Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Texas Political Operative, Ephedra Lobbyist Appointed Acting OSHA Head

A couple of years ago, blogger Josh Marshall found one of those crazy stories about a Texas lawyer named Jonathan Snare, a partner for the Texas lawfirm Loeffler, Jonas & Tuggey, LLP. Snare had written a letter on behalf of the Texas Republican Party demanding the shut down a spoof webpage called Enron Owns the GOP. The webpage heading read "Republican Party of Texas: Brought to You by Enron" along with a picture of the Republican Elephant adorned by the Enron logo. Snare claimed that use of the elephant violated trademark law. Realizing that their protest wasn't passing the laugh test, the Republican GOP dropped the complaint.

At the time, Marshall wrote: "My only question is how we can get Snare and his doofus boss at the Texas GOP to come work for the national Republican party." Well, it seems that Marshall’s question may have been answered.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao announced today that Jonathan L. Snare has been appointed the deputy assistant secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Secretary Chao also announced that Snare, who has worked closely with OSHA in the Solicitor's Office, will also serve as acting assistant secretary upon the departure of the current OSHA Assistant Secretary John Henshaw on Dec. 31, 2004.
While it doesn't appear that he has any workplace safety and health credentials, Snare certainly has an impressive resume for a Texas Republican political operative. According to the Republican National Lawyers Association Website, Snare
served as General Counsel to the Texas Senate Redistricting Committee during the 2001 legislative session. In addition, he served as General Counsel to the Republican Party of Texas (“RPT”) from 1999 to 2001, and was responsible for all legal matters involving the RPT, including campaign finance, administration of primary elections, state party conventions, contract review, and regulatory issues.

Mr. Snare has extensive experience in election law, including election contests, recounts, redistricting and Voting Rights Act lawsuits and campaign finance challenges. He has served as lead counsel in election contests representing state and county level officials and political candidates, and has represented numerous public officials and candidates in election recounts. He has served as lead counsel or counsel in major cases involving Texas redistricting plans
Lets see, what have we heard about Texas redistricting lately?

Now, just for a little background.

The unprecedented mid-decade Texas re-redistricting, which netted the Republicans five formerly Democratic Congressional seats in the last election, was the brainchild of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. In 2001, DeLay pressed Enron (see above) to contribute $100,000 to his political action committee, "with the understanding that it would be partly spent on ‘the redistricting effort in Texas,’" according to the Washington Post. (Coincidentally, Snare was General Counsel to the Texas Senate Redistricting Committee at the time.) Unfortunately, Texas law bars corporate financing of state legislature campaigns and Delay is currently in a heap of trouble. The resulting redistricting of the Texas legislature, however, was a stunning success for the Republicans who took control of the Texas House for the first time in 130 years and set up the mid-term re-redistricting of Congressional districts that meant victory for the Republicans last month.

Even if Snare has no evident workplace safety and health experience, he does have some familiarity with public "health" issues. He was a paid lobbyist for Metabolife, "the leader of the $3 billion-a-year ephedrine industry.” Ephedrine was a dietary supplement banned in 2003 only after the FDA had received reports of more than 155 deaths of ephedra users. As Public Citizen Health Research Group Director Sydney Wolfe wrote last year:
According to the Washington Post, Metabolife, the nation's leading seller of ephedra products, spent more than $4 million between 1998 and 2000 in Texas to lobby against state regulations. There have also been accusations that Metabolife has attempted to exert influence in Texas through political connections to members of the Bush administration[10],[11]. According to Business Week, federal efforts to remove ephedra have been hampered "by deep-pocketed industry lobbying. Metabolife, has contributed . . . to national politicians since 1999 . . . according to the Center for Responsive Politics"[12].
Oh, and in his spare time,
  • Snare was also one of "the hired guns working to lobby Texas legislators to privatize prisons.

  • As Election Operations Vice-President of the Republican National Lawyers Committee, Snare helped organize and train Republican lawyers to go to South Dakota (and other states) in 2002 to make sure that Democrats and native Americans didn't "steal the election."
All of this raises a number of questions. First, who is vetting people over at the Department of Labor, the same people who vetted Bernard Kerik for Secretary of Homeland Security?

Second, what does this say about how much this administration really cares about public health in general?

And finally, is this really the person that American workers can put their trust in to oversee their workplace health and safety rights? Does this appointment pass the laugh test?

When John Henshaw announced that he was resigning, a wise friend warned me to "Watch out, better the devil you know...."