austin benefited from their loyalty to Speaker Tom Craddick. (Photo By John Anderson)

When Patrick Rose learned of his promotion to chairman of the House Human Services Committee, the Dripping Springs Democrat followed the actions of his two predecessors: He reached out to Austin Rep. Elliott Naishtat, who chaired the committee for nearly a decade until his demotion under Speaker Tom Craddick in 2003. Naishtat's seniority keeps him on the committee he has served on since he took the oath of office in 1991, and members of both parties routinely seek his counsel and assistance on human services matters. But despite his expertise and years of service, his opposition to Craddick keeps him from holding a leadership post.

As for Rose, most people expected him to do well on committee appointments this session – particularly after breaking party rank, along with Austin's Dawnna Dukes, to support Craddick's re-election to speaker – but few considered Rose a human services type, most likely because he'd never served on the committee. "I was surprised," Naishtat said of the Rose appointment, "but I've spoken with Patrick several times now, and I think he will make a serious effort to do the right thing with respect to low-income families and vulnerable populations. He has reached out to me, and I respect and appreciate that."

Rose returned the praise. "I'm really excited about the opportunity to work on [human services] issues with leaders like Elliott Naishtat. He knows these issues inside and out," he said. Rose also returns to his seat on the Higher Education Committee.

Dukes' support of Craddick may have riled local Dems, but her loyalty made her the only Travis Co. delegate to win two plum assignments – a reappointment to the all-powerful Appropriations Committee, where she's expected to chair a subcommittee, and a move to the influential Calendars Committee, the last stop for bills headed for the House floor. Dukes says her appointment to Appropriations allows her to pick up where she left off in the last session – working to refuel the social benefits till, which got the axe in 2003. "My goal is to continue working in that direction and to fully restore funding" to the Children's Health Insurance Program, she said.

Depending on the reps' performances this session, the Rose and Dukes appointments may serve as good political cover should one or both of them draw a primary challenge in retaliation for their loyalty to Craddick.

Local Republican reps also fared well on committee appointments, with Round Rock's Mike Krusee retaining his chairman's post on Transportation and Georgetown's Dan Gattis returning for another term on Appropriations. Gattis is also the only CenTex rep to secure a seat on the Natural Resources Committee, which will consider important water-related issues this session. Austin Democrats Eddie Rodriguez and Valinda Bolton had unsuccessfully sought appointments to Natural Resources because of critical water quality and water supply issues facing the region.

On the whole, Austin-area Dems who opposed Craddick's re-election were pleasantly surprised by their committee appointments. "I personally was pleased with my assignments," said Naishtat, who was also named to County Affairs. "I requested Higher Education and Corrections [neither of which he got], but I can't say I was punished this go-round." Rodriguez won his request to return to Pensions & Investments, got a new appointment to Government Reform, and will return to Redistricting. "To be fair, I have not voted for the speaker once since I've been here, but he has given me decent committees."

North Austin's Mark Strama will return to Civil Practices, this time with a promotion to vice chairman. He was also reappointed to Juvenile Justice & Family Issues, which is curiously stacked in favor of Democrats, leading to some questions about its significance this session. West Austin's Donna Howard scored a requested seat on Higher Education, which elevates her role in tackling the statewide nursing shortage and skyrocketing tuition rates. A former critical-care nurse, Howard had also hoped for an appointment on Public Health, which didn't happen. Having already served on Culture, Tourism, & Recreation during last year's special session, Howard says she's pleased with her reappointment to the committee, which will play a more prominent role this session in the critically endangered state park system.

Austin's newest representative, Valinda Bolton, was fortunate to get her first preference – a seat on Juvenile Justice & Family Issues – which perfectly matches her background work. "It's a content area where I have some expertise," she said. "It also gives me an opportunity to learn the Byzantine process of the Legislature." While she missed getting a spot on Natural Resources, she says she'll be able to apply her interests in water and growth-related issues as a new member of County Affairs.

Nixing Craddick

Two Austin House members were part of a 34-vote maneuver Tuesday that thwarted, at least for now, Speaker Craddick's ability to maintain his iron-clad grip on the House legislative agenda. Eddie Rodriguez and Valinda Bolton joined other Democrats and one angry Republican, Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, in nixing an otherwise routine vote to suspend a constitutional rule that prohibits the House from considering bills within the first 60 days of the session. The rule also prevents committee consideration of bills within the session's first 30 days, although the House can make exceptions on a case-by-case basis, as it did Tuesday at the request of Transportation Committee Chair Mike Krusee. Historically, the House has fairly consistently mustered the required 120 votes to suspend the rule at the start of each session. But this is no ordinary session, as already evidenced by a bipartisan attempt to oust Craddick from his leadership post. "It's a continuation of that initial vote for speaker," Rodriguez said after Tuesday's vote. "You're looking at a speaker who's presiding over a fairly divided House – not by Republicans and Democrats exclusively – but by people who are supporting this particular speaker and people who are really leery about him at this point." Bolton said she listened to arguments on both sides of the issue before deciding to cast a dissenting vote. "For days I've been asking how and why this ended up in the constitution," she said of the 1930 provision. "The best answer I could get was that it gives people an opportunity to be heard on the issues. Being brand-new, I'm trying to be mindful and respectful of the constitution." Bolton also reasoned that members just got their committee assignments, and not much business would have been accomplished by suspending the rule. "It just means we wait until Feb. 8 to get started," she said. "That's next week."

More Lege News

• Hurricane Katrina wiped out thousands of personal medical records, but Louisiana's finely tuned immunization registry withstood the storm and saved Texas $4.2 million as a result. That's one of the reasons Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, plans to file legislation that would strengthen the Texas Immunization Registry by eliminating the program's "voluntary inclusion" clause, which she believes leads to unnecessary vaccine doses and wasteful spending. Duplicative efforts were avoided in the Katrina case because Texas health officials were able to access Louisiana's vaccination records for 56,000 children. Texas is one of only seven states that allow for voluntary inclusion in statewide immunization registries, said Howard's legislative director, Scheleen Walker. Howard, a former critical-care nurse, will file a package of three bills, possibly this week, that would enhance long-term record-keeping and reporting methods, and broaden the program's tracking of vaccination records for children on Medicaid. It could also prevent unnecessary vaccinations of emergency personnel sent to disaster areas. Walker said the idea of a "lifespan registry" grew out of the lessons of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when many Texas responders received vaccinations before traveling to the affected areas. – A.S.

• Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, has filed a bill prohibiting local governments from funding the construction of day-labor sites, one of a slew of anti-immigrant bills filed this session. – Kimberley Reeves

• Austin Rep. Eddie Rodriguez's Jan. 27 citizenship drive, aimed at legal permanent residents who have yet to seek U.S. citizenship, drew more than 450 people to the UT campus. According to Rodriguez's office, four out of 10 Latino adults living in the country are not U.S. citizens, and about 5 million are eligible for naturalization. Rodriguez's weekend rally, in collaboration with the University Leadership Initiative, was able to assist 326 legal residents complete the required U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services application, known as the N-400. Rodriguez's office estimates the drive saved participants $180,000 in legal fees and assistance. – K.R.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Houston, filed the Stop the Darfur Genocide Act (SB 247/HB 667), calling for the "targeted divestment of state pension funds invested in companies doing business in Sudan," a tactic that the Sudan Divestment Task Force hopes will "maximize impact on the Sudanese government, while minimizing potential harm to both innocent Sudanese civilians and investment returns." For more info, see SaveDarfur.org and SudanDivestment.org. – Diana Welch

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Texas Legislature, Tom Craddick, Patrick Rose, Dawnna Dukes, Donna Howard, Mark Strama, Valinda Bolton, Elliott Naishtat, Eddie Rodriguez, Human Services, Dan Gattis, Mike Krusee, CHIP, Children's Health Insurance Program, Robert Talton

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