On his first day as governor of Texas, George W. Bush declared that limiting lawsuits was an "emergency issue" for his state.
"We must put a stop to the frivolous and junk lawsuits which clog our courts," he said in January 1995, a popular line he has repeated often since then.
Getting rid of "frivolous" suits — or even defining them — proved difficult, but the new governor won limits on how much money could be awarded in the biggest cases. For example, punitive damages were capped at twice the amount of a victim's loss.
But the legal-reform movement Bush launched in Texas has gone far beyond questions of monetary awards. Among other things, it has led to limits on the right to sue in the first place.
"Texas has gone from one of the most friendly states for consumer protection to one of the most anti-consumer states," said University of Houston law professor Richard M. Alderman, an expert on consumer rights. "It all began in 1995. Bush oversaw a significant retreat for consumer protection, and it was all done under the guise of attacking 'frivolous' lawsuits."
The impact has been felt by home buyers such as Mary and Keith Cohn, whose elegant new residence in this well-off Houston suburb came with a leaky roof that led to rotting and moldy wallboard throughout the structure. After their daughters became ill, the Cohns moved out. The repairs ultimately cost more than $300,000.
To their astonishment and dismay, they learned that when the builder refused to repair most of the damage, they could not sue him for redress. Instead, they could pursue private arbitration, a process they considered stacked against them.
"This is the largest purchase of your life," said Mary Cohn, "but you have zero consumer protection."
Bush’s remarks drew applause only once — at the end of his speech.
I found out that my brother, Sgt. Ryan M. Campbell, was dead during a graduate seminar on April 29.
Immediately after a uniformed officer knocked at my mother's door to deliver the message that broke her heart, she called me on my cellphone. She could say nothing but, "He's gone." I could say nothing but, "No." Over and over again we chanted this refrain to each other over the phone as I made my way across the country to hold her as she wept.
I had made the very same trip in February, cutting classes to spend my brother's two weeks' leave from Baghdad with him. Little did I know then that the next time I'd see him would be at Arlington National Cemetery.
During those days in February, my brother shared with me his fear, his disillusionment and his anger. "We had all been led to believe that Iraq posed a serious threat to America as well as its surrounding nations," he said. "We invaded expecting to find weapons of mass destruction and a much more prepared and well-trained Republican Guard waiting for us. It is now a year later, and alas, no weapons of mass destruction or any other real threat, for that matter."
Ryan was scheduled to complete his one-year assignment to Iraq on April 25. But on April 11, he e-mailed me to let me know not to expect him in Atlanta for a May visit, because his tour of duty had been involuntarily extended. "Just do me one big favor, OK?" he wrote. "Don't vote for Bush. No. Just don't do it. I would not be happy with you."
The serious mood was broken by Sam Poulton, who rose in the second row, wearing a VFW cap, to poke fun at himself. He turned to face the audience and cameras. "I want you to look at this face," he said. "I'm 56 years old, a proud reservist. I was ordered back to Iraq. It's something when my son and I are both deployed. I went to war for George W. Bush; I came home to vote for John Kerry."
With Election Day less than two months away, a conservative group rated Georgia's paperless touch-screen voting system the worst in the nation, with Florida and several other states not far ahead.
The Free Congress Foundation, a longtime fixture of the political right, warns in a new report that if the Nov. 2 vote totals are contested, the result could be a "fiasco," since so many states have installed electronic systems that have no paper ballots that can be recounted.
Georgia, the first state to install a paperless system in all counties, was graded "F-minus" based on the reliability of the equipment and its capacity for a "verifiable recount."
Georgia officials have long argued that the $54 million touch-screen system is easy to use and popular with voters, despite some glitches when it debuted in November 2002. In Fulton County, for example, some machine totals were counted late because poll workers forgot to remove memory cards. But the election result was not affected.
Sinkule said the state would add printout devices if required but added, "Let's not rush to mandate a paper trail without federal standards in place."
The signs were hung in the end zone: "Past Your Prime Time."
The barbs were flying on the airwaves: "Deion's been retired for three years," said Browns radio analyst and former lineman Doug Dieken, "and he hasn't made a tackle in six."