Archive for July, 2009

No, it couldn’t happen… could it?

KayBay just can’t make up her mind– first saying that she is resigning her Senate seat to run for governor, then reversing course later the same day and saying that she intends to hold on to her Senate seat while running. It’s all rather confusing. An additional twist is that if Hutchison does step down to run for Governor, her Republican primary opponent, Governor Rick Perry, will be responsible for appointing someone to fill the vacancy.

There are a number of interesting ways that he could handle this: some have argued that he might appoint another potential Republican primary contender, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to Hutchison’s Senate seat to get him out of the way.

It brings to my mind, though, an interesting episode of Texas history. In 1941, one of Texas’ U.S. Senators, prohibition enthusiast Morris Sheppard (“there is as much chance of repealing the eighteenth amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail”) died in office. Within a year, his widow married the other U.S. Senator from Texas, Tom Connally, and it was left to then-Governor Wilbert Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, a former conservative radio host (sort of the 1930s version of Dan Patrick) and lifelong combatant of “communistic labor leader racketeers”- he capped off his political career with failed gubernatorial bids in 1956 and 58 during which he ranted incessantly about the Supreme Court’s “communist inspired” ruling in Brown v. Board of Education- to fill the vacancy.

Let’s pause for a moment, because W. Lee O’Daniel is a really interesting guy. From Handbook of Texas online:

At the behest of radio fans, he filed for governor on May 1, 1938. During the Democratic primary campaign in one-party Texas, he stressed the Ten Commandments, the virtues of his own Hillbilly Flour, and the need for old-age pensions, tax cuts, and industrialization. While posing as a hillbilly, he acted under the professional direction of public-relations men. Accompanied by his band, the Hillbilly Boys, and the Bible, he attracted huge audiences, especially in rural areas. In the primary he smashed the other candidates and eliminated the usual necessity of a runoff. He had pledged to block any sales tax, abolish capital punishment, liquidate the poll tax (which he had not paid) and raise old-age pensions; but he reneged on all these promises. He unveiled a tax plan, secretly written by manufacturing lobbyists, that amounted to a multiple sales tax, but the legislature voted it down.

O’Daniel won again in 1940, after divulging that he had wired President Franklin Roosevelt that he had confidential information about a fifth column in Texas. No one ever found the traitors. The governor and several Texas business leaders began attacking organized labor in the spring of 1941, but most of the provisions of the ensuing O’Daniel Anti-Violence Act were eventually discarded by the courts. O’Daniel began packing the University of Texas Board of Regents with people who wanted to limit academic freedom and ferret out alleged subversion on campus. These regents, along with those selected by his successor, Coke Stevenson, eventually fired University of Texas president Homer Rainey and provoked a nine-year censorship of UT by the American Association of University Professors. As governor, O’Daniel enjoyed little success in putting across his agenda. He was unable to engage in normal political deal-making with legislators, vetoed bills that he probably did not understand, and was overridden in twelve out of fifty-seven vetoes—a record. But he was able largely to negate his ignorance, his isolation, and his political handicaps with masterful radio showmanship.

By the time Sheppard died, O’Daniel was in the middle of his second term as governor, and was growing tired of having what little legislative agenda he had trampled by the state legislature. The vacancy created by Sheppard’s death seemed pretty appealing to O’Daniel, but he was required to appoint an intermediary to fill the vacancy until a special election could be held. His plan? Appoint someone who wouldn’t be interested in holding the seat permanently, and who wouldn’t challenge him in the special election at the term’s conclusion in 1943.

Enter 86-year-old Andrew Jackson Houston, who in 1941 was the last surviving son of Texas founding figure Sam Houston. Upon receiving word of his appointment, his two daughters feared that he couldn’t survive the trip to Washington, and held him back for several weeks. Finally, though, in mid-May, he traveled to Washington and became the second-oldest person to enter the U.S. Senate, taking the same seat his father had held 82 years earlier (the oldest Senate freshman, also the first woman to serve in the Senate, has a remarkably similar story). He attended a single committee meeting, and died shortly thereafter. He has, to this day, one of the shortest congressional careers in U.S. history- his total time in office was from April 21 to June 26 1941- just over two months.

Upon Houston’s death, the special election was moved up, and O’Daniel ran against New Deal congressman Lyndon Johnson, dealing him his first electoral defeat in an election that was almost certainly stolen (mysterious and questionable “late returns”) in the same fashion that Johnson stole his election to the same Senate seat from O’Daniel’s successor, Coke Stevenson, in the election following O’Daniel’s retirement from the Senate in 1948.

Hopefully, Perry isn’t thinking along the same lines that O’Daniel was in 1941. But who knows?


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The Wall Street Journal has this interesting item today. Apparently:

With the budget deficit soaring toward $2 trillion, the Department of Justice has figured out how to play its part: double-sided photocopying.

There are other acts of national sacrifice. The Forest Service will no longer repaint its new, white vehicles green immediately upon purchase. The Army will start packing more soldiers onto R&R flights. The Navy will delete unused email accounts.

Three months ago, President Barack Obama ordered his cabinet secretaries to find $100 million in budget cuts for the current fiscal year to emphasize the point that he, too, was serious about belt-tightening.

I’ve seen this sort of thing happen before: on TV. And it didn’t end well.

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Listen up, teabaggers

One of my duties as a Washington Monthly intern is talking on the phone with our elderly founding editor, Charlie Peters, and helping him with the research for his column, Tilting at Windmills. His column isn’t archived on our Web site (except for the columns from 2000, which is strange), so that means flipping through the paper archives, praying that he is at least close to remembering the correct publication date (one item which he thought he had written in the early 90s turned up eventually in the February 1979 issue).

Here is his latest request, made just moments ago, which I have been able to retrieve from the April 2007 issue.

The truth about taxes

Republicans point to the low unemployment rate last year of 4.6 percent, and say that it is a result of the Bush tax cuts. But they forget that the rate was even lower- 4.0 percent in 2000- under higher taxes during the Clinton administration. Indeed, if you go back in history, prosperity and and high taxes have often co-existed. In the twenty-two years since the end of World War II that unemployment has been less that 5 percent, taxes have been higher than they are now twenty-one times. In thirteen of those years, the top rate was 70 percent or higher. In nine, it was 90 percent. That’s right, unemployment less than 5 percent, and a tax rate of 90 percent. Actually, in four of those years the unemployment rate was under 4 percent, the lowest it has ever been.

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My week of internviews

The reason that I haven’t written anything substantial here for the past few days is that I have been deep under a pile of work: finishing up the CNC “day in the life of a congressperson” video that will be posted here soon and conducting a series of interviews (or internviews, as I prefer to call them) for Washington Monthly. We are at work on our annual college guide issue, (which has a really neat conceptual basis) so, since late last week, I have conducted a series of six interviews with people who have interesting and innovative ideas for reforming or improving higher ed in some way. I’ve decided to post the most interesting of them here, or, substantially less-edited versions of them than will likely appear in print. Bear in mind that transcribing interviews is very tedious work- so you’ll have to forgive any typos or AP incorrectness which may and will arise.

With that said, the first is the longest by far- Monday afternoon, I sat down for lunch with Stanford communications professor Jeremy Bailenson, who is an advocate of virtual reality-mediated teaching. He has taught courses through the online virtual world Second Life and argues that avatars can make better teachers than humans can. My interview with him is here.

The next interview that I’ll include was with Dr. Eduardo Padron, the president of Miami-Dade College (formerly Miami-Dade Community College) who has caused local waves by offering baccalaureate programs in competition with the local four-year universities. The New York Times did some coverage on him that I used to prepare the interview. My interview with him is here.

Finally, my favorite was with Barmak Nassirian, a spokesperson for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Don’t let the boring title fool you: he has some provocative ideas and isn’t afraid to talk about them. If you only read one internview, read this one.

There were also three internviews I did- one my e-mail and two by phone- with people related to MIT’s OpenCourseWare project, an initiative in which participating MIT professors, and those from more than a hundred schools around the world, post course materials- readings, videotaped lectures, assignments, exams and answers- online where they can be accessed by anyone, for free. The project itself is pretty interesting, but none of the folks I talked to had anything interesting to say about anything other than how great MIT is for doing this. Too PR-y. So you don’t get to see those.


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Thank you, science

Vodpod videos no longer available.Can’t argue with this, it’s science.

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

I really can’t mock him for this. I am terrible at math myself.

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Barbaric news

byrdConvicted dogfighting ring operator Michael Vick has been conditionally reinstated by the NFL. This is simply barbaric news.

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