Judith Zaffirini

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Judith Zaffirini
Zaffirini.jpg
Texas State Senate, District 21
Incumbent
In office
1987 - Present
Term ends
January 10, 2017
Years in position 27
PartyDemocratic
Compensation
Base salary$7,200/year
Per diem$150/day
Elections and appointments
Last electionNovember 6, 2012
First elected1986
Next generalNovember 8, 2016
Term limitsN/A
Education
Bachelor'sUniversity of Texas-Austin
Master'sUniversity of Texas-Austin
Ph.D.University of Texas-Austin
Personal
ProfessionBusiness Owner and Teacher
Websites
Office website
CandidateVerification
Judith Zaffirini is a Democratic member of the Texas State Senate, representing District 21. She was first elected to the chamber in 1986.

Biography

Zaffirini has Bachelor's, Master's, and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. She also studied at Laredo Community College and the University of Houston.

She has worked as a teacher in higher education for over 13 years. She has been honored by the South Texas Press Association for her work in journalism. She owns her own business, Zaffirini Communications.

Zaffirini has been recognized for her near perfect attendance in session. She served as vice-chair of the Texas Democratic Party from 1984-1986, prior to making a (successful) run for the Democratic Party nomination for state Senate in 1986.

Committee assignments

2013-2014

At the beginning of the 2013 legislative session, Zaffirini served on the following committees:

Texas Committee Assignments, 2013
Administration
Finance
Government Organization, Chair
Health & Human Services
Higher Education
Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Ed Governance, Excellence & Transparency, Vice Chair

Chair removal

In October 2012, Lieutenant Governor of Texas David Dewhurst removed Zaffirini from her position as chair of the Higher Education committee. She was replaced by Kel Seliger (R). She was made chair of the Committee on Government Organization. Zaffirini had been critical of the University of Texas System Board of Regents and at odds with Governor of Texas Rick Perry. "I'm disappointed in not being higher education chair, because that is my passion and it is one of the reasons that I ran. However, that is an immediate reaction. I am not disheartened." A Dewhurst spokesperson said the realigning had to do with putting "members' talents to where they would be best aligned."[1][2]

2011-2012

In the 2011-2012 legislative session, Zaffirini served on the following Texas Senate committees:

2009-2010

In the 2009-2010 legislative session, Zaffirini served on the following Texas Senate committees:

Elections

2012

See also: Texas State Senate elections, 2012

Zaffirini won re-election in the 2012 election for Texas State Senate, District 21. Zaffirini ran unopposed in the May 29 primary election and won re-election in the general election, which took place on November 6, 2012.[3]

Texas State Senate, District 21, General Election, 2012
Party Candidate Vote % Votes
     Democratic Green check mark transparent.pngJudith Zaffirini Incumbent 67.6% 129,894
     Republican Grant Rostig 29.2% 56,032
     Libertarian Joseph Morse 3.2% 6,147
Total Votes 192,073

2008

On Nov. 4, 2008, Zaffirini won re-election to the 21st District Seat in the Texas State Senate, defeating opponents Louis Bruni and Barry Allison.[4]

Zaffirini raised $1,944,621 for her campaign while Bruni raised $153,275 and Allison raised $0.[5]

Texas State Senate, District 21, General Election, 2012
Party Candidate Vote % Votes
     Democratic Green check mark transparent.pngJudith Zaffirini Incumbent 68.2% 129,802
     Republican Louis Bruni 29.2% 55,480
     Libertarian Barry Allison 2.6% 4,980
Total Votes 190,262

Campaign donors

Comprehensive donor information for Zaffirini is available dating back to 2000. Based on available campaign finance records, Zaffirini raised a total of $6,280,216 during that time period. This information was last updated on August 22, 2013.[6]

Judith Zaffirini's Campaign Contribution History
Year Office Result Contributions
2012 Texas State Senate, District 21 Won $1,499,561
2010 Texas State Senate, District 21 Not up for election $766,236
2008 Texas State Senate, District 21 Won $1,940,106
2006 Texas State Senate, District 21 Not up for election $746,410
2004 Texas State Senate, District 21 Won $476,970
2002 Texas State Senate, District 21 Won $407,047
2000 Texas State Senate, District 21 Won $443,886
Grand Total Raised $6,280,216

2012

Zaffirini won re-election to the Texas State Senate in 2012. During that election cycle, Zaffirini raised a total of $1,499,561.

2010

Zaffirini was not up for election to the Texas State Senate in 2010. During that election cycle, Zaffirini raised a total of $766,236.

2008

Zaffirini won re-election to the Texas State Senate in 2008. During that election cycle, Zaffirini raised a total of $1,940,106.

2006

Zaffirini was not up for election to the Texas State Senate in 2006. During that election cycle, Zaffirini raised a total of $746,410.

2004

Zaffirini won re-election to the Texas State Senate in 2004. During that election cycle, Zaffirini raised a total of $476,970.

2002

Zaffirini won re-election to the Texas State Senate in 2002. During that election cycle, Zaffirini raised a total of $407,047.

2000

Zaffirini won re-election to the Texas State Senate in 2000. During that election cycle, Zaffirini raised a total of $443,886.

Issues

University of Texas

See also: Wallace Hall impeachment trial

After he was appointed in 2011, University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall began looking into what he believed to be clout scandals within the University of Texas system. Hall investigated the university's forgivable-loans program, admissions policies and preferential treatment to politically-connected individuals.[7] Hall, as an individual citizen, filed a large number of FOIA requests with the University system after his inquiries via his role as a Regent were rebuffed.[8] According to his accusers, Hall filed requests of more than 800,000 pages, which some Texas administrators called an unnecessary burden.[9][10] However, a letter from University chancellor Francisco Cigarroa in February 2014 said that Hall likely requested fewer than 100,000 pages.[11][12] In addition, Cigarroa wrote: "During testimony before the Select Committee, some early witnesses implied that the U.T. System has not protected the privacy rights of students, staff, and patients. This is simply not true."[13]

An effort was begun in June 2013 to try and impeach Hall from his position as Regent. Some legislators are justifying the impeachment on the grounds that Hall did not disclose several lawsuits that he was involved in when he originally completed his Regent background check. Hall updated Governor Rick Perry's office in April 2013 with the full list.[14][15] No unelected official in Texas has ever been successfully impeached or removed from office.[16] Governor of Texas Rick Perry's spokesperson said the investigations send a "chilling message" to gubernatorial appointees.[17] He added that the investigation was "extraordinary political theater."[18] Texas state legislators have never previously tried to remove an appointed official. Only two elected officials in the history of Texas have ever been successfully impeached.[19]

In November 2013 it was revealed that one of the letters Hall subpoenaed was sent by Zaffirini to University of Texas Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. According to a public records request filed by Watchdog.org, the letter was sent on December 3, 2010 to Cigarroa on behalf of an applicant to the University of Texas School of Law. In his response, Cigarroa wrote, "I will convey your strong recommendation to President Bill Powers. I can assure you that he will receive careful consideration." The standard process is to send letters recommending applicants to the Law School Admissions Council.[20]

University of Texas Law School

See also: Political favoritism in admissions to the University of Texas

Senator Zaffirini was implicated in a Texas Watchdog December 2013 report on political favoritism at the University of Texas. Zaffirini's son Carlos Manuel Zaffirini Jr., along with two other sons of Texas state lawmakers, failed the Texas bar exam repeatedly after graduating from the University of Texas Law School. This was unusual for University of Texas Law School graduates, as less than 10 percent had to retake the exam in the eight years prior to 2013. State Senator John Carona (R) and State Representative Jim Pitts (R) were also implicated in the report, as their sons had similar difficulties. The report found that between the three lawmakers' sons, they had taken the bar exam 10 times -- with only two passing the exam. The report was released following months of investigations into University Regent Wallace Hall and his FOIA requests of the University system. Hall implied that there were issues of clout and corruption within the Texas school system, alleging that legislators were using their political influence to affect law school admissions. The Watchdog report was issued following its investigation, which it said did not include details from Hall's FOIA requests.[21]

In the news

Inheritance dispute

As of January 2014, Zaffirini and her husband, Carlos, were mired in a complex dispute over the estates of sisters Josefina Alexander Gonzalez (who is 99) and Delfina Alexander (who died in January 2008). Rocio Gonzalez Guerra, Gonzalez's daughter, and her two children stand to inherit an estimated $150 million fortune when Gonzalez passes, amassed in the form of a series of business partnerships, estates and trusts established by Gonzalez and Alexander. The Zaffirinis and their associates, however, control Alexander's estate, as well as a trust she established in her will. Further, the Zaffirinis contend that they have power of attorney of Gonzalez's affairs, though Gonzalez's bank has barred the Zaffirinis from accessing her accounts because the papers establishing the Zaffirinis' power of attorney were signed shortly before Gonzalez was found to be mentally incompetent.[22][23]

Zaffirini, Clarissa Chapa and David Arredondo were named the executors of Alexander's estate. Though the typical probate case may take anywhere from six months to a year and a half to settle, Alexander's estate remained open as of December 2013 -- more than five years after her death. Substantially all of Alexander's estate was willed to Guerra, who is named 122 times in the will, and her children. After paying final medical bills and funeral expenses, Zaffirini, Chapa and Arredondo paid themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of executor and legal fees over the course of three years. In 2011, the executors made 11 bequests totaling approximately $140,000. Throughout 2012, Zaffirini and the other executors continued to receive monthly fees of $2,500 per executor. All told, Zaffirini, Chapa and Arredondo have drawn more than $400,000 from the estate since Alexander's death, according to court records.[22]

Also in dispute is a family trust, intended for Guerra and her children. In the summer of 2006, Guerra's husband, Vidal, who had been managing the businesses that fund the trust, was accused of mismanagement (e.g., paying himself large, unauthorized commissions on land sales, using business assets as collateral on a home loan). A falling out between sisters Gonzalez and Alexander and the Guerras resulted, and the sisters signed a series of documents making significant changes to their businesses, wills, trusts and powers of attorney, positioning the Zaffirinis as the controlling agents in the businesses that form the assets of the family trust.[22] The Zaffirinis do not control the trust itself. After the original trustee of the family trust, Adolph E. Puig, resigned, the court appointed Raymond DeLeon to replace him. DeLeon contends that the Zaffirinis and their associates have been transferring business profits to Alexander's estate, from which they have continued to collect fees, rather than to the family trust.[22] Further, DeLeon claims the Zaffirinis forged an amendment to the trust agreement that would prevent Guerra and her representatives from wresting back control of the family's business interests. Carlos Zaffirini says that the trust was amended in 2007. However, in a prior deposition, Carlos Zaffirini questioned Vidal Guerra and said that the trust document could not be amended or changed, as it was "irrevocable."[22]

To date, the conflict has manifested in no fewer than three related lawsuits, decisions on which were pending as of January 2014.[22][23]

During a two-day hearing held in early January 2014, Zaffirini took the stand and denied any wrongdoing in the matter, arguing that she was acting in the best interests of Guerra. Zaffirini testified that, in her role as a chief administrator of the business interests that fund the disputed trust, she has endeavored to protect the estate from Guerra's husband, Vidal. Zaffirini alleged that the Guerras' marriage was a sham, a scheme by Vidal to wrest control of the family fortune from his wife. To support this claim, Zaffirni pointed to the aforementioned claims of mismanagement leveled against Vidal Guerra, as well as unsubstantiated rumors about Vidal's sexuality. "People told us he was only interested in [Rocio Guerra] for the money, that he would seek to gain control of the companies. They told us he could not be possibly be interested in her because he was gay," said Zaffirini. Further, attorney Chris Heinrichs served as an expert witness on behalf of the Zaffirinis at the same hearing and told the court that the fees collected by Zaffirini and her associates were significantly smaller than those charged by a professional trustee.[24]

Meanwhile, attorney Jeffrey Knebel, representing Guerra, noted that Zaffirini had not disclosed the $140,000 she had earned in executor fees on her required personal financial statements, which as a state senator she must submit annually.[24]

Scorecards

Empower Texans

See also: Empower Texans Fiscal Responsibility Index

Empower Texans produces the Fiscal Responsibility Index as "a measurement of how lawmakers perform on size and role of government issues." The index uses "exemplar votes on core budget and free enterprise issues that demonstrate legislators' governing philosophy."[25] Legislators were graded along a 0 through 100 scale in 2013 and on an A through F grading scale in 2011.

2013

Zaffirini received a score of 31.5 in the 2013 Fiscal Responsibility Index.

2011

Zaffirini received a grade of F on the 2011 Fiscal Responsibility Index.

Controversies

Correctional facility firm

Zaffirini's business and personal connections were called into question in 2009 by a Texas news website. The story remarked on Sen. Zaffirini's husband's work with the GEO Group, a private firm that runs over a dozen correctional facilities in Texas. Carlos Zaffirini defended the GEO Group when a county in her district considered suspending water and sewer service to their facilities on account of the company's reputation.[26] Zaffirini, as a state senator, has power over state contracts, including the lucrative contract with the GEO Group.

Personal

Zaffirini is married to Carlos M. Zaffirini, a Laredo attorney. They have one son, Carlos Jr., who is also an attorney.

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References

  1. Texas Tribune "Ousted From Chair, Zaffirini Keeps Eye on Colleges," October 4, 2012
  2. Texas Tribune "Tension University Texas," accessed December 10, 2013
  3. Texas Secretary of State - 2012 Election and Candidate Information
  4. Election Results, Texas State Senate, District 21
  5. Election Results, Texas State Senate, District 21
  6. Follow the Money, "Zaffirini, Judith," accessed August 22, 2013
  7. American Spectator "Transparency for Thee," October 25, 2013
  8. Daily Texas Online "Facing impeachment, Regent Wallace Hall defends actions in debate with Sen. Kirk Watson," September 28, 2013
  9. Daily Texas Online "Former UT System vice chancellor alleges Regent Wallace Hall’s ‘clear intent to get rid of Bill Powers’," October 24, 2013
  10. Dallas Morning News "UT regent sought 800,000 documents, official says in impeachment hearing," October 22, 2013
  11. Watchdog "‘Witch hunt’ fallout: Speaker calls for narrower public records law," February 5, 2014
  12. Texas Tribune "UT System Responds to Transparency Committee Directives," February 3, 2014
  13. Texas Tribune "Cigarroa letter to the Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations," February 1, 2014
  14. Texas Tribune "UT Regent Wallace Hall Updates Lawsuit Disclosures," April 30, 2013
  15. Real Clear Policy "The Campaign Against Wallace Hall," August 15, 2013
  16. News-Journal "University of Texas regent not worried by impeachment inquiry," September 9, 2013
  17. Texas Tribune "Transparency Committee to Mull Impeachment of UT Regent," June 25, 2013
  18. Texas Tribune "Perry Blasts Impeachment Probe of Wallace Hall," October 30, 2013
  19. Texas Public Radio "UT Regent Wallace Hall Will Testify In Impeachment Hearing," November 13, 2013
  20. Watchdog.org "Longhorns: Senator used clout in UT law school admissions," November 13, 2013
  21. Texas Watchdog, "Children of Texas lawmakers get into UT School of Law, but struggle to pass bar exam," December 18, 2013
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 Watchdog.org - Texas Bureau "Senate wrestles heir over nine-figure Texas fortune," December 17, 2013
  23. 23.0 23.1 San Antonio Express-News "Zaffirini hit with new lawsuit," July 19, 2013
  24. 24.0 24.1 Watchdog.org - Texas Bureau "Texas senator: Gay embezzler threatens inheritance," January 14, 2014
  25. Empower Texans, "Fiscal Responsibility Index," accessed February 22, 2014
  26. Texas Watchdog, "Lawmakers’ relatives work for GEO Group prison co. as state weighs clamp-down on embattled firm "
Political offices
Preceded by
NA
Texas Senate District 21
1987-present
Succeeded by
NA