Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Collin County Commissioner's Court

The Texas Constitution vests broad judicial and administrative powers in the position of County Judge, who presides over a five-member Commissioner's Court. Four Commissioners, each elected to a commissioners precinct representing approximately a quarter of the county's population, serve with the Presiding County Judge on the Commissioners Court.

Members of the Collin County Commissioner's Court also serve as Trustees of the Collin County Health Care Foundation, Collin County Housing Finance Corporation, and the Collin County Substance Abuse Foundation.

In addition to assuring that county roads are maintained, commissioners vote with the county judge to set the budget for all county departments and adopt a tax rate. The County Commissioners Court also:
  • Sets the yearly property tax rate and approves the budget and employment level for the county;
  • Sets commissioners and justice of the peace precinct boundaries;
  • Calls, conducts and certifies elections, including bond elections;
  • Sets employment and benefit policy;
  • Establishes long-range thoroughfare, open space, land use, financial and law enforcement/jail needs plans;
  • Acquires property for rights-of-way or other uses determined to be in the public's best interest;
  • Reviews and approve subdivision platting and wastewater treatment for rural areas;
  • Provides rural ambulance services and subsidizes rural fire protection;
  • Oversees the construction, maintenance and improvement of county roads and bridges;
  • Appoints non-elected department heads and standing committees;
  • Supervises and controls the county courthouse, county buildings and facilities;
  • Adopts a county budget;
  • Determines county tax rates;
  • Fills vacancies in elective and appointive positions; and
  • Has exclusive authority to authorize contracts in the name of the county.
Your Collin County Commissioner's Court Precinct Number can be found on your Voter's Registration Card within the box titled "Com."

U.S. House of Representatives

The boundaries of the 3rd Texas Congressional District and the 4th Texas Congressional District meet in Collin County. Your Congressional District Number can be found on your 2008 Orange Voter's Registration Card within the box titled "Congress."

The 3rd Texas Congressional District includes a large portion of the southwestern corner of Collin County that includes Plano and most of Frisco and McKinney. The 3rd District also encompasses the northeastern corner of Dallas County that includes parts of Richardson, Garland and Dallas.

Collin and Dallas County residents must check their Registration Card to verify their respective congressional district number. Click on the map to enlarge. The 3rd District on the map is shaded in yellow and the 4th District is shaded in pink.

In Collin Co. the 4th Texas Congressional District county. The 4th Texas Congressional District also includes all or parts of Bowie, Camp, Cass, Collin, Delta, Fannin, Farnklin, Grayson, Hopkins, Hunt, Lamar, Morris, Rains, Red River and Rockwall counties.

A Congressional District is an area within a state entitled to elect one "congressional member" to the United States House of Representatives. The United States has a total of 435 Congressional districts and each district has about 570,000 people. The 435 congressional seats are reapportioned within and among the 50 states after each decennial census as prescribed in Section 2, Article I of the Constitution of the United States according to a formula established by the congress.

Texas has 32 U.S. Congressional Districts. The Texas legislature has primary responsibility for "redistricting" the U.S. Congressional Districts within Texas as well as the districts for the Texas State Senate, State House and State Board of Education after each decennial census. The Texas legislature also has the primary role in making changes to state judicial districts. Section 28, Article III of the Texas Constitution requires the legislature to "redistrict" the various governmental jurisdictions during its first regular session following publication of each United States decennial census. For an Interactive Map of Texas U.S. Congressional (110th Congress) districts, plus State House, State Senate and State Board of Education Districts click here.

The U.S. House of Representatives 3rd Congressional District seat is currently held by Republican Sam Johnson.
Mr. Johnson, who will be 78 years old in October 2008, was first elected to the 3rd District House Seat in a special election on May 8, 1991. Johnson has been reelected to the U.S. House Seat in eight regular elections beginning in 1992. The Texas 3rd District House Seat has arguably been one of the deepest red Republican districts in Texas and the United States since 1968 when the Republican Party first took control of the 3rd district House Seat. Johnson ran for reection unopposed by a Democratic Candidate in the 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2004 elections. Johnson has voted against tax incentives for energy conservation and clean/alternative energy development. Johnson also voted to eliminate "critical habitat" for endangered species and to reduce liability for hazardous waste dumping and clean up. Johnson opposes universal health care coverage, supports the privatization of social security and has voted against re-regulating the home mortgage industry. To review Johnson's positions on the issues and his U.S. House of Representatives voting record, click here.
The U.S. House of Representatives 4th Congressional District seat is currently held by Republican Ralph Moody Hall.
Mr. Hall, who at 85 years old is the oldest serving member of the House of Representatives, first ran for and won the 4th District House Seat as a self-described "old-time southern conservative Democrat" in the 1980 general election. Hall was reelected to that U.S. House Seat as an "old-time conservative Democrat" in every regular election until 2004 when he switched parties to run as a Republican. Hall switched parties after House Majority Leader Tom DeLay engineered the controversial mid-decade redistricting of Texas in 2003. That mid-decade redistricting of Texas added the northern and eastern portions of Republican strong-hold Collin County to the 4th district. After the switch, the Republican Party allowed Hall to keep his seniority and Hall became chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality. Hall has voted against tax incentives for energy conservation and clean/alternative energy development. Hall also voted to eliminate "critical habitat" for endangered species and to reduce liability for hazardous waste dumping and clean up. Hall opposes universal health care coverage, supports the privatization of social security and has voted against re-regulating the home mortgage industry. To review Hall's positions on the issues and his U.S. House of Representatives voting record, click here.

U.S. Senate Seats For Texas

Article One of the Constitution of the United States specifies that each state shall have two Senators, which are now elected by state-wide general election. Senators serve six-year terms that are staggered so that one third of the Senators stand for election every second year.

The Constitution assigned to Congress responsibility for organizing the executive and judicial branches, raising revenue, declaring war, and making all laws necessary for executing these powers. The president is permitted to veto specific legislative acts, but Congress has the authority to override presidential vetoes by two-thirds majorities of both houses.

The Constitution also assigns special responsibilities to the Senate to advise and exercise its consent on proposals made by the President of the United States for key executive and judicial appointments, including Justices to the Supreme Court, and on the ratification of treaties with foreign countries. The two U.S. Senators from Texas cast two of the fifty votes the Senate needs to advise and exercise its consent on appoints and treaties proposed by the President.

Supreme Court of Texas

The Supreme Court of Texas is composed of a Chief Justice plus eight Justices and it is the court of last resort for civil matters in the State of Texas. The Supreme Court of Texas was first established in 1836 by the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, which vested the judicial power of the Republic in “…one Supreme Court and such inferior courts as the Congress may establish.” The later Texas state Constitutions also established the Supreme Court as head of the judicial branch of Texas government.

A different court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is the court of last resort for criminal matters. The Justices of the Supreme Court are elected to staggered six-year terms in state-wide elections.

The Supreme Court has statewide appellate jurisdiction in most civil cases, which include contract, personal injury, family and juvenile cases. The Court’s jurisdiction is discretionary; that is, the Court decides what cases it will take. Parties do not have a right to have their cases fully heard by the Court. Instead, they petition the Court to review their cases. Only about 10% of the cases are granted review. The Supreme Court’s caseload consists of three primary categories:
  1. Determining whether to grant review of the final judgment of a court of appeals or certain interlocutory orders via a petition for review;
  2. Disposition of regular causes which include review of a final judgment, petitions for writs of mandamus or habeas corpus, certified questions, accepted parental notification appeals, and direct appeals;
  3. Disposition of numerous motions related to petitions and regular causes.
Members of the Texas Supreme Court are elected in partisan elections on a statewide basis for six-year terms of office. When a vacancy arises the Governor of Texas may appoint Justices, subject to Senate confirmation, to serve out the remainder of an unexpired term until the next general election. Anyone appointed to the Court must stand for election in the next general election after the appointment.

Five of the current Justices, a majority, have been appointed by Governor Rick Perry (R) and all the current Justices, like all the Judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, are members of the Republican party. All justices are elected to a "court place position" in state-wide general elections. Other than Place 1, which is reserved as the Chief Justice place position, the Supreme Court place numbers have no special significance.

To stand for election a person must be at least 35 years of age, a United States and Texas citizen, licensed to practice law in Texas, and must have practiced law at least 10 years. There are no other qualifications to be a justice — the rest is up to the voters of Texas, or in the case of a vacancy, the Governor.

By statute, the Texas Supreme Court has administrative control over the State Bar of Texas, an agency of the judiciary. The Texas Supreme Court also has the sole authority to license attorneys in Texas, and appoint members of the Board of Law Examiners, which under instructions of the Supreme Court, administers the Texas State Bar Examination. Administrative duties include:
  1. Promulgating the Rules of Civil Procedure for the Texas judicial system (Gov’t Code §22.004);
  2. Promulgating rules of administration for the Texas judicial system (Gov’t Code §72.024);
  3. Equalizing the dockets of the 14 courts of appeals (Gov’t Code §73.001);
  4. Promulgating the rules of procedure for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, and disciplining judges or removing judges from office (Gov’t Code, Ch. 33, art. V, sec.1-a);
  5. Supervising the operations of the State Bar of Texas and the rules and regulations for the admission, discipline, supervision, and disbarment of lawyers, and approving the law schools of the State (Gov’t Code, Ch. 81); and
  6. Promulgating the rules for the operation of the Court Reporters Certification Board and the disciplinary rules enforced by this Board (Gov’t Code §52.002).
Committees of lawyers and judges assist the court in reviewing, amending and developing rules of procedure and judicial administration — but the Court has final say on the rules. By overseeing the State Bar and ruling and disciplinary matters, the Court regulates the legal profession itself.

By statute, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court has the responsibility to:
  1. Confer with the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions to promote the prompt dispatch of judicial business (Gov’t Code §74.001);
  2. Assign judges between administrative judicial regions (Gov’t Code §74.057);
  3. Assign retired appellate justices to the various courts of appeals on a temporary basis (Gov’t Code §74.003);
  4. Deliver a “State of the Judiciary” message at the commencement of each regular session of the Legislature (Gov’t Code §21.004);
  5. Ensure that the Supreme Court executes and implements its administrative duties and responsibilities (Gov’t Code §74.006).
In practice, the Chief presides over the conferences of the nine justices to discuss cases pending before them. As part of the “administrative duties and responsibilities” the Chief traditionally plays the role of encouraging the other justices to work efficiently and keep up with the Court’s caseload.

Graphical Guide to the Court System of Texas.
Pamphlet on the Texas Judicial System
Overview of Court System Structure and Jurisdiction
Texas Judicial System Subject-Matter Jurisdiction of the Courts

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the court of last resort for all criminal matters in the State of Texas and is composed of a Presiding Judge and eight Judges.

The Presiding Judge and eight remaining Judges are elected to "court place positions" in staggered six-year terms by state-wide general election. The court place position has no special significance. The appeal of all cases in which the death penalty has been assessed go directly to the Court of Criminal Appeals from the trial courts. The appeals of all other criminal cases go to one of the fourteen Courts of Appeals in Texas, however, their decisions may also be reviewed by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

To stand for election a person must be at least 35 years of age, a United States and Texas citizen, licensed to practice law in Texas, and must have practiced law at least 10 years. When a vacancy arises the Governor of Texas may appoint Judges to the Court of Criminal Appeals, subject to Senate confirmation, to serve out the remainder of an unexpired term until the next general election. Like the Texas Supreme Court, the Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals are currently all members of the Republican Party.

Graphical Guide to the Court System of Texas.
Pamphlet on the Texas Judicial System
Overview of Court System Structure and Jurisdiction
Texas Judicial System Subject-Matter Jurisdiction of the Courts

Texas District Courts of Appeals

The Texas District Courts of Appeals are distributed in fourteen districts around the state of Texas. Appeals from Collin, Dallas, Kaufman, Rockwall and Grayson counties (map) are all heard by the 5th District Court of Appeals, which includes one Chief Justice and 12 and twelve other Justices.

The Courts of Appeal have intermediate appellate jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases appealed from district or county courts. Like the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, Justices of the Texas Courts of Appeals are elected to six-year terms by general election.

Both civil and criminal appeals are typically heard by a panel of three justices, unless in a particular case an en banc hearing is ordered, in which instance all the justices of that Court hear and consider the case.

Graphical Guide to the Court System of Texas.
Pamphlet on the Texas Judicial System
Overview of Court System Structure and Jurisdiction
Texas Judicial System Subject-Matter Jurisdiction of the Courts

Click on the Texas District Courts of Appeals
district numbers in the map below.
Courts of Appeals by District 7th Court of Appeals - Amarillo 8th Court of Appeals - El Paso 11th Court of Appeals - Eastland 2nd Court of Appeals - Fort Worth 5th Court of Appeals - Dallas 6th Court of Appeals - Texarkana 12th Court of Appeals - Tyler 10th Court of Appeals - Waco 9th Court of Appeals - Beaumont 14th Court of Apeals - Houston 1st Court of Appeals - Houston 3rd Court of Appeals - Austin 13th Court of Appeals - Corpus Christi 4th Court of Appeals - San Antonio
  1. Houston
  2. Fort Worth
  3. Austin
  4. San Antonio
  5. Dallas
  6. Texarkana
  7. Amarillo
  8. El Paso
  9. Beaumont
  10. Waco
  11. Eastland
  12. Tyler
  13. Corpus Christi
  14. Houston

Texas Railroad Commission

There are three individuals who serve together on the Texas Railroad Commission. Railroad Commissioners serve six year terms, with one commissioner seeking state wide election every two years, including this year. The Texas Railroad Commission is the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, gas utilities, pipeline safety, safety in the liquefied petroleum gas industry, and surface coal and uranium mining.

As is suggested by its name, the Railroad Commission was initially created to regulate railroads, terminals, wharves and express companies within the state. Pipelines were added to the commission's jurisdiction in 1917, followed by the oil and gas industry in 1919 and gas utilities in 1920.

Effective October 1, 2005, the Railroad Commission of Texas no longer has regulatory authority over railroads, nor does it have jurisdiction over public utility companies.

Texas Commissioner of the General Land Office

The General Land Office administers the use of all state-owned lands. This responsibility includes leasing for gas and oil production, mining, and grazing, and monitoring the environmental quality of public lands and waters. The office also operates the veterans' land program, in which state bonds are used to underwrite loans to military veterans for land purchases.

Nearly 12 percent of Texas, or about 32,000 square miles is state controlled public land. This land area is larger than the total land of South Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island. Unlike most western states, little more than 1 percent of Texas is public land. Managed by the General Land Office, most of the public land in Texas is in west Texas or submerged along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Valuable mineral leases on parts of this land generate money to support primary and secondary public schools and universities across Texas.

The Land Commissioner authorizes exploration and exploitation of public lands, so the Commissioner's decisions affect hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity. This also has a significant impact on state government and services, as the General Land Office generates hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties on oil and gas extracted from state lands. The Land Office has often come under criticism for doing too little to protect coastal areas of Texas.

As with similar offices in other states and the Federal Department of the Interior, the Texas Land Commissioner must reconcile the economic use of natural resources with environmental protection and conservation. State lands are a valuable source of revenue, particularly given that the state cannot draw on an income tax for revenue and that a significant share of oil and gas royalties are dedicated to public education. These issues are particularly acute in the coastal areas, where the state owns four million acres of submerged lands and all of the beaches. The General Land Office must balance the competing goals to both to exploit and preserve public lands.

Oil and gas production on state-owned lands has helped fund public education and keep taxes low. The economic activity generated by the energy sector has been key to fueling our economy. But it’s no secret Texas' oil and gas hey days are behind us and the state can rely solely on this a non-renewable asset to fund public education forever.

With over 20 million acres of state-owned land, much of it on the windy Gulf coast and in windy and sunny West Texas, the state should be a leader on renewable energy production, but it is not. Moving quickly into a 21st century renewable energy market would generate additional revenue produced on state lands from energy production, which in turn would help fund public education and keep taxes low. It would produce economic activity in communities across Texas, in both the manufacturing and construction sectors. It would provide jobs in some of the communities in Texas most in need of them. And transitioning away from a petrochemical economy into a renewable clean energy economy would help protect our environment.

The Texas General Land Office should aggressively take the lead on renewable energy development rather than continuing to focus exclusively on depleting non-renewable fossil energy reserves to fund public education.

The Christmas Mountains, in the heart of the Big Bend region of southwest Texas, were donated to the State of Texas in 1991. The foundation that gave the land to Texas stipulated that the Christmas Mountains were to remain public. The land should have been transferred to the National Park Service (NPS) and been made part of Big Bend National Park years ago. However, Republican Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has prevented has blocked making the Christmas Mountain area a part of the Big Bend National Park. Commissioner Jerry Patterson insists that the Mountains should be sold to a private entity.

Lieutenant Governor

The Office of Lieutenant Governor is part of the executive branch. The Lieutenant Governor serves as acting governor when the Governor is out of the state or incapacitated, and is the first in the line of succession should the Governor be unable to perform his or her duties.

The Lieutenant Governor's primary powers lie in the office's authority and influence in the legislature as President of the Texas Senate. The Lieutenant Governor serving as President of the Texas Senate appoints the committees of the Senate and assigns bills to specific Senate committees, a considerable power since committees generally control governmental policy legislation.

The Lieutenant Governor also casts the deciding vote in the Senate in case of a tie vote, and serves as chairman of the Legislative Budget Board and the Legislative Council. He or she is vice-chairman of the Legislative Audit Committee and the Legislative Education Board, and when the Legislative Redistricting Board convenes (if the legislature is unable to approve a redistricting plan for both houses), the Lieutenant Governor serves as one of the five members. These official roles, coupled with the legislative influence of the office, make the Texas Lieutenant Governorship significantly more powerful from Lieutenant Governors in most other states.

The Lieutenant Governor has exerted growing influence in lawmaking and in administration and public policy since World War II. This may result partly from two changes to the office over the course of the 20th century.

First, the length of the term of office was constitutionally extended from two to four years beginning with the election of 1974. Second, lieutenant governors have served ever more numerous terms since the 1890s. The increased longevity in office can significantly increase the informal influence and legislative expertise of lieutenant governors, and enables them to consolidate their control over the committees. The current lieutenant governor, Republican David Dewhurst, has served in the office since was first elected in 2002.

Attorney General

The Texas Attorney General (AG) is the chief lawyer for the state government and is elected to a four-year term. Unlike the office's counterpart at the national level, the Attorney General's legal role is primarily civil rather than criminal. Any time a suit is filed against or by the state, the AG's office handles the related legal activities.

Though candidates for Attorney General usually emphasize crime issues to bonify their law and order credentials when they campaign for office, most law enforcement and criminal matters are handled at the city and county level. The Attorney General's role is limited to providing support and advice to these officials and promoting public awareness on crime and safety issues. The Attorney General may also assist in a particular criminal case at the request of local prosecutors if the case involves a state interest.

The Attorney General can have a significant impact on public policy when he or she issues opinions on the legality or constitutionality of proposed or enacted laws or on the actions or policies of government agencies. Any state or local government office can request a legal opinion from the Attorney General, and the resulting opinion has the effect of law unless it is altered or overturned by the legislature or a court. Opinions thus have an impact on existing law and can become a powerful public platform for the Attorney General to further his or her political ambition. Many opinions, though, are largely technical and mundane.

The Attorney General can become involved in a wide range of high-profile public policy issues, which often puts the office in the public eye. Among the issues various office holders have promoted in recent years are environmental issues, health protection, civil rights, and consumer issues such as product safety, deceptive advertising, election fraud and commercial fraud protection. In most of these cases, action on particular issues reflected the priorities of specific officeholders.

Because the office also defends the state against suits, attorneys general are not able to choose all of their battles and can find themselves defending policies they would not otherwise choose to defend. Recent attorneys general have been involved in defending state law and policies on public school financing, Texas's method of selecting judges, the constitutionality of the state prison system, and state redistricting plans.

Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) was elected to the office in 2002, succeeding fellow Republican John Cornyn, who successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in the same election after being elected AG in 1998. Abbot was reelected in 2006 with 59.5 percent of the vote.