House Speaker Joe Straus has announced his committee assignments for the 84th legislature. As expected, the chamber was gerrymandered to constrain conservatives and magnify moderates. One particular committee chair appointment is rife with conflicts of interest.
A politician who has worked for his own enrichment throughout his 17-year legislative career, State Rep. Jim Keffer was appointed to Chair the Natural Resources Committee. This appointment further empowers Keffer to write legislation that benefits his family iron sales company.
Keffer’s family’s company, EBAA, is an iron casting business based out of Eastland. According to the company website, “EBAA manufactures joint restraints and flexible expansion joints for use on water distribution pipelines as well as wastewater pipeline systems.” Who exactly are the primary customers of water distribution pipelines and wastewater pipeline systems? Local governments and municipalities.
In 2004, Modern Casting, an industry publication, called Jim Keffer “Metalcasting’s Washington Insider.” This came after Keffer spent time testifying before Congress and lobbying politicians in Washington to subsidize his iron sales business. While he was supposed to be busy serving the citizens of District 60, Keffer was instead campaigning to become both the President of the American Foundry Society and the American Waterworks Association.
In a comment given to reporters, Keffer explained that after joining his Father-in-law’s iron company after college, he was pushed to run for office to benefit the family’s bottom line.
“My father-in-law is a very political person, and he encouraged me to become involved,” said Keffer. “I initially worked with the Texas government through lobbying efforts. When this Texas House opportunity came up, my father-in-law told me to give it a shot, and I won.”
So when Keffer authored legislation last session to bail out his business, he was simply continuing his career of serving himself over taxpayer interests.
In 2013, Keffer teamed up with a Democrat in an attempt to impose a mandate that would benefit his business and increase taxpayer expense by 15%. He was also one of the leading advocates for Proposition 6. The constitutional amendment created yet another funding mechanism that encourages local water districts to issue additional debt for water projects. The additional debt is aimed at combatting water shortages resulting from self-inflicted permitting delays, not a lack of public funding.
While nobody would argue that water shortages aren’t a serious concern, it was Keffer, big government, and big business that created the shortage in his very own district. The shortage was a byproduct of helping swindle the State of Texas out of over $1 billion in prime real estate. Two lakes, Possum Kingdom and Lake Granbury (a formerly constant-level lake) have seen tragically historic lows as a direct result of action by Keffer—exacerbating the drought and water shortage that served as justification for the very water plan he authored.
Keffer wasn’t just cushioning his own bottom line through the effort – he was also helping his son receive a big pay-off. Chris Keffer, Rep. Keffer’s son, is a registered lobbyist and political operative for the liberal Eppstein Group, run by consultant Bryan Eppstein. In his role as a lobbyist, Christopher Keffer has lobbied for a company out of Houston called Inland Pipe Rehabilitation (IPR).
Unsurprisingly, IPL sells metal pipe products used in municipal water services just like the Keffer family business—the very same water services that are eligible for financial backing under Keffer’s Prop 6.
Now as Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Keffer will have even greater ability to impact legislation and stump for his self-interest. Among other items, the committee is charged with jurisdiction over including “the control and development of land and water and land and water resources, including the taking, storing, control, and use of all water in the state, and its appropriation and allocation.”
Such an assignment places Keffer in prime position to pump tax dollars out of communities directly into his business.
Sadly, Keffer’s cronyism is all too common in the House of Straus. Public Education Committee Chair Jimmie Don Aycock was appointed despite his daughter being a lobbyist for a far left teachers’ group. Public outcry against the conflict eventually saw his daughter resign her lobbyist post.
Conflicts of interest should be managed by House leadership and by individual legislators. Rather than be placed in positions to grow their business at taxpayer expense while “abstaining” from votes that affect their interest, members should be placed on committees where they can’t brazenly shill for personal enrichment.
Doing so would ensure that public servants assigned to positions of power actually serve the people instead of themselves. As for the bad actors, Texas voters should send them back to the private sector.