Guest Blog: Rep. Eric Johnson talks Joe Driver, redistricting

Given the buzz around Joe Driver, the Garland representative who was recently convicted of abuse of office charges, as well as the battle over redistricting in Texas, I decided to reach out to Eric Johnson. Johnson, who recently filed for reelection, represents District 100.

I want to thank Jessica for giving me an opportunity to comment on a couple of big news stories concerning the Texas Legislature. One is the recent conviction of Joe Driver, a member of the Texas House of Representatives on felony corruption charges. The other major story is the role the federal courts are playing in deciding the boundaries of our legislative and congressional districts.

First let me speak to the recent conviction of Representative Driver, who is part of a larger problem in Texas politics. Representative Driver was convicted of abusing his position for personal financial gain. He was charging both the state and his campaign for his official travel and pocketing the resulting double billing to the tune of several thousand dollars. That he abused his position is only part of the tragic story of this case.

The other tragedy in this case is that even though Rep. Driver plead guilty to using his elected position to enrich himself, you, me, and all the other taxpayers of this state will continue to pay this man a salary for the rest of his life. Rep. Driver’s conviction for official misconduct does not disqualify him from the generous taxpayer funded pension system we offer members of our legislature. Among the ten largest states, Texas is the only state that still pays out pension benefits to people convicted of abusing their office.

I know a bit about this because I replaced another member of the Texas House who was forced to resign as a result of a criminal investigation. When I went to Austin in January of this year to begin my first session reforming this issue was one of my top priorities. I believe that people deserve to know that their representative is looking out for the public good and not their own personal profits. When that trust is violated then I don’t believe taxpayers should be left on the hook for lifetime benefits to felons convicted of betraying that trust.

I introduced legislation to change this disgraceful policy and forced a vote on it in the House on the very last day that I could. It passed the House; it passed the Senate, but was killed in committee while nobody was looking. Changing the way business is done in Austin isn’t easy but I don’t intend to give up.

The conventional way of doing business is also what has gotten us into this mess with redistricting. In spite of the fact that the biggest part of our population growth came from the Hispanic and African American communities the Republican majority drew a map that failed to respect that. Because of a long history of racial discrimination in this state our redistricting efforts are always subject to review by the federal government based on the provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

Two Republican majority federal courts have said that the biased maps created by the legislature fail to protect the voting rights of minority Texans, and based on what happened to my district I heartily agree. A federal court in San Antonio drew new maps creating nine new districts where minorities had a chance of winning, and altered the filing deadlines for the elections. That was of course until the Supreme Court directly intervened and placed a stay on the lower court’s decision. We are still sorting through what that means but for now what our next legislature and congressional delegations will look like, and when we will vote on them is completely up in the air. How we do business in the Texas Legislature needs to change but it won’t unless more people start paying attention to what is going on down in Austin.

Posted by on December 13, 2011. Filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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