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Houston Chronicle Commentary: TRCC and Builders Money
Monday, 25 August 2008

A builder, a commission, a lot of cash
It remains to be seen what will happen to the recommendation to abolish the Texas Residential Construction Commission, but it is no sure thing, thanks largely to the money with which Houston home builder Bob Perry continues to shower lawmakers. Although the proposal was applauded by consumers, who view the agency as little more than a protective haven for home builders, the first of several potential obstacles is the Sunset Advisory Commission itself, which must decide whether to endorse or reject its staff's work.

COMMENTARY
A builder, a commission, a lot of cash
By CLAY ROBISON
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN — Sometimes, recommendations from the staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission get enacted into law. Sometimes, they are rejected by the Legislature.

It remains to be seen what will happen to the recommendation to abolish the Texas Residential Construction Commission, but it is no sure thing, thanks largely to the money with which Houston home builder Bob Perry continues to shower lawmakers.

Although the proposal was applauded by consumers, who view the agency as little more than a protective haven for home builders, the first of several potential obstacles is the Sunset Advisory Commission itself, which must decide whether to endorse or reject its staff's work.

And that is a $446,000 question.

Politics and public policy

That is the amount of political donations Perry has given the 10 lawmakers on the Sunset Commission (the panel also has two public members) during their legislative careers.

Any lawmaker will try to assure you that his or her public policy decisions aren't affected by political contributions, but Perry and other donors know that isn't always true. That's why they keep writing checks.

Perry was a prime mover behind the creation of the TRCC in 2003, viewing it as a way of protecting builders from being sued by unhappy customers by allegedly weeding out bad actors.

But the sunset staff has concluded the agency is doing homeowners more harm than good.

More than half of the money, $272,500, that Perry has given to Sunset Commission members has gone to Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville. Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the vice chairman, has received $64,500; Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, $35,000; and Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, who is in a tough re-election race, $22,500.

Perry has given lesser amounts to other commission members.

Other donations, too

Deuell was unavailable for comment, and Hegar said he wants to hear public testimony on the staff recommendation before deciding.

One panel member, Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, said she didn't want to abolish the TRCC but wanted to make it more consumer friendly.

McClendon has received three donations totaling $7,000 from Perry since 2003.

Perry's largess, of course, doesn't end with the sunset commission. He has donated at least $2.3 million to state candidates and causes during this election cycle alone.

His spokesman, Anthony Holm, said the TRCC was designed to protect consumers and "some form of TRCC is needed for that."

Odd man out

With Gov. Rick Perry (no relation to Bob Perry) acting more and more like he really is going to run for re-election and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison making people believe she isn't going to back down from a governor's race this time, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is looking more and more like the odd man out of the 2010 GOP gubernatorial sweepstakes.

In that case, Dewhurst could run for Hutchison's Senate seat or seek re-election.

Re-election may become a more attractive option if Speaker Tom Craddick is unseated in January. The two Republican legislative leaders never have played well together, and Dewhurst could view removal of the autocratic Craddick as an opportunity to strengthen his own influence over legislation.

Were Craddick to lose the speakership, listen for a war whoop from the other end of the Capitol, because Dewhurst would have trouble restraining himself.

Denying a challenge

Although Attorney General Greg Abbott has said that he won't challenge Dewhurst, some political observers still speculate that could happen if Dewhurst remains in the state's No. 2 job much longer.

For what it is worth, though, Abbott was one of only a few elected officials to attend a small 63rd birthday party that Dewhurst recently threw for himself at an upscale Austin restaurant.

Most attendees were family members and friends. The only other officeholders in the group of 40 or so were Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. Former state Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, also dropped by.

Thoughts from Sen. Patrick

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, called to say he didn't like the tone of last week's column item about his efforts (unsuccessful, so far) to secure a seat on the Senate Finance Committee.

He said I also misrepresented his comments about the committee needing a "strong Republican voice," which sort of implied that the other Republicans on the panel are a bunch of free-spenders.

"I said it needs a 'strong Republican voice from Harris County,' " Patrick said.

And, he insisted, he isn't criticizing the work of Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who is on the Finance Committee but represents only a small part of Harris County.

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http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/robison/5964001.html

 
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