House Dem Feud: Back to the forward

A war of words has erupted among state House Democrats over claims made last month by Colin Strother, spokesman for Rep. Dawnna Dukes, that the House Democratic Caucus failed to show leadership in the opening days of the last session. On Jan. 29, 2007, a small group of state reps known as Demo­crats for Reform, among them Dukes and Speaker Pro Tem Sylvester Turner, issued a 16-point agenda for the session. Strother claimed (see "Dukes Under Siege," Jan. 25) the group took this step because the House leadership had failed to release its own legislative wish list. It was just, he said, members with senior committee positions (appointed by House Speaker Tom Craddick) wanting to take a clear stance on issues important to the party. He argued that it was a progressive agenda that stated common Democratic aims, and he said it had yet to be criticized on its content.

But Dem Caucus leader Jim Dunnam of Waco replied that "Strother was being blatantly false." Each session since 2003, the leadership has put out a legislative agenda called Moving Texas Forward. At the start of the 80th session, the caucus distributed a memo informing reps that the leadership's language was coming and requesting they submit bills to be included in the agenda. The 2007 version was being collated by the office of Hous­ton's Garnet Coleman on the day Democrats for Reform held its press conference. When asked why Democrats for Reform did not cancel its conference, knowing the caucus was working on the new list, Strother replied, "The press release was written, and the press conference had already been called."

The 2007 version of Moving Texas Forward was not in fact issued until March 8. But Phillip Martin, who was chief of staff for Coleman and is now a consultant for the Burnt Orange Report blog, said he was surprised Strother claimed he did not know the agenda was coming. "I heard what he said, and I thought, 'We did that,'" Martin said. "We worked so hard on that." The delay, he said, was because the agenda linked policy aims with a list of bills intended to reach the stated objectives, and bills could still be filed until the 60th day of the session. When finally published, that list included bills from 68 of the 69 House Democrats, including two authored by Dukes.

Dukes is currently facing a challenge in the March 4 primary from East Austin lawyer Brian Thompson.

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