Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Lamar Smith (R-TX) Leads The Republican War Against Science


When Tom DeLay directed the Texas legislature to radically gerrymander up the the Lone Star State's congressional districts, one of the key objectives was to take away the very progressive voice of Travis County, primarily Austin. In 2012 Travis County went for Obama over Romney 231,540 (60%) to 139,503 (36%) and for Democratic Senate candidate Paul Sandler over Ted Cruz 224,070 (59%) to 133,354 (35%). DeLay had the county divided between 5 districts, completely diluting all the Democrats in the county by spreading them out far and wide.

The 21st district starts in the heart of downtown Austin and includes Guadalupe Street south of Martin Luther King Blvd. The borders at one point are Lavaca Street and West 10th street, right up to the state Capitol, the Dell Medical School and UT campus. San Jacinto Blvd., Trinity Street, Brazos Street all cut through that part of TX-21, although the district spreads out, awkwardly to the west into Fredericksburg, Kerrville, Bandera and down into Bexar County and San Antonio's northeast corner as well as the tony Republican suburbs just north of the city, from Oleos Park, through Alamo Heights to Terrell Hills and then down into Fort Sam Houston. The areas around the renowned Brooke Army Medical Center-- like the neighborhoods around U.T., Austin, are filled with educated professionals, PhDs and scientists. How ironic then that this district is saddled with one of Congress' fiercest anti-science nitwits, Lamar Smith, who consistently makes a fool of himself as chair of the House Science Committee, where he presides over a gaggle of imbecile science deniers like like Bill Posey (R-FL), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Brian Babin (R-TX), Randy Weber (R-TX), Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), Ralph Abraham (R-LA) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Steve Knight (R-CA), Gary Palmer (R-AL) and Bruce Westerman (R-AR), GOP Leadership's little joke on America. Zika virus danger? "Keep your windows closed and get a can of RAID; we're going on vacation for the summer." Asteroids? Sell 'em off to mining corporations. Climate Change? Next topic!

Yesterday Caitlin MacNeal, writing for TPM, held crazy old Lamar up for ridicule once again-- this time for his persistence as ExxonMobil's favorite Climate Change denier. While you read her report, keep in mind that so far this cycle the ExxonMobil PAC has handed out $1,435,710 to members of Congress, much of it to the crooked conservatives on Smith's Science Committee and Fred Upton's Energy Committee. The Oil and Gas sector has handed out $22,930,482 in bribes this cycle, $20,097,676 to Republicans and $2,766,246 to corrupt conservative Democrats. No surprises among the top 10 crooks for 2016:

Ole Lamar took in $82,250 in legalistic bribes this year so far. Since 1990, the Oil and Gas companies have ponied up a cool $684,947 for his climate change-denying career. Now, back to MacNeal's report:
Following a months-long standoff between the House Science Committee and state attorneys general conducting an investigation into Exxon over climate change denialism, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has called a hearing to affirm his right to subpoena the state officials overseeing criminal investigations.

Smith, a noted climate change denier, has made repeated demands that the attorneys general and several environmental groups turn over their communications about Exxon, accusing them of embarking on an "unprecedented effort against those who have questioned the causes, magnitude, or best ways to address climate change." The attorneys general, as well as the activist groups, have refused to comply with the committee's requests, setting up a battle over subpoena power.

In a June statement, the committee's ranking member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), said that Smith's demands were "not about legitimate oversight," but that the committee was "harassing" attorneys general investigating Exxon.

While Smith has previously conducted investigations into the executive branch and scientists funded by Congress, now the chairman has issued subpoenas to two state attorneys general conducting a criminal investigation. He made a wide-ranging request for communications the states had with each other, environmental groups, and the federal government about an "investigation or potential prosecution of companies, nonprofit organizations, scientists, or other individuals related to the issue of climate change."

Several state attorneys general have been investigating whether Exxon Mobil lied to investors about climate change and how it could impact the company, specifically looking at whether the company’s statements to investors failed to include the company’s scientific research.

In their refusals to comply with Smith's demands, the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York have argued that the subpoenas are unprecedented, outside Congress' purview, and an infringement on states' rights. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's chief legal counsel, Richard Johnston, called the subpoena "an unconstitutional and unwarranted interference with a legitimate ongoing state investigation."

Johnson, the committee's ranking member, also called the subpoena's "unlawful."

...Smith is holding a hearing on Wednesday to affirm his ability to subpoena state attorneys general. The committee will hear from legal experts in the hearing titled, "Affirming Congress’ Constitutional Oversight Responsibilities: Subpoena Authority and Recourse for Failure to Comply with Lawfully Issued Subpoenas."

This is just Smith's latest battle as chairman of the House Science Committee.

Since the beginning of his chairmanship, and particularly since the beginning of this Congress, Smith has embarked on several crusades regarding climate change. He has scrutinized the Obama administration's proposed regulations of coal-fired power plants and pushed to cut NASA's earth sciences budget.

And most prominently, Smith last year went after a climate study conducted by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He accused the scientists at NOAA of altering "data to get the results they needed to advance this administration’s extreme climate change agenda." The committee's investigation into NOAA culminated with subpoenas demanding scientists' internal communications about the study, as NOAA repeatedly refused to hand over documents.
A traditional bipartisan committee, Smith has turned the House Science Committee into a horror house of crackpot right-wing dogma that spotlights Congress' ideological polarization-- and it's willingness to sell out to commercial interests shoveling bribes into members' coffers.

Goal Thermometer Now let's look back at Smith's district again. It looks pretty Republican. McCain beat Obama 56-42% in 2008 and Romney did even better in 2012. In fact, in 2012 Smith won 9 of the 10 counties in the district, only Travis going for Democrat Candace Duval, who spent a mere $56,932 to Smith's $1,705,681. Travis and Bexar counties between them have more voters than the rest of the district combined and in 2012 the suburbs in those two counties around Austin and, more so, San Antonio, gave Smith the bulk of his votes. He beat Duval 64-34% in Bexar. Thanks in part to the repulsion moderate suburban voters feel towards Trump and in part because of Smith's own anti-science jihad, the suburban voters in Bexar and Travis counties are turning away from the GOP. The Democrat who won the TX-21 primary was progressive Berniecrat Tom Wakely and-- in spite of the DCCC blindness to his race-- he intends to win and Blue America is doing what we can to help him. Remember a few weeks ago when we talked about the new Partic phone banking system? Blue America deployed that to Texas already. Today Tom took some time off from working with his volunteers and phone bankers to talk with us about what Smith has been up to on behalf of his campaign donors who find investigations into Climate Change too inconvenient.

So now Lamar Smith and his band of merry thugs are getting ready to investigate whether he has the power to investigate state-level investigations. Sounds like a "great" use of taxpayers' dollars. And lucky for them they’ve hand picked their own legal experts to testify in these hearings to give them a guilt-free pass in this insane abuse of power. There must be a greater push back in the House to leave federal matters to the federal government and state matters to the state governments. It’s amazing watching Republicans tear apart the 10th Amendment, the one amendment that is supposedly their basis for everything they do. This is the quintessential kind of abuse and fraud that the right is always bemoaning.

While I’ve sounded off on Lamar’s heinous abuse of power many times over the course of this campaign, we need to discuss the abuse of the rules and order in the House. The idea that the chair of nearly every committee can issue a subpoena without consulting the ranking member is extremely worrisome. Even more concerning is the idea that the science committee can now hold their depositions in complete privacy. Restoring transparency to these proceedings and investigations is paramount to our progress. We can’t let House Republicans run amok all in the name of obstruction and denial.

I stand in solidarity with the attorneys general and climate organizations in their fight against Smith. They have my unwavering support as someone who actually understands the limits of our Constitution. The wonderful thing about democracy is there’s a solution to his injustices this November. We should not reward Lamar Smith with another term. When I’m elected my constituents, and for that matter all citizens of our country, can count on me to follow order and adhere to the will of the people. Smith should understand that as a public servant, it’s the very least we can do.
Like I said, in the context of Trumpanzee, more and more Texans are eyeing the idea of replacing Smith with Tom Wakely. The DCCC has continued to starve him of cash or help of any kind since he beat a more conservative Democrat in the primary. Please consider kicking in what you can to his campaign by tapping on the thermometer above. Meanwhile, if you haven't seen Keith Olbermann's debut episode of his new series The Closer, do yourself a favor and watch this:

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