Corruption in State Agencies.
There is a reason why the Texas Republicans like Rick Perry and Tom Delay abhor oversight, transparency, watchdogs and the Public Integrity Unit.
It seems that the scandal at the cancer institute (CPRIT) is just the tip of the iceberg.
As I posted in a recent diary, the state's Health and Human Services Commission is under investigation for awarding a no-bid $110 million contract to an inexperienced medicaid fraud detection firm. Few are surprised to learn that the person who awarded the contract had a personal relationship with a lobbyist for the firm that received the award. An award of this size demands a bidding process. But eyes blinded by greed looked the other way.
In one of her recent columns Houston Chronicle opinion writer, Lisa Falkenberg, found it necessary to remind conservatives that being conservative is supposed to include fiscal responsibility. Lack of fiscal responsibility dogs conservatives.
No, I mean obviously bad spending, including but not limited to stupid spending, shady spending and sleazy spending. We can all join hands, sing Kumbaya, and agree that this kind of spending of taxpayer money is not good.
Yet, if you've seen a newspaper lately, there seems to be a rash of it in our "conservative"-controlled state. The Chronicle's Brian M. Rosenthal in Austin, along with reporters at the Austin American-Statesman, have reported extensively on a state contracting system that lets inexperienced companies win millions in contracts without having to compete. They simply sidestep the bidding process by getting pre-approved for contracts using a process intended for smaller purchases.
A pattern emerges. Once again the Health and Human Services Commission has a problem with oversight and conflicts of interest.
In December, longtime State Auditor John Keel found serious conflicts of interest and oversight problems in a deal between AT&T and … yep, the health and human services agency. The audit found that staffers assigned to monitor the contract failed to verify AT&T's performance and allowed the project's cost to balloon from an estimated $1 million to $105 million.
The agency didn't even know how much it had paid AT&T, said auditors. Unlike the Austin company, AT&T went through a competitive bidding process, but one has to question the veracity of it: one of the employees evaluating the bid used to work at AT&T, auditors found.
There's more. This one involves the DPS.
Chronicle reporters Rosenthal and Mike Ward recently confirmed that the Travis County district attorney's public integrity unit had been looking into another case of no-bid contract dealing by Perry's administration, this time at the Department of Public Safety.
It involved more than $20 million in contracts given to a Virginia defense contractor, Abrams Learning and Information Systems Inc., to help the state of Texas redevelop border security strategies. See if you see a pattern here: Abrams had little experience in the work it was hired to do. Abrams didn't have to bid for the contract.
And how did DPS get around the state's open-bidding laws on this one? There's loophole in the case of emergency. Perry had proclaimed on the campaign trail that border security was an "emergency." And that was enough.
That's not all. Border security became another cookie jar to rob.
It was the emergency that kept on giving. According to reports, the company was initially approved for $471,800 in March of 2006 to establish the state's Border Security Operations Center in Austin. Only three months in, that amount was hiked by $680,000. It just kept growing.
And Travis County's investigation? It died a quiet, sudden death when Perry vetoed funding for the public integrity unit. He said he vetoed the funding because District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg wouldn't resign after her embarrassing drunkendriving arrest.
But this latest revelation casts even more doubt on that claim. Maybe, just maybe, those grand jurors who indicted Perry for threatening Lehmberg, weren't crazy after all.
As Ms. Falkenberg points out it is the conservatives that are responsible for all of the above.
Who writes these laws? Who signs off on this bad spending? Who has the power to do something about it?
As if using the funding for the state's agencies for personal gain and turning a blind eye to corruption isn't bad enough, conservatives will also resort to junk science
in order to impose their beliefs and ideologies on others. When the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the challenges on the constitutionality of Texas H.B. 2, the abortion law, "experts" for the state used junk science to justify the medical benefits of the law. Fortunately the "experts" were caught red-handed and were forced to change their stories.
In previous rulings, the 5th Circuit had refused to consider whether H.B. 2 has any medical benefit. So it was a pleasant surprise when Judge Catharina Haynes—who voted to uphold other portions of H.B. 2 in an earlier challenge—questioned whether the law was medically justified. “You can kind of find an expert to say anything,” she told the state’s attorney. “Are we saying if you can find someone in the world to say we need marble floors in an abortion clinic, then that would be good enough to allow the Texas legislature to pass that?”
In fact, lawyers are not permitted to use experts to “say anything,” because they have a duty of candor to the court. But in recent abortion cases across the country, that is indeed what state attorneys are doing when they hire Vincent Rue, the pioneering junk scientist behind “post-abortion syndrome.”
The state's attorneys had hired Vincent Rue, a pioneering junk scientist who had been discredited years ago. But he hired himself out as a behind the scenes legal consultant.
In an unusual turn of events at the Texas trial now under appeal, the state was caught red-handed: Four of the state’s five expert witnesses were forced to change their testimony on the stand when confronted with emails showing they had lied about who had written their reports.
Fortunately a U.S. judge discovered the influence of Vincent Rue in the Texas defense of H.B.2.
Thankfully, Judge Lee Yeakel, who presided over the Texas trial, was “dismayed by the considerable efforts the State took to obscure Rue’s level of involvement with the experts’ contributions,” and we hope that the 5th Circuit and other appellate courts will closely examine the evidence on appeal.
There we have it. Opponents of abortion have lied and misled both the public and the courts in their quest to impose their will on the rest of us. Some conservative lawmakers seem to think they can dip their hands in the state's piggy bank to enrich themselves and their friends and loyalists. Given this prevalent behavior Texas is in dire need of new leadership. Conservative rule has damaged the future of this state beyond our imagination. Imagine how different it would be if the playing field were more level? Imagine how much better off millions of us would be if Texas had accepted federally expanded medicaid.
But despite the lawless doom and gloom the GOP has wrought and will continue to visit upon all but a few, there are some bright spots ahead. For many of us know we are so much better than the powerful, greedy, corrupted, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic and fascist leaning, conscience free conservatives Republicans, tea party Republicans and Libertarian Republicans. We can do far, far better.
Last night I attended a democratic political event in Houston called A Toast to a Blue Year. Wendy Davis and other top of the ticket statewide candidates were there as well as many local judicial candidates. All of them lost. Big time. But being together again meant so much to all of us there. The room was crammed to the point that I could barely move. I am not very tall so it was hard for me to see Wendy Davis when she addressed the crowd on stage. She had read thank you notes written by so many of us who appreciated Ms. Davis for putting herself through a deep pocketed Republican election wringer knowing the odds were stacked against Democrats. All of the candidates knew the odds are almost insurmountable. But they ran any way. In so doing the candidates gave us a big dash hope for the future.
Being in the middle of a crowded room packed by so many fine and upstanding people inspired all of us. I didn't have to see. I could feel the excitement and determination in the air. Volunteers for the Harris Co. Democratic Party and Battleground TX reconnected. There were plenty of hugs, high fives and tears of joy. We know we can work hard because we've been there done that. We'll do it again. And again. And again. Until we win.
None of us, including the candidates, are giving up. All of the candidates will very likely run for public office again. I hope they do.
Our first BGTX meeting in 2015 is next Tuesday in Houston. If you live here, be there.
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