Republicans in trouble in Texas

August 18, 2010

Four years ago, while few were watching, Democrats took every county post in Dallas County, Texas, previously a bastion of Republican votes.  Not even normally-Democratic-leaning Harris County (Houston, nor Bexar County (San Antonio), went so blue.

In Corpus Christi in July, Democrats were wowed by a slate of powerful state-wide off candidates — Bill White, very successful, pro-business Mayor of Houston nominated for governor, a firebrand of a woman named Linda Chavez-Thompson to make Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst sweat and run from debates, and Hector Uribe for Texas Land Commissioner, and others. White is leading Gov. Rick Perry in fundraising.

The rest of the state is waking up, too.  A blog at the Austin American-Statesman looked around the ethical challenges to Texas Republicans, and figured out that the Texas House of Representatives could very well go Democratic.

Lots to get to today as [Joe] Driver takes a hit, we learn more about the state’s budget problems and thousands of prison workers could be out of work.

While the split between 77 Republicans and 73 Democrats in the Texas House is close enough that there has always been a legitimate battle for partisan control in 2010, most objective observers have long said Republicans are likely to keep a House majority heading into next year. For one thing, it’s a Republican year, and for another, GOP groups seem better-organized and better-funded than usual, and for another, we already know of one seat (Wichita Falls) that is likely to switch from Democrat to Republican because of an incumbent’s retirement.

Well, this thing just got more interesting.

Jay Root of the Associated Press reports in this morning’s papers that Rep. Joe Driver, an 18-year-legislator, has been getting reimbursements from the state for legislative-related travel and other expenses paid by his campaign, to the tune of $17,431.

From Root’s story: “A north Texas state representative who rails against the evils of runaway government spending admitted Monday that he has pocketed thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for travel expenses that his campaign had already funded. Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, faced with findings from an investigation by The Associated Press, acknowledged in an interview that for years he has been submitting the same receipts — for luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals, fees and incidentals — to both his campaign and to the Texas House of Representatives. He has also been collecting thousands of dollars in state mileage reimbursements for travel in vehicles for which his campaign has shelled out more than $100,000 since 2000. The AP’s review of hundreds of pages of state and campaign travel records found that Driver double-billed for at least $17,431.55 in travel expenses, much of it at fancy out-of-state hotels, since 2005. The number could go higher, but House travel records before mid-2005 have already been destroyed. Driver has been in office for 18 years. The double-billing figure does not include the vehicle expenses.”

What’s almost as amazing as the story itself is Driver’s reaction to the findings. His initial effort at damage control made Linda Harper-Brown look like Karen Hughes.

“Now you’re scaring the heck out of me,” Driver told the AP, adding: “It pretty well screws my week.”

Ya think?

Later in the story, Driver says, “If I knew it was wrong, I wouldn’t have done it that way. I wouldn’t have done it just to make money.”

In Driver’s defense, he did warn us that he wasn’t a numbers guy.

Driver’s campaign actually did put out a real defense Monday night. Here it is, in its entirety:

“After reviewing the facts with ethics specialists in the Texas House it is clear that an inadvertent mistake was made in my campaign expenses.”

Republicans grow desperate.  Stay tuned to Texas, and send money to Democrats if you can.

Here’s Hector Uribe at the State Democratic Convention:


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