Smoke Screens and 'Political Wrangling'

By Bill Ratliff
Texas State Senator
Lest the column by Texas Attorney General Dan Morales (Austin American-Statesman, Aug. 8) be recorded as the final word on the resolution of the tobacco lawsuit, I feel some of his statements should be corrected. As one who was closely involved in parts of these settlement negotiations during the final days, I am surprised at the jaundiced view of these proceedings as presented by Morales. Some of the more amazing distortions:

Morales: “Even after we announced our initial settlement--it became apparent that our political wrangling among state leaders might jeopardize our victory.”

Part of what he describes as “political wrangling” was the intervention filed by state Rep. Robert Junell and myself challenging his constitutional authority to designate how the proceeds from this lawsuit would be spent. After only a modest defense of his position, Morales backed off and agreed that spending decisions were indeed the constitutional prerogative of the Legislature.

The other “political wrangling” to which Morales refers was the intervention by the governor and a bipartisan group of members of the Legislature challenging the attorney general’s authority to agree to contingent legal fees that could amount to $2.3 billion. Most of the members of the Legislature believe that Morales exceeded his authority when he agreed to this contingent fee arrangement. This is a legitimate constitutional question and simply cannot honestly be labeled “political wrangling.”

Morales: “...efforts to mediate our differences were rejected...”

The governor and intervening members of the Legislature proposed very early in the process to sever the question of the legal fees from the balance of the settlements so that the main body of the settlement would not be jeopardized. This resolution was rejected out of hand by Morales, even though it is the exact solution that was finally agreed upon. It was the attorney general who needlessly caused the delays about which he now criticizes the intervenors.

Morales: “(The settlement) calls for the funding of a much-needed children’s health insurance program for uninsured kids.”

As Morales is well aware, the funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program was well on its way to fruition through the use of current funds prior to this settlement.

Morales: “The final settlement dedicates more than $2.2 billion to be used to reimburse counties for medical care they provide to poor citizens.”

For two years, Morales had assured the county hospitals that their rights to recover medical expenses from the tobacco companies were not affected by his lawsuit. Two weeks after assuring these hospitals that they had no cause for concern on this count, he argued in federal court that these same county hospitals were in fact, prohibited from seeking their own relief, and that he had indeed bargained away their interests.

When Judge Folsom realized that this disingenuous trick by Morales was about to destroy the settlement, he requested that Rep. Junell and I meet with, and attempt to satisfy, the counties’ interests in this matter. We, not the attorney general, proposed using the additional funds from the Minnesota “most-favored nation clause” to address the counties concerns.

Morales was preparing to deny the county hospitals any part of this settlement. He had already agreed to wording which denied them any future recourse.

Morales: “...I know filing that motion (for sanctions against the intervenors) proved to be the turning point on our efforts to end the political feuding that threatened our settlement.”

The filing of this motion almost killed the negotiations. The day Morales filed his motion for personal sanctions, I made it known that as long as this motion was pending, I would not continue to help the attorney general in his attempts to satisfy the county hospitals in their dispute. Without a resolution to this problem, there would have been no settlement. Rep. Junell and I only resumed these county discussions at the urging of Judge Folsom and under the condition that there could be no agreement unless the motion for sanctions was withdrawn.

I am willing to acknowledge that it was the attorney general who originally pursued this legal action, and he deserves commendation for his perseverance. The funds which resulted from this action can certainly be put to good use by this state.

However, I will not remain silent and allow Morales to portray himself as the beleaguered public servant who was forced to overcome selfish and partisan intervention by the governor and a bipartisan group of legislative members. To do so would be a serious disservice to these public servants who were simply defending the separation of powers provided in the Texas Constitution.

Reprinted with the permission of the author.

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