When it comes to protecting their own, the Texas House General Investigating Committee has no peer. The chairman of the committee says he will have a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning to determine whether a fellow legislator, and leadership ally, made illegal threats. Could this be a whitewash in the making?
The chairman, State Rep. Chuck Hopson (R-Jacksonville), is set to hold a closed-door hearing Tuesday, Nov. 23, to discuss allegations that an as-yet unnamed legislator threatened to use this year’s redistricting process to punish lawmakers disloyal to incumbent Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).
For his part, Mr. Straus says he never authorized, and would not condone, such action. (That’d be the part about threatening a legislator with redistricting, not shutting the public out of a hearing. Mr. Straus has been silent on this one.)
If Mr. Hopson follows through on holding a closed hearing, it will serve only to exemplifies why so many people are so distrustful of government.
1) Mr. Hopson was appointed to his post by Speaker Straus.
2) Mr. Hopson has received $42,000 from Speaker Straus in political donations.
3) The unnamed legislator is allegedly on the Speaker’s leadership team, with Mr. Hopson.
Rather than a deliberative or investigatory body, this is sounding more like a kangaroo court designed to tell the public there isn’t anything to see. The old reporter in me feels my nose twitch when politicians circle the wagons and hold closed meetings.
Texas Watchdog reports Joe Larsen of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas says it is a mistake for this meeting to be held in secret.
“It’s pretty clear House rules are going to trump the state open meetings laws, but it is in the public interest to have this out in the open,” Larsen says. “I think this person needs to be making these allegations to the people of Texas, not just to other inside baseball players.”
With the hearing being held behind closed doors, the public will not be able to judge the veracity of the allegation or the sincerity of the outcome. This “hearing” has the potential for a whitewash of banana-republic proportions.
While the legislator allegedly abusing the public trust is being shielded from public scrutiny, Mr. Hopson says he will open what one can only be described as a McCarthy-style hearing on the writings of Texas residents. His goal? Find out if any voter is threatening to unseat incumbents who support Speaker Straus.
When did constituents threatening a future political race based on legislative activity (or anything else) become illegal? What other forms of political speech will Mr. Hopson seek to ban, and in what situations?
It appears Mr. Hopson is unconcerned by the chilling effect on political speech his hearing could have; if anything, that seems to be precisely the point: to silence those opposing the insider-team of which Mr. Hopson is a card-carrying member.
Recap: Mr. Hopson protects from public a Straus supporter accused of breaking the law; Mr. Hopson will apparently use an open hearing to chastise Texans for exercising their First Amendment rights.
Perhaps Mr. Hopson needs a copy of the U.S. Constitution, and the recent Free Market Foundation v Reisman decision, to remind him that the people – not the lobbyists and Capitol insiders – are in charge.