Sept. 12, 2002, 11:19PM

Union leader urges HISD trustee to resign

Several Hispanics offended by alleged racial slur


An HISD union leader called for trustee Lawrence Marshall's resignation Thursday while several Hispanics said a racial slur attributed to Marshall by one of his colleagues offended them. But at the same Houston Independent School District board meeting, several black leaders spoke in defense of Marshall, saying trustee Esther Campos had distorted the remark made at a board retreat earlier this year. Campos had accused Marshall of referring to Mexicans as "parasites." Campos said Marshall was discussing the taxing arrangement between the Houston Community College System and HISD when he said, "parasites, parasites, parasites, just like our neighbors to the south." Marshall said the comment was "taken out of context" but did not elaborate. On Thursday, Orell Fitzsimmons, state director of the Service Employees International Union Local 100, said Marshall should resign from the board. Several Hispanic speakers, while not specifically calling for Marshall's resignation, said they considered the remark offensive and inappropriate and believed Campos was right to make a public issue of it. "We don't need an Archie Bunker on the school board," said former HISD teacher Robert Centeno, referring to the racist character depicted by Carroll O'Connor in the '70s TV comedy All in the Family. But a number of black voters in Marshall's south Houston board district called for him to remain on the board, saying he has been an effective trustee who has worked hard to improve the schools in his community. "I resent a certain group asking our choice to resign because of a distorted statement," said Hattie Connor, a civic group leader. State Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, urged both sides to resolve their differences and move on, saying there are more important issues at hand. With the next legislative session approaching and the state facing a major deficit, he said the board needs to focus on common concerns, such as funding for HISD students. "We in the Legislature don't care about your squabbles down here, don't even blink an eye over them," he said. "What we care about is how are you spending the taxpayers' money."


 Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

  Sept. 12, 2002, 8:46PM

GOP leader chides labor for offering medical tests

Planners deny rally linked to trial lawyers


Austin Bureau, AUSTIN -- Labor leaders are touting health care screening at a Democratic political rally in Bryan as a service, but Texas Republican Chairman Susan Weddington claimed Thursday it is a client recruitment drive for personal injury trial lawyers. "This historically significant event ushers in a new era of questionable politics for Texas Democrats," Weddington said. "The Democrats have created a new political order in which they raise money for their campaigns by increasing business for their largest special-interest contributors," Weddington said. Her Democratic counterpart, state Chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm, called the claim "despicable." A.J. Bolla, president of the Brazos Valley Central Labor Council, said the event is not connected to trial lawyers. "We're not promoting trial lawyers. We're promoting health for people who work in labor fields," Bolla said. Weddington's attack was set off by an ad that Bolla placed in Wednesday's Bryan-College Station Eagle. The ad said Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Sanchez and other statewide Democratic candidates would be joining local politicians for a free barbecue to "commemorate 9/11" Saturday at the Bryan Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. Donations at the rally will be given to area volunteer fire departments. But the ad also says there will be "free silica/asbestos screening before and during the rally." Both substances have figured in lawsuits associating workplace exposure with illnesses. The rally ad lists a number of jobs that might cause workers health risks. It also says there will be screening for a variety of prescription drugs alleged in personal injury lawsuits to have harmed patients. The ad says there will be no out-of-pocket expenses for those screened. "You may be entitled to compensation," the ad said. Bolla said the ad cost the labor council $529. He said the screening also is being paid for by the council. "The labor rally is not being paid for by trial lawyers," he said. Trial lawyers, who represent plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits, are a target of many Republicans who support what proponents call tort reform -- caps on damage awards and other measures intended to limit personal-injury lawsuits. The lawyers, whose fees often are based on a percentage of the judgment or settlement they win, contend they help compensate individuals and punish corporations for injuries caused by negligence. Sanchez spokesman Mark Sanders said the candidate plans to attend the rally but knew nothing about the ad. Sanders said the health screenings appear to be a "courtesy" for those attending the rally. Malcolm said Weddington was trying to politicize an event designed to raise money and commemorate the firefighters who died in last year's terrorist attacks. "This is the most despicable tactic I have ever seen," Malcolm said. "The GOP's latest attack is a thinly veiled attempt to protect the big special interests who own the Republican Party."


 Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

  Sept. 14, 2002, 12:30AM

Labor leaders call off rally's health screenings


Austin Bureau, AUSTIN -- Bryan labor leaders Friday canceled health screenings at a Democratic political rally set for today in an effort to deflect Republican criticism that the event was meant to benefit personal injury trial lawyers. "We don't want this to be turned into a political nightmare for the Democratic Party," said A.J. Bolla, president of Brazos Valley Central Labor Council. "It's unfortunate that some elements of the Republican Party have chosen to make an issue of standard health screenings." Texas Republican Chairwoman Susan Weddington had claimed the health screenings for asbestos exposure and other work-related health risks were meant to drum up business for trial lawyers. Some trial lawyers earn lucrative incomes by representing injured workers in lawsuits against their employers. The health screenings were scheduled to take place during a rally today featuring gubernatorial nominee Tony Sanchez and other statewide Democratic candidates. Bolla said no trial lawyers were involved in setting up the rally or the health screenings. He said the purpose was to help workers discover whether they have potentially life-threatening illness. He said the screenings will be rescheduled for a future date at the Pipefitters Local 211 hall in Bryan. Texas GOP spokesman Ted Royer said, "It is not surprising that they would cancel this event at the last moment in order to conceal the fact that trial lawyers own the Democratic Party."


 Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle