Monday, May 23, 2005

The Last Payoff, Part I

Debate on today's main event in the House, the voucher bill, has begun. A voucher pilot program has been added to SB 422, the TEA reauthorization bill. There are 98 amendments to the bill and it promises to be a brutal fight, although it's expected to pass in the end. The first point of order of several was just called and the speaker is looking it over.

What's amazing about all this energy expended on pushing vouchers in Texas is that it's not something the public particularly wants. There is no groundswell for vouchers. Instead, there is one very wealthy Republican campaign contributor who over the past 10 years has spent millions in campaign contributions for this day. That man is a San Antonio doctor named James Leininger. He is the last of the big contributors from the 2002 GOP campaign to get what he wants.

Rumor has it that Leininger has been lurking around the Capitol since last week twisting arms with the help of Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland). Word is that they've been successful. It's likely we will see rural Republicans whose districts will be hurt by vouchers vote against their constituents on this one.

Ironically, outside the House chamber, the man who appears to be coordinating the pro-voucher lobbying push is Bill Ceverha. You might remember him; he's currently awaiting a verdict in the TRMPAC civil suit. Ceverha was treasurer of TRMPAC, one of the lead organizations in the 2002 campaign.

Oddly, Ceverha is not registered as a lobbyist. We've seen him going to committee hearings and talking with legislators all session long. When asked about this discrepancy today, Ceverha told the Observer that he had registered in January but for some reason his electronic application had not gone through. Lobbying without registering is a Class A misdemeanor, but only if the person intentionally or knowingly violates the provision. Funny that.

But Dr. Jim isn't a registered lobbyist either.