Friday, January 19, 2007

Accept no imitations

Now, this is ridiculous: at the URL (no, I'm not going to give it a live link) someone or other has erected a pseudo-blog under the heading, "Overlawyered", followed by a verbatim swipe of the paragraph ("Overlawyered explores an American legal system...") which for years stood atop this site's sidebar and currently stands atop our "about us" page. The imitation-Overlawyered blog has relatively little content, but one of its entries (dated May 05, 2006) consists of excerpts swiped verbatim from a post of Ted's of Feb. 16, 2006 on this site about a South Texas legal case.

Other content on the pseudo-Overlawyered site suggests that the author(s) take an interest in the South Texas legal scene, and have established a large group of blogspot entities which blogroll each other under the banner of "Team Kenedeno" (more at These interlocking sites often sport not very accurate names such as,, and, and at least one of them (at also contains a more extensive verbatim swipe from Ted's Feb. 16, 2006 post, mentioned above.

I looked around for a while, but failed to find any appropriate "report abuse" procedure on the Blogspot/Blogger site. The nearest thing was a "Flag Objectionable Content" button which apparently triggers a review for hate speech, obscenity, etc., but does not offer any way of reporting the rather different problem arising here. Reader suggestions are welcome.

Update from Ted: "We've contacted the appropriate people. Thanks for everyone's help."

Thursday, January 4, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

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"I’ve always had a great working relationship with the members of Congress. This is an unusual situation." U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas
Ortiz, Hutchison cross swords

Local representative lobs criticism at senator over Packery Channel, Valley

By BRAD Olson and Tara Copp Caller-Times
March 6, 2005

Three angry letters Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison never received speak volumes about the discord between her and U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz.

The letters attack her for favoring a Corpus Christi project at the expense of one in Brownsville. One letter plays the ethnicity card:

"I know it's not because there's mostly Hispanics in the Valley is it? No, surely that's not it. I am, however, curious."

The "I" was supposed to be a Valley constituent. Ortiz's chief of staff, Florencio "Lencho" Rendon, distributed the letters, intending to find others to sign and mail them in a letter-writing campaign. Rendon says he did not write the letters.

They shed light on the difficulties between Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, and Hutchison, Texas' senior Republican U.S. senator.

Neither say they want a bad relationship. Both lawmakers are frustrated by the other's actions, which each sees as going against the areas' constituents.

Says Hutchison: "I've always had a great working relationship with the members of Congress. This is an unusual situation."

Says Ortiz: "Courtesy is a two-way street. It doesn't run just one way."

Relations improved

Ortiz does say the relationship has improved recently.

"Sometimes the dynamic between lawmakers includes peaks and valleys," he said in a written statement. "Currently, my relationship with Sen. Hutchison is one of great respect. We have a good working relationship."

In recent examples: The Corpus Christi Packery Channel and Brownsville's Brazos Island Harbor dredging projects; Brownsville's upcoming West Rail Project, and the Intracoastal Waterway; Ortiz pushed one way, Hutchison pushed another. Both say they were helping residents who reached out to them, and that the other is out of touch.

Each of the three projects shares something else in common - they also in some way involve Randy DeLay, a lobbyist, and his brother, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. In each case, either Tom DeLay, one of the nation's most powerful Republicans, or his brother Randy, or both, pushed the projects on behalf of the South Texas Democrat, in opposition to the Republican senator. One environmental advocate for the Intracoastal Waterway, Walter Kittelberger, said dealing with Ortiz on coastal issues was the same "as if it was Tom DeLay wearing an Ortiz mask."

Ortiz said he and DeLay have worked together on "important matters of economic development." A spokeswoman for Tom DeLay did not respond to questions for this story, saying only: "Mr. DeLay does have a very good working relationship with Mr. Ortiz." Randy DeLay did not return calls seeking comment. A spokesman for Hutchison declined to comment about why Tom DeLay would side with Ortiz over her.

Situation no surprise

Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said Hutchison's being at odds with Tom DeLay comes as no surprise, given her possible candidacy for governor. Tom DeLay's loyalties would lie with Gov. Rick Perry and Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick.

"If you think of Tom DeLay, Craddick and Perry, they constitute the conservative Republican governing structure in Texas," Jillson said. "They worked together on redistricting and drove that through. Hutchison is challenging that, in the shape of preparing for the governor's race. It's possible that Perry's colleagues, meaning Craddick and DeLay, are rallying around him and finding ways to get in the way."

Jillson said a rift between Hutchison and Ortiz was much more unusual in Texas politics than cooperation between Ortiz and Tom DeLay.

"Historically, the Texas congressional delegation has worked together on local projects," he said. "You don't get in my way, I don't get in your way. Here, Ortiz gets what he wants and Tom DeLay helps his Texas colleague. What is not so easily explained is why there would be a series of conflicts between Solomon Ortiz, who is a moderate Democrat, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is a moderate Texas Republican."

In the first example, Hutchison and Ortiz got entangled over two similar dredging projects, in Corpus Christi and in Brownsville.

Under construction

Corpus Christi's Packery Channel is in the construction phase, after having met all of the Army Corps of Engineers' due diligence tests, and obtaining federal construction money in 2001. In the four years since it got started, Hutchison has been able to secure approximately another $3 million each year. But she has done so through congressional process because the funding hasn't been listed in the president's budget.

In 2005, Packery's supporters expected no different, especially since increased defense spending cut into federal budgets across the board.

Nor did they expect a $10 million request by President Bush to begin construction for Brownsville's Brazos Island Harbor project - a dredging project that has not undergone the Corps' due diligence requirements.

The project was pushed by Ortiz, who was working closely with Randy DeLay and Glenn LeMunyon, whom the Brownsville port had hired to lobby. A series of memos from DeLay and LeMun-yon obtained through a Texas Open Records Request show that the two lobbyists, as well as Ortiz, had been trying to get the project approved and funded since mid-2001.

On Nov. 8, 2001, that effort got a noted boost. According to an e-mail sent by Randy DeLay to former Port of Brownsville Director Raul Besteiro:

'An opportunity'

"We have an opportunity to get into the Corp (Army Corps of Engineers) budget and have President be the one urging," DeLay wrote. "Need to know what it is we need for that year. Please advise."

The project raised several eyebrows in Congress once it was in the 2005 budget. Hutchison voiced reservations, particularly because Brownsville had never approached her office or Sen. John Cornyn's office about it. In an April 2004 Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations subcommittee hearing with Army Corps of Engineers chief Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., took notice.

Reid: "This is astounding, in light of the fact that the administration is holding up funding for numerous projects that have been fully vetted by the Corps."

Murray: "Did the Corps request funding for Brazos Island?"

Flowers: "No M'am. We - I would not request funds for a project that did not have a favorable chiefs report."

Murray: "Well, who put the money in then, for Brazos Island?"

Flowers: "I do not know."

The money was removed.

Rendon responded by attempting to start a letter-writing campaign against Hutchison, furnishing letters that Rendon wanted Besteiro to distribute.

Letters urgent

In an e-mail sent from his Hotmail account, Rendon created three potential letters and instructed Besteiro's secretary: "Get these letters to Mr. B ASAP."

The e-mails were obtained through a Texas Open Records request.

"The damage you do . . . instead of focusing rare federal investments, in a place to leverage jobs for the working poor in the Rio Grande Valley, you're endorsing a resort community further up the coast," the first letter said.

The "resort community further up the coast" is the community around Packery Channel in Corpus Christi.

In the second letter, in stronger words, the draft from Rendon for Besteiro reads: "A Senator, who represents both areas of the state (purportedly equally) seems to be playing one community off the other . . . I know it's not because there's mostly Hispanics in the Valley is it? No, surely that's not it. I am, however, curious."

Besteiro didn't send the letters, and on one of the e-mail paper copies, wrote a memo in response: "Lencho sent letters . . . Cannot send out this type of letter to a Senator."

Besteiro died in November.

Written response

In a written response to questions from the Caller-Times, Rendon said the letters were written and sent to him by "people who believed the Port of Brownsville was being neglected" and that he only forwarded them to the port. The letters, including drafts with comments about how each draft had improved from the previous draft, are not signed and were sent together in one document as an e-mailed attachment from Rendon's private e-mail account

Rendon said the letters "were mutually rejected and no one ever considered sending them."

"Earlier this year, a number of discussions took place with the port regarding the loss of federal money," Rendon said in the statement. "At Congressman Ortiz's request President Bush included in his budget to the Congress ($)10 million for the Port of Brownsville. The money was so utterly important to the port and their future, and by extension, the economic future of Cameron County. During those discussions, a number of ideas and drafts of letters were exchanged, some good and some bad, in order to try to save that money for the 27th District."

When Hutchison saw the letters, she sighed. The letters "are troubling, there's no doubt about it," she said. Of Texas' 32 congressional districts, Hutchison said, she has strong relationships with all the rest.

"I have two general policies - one, I always try to work with the congressman from every district, with the issues of concern from that district. Secondly, I always work with the local people and their wishes. And almost 100 percent of the time, the congressman is also representing the local community's wants."

Packery off budget

When the Corps of Engineers' fiscal 2006 budget came out this year, Packery Channel received no funding and the Port of Brownsville received $2.5 million for a multi-year feasibility study. Tom Utter, a lobbyist for the City of Corpus Christi, has said that Packery Channel needs no additional federal funding to be completed because the Corps has diverted money to the local dredging from other projects. Hutchison's office has said the project lacks about $5.5 million in federal monies, and getting money for the project is "a top priority for the senator."

The Port of Brownsville funding is closely packaged with another Brownsville issue that Ortiz and Hutchison have sparred about: where to relocate rail in downtown Brownsville and where to push for an international bridge to Mexico.

The bridge pushed by Ortiz is known locally as the "Rail/Truck Bridge" for the Port of Brownsville. It has cost $21.4 million, including more than $200,000 to Randy DeLay - in addition to his $15,000 monthly retainer - with no construction under way and no official green light yet obtained from the Mexican government.

Although local, state and federal officials in Mexico have said they favor the West Rail project over the port's bridge plan, business and community leaders in Brownsville are mixed: Some say both projects are essential to the city's future, and others say the port bridge isn't necessary.

second bridge plan

The second bridge, a joint effort between Cameron County and the City of Brownsville, is known there as the West Rail Relocation Plan. The reason the two plans are competing is that Mexico seldom approves construction of two international bridge crossings at once.

Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa, a Democrat and potential political rival to Ortiz, said he sought Hutchison's help when he believed Ortiz was working against the West Rail plan, because it competed with the bridge plan Ortiz favored.

Hinojosa said members of Ortiz's staff have asked him to stop the West Rail project because it could impede the progress of the Port of Brownsville's bridge. He would not name the Ortiz staffers.

Ortiz said he has wholeheartedly supported the West Rail project, working to secure an $850,000 appropriation for it.

"We wrote letters for them, we worked with the city of Brownsville, but if he (Hinojosa) doesn't want to recognize what I have done, hey, that's fine with me. I am just doing my job."

Hinojosa said an additional $2 million was originally appropriated for the project along with the $850,000, money that Hutchison had put in the appropriations bill. Hinojosa said Tom DeLay's staff had the appropriation designated for the Port of Brownsville for rail relocation instead of for his West Rail project.

Pete Sepulveda, director of Cameron County's international bridge system, said a lobbyist from Meyers and Associates, a firm that represents the city of Brownsville and Corpus Christi, called him and told him the $2 million was originally appropriated for West Rail, but DeLay's staff had the conference committee specify that the money would go to the Port of Brownsville.

Lobbyist unnamed

Sepulveda declined to name the lobbyist who called him. Larry Meyers, senior partner of Meyers and Associates, declined to comment.

Hinojosa also said Ortiz's staff called and told him the $2 million was not for West Rail, but for the Port of Brownsville. That port, through Ortiz and lobbyists, also was seeking railroad relocation funding.

"How do you think that made us feel?" Hinojosa said. "We are the largest county in his (Ortiz's) district, the second largest city in his district."

A May 22, 2002, internal memo obtained by the Caller-Times from a Texas Open Records request indicates that Tom DeLay was aware of the Port of Brownsville's need for railroad relocation funding and gave them "a favorable response" when asked for $3 million in addition to the $2 million already appropriated for 2003.

According to the memo, written by Port of Brownsville lobbyist and former Tom DeLay staffer LeMunyon:

"I met with and provided extensive background information to Majority Whip Tom DeLay and his staff regarding the need for the additional $3 million. I also provided Congressman Ortiz specific points and a request that he call Mr. DeLay. To my knowledge, Mr. Ortiz received a very favorable response to his request from Tom DeLay for the additional $3 million. I will be working with both offices to secure this additional funding."

Answered request

Hutchison said she began helping with the project when Brownsville officials asked for help.

"I can honestly say I don't know what was happening," Hutchison said. "I just know they (advocates for West Rail) were held up. I was concerned that might be indicative there was another force out there, and I stepped in for the local community. I wanted to make sure that if there was something, I smoothed it out."

Ortiz said he has been working with the State Department on the West Rail plan and was frustrated Hutchison didn't contact him about her intentions to help secure approval for it.

"She knew I was talking to the State Department on both bridges," he said. "But do you think she had the courtesy to call me and tell me about it? No."

Asked if the port's bridge was still on track, Ortiz said: "Well, not when you have a United States senator fighting in there, saying, 'No, the West Railroad bridge, no.' "

The third South Texas issue that has found the two lawmakers at odds recently is the Intracoastal Waterway.

The dispute revolved around a section of the Laguna Madre between Padre Island National Seashore and the King Ranch that is currently being dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Hutchison wanted to prevent dredged sediment from being dumped on private property in certain sections of the waterway between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, including parts of the King Ranch. Ortiz said Hutchison's requirements would have led to the shutdown of the Intracoastal Waterway, which serves as a major shipping canal and transportation corridor in the area. Hutchison said she was only trying to find a compromise that would allow the dredging to continue but preserve private property rights.

Walter Kittelberger, chairman of the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation, an environmental advocacy group that focuses on the Intracoastal Waterway, said many environmentalists believed that Ortiz's assertion that Hutchison's move would shut down the waterway originated with Tom and Randy DeLay.

more fruitful

Frank Feild, former president and CEO of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, said Rendon called him and asked him to write a letter to Hutchison about the issue. After speaking to Hutchison aides and coming to understand her position, Feild decided against writing a letter. Rendon also called and asked him to write a letter to Hutchison admonishing her for blocking the Brazos Island funding, Feild said.

Kittelberger said dealing with Hutchison on environmental issues has been more fruitful than dealing with Ortiz.

"I'm more likely to go up against the DeLay brothers if my point of contact is Ortiz's office than if I go to Kay Bailey Hutchison's office," he said. "I know that's paradoxical, but that's just the reality of it. I look at Ortiz as if it was Tom DeLay wearing an Ortiz mask. It just bears no fruit to deal with Ortiz down here when it comes to coastal issues."

Raymond Butler, executive director of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, an organization dedicated to keeping the waterway operational and mitigating environmental and economic concerns, said Ortiz had played a huge role in the compromise that was finally reached.

Ortiz helped out

"When that language first came out, it posed a very serious risk," he said. "It posed an unacceptable risk to the waterway the way it was originally drafted. If it wouldn't have been for his (Ortiz's) help, I'm not sure we would have reached the agreement we did reach."

Butler said the likelihood of the waterway ever shutting down, however, was remote, "if not impossible."

Both lawmakers bristle at the idea that they are pitting one community against the other, and point to numerous examples of work they've accomplished in both cities. Both have expressed hopes that the recent conflicts are in the past.

"I have gone to the mat for both Corpus Christi and Brownsville when their projects were in jeopardy, and both of them have had problems that I have stepped in to smooth over," Hutchison said. "I never pick between cities in Texas. Not ever. I take care of all of my cities. I fight for them when they need extra help and that is exactly what I have done with Corpus Christi and Brownsville."

Ortiz said he has worked hard for Brownsville, but was not concerned about being credited.

"I don't need to go out there with a band and honk horns and stuff to let them know what I've done," he said. "I think people know. But I think this can be very divisive. We don't need to fight like this. We need people to work together. We are now facing a global economy, global competition. It doesn't do a darned thing for us to be fighting when we should be working together.

"And that's my message to the senator."

Contact Scripps-Howard correspondent Tara Copp at Staff writer Brad Olson can be reached at 886-3764 or

Copyright 2005, All Rights Reserved.

Jaime Kenedenos message to the Vatican: Apologize & Do the right thing!