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Best, worst labels stuck on local lawmakers

Monday, June 20, 2005 by

Barrientos responds to critical Texas Monthly designation

Central Texas lawmakers made both the 10 Best and 10 Worst lists for Texas Monthly magazine’s annual legislative issue, both for what they did and what they didn’t get done during the recent legislative session.

Texas Monthly writers Paul Burka and Patricia Kilday Hart unveiled the lists at a news conference on Friday. The magazine’s Best/Worst List is a post-session tradition for Texas Monthly. Burka says he doesn’t expect the slate to affect elections – that’s not the intention of the list – but he does recognize that the post-session ruminations are a source of hot buzz at the Capitol.

This session, Rep. Dan Gattis (R-Georgetown) and Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) were named to the “ Best Legislators” list, earning high praise for their effectiveness in getting legislation passed. Burka, who covered the House, spoke of the lobby’s respect for Gattis’ work ethic and his ability to hear out both sides of an issue.

Burka related one story on a tort reform bill Gattis passed during the session. Burka came to the Capitol, imagining it would be a bloody floor fight. Instead, Gattis was able to produce letters of support for his bill from the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and those on the other side, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, smoothing the way for quick passage. Such abilities cleared the way not only for Gattis’ bill but also for the asbestos lawsuit legislation.

“He took some of the ideas that the trial lawyers had and said, ‘They have some ideas that seemed completely reasonable. There was no reason not to do them,’” Burka said. “That impressed me. He didn’t say ‘no’ right off the bat.”

Ogden, who represents a portion of Williamson County, was praised for his efficiency in getting the budget passed. On the other hand, Texas Monthly put Rep. Terry Keel(R-Austin) and Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) on the worst list.

Burka admitted the Keel call was really a slap on the wrist for the District 47 representative’s last-minute maneuvers that killed the judicial pay raise, which was based more on returning an imagined slight than on policy. Burka said Keel was one of the most talented members of the House, but he had a problem with his temper.

“His problem is that he has a low boiling point, and he boiled over at the end of the session and killed two major bills in a fit of rage,” Burka said.

Burka admitted Keel’s problems were nothing like the Memorial Day Massacre, when then- Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth killed an entire day’s calendar of bills in retaliation after a parental consent bill was pulled. Still, the two lawmakers had a lot in common – both were faced with choosing whether to let go of a personal argument for the good of chamber. And, as Burka pointed out, while Wohlgemuth was named to the Worst list for the Memorial Day Massacre, she did manage to make her way back onto the Best list for efforts during other sessions.

This is the second time Barrientos has been named to the Worst list. The first time was the session after Lloyd Doggett went to Congress, and the magazine accused Barrientos of pouting most of the session. This time, Hart says the “worst” label was awarded to Barrientos because of the lawmaker’s lack of an agenda during the session. Given his tenure and experience, Barrientos made little impact on major bills during the session, even when they related to his pet topics, such as state employee pay raises.

“Instead, it was Sen. Tommy Williams out of The Woodlands who did the real work on pay raises,” Hart said. “Talking about it, people said he was just not a player. He was someone we looked at very closely to get things done, but instead it appeared that things got done not because he was there but in spite of the fact he was there.”

Barrientos’ office issued a statement on Friday afternoon. “I am sure I am not alone in disagreeing with both the selections made and the manner in which they were made,” Barrientos said. “I think the personal bias of the writers plays a larger role in the choices than they would admit. It’s ironic that they criticize the defeat of a terrible Hill County-bashing bill, and that they suggest that somehow its passage would have served justice.”

Barrientos went on to say he took his direction from his constituents and not the power brokers or rumor mongers who feed at the Capitol troughs. He said he focused on the issues important to working people and compromised when appropriate.

Others on the Best list were Reps. Dianne Delisi (R-Temple), Fred Hill (R-Richardson), Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), Mike Villarreal(D-San Antonio) and Sens. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), John Whitmire(D-Houston) and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo).

Others on the Worst list were Reps. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), Mary Denny (R-Aubrey), Al Edwards(D-Houston), Kent Grusendorf (R-Arlington), Phil King (R-Weatherford) and Robert Talton (R-Pasadena) and Sens. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) and Chris Harris (R-Arlington).

Gay rights lobbyist stepping down

Randall Ellis has announced he is stepping down as the executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby (LGRLT) of Texas. Ellis has been the group’s director for two-and-a-half years. Ellis just completed a long and tough legislative session in which issues such as bans on gay marriage and gay foster parents, among others, were hotly debated. Ellis says he plans to take some time off and complete his master’s thesis. LGRLT officials have not announced a replacement for Ellis.

Milago condos hot property, says agent

Kevin Burns says he’s yet to find the bottom of the downtown residential market, not unexpected from a broker who has a waiting list of 200 to buy in the Milago Condos on Town Lake.

The condominium project once known as 54 Rainey Street may be a study in just what type of housing unit is selling in downtown Austin, and what appears to be selling is upscale but not excessively high-priced real estate in the downtown hub. The original concept for 54 Rainey Street, later renamed the Monarch, was a rather cushy 76 units on Town Lake, with a price tag of $250,000 to $2 million per unit. Dallas developer Gordon Dunaway started the project in 1999, managing to win a zoning change from a more restrictive category to DMU (Downtown Mixed Use). After the site plan was done, the tech boom began to crumble and Dunaway couldn’t pay the bills. Fairfield Residential picked up the property three years later, increased the number of units and lowered the price.

Burns, of urbanspace, is now selling 240 somewhat-smaller units in the price range of $160,000 to $700,000. Milago Condos will be a 13-story Town Lake community, with units ranging from 750 to 2,421 square feet. The average price on the units at Milago will be in the range of $300,000, Burns reports.

“We’ve gone from a very high-end price point on large units three years ago to a much more reasonably priced housing unit,” Burns said, adding that residents cross the gamut from young to old, single to married. “At an average price of $300,000, we’re looking at a condo that is less than half the price of what they originally conceived.”

At a buyer’s party last week– which included neighbors from the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association– Fairfield LLP and urbanspace celebrated a project with 220 reservations on 240 units, and a waiting list of 200 people for smaller units in the project. That’s all happened since Feb. 4, which far exceeded Burns’ initial expectations.

“I couldn’t begin to tell you how deep this housing market is,” Burns said of the possible number of units that could be built downtown. “It’s really synergistic. People move downtown and then they tell their friends how great it is downtown, and then they tell their friends. It’s a paradigm shift in society, moving from living large in the suburbs to living small in the urban infill.”

That’s why urbanspace has catchy posters up in its windows that say things like “Say ‘no’ to the white picket fence.’” And “Downtown. It’s what’s for dinner.’” It’s a lifestyle that has yet to hit its full stride, Burns said.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Swearing in tonight. . . After the current Council canvasses the votes at 10am this morning, the seven, as currently constituted, will have finished its businesses. At 6pm, incumbent Betty Dunkerley and newcomers Lee Leffingwell and Jennifer Kim will take the oath of office. State District Judge Gisela Triana will administer the oath and Rev. Carlos Cloyd of the Parker Lane Methodist Church will lead the invocation. Assistant Director of Parks and Wildlife Cora Wright will sing the national anthem and the Fire Department will present colors . . . Mayor Pro Tem to be selected . . . The only question is who will be honored with the title of Mayor Pro Tem. Just two members of the Council have expressed interest in the job—which brings with it no extra pay and a few more responsibilities. The two are Council Members Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez, each of whom will be finishing his second term in 2006. There has been a suggestion that each take the job for six months. Friends of Thomas have indicated that he may be interested in contending for the Mayor’s position next year . . . New leader for teachers union. . . The Texas Federation of Teachers elected Linda Bridges–a longtime union activist and president of the Corpus Christi American Federation of Teachers (CCAFT)—as its president Friday at the group’s biennial convention. Bridges takes the reins from John Cole, who is retiring after 24 years at the post. Bridges officially takes office on July 1. “I’m energized and ready to go, which is good because with my election comes news that the Legislature is ready to try and tackle school finance again next week,” Bridges said. . . . Protest today. . . Demonstrators from Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) will be out in front of the Governor’s mansion today to protest Gov. Rick Perry’s failure to veto HB1609, which eliminated a requirement that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) hold hearings on requests for new landfill permits. The demonstration starts at 11:30am. In addition to the environmentalists, Travis County asked the Governor to veto the bill, but to no avail. Now, TCE will be asking that the TCEQ write clear rules to let the public know how many requests for a hearing will be enough to demonstrate “sufficient interest” for the agency to schedule one . . . Other events . . . The city’s Electric Utility Commission will meet at 6pm at the Town Lake Center assembly room. The panel will hear an update on a proposed zero energy subdivision . . . The Urban Transportation Commission is also scheduled to meet at 6pm in the 8th floor conference room of One Texas Center. . . Rain barrel Sale . . . City of Austin water customers (and customers of MUDs that purchase water from the City) may purchase up to four rain barrels at a discounted price of $60 per barrel. There is no increasing price structure as in the past. If you live outside of the Austin Water Utility service area, you may purchase rain barrels at a cost of $95 per barrel. Customers are limited to four barrels per sale. The rain barrel sale will be held this Saturday, from 9am to noon. You may pre-pay for rain barrels by bringing a completed application ( http://www.cityofaustin.org/watercon/downloads/rbsaleapp0205.pdf) and a check to 625 E 10th Street, Ste 615. You will receive a receipt that will allow you to pick up your rain barrels. Payment is also accepted on the day of the sale by check, money order, credit card or exact change. Those who do not prepay may also purchase barrels on the day of the sale. Be sure to bring your water/utility bill and photo ID to 6014 Techni Center Drive on Saturday.

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