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— Thanks to stock options, Francis now has 3.2 million shares. He got 48.3 percent of the options granted at the time of the public offering and 22.25 percent last year. That's a top-heavy distribution of options. AMN stock has been trading around $16. Annual earnings are one-third what they were, but the stock is trading above its lows of prosperous 2002, thanks to the share shrinkage. The company refuses to be interviewed on the topic.

The buybacks were "an exceptionally shareholder-friendly action," says an analyst for Morningstar, Inc., the stock-rating firm. Three of seven analysts who follow the stock consider it a buy, according to Standard & Poor's, which is neutral on the stock. But the bullish analysts are probably not concentrating sufficiently on the balance sheet debt or the sell-off by the Texas financiers.

AMN has 30 percent of the so-called traveling nurse market. So does a competitor, Cross Country Healthcare. Wouldn't it have been wiser for AMN to amass that debt to put in a better computer system, or increase the pay of its traveling nurses, or in other ways make itself a better company?

The machinations have helped Francis politically. The Reader's Matt Potter reports that Haas, Haas's Dallas partner, six major shareholders and officers, and the company's Connecticut-based securities lawyer gave the maximum $300 to the Francis campaign.

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