Houston Chronicle writer Patricia Kilday Hart introduced her readers to an odd practice last week. It involves state prisoners building furniture that only state entities and state legislators can purchase.
This is not a widely known practice. What kind of furniture is made by prisoners? Is it sold significantly under market value? Why isn’t the general public, who pay all prison expenses, allowed to buy this furniture?
Unfortunately, we don’t know because Hart didn’t tell that story.
Instead, she took the chance to take a swipe at Debbie Riddle, a conservative Republican Representative, using facts that sound unique but aren't.
Riddle, Hart reports, used some of this prison furniture as a reward for a donation. Donation prizes are a common practice, as is legislators buying prison-made furniture.
Maybe both of those practices are bad. If so, Hart should have told readers and explored the extent to which lawmakers are using the service.
We did some Texas Ethics Commission searching and found that moderate Republicans Robert Nichols and Rep. Vicki Truitt are the worst offenders. They've bought $2,700 and $2,369 worth of prison-made furniture in 2011, respectively.*
Maybe both practices are good. A consideration of the little-known practice would have made a good story.
Instead, Hart treated Chronicle readers to a partisan hit piece on conservative Debbie Riddle.
Was Hart insinuating Riddle was running a business through her campaign in conjunction with the prison furniture? If so, someone needs to send Hart a tinfoil hat.
This is the time of year campaigns engage in opposition research, aka “oppo-research”. Patricia Kilday Hart is evidently engaging in oppo-reporting against conservatives.
--Patricia Kilday Hart piece
*TEC Search Terms: TDCJ, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Correctional Industries, TCI