August 31, 2006
Libertarian response to CD22 special election

Just to prove that I'm not a one-trick pony, I'm now on the distribution list for Libertarian Party press releases. Here's what they say about the Very Special Election for CD22:

In response to Governor Rick Perry's announcement calling for a special election in Texas CD-22, here is a statement from Libertarian Party Communications Director Stephen Gordon:

"Our founding fathers fought and died to prevent Americans from being taxed without adequate representation. Governor Perry could have called for a special election some time ago to ensure that the voters of Texas 22 were properly represented in Congress.

As opposed to governing in a responsible manner, Perry's priority is to facilitate Republican Party damage control in the wake of Tom DeLay scandals and the GOP failure to place a candidate on the ballot for the general election. Once again, Republican leadership has violated the trust of the voters.

While there will be two names on the general election ballot in November, voters who prefer responsible government and constitutional leadership have but one choice: Libertarian Bob Smither."

So neither of the two people who will be on the ballot for the real election will be there for the Very Special Election. What if Rick Perry had thrown a special election and no one came? That would have been fun. Anyone know off the top of their heads if the elections code addresses that possibility?

Anyway. I did a Kuff's World post on libertarian netroots support for Smither, which drew a comment that has more info, if you're interested.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Lampson will not run in CD22 special election

When I said before that I was aware of a highly interesting rumor about the CD22 Very Special Election, this was what I was talking about.

Nick Lampson, the Democratic candidate for Congressional District 22, will not participate in a special election to fill resigned former congressman Tom DeLay's unexpired term.

Campaign manager Mike Malaise said Thursday Lampson has decided to stay out of the special election because the voting process is becoming increasingly complicated as Nov. 7 approaches – and Lampson wants to simplify matters for his supports.

"We want to be able to say, vote once for Lampson and then you're done," Malaise said.

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry ordered a special election be held to fill the remainder of DeLay's term. The special election will be held on Nov. 7, concurrently with the general election. The winner of the special election would hold the office only until January, when the winner of the CD-22 race in the general election would take office.

At the end of the day Thursday, with one day left in which to register, Republican write-in candidate Don Richardson was the only person listed on the Texas Secretary of State's web site as running in the special election.

However, sources said Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, the Houston City Councilwoman whose write-in campaign is being supported by many CD-22 precinct chairs and party officials, also registered for the special election today. So did a third candidate, who sources were unable to identify.

Sekula-Gibbs and Richardson couldn't be reached Thursday evening.

"We just feel this thing has become a mess," Malaise said of the election process. "We don't want to add to that voter confusion."


Malaise said Lampson believes Gov. Perry should have called a special election in May, so residents of the district would have had continuing representation in Congress. As it is, by the time the special election is held in November CD-22 will have been without a congressional representative for more than four months.

If Lampson were to run in the special election, Malaise said, he would increase odds that the race would be thrown into a runoff, since the winner of the special election must have a majority of votes, not a plurality.

A runoff might not take place until December, leaving the eventual winner with perhaps only three weeks to serve as a working member of Congress.

This makes all kinds of sense for Lampson. After five months of being left vacant, a November special election to fill this seat for the Christmas vacation is nothing but a gimmick and a political ploy to boost Shelley Sekula-Gibbs' profile. A special election in May would have been meaningful. A special election as late as September, which would at least have had a chance to seat someone in time for the fall session of Congress, would have been meaningful. A special election in November, to keep Nick Lampson's seat warm, is a joke.

And pending the identity of the third person or any other surprise entrants, that joke may wind up being on Shelley, who is likely to be the prohibitive favorite to win it and thus be forced to resign her City Council seat. Hey who knows, maybe the return to private life in January will give her enough time to mount a campaign for the special election to fill her Council seat. There'd be a certain poetry in that.

Bear in mind that the one purpose a special election (whether in May or November) can still fill is to give a leg up on seniority to whoever wins it, assuming that same person wins the regular election as well. Well, Lampson doesn't need that head start on seniority like an ordinary rookie would. He'll get eight years' worth of it when he's sworn in again. As such, on top of everything else, there's no incentive for him to run in it. He doesn't need to be sworn in before January to be ahead of his Class of '06 mates. If it weren't for the Constitutional requirement that Governor Perry is so grudgingly and belatedly fulfilling, there'd be no purpose at all to waiting this long before having the election.

Anyone want to guess how much sillier it gets from here? My imagination is starting to run dry.

UPDATE: Forgot to include Lampson's press release. It's beneath the fold.

Houston, TX -- Nick Lampson, candidate for Texas' 22nd Congressional District, released the following statement today in response to reports from the Texas Secretary of State's office that three candidates had already filed for the special election in Congressional District 22 - none of whom were Nick Lampson. Should these multiple candidates become involved in a run-off election in December, the district will be holding an election for a term that could possibly no longer exist as Congress would be leaving session. And the people of this district would end this Congress with no representation.

"I have decided against running in the special election," Lampson said. "This entire process has become a mess thanks to Tom DeLay's attempts to manipulate the system. If the Governor and Tom DeLay had truly been concerned about the interest of Southeast Texans, we would have had this special election back in May. Now we are looking at four special election candidates if I were to run and possibly more by close of business tomorrow. That raises the possibility of run-off that would drag the process into December. Enough is enough. I am not going to put voters through that extra confusion. I am going to focus my attention on the general election and the next full term of Congress. Vote once for Lampson and you're done."

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Ciro dropping out

Well, that didn't last very long. BOR had the scoop last night, and now it's in the papers: Ciro Rodriguez has abandoned his effort to run in CD23 against Rep. Henry Bonilla and others.

Democrat Ciro Rodriguez told a roomful of San Antonio union activists Wednesday night that he was pulling out of the crowded race in Congressional District 23, according to one of the participants.

The former four-term congressman didn't offer an explanation to the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, which met to consider an endorsement in the race, said the person, who asked not to be identified. Rodriguez couldn't be reached for comment late Wednesday night.

His campaign spokeswoman said she was unaware of his announcement, which came a week after Rodriguez filed to run against 14-year incumbent Henry Bonilla and what turned out to be a bevy of other Democrats in the Nov. 7 open election.

Weird. I think PerryVsWorld is correct in pegging this as a problem Ciro had convincing people to fund his effort, and I unfortunately also agree that this makes it somewhat less likely that Bonilla wil be forced into a runoff. One thing that I hadn't thought of before, though it's forehead-slappingly obvious now that I've seen it in print, is that straight ticket votes won't count in the special Congressional elections. They're basically primaries, so with multiple Dems in a race like this, that of course makes sense. That may mean in practice that if you're in one of these districts and you pick a straight ticket button, you still get presented with the Congressional ballot. Whether that is how it works or not, it's how it should work.

I don't know what will happen here now. Lukin Gilliland has the money to compete, but no name ID and not much time to generate it. Albert Uresti has a recognizable name, thanks to his brother, but doesn't have any money (as far as I know). Rick Bolanos has been running the longest, since he was Bonilla's original challenger, but he has neither of those things. I still think this district deserves attention from state and national Dems, but as I also thought Ciro was in the best position to take out Bonilla, I'm not as optimistic about things as I was before.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Third write-in for CD22

Want to know another reason why it's hard to take write-in candidacies seriously? Because, as Juanita discovered, literally anyone can be a write-in candidate. Does anybody else think that this guy was aiming to be on the CD21 ballot and missed?

Here's the full list of candidates, by the way. Too bad we don't have a list of CD22 special election candidates yet. I imagine that will make for some humorous reading as well. We'll know by tomorrow what to expect for that one.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Do you love your BlackBerry too much?

Via John comes this story of new frontiers in employer-employee relations.

Keeping employees on electronic leashes such as laptops, BlackBerries and other devices that keep them constantly connected to the office could soon lead to lawsuits by those who grow addicted to the technology, a U.S. academic warns.

In a follow-up to an earlier paper on employees' tech addictions, Gayle Porter, associate professor of management at the Rutgers University School of Business in Camden, N.J., has written a paper that states workers whose personal lives suffer as a result of tech addictions could turn their sights on their employers.

"These people that can't keep it within any reasonable parameters and have these problems in their lives, at some point may say: 'My life is not all that great. How did this happen? Who can I blame for this?' " Porter, who co-authored the study with two other academics, said in an interview last week. "And they're going to say, 'The company.' "

I like John's answer better. Be that as it may, all I can say is that this story gave me and my boss a good laugh.

Research In Motion's BlackBerry wireless device - jokingly dubbed the "CrackBerry" by some - is well known for what some describe as its addictive properties.

In most major North American and European cities, businesspeople can be seen gazing nose-down into their BlackBerry screens.

Porter says she isn't picking on RIM or the BlackBerry in particular, but notes that terms like "CrackBerry" show that "there is, however lightheartedly, some acknowledgment that many people have kind of gotten out of control with using these devices."

Next they'll tell me that the Internet can be addictive, too. Oh, wait...

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texas poverty

The problem, in a nutshell.

Eighteen percent of Texans, and 25 percent of Texas children, lived below the federally defined poverty level, according to the 2005 American Community Survey. The nationwide percentage below poverty level was 13 percent.


Overall poverty rates, locally and nationally, didn't change much between the 2000 census and last year, although levels increased somewhat more significantly among Hispanics and blacks in Harris County.

"Generally, the survey reports that the socioeconomic profile of Texas has stayed pretty much the same as it has been for years. It was bad to begin with and has not gotten better," said State Demographer Steve Murdock, with the Texas State Data Center at the University of Texas in San Antonio.

That would be a good description of the Perry administration, but that's neither here nor there. What is of importance is Moving Forward: Common Sense Policies to Promote Prosperity for Working Texans, which is a meaty report (PDF) by the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) that gives a number of strategies for improving our bad-and-not-getting-better socioeconomic profile. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
On the enthusiasm gap

In my post on the CD10 poll that provides some good news for Ted Ankrum, I mentioned that one reason why the proportion of likely voters was higher in Travis County than in Harris was greater enthusiasm by voters in the Democratic Travis. For what it's worth, various national polls have consistently shown that more Democrats are excited about this year's election than they have been in recent years, while Republican interest is down. MyDD has the details.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 30, 2006
Poll in CD10

A few days ago, Paul Burka reported being on the receiving end of a robocall poll for CD10, which he presumed came from the Mike McCaul campaign. He was wrong about that - the poll was commissioned by Ted Ankrum. I am now in possession of the results. Here is the full script, with totals for each question:

Q1. Are you a registered voter who intends to vote in the election?

(Note: Only "yes" answers continued with the call, for a total of 500 respondents and a margin of error of 4.4%.)

Q2. Michael McCaul is your current Representative in Congress. What are your thoughts on his reelection?

34.7% Would you definitely vote to reelect him
39.1% Would you consider other candidates
26.1% Would you definitely vote to replace him

Q3. The three Candidates for Congress are Michael McCaul, the Republican, Ted Ankrum, the Democrat, and Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian.

50.8% Would you vote for Michael McCaul, the Republican
41.6% Would you vote for Ted Ankrum, the Democrat
7.6% Would you vote for Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian

(Note: The order in which the candidates' names was read was rotated for each call.)

Q4 In times such as these, should a Representative follow the lead of the President or follow the opinion of voters in their District? In a situation where the two do not agree:

23.2% The Representative should follow the President
76.8% The Representative should follow the voters

Q5. What is your opinion of President Bush' job performance on a scale of 1 to 4, where 1 means you strongly approve and 4 means you strongly disapprove?

25.7% Strongly approve
22.8% Somewhat approve
9.4% Some disapproval
42.0% Strong disapproval

There was one more question asking for the respondent's age. As you can see, it was a pretty straightforward, non-push poll, generic enough to make Burka think it came from McCaul's camp. Approximately 36% of the respondents were from Harris County (which broke down as McCaul 67%, Ankrum 25%, Badnarik 8%), 47% from Travis (Ankrum 57%, McCaul 36%, Badnarik 7%) and the rest in between. That's slightly tilted towards Travis, but may simply reflect greater voter enthusiasm this year.

I would not claim that 42% of the respondents in this poll even know who Ted Ankrum is, much less that they know enough about him to vote for him. This is basically an anti-Bush, anti-incumbent statement. The breakdown of the approve/disapprove question says it all: Over 91% of the voters who strongly or somewhat approved of George W. Bush preferred McCaul, while 78% of those who strongly or somewhat disapproved went for Ankrum (it was 88% of the strong disapprovers). This is the first real piece of evidence I've seen that Bush's sagging poll numbers, even in Texas (most recent SurveyUSA result 47 approve/51 disapprove), will have an effect on races here in Texas. Combine it with the earlier Henley poll, and I think one can feel a little optimism for Democratic prospects overall. Hopefully we'll see even more results like this.

The good news for Ankrum is that I believe he has room to grow. The key for any Democratic candidate to have a shot in this district is to boost turnout and performance in Travis County. If this is an accurate picture of voter intensity, then he's got #1 going for him. If he can get his performance there up to about 65%, he's up close to 45% overall. The flip side of that, of course, is that better turnout in Harris pushes him down. If you tweak things so that it's 47% Harris and 36% Travis, and assume the same ratios for each county, McCaul goes up by a 53-39 score. I believe there's a fair piece of SD07 in this district, and enthusiasm for Dan Patrick may well help bump up participation in Harris to McCaul's advantage. That may also have been accounted for by question 1, I can't say. In any event, turning out Travis County, and doing a little better there and among the weak Bush disapprovers is the key for Ankrum. We'll see how it goes from here, but this is an encouraging beginning.

UPDATE: More from BOR, McBlogger, and R.G. Ratcliffe.

I should note that Ankrum emailed me to say that he agrees that this is an anti-Bush result. It also occurs to me that the poll apparently did not allow for questions to be skipped, or for "Don't Know" to be selected. That could skew things in any number of ways, including the high-for-a-Libertarian-in-a-three-way-race 7.6% total for Badnarik. Just something to think about.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
How special is this election anyway?

I'm just thinking out loud a little here about the Very Special Election for CD22 that will be held on the same day as the regular election. I'm still not sure what the point of it all is, besides Rick Perry's constitutional obligations, which I doubt he really cares much about since he waited so long to bother with this. Paul Burka thinks the point is increasing Republican base turnout. Maybe, but then why bother with SD19 and HD33, where Democrats are the majority? Who's to say that Carlos Uresti and Solomon Ortiz, Jr won't take the opportunity to work their base support extra hard, too?

Chris Elam suggests the special election is a chance for Shelley Sekula-Gibbs to get a leg up on 2008. To which I say, did anyone ask David Wallace about that? We all know he has his sights set on '08, right? Well, it's one thing for him to put on the Good Team Player hat and give Shelley some money and whatever moral support he has for her write-in bid, since Wallace quite reasonably expects that to fail. It's another thing entirely to expect him - or for that matter, any of Talton, Howard, Jackson, Meyers, Bettencourt, and even Eckels - to give aid and comfort to a potential future primary opponent. If the motivation is to give an early boost to the Shelley 2008 campaign, what possible reason could there be for any ambitious local Republican and his or her supporters to help that effort? That makes no sense to me.

Even if you put that aside and assume that the cast of characters who also hope to run in two years' time will still work for Shelley in a special election, are we 100% sure Shelley wants the help? That is, are we certain she plans to run in that special election? Because if she does, and if she wins the special election while failing as expected in the general, then she has to do something that she currently isn't required to do, and that's resign her City Council seat. Is getting to play Congresswoman during her Christmas vacation enough compensation for her last year on Council? Maybe it is, if it really does make her the frontrunner for the GOP primary in 2008. But then we're back to my previous point. Who among her potential future rivals is going to help make that happen?

All I'm saying is that there's a lot of questions to answer, and the filing deadline for the special election is Friday. I don't think at this time that we can make a whole lot of assumptions about how this will shake out until we know who is and isn't in.

And to bring things back to the regular election, via Muse we learn that Shelley won't be the only official write-in candidate after all.

On Tuesday - the deadline for withdrawing or registering as a write-in - Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs traveled to Austin to file her papers, as expected.

But unexpectedly, by the end of the day former Republican congressional candidate and Houston businessman Don Richardson did not ask the Texas Secretary of State's office to remove his name as a write-in candidate.

The move threatens to further confuse voters in what has already been an extremely complicated congressional campaign. And having two GOP write-in candidates in the race may jeopardize funding from national Republican Party sources.

Contacted at his home Tuesday night, Richardson said he is still in the race despite telling GOP officials and precinct chairs at an Aug. 17 gathering in Pearland that he would drop out.


At the Pearland gathering, Texas GOP Chairman Tina Benkiser "got up and said the Republican National Committee would put up $4 million if and only if" there were a single write-in candidate in the race, Richardson said.

In that case, he said, he would withdraw and allow Sekula-Gibbs' campaign to benefit from the funding.

But the next morning, he called an official at the RNC in Washington, D.C. "I said put it in writing" that $4 million would be available to the single GOP candidate running as a write-in against Lampson, Richardson said.

He didn't hear back. On Friday, Richardson said, he sent a fax to RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, to the RNC official to whom he'd originally spoken, and to Benkiser.

"I said look, if you'll put it in writing about the $4 million and refund my campaign expenses…I will withdraw," Richardson said. "I haven't heard from anybody. So my name is still on the ballot."

Benkiser could not be reached Tuesday night to confirm Richardson's recollection about $4 million coming from the RNC. Sekula-Gibbs also could not be reached.

But Sekula-Gibbs said a few days ago it was "suggested to me that" significant funding from national Republican sources would be made available if the GOP could get behind a single write-in candidate. "That's a very important part - that there would be adequate funding" to run a major campaign, she said.

Nobody ever expected those mythical millions, whether three or four of them, to materialize anyway, so I don't see this as anything but a convenient excuse for the national party to weasel out of any commitments that people may think they've made. I also don't believe the presence of a second official write-in measurably affects Sekula-Gibbs' already miniscule odds of victory, unless there are people out there who would have spun in her name but will now change their minds. It's not like Don Richardson is on the ballot, after all.

Are we having fun yet? I too am aware of some highly interesting rumors about this Very Special Election. All I can say now is stay tuned and we'll see what materializes.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with State Rep. Scott Hochberg

Continuing with my interview tour of the State House, today I bring you my first interview with an incumbent Rep who's running for re-election, Rep. Scott Hochberg. I'm proud of all the interviews I've done so far, but if you were to tell me that you only had the time to listen to one of them, I'd say this is the one. Not because I asked brilliant questions, but because Hochberg knows so damn much about education and school finance, and he makes it all very accessible and easy to understand. If you're not at least five percent smarter after listening to this, I'll give you double your money back.

Here it is. Seriously, give it a listen:

Link for the MP3 file is here. I've got more of these coming, so let me know what you think about them.

Here are all my previous interviews:

Gary Binderim - Interview
Glenn Melancon - Interview
Jim Henley - Interview
David Harris - Interview
Ted Ankrum - Interview
Shane Sklar - Interview 1, Interview 2
John Courage - Interview
Nick Lampson - Interview, Interview about space
Mary Beth Harrell - Interview
Hank Gilbert - Interview
Joe Farias - Interview
Harriet Miller - Interview
Ellen Cohen - Interview
Diane Trautman - Interview
Rep. Scott Hochberg - Interview

Posted by Charles Kuffner
"Bless your heart"

As a naturalized Texan, I loved this story about the expression "Bless your heart".

Like a sweet candy with a sour center, "bless your heart" can cloak a tart surprise, however. That's likeliest in the South, where good manners and irony flourish together like clematis among roses and wielding the phrase creatively can be an art form.

Celia Rivenbark of Wilmington, N.C., the author of a book of Southernisms titled Bless Your Heart, Tramp, offered some pungent examples. For instance, "You know, it's amazing that even though she had that baby seven months after they got married, bless her heart, it weighed 10 pounds!"

Or: "If brains were dynamite, he wouldn't have enough to ruffle his hair, bless his heart."

Jill Connor Browne of Madison, Miss., another writer on Southern manners and usage, explained the phrase's power: "We can say absolutely the vilest things that come into our mind about another person and yet still leave the listener with the impression of our unfailing sweetness."

Allison Burkette, a sociolinguist at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, offered this statement as an example: "Well, John, bless his little heart, tries as hard as he can, but just can't seem to pass math."

Her translation: "John's too dumb to do much in the way of mathematics."

I discussed this with Tiffany last night, and we agree that there's a difference between "Bless your heart" and "Bless his/her heart". The former is generally said with affection, whereas the latter, as it is said about someone who isn't there to hear it, often is not, as indicated above. It's certainly not always meant unkindly; context is everything. If you really want to stick the knife in, as Ginger once noted to me, is to say something like "She does the best she can with what she has, bless her heart." Nothing good comes out of that one, believe me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Friday's the day for red light cameras

We knew that the red light cameras would be operational and fine-inducing as of September 1. Well, that's this Friday.

"This is a great opportunity for us to use technology so we won't have to use officers as much for traffic enforcement, (and) we can put them in communities to prevent crime," Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said Monday as he showcased a newly installed camera system at Milam and Elgin.


Revenue generated by the camera program - expected to be more than $6 million a year once 50 intersections are monitored - will help to pay police officers who work overtime because of the department's manpower shortage, Hurtt said.

That's about as positive a spin as you can put on these things, at least until and unless we get some evidence that they actually reduce crashes and injuries. I want to see that data as soon as it's feasible, and I still want to get some strong assurances that the images captured by these cameras are used for the stated purpose of traffic enforcement only, then destroyed once that purpose has been fulfilled. As far as I'm concerned, this discussion is still in the startup phase.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Ben Barnes interview

The PerryVsWorld blog has part one of an interview with former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes up, and it's some interesting reading. So far, they've mostly covered redistricting and redistricting reform. I hope the question of Carole Keeton Strayhorn comes up in a subsequent segment. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Urban corridor planning report

For those of you who didn't get to attend last weekend's urban corridor planning meeting, fear not. Tory was there, and he's got a report of what happened. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 29, 2006
ParentPAC endorses Ellen Cohen

I knew this was coming, but here's the official announcement:

Texas Parent PAC today endorsed Ellen Cohen for state representative in House District 134, which encompasses Bellaire, West University, River Oaks, Meyerland, and Montrose areas of Houston.

"Ellen Cohen is the pro-public education candidate in this race," said Texas Parent PAC board member Dinah Miller. "She is a fiscal conservative who will lead efforts to finally develop a long-term school finance plan that addresses the needs of our neighborhood schools while continuing to reduce property taxes."

Parents from throughout Texas have joined together in a bipartisan effort to elect to the state legislature strong and effective leaders who will stand up for children and parents and strengthen public schools. In addition, a broad base of individuals and business leaders are coming together to join in this effort.

"Ellen Cohen is intelligent, articulate, a collaborator, and a proven leader," said Carolyn Boyle, Texas Parent PAC chair. "Unlike the incumbent, Ellen Cohen will be a partner with parents and responsive to their concerns. Ellen will be part of the solution instead of part of the problem at the state Capitol."


Texas Parent PAC is endorsing a small and select number of Republican and Democratic legislative candidates statewide. The PAC describes its endorsed candidates as "men and women of integrity, open and responsive to parents, actively involved in their communities, and committed to investing in public education to achieve economic prosperity in Texas."

Parents are encouraged to volunteer in the Ellen Cohen campaign, to donate money and in-kind services, and to vote and bring friends to the polls during the October 23-November 3 early voting period and on the November 7 election day.

For more information on Texas Parent PAC, visit For more information on Ellen Cohen and her campaign, call 713-660-0899 or visit

For a reminder of what ParentPAC is about, see this Texas Observer story. It wasn't necessarily clear that they were going to endorse anyone in the general, but it seems to me that after their pretty impressive record in the GOP primaries, it wouldn't have made sense to pack up and go home afterwards. I don't know who else they've touted for November (their website doesn't say), but I've sent them an email to ask and will update this post when and if I get a reply. In the meantime, this is a very nice (and very well deserved) coup for Ellen Cohen. Let's see if that ParentPAC magic carries over.

UPDATE: ParentPAC's Carolyn Boyle answered my question via email:

We are going to be rolling out the endorsements one-by-one, with the announcement in the legislative district. It is important to our PAC that the candidates not be considered a "slate," because they are not. The candidates we are choosing to endorse are just individually very talented!

So there you have it. And here's the Chron story on the endorsement.

Texas Parent PAC, a group that proved influential in this year's Republican primaries, made its first endorsement for the general election Tuesday, backing Ellen Cohen, the Democratic candidate in Texas House District 134.

Cohen was the first of an expected 20 to 25 House candidates to be endorsed by the bipartisan Texas Parent PAC.


"Ellen Cohen is the pro-public-education candidate in this race," said Texas Parent PAC board member Dinah Miller of Dallas.

The group announced its endorsement across the street from West University Elementary School. District 134 includes Bellaire, West University Place, River Oaks, Meyerland and parts of Montrose.

"I'm flattered beyond words to be endorsed by a PAC that's bipartisan, that cares about issues that affect public schools," said Cohen.


Carolyn Boyle, chairwoman of the political action committee, rapped Wong for supporting private school vouchers, education cuts in 2003 and the Republican leadership's bill to use revenue from a new business tax for property tax cuts instead of new school funding.


Boyle said she thinks education will be a key issue in this fall's legislative races, despite a new school finance bill passed during the special session that lowers property taxes, raises teacher pay by $2,000 and boosts high school spending by $275 per student.

Boyle called that plan a "quick fix, short term."

"We need a lot of attention on public education come January, with some really talented legislators who care," she said.

Miller said the PAC expects to make other endorsements in Houston-area legislative races.

I've heard reports about one other race in Houston in which ParentPAC will support a candidate, but I'll wait until it happens to write about it since for all I know I could be wrong.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Three! Three special elections!

I keep thinking that it's not possible for the November elections to get any screwier. I keep getting proven wrong.

Gov. Rick Perry today officially set the special election to fill the unexpired term of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay to coincide with the general election on Nov. 7.

Candidates wishing to run in the special election must file by 5 p.m. Sept. 1 with the Texas Secretary of State to appear on the ballot.

Shortly after DeLay announced in April that he was resigning from Congress, Perry said he would not schedule a special election to fill the vacancy before the general election. Today, he issued the official order setting the date.

The winner of the special election will serve DeLay's district in Congress from the day the election results are certified until a new Congress begins in January.

At that point, the winner of the general election will take over as the representative of Congressional District 22.

Yes, the longest standing vacant Congressional seat in Texas history (PDF) will finally get filled. Why did it take so damn long for Perry to get off his gubernatorial keester and finally set a date for this sucker? Kathy Walt explains it all to us.

"Because there were a lot of maneuverings in the court on the Delay question on what could happen with that election, that had to play out then we reviewed all the legal requirements and options," said Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt.

Mmm hmmm. Remember, kids, DeLay announced his resignation on April 3. He officially stepped down on June 7, a day before the Dems got the initial temporary restraining order that ultimately prevented the ballot replacement process from going forward. In between, as Greg in TX-22 noted, Perry went from deciding there should be an emergency special election to deciding that there shouldn't be one. That took place long before there was a lawsuit. Even if you believe that Perry feared there would be litigation that would leave the status of the ballot uncertain for months, it's also the case that the Supreme Court settled matters on August 7. So once again the question is "What took him so long?"

Of course, what wasn't settled on August 7 was the official GOP strategy for trying to play the rotten hand they'd been dealt, though that was the case by August 17. What has Rick Perry been doing since then (besides this, whatever that is)?

How will this play out? I have no idea. I've expressed the thought that it's good for Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, while both Chris Elam and Greg think it's bad for her. One of us is wrong, but it's probably a coin toss as to whom. It does keep this race in the news, at least for a little while longer.

And if all this isn't more fun than you can stand, take a close look at the official ballot (PDF) for CD22 as currently posted on the Secretary of State website. Here it is, on page 4:

U.S.Representative District 22 (M )

Nick Lampson DEM
Bob Smither LIB
Don Richardson W-I

I'm sure there will be one more candidate by September 6. But will there be one less as well? I still don't think it matters that much in the grand scheme of things, but it might give the RNC/NRCC a face-saving way to punk out on that $3 million promise it made to Sekula-Gibbs, since she wouldn't be the only write-in candidate. Link via Fort Bend Now and South Texas Chisme.

One last thing:

Perry also set Nov. 7 special elections to fill the unexpired terms of state Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, and Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio. The winners of those elections will serve until a new Legislature is convened in January.

Madla resigned effective May 31, which is even earlier than DeLay, while Luna quit more recently. I can't think of any purpose a November special election to fill their empty seats for those two months could serve.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
CQ updates its ranking in CD22

CQ Politics has updated its rating of the CD22 race from "No Clear Favorite" to "Leans Democratic", which makes it "the first House seat being defended this year by the Republicans in which the Democratic nominee is rated as having a clear edge". That's a step in the right direction.

I've got a post about libertarian netroots coming out for Bob Smither and another about more successful write-in candidacies over at Kuff's World. Hey, someone's got to cover this thing now that it's not newspaper-worthy any more, right?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Updated list of candidates for special Congressional elections

According to this list (PDF) from the Secretary of State's office (via Quorum Report), each of the five re-re-redistricted Congressional seats has at least two challengers. That contradicts this sloppy AP article, which says the following about CD21:

In the 21st District, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, 58, will face perennial Democratic candidate Gene Kelly, 80, a retired Air Force colonel and San Antonio-area lawyer. Kelly, who has the same name as the late song-and-dance star, has sought elected office numerous times. His most recent outing was his unsuccessful bid against Democratic Senate nominee Barbara Ann Radnofsky in the spring primary. Radnofsky beat Kelly in a runoff.

Incredible. Nearly a full paragraph about the joke that is Gene Kelly, and not a word about John Courage, the man who has been running against Lamar Smith for a year now. The phrase "Liberal media, my rear end" just doesn't get said nearly often enough.

According to QR, that SOS list may change depending on petition signature verifications. One presumes they'll do that job faster than they did for the first round, when the not-lovable loser Steve Stockman failed to qualify. The ballot is supposed to be certified on September 6, so we should know for sure by then.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Clutterbuck's cantilever canned

This should come as no surprise to anyone.

Metro has evaluated Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck's suggestion that part of its future University light rail line be suspended over the Southwest Freeway, and the results are hardly a surprise.

In the segment from Dunlavy to Edloe, the "cantilevered" tracks over the north side of the freeway would cost more than twice as much as Metro's proposed ground-level route in the middle of Richmond Avenue and would attract fewer than half as many riders, the agency estimates.
Click to learn more...

The numbers, which Metro says were generated using the same procedures required for Federal Transit Administration funding applications, are: $215 million over the freeway vs. $90 million for the Richmond alignment, and 700 riders a day over the freeway compared with 1,600 for Richmond.

Clutterbuck said Friday that she had not advocated the freeway route, which was suggested to her by some residents.

"I asked Metro to look at this so that we would know they had done their due diligence," she said. "And now the process will go forward."

Yes, I hope it will, and I hope we'll all be more serious about it. Including, one hopes, with the numbers that get cited one way or another.

Consultant Janet Kennison told the board that Metro had received 2,600 comments (57 percent) for Westpark or against Richmond, and 2,000 (43 percent) for Richmond or against Westpark.

"We had an awful lot of feedback," she said.

I presume that at least some of those pro-Richmond comments came from people who live and/or work along the street. I think we can safely translate John Culberson's laughable statement from his hot dog rally as "Ninety-seven percent of the people who contacted my office to say that they opposed rail on Richmonf oppose rail on Richmond."

Culberson also got feedback recently from officials of the Greater Houston Partnership, the West Houston Association and the North Houston Association.

The three groups sent letters responding to his request that Metro drop Richmond from its route evaluations.

Although each organization sent its own letter, and each was signed by a different person, the three were in uncanny accord that " ... the most financially competitive, technically competent alignment that maximizes ridership potential will best serve the greater Houston community."

Proving that great minds not only think alike, they sometimes write alike.

Would you have preferred that they just write one letter and all sign their names to it? I'm not sure why that's even worthy of mention, but since Rad Sallee brought it up, I'm including the text of the letter beneath the fold. I found it at the West Houston Association site, but it's not permalinked so who knows how long it will be there. Note the date on it, too; this wasn't exactly timely news.

WHA Board of Directors Addresses METRO's University Rail Alignment in July, 2006 Letter to Congressman Culberson.

"The Board of Directors of the West Houston Association has a history of interest and involvement in the planning and support for transportation projects that impact the West Houston Region. Therefore, we have considered the recent proposals by METRO for light rail in the University Corridor. While the line that is the subject of the current debate is not within our sphere of interest, we are confident the outcome of this matter will dictate whether or not West Houston will, in the future, have a another major transit line extending into the western suburbs of the West Houston Region, supplementing the I-10 High Occupancy Transit Lanes (HOT).

The Board believes that the most financially competitive, technically competent alignment that maximizes ridership potential will best serve the greater Houston community and should be chosen by METRO. The needs of the overall community should come before the desires and interests of a small group of residents and businesses. While their interests should be considered, these individual interests must not dictate progress for the community as a whole.

Recent history informs us that to provide greater mobility for the largest number of people, some will unfortunately not be pleased with the solution. In the short term, a few most affected by a particular decision will find progress for the overall community will not be in alignment with their individual desires. However, that does not, and should not, mean that we cannot have progress if that project meets or exceeds our collective demands for mobility, efficiency and quality, and the greater good is served.

Examples of the greater good being served are found in practically every major public infrastructure project— Interstate 10 reconstruction, Bayport Terminal, and Intercontinental Airport expansion are recent examples. As you know so well, in each case every effort was made to minimize negative impacts, however there were those in close proximity to these projects who were and remain opposed, no matter the rationale. Our region is going to grow by 4,000,000 persons over the next 30 years with the majority of them locating in the western half of the region. We will face these problems repeatedly, but in the end, those charged with leadership must make the decision that is the right decision for the region.

The future of an efficient transportation system in West Houston must involve transit as well as a full complement of freeways, tollways and major thoroughfares. To meet this goal, we believe the long-term future of West Houston is best served if we preserve the option for transit in the Richmond/Westpark Corridor west to northern Fort Bend County. Choosing a less than optimum alignment in the existing University line may not only foreclose a future link to West Houston, it may well jeopardize funding for the entire University line.

We appreciate your leadership on mobility issues and particularly on the Interstate 10 project. We believe difficult bold decisions and leadership can and will continue to make a difference as the Houston region plans and implements future mobility projects."

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 28, 2006
Why not Kinky

Clay Robison sums up the case against Kinky better than I can by simply quoting the man himself.

"It's politically correct these days to apologize to the Indians and apologize to the Hawaiians for taking their land, apologize to the African-Americans for dealing with them as slaves and on and on without end. It's a little late in the game to go around apologizing and thinking everything's going to be OK."


"I am going to see nondenominational prayer and the Ten Commandments put back in the schools," he told the Kilgore News Herald several weeks ago.

"If you don't love Jesus, go to hell," he added.

He also has called for repeal of the top 10 percent law, which many minorities value because it gives the best students from poor, mostly minority school districts an equal opportunity with more-privileged young people for admission to the best state-supported universities.

And Friedman talks a tougher line than Gov. Rick Perry on border security.

He told conservative TV commentator Bill O'Reilly last year that he would "seal the border" against illegal immigrants by bringing in the "National Guard, the Texas Rangers, the entire Polish Army, whatever it takes."

"Good fences make good neighbors," he added.

More recently, as quoted in the Dallas Morning News, Friedman said, "My immigration policy is 'Remember the Alamo.' "

Meanwhile, struggling Democratic nominee Chris Bell, who wishes more voters would remember him, isn't amused.

Bell's campaign, which has been collecting Kinky's quotes, believes the quipster's conservative viewpoints contradict those of his own strongest supporters.

An internal Bell campaign poll indicates Friedman's strongest base - a 51 percent favorable rating to 25 percent unfavorable - is among Anglo liberals, the type of people who normally would be expected to support Bell and who the Democrat desperately needs.

"He (Friedman) has stated contempt for a lot of the people who are supporting him," said Bell spokesman Jason Stanford.

To everyone who has a "K - The Governor" sticker on their car next to a Kerry/Edwards or KPFT sticker: You're not supporting some kind of freethinking progressive who shares your values. You're supporting Larry the Cable Guy. I'd say the joke's on you, but unfortunately the rest of us are collaterally damaged by it.

I've long thought that Kinky represented a bigger threat to Bell than Strayhorn did; at least, he's definitely a bigger threat than Bell has made him out to be relative to Strayhorn. And the latest Zogby Interactive poll suggests I just might be right about this.

Candidate Pct
Perry 34.8
Bell 23.1
Friedman 22.7
Strayhorn 9.6

Usual caveats: It's Zogby Interactive, it's just one data point, nothing means anything anymore since Pluto was deplanetized, etc etc etc. Still, Strayhorn has been drooping in all of the available polls - according to the Bell blog, Strayhorn has lost 11 points in the Zogby poll since January - and even Paul Burka says that the wind is shifting against her. It ain't easy being all things to everyone, especially when you used to be a whole lot of other things. If we can ever convince the Friedman Democrats to come home, look out. Rick Perry at 40% is almost surely unbeatable. Rick Perry at 35% is very much not.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
A Katrina timeline

The Talent Show takes a look back at the horrors we all witnessed a year ago in New Orleans. Ray looks at his own writing from a year ago here and here. The lead story on the Chron is about some Katrina survivors who now call Houston home. Read and remember.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Candidate Q&A: Neeta Sane

Continuing in my series of interviews with local candidates, today I bring you Neeta Sane, who is the Democratic candidate for County Treasurer in Fort Bend.

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Neeta Sane. I am running for Fort Bend County Treasurer. I am a resident of Missouri City and I have been married for 19 years with one son who is a freshman at UT-Austin studying Chemical Engineering.

We came to the United States of America in 1994. This was one of the major turning points in our life. Becoming an American citizen had a tremendous impact on the way I thought about my life. As opposed to India and Australia, American citizenship inspired me to commit myself to a two-way relationship with this country, to accept its blessings and in turn, give of myself to improve the lives of those around me.

I serve as a Director of Vote-Texas which is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization committed to acquiring transparency in electronic voting systems. I served as the Vice-President of Texas Democratic Women of Fort Bend, the Secretary of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, the Publicity Chair of Dulles High School ProGrad and the Diversity Chair of American Association of University Women of Fort Bend. My commitment of giving back and making a positive difference in the political arena has only grown stronger.

At this point, I have entered the political race for Fort Bend County Treasurer to protect the interests of the taxpayers of Fort Bend County.

2. What are the responsibilities and powers of the County Treasurer in Fort Bend?

Fort Bend County Treasurer is the chief custodian of county funds. Legislatively prescribed duties for the elected County Treasurer include receipt of funds, disbursement of funds as Commissioner's court may require or direct, and accounting for funds in the county treasury.

3. What are your professional qualifications for this job?

I am a financial technology entrepreneur. I have founded and managed a very successful financial software company with the highest ethical standards. Today, my innovative fraud-prevention and payment processing system, which increases both security and operational efficiency, is used by banking systems.

My professional experience in modern financial systems and fraud-prevention will enable me to successfully customize and utilize the county's newly purchased financial system to meet the county's ever growing need to improve efficiency and bring integrity in financial dealings.

I earned a Master of Science degree with a GPA of 3.97 from University of Houston-Clear Lake and published research papers in Scientific journals in collaboration with Center for Research in Parallel computing, Rice University.

4. Your counterpart in Harris County, Richard Garcia, is running on a platform to abolish the office there. How is Fort Bend different from Harris?

In Fort Bend County, the excessive concentration of Republican Party rule and their inept leadership has led to the indictment and resignation of the previous Republican Fort Bend County Treasurer followed by the appointment of a lobbyist as replacement County Treasurer. The situation in Fort Bend County definitely requires an elected Democratic County Treasurer who will provide the necessary checks and balances in the county leadership to manage the county funds with integrity, efficiency and transparency.

5. State Rep. Charlie Howard of Fort Bend tried unsucessfully last year to pass a bill to abolish the Fort Bend County Treasurer's office. What is your response to that?

American politics revolves around the basic principle of checks and balances to make sure that no party in rule can turn the given power into misuse or abuse. Proposing and defending the abolishment of an elected office like the office of County Treasurer, is nothing but an effort against the very basic need of having checks and balances in the governmental processes. I do not support abolishing the elected office of County Treasurer. Handing over the elected treasurer's duties and responsibilities to an appointed budget or finance officer defeats the very purpose of having an elected Treasurer who constitutionally protects the interests of the voters.

6. The last elected Treasurer was Jeanne Parr, who was forced to resign after pleading guilty to misappropriating funds. How much of an issue is that in the race this year? What needs to be done to restore the voters' trust in the office?

The indictment and resignation of the previously elected Republican Treasurer for stealing money from a youth organization and misappropriation of funds is a disgraceful example of inept Republican leadership. This year, the race for Fort Bend County Treasurer brings another Republican candidate who is past retirement age and has been hand-picked by the same republican leadership to be a rubberstamp of the majority of the County commissioners.
Voter's trust in the office can only be restored by electing a qualified Democratic candidate who will serve as the watch dog for the taxpayers to protect their tax-dollars from mismanagement and embezzlement.

7. What are your priorities for this job if you are elected?

  • I will bring integrity and honesty--I will optimize the usage of the newly purchased county's financial system to meet needs of ethical financial management. I will make sure that fraud-prevention measures are in place to prevent mishandling of the county funds.

  • I will bring efficiency--I will streamline the financial transaction processes to increase the efficiency in the office of County Treasurer.

  • I will bring fiscal accountability– I will bring openness and transparency in all the transactions that go through the office of County Treasurer and I will make the information readily accessible to the taxpayers of Fort Bend County.

8. What effect have the events in the 22nd Congressional District campaign had on your race? What effect has the Nick Lampson campaign had on your race?

All the events in the 22nd Congressional District race point to a strong need to have accountability, to prevent backroom wheeling and dealing, and to function according to the law of the land. In my opinion, the 22nd Congressional District race has not had any direct impact on my race.

Nick Lampson's campaign has definitely raised the profile of Fort Bend County Treasurer race a bit as our campaigns share a common platform of bringing fiscal accountability and responsibility in the governmental processes to efficiently serve the taxpayers.

9. Fort Bend currently has no elected Democrats in countywide offices. Why do you believe you can overcome that?

I can overcome that challenge because I have trust in the voters of Fort Bend County who realize that it is time to look beyond the political maneuverings in order to elect the most qualified and suitable candidate who will succeed as the watchdog for the taxpayers and not end up being another lapdog of the commissioners.

10. What else do we need to know about you and your campaign?

At this point in my life, I could have continued focusing on my business needs but I saw the stronger need to have checks and balances in the county government and to have a competent County Treasurer to restore the public trust in that office. So I decided to contest this election. I would like you to know my passion and desire to utilize the prime years of my life to serve the people of Fort Bend County to make sure the county funds are handled with integrity, efficiency and transparency.

Thank you, Neeta Sane. Here are all my previous interviews with Harris and Fort Bend countywide candidates:

Richard Garcia - Interview
Leora T. Kahn - Interview
Chuck Silverman - Interview
Bill Connolly - Interview
James Goodwille Pierre - Interview
Albert Hollan - Interview

UPDATE: Bryan has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Alvarado: Still cloutful

The Chron checks in on City Council member Carol Alvarado, who is still wielding considerable influence with Mayor White despite having stepped down from the Mayor Pro Tem position.

Despite a cloud of uncertainty about an ongoing investigation by local prosecutors and the negative news about her employees taking unauthorized bonuses, Alvarado still has more access to White than her council colleagues.

She's the only member with an open invitation to attend his thrice-weekly senior staff meetings, and Alvarado remains a regular on the mayor's weekend bicycle rides through city neighborhoods.

He also lets her spearhead complicated issues, such as studying a tougher ban on workplace smoking, responding to a grass-roots effort to change a police immigration policy or modernizing the city's campaign-finance disclosure system.

And she's still performing many of the historical duties assigned to the mayor pro tem. She advises the mayor, helping advance his agenda. She also works with his staff to gauge the moods of council members on emerging issues.

It's not unusual for White to delegate tasks to council members despite Houston's strong-mayor system, which allows his administration to set the agenda. He wants consensus. He gets that by letting members, even those who don't side with him politically, handle high-profile issues they care about.

Councilwoman Toni Lawrence has led efforts to enact new neighborhood-protection ordinances. Councilman Adrian Garcia has held hearings on a tougher juvenile curfew. And Councilman Michael Berry has been a champion of White's mandatory freeway-towing program, known as Safe Clear.

Yet Alvarado's role is unique.

"Carol is the only one that I think he's going to ask to figure out if there's votes on something, even if that's not her issue, because he trusts her," said Berry, who took over the administrative duties in the Office of Mayor Pro Tem when Alvarado stepped down. "In some ways, she is an extension of the administration."


Alvarado also acknowledged some tension between her and White, especially as speculation swirled before she stepped aside as mayor pro tem while Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal investigates the bonuses and probes other city files for possible wrongdoing.

Publicly and professionally, though, the relationship seems back to normal.

"There's no doubt that there was a management lapse in the mayor pro tem office, and she's accepted responsibility for that," said White, who regularly chats with Alvarado during council meetings. "But she also is extremely hardworking and knowledgeable about government."


Alvarado's removal from the office was said to be temporary, pending Rosenthal's investigation, which could drag on for many months.

He said last week that he hopes to finish the probe into the four employees's actions "shortly." As for the status of any probe into the activities of Alvarado or other city officials, Rosenthal wouldn't comment.

Who knows what Rosenthal will do. He's got a pretty spotty record in high-profile prosecutions of city officials, so indictments, of whoever, are not the last word by any stretch. Looking at the timeline in the story sidebar, it's been over five months since a search warrant was executed in Alvarado's office (the story says March 6; I have a blog entry about computers being seized from her district office on March 17). I don't know how soon "shortly" is, but it's gotta be getting close by now.

She wants to stay in public life and would prefer elected office, though some political analysts have said the scandal - or any future allegations by prosecutors - might complicate her efforts to seek a citywide post.

"Realistically, I think she may well have a successful political future in elected office, but I think it's going to be very difficult to run citywide," said Richard Murray, director of the University of Houston's Center for Public Policy, who taught Alvarado years ago.

Others think she still can get back on the political fast track.

"If she's able to rehabilitate herself politically, and I think she can, you're talking about somebody who could be a formidable mayoral candidate," said Jon Taylor, who chairs the political science department at the University of St. Thomas.

Maybe, I dunno. Let's see what Rosenthal does first. For what it's worth, I think Alvarado would have a decent shot at State Sen. Mario Gallegos in a contested primary in 2008. She's one of several rumored possibilities for that seat. As I said before, I'm not going to use too much brainpower on 2008 until 2006 is in the rearview mirror.

Alvarado said she hopes people judge her by her accomplishments, political experience and the vigor with which she has represented her constituents, not by a single scandal.

"We're all human. We all learn from our mistakes," she said. "From this, I will be a better public servant."

Not all of us, Carol. Not all of us.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Feeding the spammers

Dwight points to a story about the latest spam craze and asks the obvious question: "Who are the idiots that buy stocks touted to them in spammed email?"

Spam messages that tout stocks and shares can have real effects on the markets, a study suggests.

E-mails typically promote penny shares in the hope of convincing people to buy into a company to raise its price.

People who respond to the "pump and dump" scam can lose 8% of their investment in two days.

Conversely, the spammers who buy low-priced stock before sending the e-mails, typically see a return of between 4.9% and 6% when they sell.

The study recently published on the Social Science Research Network say their conclusions prove the hypothesis that spammers "buy low and spam high".

I really wish I better understood the mentality of people who fall for this sort of thing. The only way spam can be a profitable business model is if there's a pool of people who respond to them regularly. I hope some day to meet one of these people so I can ask them about their experience and maybe understand it all a little better.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Time for new mnemonics

This Chron article addresses what I think is the most crucial question about Pluto's demotion from planet to Vowel Planet: What about the mnemonics?

Now how will students learn the planets? Some possibilities:

  • My Very Extravagant Mother Just Sent Us Nachos.

  • Make Very Extraordinary Meals of Jell-O, Strawberries and Unsalted Nuts.

  • Mary's Violet Eyes Make Jack Stare Until Noticed.

  • My Very Exotic Mistress Just Showed Up Nude (perhaps this one is for college lads).

Yeah, I don't think too many elementary school teachers will be writing that one on the chalkboard. The panel on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me suggested a few more at the end.

Problems I hand't considered:

The planetary change also spells trouble for science museums.

The National Air and Space Museum, for example, has a popular song called The Family of the Sun, set to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell, that children love and which helps them learn the planets.

Spokesman Mike Marcus said a decision on rewriting it has not been made yet.

The museum also has a scale model of the solar system that spans the length of the National Mall.

Reducing the number of planets eliminated fears that the museum model would have to float new, more distant planets in the Potomac River to stay on scale.

I'm telling you, it'd be so much simpler if we just left things as they were. Why mess with success? Rob is with me on this. We don't care what those pinheads say, Pluto, we still love you.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 27, 2006
The CD22 wrap-up story

It's Sunday, so it's News Feature Story Day, and today's feature is an overview of CD22 and how Shelley Sekula-Gibbs came to be the One True Write-In. There's lots of stuff here that'll be familiar to those who've followed this all along, but we do get for the first time that I can recall some on-the-record comments about how the David Wallace Express went off the rails.

Some Republicans perceived Wallace's filing as a pre-emptive move to discourage other candidates and force the party's hand.

"There were concerns about the way he kept circumventing the party," said Kathy Haigler, a GOP precinct chair in Harris County . "He decided he was going to bypass the whole process and win this race on his own. It was a flawed strategy. The more defiant Mr. Wallace was with the party, the wider and taller the wall got between us."

Wallace questioned whether the closed-door gathering Aug. 17, at which a majority of the 83 precinct chairs in attendance voted to support Sekula-Gibbs, was representative of the party grass-roots. He's still not convinced it was.

He did not attend the meeting, although his supporters were in evidence carrying his campaign signs.

Wallace's tactics backfired, said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt. "He had shown every proclivity up until that point to say he was in at all cost, period," Bettencourt said. "The party called his bluff."

Still, Wallace says he would not have done anything differently. "You go with the process as it's unfolding and make decisions along the way. People can call it what they want," he said.

Boy, you can see why Wallace was once considered the true heir to Tom DeLay. He's got the "never admit I'm wrong, no matter how badly the course of action I chose turned out" thing down pat. You do realize what this means, right? If DeLay is like the Fonz, then Wallace must be Chachi. Nothing good can come out of this, I assure you.

More from Wallace:

"We were poised and ready to mount an aggressive campaign. But it was blatantly obvious that two write-in candidates would do nothing but hurt each other. Since Shelley's name emerged as a result of that secretive meeting, I support her."

Wallace had a natural constituency in the district as mayor of DeLay's hometown. But he also has political enemies in Fort Bend County. He doesn't speculate about who was behind the smear campaign against him as he and others were courting the precinct chairs for their support.

"When you're in the business of buying insolvent companies and breathing new life into them, of course those things are going to show up," said Wallace, an investment banker, referring to the bankruptcy documents circulated anonymously. "People can put whatever spin they want on that."

Wallace says he wasn't pressured to get out of the race but came to the decision on his own.

Will he seek the nomination in two years? "2008 is a long time from now," Wallace said. For now, he's committed to the Sekula-Gibbs campaign.

Translation: "Hell yeah! I can't come out and say that because we all have to pretend that Shelley might win, but anyone who knows anything knows that this is what I've wanted all along. I may be sucking it up for now, but you better believe I plan to remind everyone about how I took one for the team starting on November 8."

Meanwhile, Cragg Hines talks to Rick Hasen about the Guerra v. Garza case and other issues regarding what write-in votes will or may be counted. I still believe that this is unlikely to be of anything but academic interest, but we may as well start the discussion now just in case.

Elsewhere on the editorial page, former FEC chairman Bradley Smith uses the DeLay case as evidence that election laws should be loosened.

In Texas, for example, indicted former House majority leader Tom DeLay chose not to seek re-election. He moved his residence to the Washington area and withdrew from the race for his House seat. Texas Republicans sought to replace him on the ballot. But Texas law makes it difficult to substitute for a candidate nominated in a primary, and Texas Democrats successfully sued to prevent the Texas GOP from naming a replacement for DeLay. The result is that voters in that heavily Republican Texas district will not have a Republican nominee listed on the ballot in November.

This is an incredibly shallow and naive recapitulation of the events in CD22, which ignores DeLay's manipulation of the process, the Constitutional logic used by the judges, and the rationale for Texas' stringent candidate withdrawal laws in the first place. I believe Smith has a decent point in general, but there's no way that the DeLay saga bolsters his case. I don't have the time or energy to write a full-blooded response to this right now, but someone needs to.

Finally, Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert has responded to charges that he broke State Code of Judicial Conduct rules by publicly endorsing candidates in the One True Write-In anointment process. I'm still not convinced of this, but I wasn't convinced that the Dems' lawsuit to prevent DeLay's replacement was going to work, so what do I know. Muse has the background on this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The mouse that roared in CD10

This is the funniest thing I've read all weekend.

Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik has asked Democrat Ted Ankrum to withdraw from the race against U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, to give the Libertarian a better chance at unseating the freshman representative.


"There's a lot of people, who, without a Democrat in the race" would cast a ballot for Badnarik "just to vote against the Republican," Badnarik's spokesman Jon Airheart said. "We feel we draw from both parties."

Apparently, the concept of straight ticket voting is not one with which Mr. Badnarik is familiar. And just for the record, Badnarik has already been the Libertarian in a two-way race against a Republican before. In 2000, he challenged then-State Rep. Terry Keel in HD47. He garnered 15,221 votes, for 16.87% of the total. That's about 1300 votes more than write-in candidate Lorenzo Sadun got in CD10 last time.

All I can say is that for a guy who got 0.52% of the vote in Texas as a Presidential candidate, he's got quite a bit of cheek. And as for Badnarik's big campaign warchest, well:

In the latest campaign filings, Badnarik reported having $9,504 on hand, though a press release Friday reported he had received an additional $17,000 from supporters in recent weeks.

That may be more than Ted Ankrum currently has on hand, but color me unimpressed anyway. My prediction of the usual 2-3% for a Lib candidate in a three-way race stands.

One more thing:

Ankrum was not immediately available for comment Friday.

The timestamp on the Postcards from the Trail post is 4:53 PM Friday. The following press release that I got from Ankrum hit my Inbox at 11:17 AM on Friday:

"This race is only improved by three candidates," said Ted Ankrum, Democratic candidate for Congressional District 10. "Michael Badnarik has asked for me to drop out of the race, but the common good of the district is not served by that outcome. I won a four-candidate primary election, and won the runoff by 71%. I welcome a three-way race in the general, and the opportunity to unseat the Republican candidate who seems to hold office because Tom Delay Gerrymandered a district for him.

"Mr. Badnarik loudly proclaims his fundraising, but his money comes primarily the National Libertarian Party. My fundraising is local, coming from numerous donations within the district, and without the support of the national Democratic party. They're concentrating their support in only a few places in the country, and no challengers in Texas are being supported by the national party. In Texas, we don't give up when the odds are against us. It only makes us fight harder."

"Prior evidence shows that a third-party candidate won't win, and I have no intention of leaving this race to be decided because the Republican incumbent happens to be married to the daughter of the owner of Clear Channel Communications. I welcome the competition, and Mr. Badnarik's candidacy. It's what America and this district are all about," said Ankrum.

"Michael Badnarik and I agree on many issues, including that the one-term Republican incumbent has betrayed his constituents. We have great support in the district, and I have no intention of letting the district down," Ankrum said.

I should note that this was a corrected press release. The original arrived at 2:43 AM. Tara Copps at the Statesman needs to check with her colleagues on these matters before she hits the Publish button.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Poll favors Ciro in CD23

Greenberg Quinlan Rossner Research has released a poll that shows some good news for Democrats and Ciro Rodriguez in CD23. I've got a copy of the poll memo here (PDF) for your perusal. To summarize:

Congressional Vote
Candidate Vote
Total for Dem candidates 47%
Republican Henry Bonilla 44%
Libertarian Cecil Lamb 1%
None 2%
Undecided 6%

Cong Vote Among Dem Candidates
(among all general election voters)
Candidate Vote
Ciro Rodriguez 24%
Pete Gallego 11%
Albert Uresti 7%
Richard Perez 3%
Rick Bolanos 1%
Virgil Yanta 1%

Gallego is not a candidate, though at the time the poll was taken (August 10-15), he was talked about as a possibility. Lukin Gilliland has now joined the race, and with the money he says he'll bring, he ought to be a force to contend with. He's also issued a press release saying that State Rep. Robert Puente of San Antonio is his campaign treasurer, so he's already got some establishment support. And I'm starting to hear whispers that Lukin Gilliland will have more names behind him than that, so this definitely bears watching.

Both Paul Burka and PerryVsWorld think that Gilliland's entry into the race makes an eventual runoff more likely. Burka notes that the poll memo "cheerleads" for Ciro, but may help him get some national money. I say the DCCC and any other national group that was planning to throw money into CD22 should take that dough and split it between CDs 23 and 14. Make the Republicans play defense as much as possible, and see if anything good happens. At the very least, be prepared for the runoff that is increasingly probable.

BOR has a complete list of candidates in this and the other special Congressional elections, one of whom will not be former San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza. (How did Ruben Hinojosa in CD15 get lucky enough to lose his only opponent?) Vince adds commentary on all the filers. It's a pretty crowded field in the 23rd. I hope everyone keeps their fire aimed at Henry Bonilla, and as commenter RBH observes, that someone spends a little time in Medina County. I still think Ciro is the candidate with the best shot to take out Bonilla, but we'll see how things develop.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Would you believe there could still be a special election in CD22?

Believe it.

[W]ith all eyes on the November election, overlooked is the fact that the Constitution states that the governor shall call a special election to fill DeLay’s unexpired term.

Despite previously declaring he would call a special election, Gov. Rick Perry has yet to do so. His office is now leaving open the possibility he may decide against calling one.

The deadline for calling a special election is Tuesday, said Scott Haywood, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections in Texas.

In April, Perry said he would call a special election to fill the final two months of DeLay’s term.

But spokeswoman Kathy Walt indicated Friday that Perry was weighing his options.

"The matter is being reviewed, and no decision has been made at this time," Walt said in an e-mail response to The Daily News.

Incredible. As I said several weeks ago, we're way past the point where anything in this story could shock me. And Lord knows, I'd never put anything past Rick Perry if he thought he could milk political advantage out of it. If someone could convince him that calling a special election to coincide with the general election might help boost Shelley Sekula-Gibbs' chances in the latter, I've no doubt that he'd do it.

Having a special election and the general election poses some risks. That's especially true for Sekula-Gibbs, who must not only convince voters she is the best candidate, but also must convince them to write in her name.

A special election that could include more candidates could confuse voters, and some might simply skip the race.

Lampson plans to be on both ballots, should a special election be called. Campaign manager Mike Malaise said a staff member was set to deliver the necessary paperwork and a $3,000 filing fee.

Smither said he was hoping the governor would not call a special election.

He noted how confusing the race already is.

Even if Perry does call a special election, Smither does not plan to run for the unexpired term. He plans, instead, to concentrate on the bigger prize.

Sekula-Gibbs would not speculate about what she’d do. Her spokeswoman, Lisa Dimond, noted that the governor had not called a special election.

I don't see a special election as much of a risk to Sekula-Gibbs, since it would be a vehicle for getting somewhere on the ballot, and it would increase the level of coverage of the race. Anything that boosts her visibility and generates more discussion of her write-in bid is good for her. Yes, some people might be confused by seeing her name on one location, and assume that that's the only place they need to vote for her. I'm not sure how solidly I'd count on those folks to write her in under any circumstance.

We'll see what happens. Whatever it is, it will have nothing to do with what's best for the citizens of CD22 and everything to do with political calculations. If there were going to be a special election to fill out DeLay's term, it should have happened well before CD22 became the longest standing vacant Congressional seat in Texas history (PDF). Greg in TX22 argues that the Governor is Constitutionally required to call a special election, and notes that Kathy Walt sang a different tune on the subject back in April. Note Perry's statement at that time: "If I don't get it [DeLay's resignation] by close of business tomorrow, the election will be in November.'' If that's what he intended to do all along, then why is he waiting till next week to make it official?

Thanks to South Texas Chisme for the catch.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 26, 2006
Vintage Base Ball

If you don't care for the current style of baseball, perhaps this will be more to your liking.

Former major league pitcher Jim Bouton announced Thursday the launch of an organization that will play by 19th century rules: The Vintage Base Ball Federation. Yup, back then baseball was two words.

It will be six balls for a walk, and a foul ball won't count as a strike - unless it's caught, in which case the batter will be out. A foul ball caught on a bounce counts for an out, and a hit batter is only a ball, with no base awarded.

Gloves will be tiny, bat handles will be thick and the ball - that's right, one ball will be used per game unless it falls apart or is lost - will be dead. There aren't any pitcher's mounds, and there's no such thing as a balk on pickoff attempts.

In a mixture of sport and theater, umpires must be addressed as "sir." Fans - called "cranks" - will be encouraged to wear period costumes, so ladies get out those flowered hats and gentlemen doff your straw boaters.

Amateur baseball and softball teams are invited to join the VBBF.


"The game the way it was meant to be played," Bouton said during a news conference at Delmonico's, a restaurant that opened in 1836. "No batting gloves, helmets, wristbands, elbow pads, shin guards, sunglasses. No arguing with the umpire. No stepping out of the batter's box. No charging the pitcher or posing at home plate. No curtain-calling, chest-thumping or high-fiving. Just baseball."

Well, at least it's not Baby Boomer-inspired nostalgia for all things 1950s and 60s. The most recent edition of the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract gives a good, concise feel for how baseball was played and by whom back in the ancient days. It's a perfectly valid way to play the game, and I daresay people will find it interesting both as a novelty and on its own merits, but it has no more claim on being "the way it was meant to be played" than any other era has. For my money, this is like baseball version of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, with its utter romanticism of a past that wasn't particularly pretty.

While the Hartford Senators have a team spittoon, gambling will be prohibited - 19th century baseball was marked by alleged fixed games.

"The 1880s and '90s were characterized by very rough play and ill-mannered conduct toward umpires and opponents and spectators," said John Thorn, a board member who serves on the 19th Century research committee of the Society for American Baseball Research.

You can dress up in period costumes all you like, but the game of baseball at that time was filled with ruffians and gamblers. And of course you can't talk about 1880s baseball without discussing the origins of the game's organized racism, which began when future Hall of Famer Cap Anson refused to play against a team that featured Fleet Walker.

Obviously, the goal of the Vintage Base Ball Foundation is to evoke the positive things from that era, and to provide a contrast to what it sees as an artificial and commercial game now. Which is fine, if a bit naive about the actual history of the game. I personally prefer to remember that the good old days weren't always good. To each his own. Thanks to Matt for sending me this link.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Casey on Radnofsky

Well, I don't know if the headline is one that you'd want, but overall I'd say Rick Casey wrote a pretty complimentary column about Barbara Radnofsky and her Senate campaign. He certainly mentioned a lot of the things she likes to talk about, so do go and read it. One point to discuss at the end:

[S]he may well surprise a lot of people by making it into a respectable race.

And if she does, and if the "perfect storm" of Iraq and a flagging economy gathers more force in the next two years, she may well be in a position to muster a lot more resources for a 2008 race against Texas' junior and more polarizing senator, John Cornyn.

I don't know who it will be, but I feel pretty confident that someone will be able to mount a reasonably well-financed run against the Box Turtle man. I don't care to speculate about who that might be, since among other things I'm too focused on 2006 to have given it much thought, but I expect it to happen. Too far off to worry about now, but file it away for later.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Tom DeLay: Still unclear on the concept

From the "I Fought The Law (And The Law Won)" files, I bring you the master of denial himself, Tom DeLay.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said he never thought the courts would prevent the Republican Party from replacing him on the November ballot, a Houston television station reported Thursday.

"I'm very disappointed in our justice system. There doesn't seem to be justice," DeLay told KTRK-TV.


DeLay said efforts to replace him on the ballot weren't "bungled."

"We read the law and the law is very specific," he said. "You're ineligible if you die, have committed a felony and are convicted of a felony, if you are not mentally capable of serving or if you've moved out of the state."


DeLay said he doesn't have second thoughts about his decision to resign from Congress and give GOP leaders a chance to replace him on the ballot.

"Knowing what I know now, I don't think I would have done it any differently because I read Texas law, I knew what Texas law was," he told the television station.

Remember how on Happy Days the Fonz was physically incapable of saying the words "I was wrong"? DeLay is like that, minus the perfect hairdo, good looks in a leather jacket, and ability to turn on a jukebox by hitting it with his fist. This is your brain on too much lobbyist money, kids. Pay heed or wind up looking like that.

Paul Burka thinks the result is the ultimate expression of Justice. I couldn't agree more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Good news on the I-45 front

Via his spiffy new Chron blog, Marty Hajovsky brings some good news about the planned expansion of I-45.

[Jim Weston, president of the I-45 Coalition] also said that after years of back and forth on the Interstate 45 question, the department is investigating an expansion plan that would not significantly impact the Woodland Heights.

The department is expected to announce a series of what they call "scoping meetings" with interested parties sometime before the end of the year in order to garner public input.

"All indications are that they are not going to need additional right of way for this expansion except for two possible areas: the intersection of I-45 and North Main (where an Exxon station and McDonald's restaurant are right now) and the curve at Little York north of Loop 610," Weston said.

"They're doing environmental studies right now, which basically comes down to vibration and impact on historic buildings and sites. The studies are nothing about air quality or the effects of increased traffic, which is what most people think about with 'environmental.'

"Nothing is for sure until they get through this phase, but it looks positive."

Weston said one idea being studied is to expand the freeway underneath the existing service roads and then cantilever them over the highway.

"That's one of the things that they're studying right now, whether that's feasible, the costs of it, etc.," Weston said. "The I-45 Coalition did a study in May and concluded that the community wouldn't be opposed to getting rid of those things, the service roads, entirely. Right now, there's no service road farther south than North Main anyway. The neighborhood doesn't really want to keep the service roads if we have to lose part of the neighborhood to have them."

In response, Henry wrote a letter to Weston last week saying the study will be a reference as the design process proceeds. But he also said the department will either have to stay within the existing right of way or eliminate the frontage roads, but not both. He wrote that access to the frontage road is "a property right."

"On IH 45 in this section, the adjacent property owners own the access rights," Henry wrote. "To buy the access rights from a private property owner, we are required to have a valid transportation need that can stand up in court. This usually means acquiring the property to expand the roadway and buying the access rights."

Weston said the final design is not here yet, so no one's breathing easy, but the initial signs are encouraging for the Woodland Heights at least.

"Until the final design happens, nothing is for sure," he said. "When we get that, the public will be informed and we'll have the right to give input. But yes, we can do it without impacting the neighborhood."

Music to my ears. Kudos all around for finding a way to make this happen in a neighborhood-friendly way. And just as a reminder, that urban transit corridor planning meeting I've talked about is today.

By the way, Weston sent me a copy of the document they created at that design workshop back in May. You can check it out here (Word doc) if you'd like. Skip ahead to page 13 for a discussion of the North Main/Houston Avenue interchange, which is in desperate need of a complete overhaul.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 25, 2006
Wider smoking ban may be on the way

Didn't get to this yesterday: Remember last year when a compromise ban on smoking in restaurant dining areas but not bars was enacted? Well, it looks like that ban will be extended to include bars, thanks to the unexpected support of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association.

"We want to make sure that (the ban) is fair across the board," said Carl Walker, president of the Restaurant Association and owner of Brennan's of Houston. "Let's just don't focus on restaurants only."

That position is new for the group; last year, it supported the city's push for a partial ban. But without a comprehensive ban, bars have a competitive edge over restaurants, Walker said.

Since the ban likely will be strengthened in some way, Walker said, he and other restaurant owners would prefer it apply to all food and drink establishments, even if that means patrons in the bar areas of their restaurants no longer are allowed to smoke.

City law now allows smoking in bars as long as operators of restaurants that include bars take measures to keep smoke from drifting into dining areas. It also allows smoking on outdoor patios, which the Restaurant Association hopes would still be allowed.


The case for extending the ban was bolstered in July by a report by the U.S. surgeon general, who called for completely smoke-free workplaces.

"I think that took it to another level," said Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, who chairs the public health committee and supports strengthening the ordinance. "That has, I think, brought a broader coalition of people together."

The full council will consider a new ordinance, which has not yet been drafted, after the two committee hearings, she said.

Interesting. I'm happy to see this happen, though somewhat ambivalent about forcing it to happen legislatively. I'll be curious to see how the bar owners react to this development.

Speaking of which, HandStamp comes out in favor of a smoke-free bar scene.

I'm all for a smoking ban in Houston bars. I hate breathing in your cigarette smoke when I'm within the confining, unbreathing walls of Rudyard's. I hate having to come home and wash my hair just so that I can sleep without continuing to smell that filthy habit. Most importantly, I hate that I might be sacrificing my health just so I can see a band. I love live music, but I don't want to give my life for it.

Boy howdy, Rudz is as bad as it gets, smokewise. I think I've mentioned this before, but I was at a Spankers show there awhile back when the smoke got so bad, the band (almost all of whom smoke) actually asked everyone to refrain from lighting up for awhile.

The retort I hear from so many smokers is, "if you don't like the smoke, leave the bar." But I'm at the bar to see the band, I paid money to see the band, I'm not really there for the bar. And a lot of folks at the bar aren't there for the music, they're at the bar to smoke and talk and drink. Who gets the right of way in this situation? Will we be forced to divide music venues from the bars? It seems like such a good relationship in theory, but if the bar patrons insist on smoking and talking and live music listeners insist on breathing, how can we coexist?

Well, to use the case of Rudz again, the bar is downstairs and the stage is upstairs, so in theory you could smoke 'em if you're there just to drink. I wouldn't object to that. At a place like the Mucky Duck, where the only place to be during a show that won't cost you admission is the outdoors patio, there's no issue. (The Duck is also smoke-free now anyway; they tried a partial smoke-free solution some years ago, and apparently it was a success.)

Question for my Austin readers: Since that city passed a smoking ban over the outraged howls of the music scene, are the bars any less crowded? Have any gone out of business? Or has everyone gotten over it and adjusted to the new reality?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Questions and answers in CD22

Here's my latest entry at Kuff's World, in which I take the cheesy framing device of asking myself a bunch of questions, none of which were too hard for me to answer, about the state of the race in CD22. And as long as I'm tooting my own horn here, be sure to read this Reason story about what the national Libertarian Party is up to over there. I'd recommend that piece even if the reporter hadn't quoted me, which as it happens he did. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
RIP, Maynard Ferguson

Maynard Ferguson, hero to trumpet players everywhere, has passed away at the age of 78.

The cause was kidney and liver failure, said his personal manager, Steve Schankman.

Mr. Ferguson had a stratospheric style all his own. He possessed "a tremendous breadth of sound and an incomparable tone," said Lew Soloff, a prominent trumpeter who started out with Mr. Ferguson in the mid-1960's. The writer Frank Conroy once noted, "He soared above everything, past high C, into the next octave and a half, where his tone and timbre became unique" - sometimes reaching, as Mr. Schankman said, "notes so high that only dogs could hear them."

He pleased far more crowds than critics. John S. Wilson, reviewing Mr. Ferguson's big band at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival for The New York Times, called it "screaming" and "strident." Yet that same year the readers of Down Beat magazine voted the band the world's second-best, outranked only by Count Basie's.

Today, record collectors pay hundreds of dollars for rare Fergusons. "Very few rock superstars can command that kind of prices for used CDs or records," said John Himes, who runs the Maynard Ferguson Album Emporium in Cypress, Calif.

I still have several of his albums on cassette tape. I'm gonna need to try and find some of them on CD now.

More from the Globe and Mail:

Ferguson moved to the U.S. at age 20, playing in big bands - including Jimmy Dorsey's - and performing solo in New York City cafes. He then joined Stan Kenton's orchestra, where his shrieking, upper-register trumpet formed the backbone of the group's extensive brass section.

In 1956 he formed the first of several 13-piece orchestras known for the crisp vigour of their horns. They helped launch the careers of such jazz notables as Chick Corea, Chuck Mangione, Bob James, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul.

Zawinul later wrote the classic tune "Birdland", which was one of my favorite Ferguson pieces. (The Manhattan Transfer later added lyrics to it and made it one of their staples.)

I saw Ferguson on Staten Island in 1985, when he was touring with a fairly classic big band, and again in 1987 when he visited the Trinity campus with a smaller funk/fusion group behind him. The two shows were very different, but I enjoyed the hell out of each of them. We may never see his like again. Rest in peace, Maynard Ferguson.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Pluto: Not a planet

Remember when I said that Pluto was still a planet? Apparently, I was wrong.

Astronomers debating Pluto's future as a planet Thursday were forced to choose between science and culture.

Culture lost.

More than 75 years after its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto has been booted from the fraternity of planets in defiance of grade-school textbooks.

It's not a decision astronomers wanted to make, but one many felt increasingly forced to make. In recent years they have found a dizzying array of planet-like objects in the outer solar system including one, nicknamed Xena, that's bigger than the former ninth planet.

The question was whether Xena and a host of other solar system objects should become planets. If not, however, Pluto must be disqualified, too.

"It would be disastrous for astronomy if we come away from the general assembly with nothing," said Michael Rowan-Robinson, president of the United Kingdom's Royal Astronomical Society, shortly before nearly 400 astronomers voted to reclassify Pluto Thursday. "We would be regarded as idiots."

I think it may already be too late for that, dude.

SciGuy has the breakdown of the voting. As one who believes in the sanctity of childhood mnemonics, I will not accept these results. I do have an alternative idea, however, one that I think can satisfy the traditionalists as well as the scientists. Remember how back in elementary school we were taught that the vowels were "A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y"? I think we should start calling Pluto a "vowel planet", as in "There's Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and sometimes Pluto". Who's with me on this?

UPDATE: Jim Henley has a replacement mnemonic for those times when Pluto isn't a planet.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Spare that landmark!

It's little more than a symbolic gesture, but at least we have it.

The committee that advises Houston City Council on historic preservation unanimously approved a letter to Weingarten Realty on Thursday, urging the company not to raze the Landmark River Oaks Theatre, the former Alabama Theatre and segments of the River Oaks Shopping Center.

"Please do not deny future generations the experience of connecting to their past by erasing such vital elements of our heritage," wrote the 11-member Archaeological and Historical Commission.

The letter, addressed to Weingarten CEO Drew Alexander, carried no threat of city action. Houston's preservation laws are among the weakest in the country and like almost all buildings in the city, the three Art Deco structures lie outside the commission's feeble regulatory power.

Far less than 1 percent of Houston land falls within a city historic district; and to date, only one owner of a commercial building has applied to have it designated a city landmark.

But preservationists still regard the letter as significant in a city known for a lax attitude toward protecting its heritage.

Houstonist has more on the the preservation designation process. You can see how little weight this carries. Weingarten is under no obligation to do anything different, and it has basically no example to follow.

Kevin has suggested that the way to affect Weingarten's behavior is to contact them directly.

While petitions are an easy, feel-good form of activism, nothing gets the attention of businesses and/or politicians like swarms of calls and letters.

Unfortunately, I think this is equally useless. What really gets the attention of a business is a swarm of calls and letters from its customers (or in the case of politicians, from their constituents). The reason for that is simple: Such calls and letters carry an implied threat of taking one's business elsewhere unless the request/demand is met. You and I aren't Weingarten's customers; at least, those of us who aren't in the business of purchasing and developing real estate aren't Weingarten's customers. We have no more leverage over them than we do over Senators and Congressfolk from other states. Maybe calling and writing Barnes & Noble and threatening to never set foot in the bookstore that they plan to build on the ashes of the River Oaks Theater might be effective, if it gets them to have second thoughts about buying the land. Beyond that, I can't see how Weingarten would care what any of us think about their plans. They've got a bottom line to worry about, and our feelings about this project don't affect that.

No, the more I read about this plan, the more I am convinced that the only course of action that has a chance of success is CIty Council action. Unless there's a way to force, or at least strongly encourage, developers to not tear down historically significant buildings, they will continue to do so. And we'd better get cracking on this:

Demolition of the first building - the River Oaks Shopping Center structure at the corner of Shepherd and West Gray - is expected to begin soon after Christmas.

So write those letters and make those phone calls to Mayor White and your City Council person. I say they're the only ones who can do anything about this.

UPDATE: More from Houstonist.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Another contender in CD23

The field in the newly drawn CD23 has expanded by one.

Lukin Gilliland Jr., a San Antonio businessman and longtime Democratic fundraiser, said today he'd run in the newly redrawn Congressional District 23. And he backed up his bid by plowing $500,000 into his campaign account.

The first-time candidate will challenge Republican Henry Bonilla, a 14-year incumbent, in the Nov. 7 open election. He'll also face at least two fellow Democrats: former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez and El Pasoan Rick Bolanos.

So far, Bonilla, Rodriguez and Bolanos have filed to run with the Texas secretary of state. Gilliland said he'd so the same Friday, the filing deadline.

Gilliland, 54, said he seeded his war chest with $500,000 to show the seriousness of his commitment.

"I will focus on the issues of critical concern in our communities," Gilliland said in a statement released to the press. "And I won't hesitate to defend myself or my supporters against the inevitable attacks from Washington D.C.-style politicians."

I've said before that I think Democrats need to focus on this race as a golden opportunity to do all kinds of good. I don't know if Lukin Gilliland is the guy to beat Henry Bonilla, but if he's really going to drop a half million bucks into this, and in doing so helps drive up Democratic turnout for this race and others downballot, that's all to the good. The goal here is to hold Bonilla under fifty percent and force a runoff, where you can be sure there'll be plenty of money and attention to go around. We'll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, over in CD21, John Courage has made his official filing. He's been a beneficiary of the Netroots August fundraising push, and he's got a BOR diary that gives an update on his campaign. (All links via Texas 21.) Check 'em out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Debate deciding is hard work

Poor John Carter. He's having such a hard time fulfilling his role as the debate decider.

U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said Wednesday he does not know if he will join District 31 challengers Mary Beth Harrell, a Democrat, and Matt McAdoo, a Libertarian, in a public television station KNCT-TV (Channel 46) candidate's forum in October.

The station invited candidates in five area races to participate in forums to be taped in early October and broadcast one per night the week of Oct. 16-20.

Station rules, said Max Rudolph, general manager, are that each forum must include all candidates in a race to be broadcast. In the District 31 race, Rudolph said Ms. Harrell and McAdoo have accepted the invitation but he has not heard from Carter.

"No, no, no - I don't believe I'm going to be able to do that," Carter said. "I mean, that's public television and that's public radio. I will have to think about that. I might do it. I haven't decided yet."

Asked if he would appear in some other forum, Carter said, "We'll see."

Carter was asked if he told the Austin American-Statesman that Harrell had not earned the right to appear with him on stage.

"No, not exactly," he said. "(To) the American-Statesman, what I said was, 'you earn the right to debate me - by (showing) your credibility,'" Carter said.

Sure is easy to see how he's such a qualified evaluater of credibility, isn't it? I can almost feel his authoritative aura from here. Thanks for the link to Vince, who has an appropriate picture for the occasion.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Another debate for Cohen and Wong

From the Bellaire Examiner:

Whenever the question of a debate arose early in the campaign, observers say, District 134 State Rep. Martha Wong brushed off the possibility.

Why would she want to give her opponent that stature, the value of her own high name recognition, she asked.

But last week, one debate between Wong and hard-charging Democrat Ellen Cohen was locked in and another was being negotiated.

It's hard to brush off an opponent who has over $200K cash on hand, isn't it?

"This district is one of the most educated - if not the most educated - in the state, and the idea that candidates don't have to let voters compare them side by side is unthinkable," said Cohen's campaign manager, Bill Kelley.

"We think this is great," said Josh Hamilton, Wong's campaign manager. "That's what democracy is supposed to be about - candidates meeting face-to-face to explain their positions first-hand to voters."

Wong and Cohen, on leave as executive director of the Houston Area Women's Center, will meet at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 20 in a breakfast debate sponsored by the Houston In-Town Chamber of Commerce, Upper Kirby District and Museum District Business Alliance at the Briar Club, 2603 Timmons Lane.

Seats are $20 for members of those organizations, $30 for non-members, and tables of 10 are available for $250.

For reservations, call 713-524-8000. Nancy Sims of Pierpont Communications will be the moderator.

I imagine this will sell out, so get those tickets now if you're interested.

A second debate at Rice University is in the works, sponsored by the student Republican and Democratic organizations.

Campaign managers for the two candidates say they have agreed to the debate "in principle" if a mutually agreeable date can be found.

Both campaigns had commitments on the first proposed date.

"We're very flexible," said Ryan Goodland, president of the Rice Young Democrats, working with the Rice College Republicans.

Goodland said Rice students on both sides are interested in the race. "This is turning into a contest of ideologies," he said. "Wong has established a conservative record, and Cohen is clearly a moderate. Voters should have every opportunity to hear them articulate their positions."

Here's the letter the Rice groups sent to each campaign. If you think debates should be free, this is the one to go to. Well, okay, the debate may be free but the parking won't be on the Rice campus. Take the train if you can.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 24, 2006
Referendum to alter Prop 2 set for the ballot

As noted before, there will be a referendum on the ballot to alter the changes made to the city charter by 2004's Proposition 2. Two referenda, actually:

Voters will decide whether to alter the revenue cap known as Proposition 2, which limits annual growth in all city revenue to the combined rate of population increase plus inflation.

[Mayor Bill] White wants voters to remove the cap from the city's mostly self-sustaining "enterprise funds," which pay for airports, the water and sewer system and convention facilities without using property taxes.

Property and sales taxes produce revenues in the general fund, which pays for core city operations such as police and fire protection, libraries and parks. Growth in the general fund is capped under a White-backed measure known as Proposition 1 that voters also approved two years ago.

"I want to run this city in a way that respects the basic intent of Prop 1 and Prop 2 and also allows us to remove any impediments in those propositions that mess up our ability to deliver basic public services," the mayor said. "People can find common ground where we run the city in a fiscally conservative position."

Voters also will be asked Nov. 7 to approve a second measure that would let the city raise $90 million in additional revenue that the mayor says might be needed to hire more police officers and fund a recent firefighter raise.

Fine by me. The voters can decide if they like the system as is, or if they would rather make these changes. It's the democratic process, whether you like what it's being used for or not.

Some deft politics here by the Mayor:

In an unusual move, the council postponed its final vote to 4 p.m., so White could meet with key Proposition 2 backers to build consensus.

The Proposition 2 proponents in the meeting - former Councilman Carroll Robinson, Republican state Senate candidate Dan Patrick, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt and local businessman Bruce Hotze - emerged disappointed that they only met with White on Wednesday.

Robinson said the group was heartened that White agreed in recent weeks to let the council scale back some of the proposed revisions. They also hoped the council might hold an emergency meeting Monday - the last time the panel could alter the ballot language by law - to address other concerns.

White said such an emergency meeting still is possible.

"He has come a long way down the road, but we didn't make it all the way home," Robinson said. "We're willing to wait and hear what the mayor has to say."


Councilman Michael Berry, who won passage of an amendment stating that water and sewer revenues can be spent only on that system, said the vote would let the city know precisely what voters wanted two years ago. Wiseman said voters had spoken on the cap in 2004 and that White's rationale for the changes was overblown.

"To suggest that we have any impending doom is a misrepresentation," she said.

But Berry said he doesn't think most voters really wanted to cap airport and convention revenues, which some argue would stymie development of those systems.

"I feel comfortable and confident that we are capturing the essence of what voters intended, or at least the vast majority," said Berry, who was initially skeptical of White's plan.

If Mayor White can blunt the opposition, even a little bit, he's a lot more likely to get these propositions passed. I doubt that the Hotze/Patrick/Bettencourt crowd will be mollified by this, but just keeping them from actively fanning the flames ought to be good enough. Having Berry on board can't hurt. We'll see how it goes from here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Finding common ground on immigration

If you felt a disturbance in the Force yesterday, this story might explain the reason for it.

The Texas Association of Business and the Texas House Mexican American Legislative Caucus contend that an orderly immigration system is needed that matches employer needs and the desires of immigrants for work.


Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the TAB, and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus agreed that immigration reform must include:

  • Tougher enforcement of border security

  • Allowing an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to earn citizenship

  • Creating legal ways for immigrants to enter the country to fill low-skills jobs

House Republicans, including Texas members, prefer an immigration reform plan that emphasizes border security.

"I think unfortunately for a lot of different reasons, they've got it wrong," said Hammond, whose group is the state's largest business organization.

That's the Texas Association of Business, the group whose illegal campaign money "blew the doors off" the 2002 election by helping a boatload of Republicans get elected to the State House. They go with Democrats like mustard goes with chocolate. I can't think of a similar joint effort by them in the recent past.

Having said that, for the first and possibly only time in my life, I say Good Luck to Bill Hammond. He's going to need it, and in this specific case he deserves it.

The status of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants is one of the controversial parts of any immigration reform plan.

"You can't ignore them," Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said. "It's unrealistic to try to round up 12 million people. ... And there's no one to take their place in the American economy."

Hammond was equally emphatic: "They should be allowed to stay and be given a path to citizenship plain and simple."

But those unauthorized workers should be required to learn English and American civics in addition to paying any back taxes and fines for breaking the law when they crossed illegally, said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

"We are not for amnesty. That's the first thing you hear from opponents of comprehensive immigration reform," Anchia said. "Amnesty is automatic, no questions asked. We don't want that."

The need for secure borders is undeniable, Gallego said. "We need protection from drug dealers," he said. "We need protection from terrorists, but we don't need protection from dish washers and maids and baby-sitters and gardeners."

"We have the push from Mexico and the pull from America," Hammond said. "If we don't meet the demands of the marketplace, we will never have control of our borders. It cannot be done."

Not much else to say here but "Amen". I just hope the people who need to hear it are listening.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Candidate Q&A: Albert Hollan

Continuing with my series of Q&As with local judicial candidates, today we visit Fort Bend for a chat with Albert Hollan.

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

Albert Hollan. I am the Democrat running for Judge, 268th District Court, Fort Bend County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears both civil and criminal cases; however, it is not assigned family law cases. As a trial court of general jurisdiction, it can handle anything from a breach of contract to a capital murder case.

3. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a licensed attorney with 18 years of trial experience. I am Board Certified in Civil Trial Law and in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I have an A/V rating (the highest peer-review rating) and have never been disciplined by the State Bar for any reason.

4. Why do you believe you would do a better job than the incumbent?

The incumbent was publicly censured by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for willfully "failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary". Judicial Inquiry # 75, Order of Public Censure of Brady G. Elliott, Judge, 268th District Court. I have a clean record, will treat with respect all who appear in the courtroom, and will abide by the ethical code that judges must obey at all times.

5. Why is this race one we should care about?

Public Censure of a sitting District Court judge is rare. Most judges would resign rather than have that stigma on their record. However, the incumbent did not resign. He is running for re-election. Though the incumbent had a Republican challenger in the March Primary, the majority of Republican voters ignored the Public Censure and voted to keep Brady Elliott on the bench. It is important that we replace judges who cannot follow the Canons of Ethics.

6. What else do we need to know?

I am married, father of two, and have lived in Sugar Land since graduation from law school in 1987. This is not my first campaign. I was the Democratic candidate for the 400th District Court, Fort Bend, which was an open bench in 2004 until Gov. Rick Perry appointed my opponent 80 days before the election so he could run as the incumbent. I know that Fort Bend is perceived to be overwhelmingly Republican, but this county is changing. Democrats will be competitive in November.

Thank you, Albert Hollan. I'm working on some more Q&As with Fort Bend folks. Here are my previous interviews, with Harris County candidates:

Richard Garcia - Interview
Leora T. Kahn - Interview
Chuck Silverman - Interview
Bill Connolly - Interview
James Goodwille Pierre - Interview

Posted by Charles Kuffner
North Corridor route selected

Metro has designated a route for the North Corridor BRT line.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority board chose a route today on North Main, Boundary and Fulton for its planned North rapid transit line from the University of Houston-Downtown to Northline Mall.

The board rejected an alternative with a center segment on Irvington and Cavalcade, which some had favored on grounds that a Fulton route would hurt businesses and endanger schoolchildren.

John Quintero, president of the Parent-Teacher Organization at Roosevelt Elementary School, 6700 Fulton, said concerns about pupils having to cross the tracks were addressed by Metro's plan to elevate the line in that location.

"A vote on any route but Fulton would ignore the ridership in favor of personal property interests," said Quintero, one of five speakers who urged the board to adopt that alignment. Several also urged Metro to get it built as soon as possible.

"It's time to saddle up and get going," said Richard Leal. He also advised the board to "brave up" and not give in to pressure from opponents.

"We've been waiting a long time," said Ed Reyes. As to the impact on business, he added, "There are a lot of bars and cantinas that need to be weeded out."

That's an interesting take on the issue of business disruption. Reyes is the president of the Lindale Park Civic Club, which as we know very much wants this line built, and the sooner the better. The Fulton route was what he and his neighbors wanted, so I imagine there's a lot of happy people over there today. Well done all around.

UPDATE: Christof reviews how we got here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
"Real World: New Braunfels"

Oh. My. God.

The title may not be as sexy as "Laguna Beach," but television producers and management of a Central Texas water-based theme park are betting a new show will become a darling of the high school set.

With the succinct working title "Waterpark," the show could invade homes the world over a year from now, if MTV producers follow through with plans to film a reality show at New Braunfels' Schlitterbahn.

A casting call of current staffers began last weekend and continues through Sunday. Those who work at the water park - from lifeguards to food and beverage personnel - are encouraged to submit a headshot, bio and photos of friends. So far, about 50 have.


The show's premise would be a coming-of-age story about the park's workers, the majority of whom are 16 to 22.

Drama naturally occurs in that age group, as young people deal with all kinds of teenage angst, from first job jitters to unrequited crushes, said Layne Box, 27, a supervisor at the park who has submitted his headshot for consideration.

"There's lots of real-life drama," he said. "There's no script needed with high school students."

[Schlitterbahn spokesman Jeffrey] Siebert said camera crews would follow the cast members around the water park as they deal with the issues of the day, and after work as they hang out with friends. MTV producers should have plenty of folks to pick from, since more than 2,000 employees are hired as seasonal workers at the park, which stretches over more than 65 acres.

"If you want to be on the show you have to work here first," Siebert said. "You never know when a star might be born."


Siebert said "Waterpark" would be more like a younger version of "Airline," a show on A&E that follows Southwest Airlines workers.

If the show is picked up, production could begin next spring, Siebert said. The first episode would air about a year from now.

The beautiful thing is that you can buy alcohol at the Schlitterbahn at several hot tub and float-up bar locations, so you can have the "more-patient-than-I'd-be employee dealing with obnoxious drunk customer" scenario just like they have in every episode of "Airline", too. For better or worse, neither beer bongs nor Jell-O shots will be part of the equation whether inside the park (where those things were never allowed) or outside of it (surely at some point they'll show footage of tubing on the river).

All I can say is that I'll be avoiding any rides that feature rolling cameras during all future visits to the Bahn. I'm not part of the MTV demographic, and I plan to keep it that way.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Perelman declines Fields medal

As a followup to my previous post on Grisha Perelman, the reclusive Russian mathematician who has apparently conquered the Poincare Conjecture, Matt emails me to point to this story about Perelman declining the Fields medal and quite possibly the one million dollar Clay Mathematics Institute prize.

"I regret that Dr. Perelman has declined to accept the medal," Sir John M. Ball, president of the International Mathematical Union, said during the ceremonies [at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid].


In June, Dr. Ball traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, where Dr. Perelman lives, for two days in hopes of persuading him to go to Madrid and accept the medal.

"He was very polite and cordial, and open and direct," Dr. Ball said in an interview.

But he was also adamant. "The reasons center around his feeling of isolation from the mathematical community," Dr. Ball said of Dr. Perelman's refusal, "and in consequence his not wanting to be a figurehead for it or wanting to represent it."

Dr. Ball added, "I don't think he meant it as an insult. He's a very polite person. There was never a cross word."

Despite Dr. Perelman's refusal, he is still officially a Fields Medalist. "He has a say whether he accepts it, but we have awarded it," Dr. Ball said.

To each his own, I guess. Dr. Perelman will be forever remembered by the mathematical community whether he wants to accept their congratulations or not.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Urban transit corridor planning meeting this Saturday

Also from the inbox, a note from the I-45 Coalition about an urban transit corridr planning meeting this Saturday.

WHEN: This coming Saturday, August 26th - 8:30 am to 1:30 pm

WHERE: George Brown Convention Center, Room 301 – 302

WHAT: The City of Houston is hosting an opportunity to help shape the neighborhoods & commercial areas along six transits corridor (including the North Corridor)! This is the 1st phase of the planning process. The flyer says that “Citizen input will lead to changes in city ordinances and policies”.

Do you want more and more concrete poured? Do you want double decked freeways? Do you want a tunnel? Let them know! Often!!! Here’s a great opportunity to do just that. I believe that this is the 1st time ever that the City has encouraged its citizens to get involved in the planning process on a scale of this magnitude. This is a perfect opportunity to express your thoughts on how you want this city to be, instead of City of Houston and TxDOT engineers!

PLUS, as a bonus, lunch is provided!! FREE!!

But, you need to fax back the attached form (to 713-837-7703) or send an e-mail to

The form to fax is beneath the fold.

Name: _________________________________________________________________

Address: _____________________________­­­­­____________ Zip: _________________

Phone: ___________________ Email: ___________________________________

Fill this out and return it to us if you plan to attend

Please fax this form back to 713-837-7703 or email to

Posted by Charles Kuffner
"Sure Bet for Texas" fundraiser for Harrell and Van Os

From the Inbox, an event in Central Texas that should be worth attending:

Texas Legends are chairing Mary Beth Harrell's biggest fundraising event ever in Georgetown! US Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Texas Representative Elliott Naishtat, former US Congressman and Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox support Mary Beth because they know she is a "Sure Bet for Texas." We're thrilled to have these three Texas Legends coming out for Mary Beth.

You can join Mary Beth "a Sure Bet for Texas" on Saturday, August 26, from 7:00 pm-11-00 pm at Kindred Oaks Ranch, 2100 CR 176, Georgetown.

Individual tickets will be available for $75 each. Please e-mail your RSVP to or call (254) 616- 0058 to make arrangements to attend this fundraiser.

Can't make it? Well we'll miss you, so make your contribution online now to Mary Beth's campaign.

First the Band of Brothers, Seven Texas Veterans running for the US Congress, hosted a hugely successful press conference in Sun City to show their support for the courageous Soldiers' Mom.

Now, the Texas Legends are coming out for Mary Beth, "A Sure Bet for Texas", and chairing a night of fun, food, refreshments, and casino-style gaming at the beautiful Kindred Oaks Ranch.

If you can't make it, then simply make your contribution on-line now, and help send a Soldier's Mom to serve you and your family in Congress!

Mary Beth needs your help to get the word out. With your contribution, we'll buy commercial airtime, and mail out cards to her voters. So, join Texas Legends - US Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Texas Representative Elliott Naishtat, former US Congressman and Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, to help Mary Beth - "A Sure Bet for Texas" - win this election. Again, e-mail your RSVP to or call (254) 616-0058 to attend this extraordinary event or make your online contribution now.

PDiddie has more about this event, at which David Van Os will also be a beneficiary. Check it out.

UPDATE: Mary Beth is also asking to be written in as a "Candidate for Change" contestant.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 23, 2006
Helping the homeless in Houston

Mayor White has a plan for helping the homeless in Houston.

As one of several new city initiatives to battle homelessness, White is asking Houstonians not to give money to street beggars, but instead to donate to organizations that help the homeless.

"We want people to give, but we want to give in a smart manner," said White, who recently began spreading the word through radio advertisements. "If you see somebody begging in the streets, and you feel sorry for them, don't give to that person, but instead give to organizations to help turn around lives."

One often hears that this is the best approach to the issue of homelessness, and it certainly has some intrinsic appeal. I'm curious if this has been tried at the municipal level like this. The article doesn't indicate, nor does it quote anyone who seems to oppose it. It would be nice to know more about these things.

The city also has set up a special municipal court that encourages homeless to clear outstanding traffic tickets and other minor violations. Outstanding cases prevent people from getting driver's licenses or identification cards they need for housing and employment.


The Coalition is helping steer homeless people who want to clear tickets through the new court that meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month. Violators must agree to participate in the Coalition's rehabilitation program, and they can perform community service in lieu of a fine. Most homeless who attended the court since its start two months ago have had traffic-related violations, said Judge Berta Mejia, presiding judge at Municipal Courts.

"It helps the person remove their legal barriers and be able to obtain housing, be able to be employed, and it clears the cases in our courts," she said.

This sounds like a clear winner. For sure, having a traffic ticket outstanding should not get in the way of getting housing. Whatever else there is to this proposal, I hope this happens.

And in certain neighborhoods, it soon may be illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

That's already the law in downtown and Midtown, but three other close-in neighborhoods - Old Sixth Ward, Avondale and Greater Hyde Park - have petitioned City Council to expand the ordinance to their areas.

The panel will hear from the public on that issue today.


[Former Council member Gordon] Quan and other advocates for the homeless say the mayor's suggestion to donate to groups instead of individuals and the creation of the new court docket will help people get off streets and into assistance programs.

They are less enthusiastic about expanding the so-called "civility" ordinance that prohibits sleeping on sidewalks during the day in certain areas, saying it just pushes the homeless elsewhere.

"It's anything but civil," said Anthony Love, president of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County, who supports the mayor's initiatives. "It tends to move the people around and not get at the core issues that contribute to homelessness to begin with."

That part I'm not so enthusiastic about, either. I sympathize greatly with the homeowners in the affected areas, but I tend to agree with Mr. Love as to the actual effect of such ordinances.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Chron on the TTC hearings

The Chron follows up the Statesman with a story about the statewide series of hearings about the Trans Texas Corridor and how much Perry-bashing went on at them. It's not terribly different from the Statesman story, though it has more quotes from people who testified at the hearings, which are worth checking out, and it spares us any smarmy think-tank denigration of the opposition to the TTC, for which I'm grateful. A couple of points to make:

Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said the corridor concept is the only feasible means of easing congestion on state highways while guaranteeing future expansion when needed.

"For every 14,000 people who congregate and protest, there are 1.4 million in downtown Dallas and Fort Worth that recognize congestion on 35 is a problem and somebody's got to do something about it," Williamson said.

Dallas-Fort Worth area officials have been generally neutral on the corridor concept, but questioned the specific plan because its route bypassed the cities and would have done little to relieve local congestion. Perry last Friday ordered the corridor study to include an alternative route proposed by local officials.

Dallas County Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, a Republican, said he thinks people in the Metroplex would largely oppose the plan because it relies heavily on tolls and has included little public input.

"I dare say, if you took a vote in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it would be voted down," he said.

For a project that's supposed to relieve urban congestion, the TTC makes a pretty strong effort to avoid any actual urban areas. It's telling to me that Governor Perry finally forced TxDOT to consider a route for the I-35 alternative that touches the Metroplex. That's some pretty strong Republican turf, and I think his intervention here is a sign that he recognizes how precarious the support is for this project among his base. It's no accident that the state GOP platform calls for the repeal of the TTC.

"Fourteen thousand people is a nice turnout, but the fact of the matter is we're looking for input, any better ideas," Perry said of the hearings.

"Those that came out are just against - you know, the agin'ers. It's easy to turn out a bunch of people who are just agin a particular project," the governor said.

When all else fails, insult the intelligence of the voters. How lucky we all are to have a governor who knows our needs and preferences better than we do.

Greg Gerig, a corn farmer and a director of the Blackland Coalition opposed to the corridor, said there is a feeling state officials have been arrogant.

"Perry has in effect said, 'We don't care what people at the hearings said; we're going to build it anyway,' " Gerig said.

I can't imagine where he might have gotten that idea.

One final point:

One of Perry's fellow Republicans on the statewide ballot - U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison - also has criticized the project, saying it imposes too heavily on rural landowners.

That's an overstatement of Hutchison's criticism. Here's a fuller version of what Hutchison said.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, apparently trying to distance herself from Gov. Rick Perry on the controversial toll road issue, said Wednesday she was "very concerned" about how Perry's proposed Trans Texas Corridor would route new highways across the state.

She said bypasses to major, congested freeways, including Interstate 35, are needed, but she said it was unnecessary to build a toll road connecting South Texas to San Antonio.

"I just don't see the need for that, and I think the taking of property for that is a very serious matter that needs to be studied carefully," she told reporters after addressing the Texas Association of Counties.


"I'm very concerned about the Trans-Texas Corridor," Hutchison said.

She said parts of it are "very necessary" but questioned whether there has been enough public input, despite the series of hearings.

She called for a "whole lot more study of the routes" and said the state needed to make sure it was adequately using existing right of way.

"I'm not saying I'm against another route for bypassing the major, clogged freeways that we have. Interstate 35 is a parking lot," she said. "But I think that going too far outside of the major metropolitan areas is an issue that should be resolved."

That sounds more like hand-wringing than criticism to me. You can interpret it however you like, but according to Barbara Radnofsky, who genuinely opposes the TTC, some people haven't gotten the message about KBH's "concerns".

Louis Bronaugh, who is on the I-69 committee, said, "I think Strayhorn is making it political, because she needed to attack the present governor anyway she can, and we understand it. It's a political football, we just don't know how it's going to bounce, I talked to Senator Hutchison and she is very much in favor of this."

That's a different piece of the TTC (KBH's remarks were about the I-35 component), but it's still going to be going through mostly rural land. Basically, KBH has criticized one aspect of one component of the TTC. She thinks it can be tweaked, while a lot of people are saying it should be scrapped. Those are two very different things.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Checks, please!

The Tom DeLay/TRMPAC criminal trial is back in the news today as attorneys for DeLay associates Jim Ellis and John Colyandro are pursuing an appeal of their indictments.

Lawyers for two of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's political associates asked an appeals court panel Tuesday to toss out their money-laundering indictments because the underlying election laws are too confusing.

"The law must be so clear that a person of ordinary intelligence" won't mistakenly run afoul of it, said Joseph Turner, who represents John Colyandro, executive director of a political action committee founded by DeLay.


A panel of three Republican judges on the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals heard the arguments. Colyandro and Ellis initially were indicted one year before DeLay was charged in the alleged conspiracy last September.

Ellis' attorney, J.D. Pauerstein, argued that the state's money-laundering statute in 2002 did not include transactions involving a personal or business check. The Legislature last year expanded the definition of "funds" to include checks and money orders.

Yes, this is the checks are not the same as cash argument that Judges Perkins and Priest refused to accept. I don't think the passage of time has made it any less ludicrous, but we'll see what the court says.

Pauerstein said laws prohibiting corporations or labor unions from donating to political campaigns but allowing contributions to be used for a PAC's administrative overhead are unconstitutionally vague because they require those accepting the money to determine the intent of the donors.

This argument too was rejected by Judge Priest last year. I say that the statute is crystal clear and the reason why there's no case law on the subject is because no one's been dumb enough to try to challenge it before now. And even if you accept Attorney Pauerstein's logic, the state's evidence in the case showed that the defendants themselves understood the distinction between administrative overhead and other types of expenses. I hate to predict what judges will do, but I just don't see this one.

I should note that the reason why DeLay is not pursuing this line of appeal is because at the time he was hoping to have everything more or less wrapped up before the March primary, and this route was expected to take much longer to resolve. If Ellis and Colyandro do strike gold, however, then as DeLay's attorney says in the article it's highly likely that his indictments will get tossed as a resiult as well. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Commissioners Court approves Dome hotel plan

Yet another step forward for the Astrodome Hotel plan.

Commissioners Court unanimously gave the go-ahead to a private firm's plan to spend $450 million reinventing the mostly dormant, county-owned Astrodome into a convention hotel.


With its vote, the court gave the the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., permission to sign a letter of intent with Astrodome Redevelopment Corp.

No public money will be put into the project.

The letter of intent states that by March 2007, Astrodome Redevelopment must obtain financing and the approval from Reliant Park's tenants, the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Hotel construction would begin at the earliest late next year.

The county would lease the Dome to Astrodome Redevelopment for 50 years and give it an option to extend the lease another 20 years.

Astrodome Redevelopment would pay the county $2.5 million in rent annually and 2 percent-3 percent of gross revenues.

The letter of intent prohibits Astrodome Redevelopment from operating a casino or sexually oriented businesses.

[Harris County Judge Robert] Eckels said the project is a good one for the county. Private entrepreneurs, he said, will assume all the risk but may succeed in giving new life to the much beloved, aging Dome. If the plan works, Houston will begin attracting more conventions and more money will be pumped into the local economy, he said.

More on this project is here and here. The next step, in which the Dome Redevelopment folks have to convince companies with money to part with large sums of it to serve as their capital to do the construction, will be the crucial one. Tory did some back-of-the-envelope math on this back in July, and he's skeptical about the Dome Hotel's ability to generate enough revenue to cover its nut. We'll see if the professional moneylenders feel the same way. Meanwhile, the question to ponder is what happens if financing falls through? I get the feeling that the Dome is running out of options, and may well face the prospect of demolition again. At least if that happens, folks like Judge Eckels who fear being tagged as "the guy who let the Dome get torn down" can say they tried their best but even a private investor couldn't make it work. We shall see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Another contender in CD21

Via Strange Bedfellows, there are now four declared candidates in the new CD21.

Tommy Calvert Jr., a community activist and an international anti-slavery crusader, got the word out this morning that he's in the race for Congressional District 21.

"I am running for Congress to clean up the mess in Washington and give the people of the 21st Congressional District of Texas a leader that they can talk to, so they can believe again in America's promise," Calvert said in an e-mail to supporters.

He'll challenge Rep. Lamar Smith, a San Antonio Republican who's held the seat for 20 years. He'll also come up against at least two Democrats - perennial candidate Gene Kelly and John Courage, the party's nominee before a redistricting decision earlier this month forced Nov. 7 open election in five congressional district, including the 21st.


"The recent redistricting has presented the community with a unique opportunity to unite a seemingly disparate district," he said. "I grew up in the heart of the (district)). I lived near Perrin-Beitel Road for almost 20 years, and attended school at MacArthur Park Lutheran, St. Luke's Episcopal and St. Mary's Hall."

I don't know a thing about Mr. Calvert (Karl-T says he's a Democrat running as an independent), but I don't mind having another voice against Lamar Smith in the race. Meanwhile, John Courage has a new ad out that you can see at BOR, and he's a national netroots candidate. He was in this race from the beginning, and I hope people will remember that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Who actually wants rail on Westpark?

Christof makes an observation about the Universities rail controversy.

It's important to realize first of all that nobody is speaking for Westpark. The vocal proponents of Westpark are those who are against rail on Richmond. They don't want Westpark because they think rail on Westpark is good; they want rail on Westpark because it means no rail on Richmond. That's in contrast to Richmond, where, while there is considerable opposition, there is also considerable support in the surrounding neighborhoods for Richmond.

And there are those who oppose rail on Westpark. There are residential neighborhoods directly bordering Westpark between Edloe and the Union Pacific railroad; they lobbied against Richmond in the and will do so again. And any alignment that tries to avoid Richmond east of Shepherd either by elevating above 59 or by running at grade alongside the freeway trench will run into two very organized civic groups (Boulevard Oaks and Neartown) that are already on record for a Richmond alignment and that know how to organize (they're the reason 59 is depressed under Montrose now). And what about the businesses along Westpark, especially those with back driveways that cross the METRO right-of-way?

The point is that without a vocal constituency in favor of a line on Westpark, it will likely die. Will John Culberson actually champion building the line on Westpark where he insists it has to go, and will he fight to ensure that it gets FTA funding as other cities have gotten via earmarks, thus upholding the will of the voters by seeing the Universities line through to completion? Or, since he's never before lifted a finger to support mass transportation in Houston, will he be content to let it die and thus finally overturn the referendum that he fought in vain to defeat in 2003? You know what I think.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The DCCC welcomes Sekula-Gibbs to the race

I'd forgotten about this.

Republicans in Washington are famous for accepting congressional pay raises even though the debt has reached $8.5 trillion under their watch while they continue to do nothing to balance the budget. Congressional candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs was one of five on the Houston City Council to accept a pay raise during a city-wide financial crisis in 2004. At the time, Houston faced an $8 million budget shortfall and projected gaps of more than $70 million for the following year.


In 2004, Sekula-Gibbs was one of only five of fourteen City Council members to accept a pay raise, despite maintaining a private medical practice on the side. The Houston Chronicle reported that Houston “faces an anticipated $8 million shortfall this fiscal year, according to the controller's office. The gap for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, has been projected as high as $74 million by the finance and administration office.” Sekula-Gibbs declined to comment on acceptance of the 12% raise. [Houston Chronicle, 1/15/04, 1/16/04]

Welcome to the table, Shelley. The Chron articles cited can be found here and here. The full story is more nuanced than this, since the money for the raises goes to the Council members' budgets whether they take it home as pay or not, but that's life in the big city. I don't imagine ads funded by the $3 million of national GOP money will be any fairer than that.

Besides, I figure that for the most part, Shelley will be mostly if not totally ignored in Nick Lampson's advertising. This race is not much different than most well-funded-incumbent-versus-little-known-challenger campaigns. Especially with the write-in component, there's no percentage in Lampson adding to her name recognition. I don't expect the DCCC or any other organization to spend much if anything on attacks ads for the same reason. I could be wrong about this, especially if a big barrage of anti-Lampson pieces hits the airwaves, but at this point I don't see it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
A preview of the coming budget battles

I like the link title for this story: "Some fear state budget will hurt health, education". I believe that one goes into the "No s--t, Sherlock" file.

Unofficial estimates from Gov. Rick Perry's office identify money totals - factoring in "conservative" revenue growth, an economic boost from tax changes and the balance in the state contingency fund - that come close to covering his staff's estimates of major spending needs in the coming two-year budget period. The needs, identified in May, include such things as Medicaid growth but not recently high-profile issues such as parks funding.

For the two-year budget period after that - the one lawmakers won't write until 2009 - forecasts are more uncertain.

In that period, the state would be $300 million short of paying just for the school and tax package under what Perry budget director Mike Morrissey called conservative revenue projections. He said the estimates don't fully account for factors such as potential economic growth.

In short, if you accept the Governor's notion of "conservative" revenue growth estimates, and you accept that the special session tax swap will be a boost to the economy (I'm a little unclear on that one), and you assume that the previous surplus projections haven't already been allocated at least twice, then we're only $300 million shy of a balanced budget. Assuming nothing else bad happens, of course.

As you might imagine, not everyone sees it that way.

Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, House Democratic Caucus chairman, dismissed the figures from Perry's office as "ludicrous estimates."

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Senate Finance Committee chairman, said: "The budget is going to be tight. But I don't think it's going to be anything that we can't manage.

"I think we're going to be fine. I'm not 100 percent sure," Ogden said. "I think the next biennium, we're going to be OK. I'm not ready to speculate on the biennium beyond that."


[Comptroller Carole] Strayhorn estimated the effort would create a shortfall of $23 billion over five years. The nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board put it at $25 billion.

The comptroller is the only one who can make official revenue estimates, a point Morrissey noted. The comptroller is required to make such an estimate for the next Legislature, which returns in January 2007.

Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton emphasized that point when asked about Morrissey's figures, and he disputed the idea that there would be a huge economic response to the tax changes.

"You can come up with all sorts of scenarios, but really, the proof is in the pudding," Hamilton said. "And right now, the pudding says $23 billion to $25 billion short in the plan. That's $5 billion a year, and that takes a lot of economic growth to make up."

I don't blame Sen. Ogden for not wanting to talk about the next biennium. It gets ugly in a hurry. Strayhorn's revenue estimate for January of 2007 will be her last as Comptroller. That will bear watching.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 22, 2006
Poincare update

This, via Chad Orzel, is from last week, but what with all of the CD22 craziness I never got around to posting it. It's an update on the status of eccentric Russian mathematician Grisha Perelman and his reported proof of the Poincare Conjecture (see here for more). Perelman has gone into seclusion in Russia since his proof was published almost three years ago, but the work he did appears to be standing up to scrutiny. Among other things, there's a million bucks riding on this:

Also left hanging, for now, is $1 million offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass., for the first published proof of the conjecture, one of seven outstanding questions for which they offered a ransom back at the beginning of the millennium.


In his absence, others have taken the lead in trying to verify and disseminate his work. Dr. Kleiner of Yale and John Lott of the University of Michigan have assembled a monograph annotating and explicating Dr. Perelman's proof of the two conjectures.

Dr. Morgan of Columbia and Gang Tian of Princeton have followed Dr. Perelman's prescription to produce a more detailed 473-page step-by-step proof only of Poincare’s Conjecture. "Perelman did all the work," Dr. Morgan said. "This is just explaining it."

Both works were supported by the Clay institute, which has posted them on its Web site, Meanwhile, Huai-Dong Cao of Lehigh University and Xi-Ping Zhu of Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, China, have published their own 318-page proof of both conjectures in The Asian Journal of Mathematics (

Although these works were all hammered out in the midst of discussion and argument by experts, in workshops and lectures, they are about to receive even stricter scrutiny and perhaps crossfire. "Caution is appropriate," said Dr. Kleiner, because the Poincare conjecture is not just famous, but important.

James Carlson, president of the Clay Institute, said the appearance of these papers had started the clock ticking on a two-year waiting period mandated by the rules of the Clay Millennium Prize. After two years, he said, a committee will be appointed to recommend a winner or winners if it decides the proof has stood the test of time.

"There is nothing in the rules to prevent Perelman from receiving all or part of the prize," Dr. Carlson said, saying that Dr. Perelman and Dr. Hamilton had obviously made the main contributions to the proof.

As the article and a commenter at Good Math, Bad Math note, Perelman actually proved a stronger version of Poincare, which is Thurston's Conjecture from 1982. That's really impressive. What's exciting about this for mathematicians is not just that a longstanding historically significant problem has finally been solved, but that the solution has deep connections to other, seemingly unrelated, areas of math. That's sure to generate tons more research opportunities, and who knows where all that will lead.

So in the last decade or so, Fermat and Poincare have fallen. There are still some lucrative problems to solve. Personally, I'm rooting for the Riemann Hypothesis to go next, but to each his own.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
What about Bob (Smither)?

I've noted that among the advantages Shelley Sekula-Gibbs will have over the usual write-in candidacy are higher than normal name recognition and news coverage of her race. Well, those factors apply to the Libertarian candidate, Bob Smither, as well.

[G]iven the exit of Republican Tom DeLay, a division within the local GOP rank-and-file about who to back in a write-in campaign and paired with a few endorsements from nationally recognized GOP members, Smither isn't the only one who likes his chances against Democrat Nick Lampson.

Last week, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, best known for his participation as one of the prosecutors in the President Clinton impeachment proceedings, offered his endorsement of Smither.

Smither also received a nod from Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who cautioned that should it be determined a write-in campaign would likely not be successful against Lampson, conservative voters should give serious consideration to Smither's campaign.

"Republicans must focus solely on one issue. Does a write-in campaign have a chance of success?" Patterson said. "If the consensus is it does not, we should seriously consider supporting Bob Smither."


"Smither's great advantage is he is on the ballot," said University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray. "The problem is he has that Libertarian title."

Murray said when it comes to voting, despite regular outcries from the electorate of wanting more choices, Libertarians are still considered a fringe political movement.

"Even in the best of circumstances in a two-man race, a Libertarian candidate gets 12 percent to 15 percent of the (total) vote," said Murray. "He will pick up a faction that don't like Lampson or the Democrats, but outside of having that major party support, I don't see it happening.

"It should be Lampson's race to lose."

Smither countered this is an unusual race. He noted this with his recent announcement that if elected he would caucus with Republicans and would back a Republican speaker of the House, he has started to hear from a lot of diehard GOP backers who indicate they will support him.

Much of that support has come as Smither positions himself as "the only conservative candidate on the ballot."

I've long thought that Smither would be a major threat to the chances of any write-in candidate. The GOP is more unified now (at least publicly) than it has been during the process of finding somebody (anybody! except David Wallace, of course) that it can rally behind, so Smither's moment in the sun may be over. It'll be interesting to see how prominent he remains in the news coverage from here on out. Link via Easter Lemming.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
More on Wallace's withdrawal

Fort Bend Now has just about everything I could want to know.

In an afternoon press conference at Sugar Land City Hall, flanked by his wife and daughters, Wallace also said he will not seek re-election as mayor of Sugar Land, but would not say whether he intends to run in the Republican Party primary for Congressional District 22 in 2008.

He can't come out and say it, of course, because that would be admitting the reality of Representative Lampson. Assuming, that is, that he wouldn't go ahead and mount a primary challenge to Shelley Sekula-Gibbs in the event of a miracle for her.

Wallace took a swipe at [the process that selected Sekula-Gibbs as the consensus choice] Monday. "In a session closed to the public, an alternative candidate received the endorsement of the Texas Republican Party by winning a straw poll of 83 precinct chairs that were allowed to vote for what was labeled ‘the Republican choice’ for the write-in candidate to replace Tom DeLay," he said.

Since that night, "I have received hundreds and hundreds of emails and phone calls" by "people who were not allowed to vote" at the Thursday meeting, and who "strongly encouraged me to continue to run," Wallace said.

"Without exception, these callers and supporters questioned this made-up process and asked why 83 individuals could determine the 'Republican choice' candidate for over 33,000 Republican primary voters across the district," he said. "Rather than unifying our party, it has only caused further fragmentation."

Nonetheless, Wallace said, Texas GOP Chairman Tina Benkiser announced that "she had a commitment for $3 million for this race from Washington" as long as there was only one GOP write-in candidate.

"I believe that with those promised resources, and a masterfully crafted campaign, a write-in candidacy is a winnable venture," Wallace said. "Therefore, in an effort to support the Texas Republican Party, I am going to Austin on Wednesday and ask Secretary of State Roger Williams to withdraw my name as a write-in candidate for CD-22."

He sure doesn't sound like someone who really wanted to drop out, does he? Well, maybe if there wasn't a carrot for him to depart there was a big enough stick. We may never know.

On Monday, Wallace said his campaign has spent the last few weeks meeting with White House representatives, members of the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Texas congressional delegation.

"We have a stellar finance committee comprised of some of the biggest fundraisers for President Bush and influential business leaders recognized throughout the district," Wallace said. "However, this entire team agrees that it is impossible to win this write-in campaign with two Republican candidates in the race."

He urged voters in the district "to join me in writing in Shelley Sekula-Gibbs on Nov. 7. Together, we will defeat Nick Lampson."

Yeah, well, good luck with that. I've crunched a few numbers on this over at Kuff's World. You tell me how realistic this is.

Lampson campaign manager Mike Malaise said he believes "we’re getting to the point where people in the district are tiring of that bickering back and forth. And," he said, "they want to hear somebody talk about the issues.

"That’s why all of the mail we’re sending out, and the TV, is pro-Nick Lampson, and defining his stances on the issues," Malaise said.

Normally, of course, I'd expect a wad of money to be spent on anti-Lampson attack ads. I just wonder how much of that $3 million kitty will be budgeted to driving up Lampson's negatives, and how much will be devoted to educating people about the write-in process. As with so many things in this year's election, there's just no precedent to guide me in taking a guess.

One last thing, from today's Chron story:

Sekula-Gibbs does not plan to resign her Houston City Council seat during the congressional race. Her council term runs until the end of 2007.

So either she's going to be a part-time candidate (one presumes the national GOP might expect more for its $3 million commitment than that), or she's going to start shirking her duties in City Council. Let's keep a running total of how many Council meetings she misses while campaigning.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Name that park!

Houston's new downtown park needs a name. You can help.

"We want Houstonians to feel like it is their park," said Guy Hagstette, director of the Houston Downtown Park Conservancy, which is overseeing development of the $81 million, 12-acre park near the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The contest, which continues through 5 p.m. Sept. 18, is open to all U.S. residents. The winner will receive dinner for two at a new restaurant to open in the park, a framed political cartoon by Houston Chronicle cartoonist Nick Anderson and a collection of Houston Astros merchandise.

Hagstette said the conservancy's board will review submissions and make a recommendation to Mayor Bill White, who will make the final decision. The name of the park will be unveiled at an Oct. 16 groundbreaking ceremony.

Parts of the park are scheduled to open in fall 2007, with the entire park open by January 2008.

In its logo and promotional materials, the conservancy refers to the park as "downtown's backyard," based on the idea that people tend to be more comfortable in their backyards than their front yards, said Nancy Kinder, the conservancy's board chairwoman.

The conservancy wants the park's name to convey the same sense of comfort and intimacy - a goal that also was reflected in soliciting public ideas to influence the park's design, Kinder said.

Houstonist has more on this. You can learn more about the park here, and more aout the contest and its rules here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 21, 2006
Wallace withdraws

David Wallace will not pursue a write-in bid in CD22.

Wallace announced his decision about the Congressional District 22 race today at a news conference at Sugar Land City Hall.

The decision comes after Republican party leaders from Fort Bend, Harris, Galveston and Brazoria counties selected Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs as the party's choice to run in the November election as a write-in candidate.

I'm sure there'll be more on this later. According to Juanita, Wallace said "the GOP in Washington" (RNC? NRCC? Big Time Dick? unclear at this time) will send three million bucks to support the "consensus" candidate. I still don't understand the cost/benefit analysis behind that, but hey, it's their money. Between this, the SCOTUS-ordered open Congressional primaries, and the four-headed Governor's race, political scientists will dine out on the 2006 campaign season for years to come.

UPDATE: Fred attended the press conference, and summarizes as follows:

He is withdrawing from the race to unify the party.
He received no outside pressure from the party chairs.
When asked what happened last Thursday and why he wasn't selected his answer was simply, "I don't know"
He will donate the maximum amount allowed to Shelley Sekula Gibbs campaign.
Again and again he said he did not receive outside pressure to withdraw.

How many of these items do you believe? The only one I'm sure of is that he doesn't know why he wasn't selected as the One True Write-In.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Diane Trautman

I've done just about all of the Congressional interviews that I wanted to do, so now I turn to the State House, where there's a fine slate of Democratic candidates in Harris County and elsewhere. Today's interviewee is Diane Trautman, who's running against the odious Joe Crabb in HD127 up in Kingwood. She's also one of several former teachers who are running this year. Here's the interview:

Link for the MP3 file is here. I hope to cover as many of the Harris County Democratic State Rep candidates as I can.

Here are all my previous interviews:

Gary Binderim - Interview
Glenn Melancon - Interview
Jim Henley - Interview
David Harris - Interview
Ted Ankrum - Interview
Shane Sklar - Interview 1, Interview 2
John Courage - Interview
Nick Lampson - Interview, Interview about space
Mary Beth Harrell - Interview
Hank Gilbert - Interview
Joe Farias - Interview
Harriet Miller - Interview
Ellen Cohen - Interview
Diane Trautman - Interview

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Thode points a finger

I'd been wondering when a member of the GOP establishment would publicly blame Tom DeLay for the mess that they're in now. At long last, here's one, talking about the prospect of Congressman Lampson and Speaker Pelosi:

“Absolutely atrocious” is the phrase Eric Thode, who got his start in politics putting up yard signs for DeLay in 1978, uses to describe that scenario.

“No question it’s possible,” said Thode, GOP chairman in DeLay’s home county until a few months ago. “I would hope that any logical thinking Republican will realize where the blame lies. The blame lies with Tom DeLay.”

Ah, Eric Thode. Let's take a little trip down memory lane, to the May issue of Texas Monthly:

IT WAS EARLY IN January when Eric Thode got the phone call from a member of Tom DeLay's staff. Thode was a little surprised to hear from DeLay. As the chairman of the Fort Bend County Republican party, Thode was responsible for running the March 7 primary election, but that was two months away, and he expected DeLay to win easily against three opponents. Surely DeLay wasn't concerned about it. So what could the eleven-term congressman from Sugar Land, the majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, want to know?

As Thode remembers the conversation, the staffer said DeLay was "contemplating his possibilities." What if he were to win the primary with a less-than-solid showing? What if Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney who had secured two felony indictments against DeLay involving the misuse of corporate funds to help Republican state legislative candidates in the 2002 election cycle, was able to win a conviction before the 2006 election? What if something happened in the federal corruption investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whom DeLay had once described as one of his closest friends? If any of these circumstances came to pass, the Democrats could win the seat. His seat.

Where was this leading? The answer wasn't long in revealing itself. At what date, asked the staffer, could DeLay withdraw as a candidate? Was there a way for the GOP to replace him on the ballot after the primary? Thode explained the complicated procedure that allows the Republican county chairmen from the four counties in DeLay's district (Fort Bend, Harris, Brazoria, and Galveston) to pick a replacement for a seat that becomes vacant due to death, resignation, or ineligibility. When he hung up, Thode knew what no one else in America would know for three months: The end of Tom DeLay's political career was at hand.

And as we know, the Democrats cited this story as evidence in their lawsuit to prevent the Republicans from replacing DeLay on the ballot. One wonders when Eric Thode will acknowledge that maybe if he'd told DeLay back in January that this was a stupid idea, none of this would have happened.

Ah, well. It's a start. Link via Greg in TX22, who is thinking along the same lines.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Behind the Universities lines

The West U Examiner has a look at how the Southwest Freeway elevated plan came into being. According to Mayor White, it all comes back to you-know-who, John Culberson.

In an Aug. 4 memo to Metro officials, the mayor first related a 35-minute conversation with Culberson on Aug. 2.

"He was clear that he would try to fight about the portion west of (the University of) St. Thomas in any way. He was specific," the mayor indicated.

"He asked me to repeat my commitment that I would defer to his ultimate preference in routing.

"I told him that I was disappointed in his action on opposing a viable routing without advocating a viable alternative. I told him that it would be unfair to other members of Congress and the public with destinations to be served along the line if there was a 'hole' in the middle of the line because he did not support any routing and was given veto power."

Finally, White indicated, he got a commitment from Culberson: "He said he would support a routing within the IH59. He said Metro should study that."

Based on that conversation, White said Metro "should seriously consider both the cost and the viability on ridership of some structure, presumably elevate in some portion, from St. Thomas to a point where it can cross IH59," although the mayor indicated he did not think such a study "should significantly delay" its route selection.

Late that day, Metro announced that a plan "on behalf of" Culberson and a similar recommendation by Clutterbuck, a former Culberson aide, had forced its staff to delay a recommendation to the Metro board that was expected to come Aug. 7 or 8.

I presume "IH59" is someone's mistranscription of "US59". All I can say here is that I'm glad to see Mayor White pushing Culberson to do something constructive, even if it's likely to be useless. Now he needs to keep pushing him until we get something that might actually work.

And you have to admire the footwork here:

"Neither Congressman Culberson nor anyone from his staff has submitted any kind of alternate route proposal to Metro," wrote Nick Swyka, the congressman's district director in an e-mail to the Examiner.

Swyka also figured in the Metro correspondence, asking Metro to credit Culberson for certain points in the new route study along U.S. 59 while simultaneously distancing the congressman from making a specific proposal.

"Please just make sure that it's understood we're not directing y'all where to build, but urging y'all to look at various alternatives," Swyka wrote to Thomas Jasien of Metro on Aug. 4.

Mm hmm. Let's be clear about something: When the options are limited, directing where to build and directing where not to build are functionally equivalent. For all of the backseat driving that Culberson is doing here, he can at least own up to that.

Link via Banjo. I saw this story myself in a print version of the Examiner a week or so ago, but it wasn't online when I looked for it, and then I forgot about it. I'm glad to be reminded of it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Behind the toll road turmoil

This is one of the better articles I've seen lately about the state's toll road debate, and one of the few I've seen in a major metro daily regarding the Trans Texas Corridor hearings that have been taking place. I've got a few points to highlight, starting with a comment from a think tanker that just rubs me the wrong way.

"That's why you don't see a lot of big changes in public policy, because they are risky," said Robert Poole, director of transportation studies for the California-based Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank. "It may be that the general public isn't yet persuaded that this is a crisis. In day-to-day, average-person political terms, traffic congestion may not be bad enough yet."

Well gosh, Mister Expert, maybe the public is aware of the situation and they just think that privatized toll roads is a dirt-stupid response to it. Maybe the public thinks that roads should be public goods. Maybe what they want is a political leader who can find a solution that allows for that.

On the subject of how the Trans Texas Corridor came to be:

The state's population has increased more than 20 percent since 1990 and annual miles traveled on the state's roads have gone up about 50 percent. Meanwhile, the Texas highway system, with increasing maintenance costs and more expensive urban construction needs, grew only 4 percent during that decade and a half.

The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from those numbers, one borne out by most people's experience behind the wheel, is that Texas roads are more congested than they were 15 years ago.

The state Transportation Department's budget, meanwhile, has tripled since 1990, including an 80 percent jump from the budget Perry inherited from George W. Bush to this year's $7.7 billion spending plan.

Perry and his people say that's still not nearly enough to deal with the state's transportation needs now or, especially, in the future. Using figures gleaned by asking local transportation planners what they would build if money were no object, they say the state will have $86 billion in unmet transportation needs over the next 25 years.

In other words, the Trans Texas Corridor is based on unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky projections. Hey, imagine what our public education system would be like if money were no object. Free laptops for every student, better pay for teachers, unlimited funding for the arts, science labs, vocational training, etc etc etc. I'd bet you could put a similar unmet-needs price tag for the next quarter century on that if we framed the discussion in those terms. What would the answer be if these guys had to prioritize and separate out the need-to-haves from the nice-to-haves?

They say the only way to close that gap, to extinguish the blaze, as it were, is to put tolls on every road you can and recruit private capital to build as many new toll roads as possible. Increasing the state gasoline tax, frozen at 20 cents a gallon since 1991, is not an option, Perry and his fellow GOP legislative leaders say, particularly with unleaded gas selling for close to $3 a gallon. But that was already his position when gas was selling for well under $2 a gallon.

Perry's November challengers Carole Keeton Strayhorn, an independent, and Chris Bell, a Democrat, agree with him on that point, as does Libertarian James Werner. Only independent candidate Kinky Friedman says he would be open to increasing the tax.

"Frankly, I think Texans will go for raising it a few cents rather than having toll roads," Friedman said.

A few cents, in Perry's view, would be irrelevant. Each penny raises about $100 million in a year, or enough for one fair-sized freeway interchange with flyover bridges. So a 20-cent increase, which would give Texas the highest gas tax of any state, would bring in an extra $2 billion a year. Perry says that wouldn't be nearly enough to return Texas' transportation system to its former lofty status among states, particularly as hybrid vehicles and other improvements from Detroit increase gas efficiency and cause gas tax revenue to sag.

A 20-cents-a-gallon increase in the tax would cost the average driver about $100 a year. That's much less than a driver regularly commuting on a toll road would pay. The U.S. 183-A tollway due to open next year will cost $2 for one trip through, or about $1,000 a year for a five-day-a-week commuter.

I've been making that exact argument for a long time now. To get back to the smug Robert Poole for a moment, maybe the public hates this idea because they realize just how expensive it will be for them.

Look, why can't we have a discussion about what that extra $2 billion a year would mean for current road construction and planning? While we're at it, let's discuss how much TxDOT has wasted on certain projects through bad planning, inefficiency, or just poor design. And hey, why not go whole hog and discuss some ways that we can encourage behavior and lifestyles that don't depend on long commutes to work every day. Maybe that $2 billion a year will go farther than we think.

Oh, and we'd be getting an extra half billion or so in education funding with a gas tax increase, too. Just FYI.

Strayhorn's and Bell's combination of stances - against toll roads but also against raising the gasoline tax - is the crux of Perry's electoral pitch against them.

"If someone has a better idea . . . please lay out that plan," Perry said. "None of them do. My point is, if you're going to be afraid to lay out plans to take the state forward, you might choose a different line of work."

sigh This is a silver platter issue, and I fear it's being fumbled because no one (besides Kinky, God help me) wants to be honest about the gas tax. All I can say is "Argh!"

Link via South Texas Chisme.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 20, 2006
The many faces of Carole Strayhorn

I don't actually have much to say about this article regarding Carole Keeton Strayhorn's chameleonlike political career. RG Ratcliffe does a nice job laying out Strayhorn's all-things-to-everyone position on a variety of issues. I'm certainly not one who thinks that once a politician takes a stance on something he or she needs to believe that very thing for the rest of his or her life. It's just that I at least tend to prefer a politician who makes me believe that the change in heart really comes from the heart, and not from the needs of whatever campaign is currently being run.

Anyway. The one thing I do want to highlight is this:

Strayhorn is the only candidate for governor whose Internet site lacks a page dedicated to her position on issues.

I complained about Strayhorn's pathetic campaign website two months ago. I see it's no different now. Maybe they're just waiting for her to settle on what her stances actually are before the campaign commits them to print. Check back again in two more months and we'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Wallace to make his announcement on Monday

Former Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, the Chosen One Who Wasn't, talks to KTRK.

The first person to file as a Republican write-in candidate, Mayor Wallace had not commented publicly ever since Republican precinct chairs chose someone else to throw their support behind. But now, he's opening up to Eyewitness News about the unusual selection process and his future plans.

While it's no secret that Wallace wants the job DeLay left behind, it's also quite obvious that on Thursday, Republican precinct chairs picked someone else -- Houston Councilmember Shelly Sekula-Gibbs to support. And Wallace admits he's not a fan of the closed door selection process.

"We've got a large voter base in Congressional District 22 and having the voice of 83 individuals coming together, is that representative of the entire district?" he asked.

What's so funny about this is that Wallace was once hoping to be the choice of four individuals that were selected collectively by not much more than 83 other individuals. From a small-d democratic standpoint, the Benkiser Gang anointment process wasn't all that much different from the original Gang of Four process. Mostly, they had a lot less time to work with. It's just that Wallace was able to deceive himself into thinking that he had a shot with the Gang of Four, but even he could see the writing on the wall with the Benkiser Gang.

But Wallace has an even tougher decision -- whether or not to stay in the race as a write-in candidate against Democratic nominee Nick Lampson. Our political expert, Dr. Richard Murray, says it's almost impossible to win with one write-in candidate. He can't imagine the Republicans would have any shot with two.

"It's complicated, but my guess would be he's best advised to pass on putting his name as a write-in candidate and yield this to Ms. Gibbs with the expectation it won't be very helpful to her," said Dr. Murray.

Mayor Wallace says he'll be announcing his decision on whether to stay in the race on Monday. And a lot of people will be waiting for an answer.

"With all of the different changes that took place this week, obviously I am doing a lot of soul searching, meeting with a number of representatives to talk about the next step and that'll be announced on Monday," he said.

Yes, as Chris says, it's pretty impressive being able to get on TV to announce that you're going to make an announcement. Will he unfile, if that's even possible? Or will he stick it out? Either way, I agree with Fred: this is all about his 2008 campaign, because it's all about him.

Juanita thinks Wallace has nothing to lose. Muse channels The Clash for Wallace. For what it's worth, I think Wallace has nothing to lose, either. Again, if you assume that being the Congressman from Sugar Land is what Wallace wants to be, then what could anyone entice him with to drop out now? The only thing I can think of that makes any sense is a promise to support him in 2008 regardless of what happens this year. If you want to get into a little conspiracy theorizing, imagine someone like Tom DeLay telling Wallace that all that talk about providing massive financial help to Sekula Gibbs was a load of hooey. They know it's a lost cause but while they couldn't bear the idea of having no Republican at all, they didn't want to waste someone who'd have a real shot at Lampson in two years by making that person a laughingstock now. So they settled on Shelley, whom they don't truly respect, and now they want to make sure Wallace doesn't make a fool of himself so he can finally be the true Chosen One, supported by all, next time.

You can take that line of thinking all kinds of places, but there's still a big hole in it: Why would anyone - at least, anyone who is supposed to be officially neutral in these matters - promise to support a specific candidate for 2008 now, when we don't know who else might get into the race? What if Robert Eckels decides that maybe he isn't so worried about spending time with his family any more? What if Paul Bettencourt decides he's bored with being Harris County Tax Assessor? How silly would you feel as a Wallace '08 supporter if something like that happened? And that doesn't even address the issue of what happens if Sekula Gibbs actually wins. I know, we're in ConspiracyTheoryLand here, but I imagine the question would come up in our hypothetical conversation. Look at it this way: Given everything you know about Mayor Dave, if you had to explain this grandiose scheme to him, would you then trust him to keep it a secret? You can see why none of this seems realistic.

So I guess there's one last what-if scenario to play out before we finally get down to the by now mundane business of actual campaigning. Maybe we'll start to get a handle on how much the Republicans do plan to spend on this race, too. As always, stay tuned.

UPDATE: Bob Dunn thinks Wallace will stay the course.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Ron Paul's other unlovely guest

So it turns out that Tom Tancredo will not be coming to Texas to wish Ron Paul a happy birthday today, though he was invited to attend. Paul will have to make do with someone almost as charming.

[Paul] has invited Chris Simcox, the founder and president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, to be the event’s special guest. The fundraiser will be held at the Charles T. Doyle Convention Center in Texas City Sunday afternoon.

Simcox heads the controversial group that patrols the United States-Mexico border on the lookout for illegal immigrants. The Minuteman group also is pushing for tougher border security as well as enforcement of immigration laws.

That's a very generous way of describing the Minutemen. For a more realistic description, I refer you to David Neiwert, who has a six-part series on the Minutemen linked on his sidebar (or go to the final article and work your way through the previous entries).

Paul recently waded a bit deeper into the immigration fray by introducing legislation that would deny citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents. He referred to those children as "anchor babies."

"As long as illegal immigrants know that their children born here will be citizens, the perverse incentive to sneak into this country remains strong," Paul said last month. "Citizenship involves more than the mere location of one's birth. True citizenship requires cultural connections and an allegiance to the United States.

"Birthright citizenship sometimes confers the benefits of being American on people who do not truly embrace America."

You know, there's a lot of truth to that. It just doesn't go far enough. After all, what guarantee do we have that having parents or grandparents or even great-grandparents that were born in America will lead to truly embracing America? Clearly, we need to have some way of testing everybody for true embracement of America before we let any benefits confer on them. It's time for Ron Paul to sponsor a bill that would create the Department of Embracing America to make sure this sort of thing never happens again.

Paul's stance on illegal immigration and the recent legislation drew the ire of Texas Democrats who are backing political newcomer Shane Sklar in his bid to unseat the longtime congressman.

"Our response to illegal immigration must be absolute vigilance at the border and a commitment to end the demand for illegal labor in this country. Changing the definition of citizenship is a radical measure that will affect every American family and create a whole new bureaucracy," Sklar said.

If you'd prefer to give Shane Sklar a birthday present instead of Ron Paul, you can do so here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Bonilla: I want more money!

Via Vince, Rep. Henry Bonilla wants to tap his donor well again.

Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), whose re-election outlook went from safe to shaky when the Supreme Court changed the boundaries of his district and four others in the Lone Star State, asked the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday whether he’ll be allowed to solicit a fresh round of campaign cash from donors who previously had maxed out to the Congressman’s coffers.

Interesting. If he gets to do it, will the other four (Doggett, Hinojosa, Cuellar, and Smith) follow suit? Or is it only Bonilla, the $2.2 million dollar man who has no new rows to hoe and thus needs to replow the same old fields?

I say this is further evidence that the Dems really ought to throw some money in this district and make a play for it. Don't let Bonilla spend that money, whether it's this much or more, without pushing back and making him earn it. He's telling the world he's nervous. The DCCC and anyone else who can give Ciro Rodriguez a boost should give him a good reason to be.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 19, 2006
Is Wallace still in?

The most interesting thing in this story about how hard it will be for Shelley Sekula-Gibbs to win as a write-in candidate is this bit here:

Sekula-Gibbs may not be the lone Republican write-in candidate. Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, who earlier said he would run as a write-in candidate even if the party endorsed someone else, is "considering his options," said Fort Bend County Republican Chairman Gary Gillen.

Wallace did not return calls.

"Considering his options"? That's quite a change for the guy who announced his candidacy before the Thursday meeting of the Benkiser Gang. He's acted like a candidate - like the One True Candidate - from the beginning. Now he's "considering his options"?

I could spend a few hours doing dime-store psychology on Wallace's motives and actions throughout this process. Bottom line is that if he thought running to the front of the class at every opportunity would bring rewards, he was sorely mistaken. I guess the question now is what he has to lose if he presses on in the face of threats of retailiation from the Republican hierarchy, and what could he have to gain by sublimating his desire to be a good team player. Is this Congressional seat all he wants, or is there something else that could satisfy him enough to make him go away? Will he look like a bigger fool if he folds his tent now, or if he sticks it out and risks a fourth-place, single-digit-percentage finish?

Heck if I know. I don't believe his presence or absence in the race affects Sekula-Gibbs' prospects very much. I want him to run if only to foment maximum discord in the district, but it probably doesn't matter. Chris Elam thinks he'll drop out on Monday (so as to maximize coverage of it). while Juanita thinks Wallace is being gently pressured to keeping considering those options of his. She also discusses the four sucessful write-in candidacies for Congress in the 20th century.

One last thing:

The 2004 Democratic candidate in the 22nd District, Richard Morrison, received about 67,000 votes, [Harris County Tax Assessor Paul] Bettencourt said, and Lampson probably will get that many Nov. 7.

Huh? Morrison got 112,034 votes in 2004, compared to DeLay's 150,386, according to the Secretary of State. I have no idea where Bettencourt got that figure from. If you assume turnout is about 2/3 in a non-Presidential year as it is in a Presidential, then there will be about 170,000 to 180,000 ballots cast this year (in 2002 in the old CD22 there were 159,000 votes, with DeLay getting 100,000 and Dem Tim Riley collecting almost 56,000), and if you assume Lampson gets the same share as Morrison did, he'd be in the 70,000-75,000 vote range. I think it's a pretty safe bet that Lampson, with five times Morrison's cash and operating in a more favorable environment overall, beats that pretty easily. I'd also expect Bob Smither to get at least 20,000 votes. That means Sekula-Gibbs has to get at least 80%, maybe 90% of the at most 100,000 remaining voters to write her name in, and that's assuming that Lampson hasn't already claimed a majority share of the electorate. What do you think the odds are of that?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Death to caps lock!

Dwight reports on the mostly laudable effort to ban the CAPS LOCK key. I say "mostly" because as some of Dwight's commenters point out there are still some legitimate uses for the accursed thing. As the need to educate people about why typing in ALL CAPS is rude seems to have been effective in reducing the number of people who continue to do that, I'm not as passionate about this as I might have been a few years ago.

I actually think a better idea might be to relocate the CAPS LOCK key. I use the thing purposefully maybe a couple of times a year, but hit it by accident way more often than that, usually when I'm groping for the Shift key. I'd love to have a keyboard that had CAPS LOCK someplace where I'd never hit it by mistake, like maybe over where the Pause/Break key is now. (Does anyone even know what that key is used for nowadays? I can't ever recall hitting it.) Make the Shift key bigger to fill the void left by CAPS LOCK, and I'd be happy.

What do you think? Keep CAPS LOCK where it is, kill it, or move it someplace else? Leave a comment and let me know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
"Like a giant iPod"

HouStoned makes fun of the local classic rocker's new slogan, which is "Like a giant iPod filled with classic rock: 93.7 the Arrow."

Don’t get me wrong: I love classic rock. Nothing quite lends itself to air guitar like a monster riff jammed out in 4/4 time on a Stratocaster. But what gets me, and I admittedly am not alone in this sentiment, is that the programming geniuses at Clear Channel have decided that there are only five Zeppelin songs worth playing, that there are only three Allman Brothers songs that have stood the test of time, and that you’d better love "Dust in the Wind" because we’re going to shove it down your throat.

I've been saying stuff like this about the limitedness of what I call "demographically appropriate radio stations" for awhile now, so I wholeheartedly agree here. Frankly, if the Arrow took all of the CDs that contain the songs from their stingy playlist, ripped them to an iPod and put it on Shuffle, that would make for an awesome format. Really, it's okay to play those other songs, like "Love Ain't For Keeping" or "Sister Morphine" or "Misty Mountain Hop", once in awhile. The world will keep spinning on its axis, and regular listeners might actually experience a pleasant surprise.

Yeah, I know. It'll never happen.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 18, 2006
Ron Paul's unlovely guest

Ron Paul is throwing a little fundraiser this weekend for his re-election campaign. The featured guest at his shindig will be the vile xenophobic Congressman from Colorado, Tom Tancredo. I can't imagine a less desireable, yet more suitable for the company intended, public figure. Vince has the details. I hope there's some press coverage of this event. I'd like to see Paul explain in great detail why he and Tancredo are such soulmates.

UPDATE: As Chris notes in the comments, Tancredo will not in fact be there. The July Texas Libertarian Party newsletter was the source of this tidbit. From Page Four:

Aug. 20 (Sun.)1 to 4 p.m. Ron Paul's Annual Birthday Celebration; Doyle Convention Center, 2010 5th Ave., Texas City. Tom Tancredo will be speaking. Contact Penny Langford-Freeman at 1-800-Ron-Paul for information.

Apparently, the Libertarians got this wrong, and along the way I heard about it. My apologies for the misunderstanding.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The best movie news you'll hear this weekend

Now hear this: Pete says "Snakes on a Plane" is "simultaneously, one of the worst and best movies I’ve ever seen." That is all you need to know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
A letter to Metro

The following is a letter to Metro, which I have been given permission to publish:

August 16, 2006

Mr. Frank J. Wilson
Re: North Corridor, University of Houston - Downtown to Northline Mall

Lindale Park Civic Club Board of Directors would like to thank METRO for its commitment over the years to achieve the goals of today. Lindale Park is a quiet, well poised neighborhood four miles north of downtown. Many of our past and present board members have spent countless hours devoted to Light Rail Transit (LRT).

We would like our neighborhood of over 1,200 homes and over 4,000 concerned citizens to go on record as one voice, one VERY LOUD UNIFIED VOICE.

The change to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) with the infrastructure of taking the required right-of way, the installation of the rail tracks, and other requirements to convert to LRT in the future has been accepted; although if rail car funding is available it should be provided.

The Board of Directors for the Lindale Park Civic Club wants METRO to know our three major concerns.

  • LRT or BRT must be a part of Northside Village.

  • LLRT or BRT should take the Fulton route and not deviate.
  • Using Irvington Boulevard and Cavalcade between Cavalcade and 610 Loop will:

    • Block Emergency / Ambulance and Fire Department routes into Lindale Park and other area neighborhoods.

    • Destroy many beautiful historic trees (Ms. Lucille Nash, one of the first female Master Gardeners in the State of Texas, and her team of volunteers secured many of these trees).

    • Divide our neighborhood which Fulton Street is our western boundary and Robertson Street (one block east of Irvington Boulevard) is our eastern boundary.

  • LRT or BRT must have a stop in Lindale Park, currently called “Graceland Station”, as stated in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement dated June 15, 2006.

Lindale Park Civic Club and its Board of Directors support either mode of transportation in our neighborhood. If we can be of further assistance, please contact us at our letterhead address.

Please keep us advised of the progress of this project. Thanking you in advance.


Ed Reyes
Lindale Park Civic Club

The actual letter will be signed by the full board of the Lindale Civic Club. The bolded passage is in the original. The underlined bit, emphasized by me, may be read as "In the event some extra funding becomes available because another project has fallen through (*cough* *cough* Universities line *cough* *cough*), we want it so we can get real rail instead of that bus thing."

Just though y'all would find this interesting. I did.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
New Texas Medicaid/CHIP director

A fellow named Chris Traylor is the new Associate Commissioner for Medicaid/CHIP at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Hope knew him back when they both were legislative aides, and she provides a bit of background on him. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Revenue cap changes proposed

The anti-immigrant forces may not get a proposition on the ballot this November, but Mayor White intends to have one that would modify the revenue cap proposition that was passed in 2004. He had a couple of potential versions of this up for discussion in City Council.

The mayor's original proposal was to alter Proposition 2, backed by limited-government advocates and approved by voters in 2004. It requires 60 percent voter approval before annual city revenues from all sources combined can increase by more than the combined rates of inflation and population.

White wanted voters to amend the charter to exclude from the cap the city's "enterprise" funds, which draw their revenue from fees for airports, convention facilities and the water and sewer system rather than from property taxes. He also wanted to exclude increases in revenue used for public safety.

The revised plan strips out the public safety portion and, instead, creates a second proposition for the ballot this fall allowing the city to spend an extra $20 million over its budget for police, fire and other emergency services.

White said the changes resulted from "good feedback" from people opposed to a permanent exemption for public safety in the City Charter.

"I want to try to do things by consensus, when I can," he said after Wednesday's council meeting. "These are just two different approaches to accomplishing the same thing."


Councilman Michael Berry said the revision the mayor proposed Wednesday was a start to bringing the two sides closer together.

"The more things you take out of the cap, the more support you lose from the general public," said Berry, who offered suggestions to the mayor on the changes. "While funding the police is the most popular thing you can do, you lose the hard-core conservatives, who say, 'Well, the cap doesn't apply to anything.' "

He said he still will oppose the mayor's proposal if it removes water and sewer revenues from the cap.

I'll vote for either one, since I don't believe revenue caps make for sound public policy. Ideally, I'd prefer a version that provides the bigger rollback on the 2004 referendum, but pragmatically, I want something that will pass, since that will prevent the anti-immigrationers from trying again for two years, by which time that issue may have faded.

"I still can't support taking any enterprise funds out of the cap," said former Councilman Carroll Robinson, who joined a lawsuit last year that forced the city to recognize Proposition 2. "If you take out convention and entertainment and water and sewer, you open a spigot to uncontrolled spending at City Hall."

On a conference call from Austin with Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt and local businessman Bruce Hotze, Robinson said he supports letting voters decide whether to permit police and fire spending that exceeds the cap.

Hotze has voiced radio commercials attacking the mayor's planned changes, and he pledged a campaign against them ahead of the election this fall.

As Greg notes, Robinson is also the voice of a radio ad, a rather disingenuous little number paid for by la famiglia Hotze, which you can hear at the above link. I have to say, for a 2004 DNC delegate, Robinson keeps some pretty strange company.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
WiFi in the Metroplex

Just wanted to pass along a little blurb in the Wireless Report on the progress of municipal WiFi networks in suburban communities near Fort Worth.

[E]ight cities in the Northeast portion of Tarrant County now offer free or low-cost WiFi access in a number of locations around their municipalities. These cities include Bedford, Colleyville, Flower Mound, Haltom City, Keller, North Richland Hills, Roanoke, and Southlake.

Officials in these cities say these wireless networks aim to bring more people to their communities as well as promote local businesses.

I suspect Greg will be pleased to hear that about North Richland. Link via DallasBlog.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 17, 2006
And the One True Write-In Candidate Is...

Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.

Republican precinct chairmen selected Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a Houston city councilwoman, tonight as the write-in candidate to back in place of former House Majority leader Tom DeLay on the November ballot.

The Texas Republican Party decided it should rally behind one write-in candidate to give that person financial and organizational support.

"I'm honored to have received this support," Sekula-Gibbs said.

Tina Benkiser, the state GOP party chairwoman, said Sekula-Gibbs was selected by a clear majority of the precinct chairmen who attended a gathering in Pearland. She said she did not have a breakdown on the vote. About 85 of the 150 precinct chairmen invited attended the closed-door meeting at a church to hear from potential write-in candidates.

A "clear majority" of the 85 precinct chairs who bothered to show up. As that could mean something like one-third of all precinct chairs, you can call me less than overwhelmed by this.

Before you ask, yes, You Know Who was there:

DeLay spoke to the group about his future and the direction of the district, those who attended the more than two-hour meeting said.

Did he utter the words "down the crapper" in regard to either of those topics? Enquiring minds and all that.

[Libertarian candidate Bob] Smither passed out literature outside the church.

"The only way to save this seat for conservative values is to vote for Bob Smither," he said, predicting that a write-in candidate for the Republican Party would not be successful.

I'll say again, it's not clear to me that all three known write-ins combined will outpoll Smither. I have to admit, though, that this tidbit from Chris Elam is making me sit up and whistle.

It has been promised that the NRCC will donate $4 million dollars to supporting a consensus write-in, and more will come from state party funds.

Four million bucks? For a write-in? In a year where basically no Democratic seat nationwide is considered seriously endangered? Talk about betting the mortgage on a longshot. If this is really true (and with all due respect, I'm skeptical), I have to wonder who did the cost/benefit analysis on this puppy.

Muse has more, and I expect Fort Bend Now will have the best writeup in the morning. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here's Fort Bend Now. Some juicy bits:

DeLay made an appearance, entering and exiting without reporters' notice. Two people who attended the closed meeting said he took no part in the selection process and did not speak on behalf of any candidate. Both said he was asked by another attendee if he would go to Wallace and request that Wallace end his write-in bid. Both said DeLay agreed to do so.

Also, a man identified as a member of Wallace's campaign was asked the same thing during the meeting. According to sources, he said "I will tell him what happened at the meeting tonight."


At Thursday night's meeting, DeLay blamed the Texas Democrats for the fact the GOP has no official candidate for a congressional seat it has held for almost 22 years, according to attendees. DeLay also apologized for the discomfort events of the past few months have caused to the Republican Party.

Before the meeting ended, while waiting outside the church, Smither and some of his supporters became upset after being told by someone in the meeting, via cell phone, that DeLay called Smither "a Lampson plant." Added Smither: "I am telling you that is a vicious lie."

Smither attempted to speak to Benkiser about DeLay's alleged remarks, while she was conducting the press conference. "It is a lie!" he shouted as reporters peppered Benkiser and Sekula-Gibbs with questions.


Meanwhile, Lampson campaign manager Mike Malaise said, the "only interesting thing we learned from this meeting was that Tom DeLay may not be on the ballot, but he's not in Virginia either. He attended this meeting to personally enforce his will. I don't know how any candidate can be proud of serving as Tom DeLay's handpicked candidate."

Lots to chew on there. I'll bet DeLay's repetition of the Smither-as-Lampson-plant claim, especially after Smither stated he'd caucus with the Republicans, will be a nice little blow to the base reunification efforts. I'll bet Smither's tone changes from here on out, since playing nice with the Republican powers that be got him nowhere.

I seriously doubt that Wallace will heed DeLay's call to drop out (assuming DeLay actually makes it; I see no reason to start believing anything he says now). The idea that some featherweight Houstonian is DeLay's choice to replace him after all this time has got to be a bitter pill.

Oh, and here's Kevin stirring the pot further by suggesting that Sekula Gibbs resign from City Council to campaign full time. Let me give that idea my heartiest endorsement.

Finally, as a public service, let me help anyone who's not already acquainted with Doctor Somethingorother by guiding you to this Houston Press story abiut her first term on City Council. Be sure to get a glimpse of the cover as well. You're welcome.

UPDATE: Juanita says those NRCC millions are predicated on Wallace dropping out. I agree with her - I wouldn't bet on that happening.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Bettencourt says he's not a candidate

I have received the following statement from Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt:

Contact: Allen Blakemore
Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bettencourt Statement on CD-22

HOUSTON - In advance of tonight's Congressional District 22 meeting called by Republican State Party Chairman Tina Benkeiser, Paul Bettencourt issued the following statement:

"I want to make clear that I am neither a write-in candidate nor a prospective one despite the well-intentioned draft movement within the Party."

Color me completely unsurprised. I always thought Bettencourt's statements about this effort after his name first surfaced in the last week or so were along the lines of "thanks, but no thanks". The only variable was when he'd officially decline. At least now the Benkiser Gang can go into tonight's secret meeting knowing what the score is.

I doubt he will be taken seriously by the Benkiser Gang, but now that a prominent Republican elected official has endorsed the idea of supporting Bob Smither, I wonder how much discussion that will get tonight. I've not seen any evidence to suggest that Tina Benkiser will let this get anywhere, but we're way past the point in this circus where I can say with any confidence that such a thing is too strange to contemplate. This whole thing is too strange to happen, and yet here we are. Let's just say we'll know more later.

Finally, Paul Burka swats down the charges made by Gary Polland about why the Republicans lost in TDP v. Benkiser, which are now being amplified by Bobby Eberle, the man who gave the world Jeff Gannon. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Gillen goes off on his own

Things continue to unravel for the Republicans in their attempt to impose unity on CD22. Fort Bend GOP Chair Gary Gillen has officially opted out of tonight's meeting of the Benkiser Gang and is urging his fellow Fort Benders to join him.

Fort Bend County Chairman Gary Gillen wrote a letter to prospective candidates in the county urging them not to attend the meeting, saying it excluded grass-roots Republicans. But his counterpart in Harris County, Jared Woodfill, said the gathering was the best way to unify the party behind a single Republican candidate.

I think Gillen's rebellion pretty much proves Woodfill wrong. Well, I suppose this could be the least divisive way to go. It just obviously won't work to unite the party.

In his letter, Gillen complained that the meeting is closed to all but the precinct chairs and other designated party and elected officials.

"Holding a closed meeting with very few participants, ostensibly to determine what we Republicans should do, makes a mockery of our party, the democratic process and should be avoided at all cost," wrote Gillen.

Woodfill said, however, that the meeting among party leaders is the only practical way to assess how GOP faithful feel about the candidates.

"We are talking about grass-roots. Precinct chairs are part of the heart and soul of our grass-roots base," he said. "Given the situation we are in I think it makes a lot of sense to have a meeting with those folks and talk about how to proceed."

Gillen is asking candidates not to participate in the meeting, which he says will deny rank-and-file party members the chance to participate in the political process.

"In Fort Bend alone, over 20,000 people participate in our primary elections; yet, just over 60 people from my county have been invited to attend this secret closed-door meeting. The same is true in the other three counties, as well," he said.

Gillen's letter is here (PDF). Note that in the penultimate paragraph, he urges "anyone who wants to run" to "pay the fee and get your running shoes on". That's some kind of unity there. Thanks to Juanita for the link.

Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, who already has filed as a write-in candidate and hopes to secure the GOP blessing, said he has reservations about attending the meeting because of a scheduling conflict and also because the meeting is closed to most Republicans.

I presume the scheduling conflict is with the meeting that Gillen has called for all FBGOP members. The Muse has the email Gillen sent out.

Fort Bend Now goes into this story in more detail, and expands on the fact that Gillen has endorsed Wallace in this race even though he campaigned to be FBGOP Chair with a pledge to not endorse one Republican over another unless one candidate was deemed "unqualified" by the state party. So much for that. The article also notes the emergence of a second write-in candidate, Don Richardson (about whom I know nothing), which Juanita noticed yesterday. And Chris Elam analyzes the Gillen letter and the email to FBGOPers.

Finally, Charlie Cook has weighed in on the updated status of CD22.

RATINGS CHANGE: TX-22 Open (DeLay) moves from Toss-Up to Lean D. Winning a write-in campaign is hard enough, but squabbling among Republicans in the district means that there may not be a consensus candidate for the national and state party to rally around. While this district retains a good Republican advantage - and there’s always room to be surprised in politics - the benefit of the doubt now goes to Democrat Nick Lampson.

I still think that's too wishy-washy, and I'm still waiting for any of these guys to say something about GOP support for Bob Smither, but at least he has Lampson as the favorite and he acknowledges the chaos left in DeLay's wake. That's progress.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Q&A with Richard Garcia

Continuing once again with my series of Q&As with local candidates, I present to you a few questions with Richard Garcia, Democratic candidate for Harris County Treasurer.

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Richard Garcia, Richard Garcia, Richard Garcia (I typically say it three times so people don't forget). I am running for Harris County Treasurer.

I am 51 and a father of Katie 20 and Andy 16.

I live in Spring, TX and have been working since I was 8 years old.

2. What exactly does the County Treasurer do?

"The Treasurer is chief custodian of county funds and receives all monies belonging to the county from whatever source. The Treasurer keeps and accounts for the funds in designated depositories and disburses the funds as Commissioner's Court may require or direct, not inconsistent with constituted law. The Treasurer also serves the Flood Control District and the Port of Houston Authority." - Harris County Annual Budget

It does not do the typical treasury functions. It does not do forecasting, budgeting, compliance audits, financial analysis, insurance risk assessment, investments, etc. Years ago, much of the office's typical treasury functions were removed and basically the office writes the checks for the county, port and flood control district.

The State Treasurer's office was eliminated by Martha Whitehead when she ran in 1994 to abolish the office. The 31st of August 2006 will be 10 years since the 158-year-old State agency ceded its duties.

Most smaller counties still need the Treasurer's office and I fully and wholeheartly support each county deciding what is best for their county and their taxpayers. In Harris County we can abolish the office. The current staff will continue to be employed by the county. Harris County is fortunate to have an excellent first assistant who is currently running the treasurer's office since the Honourable Jack Cato's death May 22, 2006.

3. What are your professional qualifications for this job?

During undergrad studies I worked in the Trust Department of American National Bank.

I received my undergraduate degree with a major in Finance and minor in accounting and economics in May 1977. I started in the financial industry in June 1977. I worked for Prudential for 25 years. Presently, I am a businessman working in the insurance industry as an analyst for insurance claims.

I have taught school children economics through Junior Achievement - including once a week serving as the instructor of High School Economics in three different Harris County High Schools.

I have earned an MBA degree.

4. It is your intent to ask the Texas Legislature to pass a bill that would eliminate the job of Harris County Treasurer if you win. Why do you want to do this?

First, to successfully abolish the office, a candidate has to run with the intent of abolishing the office. We have such a candidate. The next steps were up to the Commissioner's court. They conducted a study into the feasibility of abolishing the office, the impact the decision would make and vote to proceed to abolish the office. The study was completed and the change involved would be minimal. The transition would be seamless and the office effectiveness would not be impaired.

I have been given much credit for coming forward with a serious proposal to abolish the office, but it was proposed many years ago by my State Senator, Jon S. Lindsay. When asked by the Houston Chronicle during the primary screening four years ago, I informed the editorial board that I would support the voters' decision to abolish the office. By presenting the option to the voters up front that I am running to abolish the office, we are presenting the voters with a clear choice to control future government spending.

I have spoken with various State Representatives and State Senators and have spoken in front of the Harris County Commissioner's court in support of abolishing the office. I am proud to say that the two Republican Commissioners, Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole joined the two Democratic Commissioners (Sylvia R. Garcia and El Franco Lee) in voting to abolish the office.

We will need a constitutional amendment to complete the process of abolishing the office and Senator Mario Gallegos will be working in the Senate to attempt to have the issue brought to the voters.

5. How much would Harris County save per year if the Treasurer's office were abolished?

First, the County Treasurer's position presently pays $96,000.00. With the cost of living change, the position will pay $99,108.00.

In addition, there will be a vacancy in the office in January and I will not fill that position. The duties and functions can be absorbed by others within the office and the salary saved would be slightly over $44,500. A study performed by the commissioner's court would support the non-replacement stance.

Both positions would have a "burden" added to the actual cost - this is an accounting term for the added cost above the salary. Depending on the organization the additional percentage can be substantial. Using a salary effective in September plus a 33% factor for burden the annual savings to the taxpayers in salary alone would be $190,998.64. Typically, elected officials get re-elected in the 90% range. With four year terms it is not unlikely that the next elected County Treasurer could be in the position for three or more terms.

Without factoring in adjustments for economic activities; twelve years times $190,998.64 salary savings would be $2,291,983.68 saving to the County Taxpayers.

More important than the salary is my ability to analyze how operations are currently performing and how to implement changes to make operations run better, cheaper, and faster for the taxpayer.

When the insurance industry was in a crisis due to mold claims, Prudential requested my assistance in the claims department to handle the magnitude of these claims. The process had become long in time frame, slow in repair and very expensive. People were moved out of their homes and into hotels frequently exceeding the limits available to them for additional living expense. Reviewing matters, I found that the engineers were producing a 1" plus report for the homeowner and insurance company. For the homeowner to determine if they had a claim, where are the problems areas and how to mitigate the situation - the majority of the paperwork contained in the report was not necessary. These engineering reports were costing $6,000-7,000. Using business common sense and conferring with the engineers and policy holders, we developed an easy to understand and cost effective report costing $750.00. A report that was understood by the customer, the insurance carrier, insurance adjuster and the contractor. I was also able to reduce the price for lab work from $500 per sample sets to $250 for a total cost of $1,000 or an expense saving of $5,000 to $6,000 per claim.

By having a timely, accurate and understandable report we were also able to drastically reduce the cost of claims and the time the homeowners were inconvenienced in being away from their home. Our corporate office used the claims methods on my file as case studies and best practices for training.

It was a win-win. Repairs were preformed quickly, and the time frame involved was reduced - all at a more reasonable cost of doing business. I will bring this cost effectiveness to the office.

6. Which other county offices would pick up the duties of the County Treasurer if it were abolished?

The Treasurer's office would join the Financial Services Office. Financial Services Office is under the Management Services (Budget Office).

7. How many other Texas counties have gotten rid of their Treasurer's offices? Have any counties tried and failed to do this? Have any re-established the office once it was abolished?

First, there are many counties which do need to have a County Treasurer - Harris County is not one of them.

The actual number of counties which have eliminated the office is very small. This is largely due to a possible poison pill implying that should a candidate run to abolish an office, he can not get paid. The law punishes a civic-minded candidate.

Various Treasurers from other counties spoke in front of the Harris County Commissioner's court requesting that the commissioner to not vote to abolish the office. At the same meeting, I spoke to the commissioner's court and informed them that I was in support of abolishing the office. I am proud to say that the commissioner's court voted in favor of the taxpayers 4-1 to abolish the office.

In the approximately 7 1/2 months between Mr. Jack Cato's death and the taking of office by the next Treasurer, the decision by the Commissioner's Court not to name a replacement saved the taxpayers $60,000+. To some it may not seem like much, but it could purchase books for the library. As my brother says, "save your pennies and the dollars will add up".

8. The State of Texas abolished its Treasurer's office after Democrat Martha Whitehead was elected in 1994 on a platform to do exactly that. What can Harris County learn from the state's experience?

Martha Whitehead was appointed by then Governor, Ann Richards. Ms. Whitehead ran for the Office of Treasurer in 1994 to dissolve the office. The Legislature and the people of Texas concurred and November 7, 1995 a Constitutional amendment was passed by the voters. On August 31, 1996, the 158-year-old agency transferred its functions to the Comptroller's Office.

Harris County Commissioners have the foresight to see the vision in abolishing the office. Working together they have voted to move forward on this matter.

If elected I will follow through and work to abolish the office

9. What is the argument against abolishing the Treasurer's office? Is there any risk in doing so?

Most of the concerns from people are: "Do we need it?" The simple answer is "no". We have a capable captain at the helm and all I am asking is that she continues steering the ship in the direction necessary to handle the county's treasury functions.

10. What else do we need to know about you and your campaign?

Probably the number one comment that I get is: "Why would you run to get rid of the job you won?"

Because it is the right thing to do. It's in the best interest of the taxpayers. We have an excellent First Assistant who has worked under three Harris County Treasurers and is currently doing a great job in completing Mr. Jack Cato's term.

I would also point out that I have the educational, professional and work and personal ethics to perform the job as Harris County Treasurer and come November 7th the taxpayers of Harris County select the person to lead them in reducing the cost county government.

Thank you, Richard Garcia. One thing I want to make clear here is that the first opportunity to abolish the office of Harris County Treasurer would be September or November of 2007, whenever the first statewide vote can be held after the next regular Legislative session. What would actually get abolished is the elected position of Harris County Treasurer. The people who are performing the functions of the Treasurer's office would still be doing that, they'd just be doing it under the auspices of the Financial Services Office. It's like when a company merges two departments and then gets rid of one of the department managers. Richard's the one pushing for the merger since his job isn't needed.

One last thing to note is that Orlando Sanchez, who is telling people he wants to use this position as a platform for espousing things like immigration reform, has a track record of travelling on the public dime. Given Sanchez's proclivities, the savings Richard estimates we can get (as seen in his ad video) may be on the conservative side.

Here are my other interviews with Harris County candidates:

Leora T. Kahn - Interview
Chuck Silverman - Interview
Bill Connolly - Interview
James Goodwille Pierre - Interview

Posted by Charles Kuffner
It's unity time!

Today's the day for the big closed-door Benkiser Gang meeting in Pearland to determine who (if anyone) will be the One True Write-In candidate.

Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace officially filed as a write-in candidate Friday. And Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs said she will do the same if she gets the backing of the state party.

Benkiser said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt has expressed an interest, as has former state GOP executive committee member Tim Turner.

"We hope we can all unify behind one candidate because of what is at stake, not only in this race, but this election," Benkiser said. "Candidates need to set aside personal agendas and do what is best for the Republican family."


Some Republicans perceived Wallace's filing as a pre-emptive move to discourage other candidates and force the party's hand.

"I firmly believe everyone in this race will get behind one candidate," said Turner, touting his conservative roots in the district and his party work. "It would be a great disappointment if Mayor Wallace chooses to put himself ahead of the Republicans in this district. That would be an unfortunate event and won't be forgotten."

Prepare to be disappointed, Tim.

With dwindling hopes of keeping Tom DeLay's longtime House seat from falling to a Democrat in November, Texas Republicans on Tuesday called an urgent meeting for Thursday to exercise their only option: agreeing on a write-in candidate.

But that slender prospect - no such write-in campaign has succeeded in the state - seemed to suffer a blow when a leading candidate facing party opposition disparaged the meeting, saying "that may have worked in Moscow," and vowed to keep running even if it meant two Republican write-in candidates.

"I'm in the race and I'm in it to win," said the candidate, David G. Wallace, the part-time mayor of this booming Houston suburb named for its onetime Imperial sugar factory. He said he might be too busy campaigning to attend the meeting.

Is there a more beautiful sound than that of a Republican comparing other Republicans to communists? I can't think of one offhand.

"Lampson's going to win, that's all there is to that," said Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist and political consultant close to the Republicans.

The Republicans are not officially conceding that, citing some rare successful write-in campaigns in several other states. "My hope is that we can unify behind one candidate," said Tina J. Benkiser, the Texas Republican chairwoman, who called for the Thursday meeting of 150 precinct leaders and other party officials. But, she said, "this is going to be a challenge at best."

Mr. Wallace said he saw Ms. Benkiser as no friend of his campaign, but she insisted she was neutral. "I don't have a dog in this race," she said.

But Gary Gillen does, which is another reason why I said that the Republicans here are not as organized as the national prognosticators seem to think. (I note that Chuck Todd still thinks there are seven races that he thinks are more likely to flip than this one. Amazing.) I admit, that's a surprise to learn. I wouldn't have thought that as recently as six months ago. The evidence is clear, though. The only question is what it will cost them besides this seat.

Speaking of cost:

[Republican consultant Ted] Delisi, whose wife, Deirdre, is deputy chief of staff for Governor Perry, said a strong write-in effort could make Mr. Lampson spend more of his war chest, last accounted at close to $3 million, and leave him with less to devote to re-election.

I can just about guarantee that Lampson was going to spend most of his money anyway. He knows this race is about 2008 as much as they know it. I can also just about guarantee that Lampson will have little trouble building his warchest back up.

As this article also spoke about the weird four-way Governor's race, I want to mention a thought that was suggested to me recently. One person who may not be too happy with any effort by either the Republican Party of Texas or the NRCC to dump money on CD22 in an effort to get Republicans to step out of their usual straight-ticket pattern and support the One True Write-In is Rick Perry. He of all people will want to push the "vote straight R" mantra, as it's the easiest way by which he can keep portions of his base from wandering away to Strayhorn or Kinky. It's a little funny in that I think the kind of Republican voter who'd be receptive to a support-the-write-in message is precisely the kind of voter who'd be sticking with Perry regardless of whether they push the straight-R button or not. I expect Perry won't want to take any chances as far as that goes. I wonder if that might throw a wrench into any plans to spending money on this race, or if it might cause some more discord if such plans follow through over Perry's objections.

Finally, Greg takes Gary Polland to task for his analysis of what went wrong in the matter of TDP versus Benkiser. I just want to add that if you scroll up on Polland's page, you see this:

It is too bad Tom was taken down so hard and essentially "forced" to walk away from an often brilliant career. The final straw pulling his name from the ballot came this past week. Tom should have been allowed to retire on his own terms, he deserved it.

I cannot fathom how anyone could look at the events of the past months and not conclude that Tom DeLay's own actions were the single biggest cause for the spot the Republicans now find themselves in. I just cannot.

Oh, and to end this all on a positive note, while the Republicans are searching for the elusive best case scenario, Nick Lampson continues to work the district and rack up endorsements. You know, the things that good candidates do.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
John Carter: I am the debate decider!

Nobody debates John Carter unless John Carter says they debate John Carter.

Carter has said repeatedly he won't get into full "political mode" until October, after Congress adjourns.

However, in a previous interview this summer, Carter went a step further, saying that Harrell or any other challenger aren't guaranteed the chance to debate him, despite their candidate status.

"People earn the right to debate me," Carter said in the interview. "I will determine how and not them."

Asked what would qualify someone for a debate, Carter said "credibility."

In a call to his office Wednesday, Carter's spokeswoman Amy Ellsworth said his comments were still an accurate reflection of his views.

Harrell said that was ridiculous.

"This is pretty basic. It doesn't have to do with my rights or Carter's rights. The voters have an absolute right to know where we stand," Harrell said. "I think it is bizarre that we're talking in terms of whether a candidate has a right to debate. We are running for office and we owe it to the people."

See, this is brilliant. Nobody gets to debate Carter unless he decides they're "credible". And the more credible an opponent is - and I'm sure Carter realizes that Mary Beth Harrell is as credible as they come - the less incentive he has to declare him or her as such. Heads he wins, tails you lose. It's good to be the king, isn't it?

Carter, not surprisingly, is a serial debate ducker. From a Harrell campaign email:

Carter has refused to participate in every other candidates forum held in the District. He's already refused to attend the ones held by LULAC, AARP and even the Rotary Clubs.

In their invitation to the candidates, KNCT made it clear that they will not produce the program if either Harrell or her opponent refuses to participate. Harrell has already accepted the forum invitation.

I can understand the TV station not wanting to go on with the show if it's a one-person debate, but I do hope the other organizations go ahead with their fora regardless. They have no ratings demands to worry about, and their mission is education. The attendees can draw their own conclusions if Carter chooses to skip out on them.

Anyway. Carter, you're a wussy. Eye on WIlliamson has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Start counting the days for the Alabama Bookstop

Via Houstonist, this blurb from the Wall Street Journal is nothing but bad news for Houston preservationists.

David Deason, vice president for development at Barnes & Noble, said the New York-based company intends to close the Bookstop in favor of a "state of the art" facility. But Mr. Deason said the fate of the landmarks is in the hands of Weingarten.

You can translate that as "We just want to make sure that it's Weingarten who gets blamed when the wrecking ball pays a visit. Please don't boycott our shiny new location-to-be in the River Oaks Shopping Center!"

At this point, barring quick passage of a stronger preservation law by City Council, I think it's going to take a buyer who specifically wants to keep the Alabama Theater in its present condition. I'm more pessimistic about the River Oaks Theater now than I was before. Bleah.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 16, 2006
Immigration: Hearings, petitions, ads

It's too bad this wasn't scheduled for when the Ringling Brothers folks were here. We could have had two circuses in town at the same time. At least the protests outside were small and relatively peaceful. And may I just say that I fervently hope this is a faithful transcription and not a copy error:

About two dozen people, some waving American flags and carrying signs that read "stop the invasion protect or borders,'' remained outside the courthouse once the hearing began.

I can only presume that means this guy was in attendance.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to note that the anti-immigration petitioners are now conceding that they will not qualify for the ballot this time around.

According to city law, Houston's charter can only be changed once every two years. This fall, Mayor Bill White is proposing to alter a voter-approved limit on city revenues which was put into the charter in 2004. If the mayor's item is passed by voters, the immigration petition can't legally get on the ballot until November 2008.

However, if the mayor's plan is voted down, or if it doesn't make it onto the ballot, then an election on the immigration petition could be held as early as May 2007. That assumes the group circulating the petition gets 20,000 valid signatures from city residents approved by City Secretary Anna Russell in time.


City Council must vote to set all charter issues before they're put on the ballot. The last council meeting before the deadline is August 23rd. City Attorney Arturo Michel says its possible someone could delay the item at that meeting, rendering it moot.

Organizers with the group 'Protect Our Citizens' said this week that they've collected thousands of signatures from people who support the proposal. They could not say when the petition might be turned in.

My understanding is that it's not "possible" someone "could" delay the item at the next Council meeting, it's guaranteed that someone will do so by putting a tag on it. And the reminder about one charter change per two years is nice to have. I'd be voting for the mayor's proposed change to Prop 2 from 2004 anyway. Now I'll feel better about it.

And finally, in the "two things are universal, hydrogen and stupidity" files, the DSCC stepped into a pile of mierda with an offensive ad that paired illegal immigration with terrorism.

The 35-second ad is posted on the Web site of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and attempts to show the failings of Republican leadership on the issue of national and international security. The ad mixes images of bin Laden, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with footage of two people scaling a fence while the screen flash the words "millions more illegal immigrants."

What began as an attempt to wrestle the traditionally Republican-dominated issue of security away during a hotly contested election year, instead risks driving Hispanic voters away from the Democratic Party, said Houston Councilwoman Carol Alvarado.

"You cannot compare people who come over for economic opportunities to people who are coming over to terrorize our country," she said. "They should not be in the same message, same video or even in the same conversation."

Alvarado wrote the committee chair, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to urge the removal of the ad and warn that the "Democratic Party can only stand to lose by alienating millions of Latino voters."

Gerry Birnberg, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, also wrote Schumer and called for an end to donations to the campaign committee. "Give money to the candidates but not the (committee), because they are just wasting it," he said.

Birnberg and Alvarado said they agreed with the majority of the ad and its overall criticism of Republican leadership.

"The (committee) is correct in criticizing the Republicans," Birnberg said, "but (they were) over the top and out of line when they suggested that people coming to this country to work are somehow equivalently evil and dangerous as a madman terrorist."

The ad is here. Birnberg is right: Edit out the bit about illegal immigration and you have a strong, effective message that doesn't insult a large portion of the Democrats' base. Whoever thought this up, and whoever approved it, needs to apologize and either fix or kill this. BOR, Stace (multiple posts, just start at the top and scroll down), and Marc Campos have all been on this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
City Council redistricting off the agenda

Looks like the earlier reports of City Council redistricting were premature. Apparently, there's not a definitive answer to the question of whether or not Houston's population now exceeds 2.1 million, which would trigger a requirement to redistrict and add two more seats.

[Mayor Bill] White thought the estimates might show the population grew to 2.1 million, triggering a City Charter provision that requires the extra single-member council districts.

But the American Community Survey, which officials say isn't an accurate gauge for precise population totals, estimated about 1.94 million. And another census estimate, using different methods, recently showed the population only slightly over 2 million.

"We will act in good faith and compliance with the charter, but you have no official number showing population over 2.1 million," White said. "I can't pull a number out of the air."

As I noted when I first blogged about this, the 2003 Census estimate of Houston's population was just over 2 million. The official 2000 number was 1.95 million, so unless you think we've lost people in the last six years, I have to call into question that ACS figure.

[Former Councilman Carroll] Robinson said some estimates and forecasts have the city population at or approaching the 2.1 million benchmark.

The Texas State Data Center, for example, estimated Houston's population was 2.05 million in January 2005, months before tens of thousands of hurricane evacuees - as many as 150,000, by some estimates - moved to the region.


State Demographer Steve Murdock, with the Texas State Data Center, said the American Community Survey data released this week wasn't the proper type for redistricting.

He said the decennial U.S. census, which relies on a head count rather than statistical sampling, is the best source for that. He also said the latest data probably didn't accurately reflect the city's totals.

Each year, he said, the bureau also develops population estimates using administrative records on births, deaths and migration to gauge changes from the most recent official census. The latest of these, released in July, showed the population at 2,016,582.

That seems low to me, too. I realize now when I blogged this in December that I'd misunderstood the growth rate that the Census had cited. I thought they meant 2.9% annually, which would have easily put us over 2.1 million by now, but they really meant 2.9% cumulative from 2000 to 2003. If we assume that rate of growth from 2003 to 2006, applied to the 2003 estimated population, we get 2,067,971. Close, but no cigar, and at that rate we'd probably not top 2.1 million until late 2008 or early 2009.

That, of course, doesn't take into account the influx of Katrina evacuees, for which the numbers tend to be pretty speculative. I do think it's reasonable to claim that we're at the 2.1 million mark, but as it takes a couple of assumptions to get there, I'm not sure that it's sufficiently justified to start the redistricting machinery. I would not object to pressing forward, but I can certainly understand the case for waiting.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Isn't something missing here?

I finally got around to reading this article from yesterday about our Dynamic Duo of Senators (She's the ranking member with a moderate reputation! He's the go-to guy for supporting the White House message! Together they fight crime Democrats!) and noticed a slight omission. In the entire piece, this was the only mention of elections:

Cornyn is up for re-election in 2008, which enables him to focus on larger issues at least until then. However, [SMU political science prof Cal] Jillson said, the senator could face political trouble then if he has been perceived by the state's voters as downplaying or ignoring their needs.

I seem to recall Senator Hutchison being up for re-election this year. If they're going to bring the subject up at all, they could at least give it a full airing.

Now, I've said before that I don't like feature stories about candidates where half the text is attack quotes from the spokesperson of that candidate's opponent. This wasn't a candidate story per se, but regardless of that it wouldn't have been appropriate to have included quotes from Barbara Radnofsky, who (I say this to remind the Chronicle, as they seem to forget this sort of thing) is Hutchison's opponent this cycle. Of course, that's predicated on the expectation that the Chron, in the interest of giving the voters a full and balanced picture Hutchison and her legislative record, devotes a similar front-page story to Radnofsky and her resume. I look forward to seeing this article Real Soon Now.

An email from Radnofsky to the Chron regarding this story is beneath the fold.

I've traveled the state and beyond for nearly three years now, and have taken over 475 campaign trips. I will hit trip 500 on Labor Day. Austin and Dallas papers reported Sen. Hutchison's agreement to debate me, and we have contacted her offices to schedule such a debate. Of course, we'd be greatly interested in the Chronicle hosting such a public service, perhaps on the date when your paper can schedule an editorial board interview.

We believe that the polls, particualrly the Zogby poll, have induced my opponent to agree to debate. She dropped from 60 percent against me in may to 56 in june to 52 by the end of July, the latest zogby numbers.

Yesterday, Sen. Hutchison announced her opinion that we should increase troop commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. On this we disagree, as has occurred on many issues of the day. My website contains an issues chart (first item on home page under "issues") which discusses my positions and the votes and statements of my opponent, Sen. Hutchison.

I hope the Chronicle will consider talking to me. I am happy to provide information and commentary on issues, this race and my background.

Barbara Ann Radnofsky
US Senate Committee, Inc
P. O. Box 550377
Houston TX 77255-0377

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Khan to host seminar on the effects of HB3

Also from the inbox:

Chad Khan, candidate for State Representative in District 126, will be hosting a seminar on August 24 at 6pm on the effects of House Bill 3, which will have significant effects on the tax bill due by small business throughout Texas. Joining Chad, and discussing in more detail, will be Paul Colbert. Colbert is a finance consultant and former State Representative from Houston.

HB3 is one of the most drastic changes in Texas tax law and has recently been certified as an income tax by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. It serves as a 1% tax on at least 70% of a company's revenue and begins to take effect in 2007. The purpose of this seminar is to educate business owners about the effects of this law and how to begin planning ahead.

The event is free and will be held at Houston's Ballroom, located at 14880 Bammel North Houston Rd. To RSVP, call 281-377-4705 or email

A PDF of the flyer for this event is here. And as long as I'm blogging about Chad Khan, there's a fundraiser being held for him on Mondaty, August 28, at Gringo's Mexican Kitchen, 6925 Cypresswood Drive at Stuebner-Airline. A Word doc with the details is here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Cohen and Wong invited to debate at Rice

From the inbox:

Dear Ellen Cohen and State Representative Martha Wong:

On behalf of the Rice College Republicans and Rice Young Democrats, we would like to invite you to a debate for House District 134 at Rice University on Wednesday, September 20, at 7pm, with arrangements to be agreed upon by the candidates.

As a center of academic learning within the community, Rice University is uniquely suited for a debate for House District 134. Debate about ideas is central to our education and growth as Rice students, from the most philosophical discussion of the proper role and methods of government, to the most lively lunch table exchange about the day's headlines.

Additionally, as voters within the district, Rice students would be well served to hear the candidates talk about the issues that affect them on their own campus so they can make an informed decision when they vote on November 8.

The Rice College Republicans and the Rice Young Democrats would be honored to host you for a debate at our campus. We look forward to hearing from you.


Ryan Goodland
Rice Young Democrats, President

John Stallcup
Rice College Republicans, President

Assuming this happens, I will try my best to be there.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Chron slaps Culberson again

The Chron delivers another backhand to John Culberson for his anti-leadership on rail.

The congressman, who once tried to press criminal charges against Metro for an alleged discrepancy in its financial reports, recently wrote to Metro Chairman David Wolff regarding rail on Richmond. In his letter, Culberson claimed that more than 90 percent of the people who lived or worked along Richmond opposed the rail project. But Culberson's staff could not state the total number of residents, business operators and property owners along Richmond. It is impossible to calculate 90 percent of an unknown quantity. Culberson's pronouncements regarding the opposition are meaningless.

In an attempt to appear cooperative, Culberson suggested that Metro use the Southwest Freeway to connect the Main Street corridor with Westpark. But he forbade Metro from taking any traffic lanes or private property.

From an engineering standpoint, it would be easier to get the camel through the needle's eye than to meet Culberson's demands. Even if such a line could be built, it would be too expensive and probably would fail federal ridership standards.

"Metro created this dilemma," said Culberson, the man who for a decade helped to block all federal aid for rail transit in Houston, placing this city behind its competitors and sending tax dollars paid by Houston motorists to Dallas and other cities.

I say again, this is Culberson's attempt to undo the referendum. If he couldn't make his claim about the ballot language, he'd find something else. There's nothing in his track record to suggest that he'd ever work to support light rail in Houston.

As for his even more bogus 90% claim, presents the case against Culberson's numbers. Maybe it's time someone did a more comprehensive survey. Who knows what we might find.

In the end, I believe that as long as Culberson is in office, we're going to have to fight and refight these battles. If you're as tired of it as I am, and especially if you live in CD07, you have an alternative.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
A snapshot of Houston today

I love stories about demographics. I'm just a numbers geek (as if you couldn't tell), so anything with data in it fascinates me. This is from the American Community Survey.

Texas' high school graduation rate, 79 percent, was ahead only of Mississippi's among the 50 states and District of Columbia.

In case you've ever wondered where Chris Bell's line about Rick Perry being chair of the Thank God For Mississippi Committee comes from, now you know.

In the city of Houston, Hispanics make up 55 percent of the children under age 15, and just 17 percent of people 75 and older. In sharp contrast, 55 percent of those older residents are Anglo.

The disparity was mirrored throughout Texas, where 46 percent of children under 15 are Hispanic while 72 percent of state residents 75 and over are Anglos.

Overall, the population of Texas is among the nation's youngest; the median age of 33 years exceeds only Utah's.

The new demographic data is based on a rolling survey of 250,000 randomly selected U.S. households each month of 2005. The survey was conducted only in jurisdictions with populations over 65,000.

It excluded group quarters such as dormitories, nursing homes and prisons.


According to the mid-decade portrait, immigrants now make up 12.4 percent of the U.S. population, up from 11.2 percent in the 2000 Census. And the foreign-born population is spreading from gateway cities like Houston to historically Anglo cities and states in the Northwest, Northeast and other parts of the South.

The highest immigrant populations, however, continue to be in places like Houston and Texas.

Nearly 30 percent of Houston residents were foreign-born in 2005; 71 percent of those were not U.S. citizens.

That means that about twenty percent of Houston residents are not US citizens. I wouldn't have guessed it was that much. I say Houston's attractiveness to immigrants is a good thing and will continue to be so. I hope we as a city value that.

Anyway. All the data is here if you want to dig in and play around with it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 15, 2006
An unofficial official gathering

Apparently, last week's meeting of the Benkiser Gang to settle on the One True Write-In wasn't enough to accomplish the task, because there's another meeting planned for Thursday to take another whack at it.

State and local Republican Party officials will hold a "gathering" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church of Pearland to discuss throwing support behind a single GOP write-in candidate for Congressional District 22.

Party sources said the event is not an official meeting of the party - yet it won't be open to the public or the press. Precinct chairs within CD-22, GOP chairmen and their staffs from Fort Bend, Harris, Galveston and Brazoria counties will be invited.

Also, Texas Republican Party Executive Committee members within CD-22, possibly other state GOP officials and Republican elected officials from the four counties within CD-22 may attend.

The meeting isn't official, because the courts have ruled the Republican Party can have no official candidate since Tom DeLay withdrew from the ballot.

While state and local GOP leaders have discussed throwing their support behind one write-in candidate to run against Democrat Nick Lampson and Libertarian Bob Smither, Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace already has announced he’s mounting a write-in candidacy.

That sets up a potential scenario where Republicans at Thursday’s "gathering" might choose a write-in candidate other than Wallace, leaving two GOP contenders running as write-ins against the only two candidates whose names will appear on the ballot - Smither and Lampson.

I just want to know if DeLay will attend this meeting like he did the last one. It is behind closed doors, after all, so it's a natural for him.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The biggest threat to the prospects of any or all write-in candidates is the support that Libertarian Bob Smither is going to get. I say it's at best a fifty-fifty shot that all the write-ins combined do better than Smither. If the powers that be in the GOP ever acknowledge this and make as strong a push for Smither as they say they will do for the One True Write-In, this race could get interesting again. They don't appear to be showing any sign of this, and I doubt they will. I can't say they're wrong to ignore that possibility, either. Were the tables turned, I don't know how happy I'd be about Gerry Birnberg and Boyd Richie urging support for a Green candidate, even one who pledged to caucus with the Dems. I can see Chris' point about "names on the ballot", but the brand has to mean something, too. Certainly, one would expect it to mean something to the people in charge of it.

By the way, and for what it's worth, I've not see Smither's name come up in any serious fashion on any of the expert prognosticators' sites. Maybe that's reinforcement for my belief that Benkiser et al will not deviate from the One True Write-In path, and maybe it's a sign of myopicness on their part. We'll see what happens on Thursday.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Have I mentioned the Texroots lately?
Support TexRoots candidates
Now that you've heard Shane Sklar's interview, what better time to visit the Texroots page and chip in something to his campaign? And while you're there, don't forget about Hank Gilbert, who could use a little help for the cost of attending all of those Trans Texas Corridor hearings (something his opponent has yet to do), or Juan Garcia, who's been the subject of a Swift Boat-style attack this past week. If you need to know anything more about the Texroots candidates, Phillip has you covered. Thank you for your support!
Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Shane Sklar

I had done a brief interview with Shane Sklar during the Democratic convention in Fort Worth, but it was noisy, and I didn't have as good idea of what I was doing as I feel I do now. So, I wanted to interview him again, and over the weekend I had the opportunity to do that. Here it is:

Link for the MP3 file is here. And (ta da!) there's now an RSS feed for these podcasts. It's still being tweaked, but it should be working. My sincere thanks once again to Greg for all the help he's given me on this.

Sklar is one of the candidates that the Texroots bloggers endorsed last week. If you like what you hear here, and especially if you like the idea of Fort Bend County being represented by three Democratic Congressmen (Sklar, Al Green, and Nick Lampson), you can contribute to his campaign to help make that happen.

Here are all my previous interviews:

Gary Binderim - Interview
Glenn Melancon - Interview
Jim Henley - Interview
David Harris - Interview
Ted Ankrum - Interview
Shane Sklar - Interview
John Courage - Interview
Nick Lampson - Interview
Mary Beth Harrell - Interview
Hank Gilbert - Interview
Joe Farias - Interview
Harriet Miller - Interview
Ellen Cohen - Interview

Posted by Charles Kuffner
OSFR update

I didn't see anything new from Phillip regarding the Sunset Commission's hearings on the Office of State and Federal Relations (OSFR, see here for background), but Kimberly wrote this report for the AusChron:

The Sunset review of the Office of State-Federal Relations has provided a rare glimpse into how Texas attempts to influence Washington politics, and the news isn't all good. The picture that emerged at a hearing this week was of an office dominated by Gov. Rick Perry's staff, with little influence from the Legislature and no clear picture of just how much the state is spending on outside contracts through various agencies. Earlier this year, Perry came under fire for using two conservative lobby firms as outside consultants for the office, to the tune of $1.1 million. While such practice isn't unusual - Sunset review staff noted that most states place such offices under the governor, and many use outside consultants with broader contacts - the fact that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick have taken little interest in meeting to sign off on the state's federal priorities is. Director Joey Longley, who is in charge of this Sunset review and even the last review of the agency 12 years ago, is recommending that OSFR be moved under the governor's office. Longley also told the Sunset Commission, however, that he is keenly aware that the House and Senate have not taken a vocal role in helping to shape and direct the policy of the office. Committee members, for their part, said it was impossible to force Dewhurst and Craddick to the table. The Sunset Commission will make its recommendations on OSFR in November.

Link via Vince, who has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
"Lost" - Season Three

I can't wait.

If you'd planned on spending the dog days of August working on your Lost theory - the one that explains everything from the polar bear to those parka-clad guys in last season's finale - maybe it's time you abandoned the quest and hit the beach instead.

Because there is no one explanation for what's gone on in the first two seasons of ABC's Lost.

At least not according to executive producer Carlton Cuse.

"We hate to debunk" anyone's theory, Cuse said - though he and fellow show-runner Damon Lindelof have dismissed a few, including the one that posits that the characters on Lost are in some kind of purgatory.


[W]hile the writers have explanations for everything that's gone on in Lost so far - and script coordinator Gregg Nations keeps track of the documentation - "it doesn't reduce down to a single, simple sentence," Cuse said.

But if there's more than one theory at work on the island, doesn't that mean coincidence - that shaky crutch too often employed in TV drama - is a factor?

Not necessarily, insisted Cuse.

"There are theories in physics ... that govern small particles, and there are Newtonian theories that govern gravitational fields for larger objects. Those two co-exist. They aren't unified into a single theory, but the connection between them is not coincidental," he said.

I don't need for their to be one theory-of-everything. All I ask is that it all make sense. Well, and that it isn't so stoopid that it'll make me want to throw something at the TV screen. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Some potentially spoilerish stuff is beneath the fold.

"The show's going to be about our characters' interaction with the Others. It's going to be more of an action-adventure year, more romance. We'd hoped to get romance last year, but the story didn't really get us there. We didn't get as far as we wanted in that regard," he said.

"It's going to be more character-oriented, less mythologically oriented. You know, last year was sort of dark and intense and underground and in the hatch," he said.

"Obviously, the other element that we introduced at the end of the season was that after 49 hours, we went off the island for the first time. And that was not a casual or coincidental or random choice," he said. "The introduction of the outside world as an element into the world of Lost is also something new for Season 3."

And because the strongest link to that world so far is Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), you can expect to see Desmond again, too, and not just in flashbacks.

"It would be very stupid of us to kill Desmond," Cuse said.

We'll also - eventually - see Michael (Harold Perrineau) and Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) again, he said.

"We were interested in exploring what price you would pay to get your son back. The price that Michael paid was so extreme, it didn't seem possible that he could remain a part of this society after what he had done," Cuse said, noting that banishment goes back to the Greeks.

"He's been banished from the island, and that to us represented sort of the necessary consequence of his action. It doesn't mean his story is over," he said.

Hmm. I wonder if this means Michael and Walt will make it back to civilization. Given that a big theme of the show so far has been about how all these characters interacted (mostly unknowingly) before they ended up on the island, I think a fitting fate for Michael would be to be reminded of the island, and everyone on it (in particular Libby and Ana Lucia) every day, in ways he doesn't expect and can't avoid. He certainly deserves some harsh punishment for his actions last season.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 14, 2006
Bentzin drops out in HD48

Win some, lose some: Republicans, who will get a chance later this week to add a candidate to a swing district race, have just lost one in another swing district as Ben Bentzin has announced his withdrawal from the HD48 campaign.

Bentzin, a former executive at Dell, Inc., cited new business opportunities and the negative tone in his earlier race for the seat as reasons for dropping out. He is not moving out of the district.

His move appears to leave Democrat Rep. Donna Howard without a Republican opponent in the November election.

Earlier this year, Howard defeated Bentzin in a special election to fill the unexpired term of Todd Baxter, an Austin Republican who had resigned to work as a lobbyist.

"Donna Howard and her local Democratic partisan cohorts ran an extraordinarily negative campaign this past spring. That was very difficult for my family, very difficult for myself," Bentzin told the Statesman today.

He also said he believed there was "an imbalance in terms of (press) coverage" of the campaign.

At issue in the campaign was Bentzin's hiring of Republican operative John Colyandro to help with his unsuccessful run for state Senate in 2002. Colyandro has since been indicted for his role in helping other GOP groups that year.

Bentzin was never accused of wrongdoing by prosecutors.

Bentzin was linked closely to Tom DeLay and TRMPAC via Colyandro in the earlier race. I hope you'll forgive me if I fail to empathize with his plight. As Phillip wrote at the time, Donna Howard ran a smart, aggressive campaign in which she clearly distinguished herself from Bentzin, and in doing so overcame his substantial monetary advantage. She nearly won the crowded special election outright, then walloped Bentzin (who had compared himself to Vince Young after his underwhelming performance) by a 15 point margin in the runoff.

Bentzin's withdrawal leaves Howard without a major party opponent in November (Libertarian Ben Easton is also on the ballot). The difference between Bentzin's withdrawal and Vilma Luna's is that when Luna withdrew, there was nobody left on the ballot in HD33, not even a Libertarian. State law allows for a replacement in such a case. Not so in HD48, which leaves Travis County Democrats free to concentrate on re-electing Mark Strama in HD50 and taking over the open HD47 with Valinda Bolton.

UPDATE: For the definitive wrapup of Ben Bentzin's short political career, I refer you to the blog that should be his official biographer, PinkDome.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Ortiz chosen to run in HD33

Solomon Ortiz, Jr, son of Democratic Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz, has been named the Democratic nominee to replace Vilma Luna in HD33.

Ortiz emerged the party's nominee for the seat by three votes Sunday, defeating longtime educator Danny Noyola Sr. in a campaign to be placed on the November ballot that came down to the minute.

The party's 44 precinct chairs from the district seemed split up until the vote Sunday afternoon, with a final decision of 23-20 in favor of Ortiz.

"I'm at a loss for words," Ortiz said after learning he'd earned the party's nod.

Republicans will choose their nominee at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Nueces County Republican Party Headquarters, 4458 S. Staples St.

Noyola, 53, and Ortiz, 29, announced they would seek the Democratic nomination the same day state Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, resigned last month. Luna, who had been in office since 1993, announced her resignation July 5 and later took a lobbying job.

As noted before, Luna's resignation gave the Republicans a second chance to field a candidate in this fairly purple district. If I were a Sabato wannabe, I'd rate this as Lean Democratic, but if there are lingering bad feelings from the replacement selection process, it might drop to Tossup.

Nueces County Democratic Party chairman Alex Garcia came to the front of the room wearing a bulletproof vest, a semi-joking reference to the division created within the party with two candidates with deep roots in its history.

When Garcia called for the standing vote, there was silence.

Precinct 113 chairman Rowland Andrade abstained from voting after a phone survey of his constituents revealed they were split between Noyola and Ortiz.

"Regardless of where I wanted to lean, the first thing I have to do was look at where my precinct was," he said.


After supporters of both congratulated Ortiz and consoled Noyola, they each took the podium.

Noyola bemoaned the politics of "hate radio and chisme blogs," and thanked all his supporters for helping his family get through negative aspects of the short campaign.

"I told all those supporting me to turn the other cheek," he said.

Chisme blogs, eh? There's a term I'll bet hasn't made too many appearances in the mainstream media before today. For what it's worth, South Texas Chisme was happy with Ortiz's selection.

After the vote, supporters of both men were concerned that it will be difficult to heal the rift that developed in the Democratic Party over the nomination.

"It has been very divisive," said Precinct 118 chair and Ortiz supporter Buck Sosa. "There are some sour grapes from Noyola's supporters now. But we have to come together or the Republicans will smell blood and beat us at the polls."

Indeed. Keep an eye on this one.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
What the Democrats should do in CDs 22 and 23

Last week, I gave my advice to the Republicans about their options in CD22. They don't appear to be listening to me, but that hasn't stopped me from giving my advice to the Democrats about CDs 22 and 23. Will I go two for two? Most likely. Click over and see what you think.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Harry Potter and the Intellectual Property Conundrum

I found this story about the band "Harry and the Potters" to be fascinating on many levels.

Brothers Paul and Joe DeGeorge each portray Harry, the former as Harry in his Seventh Year, the latter as Harry in his Fourth Year.

They now have a total of three garage-pop/indie rock full-length CDs out -- a self-titled one from 2003, 2004's Voldemort Can't Stop the Rock, and this year's Harry Potter and the Power of Love. And yes, all of their songs are about Harry Potter; indeed, they are written as if by the young Gryffindor seeker. (Sample titles: "Cornelius Fudge Is an Ass," "In Which Draco Malfoy Cries Like a Baby," "My Teacher Is a Werewolf".)

I confess, I'm a little amazed that in this day of extra zealous guardianship of intellectual property that such a thing as "Harry and the Potters" can exist. I mean, what do you think the life expectancy of a "Buzz and the Lightyears" would be? Maybe they've been sufficiently below the radar these past three years, but still.

Having said that, I think this exactly the sort of thing where a property owner is reasonably well served by a little benign neglect. I see this band as basically a fan fiction habit that got out of control. They're not hurting JK Rowling's brand, and they're not adversely affecting her bottom line - if anything, they're likely to help it by converting a few non-fans into fans and some casual fans into rabid ones. If and when this group comes to her attention and her attorneys get involved, I hope some sort of very low cost licensing deal can be worked out.

Oh, and from the interview with the brothers who comprise "Harry and the Potters", I found this highly amusing:

HP: I see that you're on the road with Draco and the Malfoys. What's it like touring with your archnemesis?

PD: There's been sort of a surge in Harry Potter-related bands...With the Malfoys, they're from Rhode Island and they saw us on the Internet and they invited us to come play at a house party. So we went down there and everybody had a good time, and then they wanted to have us back to do a Harry Potter-themed show, so they put together that band pretty much as a one-off, it was like "We'll be Draco and the Malfoys and we'll make fun of Harry and the Potters." And their set was riddled with curse words and stuff, 'cause it was a house party. But we thought it was hilarious, so we got them to clean up a few of their words and started having them play with us around Boston. And one of them is a fantastic drummer, so he sits in with us after the Malfoys set.

HP: Do you all interact in character?

PD: Yeah, we do. We boo them while they play, and if something goes wrong with their drum machine or something, we'll say things like, "Who you got drumming for you? Some squibb?"

That's just too funny. I wonder what some of the other Harry Potter-related bands are like.

Anyway. I linked to this partly so I could also link to Lance Mannion's analysis of who is and isn't likely to die at the end of the seventh book. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Rice Village, past and future

Interesting article about the Rice Village and its existential future as more retail development encroaches on the area.

After decades of being an exception to the retail rule in Houston, the casual small-town-like Rice Village is facing major redevelopment. That has some of its admirers wondering whether the place eventually will lose its nostalgic appeal.

The cozy Village got a big jolt in the 1990s when Weingarten Realty developed Village Arcade on University Boulevard. Stretching two blocks, the Arcade brought in national tenants including the Gap and Banana Republic.

The immense brick center - which some say looks more like it belongs in the suburbs than in a quaint neighborhood shopping district - also changed the look of the Village with its small, low-slung buildings.

More big development is coming. The Piazza, a major upscale retail-residential project on Bolsover, is on the drawing boards.

Its developer, La Mesa Properties, says the Piazza will complement the mom and pops by creating a greater critical mass of shoppers. Others in the community, however, are concerned that higher land values will make it harder for family-owned businesses to survive.

The Village, with its 350 stores, is unique in Houston: a major shopping district that isn't along a freeway and has no anchor store. It's surrounded by charming homes and near the idyllic Rice University campus.


The proposed seven-story Piazza will feature six stories of residential space, retail, a public plaza at street level and underground parking.

La Mesa plans to break ground in early 2007. The Piazza will be bound by Bolsover, Morningside, Dunstan and Kelvin. Many retail spaces on the block already have been vacated. Tysor said she is working to put Thai restaurant Nit Noi and Walgreens in the Piazza and helping other tenants relocate.

I wonder what will finish first, the Piazza or the Kirby Drive Storm Sewer Relief Project. If it's the former, they may be in for a rough first year or so.

The Rice Village is indeed unique in Houston, and as with the threats to other historic and special places in town, if it dies I'll be sad. Right now, though, I'm more concerned with pressure this construction project will put on Kirby from a traffic perspective. Even without the imminent street upheaval, Kirby is already a mess to drive through, and there really isn't a good alternate route. Has anyone given any thought to this? I'd really like to know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 13, 2006
Culberson versus Metro

I think there's a simple way to interpret this article about how John Culberson has forced Metro into a box by publicly opposing a Richmond Avenue route for the Universities rail line.

Culberson said last week that "to my mind, the only way Metro can make this work is to find a way to do an elevated line down the Southwest Freeway that doesn't destroy traffic lanes or homes or businesses."

The congressman said the details are up to Metro.

"I'm not going to tell Metro how to build it or where to build it," Culberson said, adding that he will not support rail on Richmond.

Culberson gave Metro a little wiggle room on Friday, saying that although he prefers no rail at all on Richmond, he might allow a "tiny fragment" near Main, if necessary to connect the line to Metro's existing rail system.

Such support, however, depends on whether "the community is comfortable with it," he said.

Metro has been deeply involved in studying the costs and benefits of putting the line on Richmond, Westpark or a combination of the two.

Culberson said the time for such study ended three years ago, a reference to the November 2003 referendum in which voters narrowly approved Metro's rail expansion plans and a prior vote by Metro's board to put a line designated "Westpark" on the ballot.


Culberson said Friday it makes sense to suspend tracks on the north side of the freeway, so they would not interfere with traffic.

He also said that an elevated design on that side would not require riders to cross the freeway to reach Greenway Plaza and Lakewood Church, if the elevated portion continued that far.

[Mayor Bill] White said last week that he has consulted Texas Department of Transportation district engineer Gary Trietsch on how such a structure might be built. Any construction on or over the freeway or its embankment would require TxDOT permission.

White's Aug. 4 note asked Metro to "seriously consider ... some structure, presumably elevated in some portion," from St. Thomas to a point where it could cross the freeway."


Neither Culberson nor [City Council Member Anne] Clutterbuck offered suggestions on how Metro trains could fit over the walled, below-ground freeway without endangering vehicles or taking space now occupied by the Museum District's decorative bridges, or on where passengers would board.

"Metro created this dilemma," Culberson said.

"They did this to themselves with deceptive bait-and-switch (ballot) language that said Westpark, and Westpark ends at Kirby."

The 2003 referendum was an up-or-down vote on the future of light rail in Houston. The pro-rail forces won, and the anti-rail forces have been doing everything they can since then to deny that victory. The phony insistence that the ballot language specified routes and not corridors is just the current incarnation of this attempt to overturn the vote.

Culberson was on the board of the anti-rail advocacy group Texans for True Mobility. The opposition from some segments of the Richmond business community has given him an opportunity to do by fiat what he couldn't do at the ballot box.

The plan is simple: If Richmond is off the table, Metro is forced to put forth a lesser plan, such as this elevate-it-over-the-freeway scheme. The required feasibility studies then show that ridership will be insufficient and the expense will be excessive. Naturally, the Federal Transportation Administration refuses to provide funding, leaving Metro with the choice of finding its own money or giving up. And thus the anti-rail forces win.

I don't know what to do about this right now. Frankly, I think Sedosi has the right idea - Mayor White needs to be a little less deferential to Culberson and really push for what's best for the whole city. That'll get ugly, and likely cost him some popularity, but that's why we pay him the big bucks. I just hope he realizes this, and the sooner the better.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The experts' take on CD22

Well, I had wondered when we were going to start hearing what the national prognosticators thought of the recent doings in CD22. Today's Chron gives us a hint.

Republicans are putting up a write-in candidate to challenge him. But no write-in has ever won a House race in Texas.

"We don't want to be the first candidate to lose to a write-in," said Lampson campaign manager Mike Malaise. "We can't not run. We can't sit aside and count on procedure to win for us. We have to win it."

It's hard to lose when you are a former U.S. representative with millions in the bank and you are unopposed by the other major party on the ballot, said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

"Yet this district is 60 percent Republican in a year when Republicans are going to spend freely to try and get their write-in candidate elected," Sabato said. "When you add those two together, it equals a tossup."

The party that is the most shrewd and clever will win this race, he said.

Sabato had already changed his assessment of this race from Lean Republican to Lean Democratic. He has one GOP-held seat (PA-06) listed as Likely Dem Pickup, meaning he thinks CD22 is less likely to flip than that seat.

After this week's events, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report has moved this race from "leaning Republican" to "tossup," making it one of the most competitive in the country.


Republicans will not only have to define their DeLay-replacing candidate, but they must educate voters on how to cast a write-in ballot, said Amy Walter, a Cook Political Report analyst.

"Nick Lampson has a very good chance of winning this seat, and I wouldn't have said that a few months ago," she said.

That still leaves CQ Politics and Chuck Todd, but never mind that for now. I'm amazed that this race is still being talked about as if it were potentially competitive. If DeLay had never decided to drop out and were instead gearing up for a re-election battle with Lampson, that would have been competitive. If DeLay had been replaced on the ballot by someone like Crazy Bob Talton, that matchup with Lampson would have been competitive. But this? Seriously?

The way I see it, Lampson's true opponent in this race is perception. It's not a question of if he wins, since by now any objective person thinks he'll win, but by how much. What he wants to do is to project the idea that he'd have won even if there had been an opponent on the ballot against him. The bigger his final vote total and vote percentage, the less anyone can claim that he won by default and the stronger he looks going into 2008. (That will be a competitive race, too, by the way.) He wants to persuade all those voters who might have gone either way had this been a true two-person race to go with him now. As I and others have said before, voting is a habit. If he gets those people now, he'll keep most of them in his column two years from now.

I'm still puzzling over why the national experts are so reluctant to write this race off. I can only conclude that they think the district's historic Republicanness is enough to carry even a write-in candidate into contention. I think they're missing the evidence that the GOP strength here is not what it once was. Consider:

- The local GOP, especially in Fort Bend County, isn't nearly as organized as you might have thought. From outgoing FBGOP Chair Eric Thode's laughable " candidate survey" at the start of the replacement process, to new chair Gary Gillen's hamhanded support of David Wallace, to the obvious desperation of trying to recruit Paul Bettencourt at the last minute. In Bob Dunn's handy timeline of events, Tina Benkiser called that closed-door meeting to select a single write-in candidate to rally around on Wednesday. How long does it take to do this? A reasonable conclusion at this point is that they either can't agree on a single person, or the one person they all would agree on (Bettencourt?) is not seriously interested.

- Party unity is in shambles. David Wallace is running whether he gets the official blessing of the Benkiser Gang or not. Shelley Sekula Gibbs says she'll run if she's their consensus choice, which if she were we'd know about it by now. Either she'll be third runnerup for Miss Congeniality, with at best grudging support from the precinct chairs who really wanted someone else, or there won't be a consensus choice and I'd guess she runs anyway.

- The rank and file is not happy. As Dunn writes:

From some of the reaction we've gotten here over the past few days, I think a few readers believe local State Republican Executive Committee members such as Kathy Haigler favor having party leadership name an annointed write-in candidate to whom everyone else in the party would be expected to bow down.

That would be incorrect. In fact, Haigler has been pushing the idea that if any GOP candidate is annointed, it is the precinct chairs who would have to do the annointing.

Unofficial or not, Benkiser has strongly suggested that the annointing likely won't be done the old-fashioned way - with olive oil - but with a truckload of Republican campaign cash.

In other words, the grassroots folks, some of whom were already not too happy with the Gang of Four selection process, don't like the idea of being handed another Great White Hope that they never voted for, even if said person was picked by precinct chairs. I see way more support being voiced in the comments at Fort Bend Now and Texas Safety Forum for the Libertarian Bob Smither than I do for the potential write-in anointee.

- The Democrats, in the meantime, are fired up and have been working not just for Lampson but for the various local candidates within CD22 such as the Fort Bend countywides and HD129's Sherrie Matula for months now. Read what Bryan and Hal and Muse have said about recent events. Which side looks better prepared for the election to you?

Put this all together and I just can't see why this is still seen as a real race. About the only scenario I can envision right now where I'd reconsider is if Bettencourt (who again did not express any interest in being the Chosen One back when he would have been the official on-the-ballot nominee) does decide to leave his cushy Tax Assessor post and run as the officially sanctioned write-in candidate, and this in turn gets Wallace to drop out. That at least has the potential to be competitive. Unless such a thing happens, I will continue to question what the national folks are thinking.

Finally, though it's not a report of recent campaign activities, do read Mark's summary of last week's events. He brings in a Battle of Endor reference, which is something you'll never see Larry Sabato do. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Pluto: Still a planet

After reading about the possibility that Pluto would lose its status as a planet, I was quite a bit relieved after doing a little more research to find that it status is safe.

Some astronomers had lobbied for reclassifying Pluto because it is so tiny. And at least one major museum has excluded Pluto from its planetary display. But sources tell NPR that under a proposal to be presented at a big meeting of astronomers in Prague next week for a vote, Pluto would become part of a new class of small planets. Several more objects could be granted membership.


So earlier this year, the International Astronomical Union, which has decided tricky nomenclature issues since it was formed in 1919, appointed a panel to try to define the word "planet."

Seven experts, including a science writer and a variety of astronomers, met in Paris this past June. Under the guidance of Owen Gingerich, a historian and astronomer emeritus at Harvard, they debated for two days.

Gingerich would not discuss the conclusions, but says "I think we have done something that will make the Plutocrats and the children of the United States happy."

NPR interviewed five of the seven panel members. All but one said they thought of Pluto as a planet, or had made statements in the public record to that effect.

Whew! There's still a full vote to worry about, but I'm happy for this development. It may turn into something more, too.

Several panel members have favored dividing planets into categories: terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars), giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) and a third class that would include Pluto.

"We'll call them dwarf planets or something," says Iwan Williams, an astronomer at the University of London who favors the idea and also served on the panel.

Sources say the panel's new definition for planets would, in fact, create a third category embracing Pluto.


Some panel members say they favor counting any object which is large enough that its gravity has made it round. If the object is spinning, a small bulge would be tolerated. "We're talking about no more than four or five new planets," says Iwan Williams.

Small potato-shaped asteroids wouldn't make the cut. But Ceres, a big round asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, might qualify.

Hmm. Better start working on some new mnemonics, in case Mary Vincent Eats Many Jelly Sandwiches Under Ned's Porch or My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas become inoperable. Thanks to SciGuy for the link. Oh, and as long as you're reading about Pluto, here's a nice story about Clyde Tombaugh, the guy who discovered it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 12, 2006
Will Cuellar have a challenger?

Rep. Henry Cuellar visited Hidalgo County late last week to meet and greet with the new constituents of CD28, and to maybe stave off a strong challenge from someone there who doesn't want to be represented by a Laredoan.

Come next year, District 28, which he now represents, will include all of Starr County and parts of Hidalgo County as well.

"I actually asked for this area, so I hope I can represent this area for a long time," says Cuellar.

But local democratic leaders have other ideas for the district, including a candidate's who's homegrown.

Hidalgo County's Democratic Party chairman Juan Maldonado tells Action 4 News he's narrowed the list of potential challengers to just two.

370th District Court Judge Noe Gonzalez and 13th Court of Appeals Judge Linda Yanez.

"Why is it important to have a local candidate? Two reasons. Because local of course means having them close to us and representing us directly. But more than that Henry Cuellar is a Republican. He's running as a Democrat, but he is Republican," says Maldonado.

Why might Maldonado feel that way about Cuellar? This might explain it.

The so-called "aggressive" congressman says he gets so much done because he is non-partisan.

In fact, Cuellar endorsed George W. Bush in 2000, and after that, Gov. Rick Perry against fellow Laredo leader Tony Sanchez.

Seventy percent of the time, he said, he votes Democrat.

"I’m Democratic but my loyalty is to my district, not to my party," he said.

Seventy percent isn't very much these days, given the parliamentary style of Congress. And it's not so much the number of times he votes with the Republicans but the bills on which he jumps ship. The bankruptcy bill, for one. (To be fair, he's not alone on that score. Chet Edwards and Al Green have some explaining to do, too.)

Having said that, a review of Cuellar's record, when he's not cozying up to Rick Perry and George Bush, isn't that bad. He did some good things in the State House, such as author the CHIP bill, and he's talking sensibly about immigration. But let's just say he's going to be viewed with suspicion for some time to come.

Cuellar says he intends to do his best to represent the Valley and its interest, but tells us he's confident he'll win ... with or without its support.

"When you look at the numbers that are produced here, there was 9,600 the last non-presidential election, precinct by precinct in this part of Hidalgo County. Webb County produced over 40,000 ... that's almost four to one," says Cuellar.

If those 9600 help keep Cuellar from getting too far out of line, I'll be satisfied. Mostly, anyway. Thanks to Jeff N. and South Texas Chisme for the links.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
A different kind of mixed reaction

The beginning of this story about a Metro public hearing regarding a rail corridor will probably sound familiar to you.

Sentiment was split regarding the pros and cons of the Metropolitan Transit Authority's alignment plans for its North Corridor bus rapid transit line at a public hearing Saturday at Davis High School, 1101 Quitman.

The 250 people who attended Metro's second and final public hearing on the plans were equally split among those who want the project to move forward as quickly as possible and those who oppose Metro's proposals.

Opposition concerns ranged from the line's proposed route from the Main Street light rail line to Northline Mall and its effect on northside neighborhoods.

Sounds like another Universities situation, right? Not quite.

They also questioned why the light rail line, initially proposed for the corridor in the Metro Solutions referendum of 2003, had been changed to a bus rapid transit line.


Moses Villalpando, president of the North Lindale Civic Association, said the change from light rail to bus is one of the reasons he is protesting the current plan.

"We voted for light rail, not for buses," Villalpando said.

As I understand it, the neighborhood associations in this area are all very much in favor of getting this line built. They just want it built as light rail, as was originally proposed. More on this in a minute.

Current alignment options begin at the University of Houston's downtown campus and head north on Main Street, stopping at a new intermodal facility at Burnett.

The line would continue north on Main to Boundary, then head east to connect with Fulton.

The next segment of the line would either continue north on Fulton or Irvington. The Irvington alignment would turn west on Cavalcade and connect back to Fulton. It would then follow Fulton north to Northline Mall.

Each bus would carry a maximum of 90 passengers. Light rail trains have a 200-passenger capacity.

A number of residents expressed concern over the Irvington alignment, and lobbied for the line to follow Fulton from Boundary to the mall.

"We do not need Irvington Boulevard destroyed," said Virginia Duke, a Lindale Park resident.

Said North Lindale resident John Buck, "Fulton would have significantly less of an impact on the neighborhood."

As it happens, Virginia is a friend of mine. I talked to her about this story last night. The residents want it built on Fulton because Irvington has an esplanade, which the neighborhood association built and pays to maintain, that would have to be removed for the tracks. The folks there also believe having the line on Irvington would split the neighborhood. Fulton, by contrast, is less residential, and as far as Virginia knows no one actually opposes building it there. She believes the driving force behind the Irvington proposal is the Harris County Department of Education, whose office building is on Irvington.

Despite concerns about the proposed route, safety and the potential taking of property, many voiced support for the North Corridor.

They included U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and Gene Green, D-Houston, and At-Large Houston City Councilman Peter Brown.

"This is a safe, quiet, fuel-efficient alternative," Brown said. "It's good for neighborhoods, it's good for property values and it creates jobs."

Said Northside resident Mary Almendarez, "We voted for this, we need it and we want it. We need to find a way to make people happy."

Virginia was emphatic about the neighborhood associations being in favor of this line getting built. The comment she told me she made at the meeting was "We were promised this in 2008, and now it's going to be 2010. I just hope y'all build it before we all need to be carried to the ribbon cutting."

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Denton County Young Democrats

Please welcome the Denton County Young Democrats to the Texas 'sphere. John McClelland tells us a bit more about their launch as both an organization and a blog. Welcome aboard, y'all.

Posted by Charles Kuffner

I got an email yesterday about an effort called OneWebDay, which is scheduled for September 22, that sounds interesting. Here's a description.

The Web is worth celebrating.

OneWebDay is one day a year when we all - everyone around the physical globe - can celebrate the Web and what it means to us as individuals, organizations, and communities.

As with Earth Day - an inspiration and model for OneWebDay - it’s up to the celebrants to decide how to celebrate. We encourage all celebrations! Collaboration, connection, creativity, freedom.

By the end of the day, the Web should be just a little bit better than it was before, and we’ll be able to see our connection to it more clearly.

I like to think that I celebrate the web every day, but if this tickles your creative side, follow the link to the OneWebDay site and find a way to express it. They can help if you've got something collaborative in mind, and they'll link back to your project since that's what this is all about. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 11, 2006
DeLay endorses Lampson!

Okay, not really, but take a look at the letter he sent to the Texas Secretary of State, which was forwarded to me by an anonymous reader, and see what you think.

August 11, 2006

The Honorable Roger Williams
Secretary of State
P. O. Box 12697
Austin, Texas 78711

Dear Secretary Williams,

This letter is to inform you that by the attached sworn Certificate of Withdrawal, I am requesting that my name be omitted from the Nov. 7, 2006 general election ballot for the office of United States Congressman from District 22. It has been my pleasure to serve the people of the great State of Texas; however current circumstances, of which you are very much aware, compel me to take this action in order to ensure that the people of District 22 have the opportunity to elect a Congressman who truly represents their interests, goals and values. Thank you for your prompt consideration assistance in this matter.

Tom DeLay

Emphasis mine. DeLay's actions in withdrawing as he did have all but assured that Nick Lampson will be sworn in on January 2, 2007. I know he didn't mean it that way, but truer words have never emanated from Tom DeLay.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Kinky goes after Strayhorn

You may recall this story from before in which Carole Keeton Strayhorn was accused of using employees in the Comptroller's office to do campaign-related stuff. That has prompted Kinky Friedman to file a complaint with the Travis County DA's office.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle responded by distributing to reporters his office's policy manual, which states that criminal complaints filed by one candidate against another will not be investigated until after the election.

"It's typical mudslinging politics. So much for Kinky not being a typical mudslinging politician," Strayhorn spokesman Mark Sanders said, referring to the complaint.


A letter to Earle, written by Friedman campaign general counsel Blake Rocap, said that depending on the amount of state time used, "the comptroller could face first-degree felony charges carrying with them criminal punishment of a fine not exceeding $10,000 and life in prison."

"We urge you to investigate this matter and take proper steps to ensure that no candidate misuses a public office for their personal political benefit," Rocap told Earle.

Earle's policy said such complaints can wait until after the election unless there is some compelling reason to believe time is of the essence.

"This policy is intended to avoid the appearance of the criminal justice system being used for political purposes," the policy said.

That's one way of looking at it. Friedman supporters would probably say that he's the only one with the principles to buck the prevailing standard and demand accountability in a timely fashion. I think it's more stunt than principle, since pretty much every DA operates this way (for better or worse), but it's in line with his overall narrative, so I doubt Strayhorn's countercharge will land much of a blow against him.

Strayhorn's use of state resources also came under fire from the Republican re-election campaign of Gov. Rick Perry. The campaign posted video of Strayhorn using her state vehicle to attend a rally of opponents to the Trans-Texas Corridor in Waller County.

You can find that video here (WMV file). I haven't had the time to watch it, but I'm told it's pretty funny.

Also pretty funny:

Bell spokesman Jason Stanford said Friedman's complaint against Strayhorn just made a weird governor's race weirder.

"The statement that Kinky Friedman filed an ethics complaint against Carole Strayhorn, just that sentence, conveys levels of absurdity heretofore not known in Texas politics," he said.

All things considered, I think Jason Stanford's had better quips in this race than Friedman has had.

And an existential question:

The Libertarian nominee is James Werner.

Is there, like, a new style guide that all the reporters are using that requires them to mention Libertarian gubernatorial candidate James Werner in every campaign-related article? Because I swear, he's there, Zelig-like, in every damn story. Anyone remember the LP guv candidate from 2002? (Answer: Jeff Daiell. He got 1.46% of the vote.) Will he ever get quoted in one of these pieces, or is he just a talisman that has to be invoked every time the race is mentioned? Weird, just weird.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
DeLay speaks

Tom DeLay deigns to explain himself to Byron York.

Before he made up his mind, DeLay commissioned a poll of voters in the 22nd District. "My negatives were still high," he told me, even though he retained a sizable core of strong supporters. The poll also found that several other Republican candidates would have a better chance against Democrat Nick Lampson. Even though DeLay believed he could still win if he mounted a vigorous campaign, the poll reinforced his belief that getting out was the right thing to do.

But his departure leaves questions. I asked him about critics who accuse him of being selfish for going through the Republican primary last March, defeating rival GOP candidates, and then pulling out of the race. "I don't think it was selfish at all," DeLay answered, explaining that he was caught between the requirements of running for office and dealing with his indictment, by the controversial Travis County, Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle, on campaign-finance charges. "The political schedule didn't match the legal schedule. When it was time to decide whether I was running for reelection or not, it was December [2005]. I was under indictment, and I was led to believe I could get to trial and have this indictment disposed of before the election, and possibly have it disposed of in January or February. I had to file [for reelection] because there was a filing deadline. So I filed, totally expecting that I would stay as Majority Leader after I had disposed of the indictment."

But it didn't work out that way. As the months passed, the Earle case dragged on, and some of his former top aides were charged in the Jack Abramoff investigation, DeLay told me, "it was obvious that it was in the best interests of the House for me to step aside as Majority Leader." But after he stepped aside, he said, "I still had a primary to run." DeLay said that one reason he felt it was important that he stay in the primary was that the other candidates who were in the race "were people who should not represent the 22nd District."

I think that's the first explanation of why DeLay dropped out when he did that he's ever given. I've put together a little timeline of events:

DeLay was originally supposed to be arraigned on October 21. This was postponed due to his defense teams' motion to recuse Judge Bob Perkins, whom DeLay accused of being politically biased against him.

This motion to recuse Judge Perkins was granted on November 1 by Presiding Judge B.B. Schraub.

Travis County DA Ronnie Earle then filed a motion to recuse Judge Schraub on November 3.

Schraub agreed to stand down, and Judge Pat Priest was named to take over the trial on November 4. Priest had a bunch of motions before him to consider, including everything that Judge Perkins had originally ruled on.

Priest announced on November 23 that he would need two more weeks to rule on the motions to dismiss DeLay's indictments.

On December 5, Priest threw out the conspiracy indictment against DeLay, but upheld the money laundering indictment. Both sides vowed to appeal the rulings on which they lost, with Priest informing DeLay that he couldn't keep Earle from doing so even if it meant delays to the trial that might hurt him politically.

Earle asks for a stay of the trial until he appeals the dismissal of the conspiracy indictment on December 13.

The stay was granted on December 17.

The Court of Criminal Appeals gave Earle a week to respond to DeLay's motion to dismiss the laundering indictment on December 28.

The filing deadline was January 2. DeLay abandoned his effort to remain Majority Leader on January 7. The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected DeLay's appeal of the money laundering indictment on January 9.

So, DeLay's statement that he was up against a filing deadline makes some sense. You could argue that when Priest refused to toss the money laundering indictment on December 5, DeLay was taking a gamble, since it was far from a sure thing that the notoriously pro-prosecution Court of Criminal Appeals would help him out. I can't help but think that if he were lower down on the political food chain, he might have come under pressure to withdraw from the primary at that point rather than risk putting the party in a bind down the line. Obviously, no one was going to tell Tom DeLay any such thing. It's interesting that he gave up trying to be Majority Leader before the CCA ruled against him, though. If that appeal had been what he was pinning his hopes on, then why quit pursuing the real prize before knowing what the outcome would be? Did he really think at that time that he'd have been content as a regular member of the delegation?

Even if you accept DeLay's explanation for why he didn't quit before the primary, there's still the question of his actions since then. The article walks through all of the tired "eligibility" arguments, which every judge along the way rejected as bogus (I'm sure Justice Scalia appreciates all the kind words, by the way) and comes to the question of why not get back in now that he can't be replaced.

As the issue was working its way through the courts, he had hinted that if he was forced to stay on the ballot, then he might resume the race for reelection. You Democrats want me to run? Well, you'll get what you want. But with the reality of the court decisions, DeLay had to make a decision of his own. And that is when, last week, he took another poll. "It showed that nothing had changed since I made the decision right after the primary," DeLay told me. "My negatives were still high. The polling showed that I probably had a 50-50 chance."

But DeLay's name wasn't the only one on the poll. The survey also explored the chances of other possible Republican candidates for his seat. It asked about Harris County judge Robert Echols, Sugar Land mayor David Wallace (who yesterday declared his write-in candidacy), and a few others. "All of them tested better than me," DeLay told me. And all of them, DeLay believed, had a chance to defeat Democratic candidate Nick Lampson. "This is still a Republican district, and will vote for a Republican over Nick Lampson."

But at this point, the only way a Republican candidate will be on the ballot is as a write-in. "The poll shows that a write-in is doable, that it's not impossible," DeLay told me. "Certainly it's an uphill battle, but it is doable."

"Doable" is not the most optimistic assessment one might make, so I asked if DeLay is confident that a Republican will be elected. "No, I didn't say that," he told me. "I said that people in the 22nd District deserve a choice."

"So are you confident?" I asked again.

"I'm not confident that I would win," DeLay answered.

Bottom line is DeLay thinks a write-in effort is preferable to his fifty-fifty shot. Call me crazy, but I'm thinking that not too many of his fellow CD22 Republicans would agree, even the ones that voted for someone other than DeLay in the primary. Remember when some Republicans were calling a special election to fill DeLay's unexpired term a freak show? That's a night at the opera compared to the write-in follies. But hey, at least it isn't DeLay who'll suffer the embarrassing loss. He gets to retire with his winning streak intact. And isn't that worth something?

Before I close this out, let me suggest one other possible reason why DeLay is steadfast about quitting. Going through my archives to put together that timeline, I was reminded that DeLay was officially put in the sights of the Abramoff investigation on November 26. Does he expect that particular noose to tighten around his neck as it did for Bob Ney? Just something to think about.

The Stakeholder and Juanita have more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Today's write-in madness

Confirming what we'd heard before, Shelley Sekula Gibbs will be a write-in candidate for CD22.

"It will be tough but not impossible" to win as a write-in, said Sekula-Gibbs, a Clear Lake dermatologist. "What I hope will happen is that the Republican Party will come together and select one candidate who will then receive their full backing. I hope that candidate is me."

Good luck with that. If there's been any word about who the One True Write-In will be after Tina Benkiser's closed door meeting, I haven't heard it. And there's at least one GOP official whose support Sekula Gibbs won't have.

Breaking ranks with state Republican Party leaders on Thursday, Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert endorsed Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace's write-in candidacy for Tom DeLay's former congressional seat.

Almost simultaneously, Harris County Tax Collector Paul Bettencourt emerged as a potential candidate for the same position.

"I'm going to support David, and I'm going to ask other Fort Bend Republicans to vote for him," Hebert said Thursday night. "If any Republican candidate can win in a write-in position in the 22nd District, it's Wallace."

The uncharacteristic endorsement might put Hebert on a collision course with Texas GOP Chairman Tina Benkiser and local members of the State Republican Executive Committee, who met Wednesday to talk about supporting a single GOP write-in candidate to face Democrat Nick Lampson and Libertarian Bob Smither for the congressional seat.

Tom DeLay attended that meeting, and sources say he explained his reasoning for staying in the race through the primary, and then deciding to drop out, resign from Congress and become a Virginia resident by June.

After Wednesday's meeting, Benkiser said in addition to the seven or eight people who'd run as replacement candidates for DeLay (before court rulings cut that effort short) some new candidates had emerged

The one name she mentioned was Bettencourt's.

Feel the unity, people. Feel. The. Unity.

There's an obvious problem with Bettencourt's potential candidacy.

In a Thursday interview, Bettencourt said he received a phone call about the possibility of mounting a write-in campaign for DeLay's seat. He said the call came from Republicans, but not Benkiser.

"I made it clear to the people that I talked to yesterday that it has to be a draft," Bettencourt said, meaning the GOP would have to come together and ask him to run for the good of the party.

If that happens, "I will consider it carefully, because that's part of the fiduciary responsibility of being a Republican. Sometimes," he said, "you may be the only person who can do something."

Bettencourt enjoys a reputation as the top vote-getter in Harris County, and said he's the only elected official in the county who won more votes in 2004 than President George Bush.

But should Bettencourt be "drafted" by GOP leaders, and agree to run, he has a lot to lose: His position as county tax collector/assessor. By state law, if he announces as a congressional candidate, he must give up his current elected county position.

I still don't believe Bettencourt will do this, though for sure it won't break my heart to see his office open up. Bettencourt's response about needing to be "drafted" has the smell to me of someone who recognizes the reality of the situation but is too polite to publicly scoff at his partymates' desperation. If he really does run, I'll be shocked, which is something for which I'd thought I'd lost the capacity after all that's happened in this race. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Henley poll

It was first mentioned on BOR, but the Jim Henley campaign did a poll of CD07 residents, which was written up in this Bellaire Examiner story. Here are the results:

Henley poll: 515 respondents

Republicans 225

Democrats 99

Independents 137


War in Iraq





Rick Perry (R) - 36%

Chris Bell (D) -15%

Kinky Friedman (I) -14%

Carole Strayhorn (I) -12%

Undecided -18%


John Culberson (R) - 51%

Jim Henley (D) - 39%

Undecided - 10%

Very interesting, and I don't think anyone could say that Republicans were undersampled or Democrats were oversampled. If this is an accurate result, it would project to something like a 57-43 win for Culberson in a district that went 65% GOP in 2004, 70% in 2002. I don't know about you, but I'd call that pretty darned underwhelming, and I'd bet that if something like that were to happen, this district would get a lot more attention in the 2008 campaign.

The Governor's result is also pretty interesting, and it gives a little perspective to all the statewide polls. CD07 is more Republican than Texas is as a whole (again going by 2004 results), so if Perry is only pulling 36% here, maybe he's worse off than SUSA/Zogby/Rasmussen are suggesting. That's a pretty high undecided number, too. Let me offer my hope here that when and if other Congressional (and State House) races get polled, they ask about the Governor's race as well.

More on the survey is here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 10, 2006

You may recall that a local taxpayers agitprop group filed a lawsuit in June claiming that the state's Legislative Budget Board violated a constitutional spending limit by overestimating how much the state's economic growth would be. Yesterday, a judge threw out that lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not have any legal standing.

Visiting state District Judge Bill Bender of Seguin ruled Monday that Citizens Lowering Our Unfair Taxes didn't have standing to sue the Legislative Budget Board over the state's constitutional spending cap, which limits the state budget from growing more than the Texas economy.

The group alleged that the LBB, which includes Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Tom Craddick and eight other key lawmakers, has used artificially inflated estimates of economic growth to justify higher spending limits.

It contended the school finance appropriations approved by the Legislature during the spring special session were unconstitutional.

Edd Hendee, CLOUT's executive director, said the group will file an appeal with the Third Court of Appeals in Austin.

"If a taxpayer doesn't have standing in a courthouse, I question who does," he said.

Whatever. This lawsuit did have some comedic value when Carole Keeton Strayhorn attempted to pull off one of the more impressive political pirouettes seen in recent memory.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is challenging Gov. Rick Perry as an independent, also was a defendant in the suit.

She sought to be named a plaintiff, but that issue wasn't addressed once the suit was dismissed.

I presume her next move will be to sue Secretary of State Roger Williams to be certified as a plaintiff in this suit. It seems to be her default response to just about everything these days.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
CD23: Ciro's in

This qualifies as a non-surprise.

Former Democratic Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez (1997-2005) told Tuesday that he will challenge [incumbent Rep. Henry] Bonilla and will formally announce his bid next Tuesday.

That development has spurred to change its rating on the Texas 23 race to Republican Favored from Safe Republican. The new rating means that Bonilla still is highly likely to win his contest for an eighth House term, but that the possibility of a major Democratic upset now cannot be completely ruled out.

A lot of the South San Antonio area that was added to CD23 as part of the court-drawn map was once in Rodriguez's old CD28, so he's a fairly well-known name in that section of the district. That will give him an advantage, though not an insurmountable one, over any other Democratic challengers, and it will help him against Bonilla in November.

Bonilla, of course, has a pretty big advantage of his own, and I'm not talking about name recognition (which he does also have).

[Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee,] pointed to what he said was Bonilla’s “virtually insurmountable cash-on-hand advantage.” Bonilla, who is one of the House’s strongest fundraisers, reported $2.2 million in his campaign account at the end of June.

Rodriguez, by contrast, will have to rebuild his campaign treasury from scratch, following his March 7 primary loss to Cuellar.

The last FEC report that Rodriguez filed was in March, and it showed him $80K in the hole for cash on hand. He's definitely starting out way behind on this, and he's unlikely to get a whole lot of netroots support this time, not because he's any less likable but because his is no longer the major race of interest. There's a couple of schools of other fish to fry out there right now. I hate to be a wet blanket, especially since I do like Rodriguez as a candidate, but let's be realistic.

Rodriguez’s name recognition and longtime political base in San Antonio might give him a decided edge over other Democratic candidates whom party officials said are weighing the race. They include state Rep. Pete Gallego, who represents a rural part of the 23rd, and Julian Castro, a former San Antonio councilman who narrowly lost a 2005 race for mayor of that city.

Gallego would have to give up his State House seat for this campaign. He's unopposed for re-election there, and I think he has to believe that the prospects for gains in the State House are pretty good, which if that can be maintained might put him in line to be Speaker some day. He also has just $10K cash on hand, which would put him at an equal disadvantage relative to Bonilla. Finally, as was the case with Vilma Luna, were Gallego to resign and run for CD23, the Republicans would get a second chance to nominate someone for his seat, and it would not be a slamdunk for the Dems to hold onto it. I may be wishcasting a little, but I think he'd prefer to stay put. Lord knows, given all this, I sure as heck hope he does.

Having said all that, I would have been perfectly happy for Castro to jump in. Alas, according to the Express News, he has declared himself not a candidate - he wants to focus on the 2009 Mayoral race. I still disagree with Rodriguez here:

Rick Bolanos, a little-known Democrat who ran unopposed in the 23rd District’s now-voided March primary, is expected to refile for this race.

“If we can keep it one-on-one, that’s even going to be better,” Rodriguez said.

As I see it, since this is an open primary and therefore requires a full majority to win, the more Dems in the race, the better. Let 'em all tour around CD23 bashing Henry Bonilla everywhere they go. It might drive up turnout, which is not a bad thing here, and it might force Bonilla to spend more of that $2..2 million warchest than he wanted to. As long as all of the Dems involved keep their sights set on Bonilla, and promise to endorse whoever winds up in the hoped-for runoff with him, it's all good.

With Castro out, there are still some other potential contenders, according to that Express News piece:

Among others who said earlier this week they're considering mounting campaigns: City Councilman Richard Perez; Richard Gambitta, a political scientist and director of the Institute for Law and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at San Antonio; and Albert Uresti, a retired San Antonio Fire Department district chief and brother of state Rep. Carlos Uresti.

Perez would probably be the strongest candidate from that group, but from what I've heard he seems less likely to run than the others. Oh, well. Link via Political Wire.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Quick CD22 link roundup

The way things are going in CD22 right now, it's like by the time I finish a post the situation is different from when I started it. So for right now, here's a quick look at what's going on.

Some fallout from the announcement by David Wallace that he will be a write-in candidate.

Benkiser is working to gather input from party members in CD-22 to assess who might serve as a lone write-in candidate to face Democrat and former congressman Nick Lampson, and Libertarian Bob Smither in November.

"We are only going to get behind one candidate, and when I say ‘we,' I mean the entire Republican family," Benkiser said.

That task might be made the more difficult as news reports suggested Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs also is preparing to announce a write-in candidacy. Sekula-Gibbs did not answer phone calls for comment Wednesday.

Wallace and Sekula-Gibbs are two of seven or eight candidates who were vying for the right to replace DeLay on the general election ballot for CD-22 until the courts put a halt to that plan.


Attendees at the Wednesday meeting with DeLay, Benkiser and members of the SREC said DeLay did not mention any specific candidate for his former seat in Congress.

"He's expecting there to be a write-in candidate, but he wants the party to make that decision," one attendee said. "He's going to stand behind the party."

Dani DeLay Ferro confirmed that Tom DeLay expressed his intention at the meeting to support whatever candidate the GOP chooses.

"Obviously, I have talked with Congressman DeLay," Benkiser said. "This race is not about him. This race is about giving voters a choice."

She was not specific about how a single candidate will gain the party's favor in serving as the write-in challenger to Lampson and Smither. She said holding a meeting with the precinct chairs from within CD-22 "is certainly an option."

While Sekula-Gibbs and Wallace have been most often mentioned as becoming the GOP's lone write-in hope to retain the congressional seat DeLay held for more than 20 years, Benkiser said new candidates are emerging.

Among them, she singled out Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt.

I find that a little hard to believe. Back when the now-forbidden replacement process was cranking up, Bettencourt's name barely came up - I think the only mention I saw was to deny that he was interested in being the Chosen One. Had that process been allowed to continue, and had Bettencourt been selected, he'd have been a formidable opponent to Nick Lampson - I'd have ranked only Robert Eckels higher than him in terms of likelihood to win. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why he'd now be interested in a quixotic, sure to fail write-in effort. If Bettencourt wants this job in 2008, he'll be a frontrunner for the GOP nod whether he takes this chance to get ahead or not.

Whoever the GOP chooses as its favored write-in candidate, party officials have made it clear that once a selection is made, other write-in candidates will be expected to withdraw for the good of the party.

On Wednesday morning, Harris County SREC member Kathy Haigler said that expectation could be enforced by telling "anyone else if they run" as a write-in, "they'll be blackballed forever" in future races by the Republican Party. "They're only going to hurt the party by spitting in the wind," she said.

The move by Wallace to announce his write-in candidacy while party leadership was discussing how to rally behind a single candidate was seen as an affront by some.

"If David Wallace is our nominee, then good for him, he got a jump on everyone," one attendee of Wednesday's party meeting said. "If he's not, he just shot himself in the foot or the head, I don't know which."

Benkiser strongly suggested later Wednesday that party discipline would be enforced.

"I think any candidate who would be of a caliber to represent Congressional District 22 has to understand that we must rally behind one candidate," she said. "If the party rallies around Candidate A, and if Candidate B cannot accept that…it would be political suicide."

Based on what I'm seeing at Chris Elam's site, Wallace and Sekula Gibbs don't have a prayer of being the endorsed write-in candidate, and they likely would not have much of a chance in a 2008 GOP primary, so what do they have to lose by this?

The DCCC has already jumped on Wallace with both feet. The way I see things progressing from here, Lampson will spend his money on nice, positive ads about himself in an effort to maximize his vote total. At this point, I don't see a need for him to even mention any write-in candidate, let alone attack one. If there's a good reason to do that, let the DCCC spend some of the money it had already slotted to this race for that purpose. Hopefully, they'll be able to redeploy that money elsewhere - CD23, perhaps, or even CD14.

The Chron says Sekula Gibbs still hasn't made up her mind, but when you read the companion piece on how to write in a name on the eSlate, you have to think she's just being coy.

In an answer to my question from before, Larry Sabato is now calling CD22 "Lean Democratic". That's an upgrade from "Lean Republican", but somewhat unbelievably to me, he's got PA-06 as "Probable D Pickup". Is this still caution until the ballot is certified, just in case DeLay changes his mind or something else weird happens, or does he really think there's a Republican seat that's more likely to flip than this one?

And finally, the Chron proposes a new nickname for Tom DeLay: "The Quitter". I'll drink to that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texroots candidates: Celebrate!
Support TexRoots candidates
It's been a pretty good couple of weeks for Texas Democrats, hasn't it? We're looking at a sure pickup in CD22 and a decent shot at one in CD23. Why not keep the momentum going by throwing a few coins at our first round TexRoots candidates. As a reminder, the three candidates we're touting in this go-round are:

Hank Gilbert, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner.
Shane Sklar, who is running for CD14.
Juan Garcia, who is running in HD32.

See my earlier post for links to more information about all three of these fine fellows. And now that the news cycle may finally pause for a day's breath or two, you'll get to hear a lot more on these folks, and of the endorsees to follow. Please help us help them. Thanks!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Kenny Boy's rehab gets underway

The process to eliminate Ken Lay's criminal record has begun.

Samuel Buffone, a Washington, D.C., attorney who was expected to represent Lay in his appeals, filed a motion Wednesday asking District Court Judge Sim Lake to substitute Lay's estate for the late defendant so the lawyer can appear in court on Lay's behalf.

Buffone said in the motion that once the court recognizes him as the attorney for the estate, he will "move to vacate the convictions of Mr. Lay and dismiss the indictment."


Lay died on July 5, in Aspen, Colo., of heart disease. Although he was convicted, a final judgment wasn't issued because he had not yet been sentenced and through the appeals process. Rather than allow an appeal to proceed without him, the court is widely expected to throw out both the verdict and indictment, leaving Lay's record as though he were never charged.

Lay's $5 million bond - backed by his children's homes - also would be canceled at that time. With his conviction vacated, the government also will not be able to seize Lay's property through the criminal proceedings.

As noted before, one end result of all this will be to make the civil claims against Lay harder to prosecute. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
City Council redistricting on the agenda

Houston's continued population growth may trigger a need to redraw City Council boundaries so as to include two new district seats.

The decision, Mayor Bill White told the council Wednesday, would depend on whether updated U.S. Census Bureau estimates, expected to be released next week, show the city has grown to more than 2.1 million residents.

That would trigger a provision in the city charter that requires two extra single-member council districts, White said.

The city now has nine single-member districts covering specific geographic areas and five at-large districts, each of which covers the entire city.

"It will require some reconfiguration of every district within the city, practically," he said. "Obviously, we want to keep as much continuity as we can, so the citizens learn that they are part of a district. We want to keep neighborhoods together."

Some community activists have hoped adding the new districts - which would be known as J and K - could bring the election of new Hispanic or black council members, keeping up with the city's changing demographics.

Thus, the complicated process has the potential to divide some on the council and the community along racial or political lines, depending on where the seats are drawn and the makeup of the residents within them.

If population growth requires the change, White said he would immediately appoint a "diverse, bipartisan" council committee to study how to proceed.

He also said outside experts could be called in to help.

Jerry Wood, a retired city planner and redistricting expert, said Houston residents should expect a complicated process of deciphering the makeup and location of new districts. But that could mean their districts are smaller in both population and geography, possibly giving individual neighborhoods more sway over who gets elected, and the issues pushed by their respective members.

"It gives more focus to the district representative," Wood said. "But it also gives the population of the district a chance to be more representative of the person it elects."

This subject came up last December, at which point I think it was reasonable to assume Houston was already at or very close to the 2.1 million mark. I feel pretty confident that this will be done in time for the 2007 elections.

Here's some background on Jerry Wood, who was a key figure in the drawing of the original City Council districts in 1979.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Waiting on the experts

I know these guys have to be concerned with more than just one race, but I'm curious about something. When will folks like CQ Politics (current rating on CD22: No Clear Favorite), Chuck Todd (who currently ranks CD22 as the 14th most competitive race), and Larry Sabato (current rating on CD22: Leans Republican) update their rankings to reflect the 22nd District as a sure Democratic pickup? I mean, we all agree that's going to happen, right? Nobody is actually harboring the illusion that the Libertarian or one of the write-ins is going to come close to Nick Lampson, right?

Well, here's one quarter heard from: As of August 9, Charlie Cook has TX-22 as "Toss Up". Way to go out on a limb there, dude. Maybe his dial just doesn't go to 11, or maybe he still thinks there's a scenario where a replacement can appear on the ballot, I don't know. I just find it a little hard to believe that anyone might think it's really 50-50 between Lampson and Your Name Here.

Anyway. I look forward to the next round of updates with great interest.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Intern opportunity

From the Inbox, an intern opportunity with the Lloyd Doggett campaign:

The Lloyd Doggett Re-Election Campaign is seeking volunteers and interns that can assist Congressman Doggett and the campaign staff with a range of responsibilities. Join our team and show the Republicans how hard we Texas Democrats fight and persevere despite their partisan redistricting efforts.

Volunteers are needed to help with mailings, phone banks, canvassing, office/computer needs, and other necessary tasks. Interns would work directly with all levels of campaign staff on important tasks and would receive invaluable experience on a US Congressional race. As an intern, you would need to be able to commit 15-20 hours a week until the election. If you are interested in either opportunity, please e-mail me at with your interests, availability, or any questions you may have. What no one can accomplish alone, we can achieve together.

The new Congressional District 25 includes Travis, Hays, Bastrop, Caldwell, Fayette, Gonzales, Colorado, and Lavaca counties.

Doggett is currently unopposed, but as CD25 is one of the open primary races for November, that could easily change. He's one of the true good guys out there, which is why the Republicans have tried (and failed) twice to redistrict him out of existence.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 09, 2006
What's next in CD22?

I think I've pretty much beaten the subject of write-in candidacy to death in these two posts over at Kuff's World. And not a moment too soon, too, since this has now hit the news.

Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace will be a write-in candidate for the the seat House Majority Leader Tom DeLay abandoned, according to a member of Wallace's campaign team.

Wallace made the decision after DeLay announced Tuesday that he would withdraw his name from the November ballot, leaving the Republican slot blank and opening up the race to a GOP write-in candidate.

Game on, y'all. Your move, Shelley.

UPDATE: KTRH is reporting that Shelley is in, too.

Houston City Council Member Shelley Sekula-Gibbs and Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace are both expected to file with the Texas Secretary of State's office for a write-in candidacy, which means their names would appear at polling locations for congressional district 22, but not on the electronic ballot screen. Voters supporting those two candidates on November 7 will have to highlight "write-in" on the E-Slate ballot, then spell out the letters of their selected candidate's name.

"Write-in campaigns are tough, there's no question about it," said Sekula-Gibbs, "But I have the committment and passion to make it work."

Party unity. You gotta love it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Anti-immigration petition drive may get stalled

Aw, what a pity.

Time is running out on a citizens group's attempt to change the Houston Police Department's policy on illegal immigrants, and it's unlikely it can get a referendum before voters this fall, City Attorney Arturo Michel said Tuesday.

The group Protect Our Citizens wants voters to change the city charter and allow police officers to inquire about the citizenship status of people they encounter, reversing what backers call a "sanctuary" policy toward illegal immigrants.

To do that, the group needs 20,000 signatures from Houston voters, validated by City Secretary Anna Russell, and approval of the referendum by City Council. That all has to happen before Aug. 28.

The problem, Michel said, is with the calendar, not opposition by Mayor Bill White and Police Chief Harold Hurtt, both of whom strongly object to the "sanctuary" label.

"It just doesn't seem that it could be on the ballot for November," he said.

After today, there are only two council meetings remaining before the cutoff date. The measure almost certainly would be delayed a week by a parliamentary procedure known as a "tag." The eventual vote, then, wouldn't come until after Aug. 28, he said.

To get the measure to the council in time, the signatures would need Russell's validation by Friday. She said that isn't possible, particularly since the group has not yet turned in its petition.

Protect Our Citizens organizers blasted the city's position Tuesday, pledging to fight to get the measure before voters this fall.

Founder Mary Williams said Michel "set an arbitrary date from a vaguely worded law to their benefit and not ours. ... However, he has the gun to our heads and we'll do the best that we can."

Oh, boo hoo hoo. Here's a question for you, Mary: If this has been such a damned burning issue since 1992, why did you only start collecting signatures for the petition drive in June? Note that the Chron article says that this crowd "[planned] to get 20,000 signatures from registered voters by Sept. 1". Had they started in May instead of in June, they'd have had at least as much time to meet an August 11 deadline. Tough luck for them.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Ney drops out

Another thing I've not yet noted as I try to catch up with last week and stay on top of this one is the departure of another high-profile scandal-plagued Republican Congressman, Bob Ney, who announced on Monday that he would not run for re-election. The Stakeholder has the details, so I'll refer you to him. Note that much like Tom DeLay, Ney started out very defiant about his desire to run and win despite all of the allegations and charges surrounding him - Ney's top aide has copped a plea to federal conspiracy charges, while Ney himself was fingered, albeit not by name, in the Jack Abramoff plea agreement as a bribe-taker. Josh Marshall predicted a long time ago that Ney would not run in November because of all of this. It took awhile, but Ney eventually came to the same realization.

And via Atrios, Ney's problems are still ongoing, as this Roll Call story notes.

With the deadline for removing Ney's name from the Ohio ballot less than two weeks away, the review of his statements to the Indian Affairs Committee could form the basis for a charge of lying to Congress against the Ohio Republican, according to a handful of sources familiar with the transfer of documents to federal prosecutors.

In releasing its report on the Abramoff investigation June 22, the Indian Affairs Committee cited several instances in which Ney's statements to panel investigators conflicted with the testimony and e-mails of several other figures involved in the case.

The question now is who gets to replace Ney on the ballot - by Ohio law, there's still time for this. Apparently, his preferred choice (who has some ethical issues of her own, as this Stakeholder link shows), may run into Ohio's "Sore Loser law" because she lost a primary bid for Lieutenant Governor. Oops!

The fun never ends, does it? I hope you folks in Ohio enjoy this as much as we here have enjoyed the DeLay Follies.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Strayhorn's creative use of employees

Still a little worn out from all the excitement yesterday, so I'll just point to this story, which says that Comptroller/Gubernatorial Candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn has "used her taxpayer-financed research staff to prepare briefing papers for her public appearances whether they were state or campaign related." Which is, strictly speaking, a no-no. Clay Robison asks what happened to Strayhorn's "Yellow Pages test", while Vince notes that this is basically what Kay Bailey Hutchison was accused of in 1993. Plus ca change, as they say.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Texas Employees Retirement System and James Leininger

I didn't get around to this earlier, but I'll now point you to this BOR post about a lawsuit lost by Republican uberdonor James Leininger's company KCI and its effect on KCI's stock, of which the Texas Employees Retirement System is a major holder. As you may recall, one of the trustees of the Texas ERS is former TRMPAC treasurer Bill Ceverha, who has been dependent on big Republican donors for his cash flow lately. Noting that Ceverha also has close ties to Leininger, State Rep. Lon Burnam has asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to investigate what he calls the "peculiar circumstances" of all this. You can read about that here. I don't know that anything will come of this, but someone needs to keep track of it all.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Get ready for red light camera fines

Starting September 1, anyone who runs a red light at one of the camera-enabled intersections will face a fine. There will be no grace period.

The Houston Police Department and Phoenix-based American Traffic Solutions are launching a public awareness campaign this month to let drivers know the much-discussed program is finally here.
Click to learn more...

"Our message is basically be aware," said Sgt. Michael Muench of the police department's traffic division.

"We're hoping that everybody should be watching the red lights anyhow, but this is going to be an added tool for us to try to change drivers' behavior and operate their vehicles more safety," said Muench, supervisor of the program.

When enforcement begins, fines will be issued without a grace period. There was some confusion about whether violators would receive warning letters as part of this month's awareness campaign, but that is not taking place, Muench said.

Warning letters were issued last year to violators during a trial phase of the cameras, before a contractor was chosen.

ATS is airing commercials about the cameras on several local radio stations and developing an educational brochure that will be printed in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

A full list of the intersections is here (link via Houstonist). Ten more such intersections will follow soon, though, so don't get too cocky.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 08, 2006
More on the end of the DeLay ballot replacement lawsuit

All right, so as we know from yesterday, the litigation process in the matter of Tom DeLay and the CD22 ballot has come to a close, with the Republican Party of Texas finally giving up the ghost after suffering a judicial shutout. You already know the details of the story, so I'll just highlight this little bit of whimsy for you:

DeLay was at his Sugar Land home Monday, but refused to come to the phone to discuss his intentions. When a reporter knocked on his door later, no one answered. Dani DeLay Ferro, DeLay's spokeswoman and daughter, did not provide an immediate response.

You know, for a guy who claims to be a resident of Virginia, he sure does spend a lot of time in Sugar Land. And am I the only one who read that paragraph above and pictured DeLay in his room with his fingers in his ears going "LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!"

Regardless, the issue of DeLay's whereabouts does provide a nice lead-in to this campaign season's official Moment of Zen, as related in Fort Bend Now.

Neither DeLay nor Benkiser could not be reached for comment on Monday. Fort Bend County Republican Party Chairman Gary Gillen said Monday evening he has not heard from DeLay or Benkiser.

"We are 92 days away from an election, so we need to move forward," Gillen said.

As for the party's candidate, the fact DeLay now apparently is a Virginia resident would not be a barrier because he could easily move back to Texas by election day, Gillen said.

Um, Gary? Just FYI, but the point about DeLay being able to "easily move back to Texas by election day" was precisely the basis for Judge Sparks' ruling in favor of the Democrats in their lawsuit. I mean, I'm glad that you see it our way and all, but I've got Tina Benkiser on Line Two wanting to talk to you about message coordination. You might want to take that call.

Anyway. More Gillen:

However, he added, "I don't know if that's his plan or not, and we need to give him time to think this through. He needs to think very carefully, what's the right thing to do."

Well, I'm not sure if DeLay is the one who thought this up or not, but the hot rumor now is that the GOP is exploring the write-in candidate option.

The write-in effort in the 22nd District of Texas would bring a fresh, unsullied face to the hunt. "Lampson's best shot has always been against DeLay--Lampson's record is too liberal for a Republican district," a GOP official said, signaling the tack the party plans to take. An official close to DeLay said: "Nick Lampson would lose this race to a write-in candidate who had any name ID at all."

The write-in candidate has not been chosen, but Republican officials in Washington said they have a good chance of retaining the seat if it is a credible candidate like a mayor, judge or state legislator. Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace has expressed interest in running. Write-in candidates have until Aug. 29 to apply for a slot on the ballot. National Republicans are prepared to put money into the write-in campaign if a promising candidate is found. "You can buy name ID," said a Republican official, using campaign shorthand for making a candidate well known in the district.

But the notion of a write-in campaign drew a different reaction in Texas. "This would be met with ridicule and scorn," said Bill Miller, a Republican consultant with close ties to the state's GOP legislative leadership. "This strategy would be like handing the seat to the Democrats on a silver platter," Miller said. "Tom Delay will be remembered for the craziest end to his political career."

Miller said it is arrogant to think voters will support a write-in gambit. "Anointing a candidate never works," Miller said. "Voters are likely to say, 'The hell with 'em' and write in their own name, their kid's name." Plus, if his name remained on the ballot, it is likely DeLay would attract some of the vote away from the write-in candidate.


Royal Masset, the former political director of the Republican Party of Texas, said DeLay's old district is till "winnable" by the GOP even with DeLay as the candidate, but a write-in campaign would be "a disaster." Masset warned his fellow Republicans to recall the last time they ran a major write-in effort.

In 1976, Donald Yarbrough, an unknown with a mess of legal woes said he was called to run "by God" for a seat on the state Supreme Court. Yarbrough won the Democratic primary on the strength of sharing the same last name with several notable Texas Democrats. Republicans thought they saw an opening and launched a statewide write-in campaign for their own candidate who also boasted a famous last name - Houston, as is Sam Houston. Masset said the GOP bombarded voters with free pencils and copies of sample write-in ballots. But Yarbrough won with over 90% of the vote. Later, Justice Yarbrough was indicted for perjury by DeLay's nemesis, prosecutor Ronnie Earle, then fled to Grenada and was discovered there attending medical school when the U.S. invaded the Caribbean island nation.

Greg thinks this is a head fake, though I at least can't tell what the real move is if it is just a fake. I've written about the write-in option before (here and here), and I agree with Miller and Masset. I'd put the over/under on a write-in candidate at 20%, and I'd probably bet the under. A write-in would get no straight-ticket votes, and I can just about guarantee that many voters who are forced to try and spell out a candidate's name using the eSlate trackwheel will find the process highly annoying.

Chris Elam also mocks the write-in plan, while suggesting that the last best option at this point is for the local GOP to start pushing Libertarian candidate Bob Smither. I agree that makes more sense than the write-in scenario does, but it's still not without some risk for the Republicans. For them to push Smither, they can't have a simple "vote straight ticket" message. Getting away from that gives people room to think about voting for other non-Republicans as well (like, say, one of the Republicans-turned-Independent in the Governor's race), and also increases the likelihood of undervoting in downballot races. It also risks alienating party loyalists who think Republicans should support only Republicans, or who have philosophical disagreements with the Libertarian platform. I think if the local GOP does decide to push Smither, he'll have the best performance by an LP candidate ever in Texas (which is not too high a hurdle to clear, at least based on 2004), but he'll still lose.

All of this, of course, assumes that DeLay will ultimately make his de facto withdraw official, which seems to be the way the wind is blowing today. I figure he's got to make a decision sooner or later - even the hairbrained write-in option has an August 29 deadline looming, with a requirement to gather petition signatures to get those votes to count. We ought to know soon what the plan is from here.

UPDATE: He's outta there!

Dogged by scandal, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay intends to withdraw as a candidate for Congress, a Republican strategist said today, a step that would allow the party to field a write-in candidate in hopes of holding his seat.

May I just say YES! Woo hoo! Hot damn! Hell, let's all sing a song.

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let's sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again

Altogether shout it now
There's no one
Who can doubt it now
So let's tell the world about it now
Happy days are here again

The best part of this, of course, is the apparent embrace of the write-in candidate strategy. Let me just say that I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of dumping a million bucks or so into a Name Recognition/Voter Education process for getting people to cast a write in ballot. Be sure to provide a spelling guide if the Chosen One for this is Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.

In a statement late Monday, Bopp warned Democrats, "Be careful what you ask for."

As of now, I've already got it. Thanks very much.

UPDATE: Fort Bend Now has more.

In the statement announcing his withdrawal, DeLay said, "I strongly encourage the Republican Party to take any and all actions necessary to give Texas voters an up-or-down choice this Fall between two major party candidates."

But GOP officials and office holders contacted Tuesday were unclear about how that could happen.

With DeLay off the ballot, it appears the only way a Republican has a chance to square off against Lampson in the congressional race is as a write-in candidate.

"It doesn't make much sense to me," Kathy Haigler, a Harris County GOP precinct chair and Senate District 11 representative on the Texas Republican Party Executive Committee, said of a write-in campaign. She said she could see a scenario where several of the candidates who’d campaigned to replace DeLay on the ballot would become write-in candidates.

"If you've got seven Republican write-ins, Lampson would win," she said. The only way it might work, she added, would be if DeLay promoted a particular write-in candidate.

Well, we all thought from the beginning that DeLay wanted to handpick his successor. I just didn't expect it to happen this way. Bring it on, I say. The Stakeholder has more.

I have a copy of DeLay's full statement beneath the fold. Click the More link for a breathless display of disingenuousness, arrogance, and self-pity.

UPDATE: Bride of Acheron suggests a candidate the Republicans can unite behind as a write-in. And I've added a statement from Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie beneath the fold as well.

DeLay's statement:

Earlier this year, I resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives and became a resident of the State of Virginia to establish my new business, and where I now legally reside, pay taxes and vote.

This decision was and is irrevocable, which I made clear from Day One.

My action was taken in accordance with Texas law, federal precedent and common sense. I felt it was my duty to allow Texas Republicans to choose a new candidate for the Fall Election Ballot.

In November, voters in the 22nd District of Texas deserve a choice between candidates who actually live in the District, between a Republican and Democrat, and between those two people whose names should appear on the ballot.

Unfortunately, the Federal courts have slammed the door shut on a fair ballot choice between two 22nd District residents representing our two major parties.

The court ruling allows a Democrat – who just moved into this community – to have his name appear on the ballot, but denies the Republican Party the opportunity to place a District Republican resident on that same ballot.

Voters should be concerned. While judges are denying Texas voters a fair choice this Fall, the courts allowed the Democrat Party in New Jersey to withdraw Robert Torricelli and substitute Frank Lautenberg in a similar case just weeks before the 2002 U.S. Senate election.

As a Virginia resident, I will take the actions necessary to remove my name from the Texas ballot. To do anything else would be hypocrisy.

I strongly encourage the Republican Party to take any and all actions necessary to give Texas voters an up-or-down choice this Fall between two major party candidates.

Richie's statement:

Regardless of his excuses, Tom DeLay is abandoning his party and his state with his cut-and-run strategy. DeLay orchestrated this whole ballot scam because he knew he was fighting an uphill battle running against Nick Lampson, a strong candidate who appeals to Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. Nick Lampson is, without question, the best candidate to represent Congressional District 22 in the House of Representatives. We are pleased that DeLay's quest to circumvent voters and the electoral process has finally come to a close, and we look forward to a fair and ethical election.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Sunset hearing for OSFR today

According to Phillip, today is the day that the much-maligned and scandal-tinged Office of State and Federal Relations faces the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission to see if it still has a future. By all rights, it shouldn't, but you never know how these things will go. I'll check back later for updates from the hearings. You can get more background on this here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Clutterbuck's alternative rail plan

City Council member Anne Clutterbuck has revised and extended her earlier statements about an alternate plan for the Universities line that drew the ire of fellow Council member Ada Edwards. After making nice to Edwards about ot consulting her beforehand on a plan that affects her district, Clutterbuck clarified her vision.

Clutterbuck explained that while driving on Dallas' North Central Expressway she had seen a light rail line suspended over the wall of the freeway and asked Metropolitan Transit Authority officials to consider a similar arrangement here.

"Metro showed me their plan and said 'you'd take all these houses,' but I said, 'You're not listening - that's not what I'm asking. You wouldn't have to take all those houses if it's cantilevered."

Morgan Lyons, spokesman for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, said he consulted with a DART engineer and neither of them could think of a DART line suspended as described. Lyons said parts of the system are elevated over freeways at crossings or run parallel to freeways, possibly appearing cantilevered when seen from a car.

Clutterbuck said she also asked Metro to study "the best practices" followed in other cities and avoid crossing Kirby Drive in the street.

That doesn't exactly give me the warm fuzzies. But there's an issue with cantilevering, or elevating, or suspending, or whatever you want to call it, and that's cost. Putting these tracks up in the air is a more expensive proposition than running them at grade. Will Metro be able to afford that? Will John Culberson, who has asked Metro to study this option, see to it that Metro can afford it if it keeps his precious Richmond business owners happy? If the answer to either of these questions is No, then we're just wasting our time here.

One more thing:

Glen Eisen, who lives on Castle Court a block north of the freeway, said that even if the rail were suspended, Metro would still have to take some homes to reach Main. Clutterbuck said she had not investigated how Metro might accomplish that transition or how the cantilever technique would affect the signature bridges over the freeway.

We've all heard plenty from the anti-Richmond crowd. Is Culberson going to be as responsive to the homeowners who live near this alternative route as he was to the Richmond folks if they decide it will destroy their neighborhood? These are his constituents, too. I can just about guarantee that if this alternate route winds up getting taken seriously, the affected homeowners will kick up a fuss. What will Culberson do when that happens?

Posted by Charles Kuffner

The state's plan for handling contraflow lanes in the event of a hurricane evacuation have been released.

Carol Dawson, deputy director of traffic operations of the Texas Department of Transportation, said the plan is "much more detailed" than the spur-of-the-moment plan utilized during Rita. The department, she said, has eliminated bottlenecks along the route, found ways to smooth the contraflow conversion and tested its plans in mock evacuation drills.

In the plan announced by [Harris County Judge Robert] Eckels, incident coordinator for the 13-county evacuation region, threatened residents would flee the metro area on Interstates 10 and 45 and U.S. highways 290 and 59.

Dawson said the interstate routes - I-10 would be one-way from Brookshire to San Antonio, I-45 from near Conroe to Ennis - would be activated first. U.S. 290 would be one-way from FM 1960 to Burton.

U.S. 59, whose frequent intersections outside the urban area pose access problems, would be activated if needed.

An earlier version of this story gave the specifics:

Details of the contraflow plan for the major highways include:

-- I-10: Contraflow lanes will begin east of Farm-to-Market Road 359 at Brookshire, and end at Loop 1604 in San Antonio.

-- I-45: Contraflow lanes will begin at State Highway 242 south of Conroe, and end at U.S. 247 near Ennis, about 40 miles south of Dallas.

-- U.S. 59: Contraflow lanes will begin south of Kingwood Drive and continue to Nacogdoches.

-- U.S. 290: Contraflow lanes will begin west of Farm-to-Market Road 1960 and continue to Farm-to-Market Road 1948 east of Brenham. Northbound traffic on State Highway 6 can turn west into contraflow lanes at U.S. 290.

The press release (PDF) contains a map. I'm a little concerned in that it looks from this like I-45 has already narrowed down to two lanes before SH242. I could be wrong about this, but if not, I'd be worried that traffic would be backed up because of that narrowing, which would partially defeat the purpose of the contraflow lanes. During the Rita evacuation, contraflow lanes were (eventually) opened as far south as Spring. Especially given that I-45 is the evacuation route for Galveston and other points south, I hope an effort will be made to start the contraflow lanes earlier than that.

Gov. Rick Perry's state fuel coordinator, Valero Energy executive Wade Upton, said coastal residents will be encouraged to keep their gas tanks half-filled during hurricane season.

As a storm approaches, electronic highway signs and broadcast public service announcements will urge them to keep tanks totally filled.

Scott Fisher, an executive with the Austin-based Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said gasoline tanks at service stations along the escape routes will be totally filled. Usually, he said, economic factors dictate that the tanks, which can hold up to 12,000 gallons of fuel, are only partially filled.

Fisher, who was a member of the governor's fuel team, said a communications system would be activated to keep station operators current on a hurricane's advance.

This part sounds good. I hope there's enough supply to keep all those service station tanks full, but that may be beyond anyone's control.

One more piece of good news: Experts are now predicting that this year's hurricane season won't be as bad as they had first predicted.

"The probability of another Katrina-like event is very small,'' said Phillip Klotzbach, lead forecaster for the hurricane research team at Colorado State University in Denver.

The researchers reduced the number of likely hurricanes to seven from nine and intense hurricanes to three from five.

There is, however, a considerably higher-than-average probability of at least one intense hurricane making landfall in the United States this year, 73 percent. The average is 52 percent.

Researcher William Gray said Atlantic Ocean surface temperatures are not quite as warm and surface pressure is not quite as low, both factors in the decision to revise the forecast.

"Overall, we think the 2006 Atlantic basin tropical storm season will be somewhat active,'' Klotzbach said. "This year it looks like the East Coast is more likely to be targeted by Atlantic basin hurricanes than the Gulf Coast, although the possibility exists that any point along the U.S. coast could be affected.''

Gray and his team say hurricane activity will continue to be above average for another 15 to 20 years.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami in May predicted 16 named storms in the Atlantic, six of them major hurricanes. As of last Thursday, there have been three named storms.

"Our next update is Tuesday. They are still noodling the numbers. It is more likely than not that it will be an above-average season,'' said Frank Lepore, the center's spokesman.

I'll look for that update later today. For now, I'll take good news where I can get it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Metro gives enviro statement for Southeast BRT line

Metro has prepared its Draft Environmental Impact Statemet for the Southeast Corridor BRT line.

The environmental statement and a separate assessment of impacts to cultural resources and parklands are part of the federal transit funding process. They may be viewed online at, as well as at these locations: Central Library (Julia Ideson Building), 500 McKinney; Lonnie E. Smith Library, 3624 Scott; Young Library, 5260 Griggs; University of Houston, M.D. Anderson Library, 4800 Calhoun; Texas Southern University Library, 3100 Cleburne; Metro offices, 1900 Main; and Houston-Galveston Area Council, 3555 Timmons, Suite 500.

There will be a public meeting and question-and-answer session from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 17, in the Palm Center Business Technology Center, 5330 Griggs, and a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Third Ward Multi-Service Center, 3611 Ennis.

After the comments are received, the final environmental impact statement is prepared. This is then reviewed by Metro and the Federal Transit Administration. If funding is approved, construction would begin in mid-2007.

No word yet from Congressman Culberson's office as to whether or not this line should be run down Westpark instead.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 07, 2006
Announcing the TexRoots candidates list: Round One
Support TexRoots candidates
It's been a crazy day today, so I'm getting to this a little later than I'd originally planned, but as of today the Texas Progressive Alliance -- a collection of over 20 Texas blogs united to promote Democratic and progressive candidates and causes -- has launched the first round of endorsements for our online fundraising drive. The three candidates we're touting in this go-round are:

Hank Gilbert, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner.
Shane Sklar, who is running for CD14.
Juan Garcia, who is running in HD32.

I'll save myself a little typing and point you to BOR and The Red State for all you need to know about these three fine fellows. We're hoping to raise $3000 total in the next two weeks. You can help by clicking the logo at the top of this post or on my sidebar and using the new features of that we told you about to contribute.

As a reminder, I've got an interview with Gilbert here and with Sklar here. I have another interview with Sklar in the works, and of course he was kind enough to do a guest post for me last week. Phillip has more on Gilbert here (and I'd be remiss to omit a mention of the blog about his opponent), with a link to video of his Democratic Convention speech here. I've not had the pleasure of meeting Garcia yet, but I'm working on it and will interview him when I get the chance. He was in the news over the weekend, and you can watch a short bio video of him on YouTube.

You'll hear a lot more on these folks, and of the endorsees to follow, in the coming weeks. Please help us help them. Thanks!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
And don't forget the Alabama BookStop

I've expended a lot of electronic ink lately on the plight of the River Oaks Theater, but as today's Chron reminds us, it's not the only historic building that's currently being threatened by the bulldozer.

Whole Earth Provision Co. has shared the Shepherd Alabama Shopping Center with Bookstop since the mid-'80s.

Joe Jones, one of Whole Earth's owners, said last week that representatives of Weingarten Realty Investments, which owns the center, have approached him about the possibility of razing the historic building.

"They said, 'What if we wanted to redevelop?' " said Jones. "We said, 'We'll talk to you.' We're not going to close down the conversation."

Jones said Whole Earth has 17 years left to run on its lease on the store, currently the Austin company's only Houston location. At 5,600 square feet, it's the smallest in the chain. Though the location performs well, Jones said Whole Earth believes its new stores should be roughly three times that size - so he's open to new ideas.

"We've been talking to Weingarten for a long time," he said. "Real estate guys think long-term. With them, the wheel turns real slow. None of this is happening tomorrow."

Any change, he said, would be at least two or three years away.

Which means that any action in response to this would need to get started now. Once these things are in motion, it doesn't take long for them to become irreversible.

A few years ago, Kaldis Realty sold its share of the shopping center to Weingarten Realty Investors. "I have a different mind-set than a developer like Weingarten," explains Andrew Kaldis, who for years managed the property. "We decided to part ways."

Kaldis has gone on to develop many historic properties, including the buildings that house Gravitas and Hugo's restaurants; the 1909 Scanlan Building downtown, now loft office space; and the Villa Serena, a 1913 orphanage that's now a condominium building in Midtown.

Finding new uses for historic properties is a challenge, said Kaldis. "You have to specialize in urban development and go out and find tenants who fit the space instead of building space that fits the tenants."

He noted that his projects have been profitable and said historic properties such as the Alabama are well worth saving.

"Those buildings add personality to the city in a way that we've neglected over the years," he said. "And my real reward is that those buildings will be there after I'm gone."

At this rate, I wouldn't count on that.

I think it's pretty obvious at this point that if people in Houston want to save the Alabama Bookstop and the River Oaks Theater, they need to take action now. It's great that some high profile players have gotten involved - usually, this sort of thing take a lot of grassroots work before it bubbles up to the surface of public consciousness - but what's the goal here, and who's leading the charge? I say the goal is a review of the city's historic preservation statutes, with an eye towards creating new guidelines, incentives, regulations, whatever works best to save these two buildings and create a framework for preserving the Alabama Bookstops and River Oaks Theaters of the future. As I said before, I think incentives of some form are likely to be the best received option, but I'm not married to any one method, and there's sometimes a fine line between a tax incentive and a giveaway. But that's the goal, and anyone who has agitated over this, including all of the petition signers should find a way to bring it about if this is what they really want. As that includes me, I'm going to do a little asking around to see what I can do. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
On the court decisions

I finally had a chance to give a little thought to the two big court decisions from last week. You can read what I came up with over at Kuff's World. And for another fine take on the CD22 situation, read Bob Dunn.

UPDATE: The Republican Party of Texas has now officially asked the US Supreme Court to get involved.

Texas Republicans today asked U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to issue a stay that would allow the GOP to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay on the general election ballot.

The 41-page motion argues that there is a good chance the full court will want to hear the constitutional issues that the case raises. The motion also says it will be in the best interest of voters to allow the Republicans to pick a new candidate for DeLay's 22nd District seat.

"The Fifth Circuit's decision restricts the voters' range of choices because it requires the (Republican Party of Texas) to keep an ineligible candidate on the ballot," said the motion by Republican lawyer James Bopp Jr. "It limits their choice because the opportunity to vote for an ineligible candidate is no choice at all."


Scalia could stay the injunction pending a review of the case by the full court, which would allow the Republicans to move forward to replace DeLay on the ballot. Or, he could effectively end the fight by rejecting Bopp's motion.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the Texas Democratic Party, said he feels confident that Sparks' injunction will remain in place.

"We have felt confident that we've been correct on the facts and the law in this case," Dunn said.

An earlier version of this story noted that Scalia is the judge that handles such reviews from the Fifth Circuit, which is why he's been petitioned. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Holy Original Intent, Batman! That didn't take long.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday rejected a request by Texas Republicans to block an appeals court ruling that says former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's name must appear on the November ballot.


"Wow! That was quick," said Cris Feldman, attorney for Texas Democrats who had not yet heard about the stay.

"That was a lightning-quick response. We're very pleased by the court's decision to deny the stay and it's now time to move toward the general election and put this matter behind us," said Feldman.

No kidding. Doing a Google News search on "Scalia" and sorting by date, the first stories about the GOP request hit the papers two hours ago. That's as fast as I may ever see the judicial system working.

According to the story, Tina Benkiser may ask another judge for a second review. I can't imagine that will work, but until that happens or the RPT officially raises the white flag, it ain't over till it's over. Thanks to Jeff N. for the tip.

UPDATE: I just heard on KHOU that the Republicans will not appeal to the full Supreme Court. Say good night, Gracie. Fort Bend Now confirms it:

Justice Scalia's denial of the GOP application appears to have closed the door on any chance the Republicans had to find a replacement candidate for DeLay.

"The efforts to get relief through the courts prior to the election have been exhausted," said attorney James Bopp Jr. "Obviously the party is considering their options."


Posted by Charles Kuffner
Three cheers for the guest bloggers

I'm back to what passes for normal now, including being mostly readjusted to Central time. We were in Oregon at just the right time, a day or two after their annual heat wave had dissipated. I mean, how much would it suck to go from Houston to Portland in late July and find that it was cooler back home? Thankfully, the weather was great, and Olivia got to spend a lot of time outside. Woo hoo!

Anyway, I want to thank all the fine folks who gave me stuff to publish while I was out of the office, as it were. My sincere gratitude to:

City Council Member Carol Alvarado, for her post on the "debate" over the Houston Police Department's policy concerning illegal immigrants.

State Rep. Ana Hernandez, for her post on the Voting Rights Act.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, for her post on why anti-immigration rhetoric affects not only Hispanics, but everyone.

The next Congressman from CD22, Nick Lampson, for his post on environmental issues.

The next Congressman from CD14, Shane Sklar, for his post on the future of agribusiness.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, for his post on the Green Ribbon Project.

A big round of applause for all of the guest bloggers, please. I hope you enjoyed reading their contributions as much as I did. Thanks, everyone!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Matthews violates probation, goes to jail

Catching up on some local news, I see that former local right-wing talker Jon Matthews has gone from the frying pan to the fire.

Former radio talk show host Jon Matthews surrendered at the Fort Bend County jail today after an arrest warrant was issued for him for allegedly violating probation.

Matthews received a seven-year deferred adjudication sentence two years ago when he pleaded guilty to a charge of indecency with a child.

According to court records, Matthews, 61, tested positive for alcohol, and was discussing sexual fantasies over the Internet.

Matthews was placed on probation after he admitted exposing himself to an 11-year-old girl in October 2003 in his Sugar Land home.

Among the conditions of the probation were that Matthews abstain from alcohol use and refrain from viewing sexually obscene material.

According to Fort Bend Now, Matthews had racked up several probation violations in the past year, but is just now being locked up for them. Lucky for him he wasn't originally busted in Harris County, where probationers aren't nearly as coddled.

Be that as it may, what I said about Matthews back when he gave a smarmy, self-serving statement about how the criminal justice system had screwed him is just as true now. Enjoy the accomodations, dude. You've earned your stay. HouStoned has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
More on the Comal River follies

The Sunday Chron has a cover story on the recent and ongoing battles over who can do what while tubing down the Comal River in New Braunfels (see here, here, and here for previous installments).

For decades, New Braunfels tiptoed around the issue, giving more weight to economic and commercial interests than the social impact of alcohol-centered tourism.

"In the past, we've loved the sinners' money more than we hated the sins," as [former Houston oil executive-turned-city councilman Ken] Valentine has become fond of saying.

But now, with more college crowds and more "riffraff" from the Guadalupe, homeowners say the Comal has reached a boiling point.

"We've seen people out here feeding Jell-O shots to pit bulls," said Valentine. He documents many of the indiscretions with his digital camera and periodic "surveys" of tubers.


So far this year, [New Braunfels Police have] issued more than 1,700 citations and made more than 475 arrests, he said.

"New Braunfels for many years has been a family environment, and we want to keep that," [officer Kristen] Malish said. "What we don't want is for this to be a Bourbon Street or a Key West, just a party town where people come and get rowdy."

But Kody Smith, a Granbury middle school football coach who grew up in New Braunfels, said he barely recognized the river where he used to be a lifeguard.

"It's just too constricting. There's way too many more rules," Smith said as he relaxed with fellow coaches by the river. "New Braunfels is going to hurt themselves doing this because there are other rivers in Texas."

"How can you regulate public water?" he said. "That's dumb."

I figure someone like Tory could get at least a half dozen paragraphs out of a comparison between NB's crackdown on its tourist industry and the attempt in the 90s to impose zoning on Houston, but I'm not quite up to it. I'll just say that I'm not sure if the likes of Ken Valentine are killing the golden goose or saving it. We go to New Braunfels for the Schlitterbahn, so this doesn't directly affect me. I've got a fair amount of sympathy for the homeowners, but I've also got a nagging feeling that they're biting the hand that feeds their town. What do you think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 06, 2006
More routes proposed for Universities line

In all the argument over Richmond-versus-Westpark for the route of the Universities line, I've been wondering why so little has been said about where a proposed Westpark line would go east of Kirby. Having now seen what that would mean, I'm not surprised no one has wanted to talk about it.

[Metro spokeswoman Sandra Salazar] said an alignment suggested by City Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck calls for the line to travel west on Richmond from Metro's current Wheeler station near Main, turn south on Mandell or Dunlavy and follow the north side of the Southwest Freeway to Edloe, where it would cross over to Westpark and continue to the Hillcroft Transit Center.

Culberson's suggestion, Metro said, would run "from Richmond in the vicinity of the University of St. Thomas to U.S. 59 (Southwest Freeway) to a transition point into the Westpark right-of-way." Other details were not available.

Culberson aide Nick Swyka said the congressman was only asking Metro to look at this proposal, which Swyka said he told Culberson about after learning that Afton Oaks resident Ted Richardson had an idea for elevated rail beside the Southwest Freeway.

Because the routes would pass through Councilwoman Ada Edwards' district, Metro said, her approval will be sought.

Metro said Clutterbuck's proposed route would pass through the Richwood Place and Castle Court neighborhoods and "along" the city's Ervan Chew Park at Dunlavy and Castle Court.

Laura Mullen, president of the Richwood Place Civic Association, expressed dismay at the news.

"They would be condemning properties from Dunlavy to Shepherd," she said. "There are people who have their fences right behind the sound walls (that protect the neighborhood from freeway noise).

"Are they going through a Little League field (in Chew Park)?" she asked. "The field abuts the sound wall.

"Our neighborhood is split 50-50 on having rail on Richmond, so this is going to be quite explosive," said Mullen, who lives on Lexington.

First things first: I don't have a tape measure handy, but I feel pretty certain that there's less public right of way on Mandell and Dunlavy than there is on Richmond. Frankly, I don't know how you could squeeze in the tracks and still have any room for car traffic. There'd be no more street parking anywhere along this path, that's for sure. I'm a little amazed that anyone might think this could work.

Second, as noted in another story, this would mean condemning 50-75 houses, according to Metro. Those houses are in Congressional District 7. Does John Culberson care any less about that than he professes to claim about the businesses on Richmond? He hasn't commented yet.

And as that second story says, Council Member Edwards is not pleased by this.

Edwards, informed by Metro that the route proposed by Clutterback could cost her district dozens of homes, said Clutterbuck should have contacted her before presenting the idea.

"Nobody discussed it with me," Edwards said. "The council member can call it what she wants - a plan, a directive, a good idea. But the point is that, at the end of the day, it would take homes in District D and I am against that."

Edwards said she will be attending hastily scheduled meetings of civic clubs in her district today to discuss the proposal.

She said she did not know how residents will react.

"We have no decision on it, because we haven't seen (the plan)," she said. "But from what we heard of it, I'm not pleased."

As Christof pointed out from Metro's presentation:

Between Richmond and Kirby, the right-of-way for Richmond varies from 75 feet to 81 feet. Two light rail tracks and 4 traffic lanes require 76 feet; at stations and left turn lanes 86 feet are required. Of the roughly 210 properties along this section, 30 properties would need to have a 4-8 foot strip taken off the front, 52 properties would need a 1-4 foot strip taken, and the rest - 60% - would remain intact.

Call me crazy, but that sounds like a lot less need for takings than this Clutterbuck/Culberson proposal does. And we haven't even taken into account cost and ridership projections. I can't see how this proposal does anything but satisfy one group of people at the expense of what looks to me to be a larger group of other people.

UPDATE: Tory proposes a Westpark alternative that sounds reasonable, though I'm still highly skeptical of a crossover at Dunlavy. Read what he suggests and see what you think.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Garcia versus Seaman: The money race

The Caller Times reports on the battle in House District 32 between Juan Garcia and incumbent Republican Rep. Gene Seaman.

Garcia, 40, a lawyer and Navy pilot, has raised $205,140.95 to Seaman's $89,956 during the January-to-June 30 contribution period.

But Seaman, first elected in 1996, has a bigger war chest because of funds raised in previous campaign cycles. At the end of the contribution period, after campaign expenses, Seaman has $261,671.74 left to spend compared with Garcia's $80,228.98.

Seaman, of course, was unchallenged in 2004, which gave him a nice head start on this campaign. He had $160K cash on hand in January 2005, and $266K cash on hand a year later. He's actually spent more than he's raised so far this year, which is why the July COH total is down a bit. So basically, if he'd had to empty his warchest as a result of being forced to run a real campaign in 2004, he'd have about $100K on hand right now, assuming he would have fundraised and spent at the same clip. Yet another reason to Run Everywhere.

To defeat Seaman, [political analyst Bob] Bezdek said, Garcia has to minimize Seaman's strength in the predominantly Republican precincts in Nueces County and clean up in Calhoun County. He must do as well in San Patricio County as former San Patricio County Judge and conservative Democrat Josephine Miller when she ran against Seaman in 2002. Miller took 58 percent in her home county in a losing campaign. And he must make inroads in Aransas County.

"The conservative areas where he cleaned Josephine Miller's clock, we are not going to neutralize those areas," Garcia said. "We are going to win."

But it's still District 32, where President George W. Bush took 67 percent in 2004. Also, in the part of District 32 that overlaps Congressional District 27, Republican Willie Vaden took more votes than incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, who trounced Vaden overall, Bezdek noted.

Here's the breakdown for HD32 in 2004. As I wrote before, it was less Republican in 2002, splitting 58-42 for the GOP. Seaman underperformed that baseline by over four points. Garcia will need the district to swing back a little, and he'll need to cut into Seaman's base. He is making progress on that front:

Garcia has more than 300 donations from individuals, including some Republicans previously in support of Seaman.

More than 100 people, mostly Republicans, showed up for a recent Garcia fundraiser at homebuilder and developer Duane Scheumack's house in Rockport.

Scheumack voted for Seaman in his past two successful campaigns.

"I don't think I am angry at Gene. I just don't know what Gene has done," Scheumack said. "The thing I was impressed with the most with Garcia is his community, home and fireside values. And I sense a great deal of sincerity with this young man."


One issue that damaged Seaman in Aransas and San Patricio counties during his last term, is the perception that he nearly allowed the counties to be annexed into the Del Mar College taxing district without their consent.

Residents in both counties complain that Seaman was weak and would not take a stand against the Del Mar measure sponsored by former state Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, a powerful Democrat aligned with the top Republican leadership.

After a letter-writing campaign initiated in Aransas County, Gov. Rick Perry ended up vetoing the measure.

"I am sure some people feel like he could have been stronger on that issue," said Republican San Patricio County Commissioner Fred Nardini, a Seaman contributor. "All of us in San Patricio County fought very hard to keep that out. I don't know at this point what the outcome will be. With most constituents it's hard to tell whether they have a long memory."

Aransas County resident and Republican Lynn Lee, who voted for Seaman in the past, supports Garcia.

"Del Mar was a great bit of it, yes," Lee said. "I felt he should have taken our side because he had always gotten huge support in Aransas County. In that situation I did not think we should be voted into something where we did not have a say. I now have a feeling that Gene is not aware of what I want."

More of that and it won't matter what Seaman is and isn't aware of.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Washington Ave service road halted

Via Houstonist, TxDOT's plan to build an elevated service road between Washington and TC Jester, which was not popular with residents there, has been scrapped.

On Thursday, Mayor Bill White told residents of the Cottage Grove Civic Club that he received a fax from TxDOT Houston District Engineer Gary Trietsch stating that the department was removing the elevated lanes from its I-10 frontage lanes project.

"After analysis of our design, possible benefits and costs associated with these structures, we have concluded that we will remove these grade separations from the proposed work on the I-10 frontage roads," Trietsch wrote in the letter, dated Aug. 3.

White said that he spoke to Trietsch earlier in the day to express his reservations about the project. The agency had proposed the 30-foot-high, two-lane frontage roads as part of a project aimed at preventing flooding like that along I-10 during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

Residents of Cottage Grove, Woodcrest and other West End neighborhoods, however, said the $40 million project would lead to noise and air pollution in their communities. They also said the project is unnecessary for flood mitigation, as TxDOT is also planning to construct ponds along White Oak Bayou that will protect the interstate.

"What I stated to (Trietsch) was that if you're not going to add a lot of functionality with the elevated lanes, and you're looking at major opposition from taxpayers who live near there, then you really have to look at the cost-effectiveness of it," White said.

It does seem to me that the flood mitigation ponds ought to be sufficient here. For sure, they ought to be cheaper. If they prove to be inadequate for the task, this issue can be revisited. Subject to further review later on, I think this was the right call.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 05, 2006
Guest post: Garnet Coleman

You may have noticed Houston's freeways looking a lot greener and a lot less menacing the past few years. The recently completed section of the Southwest Freeway from Shepherd to Downtown now has a lush landscaping along its walls. Keep driving towards downtown on 59 towards I-45 and you'll see the once empty plots of grass that divided the freeway now full of trees and shrubs. Along the Katy Freeway, you'll see five-point Texas stars in newly constructed columns trimmed with gold border.

These improvements didn't happen by accident; they were developed by the Green Ribbon Project, the only comprehensive and sustainable freeway beautification program in the United States, a program which I created in the mid 1990s. (Greg Wythe kindly gave me credit for the program when new landscaping premiered on 288, but I did more than just bring it to Houston; I brought it to Texas).

I got the idea for the Green Ribbon project driving in California and Georgia a few years ago. My wife's parents used to live in LA, and anyone who's ever taken the long drive west on I-10 knows what a pleasant shock it is to come out of hundreds of miles of Arizona desert landscape into Los Angeles' verdant freeways. I had the same experience driving through Atlanta, which has equally well landscaped freeways. As I was driving into LA one weekend to visit my wife's parents, I thought to myself, "If California and Georgia can build freeways which are integrated with the urban landscape rather than just big concrete blocks dropped on top of it, why not Texas?"

So I called some engineers I knew at the Texas Department of Transportation and asked them if Texas could start improving its freeways the way California and Georgia had. They said we could, and a committee was formed to develop specs for how TxDOT would build freeways from then on. That committee ended up becoming the Green Ribbon Project.

The Green Ribbon Project is more than just planting a few trees; it's a comprehensive and sustainable program for Texas that will grow proportionally with Texas' freeways. A few years after the Green Ribbon Project started, I strengthened the program by inserting a rider into the appropriations bill which required that one-half to one percent of all new state highway construction funds be spent on aesthetic, artistic and landscaping improvements. So if a new freeway costs a billion dollars, then at least five million has to spent on aesthetic improvements.

And those funds are transferable too; if there are more funds than necessary to install improvements, those funds can go to other freeways within the same TxDOT district. If there are significant maintenance costs for improvements, groups like Scenic Houston, Trees for Houston, and many of the management districts in Houston can maintain trees or shrubs after TxDOT has installed them. As I noted in a speech at TxDOT in 2001, the Green Ribbon project won accolades from the American Planning Association for both its comprehensive and sustainable nature in building more aesthetically pleasing freeways.

Protecting the environment should be a priority for our state government, and the Green Ribbon Project works to mitigate the effects of pollution in Texas' cities. Trees, of course, take in carbon dioxide, which is a good thing, and the self-sustaining nature of the program means that as our freeways grow, our beautification and landscaping efforts grow with it. Additionally, reducing planes of exposed concrete with more trees along our freeways can reduce the urban heat island effect as well.

Making our freeways and cities more aesthetically pleasing is a good thing in itself. At Westheimer and the West Loop, concrete forms in the freeways (which, incidentally, require minimal maintenance cost), or the new overpasses on the recently completed section of the Southwest freeway, match the "public mood" of the architecture in the area. That kind of work can instill a sense of civic pride; the reality is that people are just happier about their city when it looks better. Green Ribbon 2, which is currently in the works, plans to work on how TxDOT can install architectural improvements and public art (like this art along I-45) along our freeways. I'm proud of my work on the Green Ribbon Project, both as an environmentalist and as a citizen who thinks our public and urban landscape can be just as beautiful as the natural landscape of Texas.

Garnet Coleman
State Representative
House District 147

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Reports from Harrell's "Band of Brothers" press conference

Eye on Williamson has two reports from Thursday's press conference by Mary Beth Harrell in which she and six fellow Democratic Congressional candidates, all of whom are military veterans, respond to scurrilous charges made against her by John Carter. There's video and a podcast as well, so check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Camp Wellstone

From the inbox:

Camp Wellstone is coming to Houston August 18-20!
Camp Wellstone is coming to Houston, Texas for the first time! Register today for Camp Wellstone Houston on the weekend of August 18-20, 2006. Click here to register!

Camp Wellstone is a training program that teaches progressives how to win on issues and elect good candidates. We use a distinctive approach to politics, based on Paul Wellstone's success at integrating grassroots organizing, electoral organizing, progressive public policy and ethical leadership.

The training is highly interactive, combining exercises, lectures, and simulations over the course of 2.5 days. Camp runs Friday from 2:30pm-9:00pm, Saturday from 9:00am-6:00pm, and Sunday from 9:00am-3:00pm. We keep you busy the whole time! The exact location of the camp will be announced in the coming weeks.

Camp Wellstone is divided into three tracks:

Candidate track. This is for people who have made the decision to run for office.
Campaign track. This track focuses on how to be an effective staff or volunteer member of a winning progressive campaign.
Citizen activist track. For people interested in citizen lobbying, issue advocacy, and community organizing, this track provides skills in how to win on issues.
For more information about Camp Wellstone or to see which track is right for you, click here.

Camp Wellstone fills very quickly. If you are interested, sign up online by following the link above or visit

The cost is $75 or just $35 for students, low-income, or unemployed participants. We are not able to guarantee your space for the the camp unless payment is received 2 weeks prior to the starting date. Camp participants are responsible for their own accommodations.

If you have questions about the training, contact Cietta Kiandoli: cietta@grassrootssolutionscom or 202-419-3077.

Click here to sign-up for Camp Wellstone

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 04, 2006
Judges draw their own map

Why do these big rulings always happen while I'm on vacation?

A three-judge federal panel on Friday placed Webb County into one congressional district, solidifying Hispanic voting strength in South Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court remanded the map to the panel to redraw the sprawling 23rd congressional district, which it ruled in June unconstitutionally diluted Hispanic voting strength.

The district, which is now represented by San Antonio Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla, stretches from Laredo to El Paso County and north to San Antonio.

The high court ruled that the district boundaries engineered former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and drawn by Republican state legislators in 2003 diminish Hispanic voting power because a large cluster of Webb County Hispanics were divided into two different congressional districts.

"These changes restore Latino voting strength to District 23 without dividing communities of interest," the judges said.

The judges emphasized that they made the minimal changes possible to fix the violations ordered by the Supreme Court.


Bonilla will have a tougher time seeking re-election. The new 23rd District has 61 percent Hispanic voting-age population, compared to the 51 percent Hispanic voting-age population in the district in which he was elected.

The bulk of his support has come from non-Hispanic Republicans and elections returns have shown he has diminishing support among the largely Democratic Hispanic voters in his district.

The new 23rd District also will be more evenly divided between Democratic and Republican voters.

Under the new plan, all incumbents remain in their current districts.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, will get a slightly more Democratic population in his 25th congressional district because the court moved a largely liberal section of south Austin into his territory. Travis County remains split among three congressional districts, as it was under the redistricting map passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2003.

The new map also makes Doggett's south Austin district more compact. Previously the boundaries snaked down to the Rio Grande Valley in an oddly shaped district that was nicknamed the bacon strip district.

District reconfigurations also slightly changed the 15th congressional district, represented by Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. His district remains heavily Democratic.

All of this is basically as I predicted in terms of affecting incumbents. I didn't expect CD15 to be touched, but it's not unreasonable that it was. The Lone Star Project has a much more thorough breakdown of the affected districts.

Also as I expected, this was done in time for November. I understand there's a lot of speculation going on about whether or not Ciro Rodriguez will gear up for one more run (presumably not in CD28, which now has all of Webb County in it), and whether anyone else will take a shot at Henry Bonilla, but there's nothing solid yet that I'm aware of.

Anyway. BOR has some pictures of the new districts, plus a diary from John Courage, whose odds against Lamar Smith sadly got a lot longer now that some heavily Republican turf west of Austin got moved back into CD21. That was pretty much expected in just about any permutation of the districts, but it's still unfortunate for him. There will be much more to be said about all of this soon.

UPDATE: And so the speculation begins as to who may jump into a newly opened primary for CD23 version 3:

Julian Castro (former City Councilman and Mayoral candidate), State Rep. David Leibowitz, former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez (for sure), SA City Councilman Art Hall (Dem who gave the opening invocation at the state convention in June, and who represents the North/Northwest portion of CD-23 in Bexar County), SA City Councilman Richard Perez, current candidate Rick Bolanos, and attorney Rene Barrientos.

Names are being thrown around like crazy right now. I can tell you for sure that SA City Councilman Roland Gutierrez is out (he's gonna be our next mayor... you heard it here first) and some crazy bastard just told me that Madla is thinking about running. My major question is, where is West Texas and border Rep. Pete Gallegos gonna stand?

I have a slight preference for Castro, but only if he's learned how to run a better race than he did for San Antonio Mayor in 2005. Any of these folks would be fun to watch. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Guest post: Shane Sklar

First, I would like to say thank you to Charles for the opportunity to post here. I have been an avid reader of Kuff’s blog for quite some time now and check it every day for updates on what's happening in our area.

As some of you know, I'm a pretty young guy to be running for Congress -- at least compared to my opponent. As a fourth-generation rancher, I come from a region and an industry where the things that really matter are handed down from generation to generation -- land, equipment, expertise, and values. So that the fact that my lifetime has seen an unprecedented moment of change in this region and the agricultural industry makes me believe that we need a strong voice in Congress that will stand up for our values, not a narrow personal ideology.

I am convinced that I am the person to provide effective leadership in the House for Texas Gulf Coast families, and I'd like to use this space to talk to you about one particularly exciting change that I think will benefit all of our families if we have the courage to seize the opportunity.

When I was growing up, my family's farm supported my family, my grandparents, and my aunt, uncle and cousins. Today, that land supports only my mom and dad -- and my mom works in town as a first-grade teacher. We could talk for hours about the forces that caused that change for my family, and for thousands like us around the country, but the bottom line is that those forces aren't done changing the world yet, and we've got to decide what we're going to do about it.

I believe that keeping American land in the business of cultivating food and other agricultural products is the right thing to do for our culture and our security. Unfortunately, despite our growing population, we just can't eat all the food our family farmers need to sell to be profitable. The family farm is going to have to find some new markets, and I think that renewable energy has the potential to change their lives and the lives of Texas Gulf Coast families who make their living in fields totally unrelated to food production agriculture.

Consider this: Where winds are strong, wind energy developers will pay rural landowners between $2,000 and $5,000 per turbine installed on their property. Local biomass refineries, like the new bio-diesel plant in Galveston, raise demand for crops and they pay more for crops that would have had to be transported to international markets. The U.S. Department of Energy says that tripling our biomass use could create $20 billion dollars in new income for farmers.

And those are just a few of the reasons to support more research and development of renewable energy technology. Anyone who has felt some pain at the pump in recent weeks or cast a nervous glance at the television as events have unfolded in the Middle East knows we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Crisscrossing our district of ten counties and 180 miles of coastline on $2.80-plus-per-gallon gas has only increased my conviction that diversifying our energy supply is a necessary step we must take to achieve lower prices.

Renewable energy also has the added benefit of reducing our impact on the climate. As a rancher, I know how dramatically a few degrees difference in temperature, or a prolonged drought can impact business. I'm also in a business that can't just pick up and move.

Some people may tell you that renewable energy is great, and that private companies will take care of all the research. They probably will -- when they can't make money doing what they're doing right now. For all the reasons I've listed above, not least among them the continued health of our nations' family farms, I say we shouldn't wait. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is doing great work, and when I am in Congress I will work to support these and other forward-looking programs that put us in
control of our own future.

If this sounds like your vision for the Texas Gulf Coast, I hope you'll take the first step to joining our campaign by visiting and signing up for our e-mail list. While you're there, you can find out more about our upcoming events, contribute , or sign up to volunteer.

Thanks for your support!

Shane Sklar
Candidate for U.S. Congress
14th Congressional District

Shane is the Democratic Nominee for the 14th District of Texas. He and his wife Jill live in Edna, Texas. Shane and his father Darrell are in the cattle business together and raise several hundred head of registered Simbrah cattle.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
AusChron on Harrell v. Carter

The Austin Chronicle has taken notice of the recent developments in the CD31 race between Mary Beth Harrell and John Carter.

It's unclear exactly what Carter fears from Harrell, unless you buy into his theory a few paragraphs later that "this is not a fair fight. … The national media has a clear agenda to bring down Republicans." Back in the real world, and discounting the unlikely map-drawing, Carter appears to be in a safe district – he trounced his opponents in 2004 with 65% of the vote, and although both he and Harrell were unopposed in this year's respective primaries, the 23,438 votes Republicans cast for him tower over the 7,023 Harrell received for the Dem nomination. It would certainly seem that he has violated a basic tenet of campaigning, which is that if one appears headed for an easy election victory, ignore your opponent, lest ye give away free publicity.

Yes, yes, poor baby. I think this race (among others) will provide an interesting test of the redistricting myth hypothesis, since by any objective measure Harrell has provided an infinitely more vigorous challenge to Carter than Jon Porter gave in 2004. If Harrell can take a chunk out of Carter's margin and maybe give him a good scare, perhaps this will help to force a little rethinking in how Congressional races get targeted around here. Eye on Williamson has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
PinkDome care package

I'm a bit late on this, but not too late: PinkDome is putting together a care package:

Remember I told you we were blocked by the military so our readers in Iraq are PinDome-less? Well, not quite. Yes, the site is still blocked but a few of them have found some proxy site ways to still get to the site. I had an email conversation with our favorite marine, mostly about the heat.

Now is the time for us to show our support for the troops. Let's put together a care package to send to him and his buddies. No porn, no alcohol. DVD's and magazines and things we love are good things to put in the box.

If you email me, I'll send you my mailing address. I'll collect the stuff and send it off to our favorite marine in Iraq. Spread this post around. You can email me for my address here.

Drop PD a note and help a blogger do some good. Thanks.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
As we dance to the redistricting map tango

There's a certain karma in having the DeLay ballot replacement ruling be handed down by one federal appeals court on the same day that another such court was hearing about proposed remedies to the state's unconstitutional Congressional map. One theme seems to have stood out from yesterday's arguments: The court appears to be reluctant to screw any incumbents more than they absolutely have to.

The state's congressional map could be fixed without pairing incumbents or eliminating U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett's Travis County base, a federal judge suggested today.

U.S. District Judge Patrick Higginbotham, the presiding judge on a three-judge panel, made the suggestion as he grilled the state's attorney at a redistricting hearing this morning in a packed Austin courtroom.


Higginbotham seemed to suggest his thinking - if not the panel's - on the matter.

He suggested redrawing Doggett's existing district, which runs from Austin to the Mexico border, to contain more of Travis County. He then suggested making Webb County the political base for a South Texas district represented by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

"Why should a Latino community have to come to Austin?" Higginbotham asked.

He said Bonilla's district could pick up more voters - both Republican and Democratic - from San Antonio.

Higginbotham pointedly asked [Solicitor General Ted] Cruz about the state's plan to eliminate Doggett's political base in Travis County.

"Why is that necessary?" he asked.

Cruz defended it, saying the state was trying to make the districts more compact.

Cruz, of course, had argued against eviscerating Bonilla's district on the grounds that the Court should "cure a violation in (District) 23 and, other than that, like a physician, do no harm." That he wouldn't extend that logic to Lloyd Doggett in the not-violating-the-Constitution District 25 is not a surprise, but it's still nice to see him get called on this little paradox.

I've said all along that I believe the Court will take a minimalist view of their task, and that the one principle that I believe they will strive to adhere to is incumbent protection. It's one thing to rail against legislatures for engaging in all kinds of backscratching for the purposes of protecting their own, but I think it's a lot to ask three judges, with a gun to their heads, to sanction the elimination or at least the jeopardizing of a duly elected representative, even if that election occurred in a district that shouldn't have been. I believe that they will see any such maneuvers as the Lege's job and not theirs, and as such I believe they will hand back a map that does not pair up any incumbents. What may happen in 2008 and beyond, with or without further tinkering in Austin, is another story, but for 2006 I will be very surprised if Bonilla, Cuellar, and Doggett are not all heavy favorites to go back to Washington. We shall see.

And for what it's worth, Paul Burka reads Judge Higginbotham's comments in the same way as I do, and follows it to the conclusion that the panel already has a complete, incumbent-protecting plan in mind. The best part is we ought not to be kept in suspense for long.

UPDATE: Rep. Pena adds his thoughts.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 03, 2006
DeLay loses appeal

Hot off the presses.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled that former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay must stay on the November ballot for the office he resigned from in June, according to a lawyer for the Texas Democratic Party.

Details of the ruling were not immediately available.

Democrats sued Texas Republican Chairman Tina Benkiser had violated state law and the U.S. Constitution in declaring DeLay ineligible for office so the party could replace him on the ballot.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin ageed with the Democrats' position last month and issued an injunction against Benkiser.

The GOP appealed the decision to the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit.

A panel of two Democratic presidential appointees and one Republican appointee heard the case on Monday in New Orleans.

Republican lawyer James Bopp Jr. has said the party will appeal again, if it lost the ruling before the panel. The party could ask the full 5th Circuit to hear their appeal, or they could take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to the AP, the decision, which you can read here (PDF), was unanimous. While there may yet be more appeals, Hotline on Call says:

Our TV editor, Emily Goodin, reminds us of what DeLay said last night on Hannity and Colmes:

Tom DeLay: "The courts look like they want to keep me on the ballot. The Democrats don't want to give our people a choice. And if I'm forced to be on the ballot, I'm going to be on the ballot" ("Hannity & Colmes," FNC, 8/2).

To which I say: Bring it on. The Stakeholder has the reaction from Nick Lampson. Finally, BOR has some choice excerpts from the ruling.

Is this the end of the legal wrangling? What excuse will the Republicans give for this setback? Stay tuned and find out.

UPDATE: The RPT will appeal to the Supreme Court. As TPMMuckraker says, just how badly does DeLay want off the balllot? Pretty damn badly, it would seem.

UPDATE: Rick Hasen adds his analysis of the ruling.

[T]he Republican Party cannot get around the fact that while there is an effort to declare DeLay ineligible because he moved out of state, he in fact voluntarily withdrew from the race he was already in. For these reasons, I expect further appeals to fail.

BOR has more, including a pithy quote from Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie.

UPDATE: How could I overlook The Muse, who had three good posts on this topic? And if you're wondering what happened to those amicus briefs that were filed on DeLay's behalf, Juanita has the answer.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Warren Moon

Oldtime Houston Oilers fans ought to enjoy this retrospective on the life and times of Warren Moon, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next weekend. A little sample:

Clyde Walker had a brown Ford Falcon. Warren Moon needed a ride. And they have rolled together since high school, paving memory lane - Moon playing disc jockey to Walker's driver and playing keyboard on the dashboard.

Walker was there for the death threats before a game against Crenshaw High - and the five touchdowns Moon threw as he shrugged them off. And the high-school all-star game Moon wasn't invited to that they watched together, in silence, from the stands.

"People just had no sense of what he was capable of," Walker says. "Just like at UW."


Walker put up with racist slurs bandied around the stands, listened to fans question his friend's intelligence, until he could take no more. Then he stood up, started talking back and only narrowly avoided several fights.

"It was tough to listen to the ignorance, to listen to the racism, to listen to the frustration a lot of fans were feeling," Walker says. "They didn't get it. I felt sorry for some of those people."

They feel sorry, too. People have approached Moon in the years since he led the Huskies out of obscurity and to a 1978 Rose Bowl victory, grown men, bawling, asking for forgiveness.

"Those were some bittersweet days," Moon says. "I learned a lot about people. I learned about how tough I was. And I learned a lot about adversity and success."


Looking to leave Canada for the NFL, [Moon and agent Leigh Steinberg] took a secret visit to Houston in the middle of the night, went to the Oilers' facility when no one was around, ate dinner at an obscure downtown restaurant.

Seven teams were interested in Moon. Houston owner Bud Adams promised oil fields. New Orleans took the duo on a boat, pointed at the skyline and said, "All this can be yours." They arrived in New York City at 5 a.m., trash strewn in the streets, two cab drivers fighting on the curb.

The headline the next day in a New York tabloid read: Spaced-out Giants Shoot for the Moon.

They narrowed the list to two teams: Houston and Seattle. Both teams offered $5.5 million for five years, the largest contract in NFL history at the time. Only Houston offered $4.5 million as a signing bonus, the Seahawks only $1.1 million. Houston hired Hugh Campbell, Moon's coach in Edmonton, at the last minute.

To this day, Moon swears he wanted to sign with the Seahawks. But $4.5 million guaranteed was too much to pass up.

Congratulations to Warren Moon for his well-deserved enshrinement.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Metro will press on

Despite the entirely predictable opposition from Rep. John Culberson, Metro will keep doing its ridership studies and eventually announce its intended route for the Universities line.

In response to Culberson's request, addressed to board chairman David Wolff, the Metropolitan Transit Authority issued a statement saying that the 2003 referendum, in which voters narrowly approved light rail expansions, "called on Metro to seek federal funding to help pay the costs and we'll continue following the federal process so as to secure these funds."

The statement added that Metro "remains committed to open dialogue and communication with all points of view" and to "balancing competing needs to improve mobility for the city and region."

Opponents note that the referendum ballot specified a Westpark rail line and did not mention Richmond.

Metro contends the ballot language referred to corridors in which it can choose a specific route based on ridership, cost and other factors.

Although the federal funding process will continue through 2007, Metro staff expects to recommend a route for more detailed study by Tuesday.

According to Christof, there are seven options currently in play. He analyzes the various population figures for each, and also gives some more data on the Richmond options, and discusses the possible variations on the TSU end of the line. Check them out.

Meanwhile, the Chron gives Culberson the backhand he deserves.

It's fitting that Rep. John Culberson chose a Montrose area hot dog eatery as the site to declare his opposition to the use of any part of Richmond for the westside portion of the light rail University corridor. Instead of providing responsible leadership, the 7th District GOP official is attempting to score political points with a highly vocal anti-rail minority at the expense of everyone else.

Last year Culberson joined then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in supporting the Metropolitan Transit Authority's successful bid for federal funding for a regional transit plan that included westside rail. But old political habits die hard, and Culberson now seems to be reverting to his past political stance as a knee-jerk opponent to all things rail.

In letters to Mayor Bill White and Metro chairman David Wolff, Culberson makes the factually unsupported claim that 97 percent of the people who live, work or own property on Richmond strongly oppose Metro's plans. Since the transit agency is considering a number of options for either putting rail along all of Richmond or utilizing crossover routes at various points to Westpark, one wonders what crystal ball the congressman was using to come up with those numbers.

Since more than 700 residents have signed petitions supporting rail and the operators of Greenway Plaza and other major businesses on Richmond have welcomed it, Culberson's 97 percent figure is nothing more than political wishful thinking. Culberson's clout on the congressional committee that apportions federal transit dollars has given him his power to hold the region's entire mobility plan hostage to his own political agenda. In his letter to the mayor he singled out White and himself "as the two elected officials with primary responsibility for mass transit funding in Houston to protect our constituents and to ensure that their nearly unanimous decision is honored." The congressman has got it wrong. Only Mayor White is responsible for the city's needs as a whole and near unanimity has never been a requirement for civic progress.

In any major public works project, there will be opposition from some homeowners and businesses. As Metro supporters note, Culberson had no problem with supporting the condemnation of hundreds of properties in the expansion of the Katy Freeway.

Culberson's Democratic opponent in the November elections, Jim Henley, believes that this is a local issue and "we should follow the leadership of the mayor, Metro and City Council."

Will they remember this editorial at endorsement time? We'll see.

Finally, has some information on an interesting pro-Richmond advocate. Click the More link to read about him. Hey, Culberson, did you count this guy in your bogus 97% statistic?

Jason Hose has muscular dystrophy. He depends on his wheelchair and METRO to get to work everyday. Jason says, "I ride the #25 Richmond bus and the Metro Rail line and I see Houstonians from all backgrounds – rich, poor, young, old – riding to work and school. I talk to them about the rail line that’s planned, and I am shocked how many people don’t realize how much better rail service will be!"

Light rail service will be vastly superior to the bus service on Richmond today: more frequent service, more comfortable vehicles, faster boarding, wider sidewalks, and safer stations that are accessible to all of us – even people in chairs like Jason.

In fact, the low floors on the train make it possible for people with wheelchairs, strollers, or bicycles to roll directly into the train. That makes boarding faster and easier for everyone!

Jason says, "So many Houstonians cannot get to the meetings and don't know how the new rail line will help them. I feel I have a duty to my fellow riders to help get them the facts and dispel the myths. I know that one in five Texas adults cannot drive. Rail on Richmond is about bringing urban mobility for all of us -- including the disabilities community."

"The people who oppose rail on Richmond don't even use METRO. They have no idea where we need transit to go. It's time for Houston to hear from the people who really matter -- current users of METRO –- the people who the Richmond rail line will really serve."

You can catch Jason in action during rush hour Wednesday evening
What: Jason Hose picketing on Richmond to raise support for rail
When: Wednesday, August 2 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm
Where: 4900 block of Richmond, north side sidewalk, just inside the loop, between Guiton Street and the 610 frontage road. Free parking is available at the shopping center west of NTB.

To coordinate with Jason or schedule an alternate time, please email or call (512) 217-7317.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Another River Oaks Theater update

Houstonist is staying on top of the River Oaks Theater situation, with another update about response to the reports that the historic theater may soon face an ignominious demise. Supporters of the theater took their case to a mostly sympathetic City Council on Tuesday.

"This is about more than the River Oaks theater," said at-large council member Peter Brown, a registered architect. "This is about more than historic preservation. People are seeing that because Houston has been so reluctant to enact basic standards, the city is losing its character. We're losing the soul of the city."

Mayor Bill White said he has appointed at-large council member Sue Lovell to "take a look at where we go next." Proposals include identifying culturally significant buildings; creating significant tax incentives for owners to preserve them; and enforcing a waiting period for public comment before their demolition.

None of those proposals sound particularly onerous to me; I'd have to think that anything involving a tax break for preservation will be received reasonably well. I'll be very interested to see what Council Member Lovell comes up with.

Naturally, there was some skepticism:

At the council meeting two people voiced reluctance to pursue a wider-ranging preservation ordinance. "I don't want to become a city developers don't want to do business in because we change the rules," said council member Michael Berry.

Property-rights activist Barry Klein agreed. He added that preserving an owner's rights should trump historic preservation. But even Klein admitted a soft spot for the theater. "I personally signed that petition," he said.

If we were talking about a situation where the rules were constantly being tinkered with, then I could sympathize with Berry's argument. But doing what I think a lot of people (myself included) would say is a long overdue review of the city's historic preservation rules is hardly pulling the rug out from under developers. Sure, it's possible to go overboard, but does anyone think that's even remotely likely to happen? Let's at least see what our options are and go from there.

As for Klein's concern, again I'd say that going the tax incentive route should alleviate them. All that does is give developers and property owners another option, one they can choose or choose to ignore as they see fit. If that gets put on the table, I'd think it would be acceptible. But I guess we'll see.

Also via Houstonist, a reminder that it's not just the River Oaks Theater that may be imperiled.

Tucked discreetly behind the theater building, its entrance unmarked, lurks the Marfreless couch bar, whose regulars fear losing their unique refuge to the wrecking ball.

"I feel that the charm is going to be lost," said Alicia Pekmezaris about the changes to the shopping center and how it will affect the neighborhood.

The bar does not advertise, except through word of mouth. The music is soft, usually classical, intended to facilitate conversation.

"Even if the bar is still here, I don't think people will enjoy going to a bookstore before a movie. I think people will prefer going to a bar where they can have a world-class martini," Pekmezaris said.

As I've noted before, Marfreless is owned by my cousin-in-law. I sent him an informal inquiry about the bar's status when the River Oaks story first broke, and he didn't know any more about what might happen than I did at that time. I'll have to check with him again soon and see if that has changed.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 02, 2006
Guest post: Nick Lampson

When Charles asked me to guest blog on his site while he was on vacation, I thought . . . vacation?? Wow. Must be nice. Listen, Kuffner, I have been fighting for Texas's 22nd congressional district for a year and a half now--with no vacation! So while you're living it up out on vacation somewhere . . . St. Andrews golf course, Marianas Islands . . . wherever, I'll be right here in the Houston area writing your blog for you and trying to fit that little campaign thing I'm doing in there somewhere. And, frankly, I'm still not over the bloggers' party at the state convention. Sure, I was treated well, but my staff was, let's just say, "less than productive" the next day.

But speaking of the campaign, let me use this post to bring Off the Kuff readers up to speed on what's been happening over at Lampson for Congress. While Charles was sitting in his cubicle at work and dreaming of Pina Coladas with Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff, I was hard at work announcing my endorsement by the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club is the nation's oldest and largest environmental organization, and I welcome their support. At a press conference I held to announce this endorsement, I discussed my commitment to energy independence. This is something I feel strongly is essential to our environment, our economy, and our national security. It's an issue about which I am passionate, and, since I left Congress in 2005, I sit on the board of a company that makes bio-diesel from crops grown by American farmers.

Congress needs to do much more to encourage renewable energy like bio-diesel. This would reduce pollution. It would ensure that we no longer have to rely on oil supplies from the most unstable regions in the world. And, if Houston's energy sector looks to the future and takes a leadership role in innovation and development, energy independence could mean high-tech jobs right here in our area. Plus, it will create a larger market for American grown crops and will allow the dwindling numbers of family farmers in this country to keep the farms, which have been in their families for several generations. You know, there are still farmers in rural Ft. Bend County, and we need to let them know we haven't forgotten they're working hard down there to preserve their way of life even in the face of rapid urban development. After all, farming in Ft. Bend County is how my grandparents got their start in this country after arriving from Italy.

Oil will be a part of filling our energy demand for the foreseeable future. But America is moving toward reducing her need for foreign oil from unstable regions. America's leaders must make the commitment to fund research and development of renewable energy.

Now, I know some of you are more interested in politics than policy. So let me fill you in on what we've accomplished campaign-wise at Lampson for Congress. Thanks to the hard work of our volunteers and interns, we have contacted around 40,000 voters since the beginning of May. We have people knocking doors or making calls literally seven days a week. We are not waiting for the Republicans to untangle Tom DeLay's sticky web of political gamesmanship. We are moving full-steam ahead delivering our message of cutting our deficits and debt; building a homeland security effort that actually pays for things like port security instead of focusing on color-coded charts and press conferences; renewing our commitment to education; ensuring health care is a right, not a privilege, for all Americans; and pushing for a solid plan that makes Iraqis responsible for Iraqi security so we can eventually bring our troops home.

I want to thank all of the people who have been helping us with this effort. And I want to thank the Texas bloggers who have been following this race and not allowing our opponents to get away with a campaign of false statements and misinformation. And, despite my green-eyed envy over his vacation, I want to thank Charles as well for allowing me to submit this entry. I finally feel I have arrived in the blogosphere!

Nick Lampson
Candidate for Congress
22nd Congressional District

(Note: The Muse attended the event at which Lampson was endorsed by the Sierra Clun, and has some pictures from it.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Veterans rally for Harrell

You may recall the recent fact-challenged attack letter about Mary Beth Harrell that Rep. John Carter sent to constituents. Well, Harrell isn't taking this lying down, and she's got plenty of support for that. As Eye on Williamson reports, seven Democratic Congressional candidates from Texas, all of whom are veterans and members of the Fighting Dems, will be joining Harrell for a rally tomorrow in Georgetown. A press release on the rally is beneath the fold.

(Georgetown) In an unprecedented show of support, seven military veterans running for U.S. Congress across Texas are taking time from their busy campaign schedules to stand in solidarity with fellow Congressional candidate and Killeen Attorney Mary Beth Harrell, whose oldest boy is currently serving in Iraq. Harrell was recently attacked by her opponent, John Carter, in a fundraising letter.

These seven veterans were so outraged by the attack that they called for this press conference to repudiate the false claims made against Harrell.

Texas Congressional candidate, Vietnam Veteran and Retired Naval Aviator, Charlie Thompson (TX-5), said "He [Carter] has some nerve attacking Mary Beth when he has never served in the military and she has spent her life supporting those who served. Her husband, Bob, served his country for 23 years in the Army, their oldest boy, Rob, is in Baghdad, and their youngest is also serving on active duty. We have got to put a stop to this nasty campaign against Mary Beth right now."

The other members of the Texas Congressional Delegation of Candidates who will attend the press conference include: Ted Ankrum of Brenham, John Courage of San Antonio, David T. Harris of Arlington, Roger Waun of Wichita Falls, Dan Dodd of McKinney, and Rick Bolanos of El Paso.

Texas Congressional Candidate and Vietnam Veteran, Ted Ankrum, stated, "As an Army wife and mom, Mary Beth shares our values. She understands the sacrifice and dedication of soldiers and family members. "

"Congress must do more than just talk about supporting our troops. They must take action."Harrell will publish her "Soldiers, Families and Veterans Action Agenda," at the press conference.

WHAT: Announcement of the "Soldiers, Families & Veterans Action Agenda"

WHEN: Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 2 p.m.

WHERE: Pavilion at Legacy Hills Park in Sun City, 200 Del Webb Blvd Georgetown

WHO: U.S. Congressional Candidate Mary Beth Harrell & the Texas "Band of Brothers"

Posted by Charles Kuffner
August 01, 2006
Guest post: Jessica Farrar

Let me tell you why the recent immigration issue has little to do with the immigration issue and why the anti-immigration rhetoric affects not only Hispanics, but everyone.

To begin with, today's immigrants are to this year's election what gays were to last year's election, and what guns and abortion have been to past elections. This ploy is expected to drive the conservative voter base to the polls and dupe otherwise well meaning voters, much as the gay marriage issue successfully did last year. Given that proven strategy, we should all be concerned. What group is it going to be next year? Could it be African Americans? Or, will it be Asians? Maybe it will be non-Christians. Maybe it will be women since women's health is constantly barraged by so-called morals over science and medicine.

Don't be surprised when it's your group. Conservatives have been extremely successful with wedge issues. Now, they've become emboldened to go directly after individual groups. The immigration issue is really genius because it divides us by turning African Americans and Anglos against Hispanics at worst, or makes them complacent at best because it's not seen as their issue. This tactic alone should enrage everyone.

In last year's elections, conservatives were highly successful with the “gay marriage” issue. Who would have thought that something that was not legal in Texas, was not only made illegal but also written into the state's constitution writing off an entire segment of Texans? Same sex marriage had never been (pardon my pun) proposed. To my knowledge, a bill had never been filed in the State Legislature. Yet, conservatives convinced voters they needed to go to the polls to chisel it into the state constitution. It worked! Conservatives made up the numbers they lack in their voter base with Hispanics and African Americans and many other well intentioned people who don't normally vote for their political party. Conservatives convinced these voters that “gay marriage” was a real threat and had to vote to do something about it. Consequently, more conservative politicians were elected in those elections to the detriment of too many of the issues that actually do affect people's everyday lives, unlike their wedge issues. People have been convinced to vote God, gays, guns, and abortion while their ability to support their families or get ahead in life are being voted away by the politicians they've elected. It's happening again, only this year's wedge issue is immigration.

Another reason everyone needs to be concerned about the immigration issue is conservatives' call to revisit birth citizenship. Our Constitution says that if you're born in this country, you automatically become a citizen of it. But, what happens if this policy is changed? Then, everyone born in this country is affected, Hispanic or not. This tactic is really devious because it brings out the absolute worst bigotry in society. In the psyche of someone made to feel threatened by the diversity of this country, it's the nail in the coffin to those that don't look like them. It's a way of stopping those people who are taking over everything, in their minds. Not only does this question not have any practical solution, the sole purpose of bringing it up is to pour lighter fluid on the flames of racism. I know, racism is a bad word to say. Interestingly, the people who think it is are usually those that don't believe it exists or ever existed. Let's douse those flames with a fire extinguisher not a fire igniter. It's dangerous to allow those fires to spread.

I ask that we not be duped yet once again by the rhetoric of the Right. Don't allow conservatives to continue to bring out the worst in us. Great leaders don't incite fear. Instead, great leaders inspire courage and ask us to be greater than ourselves. Franklin Roosevelt, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, lifted us when he said that we had nothing to fear but fear itself. John F. Kennedy challenged us to ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.

Though the qualities of hope, courage, and loving thy neighbor are absent in the political party in power today, create it for yourself on the immigration issue as well as with their future wedge issues. Have your own talking points. Arm yourself with actual answers to conservatives' charges. Combat their myths with reality. Our country can only take so much. There are real life consequences to today's voting patterns. The pendulum may indeed swing back one day, but many of their changes to our laws won't find the political will to be switched back and we may not ever recover from their ravaging of our country's resources and good will. Do what you can today to save our country's future by sealing our borders against further recklessness. Migrate away from their poisonous fertilizer. Don't allow conservatives to continue to use the tactic of divide and conquer. Instead, let us unite and conquer.

Jessica Farrar
State Representative
House District 148

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Adopt a Sign in Fort Bend

Want to help turn Fort Bend County a little bluer this election cycle? Give Juanita a hand in putting yard signs where people will see them. Who knows, maybe Tom DeLay himself will drive past one of the signs you're sponsoring. Adopt a sign in Fort Bend and you can make that happen.

Meanwhile, if the questions being asked by the fifth Circuit judges are any indication, it looks like DeLay will be the candidate on the ballot in November. Paul Burka has more. Unless, of course, DeLay acknowledges reality and makes his withdrawal official. Juanita has some speculation on that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Richmond rail rally today

From in the inbox:

Richmond rail supporters to hold counter-rally at 9:00 am Tuesday right outside Culberson press event
Culberson presumes to "announce his decision" Tuesday regarding rail on Richmond

Houston, TX Aug 1, 2006 Congressman John Culberson continues to conspire with opponents of public transit to kill rail on Richmond. He will be the "keynote speaker" at their anti-Richmond rally and press briefing at James Coney Island on Tuesday at 10:00 am.

Show up at 9:00 am and get the other side of the story!
Richmond Rail supporters will hold a counter demonstration right outside at 9:00 am Tuesday to show our disgust with the Congressman and our support for rail on Richmond.

What: Richmond rail supporters' counter-rally outside Culberson's press event

When: Tuesday August 1 from 9:00 to 10:00 am

Where: 3607 Shepherd Dr. at Richmond Avenue (77098) on the sidewalk in front of James Coney Island

It's time for John Culberson to answer some tough questions!
Why does John Culberson presume "to decide" the fate of the Universities line?!?

Why is John Culberson working with a handful of NIMBYs from just one or two neighborhoods? John Culberson took an oath to represent his entire district, and the Universities rail project will affect all Houstonians. But he's here today with a small group of anti-rail leaders from Afton Oaks. Why?

Why is John Culberson pandering to fear mongerers?
Richmond rail opponents continue to claim that rail will hurt traffic while METRO has now shown that NO traffic lanes will be lost and nearly every left turn will remain. Rail opponents have personally terrified small business owners on Richmond with false claims that METRO has now refuted, but Culberson is standing firm.

Why is John Culberson suddenly a new champion of displaced businesses?
John Culberson personally oversaw the condemnation of more than 480 properties to expand the Katy Freeway -- including Courtesy Chevrolet, Ciro's, 90% of Spring Valley's commercial tax base, and others -- all to "improve mobility." In contrast, METRO has now shown they can run rail down Richmond to bring urban transit to Greenway Plaza and the Galleria by taking only 8 properties, one of which is vacant and one an "adult" bookstore, but Culberson "won't let that happen." Why???

Why won't Culberson support urgently-needed urban transit for central Houston?
Two weeks ago, Culberson's House committee awarded $700 million to Dallas for another 45 miles of light rail, doubling the size of their system. But back in Houston, Culberson co-chaired Texans for True Mobility which fought the METRO referendum and he has failed to deliver the federal funds Houston is depending on.

Is anyone surprised that Culberson will pursue the anti-Richmond agenda? Didn't think so. Click the More link for a press release from the Citizens Transportation Coalition.

UPDATE: The following is a press release from Jim Henley:

Jim Henley, Democratic candidate for U.S. Congressional District 7 strongly supports the development of light rail in Houston. Mayor Bill White, City Council, and METRO, recognizing the importance of transportation to the economic and environmental vitality of the city, have undertaken an open and inclusive evaluation process to determine appropriate locations for light rail lines. The current debate over the proposed locations of the University rail line is an important issue for our city and its continued growth and prosperity. Under Mayor White's leadership the process to choose the final route of the University line should continue as started, at a local level. The interference of Rep. John Culberson in this process is suspect given his long history of opposition to rail in Houston and the proximity of the November election.

CTC Press Release:

In a media advisory Monday, Congressman John Culberson says he will "announce his position on METRO's proposals to build light rail along Richmond Avenue" on Tuesday. Why? Federal law says the route alignment decision rests with METRO and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Houston's City Charter says routes will also be approved by City Council. These laws call for local control!

Back in March, Houston Mayor White told a crowd at St. Luke's that "we make our best decisions when we listen to each other," and "this won't be the end of the conversation." Houston City Council Members Anne Clutterbuck, Ada Edwards, and Pam Holm have held 9 METRO forums and dozens of small meetings that brought out thousands of Houstonians.

Houston's local elected leaders are clearly committed to engaging the public and building consensus on this important project that will shape Houston for decades to come. Even now, the Council Members are working directly with the City of Houston Planning Department to engage stakeholders in planning all five urban transit corridors.

But local authority isn't good enough for John Culberson. And given that METRO has not yet recommended the best alignment for the Universities line, you might conclude Culberson simply opposes the entire concept of expanding urban transit in Houston:

What: Rep. Culberson anti-Richmond rail press event

When: Tues Aug 1, 2006 at 10:00 am

Where: James Coney Island, Richmond store
3607 South Shepherd Dr., Houston, 77098

"Why does Culberson -- who lives in Arlington, Virginia -- keep coming back to meddle in local decision making?" asks Adra Hooks, a Castle Court resident. The federally-required planning process tasks METRO and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) with deciding the best route, and that process is scheduled to go until December. Culberson continues to politicize a process that should be based on informed public dialogue and fact-based analysis.

Many organizations have called on METRO to build for Houston's future by studying all of the options in an open and fair public process, and making the best technical decision possible. These include the Citizens' Transportation Coalition, the Greater Houston Partnership, the Intown Chamber of Commerce, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Museum District Business Alliance (MDBA), the West Houston Association, and others.

Houstonians deserve the best urban transit system we can build, that serves central Houston's businesses, universities, institutions, and neighborhoods. That means duly considering all possible choices of where to put rail. John Culberson has no right to prematurely select a route to suit his political needs.

Posted by Charles Kuffner