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14
Jan

What Are They Doing in Austin?

As I See It…

By Gary Gillen

What Are They Doing in Austin?

As I sit here watching the Texas House of Representatives elect their Speaker, I’m reminded that in the next 140 days these men and women will see constituents from their districts, delegations from business and many other interests while attending committee meetings to hear testimony on the seven thousand to nine thousand bills that will be introduced.  It is a huge job and a short time during which to accomplish the business of Texas.

But little will happen to those bills during the first weeks of the session.  Texans have a strong mistrust of government.  Our Constitution limits the speed at which bills move through the process to slow legislation down.  In the House the only requirement is to pass a biennial budget.  That budget is usually made public in the first week of the session.  But that bill creating the budget is traditionally introduced by the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.  This session begins without an Appropriations Chairman so HB/SB 1, traditionally the Bill number of the budget, may not be filed immediately.  It is expected that the Speaker of the House, Joe Straus, will have named committee chairs by the first week of February.  Once a Chairman of the Appropriations Committee is named, the budget will be the hot button issue of the 84th Legislature.

During the period that the Speaker is deciding on Chairmen for committees, the House determines rules by which they will operate and settles many housekeeping issues.  But, I believe the real reason for the delay in appointing committee chairs is to slow the process.  With few committee chairmen in place there are fewer committees meeting. With fewer committees meeting less testimony is heard and fewer bills are considered in those committees.  That means fewer bills make it to the calendar to be heard on the floor.

But that may be best.  With bills pushed farther back in the session it is less likely that a frivolous bill will survive the gauntlet our legislature creates for them.  With seven to nine thousand bills introduced each session the process is intended to make certain that every bill the legislature passes has been thoroughly considered and the public has had an opportunity to testify to the committee hearing it or has been able to express his or her opinion on the topic to their Representative and Senator.

By spending time at the beginning of the session debating rules and carefully adopting procedures that insure the minority is heard and important issues facing Texas are addressed, the Legislature is doing what Texans want.  By pushing committee appointments back a few weeks thereby moving bills later in the session, the process keeps our Legislature from “over-Legislating”.

It may seem an inefficient (because it is) and a cumbersome (because it should be) way to make laws, but these traditions and rules enable the Legislature to address the truly important issues we face without allowing enough time for the creation of laws we do not need.

Still, it is a major sacrifice our representatives make when they are elected.  And while we may not always agree with them we do owe them our respect and gratitude.    I wish the US Congress followed the same schedule!

 

Gary Gillen owns and operates Gillen Pest Control and Gillen Political Strategies in Richmond.  He is the only person in history to have served on both the Richmond City Commission and the Rosenberg City Council.  He was the Chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County 2006-2007.  He can be contacted at Gary@GaryGillen.com

4
Dec

Senate District 18

As I See It…

By Gary Gillen

Senate District 18

The voters of the United States dealt a devastating blow to the Democratic Party and repudiated
the policies of President Barack Obama by increasing the Republican control of the United States
House of Representatives and sweeping the Democratic leadership from their control of the US
Senate by handing Republicans control of that body as well. Before the election President Obama
famously stated that while he was not on the ballot his policies were.  The voters showed him just
how they felt about those policies.  The Obama administration’s over-reaching drive to intrude
into every area of American life helped convince voters to elect even more Republican governors.
The states have long been the laboratories of democracy.  This administration’s efforts to
federalize every issue has backfired with the voters.

In Texas voters again placed Republicans in every statewide office including Senator Glenn Hegar
who was elected State Comptroller.  Republicans increased their numbers in both the Texas House of
Representatives and the Texas Senate.  Voters may feel they have done their job but there is more
to do.  As a consequence of the election of Hegar to the office of Comptroller he resigned his
Senate seat and the Governor called a special election to elect a candidate to complete the
remaining two years of Hegar’s unexpired term.

As this column went to press three candidates had announced their intentions to run for the
office.  State Representative Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham explained that “Texas Senate District 18
includes roughly half of Fort Bend County and all or parts of 20 more counties.”  From the Gulf
Coast at Corpus Christi to Caldwell in central Texas the 18th district is large and diverse.
While the election is open to any candidate from any party, the sheer size of the district will
require a formidable candidate with a well funded campaign to be able to reach voters.

In an interview, Kolkhorst explained the role her faith plays in her office of State
Representative.  “My faith serves as a compass that guides me each day.  I strive to make every
decision in the Legislature with the knowledge that He is guiding me and I often use my daily
devotion for inspiration.”

Kolkhorst has chaired the House Public Health Committee and in the 83rd Legislature fought the
expansion of Obamacare in Texas by teaming up with Governor Perry and Senators Cornyn and Cruz to
resist President Obama’s push to expand Medicaid in Texas.  She also led the battle to stop the
Trans-Texas Corridor.  Known for her history of fighting to protect property rights from eminent
domain abuse by government overreach she felt the project unduly harmed property owners and
Texans.

Kolkhorst has an impressive campaign fund and has been easily raising funds for this race.  Gary
Gates, a business man from Richmond has the ability to fund his campaign personally.  While
controversial, he has good name recognition from his past unsuccessful races for various offices.
He has run in the past for State Representative twice, school board twice and this is his second
run for Senate.  Also running but with less name recognition is Charles Gregory of Simonton.

This race will be hard fought and very quick so name recognition and money will certainly be a
benefit.  With Kolkhorst’s past experience as a State Representative, large war chest and
indefatigable spirit, she is a formidable foe for Gates and Gregory.

3
Oct

Are All Politics Dirty?

Politics is what one has to go through to get to Government. You might say it is the road that leads to seeing your vision for your community-whether that be a neighborhood association, municipal utilities district, city, school district, county, state or nation-put into place. And politics is something we love to hate.

I was in a meeting recently when one member of the group said, “I just hate all the dirty politics.” I asked what she considered “dirty politics.” When she had no answer I asked her if a comparison advertisement that compares one candidate to another such as voting record, community involvement, education and the like would qualify as “dirty politics?” She replied that in her opinion it would.

Another member of the group said he thought comparison ads were fair game as long as they are honest. Then he reminded the group of a cowardly and dishonest anonymous letter that was sent out during a recent Sugar Land race smearing a candidate with thinly veiled bigotry and racism. The group agreed that the letter qualified as dirty politics in several ways. First, the author and whoever may have helped send it weren’t courageous enough to put their names on it. Second, the content of the letter was misleadingand dishonest. Finally, the letter personally attacked the candidate. The sad thing about that incident is that Sugar Land is really better than that.

Most people do not take the time or know how to really research candidates in elections. And it is impossible for a candidate to meet every voter in his voting area. That leaves political advertising. Whether it is a newspaper advertisement, radio or television ad or a direct mail piece, the candidate must introduce himself and, often, differentiate himself from the other candidates. We all agree, I think, that saying something that is untrue about your opponent would be dishonest and “dirty politics.”

Comparison ads, however, if done honestly can actually educate the voter. Let’s say you are a candidate for a position. You have lived in the voting district for 28 years. Your opponent moved into the district in order to run 6 months ago. Is it fair to compare the years you have lived there to the time your opponent has lived there? I think it is fair because it is a provable fact. Or perhaps you have voted in the Primary Election of a particular party for 20 years. Your opponent has never voted in that Party’s Primary election but claims to be a staunch member of that Party. Would it be fair to point that out? Again, I think it is because your voting record is public information. While we cannot know for whom you voted we can know that you voted.

I think we can all agree that candidates who use comparison ads should compare themselves with their opponents honestly. But what if a candidate is dishonest about whom they are?In a recent race in Fort Bend County one candidate claimed to be a conservative, even telling some people she was a Republican. A check of the Texas Ethics Commission website and the Federal Elections Commission website showed that this “conservative” had contributed thousands of dollars to President Barack Obama, thousands of dollars to the Fort Bend Democratic Party, thousands more to Democratic Clubs and a whopping $15,000 to Emily’s List- the organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic Women. One wonders how the prominent Pro-Life Catholic Republicans who supported her felt when this information was discovered? The voters would probably not know about this hypocrisy were it not for political advertising.

The General Elections are to be held November. Traditionally the campaign season begins after Labor Day. As your mailbox begins to fill up with political mail take the time to look at the pieces. Decide for yourself if the information appears honest, useful and appropriate. When you receive a comparison advertisement look at the comparisons. Are they comparing relevant facts? Do they cite the source of the information?

3
Oct

Dirty Politics and the End of Non-partisan Races

As I see it….

By Gary Gillen

Dirty Politics and the End of Non-partisan Races

“He supports Affirmative Action, raising taxes and amnesty for illegal immigrants…”

“He’s a Tea Party Republican”

In our last issue I discussed political advertising and what constitutes “dirty politics.” I encouraged you to look for “provable” statements in political advertising. Read the two lines above again. Both lines sound like honest, provable statements. It is entirely plausible that a liberal Democratic candidate might state publicly that he supports all three issues in the first line when appealing to party faithful.A Democratic candidate might want to send this message to likely Democratic voters.

The second line, too, might be a position a conservative Republican candidate would publically state when addressing his supporters.If you are a conservative and support the ideals of the Tea Party movement the second line might make you vote for the candidate. Therefore, a Tea Party Republican would want Republican voters to know he identifies with that party and its beliefs.

And both statements might be honest and provable statements in a political race. In fact, both statements were used in a recent race for City Council of Missouri City.

What if we reversed the intended recipients of each message? In mail pieces and automated phone calls sent to Republican voters the first line was used to describe a candidate. Certainly conservative voters would not want to support a candidate who wants to raise taxes and give amnesty to people who broke our laws to get here.The second line went to Democratic households who, presumably, would not support a member of the Tea Party, seen in Texas as conservative.

You might recall that political communications in Texas must carry a political disclaimer so that the reader will know who funded the communication. I reviewed several political mailers in this race and they did not have the required political disclaimer so we cannot tell who sent them. The automated telephone calls did not inform the person receiving the call who originated them. Simply said, voters, who might consider the source of a message in determining its credibility, received these messages by phone and mail with no way to determine the likely accuracy and honesty of the message. The sender, in violation of Texas law, is a mystery. And it is little wonder why these vicious and mean spirited people would hide behind secrecy.

It is because these illegal and dishonest political communications are talking about the same candidate! Neither of these statements is true. By sending a message stating the candidate is a liberal to Republican households and tellingDemocratic households that the candidate is an extreme conservative this dishonest shadow campaign succeeded in ousting a sitting City Councilman who, I am told, served the citizens well. Apparently the originators of this message believe the end justifies the means.They can break the law and lie as long as they win. But even if he had not been a good City Councilman, this is not the waygood people win elections. Apparently they believed their candidate could not win in an honest election. They failed to trust the voters enough to let them decide on their leadership through honest and transparent means and, instead, used deception, dishonesty and secrecy to fool the voters. And shame on the voters for accepting these statements without doing just a little homework. Now that’s dirty politics.

It is apparent that truly “non-partisan” political races are a thing of the past in Fort Bend County.   Fort Bend County Democratic Party Chairman Don Bankston, in a letter addressed to “Dear Democrats” stated, “we have

some excellent Democratic candidates” for Fort Bend School Board and City of Missouri City races. In the race for Missouri City Council “Chris (Preston) is a strong Democrat and supporter of President Obama.”   Preston beat incumbent Danny Nguyen who was the victim of the above mentioned illegal and dishonest advertising.

Fort Bend Republican Chairman Mike Gibson said the GOP “did not actively engage in the campaign because the local races were non-partisan.”   Sounds like a decision the Republicans of Fort Bend County should reconsider. That’s just how I see it.

3
Oct

Zerwas talks Budget and Healthcare

As I See It…

By Gary Gillen

Zerwas talks Budget and Healthcare

The citizens of north Fort Bend County are fortunate to have a State Representative who holds a very powerful spot in the State Legislature. Dr. John Zerwas has become a leader in the House of Representatives serving on the powerful Appropriations Committee, Chairing the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, Chairing the General Investigating and Ethics Committee and serving as a member of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Zerwas, 59,( R ) Richmond, was first elected to the House in 2006. He has served four terms and is a candidate for reelection in November. Dr. Zerwas agreed to sit down with Katy Christian Magazine to discuss issues of real importance to Katy and north Fort Bend County.

He explained that Texas government operates under a two year budget cycle. He said, “State Agencies are already under a mandate to reduce costs and waste through a reduction of ten percent of operating budgets.” The House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees have held several hearings during thelast several weeks in preparation for the next session.

The 2014-2015 budget is $200.4 billion with Health and Human Services at 36% ($73.8 billion) and Education at 37%. “Medicaid expenditures make up much of that $73billion and account for about 23% of our state’s General Revenue spending” said Zerwas. He explained that there has been an historical belief that our state’s health care expenditures should not exceed education spending.

According to Zerwas Mental Health is an area that is receiving a great deal of attention. “In the past, most mental health care took place in our county jails. Probably the worst place to treat mental illness” Dr. Zerwas noted. He continued, “This is a major cost driver in our budget. When treatment is not effective or accessible we see the effects outside of the Health and Human Services arena, in our public safety, criminal justice and court systems.” For this reason the 83rd Legislature expanded spending in the mental health area.

The added funding was for: elimination of waiting lists in local mental health authorities, training school-based professionals on prevention and early identification of mental health needs, collaborative, public/private partnerships to allow communities to create whole, wrap-around community endeavors targeting homelessness and behavioral health and targeting specific families at risk of entering the child protective services system including substance abuse slots and psychiatric bed slots for children.

Another area of increased concern for Zerwas is Women’s Health. He explained that there are six million women of childbearing age in Texas today. In 2012 only 71% of women 18-64 had health insurance coverage. Zerwas indicated that “more than 60% of Texas births are paid by Medicaid, and more than two thirds of our Medicaid costs for newborns are related to prematurity. Medical costs for a child’s first year are dramatically different if the child is pre-term.” He said that average medical costs for a full term child are under $500 while a pre-term baby, once he or she has left the hospital could easily exceed $50,000.

For this reason the Legislature budgeted an additional $100 million for primary health care and the health and human services enterprise agencies are working to coordinate the delivery of women’s health services in Texas.

Being a physician, one of three in the house at a time when the health and human service budget is fast growing, Dr. Zerwas is the man legislators seek out when health care is being debated. His grasp of the issues in health care, not just the medical area of which he is clearly an expert, but of the funding and delivery mechanisms of state and federal government is astounding. And with his position on the Appropriations Committee he can speak with great expertise on funding across the entire state government from Agriculture to Space Sciences.

Katy is fortunate to have a capable, hardworking and knowledgeable Representative in Austin. His growing prominence in the legislature will certainly influence the entire state government and benefit the citizens of District 28.

Gary Gillen is vice-president of Gillen Pest Control serving Fort Bend and surrounding counties.

6
Sep

Silver Taps

I want to tell you about a trip I made on Tuesday, March 3rd. It was Orange & Maroon Legislative Day in Austin. The two great flagship universities of Texas, University of Texas and Texas A&M University, have common interests and issues. By working together we believe we can accomplish what each could not alone. It was a wonderful day, but that is not the part of the trip I want to tell you about.On the first Tuesday of each month, a ceremony takes place in College Station if needed. Near Bastrop, just after sunrise Tuesday morning, my Blackberry vibrated telling me an e-mail was coming in. When I could safely read it, I found the e-mail from Texas A&M confirming that Silver Taps would take place that night. I knew this would be an emotional night because Silver Taps is the unique way the Aggie family pays final tribute to a currently enrolled student that we have lost.I haven’t attended Silver Taps since the late 70’s, so I turned my car toward College Station when I left Austin Tuesday evening. I arrived in College Station at 9:30 p.m., an hour before the ceremony.The Academic Building has a large copper dome atop its five stories.Academic Plaza, a large open area, sits west of the building. The lights across campus were dimmed. I found a place to stand at the edge of the Plaza near the flagpole. At the flagpole’s base was a simple white card with two names neatly typed. As I waited, a few people trickled in, then larger groups of students began to arrive at the Plaza. College students can be a rambunctious group but tonight they were silent.Periodically, a unit of the Corps of Cadets would march into the plaza.Spurred boots on the concrete and the fallen leaves from the majestic hundred-year-old Oaks blowing across the Plaza were the only sounds. At10:15 p.m. the carillon from the Albritton Bell Tower began to play. The clear, very cool night air allowed the bells to be heard across much of the 5000 acre main campus. And still the students came, in groups or singly, but the number in the Plaza grew. The huge Academic Building, completely darkened from the ground floor up five stories to the copper dome provided a stark but beautiful background.At 10:30, as the last strains of “How Great Thou Art” rang out from the bell tower, I noted that the Ross Volunteer Firing Squad, honor guard to the Texas Governor, had silently formed up just north of the Academic Plaza. In the light of the half moon they looked almost ghostly in their pure white uniforms. As they stepped off at a slow cadence, the only sound was their shoes echoing on the pavement. It took several minutes for them to reach the center of the Plaza, where now hundreds of students stood in silence.

Ever so slowly, one step at a time, with almost robotic precision, they turned and pierced the stillness of the night with three volleys of seven rifles – the flames from the shots visible in the darkness. And then silence again.

I stood amidst hundreds of people and the only sound was the leaves blowing across the ground. Then, from the north side of the dome of the Academic Building, muted trumpets penetrated the quiet with a mournful duet of Silver Taps. Tears welled in my eyes as they again played Taps from the South side of the dome. Finally, the third time from the West side. Silver Taps is not played to the east because the sun will never rise again on these Aggies.

Almost in unison, hundreds of students turned and silently walked away from Academic Plaza in every direction. Within moments, only the ghostly specter of the white-uniformed Ross Volunteers, still at attention, and a small group who seemed to be in silent prayer, were left in the Plaza. The Bell Tower chimed one note for a full five minutes. As the final toll of the bell faded, the Ross Volunteers turned and marched south in their same sad, slow cadence. As the echo of their steps faded, the Plaza was again dark and quiet. Another Silver Taps was over.

I’ve heard it said that the Aggie culture is one that from the outside you cannot understand and from the inside you can’t explain, but I’m not sure that is true. I didn’t know Troy Marschang, a Petroleum Engineering major or Elton Samir Vasquez, a Mechanical Engineering major. I suspect that very few of the hundreds gathered in the Plaza did either, but they were part of the Aggie family and we all felt the pain of their loss. That is why hundreds of us were standing there on a cold and windy night. A final tribute to fallen comrades. These two young men will be remembered again on April 21st at Muster. The roll call of the absent – every student and former student we have lost in the last year – will include their names.

For each of them, a friend will answer, “Here.”

Unfortunately, I can already tell you there will be a Silver Taps ceremony on the first Tuesday of April. A student was killed in a traffic accident just last weekend, but too late to be included in this ceremony. I didn’t know her either, but if I’m near College Station, I’ll be there.

If you want to hear “Silver Taps” click on this link:

http://aggietraditions.tamu.edu/remember/silvertaps.html