Texas Attorney General Candidate Barry Smitherman Discusses Government Transparency & Border Security
Texas Railroad Commission Chairman and candidate for Texas Attorney General, Barry Smitherman, sat down with TexasGOPVote recently to discuss transparency in government and how the Texas Attorney Generals Office can help the border regions with border security related issues and crimes. Smitherman is currently in a three-way race to succeed Attorney General Greg Abbott who is currently running for Governor in the 2014 Republican Primary to be held March 4th.
Transparency in Government
Gen. Abbott set transparency in government as one of his key issues in his race for Texas Governor. I asked Commissioner Smitherman to comment on this issue and specifically about one of his opponents record (State Rep. Dan Branch) on legislation regarding full disclosure of potential conflicts.
This dates back to the 2003 Texas Legislative session where Rep. Branch killed a transparency bill that would have made representatives who are partners in a law firm that also represents clients before the legislature as lobbists.
Smitherman responded, "First off Bob, transparency is absolutely critical. The citizens have a right to know where your money is coming from, how you’re making it, and what the relationship is with people that you do business with. So if you’re a legislator, the voters ought to know exactly how you make your money, and whether your partners are engaged in an activity like lobbying or lobbying in front of your committee, representing clients that may actually be clients in the subject matter that you’re the chairman of the committee of. So as I understand what happened in 2003 is that there was an ethics bill that would’ve brought more transparency to this issue that requires you to disclose that your partners are lobbyist and here’s who they’re representing."
"And that once this got to the floor," Smitherman continued, "there was an attempt to add an amendment on it that would make it very clear exactly what would be required. Then Representative Branch stood up, and I think there is some tape on record, and basically killed this amendment which would’ve added more disclosure because I assume it would’ve directly affected him and his law firm and his partners and their ability to have lobby clients and educational lobby clients as well. This should not be accepted."
Smitherman has served as the appointed head of two large state agencies, The Texas Public Utilities Commission and the Texas Railroad Commission. In these agencies, he is used to tight ethical constraints that dont seem to apply to the members of the legislative branch.
"When I was Chairman of the Public Utility Commission," he explained, "I could not accept a cup of coffee. Our ethical requirements were so stringent that we were beyond reproach. Everyone knew that the decisions that we were making at the PUC were based on the facts and the information. Never were they influenced."
"As a Railroad Commissioner and Chairman of the Railroad Commission" Smitherman continued, "all of my donations, everything is public. We conduct ourselves in the same manner. The income that I make is from some passive investments which everybody knows about because they see my financial disclosure at the end of the year. I’ve been disclosing financially for ten years. To my wife, she feels like it’s a little personal, but that’s part of your responsibility as a public servant. I don’t have outside businesses. I don’t have outside partners. I don’t have outside consulting contracts, and I think the public is entitled to know this."
During the floor debate on the bill discussed above, Rep. Branch engaged in a debate with Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) over the issue of partnership disclosure. During that debate Branch stated that he was "generally" in favor of "reasonable" disclosure. I asked Smitherman if this sounded like real transparency.
"Now there’s two modifiers in that sentence." Smitherman responded. "Generally, which means not all the time, just sort of when I think it’s appropriate, and reasonable, which is in the eyes of the beholder of what reasonable is. So by stringing the two together, that significantly waters down disclosure."
"Many law firms, particularly big law firms in Houston and in Dallas," he continued, "don’t have members of their firm that are legislators. They made an affirmative choice not to have that potential conflict. If a law firm is going to have a member of its firm, a partner or an associate be a legislator, then they need to know that that’s going to require disclosure. There may be nothing wrong at all. You may be lobbying for a very good client: a very wonderful company in our state, but I think our citizens ought to know that."
At a recent meeting of the Downtown Houston Pachyderms Club, I asked Rep. Branch about the issue of border security and the Attorney Generals role in this issue just as I had asked Smitherman during a September, 2013 interview. During Smithermans interview, I received very specific answers as to what role the AG could play in this issue. Branch, however, gave a very vague answer as to the importance of securing our border and then said he would sue the federal government for the costs incurred by Texas due to the failure of the federal government to secure the border.
I asked Smitherman what he thought of Branchs response and particularly on the issue of suing the federal government for these costs since, apparently unbeknownst to Branch, that had already been tried by then Governor George W. Bush.
"As you know," Smitherman replied, "I’ve talked very specifically Bob about a task force to reign in violence along the border. Prosecuting crime that is already on the books, theft, DWI, trespassing, assault. Any of these need to be prosecuted by AGs working with local DAs. This approach has been accepted and has gotten great response from border county DAs."
As to the issue of suing the federal government Smitherman responded, "I’m surprised that Representative Branch is not aware of this case. It’s been on the books for a long time. It’s sometimes called US vs. Texas or Bush vs. Janet Reno, who was US Attorney General at the time. The fifth circuit said very clearly in the case, that this was a political question, not a question that was subject to judicial, either affirmation or rejection."
"Basically," he continued, "what the court said was “look, there are three costs that you’re complaining about. Criminal Justice, healthcare and public education. And in the case of criminal justice, those are state laws that you’re arresting people for, so that’s your responsibility. In the case of healthcare, Texas, you’re accepting Medicaid dollars so therefore you can’t complain about giving healthcare to undocumented aliens. And third with regard to public education, I’m not sure I agree on with this part of the opinion either Bob, that because of the equal protection clause, we were obligated to educate undocumented aliens. This is the case that’s pretty well known."
The race for Texas Attorney General is certainly one of the most important elections in this 2014 Republican Primary. This is the person who will be the tip of the spear in defending Texas from this over-reaching federal government and the illegal actions of the ObamaThugs currently occupying Washington, D.C. TexasGOPVote will continue to focus on this election as we head for the March 4th primary and possible run-off election.