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Lewis says campaign finance change likely this year

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 by

Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People fully expects some form of campaign finance legislation to pass the Legislature this session, the fruit of the recent indictments against those tied to a political action committee created by U.S. House Majority Speaker Tom DeLay of Texas.

Lewis spoke at a campaign finance reform summit in Dallas last week sponsored by a loose coalition of groups that included the League of Women Voters, the Blue Skies Alliance and the American Association of Retired Persons.

“I do think that campaign finance reform will pass this session because of the publicity surrounding the three indictments. There will be more indictments and a civil trial going to court in late February,” Lewis said. “We think that between the indictments and the enhanced public attention on the Legislature, we will see some of our proposals get through. Maybe not most, but some of them will be passed this session.”

Current campaign finance law in the state has no limits for individual or political action committee contributions, Lewis said. The state also has “leaky corporate prohibitions” and “a dysfunctional ethics commission.” More than $9 million in corporate money was spent during the 2002 state elections, despite corporate prohibitions. About a quarter of the money could be traced to 114 donors, Lewis said.

Campaigns for People’s four-point plan includes closing the corporate and union money loopholes; establish reasonable limits on campaign contributions; improvement the effectiveness and independence of the Texas Ethics Commission; and request legislators to record all non-ceremonial legislative votes.

Former Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, who recently lost a race for Dallas County Judge, said not all campaign contributions are bad but they do need to be openly disclosed. The Sierra Club was one of Ehrhardt’s biggest contributors, a fact that she was proud to disclose. The scope of campaign finance reform should be reasonable, Ehrhardt said.

Lewis had strong criticism for the Texas Ethics Commission. In its dozen years of existence, the commission has never audited a campaign, never subpoenaed a witness and hosted a single public enforcement hearing on an inconsequential case, he said.

No sponsor has been announced for campaign finance reform. Lewis said the biggest task ahead for the campaign finance coalition is to make sure the bill makes it through the legislative process. “Our job is to make sure they don’t kill it in the middle of the night,” Lewis said.

US still leads IT, with Texas a prime leader

Austin hosting world information tech congress in 2006

DALLAS— U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce Phil Bonds assured a Dallas chamber audience Tuesday that despite some opinions to the contrary, the United States still holds the edge on innovation in the increasingly competitive global technology environment.

The Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce hosted a breakfast with Bonds at the Renaissance Hotel yesterday to rally North Texas companies around The World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) slated for Austin in May 2006. The breakfast was an effort to drum up support and attention for the worldwide IT event.

“We have an increasingly competitive global environment, and in that, people doubt that America is still a leader in technology, yet we clearly are,” Bonds said. “We account for 44 percent of the research and development dollars in G-7 countries. We continue to lead in nanotechnology and biotechnology. Our job is to keep that going.”

According to recently released statistics from the National Science Foundation, research and development expenditures in the United States reached $276 billion in 2002. About 70 percent of that total came out of industry. California alone generated $55 billion in research. Still, Bonds said if the United States is the technology headquarters for the world, then Texas still holds one of the coveted “corner offices”.

Top leaders from government, academia and the corporate world will attend WCIT 2006. In 2004, Athens hosted the conference and two years before that the meeting was in Adelaide, Australia. WCIT expects an attendance of about 2,000 people, most of them corporate leaders. WCIT is the flagship forum of the World Information Technology Services Alliance, whose members comprise more than 90 percent of the world’s information technology market.

WCIT is seeking sponsors for Dallas technology companies. Ties to the conference range from the $10,000 “Crystal” level to the $1 million “Pinnacle” level. Major private-sector sponsors of the Athens World Congress included IBM, Microsoft, Siemens and INTRACOM. Speakers included the leaders of The World Bank, Silicon Graphics, Siemens and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Up to 400 members of the American and international news media have attended past conferences.

WCIT 2006 presents a unique opportunity to bring together the leaders of commerce to talk about open voluntary standards in the industry, Bonds said. Bonds said those standards have “obvious trade implications” for the country. WCIT gives the United States the chance to bring its core values of open trade and broad consensus on trade issues to a global stage on which many countries want to be players.

Interest in the conference is not limited to technology companies. Doug Nies, vice president and chief information officer of The Turner Corp., was on hand for the breakfast. The Turner Corp. is a Dallas-based construction company. Nies, who serves on a US Chamber of Commerce committee for the integration of technology, has two goals in his job: to use technology to make the construction job more efficient and to integrate technology into Turner projects in order to create “smart buildings.”

Nies describes it as “plug and play” technology for tenants. Buildings should be ready for use the moment the tenant steps in the door. It could mean a universal broadband network for the building or the use of RFID technology to track tenants for first responders. Nies considers technology in the home and office to be as much a culture as a product.

The WCIT 2006 effort is currently being housed in the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce office building. Fred Mapp, president of WCIT 2006, says the conference already has produced materials that will be useful to the state in future marketing of technology companies. The conference also will create networks for future technology recruitment.

Contractor hired to renovate Williamson courthouse

Williamson County Commissioners took another major step Tuesday towards the renovation of the county’s historic 93-year-old courthouse, as they named Broaddus and Associates of Austin to serve as the project manager. County staff will begin contract negotiations with Broaddus in the next few weeks.

The courthouse, constructed in 1911 on the square in downtown Georgetown, will be renovated using a $3.75 million grant awarded last spring by the Texas Historical Commission, and another $1 million of county money. Williamson County spokeswoman Connie Watson says the goal is to make the building look like it did when it was first constructed.

“The third-floor balcony, which was filled in to provide more office space, will be restored to its original condition,” Watson said. “They will add terra cotta doorway arches and rails on the exterior. A second spiral stairwell, which was replaced a while back with an elevator, will be restored in its original location. The walls will be painted orange-yellow.”

The building’s 26th District Courtroom was the site of an historic trial in 1923, when then- District Attorney Dan Moody made the first successful conviction and sentencing of a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Texas. His relentless pursuit of the Klan eventually broke the hate group’s death grip on Texas politics in the 1920s. Moody went on to become the state’s Attorney General and served two terms as Governor.

The main courtroom will be restored to look as it did in 1923 during the KKK trials, Watson said, adding that several pieces of furniture from that era are still in use in the room.

Efforts to restore the courthouse have been under way for several years. The county received a $250,000 planning grant from the Texas Historical Commission and then began applying for renovation grants, losing out in 2000. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed funding for the program was in 2001. However, a concerted effort by a coalition of county judges and state lawmakers successfully ushered a funding bill through the 2003 Legislature.

Williamson County’s $3.75 million grant was the maximum amount available under the grant program, Watson said.

“We are already beginning to move some of our offices and staff out of the courthouse to other county buildings,” she said, adding that the renovation project would get underway sometime early in the spring and will take about two years to complete.

In other action, the Commissioners hear a presentation from District Judges Billy Ray Stubblefield and Ken Anderson on the need for an additional, fifth state district court in Williamson County. The judges cited the rapid population growth in the county in the past decade, and a corresponding increase in their caseload.

County Judge John Doerfler noted that while the Texas Legislature must create the new district court and the state initially appoints and pays the judge, the county provides the courtroom space and hires and pays the courtroom staff. Doerfler asked the county staff to prepare a report on the cost of hiring staff and providing courtroom space for the additional court. The information will be used as part of a list of legislative requests the commissioners are preparing for the local statehouse delegation, Doerfler said.

Politics . . . City Council Place 3 candidates Jeff Trigger and Margot Clarke were hard on the campaign trail yesterday as Clarke put out a list of well known supporters and Trigger sent a press release officially announcing his candidacy . . . Clarke’s campaign manager, Elliott McFadden, says Clarke’s endorsement list includes: Mary Arnold, Mike Blizzard, Shudde Fath, Marguerite Jones, Amy Wong Mok, Robin Rather, Mark Yzanaga, Bettie Naylor, Sabino Renteria, among others. Clarke, outreach coordinator for the Texas Sierra Club, is sending out a fund-raising letter touting her credentials as a dedicated public servant, both paid and on a volunteer basis. She will not be making a formal announcement until January, but has hired McFadden and consultant Glen Maxey . . . Trigger’s press release focuses on his successful business background as well as involvement in community issues, especially those involving the downtown area. Trigger is the managing director of the Driskill Hotel, a member of the board of the Heritage Society and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. He is the current chair of the Downtown Austin Alliance. Trigger emphasizes fiscal responsibility and economic development. The treasurer for his campaign is businesswoman Bobbie Barker of Texas Gas Service Company . . . Gregg Knaupe will be kicking off his campaign for a yet-to-be-determined seat between 5:30 and 7:30pm tonight at Little Mexico Restaurant, 2304 S 1st Street . . . Still working out the glitches . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken reported last night that he was stuck in a new City Hall elevator yesterday along with Tina Bui and Jerry Rusthoven, aides to Council Members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman, respectively. Fortunately, that only lasted for about five minutes. However, City Hall phones went down for at least an hour and a half. Clearly, the new building, while perfect architecturally is still a work in progress mechanically . . . Diehards to protest this morning . . . Angry Hill Country residents and local environmentalists plan to greet the Lower Colorado River Authority board as they arrive at their meeting this morning at the LCRA’s Hancock building on Lake Austin Boulevard. They will be waving signs to continue to put out their message that the water authority should not put its line down Hamilton Pool Road. The board voted to approve the controversial line at a specially called meeting last week. Those who attend today’s board meeting are unlikely to hear anything about that decision . . . Today’s meetings . . . The City Council audit and finance committee will meet at 10am at the Municipal Building, 8th and Colorado in Room 304 . . . The Environmental Board is scheduled to meet at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center . . . An Aggie in paradise? . . . Ginger Goodin of the Texas Transportation Institute made a presentation on managed lanes to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization this week. Goodin noted successful models for managed lanes in San Diego and Houston. Some jurisdictions use managed lanes as a revenue source. Other jurisdictions utilize lanes to improve the flow of traffic. TTI provides research on managed lanes for the Texas Department of Transportation. During her presentation, she quipped to the CAMPO board members, most of whom are elected officials from the Austin area, that her job gave her the best of both worlds: She works for the Texas A&M-based Institute, but unlike others at TTI, she gets to live in Austin . . . Heading for a billion…. According to figures presented by CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick on Monday night, Central Texas picked up 11.2 percent of the state’s available federal transportation funding in 2004, of which 6.5 percent went toward the Central Texas Turnpike Project. That brought Central Texas a total of $650.1 million in funding. In 2005, that percentage goes up to 12.8 percent, or $939.7 million. That total includes $220 million for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s toll package.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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