Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Texas House District 60 Race

In most election years, the Texas House District 60 race is fairly quiet and uneventful. Current State Rep Jim Keffer has held the position since his election in 1997. With the exception of a challenge in 2002, he has been unopposed in his re-election campaigns. Currently, he has a challenger in a newcomer name Cullen Crisp. This race has heated up and in the final stretch is becoming a tad nasty. As with most contested campaigns, each side is claiming the other to slinging mud. Sometimes the mud is real and sometimes it is perceived. This campaign has both and needs some light shined upon it.

Regarding the Candidates
First, both Cullen Crisp and Jim Keffer are good men. Neither are serial killers or any other nonsense that comes into heated contests. Both own small business and have done well. Both are Christian men with families.

Separating Fact from Fiction
This is a tad more challenging, as water issues in Texas and this district in particular are heating up and mud is flying. So I will do my best to separate the garbage from the spin. Most of the rancor has arisen from the 501C4 Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and its President Michael Quinn Sullivan and the Keffer camp prior to Texans endorsement of Cullen Crisp. Texans came out with an unflattering ad of Keffer’s voting record of the 83rd Legislative Session. Here is their ad: http://www.empowertexans.com/uncategorized/tv-ad-jim-keffer-doesnt-want-voters-to-see/\
Is it dramatic and overdone – yes. Is it false, well, no. If you research the data, it is correct. Keffer’s office did not see it that way and put out their response – http://www.empowertexans.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/keffer-threat-letter.pdf. Is Keffer’s response over the top – I would say so. Let’s also be honest and state that the 83rd Legislative Session could be classified as one big spendstorm. Several Republican seats have become vacant due to sudden retirements from backlash of the spending that was done in Austin this past year. As such, Keffer’s office would have been better served to explain why he voted the way he did and stand his ground. Bottom line, if you cast a vote, you should be able to explain it and defend it. If you cannot, don’t do it. Has Keffer always had years like this – no. For most of his career he has been a respectable conservative vote. However, you will find with most conservative politicians is that the longer they are in office, the less conservative they tend to be. Keffer has served 16 years in office.

Texans endorsed Cullen Crisp after this mud started flying.

The water issue went nuclear 2 days ago with the article regarding the draining of PK Lake and Lake Granbury. I reposted it here for a few reasons: 1. I am intimate with the Morris Shepherd Dam issue and know fact from fiction, 2. HB3031 was authored by Representative Keffer, 3. The Buffer Zone was sold to Mike Patterson’s group for well under realistic market value at the time of the sale. 4. When the hydros were producing low cost power and even water flow, PK residents were not complaining, 5. This disaster for Keffer’s district has occurred under his watch. Those are well documented facts. There is one mistake in the article in the reference towards the 3.8 million in the Buyout portion of the article. That was actually part of a 12.75 bond issuance in 2005 for maintenance at PK Lake for the dam and 3.8 million was never spent after the units were sold. That is a federal crime, by the way. Now there are parts of the article I don’t know I have issue with. For example, I don’t have an issue with US Government bill monies going to only domestic US companies. Truthfully, that is how it should be. Those are my tax dollars and yours. What I want are competitive prices and fair bidding. IF that is not the case, then hang them by their Buster Browns. So, is Texans overly dramatic here – yes. While I may not like it, the fact Keffer’s son chooses to be a lobbyist and work for Bryan Eppstein (whom I personally dislike), he has every right to do so. Unless Texans has something factual that Eppstein’s group has done against the law, working in mud is a legal choice. I can see where it can raise red flags and all parties had best be ULTRA careful or otherwise get fitted for prison orange. So Texans is overly dramatic here as well.

Regarding the Proposition 6 bill, afraid Texans has this right. While it has been sold to voters as a solution to water issues, facts are it is not. The way it is structured, Prop 6 just gives more power to create debt in the name of water. We already have too much debt surrounding water boards that is part from ignorance of how to handle the issue and part in pork barrel projects. Drought is not our only water enemy in Texas; a growing population is a greater threat. Had Prop 6 been amended with some of the proposed transparency amendments, it would have been a better bill. Building a potential pipeline to move water is good. To use it to possibly move water from one lake to another is idiotic. There is one and only one solution to our water problem in Texas – desalinate the ocean water in the Gulf and pipe it inland. In 2012 at the Republican State Convention, I approached Keffer and Senator Glen Hegar, Chair of the Natural Resource Committee at the time on the topic. Both liked desal, but both shied away from the state potentially paying for a pipeline for a private enterprise to pump water inland. The reason this topic was important at the time was that I had a group of investors willing to put money into a very large south Texas desalination project. The investor’s hang-up was building a pipeline without the help of the State regarding eminent domain issues. So, when the topic went from building a plant to building a pipeline, the topic fizzed out. Now, in fairness, I continued the topic in phone and email communications with Senator Hegar to try to push the issue and still failed. Representative Keffer, also on the Natural Resource Committee and someone I thought would welcome any form of reasonable solution, never replied to further requests. Well, private investors like I had don’t like messing with eminent domain for pipelines, so unless the State of Texas makes desal a public works project, Prop 6 is a waste of paper.

Now, Keffer’s office has not taken the water article lying down. The cranked out their own spin on Keffer’s Campaign site: http://jimkeffer.com/urgent-truth-alert-on-possum-kingdom-lake-and-lake-granbury . I have issues with this response. To start, nothing comes out and addresses the HB3031 that Keffer did sponsor. It’s your bill – explain your position. Also, this use of the term DARK MONEY is a liberal tactic being promoted by Democrats in the US Congress against conservative groups who have figured out how the Democrats started winning elections last decade and are now legally using the same tactics. For Keffer’s camp to accuse Texans as a DARK MONEY source implies evil. Why would a Texas Republican and a declared conservative even promote such a term against another Republican? My gut is that this is the Eppstein effect as his political consultant and a form of party cannibalism I have personally seen and experienced before. For the record, I don’t know who backs them and really don’t care and here is why: The candidates they have endorsed have been fiscally responsible people and carried those traits onto the Texas House and Senate. I was endorsed in 2010, as was current Senator Brian Birdwell in the 2010 Special Election. The Legislators they rate after each session are based upon saving taxpayer dollars. It could be argued that maybe they want too much reduction in government. There are those that might agree with that. But saving taxpayer dollars is not what I consider a DARK form of politics, do you? Their filings on the Texas Ethics Website appear to be in order. Insofar as Keffer’s two Ethics complaints against Texans for undisclosed lobbying activity, a complaint is exactly that – a complaint. Unless they get some form of administrative action that is pristine and without interference or influence, this appears more of a personal grudge. Also, regarding the initial audit of the BRA – the disclosure here is not completely forthcoming. While it is true that Representative Keffer and Senator Birdwell got legislation through, it was only after 5 years of hounding at his heels and threatening to find another candidate for Keffer’s office did this start to take motion. Representative Keffer did not run willingly down this path as is implied here. If you have any doubts about this statement, talk with any member of the Lake Granbury Waterfront Homeowners Association.

Now, here is where this gets somewhat comical. If you review candidate Cullen Crisp’s website http://www.cullencrisp.com you will not find any mention of his endorsement from Texans, any negative data on Representative Keffer, or any mention of the BRA issue. Innocent neglect or brilliance?

So who is The Guy to vote for?
As far as Representative Keffer is concerned, most of his tenure has been solid. However, as stated before, his votes are beginning to stray away from what got him elected in the first place. If you doubt it, check his record. It is online and you can peruse every vote he has ever made. This happens when you get 10 plus years in office. While he was elected in 1997, he has been in 8 sessions covering 16 years. In my opinion, that is 6 years too long and why we need term limits in all forms of elected office. There is also the water issue surrounding the Morris Shephard Dam. Like it or not, intentional or not, he has played a part in a disaster and has shown no real way of how to correct the problem. My desire would be for Representative Keffer to just be Mr. Keffer in the iron business, which I would wish enormous success and hope he can get as much work for his business as he can handle.

As far as Cullen Crisp is concerned, this is young family man that has been very active in Hood County politics. He has a solid business background in the fire alarm business. I do not believe that he has lied in regards to Representative Keffer in this campaign. He is too well thought of and does not have the funds to garner the type of political consulting that comes up with the typical campaign garbage. Texans is an outside source that he has zero influence on. I believe in fresh faces ever ten years and hope he wins the race. If he does and stays beyond 10 years, then I doubt you will find me as kind then.

That is assuming my head has not exploded off my body from the entire political horse hockey……

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The Plot to Drain Possum Kingdom Lake and Lake Granbury

This is a re-post from the Empower Texans website on a article produced today.  Tony’s work helps complete a puzzle I started piecing together in 2009. He does not
reference the basis of the process, the BEPC versus BRA lawsuit or all of the money spent to keep the PK Lake hydros maintained. Also, the 3.8 million in bond money he references is part of the 2005 issuance and is the missing money I have queried for 5 years now.

Enjoy.

Lake Granbury

February 24, 2014 by

Today residents of Granbury are suffering from historically low lake levels that are devastating local property values. Citizens living around Possum Kingdom Lake are not faring much better. The Brazos River Authority blames the ongoing drought and claims that they are doing everything they can to manage the crisis. However, the evidence suggests that the powerful, who control the situation, are profiting off a crisis they designed while citizens suffer. It is worthy to examine what has happened, who has benefitted and how, and how the situation reflects a dangerous growing trend in Texas and American government.

Jim Keffer
State Rep. Jim Keffer has been involved in the plot to drain the lakes since 2004.

 

How the Lakes were Drained

It is best to divide the situation into what happened before February 26, 2007, what happened in the aftermath of that date, and what the situation is today.

For about fifty years before February 26, 2007, the Morris Sheppard hydro-electric power plant ran smoothly, supplying power to Brazos Electric.  At the dam that forms Possum Kingdom lake, between 100,000 and 300,000 acre-feet of water passed through the turbines in a typical year. This rush of water produced between 10,000 and 30,000 Megawatt-hours of electricity each year. The water that traveled downstream also kept Lake Granbury full, causing it to be labeled a “constant level lake.” Consistent lake levels, coupled with the beautiful North Texas scenery, allowed the little village of Granbury to blossom as many Texans traveled there for recreation and to maintain lake houses.

However, the levels this arrangement maintained in both Lake Granbury and Possum Kingdom prevented the Brazos River Authority, a quasi-governmental entity with control of the lakes, from selling a large amount of water. Because of the flow through Morris Sheppard, Lake Granbury remained full. That meant water entering the lake from the local watershed spilled over downstream — essentially meaning lost profits for the River Authority. If the BRA could devise a way to drain the lake, like wringing out a sponge, that would give the lake a capacity to capture more runoff. That, in turn, would mean that the BRA could sell more of its water resources in anticipation of a recharge.

In the years preceding 2007, there were developments which laid the groundwork for this balance to be upset. In 2004, the BRA applied for Permit 5851 from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in order to sell over 421,000 acre-feet of water per year to users in the Brazos basin.

Around that same time, the BRA started working with State Representative Jim Keffer, who represents Hood and Palo Pinto Counties, to find a way to sell off the “buffer zone” around Possum Kingdom Lake. So long as the BRA continued to operate the power plant at Morris Sheppard, then the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would require the Authority to maintain ownership of the land. But if the BRA could find a way for FERC to release the land, then it could be sold for tens of millions of dollars.

On October 13, 2006, Phil Ford, BRA’s General Manager and CEO noted a conflict of interest statement on the BRA website for “Stocks purchased through Merrill Lynch.” Those stocks happened to be in TXU Corp., the energy producer who, at that time, owned Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant near Glen Rose, just to the south of Granbury.

Buyout

On Monday, February 26, 2007, Goldman Sachs, Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co, and Texas Pacific Group purchased TXU and took it private, executing the largest leveraged buyout in US history.  The group paid $69.25 per share for the company, a premium of 15.4% over market closing the preceding Friday.  The new company was called Energy Future Holdings and its subsidiary, Luminant, would come to control Comanche Peak nuclear power plant.

In the follow-up to the February 26th buyout, Brazos River Authority decided to close the hydro-electric plant at Morris Sheppard Dam, determining the equipment there to be obsolete. They made that decision despite $3.8 Million in issued bonds and millions more sitting in the Authority’s general fund being available to make necessary repairs. Following the decision to close the dam, the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission inspected the facilities at Morris Sheppard in January of 2008 and determined that they passed regulatory requirements. In April of 2008, Luminant dropped objections to Permit 5851 for the sale of water by the BRA in exchange for an arrangement that BRA would sell Luminant approximately 100,000 acre feet of water each year. This is approximately the amount required to maintain full lake levels in Lake Granbury.

Around that same time Luminant was working to expand the nuclear facility at Comanche Peak. In September 2008 they filed an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build units 3 and 4 at the facility. This expansion would require a significant new source of water for cooling purposes.

Buffer Zone

By 2009, levels at Lake Granbury were beginning to noticeably fall. However, with the turbines at Morris Sheppard silent, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ceased to be an obstacle to the sale of “buffer zone” lands at Possum Kingdom. In follow-up to a divestiture policy adopted by the BRA in October 2007, the BRA worked with Rep. Jim Keffer to sell off the lands once and for all. Keffer authored and passed House Bill 3031, which put the nails in the coffin of the Morris Sheppard hydroelectric power plant. Without ownership of the “buffer zone” the FERC would present an obstacle to reopening the dam.

These measures to make the BRA’s decision permanent were necessary because the decision was opposed by Brazos Electric Power Cooperative. The electric company fought the decision in court, but after a court ruled that the River Authority was protected by sovereign immunity, they lost their bid to force the dam to be reopened. With divestiture in place, the BRA cut off other options whereby Brazos Electric could take over and run the dam.

The BRA immediately acted on the authority granted them by Keffer in HB 3031. In July of 2009, they sold all of the “buffer zone” land to Mike Patterson of Arlington for $52 million. This price, despite the fact that a study by the Staubach company in 2006 determined that the value of the land was closer to $150 Million.

In the years following, there was a precipitous decline in levels at both Lake Granbury and Possum Kingdom. Despite these falling levels and an ongoing drought, the BRA still acted in August 2011 to lower both lakes in a one-time sell-off of water to Dow Chemicals. The BRA also declined a request by the Granbury Chamber of Commerce to conduct an economic impact study.

Today, Lake Granbury is starkly dry. The lake is currently 9.27 feet below normal levels and has fallen by almost two feet since July of 2013. Possum Kingdom Lake is even lower, at 13.5 feet below normal. These persistent low lake levels are anticipated to drive down lake-front property appraisals and could lead to decreases in services and higher property tax rates. This has caused citizen groups, like the Brazos River Alliance, Lake Granbury Coalition, who have acquired party status to the cause in an effort to fight the Brazos River Authority to keep them from receiving final approval for Permit 5851 which would make the catastrophically low lake levels permanent.

How the Powerful Players Have Benefitted

There are three groups that have benefitted from the plot to drain the lakes: The BRA and its directors, Energy Future Holdings, and Representative Jim Keffer and his political associates.

The BRA benefitted from the plot by being able to sell off land and water for a profit. By lowering Lake Granbury, like wringing out a sponge, the Authority was able to count future watershed runoff as a resource. Now, every time it does rain, the drops are like pennies from heaven. With this new accounting, the Authority is able to petition the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to sell vast new amounts of Brazos River resources. Likewise, House Bill 3031 allowed the authority to finally sell-off the “buffer zone” lands at Possum Kingdom Lake. After the sale, the leaders of the BRA were positively jubilant with the fact that they no longer had to operate the hydro-electric power plant at Morris Sheppard and no longer had to act as a property management company in handling the leases on the “buffer zone” lands. So the Authority made more money, gained more power, and got rid of the parts of its portfolio that were a hassle.

Energy Future Holdings benefitted from the plot in that they eliminated a competing power plant at Morris Sheppard and they secured a source of water to use for cooling purposes at the proposed Comanche Peak nuclear power plant units three and four. While the impending bankruptcy of EFH and Luminant has sidelined these projects (EFH’s investors bet incorrectly in 2007 that natural gas prices would rise; they have fallen), it is unclear whether EFH’s settlement with the Brazos River Authority will still allow it to sell-off the 100,000 acre-feet of water they were promised to a third party.

How has Representative Jim Keffer benefitted from the plot? As the Chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee, Keffer has certainly benefitted from better relations with Energy Future Holdings. As a local politician, he has also benefitted in doing the bidding of the local river authority. But, Keffer and his associates have benefitted personally as well.

Jim Keffer is the President of EBAA Iron Sales of Eastland. That company produces pipe flanges which are used in municipal water projects. This company has struggled at times, facing foreign competition and rising raw materials costs. In 2008, the company was forced to raise prices by ten percent to combat the rising costs. This past session, plagued by foreign competition, Keffer worked behind-the-scenes with Democrat leaders in the House to pass a bill that would have required the state to purchase all of its iron and steel from domestic manufacturers like his own.

Likewise, Keffer’s son, Chris Keffer, is a lobbyist in Austin who works with political consultant Bryan Eppstein. Together they represent another company that deals in municipal water projects, Inland Pipe Rehabilitation, Inc. They also represent the Tarrant Regional Water District, another large water authority.

These men benefitted from the scheme to drain Lake Granbury and Possum Kingdom Lake because they essentially manufactured a drought. Persistently low lake levels were used as a visual marker to justify the need for additional state money to be spent on water projects. This scheme came to fruition in November of 2013 as voters approved Proposition 6, which Keffer fought for. The proposition allows the state to take $2 Billion in money from the Economic Stabilization Fund and use it to buttress $50 billion in total local spending on water projects. This means more money in the hands of water authorities like the Brazos River Authority and the Tarrant Regional Water District. And when those entities spend that money on projects to move water from place to place, it means more money in the pockets of Representative Jim Keffer as they spend money to purchase his company’s pipe flanges.

Reflections

The plot to drain Possum Kingdom and Lake Granbury benefits seemingly every major player involved in some way. All benefit, except for the simple property owner and taxpayer who live and own property around the lakes. In that way, the plot resembles so many other government schemes at the Austin and Washington level. Oftentimes, in politics and in the legislature, proponents of various schemes will speak in terms of “stakeholders” and “seats at the table.” Politicians will present agreed-to plans that have buy-in from every stakeholder and every person who has a seat at the table. All will benefit, they will claim – and they will be partially right.

But they will be forgetting all of the countless voices who aren’t powerful enough to have a seat at the table. By taking a small piece from every affected person who doesn’t have the money or organization required to hire a lobbyist or form an advocacy group, they spread the opposition around and thin it out so that it can be defeated.

And they expect the people to grin and bear it. But the time has come to say “No more!” No more will citizens sit quietly as the powerful profit at our expense. The people are becoming more and more engaged, and on March 4th, we have the opportunity to choose new leaders who will serve the interests of the people and not just the various special interests with “seats at the table.”

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Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Empower Texans. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony received his J.D. in 2012 from UT Law School. While in school, Tony served as Senior Vice Chairman for Young Conservatives of Texas and helped manage its legislative affairs. After law school he served during the 83rd session as Chief of Staff for Rep. Jonathan Stickland. Tony resides in Austin and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church. In his spare time he enjoys mixology and smoking meats on his Big Green Egg.

 

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The Once and Future Tyrant

With apologies to T.H.White, the reign of Barry Obama is no fantasy. In fact, this has been a 6 year reign of terror against Christianity, liberty, the Constitution, self responsibility, employment, and economic opportunity. I have been thinking of a new nickname for Barry to reflect his hacking away and massacre of America as she once was. Barry the Butcher has a wonderful ring to it, don’t you think? Now I could write numerous volumes of all the atrocities against freedom committed by The Butcher, but this list hits the highpoints. I am curious if Candidate Obama would have loathed any of the following had they been done by Bush 43:

  • Ignored traditional Christian ceremonies like the National Day of Prayer.
  • Stood idly by as the NSA spied and collected data on millions of American Citizens.
  • Made Executive Orders the Second Legislative Branch.
  • Preached how you did not build this – the damn government did!
  • Kept disgustingly high unemployment numbers that drop only because people have given up on looking for work.
  • Oversaw the worst economy since Jimmy Carter and that of the Great Depression.

I think Candidate Obama would be appalled like we are right now. Whether Candidate Obama was really Barry the Butcher in hiding or aliens took the real Barry and swapped him for the tyrant in making we have now, I can’t say.

History has taught us that Tyrants come from many different backgrounds, but they have several things in common:

  • They seek public office under the false pretense of serving the poor and downtrodden people, the huddled masses, and those treated unfairly in open economic markets.
  • Once in power, create constant crisis after crisis that only the government can solve, thus creating the false need to grant government more power.
  • Berate the private sector by any means possible. This can be through crippling legislation, creating class warfare, or preferential treatment of certain segments of an economy over other segments.
  • Keep a nation poor. Tyrants spend more than the state brings in and engage in economic policies that intimidate free markets and cause free capital to leave its economy.
  • Consolidate power through bypassing democratic bicameral houses of government with laws designed to increase the Tyrants power and intimidate its enemies from action against it.
  • The Tyrant then uses its powers to declare itself “supreme” and all facets of democracy gone and the foundations of a republic are eroded into dust.

Any of these look a tad familiar today? Do you see a trend from The Butcher? At any other point in time, these actions would have been called out for what they are – the rise of a Dictator. The Republicans have the spine of a gnat and attempt to call out The Butcher from time to time, but I have yet to see anyone in the House (Dems included) pull out Articles of Impeachment. By the way, the Press and the Democrats had better wake up against this joker. His trend of abuse sets up only a few options that are bad in any case for them. If The Butcher does complete his path of complete tyranny, what do they think he will do with them once he has achieved power? Should he actually leave DC in 2016 and glide off into the sunset, the precedents set for the next president, regardless of party, will have been set in stone for further abuse.

In other words – the members of the House and Senate, R’s & D’s alike, better start reigning in The Butcher while they can.

I’ll let you guess where The Butcher is on the steps to tyranny with his announcement to grab more power at the State of the Union Address.

You’ll notice that Negotiation was not on the list…..

Are you sweating yet?

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