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Recall petition fails

Tuesday, February 22, 2005 by

Toll party organizers plan new strategy

Admitting that they cannot gather the signatures they need to recall Mayor Will Wynn in time for the matter to be placed on the May ballot, organizers of the Austin Toll Party said Monday that they would give up that effort and begin a new project. Toll opponent Sal Costello said petition collectors would begin to register new voters and gather signatures for submission to the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and Governor Rick Perry. All those signing will be given a business card to place in his or her wallet to remind them of the names of those who voted for the toll roads. Organizers expect those signing the petition will then vote for opponents of anyone on that list.

Costello said the group decided not to attempt to recall the Mayor in September, the next time they might be able to put such an item before voters, because the recall and any subsequent election to replace Wynn would be too close to next spring’s election. Wynn’s term expires next summer. He has not indicated whether he plans to run for re-election.

Although they claim great success in educating taxpayers, mobilizing volunteers and building a “cross partisan movement to shape future elections,” the group’s greatest success appears to be removing the toll from the William Cannon Bridge at MoPac. In addition, there is little doubt that the firestorm generated by the Toll Party and angry citizens not affiliated with any movement has had an impact on plans for future tolling.

Political consultant Peck Young told In Fact Daily, “I don’t think they can sustain their temper tantrum that long…though God knows the majority of Austinites don’t like toll roads…I don’t think they can sustain (toll roads) as a defining issue for another year.”

As far as beating Wynn in a re-election battle with an anti-toll road campaign, Young said “they don’t have the financial ability or the PR ability and I don’t think the voters are going to give a damn” next year. He added that the toll opponents might make the Mayor think twice about whether he wishes to continue simply because of the confrontational nature of their opposition. While Wynn is probably safe in Young’s opinion, County Judge Sam Biscoe may not be. That’s because the rules governing donations to City Council candidates favor the wealthy by limiting contributions to $100 per person, while no such limit applies for county races.

Linda Curtis, political organizer and petition manager, said the group expects to have “a direct effect on the results of the Austin City Council races in May. We expect to play a major role in the election of some new members to the Council” who oppose the toll road plan. “Then we’ll move on to the 2006 state and county races.”

Costello said his group is expecting “something big” to happen soon. Evidently, Costello has reason to believe that one or more Council Members plan to bring a resolution forward saying that they oppose the toll road plan. What effect that might have on what CAMPO has already done is unknown.

Tim Taylor, founder and treasurer for Citizens for Responsible Community Leadership PAC (CRCL-PAC) released a statement yesterday also. “Their mean-spirited personal attacks were overshadowed only by the deceptive tactics they used to get voters to sign their petition,” said Taylor. “Unfortunately, their campaign represented a new low in Austin politics, and I think there are lots of people in this community who are very glad that it has finally come to its ignoble end.”

Those on the Austin Toll Party hit list, in addition to the Mayor and Governor Rick Perry, include Biscoe, Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin), Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin), West Lake Hills Mayor Dwight Thompson, State Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock), Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell, Williamson County Commissioner Greg Boatright, Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), Rep. Dan Gattis (R-Georgetown), Hays County Judge Jim Powers and Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. Daugherty has been singled out because he failed to vote in favor of an independent panel to study the costs tolling would have on taxpayers even though he voted against the toll road plan.

Bill would limit use of corporate funds

Legislation would make Texas law more like federal counterpart

Campaigns for People has spent the last year sowing the seeds of campaign finance reform, and with the introduction of bill to stop last-minute, corporate-funded attack ads, it is about to find out if that effort is going to bear fruit.

Reps. Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) and Todd Smith (R-Bedford) have filed House Bill 1348, which clarifies the prohibitions on use of corporate and union funds for campaigns. Sens. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) plan to file the Senate companion. Now the attention will turn to how much support each side can drum up on campaign finance reform.

Eiland says the bill is not a comprehensive attempt at campaign spending reform, but it would prohibit corporations and union from running so-called “attack ads” in the last 60 days before an election.

“We are trying to be consistent with federal law and Texas Ethics opinions, getting rid of any perceived gray areas and making things more black-and-white,” Eiland said. “From looking at the campaign finance reports from this last election, there is obviously plenty of money to go around from individuals and PACs. We don’t need corporate and union money in our local elections.”

Eiland pointed to campaign ads run against Rep. Tommy Merritt (R-Longview) as one example of campaign finance abuse. During a race last year against Tyler Mayor Kevin Eltife and former Rep. Paul Sadler (D-Henderson) to fill Sen. Bill Ratliff’s unexpired term, more than $60,000 worth of radio ads were played in the market. The radio ads, carefully timed for maximum effect, said Merritt had passed no more than eight bills in eight years and had never earned a position of leadership within the Republican Party.

Those ads, which also mentioned Merritt’s support to broaden the sales tax base, ended with the exhortation that people should call Merritt’s office and tell him to stop voting for more taxes, and offered Merritt’s office number to listeners.

HB 1348, if passed, would address the Merritt ads on a couple of different grounds. First, it would not limit the definition of illegal electioneering to the magic words test of “vote for” or “vote against” a particular candidate. Instead, the test for whether the ad constitutes electioneering would be if it mentioned a candidate’s name and was run in the area where the candidate was running for office, Eiland said.

The group that purchased the Merritt ads, Virginia-based Americans for Job Security, declined to reveals specifics of its funding. The bill would require it. Media coverage traced the ads back to Dave Carney, a political consultant for Gov. Rick Perry. Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had endorsed Eltife.

Campaigns for People has hosted events around the state to promote campaign finance reform. Supporters at yesterday’s news conference included the AARP and League of Women Voters, along with Public Citizen, Common Cause and local Reps. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin) and Mark Strama (D-Austin).

Strama, who ran the nationwide Rock the Vote Campaign for MTV, said one reason many young voters chose not to go to the polls was because they felt that big special interest money meant more than their votes. HB 1348 will make it clear that lawmakers will not tolerate unaccounted corporate expenditures.

“A race shouldn’t come down to the people with the most money,” Strama said. “It should be about the people (and groups) represented behind us here rather than those who are spending the most in the campaign.”

Eiland said Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) was aware of the bill and would take no position either for or against it. Eiland said he had yet to speak to Perry about the bill, saying that he was waiting for it to pass the House.

The bill won’t be a cure-all for every campaign finance ill, Eiland said. For instance, HB 1348 wouldn’t have stopped the Swift Boat Veterans (against Senator John Kerry) ads. It would, however, have made sure the ad’s funding was clearly disclosed. Eiland called HB 1348 a first good step to set guidelines on corporate and union contributions. Among its provisions:

1) Limits certain contributions. The bill provides a blanket prohibition on political parties accepting a corporate or union contribution for 60 days before a general election. It also applies to 60 days before a primary election;

2) Electioneering test. It discards the “magic words” test as a way to determine electioneering ads, redefining it by the candidate it mentions and area in which the ads run;

3) Administrative expenses. The bill would defines what type of “administrative expenses” can be funded by a PAC, and disallows expenses for items such as political consulting and telephone banks;

4) Reporting requirements. It raises the threshold for reporting individual independent expenditures from $100 to $1,000;

5) Fund transfers. The bill would prohibit PACs from giving money to each other;

6) Illegal coordination. It defines illegal coordination between a candidate and a PAC; and

7) PAC solicitation. The bill would limit solicitation of corporate and union PAC funds to internal shareholders and employees.

The law is modeled on current federal law and current Ethics Commission decisions. Smith, who joined Eiland at the press conference along with Hinojosa, Naishtat and Strama, said this bill was neither Republican nor Democra; it was an effort to provide clear guidance on campaign finance standards. If the bill is passed, it would go into effect in September.

To read a more detailed analysis, visit http://www.cleanuptexaspolitics.com/hb1348.

Fate of historic West Lynn house still pending

The owner of a 112-year-old house at 609 W. Lynn will have to wait two more weeks before finding out if he can have the city’s permission to destroy the home. The City Council put off a vote on historic zoning for the property, which is in serious disrepair, in order to allow time for any potential buyers to come forward.

Members of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association (OWANA) are pushing to have the home declared historic, saying it is an integral part of the fabric of the neighborhood. The new owner, Hunter Goodwin, has an engineering report stating the building is structurally unsound and wants to demolish it to make room for a new home.

The last time the historic zoning proposal was before the Council, they heard dueling estimates about the cost of restoring the home to a usable condition. After doing a line-by-line comparison of the two, the city staff determined it would take $467,000 to repair the structure and exterior of the home. That amount would not include interior renovation such as new flooring, carpeting, or cabinets, which could drive the cost up past $900,000.

Council Member Brewster McCracken sought the possibility of a compromise, noting that the cost of rehabilitating the building would be prohibitive if it is maintained as a single-family structure. ”It sounds like it would require some significantly greater intensity of use on the lot to create the income stream to pay for these improvements,” he said, suggesting the possibility of additional construction on the lot for a rental unit or units. “I’m trying to think if there’s some approach that would protect the character of the neighborhood but is not so financially infeasible.”

Neighborhood representatives were willing to consider that proposal. “The general agreement is that whatever it takes to save this structure, we’ll do,” said OWANA member Steve Colburn. “We recognize that it might involve subdividing or building something in the back.” Property owner Hunter Goodwin, however, was less enthusiastic. “I have never been received very well by this particular group, so it would be very difficult for me to open myself up to that,” he said. “They have not come to me with any suggestions, observations, or anything of that nature to this point.”

Council Member Betty Dunkerley moved to reject this historic zoning proposal for the house, and Council Member Danny Thomas offered his second. “This house has been around since 1893,” Dunkerley said. “I think somewhere along the line, the city and the neighborhoods…everybody concerned…has sort of fallen down. To wait until we get to this point, to where you would have to spend nearly $1 million to get it to where it’s nicely habitable…what happened in between? How can we encourage the owners of our historic buildings who want to keep them up to date to participate in the program?”

But Council Member Daryl Slusher offered a substitute motion for a two-week delay. “I think everybody would like to see the structure stay there, so if there’s any opportunity to make that happen that’s also fair to Mr. Goodwin, then I think we should explore it,” he said. Neighborhood representatives told the Council that there was at least one person interested in the possibility of buying and preserving the home, and Slusher wanted additional time for any negotiations to take place. His motion to put off a decision on historic zoning until March 3rd passed on a vote of 6-1, with Thomas opposed.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Today’s meetings . . . Yesterday’s holiday means more meetings today. The Board of Adjustment and Sign Review Board will meet at 5:30pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The Planning Commission will meet at 6pm in the Council Chambers and the ZAP Commercial and Retail Design Standards Task Force is scheduled to meet at 5:30pm in Room 523 of One Texas Center. The Urban Transportation Commission plans to meet at 6pm in the eighth floor conference room of One Texas Center . . . Anti-smoking petitions due today . . . Onward Austin, the group hoping to put a referendum on the May ballot to eliminate smoking in most bars and restaurants, is expected to deliver more signatures to City Clerk Shirley Brown today. The group turned in about 36,000 signatures three weeks ago and was given time, as required by law, to gather more. They must submit a number equal to 10 percent of the city’s registered voters. Rodney Ahart of the American Cancer Society is spearheading the drive . . . New endorsement for Knaupe . . . Place 3 candidate Gregg Knaupe has garnered the endorsement of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. Knaupe had already won endorsements from the Austin Police Association PAC, the EMS employees PAC, and the Central Labor Council. . . Dealey fund-raiser tonight . . . Kelli Bailey and Kristi Willis are sponsoring a fundraiser for Place 3 Council candidate Mandy Dealey from 5:30 to 7pm at 219 West Fourth St. For more information contact, kristiwillis@grandecom.net . . . AISD honors Kocurek . . .Austin school trustees approved a resolution last night to name AISD’s Health Science Institute at Lanier High School after the late Neal Kocurek. Kocurek is credited in creating the partnership between the school district and the local health care community. A formal announcement is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at the Lanier High School campus.

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