Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Partisan Elections; Where Did They Come From?

During the campaign I have been asked on several occasions why we have to vote by party in the local primary elections. Many individuals have approached me stating that they want to vote for me, but also want to vote for one of the GOP gubernatorial candidates. That's a good question.

How was it decided that school boards and city elections would be non-partisan, yet county government is partisan? By county government being partisan local folks in many counties across the state must choose to vote in the state election or the local election.

I asked why partisan elections started at the county level, and the only answer that I got was that they had to start somewhere. I guess that is a point, but are local county elections a good starting point in this day and time? Seems that this system inhibits voters from casting votes for all candidates they are interested in.

According to Jim Allison partisan elections actually began at the Federal level. To maximize their influence on policy, national leaders organized into the Federal Party (succeeded by the Whigs and now the Republicans) and the Republican Party (succeeded by the Democrats) for the election of 1800.

During the 1800's, the political parties extended their organization and influence into state and local elections by selecting and endorsing candidates through a convention system. In 1905, Texas election laws were changed to require that major party nominees had to be selected by a party primary rather than a party convention.

County and precinct positions were included since the county is an arm of the state. However, municipal and local district elections were allowed to remain "non-partisan." Whether county and precinct candidates should be affiliated with a political party has remained controversial.

For many years in Blanco County all candidates filed as independents so as not to affiliate themselves with any political party. Over the years there have been a number of moves to move the judiciary to non-partisan or appointed positions. Naturally, these proposals have been opposed by both political parties. Since members of the legislature are elected by the partisan system the chances of change are problematic.

Jim Allison serves as General Counsel to the County Judges and County Commissioners Association.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Stimulus Funds for Me?

Stimulus funds, for them or against them they are here. Like them or not there are some stimulus funds available to Milam County folks. It is one of those opportunities that some might want to take advantage of.

It goes without saying that we are currently going through some difficult and trying economic times in Texas. Locally we have been spared the depth of the recession that other areas in the nation are experiencing, but there are still many folks feeling the effects of hard times.

During the month of April Texans can receive rebates on qualifying appliances. The appliances include refrigerators, dishwashers and water heaters purchased between April 16th and 25th. The state received 23 million dollars from the U.S Department of Energy to establish the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program.

This is a first of its kind program for Texas. The program will be administered by the Comptroller's State Energy Conservation Office (SECO). There are several "conditions" that applicant for the rebates must meet for eligibility. The first of course is that you need or can afford to purchase a new qualifying appliance.

Participants must be Texas residents. They must purchase an appliance in-store at a Texas retailer and replace an old appliance with a new energy efficient model to receive a mail-in rebate. These rebates can be stacked with other rebates and incentives available from the manufacturer. Purchase might also be eligible for federal tax credits.

Each household is eligible for up to two appliance rebates. However, the rebates must be for different appliances. All old appliances must be disposed of properly. Those participants that recycle their old appliances will receive an additional $75 rebate. The actual rebate for the appliance purchase varies with appliance purchased.

You can also sign up to receive up-to-date information via email, get answers to frequently asked questions and review a list of eligible appliances and the rebate amounts on the Comptroller's SECO Web site at

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Progress. Just exactly what is progress? Webster's defines progress as an onward or forward movement, a gradual development, especially, the progressive development of humankind. We constantly talk about economic progress and economic development being of prime importance to Milam County. While it is important I often wonder if we do not need to be careful of what we ask for.

Being born in 1951 I personally have seen a lot of progress. Today we have hand held devices that can do more than the first computer that filled several rooms. Cell phones not only allow for mobile voice communication they also email, text, surf the net and take pictures. GPS devices can tell you your exact location within inches, and even tell you when and where to turn.

I grew up without air conditioning, no TV, and radio stations were few and far between. Not sure that we even knew what FM stations were back then. Central air and heat was unheard of, and air conditioning, or refrigerated air was in more cars then homes back then. But we progressed, or did we?

Progress is sort of like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. While technology was supposed to allow us more time for the good life, seems that many folks are chilling in front of the computer today on face book or surfing some internet site thousands of miles away. No doubt that we can communicate more effectively and technology has changed our lives.

Texas is continuing to grow, and some would call this progress. However, the exploding population growth is putting some strains on our infrastructure. Highways are more congested and our air is more polluted. We produce more garbage and use more water. One major area that I feel we have actually regressed in is transportation.

In 1969 when I first came to Milam County a person could easily get to many places now inaccessible unless you have an automobile. Buses stopped in many of the local towns several times each day. East and west bound as well as south and north bound passenger trains traveled through and stopped in Milam County.

Today there are no passenger trains traveling through Milam County and bus stops are a thing of the past. So have we progressed in the area of transportation? Have we helped decrease pollution or decrease traffic on the highways by making mass transportation available? We have actually reduced the number of ways rural folks can get to town.

Progress in mass transportation for the state is something that Austin needs to start thinking about. Personally I believe we are already late in beginning some sort of mass transportation agenda. We have talked about it for years, but have done little.

It is time to move forward in planning for long term development of mass transportation for Texas. I know we like our cars and pickups, but the truth is that there are many of us that today would opt for mass transportation if it was available.

I will not argue that much of the progress we have seen has been good. However, it is time to think about what the results of progress will be and how we can manage some of the negative effects that are sure to be the result of increased population growth. Efficient mass transportation programs are one way we can reduce the detrimental consequences of progress.

Monday, March 1, 2010

House Interim Committee Meetings

Thanks for those of you who have become followers. Be sure to let your friends know that Frank's column is still alive in the cyber-world. It was a big disappointment to me when I learned the local newspapers were not going to be publishing my column during the race. However, they have their reasons and it all deals with equal time for opponents in a contested race. I do plan on being back in print the first or second week of November and at this point plan on continuing this blog.

That being said there is something else that will be back in 2011. It is the Texas Legislature. The 82nd session will be convening in January of 2011. While many folks might believe that the only time our representatives in Austin work is when the legislature is in session they are wrong. A great deal goes on between the sessions at the capital. Right now a number of issues are being studied by interim committees.

Currently there are more than two dozen interim committee charges that are of interest to counties. House committees will organize hearings on these charges and make recommendations for the 82nd session. The House Committee on County affairs will be hearing two charges of interest to counties.

Charge number one is to study the current practices and tools available to counties to manage growth and development. Unlike cities, counties are limited by statute as to what authority they have over controlling growth and development. This issue has been before the legislature before, but little has been accomplished.

Charge number two is related to indigent health care within counties. The committee is charged to study the delivery methods for indigent health care services that emphasize community based care to improve the continuity and quality of care. This charge could include a review of the indigent health care program and look for ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the program.

Number two is one that counties will really have to watch out for. In past sessions the state has tried to mandate payment of county tax dollars that go to support indigent health care locally be paid to the state. Then the state would reallocate those dollars to the counties when health costs were incurred. Not a good plan. Bottom line in my opinion we need to watch out for one of those good ideas from Austin that winds up costing us more local tax dollars.

One interim issue that we should all be interested in is one being studied by the Interim House Committee on Public Safety. They will be taking a look at the driver responsibility program and looking for ways to improve the program. This program was established by the 78th Legislative Session. It is a program that assigns points and surcharges to drivers for offenses of certain traffic laws.

Drivers that are not in compliance with the program may have their driver licenses suspended. The suspension of a driver's license has consequences for the criminal justice system. The program has been under scrutiny since its beginnings primarily because of its extremely low compliance rate. The surcharges that are assessed are simply not being collected at the rate predicted.

As a result of non-payment of surcharges the Department of Public Safety (DPS) has been required to establish an indigency program for the Driver Responsibility Program by September 1, 2011. Under this new program DPS will be required to waive all surcharges assessed for a person who is deemed indigent.

There are some 180 issues out there for study by the various interim committees. One especially interesting to me is one before the General Investigating and Ethics Committee. They are charged with the review of the definition of "political advertising" and to determine whether the definition should be expanded to include content contained in blogs and other types of Internet communications. Who knows, depending on the outcome of their study next time I might not be able to blog during the campaign.

Make it a point to let your representatives know what you think. It is never too early to begin lobbying for or against a particular issue. Study up on the interim issues and watch for the results from the committee studies. You can find a listing of all of the issues before interim committees at - 2009-11-19