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Look, It Has Always Paid to Be Royce West

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Former Dallas Observer ace reporter (and sometime-Unfair Park contributor) Matt Pulle has a great piece up today on the Texas Watchdog Web site revealing that in 2008 alone, state Sen. Royce West's 10-person law firm billed the City of Dallas, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the Dallas Independent School District, the Dallas County Community College District and various suburban entities a total of $1 million in legal fees. And, as Sam noted in January, from October 2002 to October '08, West made $3,890,219.67 from the DISD alone.

Matt wrote a lengthy profile of West for the paper version of Unfair Park back in March '07. And his follow-up suggests that the senator, who wields influence in the Senate on issues of keen interest to his public clients, may have blurred some ethical lines.

He's not breaking the law. However, it does raise the question of just when and why you need Senator West on your side in Austin.

If it's for a position on an issue that would go down well with his constituents anyway, then you should have him on your side without having to hire him as "bond counsel" or some other joke.

As in: Hey, Senator West., please help us by doing something that will also help you get reelected.

You should be able to get that out of him for free.

But what about getting him to go the other way?

At the last DISD school board meeting, it became apparent from remarks of Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, board president Jack Lowe and other high officials that the school district wants to gut its "learning center" budgets and is willing to take a bite out of the magnet schools as collateral damage. The real target is the learning centers -- special schools with enhanced budgets created in the settlement of the district's 32-year federal court battle over racial desegregation. School district executives spoke of cuts at the magnet schools as a painful necessity, but they openly derided the learning centers as a boondoggle.

There is some legitimate debate over the success or failure of the learning centers. But there is no debate about this: The learning centers are sacrosanct in South Dallas. Any black politician who turned his back publicly on them would be toast -- no, he or she would be little burnt crumbs at the bottom of the toaster.

So where did the superintendent and the board president and the top district executives hold all their important confabs when they were planning their assault on the learning centers? That came out at the last board meeting too: Royce West's office.

I put this together with something I witnessed a couple years ago: West appeared at the Juanita Craft Recreation Center a mile southeast of Fair Park and had the incredible temerity to pitch the almost all-black audience on the virtues of property seizure by eminent domain. West was carrying water in this instance for the Foundation for Community Empowerment. Maybe the only thing with a worse name in South Dallas than eminent domain is ... what? ... Laura Miller?

In fact, if Senator West had told that group he was ditching his wife and running away to the South of France with Laura Miller, he would have achieved about the same response. That evening state Rep. Terri Hodge, who isn't afraid of anyone, got up and raised the roof: She had people so mad at eminent domain they were stamping the bleachers. West folded like a wet paper bag.

"I got to follow the community," he said, "and it's real apparent to me that the community is saying no."

But West already knew better than anybody how his own constituents feel about eminent domain. The interesting thing was that somebody had persuaded him, somehow, to try to go the other way.

I can't help but put that together with the fact that Hinojosa and Lowe put together their strategy to sink the learning centers sitting in Royce West's office.

You know what? In his own way, the senator probably earns that million bucks a year.

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