October 31, 2008
A cornucopia of late night electoral tidbits

Just some bits and pieces for your late Halloween/early Dia de los Muertos perusal...

KHOU shines a spotlight on Sherrie Matula and her two opponents in HD129.

Former Clear Creek schoolteacher Sherrie Matula is running for the Texas House. She said her team has knocked on over 20,000 doors during the campaign.

But just this month, her opponent overtook her in fundraising. This is because Houston homebuilder Bob Perry decided to pump big bucks into the campaign of the incumbent Republican John Davis.

Davis is one of several Republican legislators the lobby is worried about. There's a reason so much late money came pouring in to save some folks' butts.

KHOU also had a nice feature on SD11 and the effects of Hurricane Ike there.

But while many residents in Seabrook are still rebuilding their lives, the candidates running for State Senate in the upcoming election promise the next storm will be different.

Democrat Joe Jaworski wants insurance forms to clearly state what is and what is not covered. This way people can choose policies, knowing what will happen if a storm takes their home.

"I also want to put in some laws that make the claims process easier. Right now, we're waiting for checks, and waiting for adjustments. And sometimes, when the electricity is off and you're spending the money in your savings account, you can't wait," said Jaworski.

Jaworski is also on the air as he pushes to get the vote out in his district.

Also on the air: this sharp spot by the TDP to advocate for the Democratic slate of Supreme Court candidates.

Allow me to quote Paul Burka here:

The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court is an intellectually corrupt court. By this I mean that it is infused with the appearance of impropriety and inequity. Who you are matters more than the law and the facts. It has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Texans for Lawsuit Reform. It is also rife with judges who have committed ethical lapses, albeit mostly technical violations of campaign finance and reporting laws. The default choice for the average Court race ought to be the Democrat opposing the Republican, just to bring some balance and fairness back to the Court.

He goes on to violate that rule a couple of times, but the point still stands. I hope the electorate sees it that way.

The HCDP is also on the offensive in the closing days, going after Paul Bettencourt and Ed Emmett. It sure is nice to have a county party with resources and a strategy, isn't it?

Up in HD126, the Republican constable, who also happens to be the campaign treasurer for Rep. Patricia Harless, broke up a campaign event at an area park held by Democrat Chad Khan. Stace has the details.

Finally, the soap opera that is SD17 takes an even more delicious turn as it devolves into cybersquatting lawsuits and Hotze on Hotze violence. There just isn't enough popcorn in the world for this one.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
RIP, Fred Baron

Fred Baron, one of the prime backstage movers behind the recent resurgence of the Texas Democratic Party, has passed away at the age of 61.

Mr. Baron became known as the King of Torts for his more than 30 years of successfully representing clients injured by toxic substances, beginning with a 1977 asbestos case.

"Fred is a guy who changed the world, cared about helping people and wasn't in it for himself," said Marc Stanley, a longtime friend and chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Mr. Baron "loved anything where he felt he was helping people," said his wife, Lisa Blue-Baron of Dallas. "His whole thing was trying to make things better for other people."

Mr. Baron's desire to help people fired his passion for the law and politics, Ms. Blue-Baron said.

Mr. Baron was especially well respected in Texas political circles.

Texas Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie said Mr. Baron was a true champion of the people.

"A fierce advocate for those who believed they had no voice, Fred made it his life mission to protect and defend those who needed the most help," he said.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost called Mr. Baron a great man.

"He was generous and believed in the Democratic Party," Mr. Frost said. "He believed that people should have an opportunity in life. He single-handedly started to change the political face of Texas."

I never had the chance to meet Mr. Baron, so I unfortunately don't have anything personal to say about him. But Phillip Martin and Harold Cook did know him, and they have some lovely thoughts about him, which you should read. Rest in peace, Fred Baron.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Friday random ten: And now a short break from politics

Just because if I have to sit through one more political ad on TV, I'm gonna go postal. It's times like these that I'm glad Texas has not achieved swing state status. All songs are from the same group of Genius-generated playlists as before. I'm thinking one more week of this, then it's time to put Genius back to work.

1. "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" - Paul Simon
2. "I Wonder" - Robert Cray
3. "Walking On The Moon" - The Police
4. "What's a Girl To Do" - Marcia Ball
5. "Blister In The Sun" - Violent Femmes
6. "Tell Her About It " - Billy Joel
7. "Sultans of Swing" - Dire Straits
8. "It's Raining" - Peter, Paul, and Mary
9. "Recruiting Sergeant" - Great Big Sea
10. "Let Your Light Shine" - Keb Mo

Another win for the concept of combining Genius playlists. I think we're on to something good here.

UPDATE: And a Halloween-themed Five at Five from Jack FM:

Warren Zevon - Werewolves Of London
The Edgar Winter Group - Frankenstein
Michael Jackson - Thriller
Ray Parker, Jr. - Ghostbusters
Bobby 'Boris' Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers - Monster Mash

Happy Halloween!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early voting: Did I mention today is the last day?

Yes, today is the last day of early voting. Vote today, or wait till Tuesday. Today is likely to be very busy, possibly busier than Tuesday at your usual polling place, but I'd still try to cast my ballot today if I were in that position. But regardless, you have today and you have Tuesday. Please make sure you vote, and please make sure everyone you know votes.

If you do participate in early voting, you'll be part of a record breaking crowd to do so.

Ten days into this year's 12-day early voting period, 2.7 million people in the state's 15 largest counties had cast their ballots, compared to 1.7 million who had voted at the same point four years ago.

There's still a little time left -- today is the final day of early voting before Tuesday's election.

The Secretary of State's Office has kept day-by-day voter turnout statistics for 15 counties since 1996. This year's early balloting has surpassed the 2.4 million total in those counties in 2004.

Statewide, 3.7 million people voted early in 2004. The total number of Texans voting in that year's presidential race was nearly 7.5 million.

Secretary of State Hope Andrade will release her estimate of 2008 voter turnout in the next few days.

Here's the Texas Weekly chart. Note first that both of these are only through Wednesday. We had another 77,139 voters in Harris County yesterday, bringing the in-person total to 591,027 and the overall total to 643,529. I do think we'll fall short of 700,000 in-person early votes, though there's still an outside possibility. My guess would be 675,000 early votes, which should yield about 730,000 total votes. That's still mighty impressive. (BOR projects 305,000 early votes for Travis County.)

If the ratios from 2004 hold up, 2.7 million early voters from the Top Fifteen means we've surpassed 4 million early voters statewide. Going by the Texas Weekly chart and adjusting a bit to account for the extra volume of the last two days, I'd guess we'll wind up with about 3.4 million early votes from those counties, which is to say almost as much as the entire statewide early vote total from 2004. That would mean a bit more than 5 million early votes statewide. I think it's safe to say that if that's the case, the early vote total will be more than half of the final amount. Let's guess that 60% of all voters will have cast their ballots by the close of business today. That puts statewide turnout at about 8.3 million, or 61.5%. If the same ratio holds for Harris County, we'll have about 1.18 million votes. I think that's the low end for Harris - I won't go as far as PDiddie, but I think we'll easily surpass 1.2 million, and might reach 1.3 million.

And again, we come to the question of who it is that's doing all this voting.

Leland Beatty, a Democratic consultant, said 42 percent of early voters had voted in Democratic primaries and 20.6 percent in Republican primaries.

Republican pollster Mike Baselice said he thinks Democratic early voting numbers are high because so many participated in the primary between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. He said some of those voters will vote Republican in the general election.

"Nobody should be that excited about the turnout this far," he said.

Well, I agree that Mike Baselice probably shouldn't be all that excited, but he's cordially invited to speak for himself on this one. You may recall that according to Paul Bettencourt, eight percent of voters in the Democratic primary in Harris County this year had "some" history of voting in the Republican primary previously, while two percent were "hard Rs". So yes, "some" of these early voters that are identified as Democrats - and note that Beatty says they had "voted in Democratic primaries", not that they had "voted in this year's Democratic primary" - will be voting R. How much is "some", that's the question.

Finally, for what it's worth, I got the following in an email from the Ginny McDavid campaign:

Per early voting totals as of Tuesday evening, I ranked second among the Democrats challenging Republicans in the 4 competitive seats in Harris County in the ratio of Democratic Primary Voters over Republican Primary voters in the Early Vote totals:

1) Thibaut (District 133): 1.7 Dems to 1 Republican
2) McDavid (District 138): 1.5 Dems to 1 Republican
3) Redmond (District 144): 1.3 Dems to 1 Republican
4) Matula (District 129): 1.2 Dems to 1 Republican

I make no warranty as to the pedigree of those numbers - among other things, I don't know if this makes the "any Dem history" versus "voted Dem this year only" distinction - but they are in line with the overall trends, and also with what I've heard from other sources. As has been the case all along, I've heard some bright optimism concerning Democratic prospects based on the EV numbers so far, and some dismal pessimism. You can see whatever you want to see if you look hard enough.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: The "We just realized there's only one day of early voting left" edition

I don't know if the Chronicle was motivated by the end of early voting today or if they just finally broke through a logjam, but we have a veritable cornucopia of endorsements in this edition. First, they go for Loren Jackson for District Clerk.

In the current contest to fill the unexpired term of Charles Bacarisse, who resigned to run for county judge, the Chronicle believes 30-year-old Democratic challenger Loren Jackson has the background and talent to direct the office in the coming years.

The Texas A&M and South Texas College of Law graduate has been a litigation attorney for five years, practicing in federal and district courts while specializing primarily in environmental and products liability law. Jackson contends that the District Clerk's Office is not moving fast enough to implement paperless records and e-filing systems, and should be tapping the expertise of groups like the Conference of Urban Counties for advanced filing technology.

He criticizes incumbent Theresa Chang for returning $700,000 to the county's general fund when salaries of office clerks are as low as $22,000 and the management structure remains top-heavy with supervisors. Jackson says he has met with some clerks in the office who rely on government assistance, including the Children's Health Insurance Program, and "that isn't right." He promises to upgrade pay and training in order to provide employees a living income and a career route to reward their hard work.

The Chronicle urges voters to support Jackson and his ideas for improving the District Clerk's Office.

The Chron mentioned all these things in an article they wrote about the editorial board interview they had with Jackson and Chang. Clearly, they were impressed with what Jackson had to say.

Next, they dispose of the one remaining legislative race by endorsing Kristi Thibaut in HD133.

Thibaut brings passion and well-thought out positions to her candidacy on two important issues -- electricity deregulation and public education.

We like her empathy for hard-pressed homeowners facing escalating electric bills. This is a painful symptom of a larger problem. Electricity deregulation is not working. In hindsight, it probably shouldn't be surprising that plans created in the heyday of Enron and other corporate scalawags have problems. The topic needs revisiting in Austin.

Thibaut favors re-regulating tuition at Texas colleges and universities to keep higher education affordable and accessible for more Texas families. She would freeze tuition costs for four years for entering freshmen to help families better plan and budget.

She also recognizes the importance of continued strong support for K-12 education, especially on matters such as dealing with the alarming dropout rate and the number of teachers leaving the profession.

If she is elected, we would encourage Thibaut to take a page from Murphy's playbook and work across party lines in the Texas House.

The atmosphere of intense partisanship under the troubling leadership of House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, needs changing. We believe Kristi Thibaut would be an effective change agent in Austin.

The Chron had endorsed Thibaut in 2006 based on a dislike of Murphy's stance on stem cells and abortion. The rationale is different this time, and I think it's the first time the Speaker's race has come up. Murphy is a loyal Craddickite, so a Thibaut victory would certainly be a big step in the direction of a different (and hopefully Democratic, whoever that may be, Speaker). I thought the Chron might stick with the incumbent this time around, so I was wrong about that. I also thought the Chron would not endorse both Thibaut and Sherrie Matula, so by virtue of being wrong about Matula as well, I was right about that.

Finally, the Chron makes the obvious choices in the HCDE Trustee races.

Debra Kerner for County School Trustee, Position 5, At Large: Kerner, a career speech/language pathologist, has devoted her professional life to special needs students both in private practice and at a private nonprofit school. She has been an instructor of speech pathology at the University of Houston, a former president of the Houston Association for Communication Disorders and a former vice president of the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

She has always been devoted to public education, having sent her daughter to local public schools, and advocates proven innovations such as extended days and intensified teacher/parent engagement.

Jim Henley for County School Trustee, Position 7, At Large: Recently retired from two decades at Lanier Middle School, Henley was a revered teacher of history and debate. His power and originality as a debate coach led the Lanier debate team to win national championships five times between 2003 and 2007.

Henley shows the same dedication in his proposals for at-large Position 7. He pledges to expand programs and reduce waiting lists for early childhood education, scour the budget to ensure all county education tax dollars are well-used and insists on accountability from administrators, educators and families to stanch the county's devastating 40 percent dropout rate.

Professionals over ideologues. Sometimes it really is that simple.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Prognosticating with the stars

So you think you know what's going to happen on Election Day? Put your money where your mouth is and take The Roundtable challenge to see if you can do better than the local punditocracy and media moguls. All in good fun, of course. Leave your guesses here in the comments if you like, or send the answers in yourself. Enjoy!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The argument for campaign finance reform in Texas, in a nutshell

Item: Texans for Lawsuit Reform rents a candidate.

Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a business group instrumental in winning significant restrictions on civil lawsuits, has endorsed two candidates -- Republican Joan Huffman of Southside Place and Democrat Stephanie Simmons of Missouri City -- for the District 17 state Senate seat.

Although TLR normally gives more money to Republicans than Democrats, its political action committee so far has given no money to Huffman, a former state district judge, but is largely underwriting Simmons' campaign, her first for public office.

Some 74 percent of the $273,586 Simmons reported raising through Sunday came from TLR. The business group has given the political novice $17,500 in cash and donated another $184,000 in-kind for direct mail and survey research.

Item: House Speaker Tom Craddick spends a lot of cash, maintains even more.

Craddick, R-Midland, has done a lot to help other Republicans, Craddick spokeswoman Alexis DeLee said. Craddick has transferred more than $1.1 million from his campaign account to his Stars Over Texas political action committee to help GOP candidates.

Let's dispense with the obvious first: Without TLR, there is no Stephanie Simmons campaign for SD17. In her detailed report, she has a total of eight donors who are not TLR or not named Simmons. Of the $27K or so raised this period from those remaining donors (this story combines the 8-day-out total with the 30-day out total), $25K of it comes from two people - $15K from the previously-noted Jeff Sandefur, and $10K from Hank DeShazer, who appears to be Simmons' employer.

I don't know about you, but I have a problem with candidates whose funding comes from a small set of sources. Who do you think they're going to answer to when they get elected? Of course, Simmons' purpose here isn't to get elected. TLR, which is a Republican PAC, has Joan Huffman in mind for that. No, like a panelist on "Hollywood Squares", her purpose is to block Chris Bell. I don't know if she's been on board with that plan from the beginning or if she's being scammed by TLR and Ron Wilson, but that's the role she's playing here.

As for Craddick, the story I cited expresses surprise that he's sitting on so much money when his tenure as Speaker may be at stake, but make no mistake. He's spending plenty of money in a variety of races, along with his cronies. A bunch of candidates who had lousy 30-day reports, like Ken Legler and Bryan Daniel, are suddenly awash in cash thanks to the largesse of Craddick and crew. One wonders how much effect a few late-dropping mail pieces and TV/radio ads will have at the tail end of this ponderously long election cycle, but better to have them than not.

There was a time when I thought the problem was too much money in campaigns. I don't believe that any more, but I do still think there's a problem with too much money from a small number of sources having a disproportionate effect on too many campaigns. I'd like to see the rules geared towards encouraging candidates to broaden their donor base and not to rely too much on the fat cats and lobbyists and their PACs. I would not advocate for a McCain/Feingold solution for Texas, as I think that is not the best approach, but I don't see any problem with putting some kind of limit on how much any individual person or PAC can give in a single year to any candidate or other PAC. I never bought the campaign-contributions-as-free-speech argument against McCain/Feingold, but even if you do accept it I don't see how limiting an individual to (say) a maximum of $500,000 in total contributions to state candidates in the course of a calendar year seriously infringes anyone's rights. I'd put a similar limit on donating to PACs, and limit PACs to doling out a max of a million bucks in any given year as well. The numbers aren't carved in stone, and whatever figures you prefer should have some kind of annual inflation adjustment, but I think the concept is valid. There needs to be some limit to the amount of influence the big players can wield.

On the other end of the scale, I'd also support some kind of system that provided matching funds for small-dollar donations. Again, the specific numbers aren't as important as the idea of incentivizing that kind of fundraising as opposed to the sugar daddy system we have now. If we know one thing from this year, it's that small donors can provide plenty of fuel for the right campaign. I'd like to see more of that.

Of course, I don't expect to see any of this ever happen, and if someone were foolish enough to attempt a serious run at in the Lege, they'd have a huge target hung on their back by the very forces who'd lose out under this. But it's what I think should happen, and if I can't have hope for that kind of change now, when can I have it?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
One way to deal with sign stealers

I repeat, sign stealing is lame. But that doesn't mean you don't have to deal with it. And if you must, it pays to think outside the box. Bravo, sir. And while we're on the subject, Harold Cook has a sign-stealing story to tell, too. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 30, 2008
One last UT poll

One more poll to consider as we approach the end of early voting. This one is from the University of Texas.

The UT poll shows McCain running ahead of Obama statewide, with a 51 percent to 40 percent margin. Cornyn, a first-term Republican from San Antonio, leads Noriega, a state representative from Houston, 45 percent to 36 percent. Another 14 percent of voters remain undecided in the Senate contest.

The poll found that 89 percent of Lone Star State voters say the country's economic situation is worse than a year ago. And President Bush and Congress both get record low marks.

Just 34 percent of Texans approve of Bush's job performance -- a big change for a former governor who won re-election 10 years ago with 70 percent of the vote. And Congress is even more unpopular: Just 8 percent of Texas voters approve of the work being done on Capitol Hill.

The telephone poll was conducted by the Texas Politics Project and Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin. The poll was conducted from October 15 to 22, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.

The first point to make is that this data is up to two weeks old. As Nate says, that's pretty unusual these days. I have no idea why a poll conducted between the 15th and the 22nd is just being released on the 30th.

Some limited data about the survey is here. I'll note that whatever else one may think, the results are in line with most other recent polls, the last Rasmussen Senate poll being an exception. The (too) high number of undecideds skews things a bit - in particular, for the one bit of sample breakdown that we do get, the poll claims 16% of black respondents and 17% of Hispanics are undecided in the Senate race. I can just about guarantee you that a large majority of each will ultimately cast their ballots for Rick Noriega. On the flip side, I think the five percent showing for Libertarian Yvonne Schick is too high - I believe she'll ultimately get two to three percent, with the rest mostly going back to Cornyn.

I note, by the way, that Evan Smith thinks Cornyn will do better in Texas than McCain will. I've been arguing for the opposite, in part because I think Noriega will do better among Hispanic voters than Obama will. On the other hand, there may be a greater dropoff in Democratic participation after Obama than there is Republican participation after McCain, and that could make up the gap that I foresee. Which do you think will be the case?

Finally, the bit about an abnormally large number of people in Texas still believing Obama is a Muslim is weird, but probably not worth fretting about. You have to wonder, if the Obama campaign had done any field work here for November like they've been doing in so many other states, would that number be closer to the national average? Guess we'll never know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early voting: Over a half-million served

Here's your daily EV update. A total of 70,621 in-person votes were cast yesterday, which is a 42.8% gain over 2004's figure of 49,449. Not quite the Birnberg number, but close enough. The grand total with two days to go is 513,888, which is more than the entire early plus mail total from 2004. We are truly in uncharted territory.

Having said that, the growth curve is perhaps not quite as robust as it could be. We may still get to 700,000 early in-person votes, but we may wind up closer to 650,000 instead. Dr. Murray's estimated amount of 750,000 early plus mail ballots (49,558 have been returned so far) is within reach, but is probably on the high end. On the other hand, the last two days are historically the busiest, and the last Friday of 2004 was over 35% busier than the last Wednesday. We certainly may see a big surge at the end. Nobody really knows.

On a lark yesterday, I asked the folks who follow me on Twitter if they had voted yet, and if not when they were planning to. Of the 16 people who responded, ten had already voted, three were intending to vote early but hadn't gotten to it, two were planning to vote on Election Day, and one was still waiting for an absentee ballot to arrive. So there's your unscientific election factoid for the day.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Have you always been concerned about that?

Before I get to today's endorsements, let's briefly discuss this item from yesterday, in which the Chron gravely intoned of a looming catastrophe.

We would respectfully request those considering a straight ticket vote in either party to reconsider their decision.

Such an approach dismisses worthy candidates in both parties, especially in local races for judicial benches and other such posts. It also increases the likelihood that unqualified candidates will slip into positions of responsibility.

If voters choose to cast ballots for a straight ticket after examination of the ballot on a race-by-race basis, that is their perfect right. But they do themselves, their fellow citizens and the system no favor by opting for the straight-party ticket without careful thought.

I wonder if there was a similar thing written back in 1994, when it was clear to everyone that Democratic judges were about to go extinct. I don't necessarily disagree with the notion, but as I can't say I've ever heard any member of the Republican establishment express regret that some highly-qualified jurists were ejected that year. As an extra added bonus, that was the election that first installed John Devine on the bench. So, I have no current plans to feel guilty about any future Democratic sweeps, if they should happen. The Chron made their feelings known when they gave their endorsements. I don't see why they saw fit to underline them in this way. And by the way, as I said before, if their poll is an accurate guide, we'll see an abnormally low rate of straight-ticket votes this year anyway. So why worry?

Now then. The Chron finally tackles the SD17 special election by giving their endorsement to Chris Bell.

A Dallas native and a University of Texas graduate, Bell brings to the race a solid track record in public office. He served five years on Houston City Council where he chaired the council's ethics committee. It produced recommendations that tightened up the city's campaign finance rules and mandated financial disclosure measures for elected officials.

After unsuccessfully running for mayor, Bell was elected to Congress, where he earned favorable notice as a freshman and founded the Port Security Caucus while serving as a whip for the Democratic leadership. Bell filed ethics complaints against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the first shots in a fight that led to DeLay's resignation.

Bell found himself a target of the 2003 redistricting effort masterminded by DeLay, which sought to defeat some incumbent Anglo Democrats across the state by making their districts majority minority. He was defeated in the Democratic primary by Al Green. Two years ago, he won the Democratic nomination for governor and came in second behind Republican Rick Perry in a four-way race.

A lawyer with the firm Patton Boggs, Bell is registered as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., but dropped that status in Texas before seeking office. He pledges not to lobby in the state if elected.

In the current race, Bell is calling for utility rate reform, tripling the homestead exemption and reversing tuition deregulation at public universities. The candidate has demonstrated in previous elective office that he can be an effective advocate for his constituents.

Not sure what took them so long on this one, but they got it right, and that's what matters. They also endorsed Michael Williams for re-election to the Railroad Commission. Both recommendations were as predicted.

Meanwhile, it wasn't specifically an endorsement, but Mayor Bill White took the time to defend Adrian Garcia against some attack ads that Sheriff Tommy Thomas had been running.

By the time we got to the weekly Mayor's press conference, White spoke more directly. He was unhappy with the ad by Sheriff Tommy Thomas recently began airing. In the attack ad, Thomas' campaign says that Garcia admitted to using marijuana "more than 100 times". Apparently, the campaign got it from an HPD application form, and whatever Garcia wrote, he was referring to things he did when he was 16-17 years old.

The Mayor was not happy, and took the unusual step of defending Garcia at his weekly news conference. "I'm not doing endorsements I'm just telling people that I know he's a person of outstanding character, he's been hard working and a great public servant," said White.

"I think people need to stand up for people when people attack their character if they know him."

Garcia tried to stay above the fray, saying he only attacks his opponent's record, and not his personal issues. He also said he was simply being honest about his teenage years, but he doesn't know where the "100 times" reference is coming from.

Good for Mayor White. That ad is apparently no longer running, so perhaps the point has been made.

Remember Sally Ride, the first American woman in outer space? She's endorsing Barack Obama. Not that there's anything unusual about that these days, but I thought it was cool.

Finally, I present this without comment, because frankly, what can one add to that? I don't know how I wound up as a recipient on the mailing list that distributed it, but I ain't complaining.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
eSlate hate

Just a few thoughts regarding this article about the sSlate machines that Harris County uses.

County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, a Republican who administers elections, pointed out that eSlates have had many fewer reported problems than "touch-screen" technology, which has led to isolated cases in Texas of machines recording votes that were the opposite of voters' intentions.

"In light of what has transpired since with other equipment, the county made the right choice," Kaufman said Tuesday. "The equipment is resilient."

If my only choices were eSlate and touch screen, I'd definitely choose eSlate. Touch screens are very problematic. Of course, these aren't the only possible choices, and even if they were, there's plenty of room to improve the eSlate experience. Just being better than touch screens, which is akin to being more ethical than Ted Stevens, isn't enough.

About 40,000 eSlate machines are in use in the world, according to manufacturer Hart InterCivic. "Not one has ever lost a vote," operations director Peter Lichtenheld said Tuesday.

But such assurances were insufficient to prevent Ohio election officials from finding earlier this year that eSlates are unreliable and too vulnerable to interference by rogue computer experts.

When it comes to government standards and testing of electronic voting machines, even the Hart InterCivic official acknowledges a problem.

"The current regulatory environment is simply moving too slowly and seems ill-defined," Lichtenheld said.

The day is coming, if you don't think it's already happened or is already happening now (which, for what it's worth, I don't), that someone will successfully launch an attack on eSlate machines in a way that materially affects the outcome of at least one election. I think before that day comes, we're likely to see an eSlate machine fail in some way as to prevent some votes from being counted. It's for that reason that I've advocated a backup system such as a printed receipt of each person's votes, which get collected at the polling place.

Contrary to rampant rumors, pressing the eSlate button for a particular party's slate of candidates applies to the selection for president. Voters who press a straight ticket button and mark a vote for their presidential candidate effectively erase their vote for president and preserve their votes for candidates of that party in all other races.

However, if a voter picks a straight-ticket option and then votes for the presidential candidate in another party, it will register.

ESlate defenders point out that voters can review their selections on a "summary screen," and change any unintentional mistakes, before recording their by pressing the "cast ballot" button.

But some experts shake their heads at the fact that voting for a presidential candidate for emphasis after voting "straight ticket" negates the selection for the White House.

"The eSlate has a number of odd and unpredictable behaviors with respect to straight-ticket voting," said Mike Byrne, Rice University associate professor of psychology and computer science.

I gave the straight ticket vote experience a test myself this year. While it did what I'd have expected it to do, I definitely think the warning screen, as well as the final summary screen, could be clearer and easier for non-sophisticated users to understand.

With 40 judicial races on the list along with federal and local races, the Harris County general election ballot is one of the longest in the nation. Dan Wallach, who founded Rice's Computer Security Lab, pointed out that, because of the length, voters must examine three summary screens to check the accuracy of their votes.

Worse, he wrote in an article last week, "our research shows that as many as 63 percent of voters fail to notice errors on the summary screen."

This for sure should be addressed. At the very least, it should be more obvious that you have more than one page to verify. Again, I think a printed receipt would go a long way to help with that.

One last point: I can just about guarantee that the eSlates will be an issue in the 2010 election for County Clerk. I'm not as negative on them as some folks, but I definitely think there's a lot of room for improvement, and I don't think that has been anywhere near sufficiently addressed. I look forward to having this discussion at that time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Chron overview of the RRC race

The anachronistically named Texas Railroad Commission is pretty high up there in the power-to-prominence ratio. This year's race for Railroad Commissioner is pretty typical, modulo the unusual three-way Democratic primary that left the little-known contender Mark Thompson standing. The Chron has a brief overview of the RR Commish race, in which Thompson takes on incumbent Michael Williams.

Thompson said Williams is too dependent on contributions from the companies he regulates to effectively regulate them.

"He's not looking after the people," said Thompson, 49, a therapist for the blind and a safety advocate who lives in Garland.

Williams raised $1.3 million from January 2007 through June 2008, of which 44 percent came from the energy companies he is sworn to regulate, according to an analysis by Texans for Public Justice, a group that tracks the influence of money in political campaigns.

Williams said he was not ashamed to accept money from energy interests and asserted it did not taint his decisions.

"I am proud that the people who know energy have enough confidence in my record and my vision to give freely to my campaign," he said.

I don't really have anything to add to the article. I'll note that as obscure as the RRC is, it's usually slightly higher profile than the State Board of Education. But thanks to an extra-large helping of ignorance and dishonesty by incumbent SBOE member David Bradley, that's not the case this year. That's a mighty impressive feat. PDiddie has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 29, 2008
Me on your teevee on Tuesday

My usual modus operandi for election nights is to hit a party or two and mooch all the free food and beer I can celebrate or commiserate with my fellow Democrats in a social environment. This year will be a little different, as the folks at KHOU have asked me and my blogging colleague David Benzion of the Lone Star Times to join them in the studio on Tuesday night and do some free work for them provide our unique and witty insights to their viewing audience. Naturally that will include some blogging, which you'll be able to see here (with crossposting or at least link-pointing here as I can do it). So instead of watching "NCIS" and the rest of the CBS Tuesday night lineup, you can tune in and be reminded once again why I have a face and voice for blogging. Though I'm sure their professional makeup staff will do the best they can with what they'll have to work with. Anyway, look for me on the tube next Tuesday night, and if you're at an election night party, please have a beer for me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early voting: Still following the pattern

The early vote in Harris County was 66,506 yesterday, the busiest day yet. That matches the pattern from 2004, except at a higher level - the corresponding 2004 number was 46,393, and the nine-day total was 240,846 then and 443,267 now. That's "only" an 84% increase from 2004, not quite the doublings we'd seen last week, but still pretty healthy. It's also more than the total for all of 2004, which makes it a record-breaker, and we should blow past the initial projection of 500,000 early votes sometime today.

Here's an update of that graph I posted on Monday:

If the trend continues to match that of 2004, I expect we'll get about another quarter million early voters, for a grand total of about 700,000 in-person votes, and a bit more than 750,000 total votes. Election Day itself could be a relatively sleepy affair and still surpass 2004's total turnout; if that represents 60% of all voters, we'll have 1.25 million when all is said and done.

Rick Casey gets HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg's reaction to this. Yesterday's total was a key component to it.

On Monday, the turnout was 150 percent of what it was on the corresponding day four years ago. Birnberg's theory was that the Tuesday turnout would indicate whether today through Friday, the last three days of early voting - traditionally the heaviest stretch - would slip back to 2004 levels, return to the stratospheric numbers of the first seven days, or settle some place in between.

If they slip back to 2004 levels, it's bad news for Birnberg.

If they stay at 150 percent, "that will probably mean the Democrats will swamp Harris County," he said.

"If they go back up, which I do not predict, to numbers approaching 200 percent, then the figures are so far off the chart I don't know how to interpret them."

His logic seems sound. He figures about half a million will vote on Election Day.

He also believes John McCain will not get more votes in the county than Bush won in 2004 - 585,000 or 55 percent of the 1,068,000 votes cast.

Sarah Palin may have energized the base, but so did Bush.

If the early vote stays at 150 percent of 2004 levels, Birnberg calculates, Harris County will see a record turnout of about 1.2 million, more than enough to beat Bush's mark.

Birnberg's argument is bolstered by what he knows about the early vote. Every night he gets a tape of data showing who voted.

It's the same data obtained by Leland Beatty, a veteran Democratic numbers cruncher based in Austin. Beatty screens the early voting list both statewide and by major counties against a data base of voters who participated in past elections.

In the first week of Harris County early voting, Beatty says, nearly half the voters had voted in only Democratic primaries.

Only about 22 percent had voted only in Republican primaries. And about 23 percent were either new voters or had voted only in general elections.

These numbers appear to overwhelmingly favor Obama and other Democrats. But Beatty, as cautious as any other Democrat, cautions that those who have never voted in primaries make up about 60 percent of Harris County registered voters.

"They're holding off," he said. "So while it looks like a Democratic surge, those other voters wouldn't be holding back if they had made up their minds. So Election Day is a decision day."

Tuesday's total wasn't quite 150% of 2004 - as Casey notes, it was 143% - but it was enough of an increase to feel good about. The magic numbers for today are 49,449, which is the 2004 total, and 74,173, which is 150% of that. I'd say that seventy thousand would be plenty good enough.

Here's the Texas Weekly chart for the Top 15 again. Fort Bend is the only county still going at a pace that's more than double that of 2004, but growth across the board is brisk. By the way, the final voter registration total for Texas is 13.5 million. If turnout statewide is right at 60%, we will get eight million total voters. I believe we are very likely to get to this level.

So, how many of you reading this have not yet voted? Are you still planning to vote early, or are you an Election Day purist? Leave a comment and let me know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Larry Joe Doherty

For what will probably be my last interview of this cycle (there's still a chance I'll have one more), I bring you a conversation with Larry Joe Doherty, who is running a spirited and closely contested campaign in CD10. Larry Joe has attracted the support of the DCCC and progressive groups like Blue America, pretty darned impressive when you remember that no Democrat wanted to touch this district originally. Doherty has also attracted his opponent's attention, though not without consequences. My interview with Larry Joe Doherty is here, as always in MP3 format. Enjoy!


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Harris County Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Dexter Handy, Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Joe Jaworski, SD11
Jim Henley, HCDE Trustee
Rick Noriega, US Senate
Kristi Thibaut, HD133
Joe Montemayor, HD127
Rep. Nick Lampson, CD22
Richard Morrison, Fort Bend County Commissioner, Precinct 1
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Skelly and Hinojosa

As expected, the Chron gives thumbs up to Michael Skelly in CD07.

Michael Skelly for U.S. Representative, District 7: For a diverse range of communities stretching from the Texas Medical Center and West University Place to the far northwest suburbs of Houston, the representative for District 7 must balance many interests and service priorities. The Chronicle urges voters to support a political newcomer, Michael Skelly, an entrepreneur and family man who built Horizon Wind Energy, one of the largest such companies in the nation.

His life offers an appealing American story -- an Irish immigrant who came to the U.S. at the age of 2 with parents who had little money but plenty of determination. Skelly graduated from Notre Dame and Harvard Business School with the assistance of loans and grants.

Skelly supports Metro's plans to build light rail on portions of Richmond and Westpark. He opposes federal restrictions on stem cell research and pledges to push for expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Skelly believes the best way to achieve independence from foreign oil is to push development of alternative energy sources but opposes windfall profits taxes on industry and supports expanded domestic drilling.

Though they didn't bother to mention incumbent Rep. John Culberson by name here, I'd say you can take the penultimate paragraph above as the main reasons for the endorsement. Well, that and the fact that the Chron has a fairly long history of disagreeing with Culberson, who will no doubt ignore every other endorsement the Chron has made to tout this as further evidence of the paper's eeeeevil liberal bias. Because in the end that's all that ever really matters.

The Chron also endorsed Republican incumbents Kevin Brady and Mike McCaul for CDs 08 and 10, respectively, in order to provide exceptions that prove the rule. I'm not sure why they endorse in CD08, which covers Montgomery County, and not CD14, which includes parts of Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Galveston Counties; it's the only office that doesn't touch Harris County in which they offer a recommendation. Ron Paul is unopposed this year so it's not that big a deal, but they did the same thing in 2006.

As for McCaul, this may be the weakest recommendation I've ever seen:

In a district designed to elect a Republican, former Texas deputy attorney general Michael McCaul has been a good fit during two terms in office. He has focused on homeland security issues.

Although McCaul has criticized his Democratic opponent, attorney Larry Joe Doherty, for negative campaigning, a McCaul Web site pushes its own line of questionable attacks against Doherty. We hope if elected to another term McCaul better practices what he preaches.

Yes, the old "endorse him and hope he follows our advice for the next term" strategy has such a good track record. Whatever.

The Chron also finishes up in the county courts by recommending the appointed Republican incumbent judge in Probate Court #1 and the Democratic challenger in the other:

Robert Hinojosa for Family District Judge, 312th District, unexpired term: A family lawyer with 36 years' experience, the Democratic Hinojosa spent a year as judge of the 308th Family District Court before losing the post in a 1994 Republican sweep. He has served as associate judge in City of Houston Municipal Courts and as judge advocate in the Air Force. He is able to preside over cases in Spanish as well as English.

With five more days for making endorsements left, the remainders are now the following:

1. Railroad Commissioner

2. State Senate, District 17

3. State House, District 133

4. District Clerk

5. HCDE Trustees

6. Justice of the Peace, all precincts

7. Constable, all precincts

Quite the exciting race to the finish, isn't it?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Chron overview of the Commissioners Court race

We have a rarity in Harris County politics this year - an actual Democrat-versus-Republican race for a County Commissioners Court seat. That race is for Precinct 3, where long-term incumbent Steve Radack faces Democrat Dexter Handy. Radack last had a Democratic challenger in 1996, when he defeated a gentleman named Fred Stockton by a 68.8-31.2 margin. El Franco Lee, running for re-election in Precinct 1 against a Libertarian candidate, has not faced a Republican since at least 1996 (the County Clerk's online archives only go back that far). Jerry Eversole, the man who expects to be nailed by the FBI any day now, last faced an opponent when frequent commenter and Commissioners Court regular Charles Hixon ran against him for Precinct 4 in 2002, garnering 27% of the vote. That was also the last time we had a competitive race for the Court, as Sylvia Garcia won the open seat formerly held by Jim Fonteno in a close finish against former Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, 52.0-46.5; both she and Eversole ran unopposed in 2006.

Will we have a competitive race this year? Probably not, but you never know.

Handy, a 28-year military veteran, had just $1,200 in the bank as of early October, after taking in $5,400 in contributions and spending $6,100 between July and late September. Radack, by comparison, had $922,000 in the bank after accepting $39,000 in contributions and spending about the same amount in that time period.

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said it would be a "real shock" if an underfunded, relatively unknown Democrat knocked off an entrenched Republican commissioner in a traditionally conservative precinct. However, the results could be unusually close as a growing number of minority families, who often vote Democratic, settle in Houston's western suburbs, Murray said.

"The county is changing," Murray said. "Is there enough change to put a 20-year commissioner in some peril? Probably not, but that's why we have elections."

I don't have precinct data at hand to make any objective guesses about how the vote might shake out. I can say that Radack received the vote of 65.2% of everyone who cast a ballot in 2004, which is a pretty decent figure for an unopposed candidate. I think if Handy can hold Radack under 60%, we'll see a spirited and high-dollar race for what will be this open seat in 2012.

I'll say this for Radack - When he goes, the Court will not be the same.

Known for his colorful, brash commentary during Commissioners Court meetings, Radack did not change his tune as he sought an endorsement Monday from the Houston Chronicle's editorial board.

When asked about ethics issues that have dominated the county judge race, Radack said he saw no point in Commissioners Court voluntarily agreeing to follow standards that are not required by law since it would be easy for loopholes to be exploited. He freely admitted that county contracts are awarded to friends if everything else about the proposals is equal.

He also reiterated his opposition to building a downtown jail rejected by voters last fall without putting it on the ballot again. And he expressed unwavering support for the contract deputy program, saying it puts more officers on the street to protect everyone, not just neighborhoods that can afford to pay for deluxe protection.

I agree with him on the county jail issue, though I'd take it farther and just say "no", full stop. I think he's all wet on the ethics issue, and I think the contract deputy situation needs a thorough review. But as the saying goes, at least you know where he stands. And may I say that I agree with the Chron in that Radack ought to give some consideration to various things Handy has touted. Nice to have a contested election now and again so issues can be discussed, even in passing, isn't it?

So anyway, this election will be interesting as a partisan temperature check for the precinct, with what I suspect will be the real fireworks to come in 2012. Having said that, I have a question: Does Harris County have a requirement to review, if not redistrict, Commissioners Court precincts in 2011? I know that redistricting in Constable/Justice of the Peace precincts is optional and radioactive, but if the law requires it, then that's a different story. A question I'd like to see addressed is at what point should we split the existing precincts, each of which has about a million people in it, which is greater than the population of seven US states, into smaller ones? Surely smaller precincts would bring greater breadth to the Court, and might make it less expensive for challengers to wage campaigns. What do you think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
You won't need to register that bike

Do you own a bicycle? If you do, you're probably in violation of a city ordinance.

Mayor Bill White breaks this law. Thousands of innocent children could be implicated. You, dear reader, may be in violation and not even know it.

The city finally is cracking down on bicyclists' rampant disregard of the registration law -- by getting rid of the law.

City officials and bike enthusiasts all seem to agree that it's a silly, outdated ordinance that is all but impossible to enforce.

The City Council could vote to strike the law from the books on Wednesday.

The law requires owners to register their two-wheelers at a local fire station for $1 and place a little license sticker on the bike.

"This is something that I think is sporadically done," said Randy Zamora, the city's chief prosecutor. "And I think the firemen have better things to do."

Hard to argue with that. I have to say, it never would have occurred to me that this was a requirement. If we had such a thing in New York when I was growing up, I was a scofflaw. Whatever the reason was for passing this law back in 1968 - the article says no one really knows, and I guess there's no one left around to ask - it clearly serves no useful purpose now

Discarding the bike registration law is part of an ongoing overhaul of the city's permit process, said Alfred Moran, the director of Administration & Regulatory Affairs.

Houston issues 260 permits out of nine separate departments, but officials are working to streamline the application process. The city might build a one-stop permit center and is working to get all permit forms and applications online.

While they're at it, I hope they review other permits and such to see if more of them should be dumped like this one. If it doesn't make sense, if you can't think of a compelling reason to keep it, get rid of it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 28, 2008
Eight days out

Some highlights from the eight days out reports, where the real money often gets spent, for Harris County races.

HD149: Greg Meyers gets a huge cash injection from a couple of Republican PACs as they try to knock off Rep. Hubert Vo. Meyers collected $276,844.67, including $13,946.21 from Empower Texans, $32,570.36 from the Republican Party of Texas (all in-kind for each), and a whopping $175,000 in cash and $6,063.10 in in-kind contributions from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. He reported spending $225,380.00, with $38,218.55 on hand.

Vo also got some big contributions. He collected $213,748.89, including $23,477.40 in cash and in-kind donations from his colleague Rep. Garnet Coleman, $60,000 from the HDCC, and had a loan of $95,459.46. All together, he spent $31,396.48 and reported $159,635.60 on hand.

HD133: Kristi Thibaut had another strong period, raising $171,643.78. She collected $30,000 from the Third Thursday PAC, $21,000 from Texans Together PAC, and $22,073.57 from Annie's List. She spent $156,599.20 and had $33,807.82 on hand.

Thibout outraised her opponent, Rep. Jim Murphy, whose PAC reported $105,636.19 taken in, $141,623.88 spent, and $125,657.43 left in the bank. His benefactors included $25,000 from the Texas Association of Realtors PAC (TREPAC), and $5,000 from Bob Perry.

HD129: Sherrie Matula raised another $103,323.24, spent $217,564.02, and had $47,748.08 on hand. She received $35,000 from the Blue Texas PAC, and $9,276.16 from the Texas Parent PAC.

Rep. John Davis took in $169,794.29, spent $116,156.06, and maintained $106,850.09. His big donors were $40,000 from Bob Perry, $32,823 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and $31,000 from Tom Craddick's Stars Over Texas PAC. Davis also has a TEC complaint out against him for using a nonexistent PAC in a mailer. You can see a copy of the TEC's response letter here (PDF).

HD144: Lots of money in this open seat race. Joel Redmond raised $278,652.15, spent $31,387.64, and had $171,120.92 left to spend. He collected $30,000 from Blue Texas, $20,000 from the HDCC, $31,250 for cable TV ads from John Steven Mostyn PC, $65,865.89 in direct mail and consulting services from Texans for Insurance Reform, $26,896.44 from the Parent PAC, and $23,405.25 from the Texas State Teachers Association PAC.

Ken Legler finally put some points on the board, raking in $338,839.40, laying out $165,348.93, and keeping $98,191.41. He attracted $80,893.21 from Empower Texans for mail and TV, $25,000 and $18,000 from uber-sugar daddies James Leininger and Bob Perry, respectively, $45,000 from Stars Over Texas, and $90,060 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Better late than never, obviously.

HD134: I can't resist dipping into this well one last time: Joe Agris collected $1600, spent $1300, and has $812.74 plus a $15,000 loan still outstanding. He did, however, get a donation from Shelley Sekula Gibbs, whose name shows up on quite a few of these reports. Tell me again why this guy was supposed to be a contender against Rep. Ellen Cohen?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
"Love Boat", Harris County GOP style

Some days, it's all about the videos.

My apologies for the earworm, and props to whoever found that awesome font.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early voting: A little slower, but still strong

I didn't think the double-the-rate-of-2004 pace for early voting could be maintained all the way through to the end, and the Monday results bear that out, as "only" 62,509 voters showed up at the polls yesterday. That's a slight drop from Saturday's high, and a 48.8% gain over 2004 instead of a 100%+ gain. That's still very much my idea of "not too shabby", however, and if things stay flat it's still another 300,000+ voters, for well over 600,000 early in-person ballots. If there's a growth curve like 2004's, with the bulk of the votes coming on the last two days, we're right back at 800,000 early votes. I'll feel more comfortable making a prediction after I see Tuesday's totals, but that seems like a decent bet right now.

I'm still hearing a lot of confidence from some Democratic number crunchers, some of whom are whispering to Burka, and concern from some others. I can't break that deadlock, but I will make the following comparison of votes cast at EV locations in Democratic State Rep districts to those cast in GOP district locations between 2004 and 2008:


Dem 84,873 43.65%
Rep 104,796 53.89%
Dtn 4,784 2.46%


Dem 178,762 47.45%
Rep 186,976 49.62%
Dtn 11,023 2.93%

Bottom line, a greater share of the vote is coming from Democratic locations. That doesn't necessarily mean it's Democratic voters, and it certainly doesn't mean that will continue, but it is what we've got right now.

As for the Top Fifteen counties statewide, Texas Weekly has a nifty chart showing a comparison between 2004 and 2008. In what should be good news for Democrats, the big urban counties all have strong growth in their turnout. It'd be nice to see more robust increases in places like El Paso, but that's what we've got.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Katy's grand re-opening

There will be a ceremony today to mark the official end of the Katy Freeway construction project.

Gov. Rick Perry, officials with the Texas Department of Transportation and Harris County Toll Road Authority, as well as local leaders, will celebrate the freeway's completion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. today on the Beltway 8 northbound flyover.

Starting Wednesday, the four managed lanes will be available to motorists as High Occupancy Vehicle lanes and to those riding Metro or school buses. By the end of next year, they also will be used as toll lanes for vehicles with a single occupant.

"That's going to be a great benefit to drivers, particularly those who do ride-share, because now they will have two lanes in each direction," said Tanya McWashington, a Katy Freeway Project spokeswoman.


Construction on the Katy Freeway, expanding it from an 11-lane to 18-lane roadway, began in June 2003 and was expected to take at least 10 years. The Harris County Toll Road Authority's infusion of $250 million to the project helped cut the construction time in half.

The cost of the project stands at $2.8 billion, although some final details such as landscaping and painting aren't finished. More than half of that was covered by federal funds.

There's no truth to the rumor that the celebration will include a bonfire made entirely of $100 bills to commemorate the cost overruns from the original $1 billion estimate. As far as I know, anyway.

During an initial phase through spring, Metro, school buses, motorcyclists and cars with two or more occupants will be allowed to use managed lanes for free. Commuters will be able to use the lanes from 5 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 8 p.m. on weekdays.

After the initial phase, the lanes will be turned into toll lanes during nonpeak hours using an all-electronic tollway system, requiring users who do not have another passenger to have toll tags.

I presume this means that the managed lanes will only be open during what was the normal HOV lane times through the end of next year, and after that they will be open 24/7. I also presume in the meantime, they'll be enforcing the HOV part of these lanes as they did before.

Toll fees have not yet been set.

Harris County Commissioners Court will set toll rates for nonpeak hours and for possible use by solo drivers during peak hours. Congestion pricing, in which toll rates would change based on traffic volumes in the managed lanes to maintain a minimum speed of 45 mph, is expected to be a part of the fee system, said Lawanda Howse, a Toll Road Authority spokeswoman.

Earlier this year, the Harris County Toll Road Authority recommended that passenger vehicles pay $1.25 to travel between Texas 6 and the West Loop during nonpeak hours and that the price double during peak hours and other times when the traffic is moving slower than 45 mph.

"For us, this is about carpoolers and putting more people in vehicles and having less traffic on the freeways," Howse said."It's more about that than a revenue generator for us."

I still don't know how they plan to differentiate between multi-passenger vehicles, which will be allowed free passage, and single-occupancy ones, which will need to cough up a toll. I know there were some public meetings about this, but if their results were reported, I missed it. I also think that given the much higher cost of the Westpark toll road, people will see a buck and a quarter as a bargain, and may quickly overwhelm the two HOV lanes. Expect that price to go up quickly.

The question is whether any of that will ultimately make a difference.

"When the (managed) lanes open, we'll see even more improvement in travel time, but the question is, how long will it last?" said Pat Waskowiak, transportation program manager for the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

The council, a regional planning group comprising local governments, predicts that commute times will increase as the populations in Katy, Sugar Land and other areas of Fort Bend County continue to grow.

The managed lanes will "end up being just as fast as the other lanes, or either end up being underused because all the traffic gets pushed to the other lanes," said Aaron Quinn, spokesman for the National Motorists Association, a Wisconsin-based advocacy group opposed to HOV lanes, contending that all motorists who contribute taxes should get full use of freeways.

A California State University study of HOV lanes in the San Francisco Bay Area used data from 2001 to 2005 to conclude that those lanes exacerbated the congestion problem there and did not encourage carpooling.

I don't have a problem with the concept of HOV lanes, and I don't really have an issue with adding in the HOT option. But I also think that it won't take long for the new Katy to start being as congested as the old Katy. And when that happens, maybe we'll finally give some thought as to what a real, scalable solution to this problem might be.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Candidate Q&A: Robert Schaffer

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

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

I am Robert Schaffer and I am running for Judge of the 152nd Civil District Court. I am a native Houstonian who graduated from Bellaire High School in 1970 and then went on to the University of Arizona where I graduated in 1974. After graduating from college I moved to Austin where I got my first taste of public service by working in local and state government in a jobs creation program. In 1982 I returned to Houston to attend the South Texas College of Law where I received my law degree in 1984. I began my legal career as an associate with a small Houston law firm before opening my own law office in 1990 as a sole practitioner and continue in that practice today.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears cases involving businesses and individuals, landlord and tenants, employers and employees, consumers, insurance companies, motor vehicle collisions, claims involving premises liability, product liability, medical and other professional malpractice, construction claims and real estate transactions. This court hears all types of cases except criminal, family, probate and juvenile law cases and other cases where a statute places jurisdiction in a specific court such as bankruptcy cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I believe my experience and background make me the better candidate in this race. I have been a trial lawyer for 24 years whereas my opponent had only been practicing law for 8 years before he became a judge in this court. During the past 24 years I have had the opportunity to try cases for my clients when necessary and settle cases for my clients when that was appropriate as well. I have also gone through basic and advanced mediation training to become a mediator. As a mediator for the past 16 years I have helped others resolve and settle their disputes and lawsuits in such a way that most if not all of the time everyone left the mediation satisfied with the result. Many of the mediations I presided over were done at no cost to either party for the Dispute Resolution Center. As a lawyer I work hard to not only represent the interests of my clients but also to ensure that cases only go to trial after every effort is made to ensure that the case can only be resolved by a jury made up of citizens from our community and that the resources of the Harris County taxpayers are only used when absolutely necessary.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a lawyer for the past 24 years and during that time I have represented individuals in many areas of civil disputes. I have been a mediator for the past 16 years and that allows me to bring mediation skills to the forefront in resolving civil disputes. I have maintained several important leadership positions focusing on legal and societal issues. I have served on committees of the State Bar of Texas, including chairing a local grievance committee, and the Houston Bar Association. I was honored by my peers when I was elected to serve as president of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association, Houston Trial Lawyers Foundation and the South Texas College of Law Alumni Association. I presently serves on the Southwest Regional Board of the Anti-Defamation League.

I have also been honored to receive an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell which represents the highest possible rating in legal ability and general ethical standards. These ratings are developed for individual lawyers by soliciting confidential opinions from other lawyers and judges in the legal community. I am the only candidate in this race who has received this honor.

I have strong commitment to community service that is reflected, among other ways, by my volunteering at local schools and coaching little league baseball teams. I have lectured on medical-legal issues as well as hosted a radio talk show from 1997 to 1998 here in Houston.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important that judges reflect to a certain extent what the community looks like. Voters in Harris County vote for 118 county-wide, district-wide and state-wide judicial positions and everyone one of them are held by Republicans. That is just not right considering Democrats make up close to 50% of the voters in this county. Why should it matter that a judge is a Democrat or a Republican? It shouldn't but the fact is that this is how the Constitution of the State of Texas states we have to select our judges. Having only Republicans inhabit our judicial positions is a situation that leaves the impression with many in our community that because one political party completely dominates the courthouse that this may give an advantage to one side or the other in a lawsuit. This has an impact on the perception that we are equal in the eyes of the law. This election gives voters the opportunity to elect Democrats to these judicial positions so that the benches reflect the great diversity, political and otherwise, of this community.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me because I am committed to public service. I am also committed to presiding over this court in such a way as to promise that everyone who has business before this court will be treated with courtesy, dignity and respect. Litigants can come to this court without fear that they will be treated differently because of who they are or what they are. Litigants can come to this court and have confidence that there is a level playing field for all parties and without fear or concern that one side or the other might have some advantage because of their status or resources.

As a lawyer and a mediator I believe I am uniquely qualified to be a judge because I have a good knowledge of trial law, I can mediate disputes and I can be an objective referee of the disputes when they have to go to trial.

My commitment to the Houston community is that when I am the judge in this court I will do my best to make the court run fairly and efficiently so that each case can move along to conclusion in the most expeditious and efficient way possible. Each party will be treated the same with an equal playing field for all parties.


Dion Ramos, 55th Civil Judicial District Court.
Shawna Reagin, 176th District Criminal Court.
Al Bennett, 61st Civil Judicial District Court.
Judge Jim Jordan, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
Mike Miller, 11th Civil Judicial District Court.
Andres Pereira, 190th Civil Judicial District Court.
Steven Kirkland, 215th Civil Judicial District Court.
Martin Siegel, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 7.
Randy Roll, 179th District Criminal Court.
Leslie Taylor, Court of Appeals, First District, Place 5.
Kyle Carter, 125th Civil Judicial District Court.
Hazel Jones, 338th District Criminal Court.
Bert Moser, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 4.
Peter Rene, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1.
Larry Weiman, 80th Civil Judicial District Court.
Mike Engelhart, 151st Civil Judicial District Court.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Opie Cunningham

Best endorsement video ever:

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Just too bad he didn't include Mr. and Mrs. C. Anyone know who Tom Bosley and Marian Ross are voting for?

For what it's worth, McCain recently picked up a fairly high-level endorsement, though perhaps not one he actually wanted. And just for a little salt in the wound, the Anchorage Daily News endorses Obama for President. Apparently, even they think Sarah Palin was a poor choice of VP for John McCain.

Finally, the Chron takes it easy today and endorses County Commissioner Steve Radack for re-election in Precinct 3. They do have some nice things to say about his Democratic opponent, Dexter Handy, while recommending that Radack take up some of the things Handy is advocating. I don't really see Radack as the kind of guy who does that sort of thing, but I guess it doesn't hurt to ask.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Chron overview of the CCA races

I have three things to say about this story, which gives an overview of the races for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Problems in the criminal justice system, highlighted by a series of exonerations, are the top issue in this year's races for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Both incumbent judges and their challengers are talking about the need to improve the reliability of eyewitness identification and preserve DNA evidence.

Three Republican judges are seeking re-election. Two of them face a Democrat and a Libertarian, and one faces a Libertarian only.

While the candidates in these low-funded, down-ballot races still struggle for voters' attention, the debate this year concerns issues that go to the heart of whether the state's criminal justice system is broken.

"Whether"? There is no debate about whether the criminal justice system is broken in Texas. The debate is over how badly it's broken, and how radically it needs to be changed in order to be repaired.

Susan Strawn, a Houston lawyer and former federal prosecutor, said she wants to help restore credibility to the court. She is challenging Tom Price, a member of the high court since 1997.

"(The court) has been reversed too many times by the U.S. Supreme Court. It doesn't have modern procedures as shown by what happened in the Richard case," said Strawn, a Democrat.

Strawn said that Price hasn't taken a leadership role in court initiatives on criminal justice integrity or indigent defense.

Strawn, who is this year's Bill Moody in terms of newspaper endorsements, may well be the Democratic vote leader this year. If she does win, or even if she comes close, say with 47% or better, I think the Democrats will field a full slate of CCA candidates in 2010, hopefully as part of a strong top-to-bottom statewide effort. Given how badly Texas' Worst Court needs the shakeup, that's a very good thing to hope for.

Judge Paul Womack is seeking his third, six-year term. He said he supports the court's efforts to prevent wrongful convictions, including reviewing how confessions are taken from suspects.

"It seems to me that the problem of wrongful convictions is a judicial branch problem and we should take the lead in making improvements," he said.

Womack's opponent, Democrat J.R. Molina is making his fourth -- and last, he said -- run for the high court.

He blamed partisan politics for his lack of success in previous races.

Naturally, Molina's lack of anything resembling a campaign, not to mention his notorious indifference to editorial board reviews, has nothing to do with this. If this is indeed his swan song, may I just say "Hallelujah". We don't need any more Gene Kellys, thanks very much.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texas blog roundup for the week of October 27

Early voting has started, and it's off the charts. Need I say more? Read all about it in the weekly highlights of the Texas Progressive Alliance. Click on for more.

The Texas Cloverleaf helps spread the truth about ACORN.

McBlogger takes a look at our own Congressman from Clear Channel, Mike McCaul, and discovers that he is indeed different.

jobsanger points out the dysfunctional aspect of this year's Republican campaign, first in Palin Disagrees With McCain, and then in Repubs Can't See The Reality.

BossKitty at TruthHugger is sad to recognize that while America's Foreign Policy Suffers - Unemployment Soars - Religion Goes Toxic America's short attention span has been grabbed by personal survival and courted by political and religious philosophies.

As early voting begins Eye On Williamson charts the early voting numbers in Williamson County. HD-52 Democratic candidate Diana Maldonado continues to rack up the endorsements and launches her latest ad, taking on the insurance companies and high homeowners insurance.

Neil at Texas Liberal posted the second part of his Who I Would Have Supported For President series. The latest entry covered the years 1824-1852.

Gary at Easter Lemming Liberal News is keeping the early voting info up for the voters who need it but did notice that all the PUMAs have come home to Obama.

Vince at Capitol Annex notes that the Texas Association of Business has finally pleaded guilty in connection with its 2002 violations of Texas' campaign financing laws and that State Rep. John Davis (R-Clear Lake) and State Sen. Kim Brimer (R-Fort Worth) have taken big bucks from a company the TCEQ fined more than a quarter million dollars last week for polluting.

CouldBeTrue from South Texas Chisme has some hints about how to get your specific sample ballot. Be prepared!

Off the Kuff analyzes the high level of early voting in Harris County so far.

XicanoPwr analyzes the GOP attack on ACORN and the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters carried out by Paul Bettencourt in Harris County.

John McCain describes the economy as a drive by shooting. The Texas Cloverleaf calls it a whack job.

North Texas Liberal reports on Sarah Palin's $150,000 shopping spree at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and discusses why it could signal the end for her and John McCain's faltering campaign.

As Democrats in Harris County appear on the verge of something historic, the trends in the extraordinary early voting turnout portend the same blue surge that the rest of the country is about to experience. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs has the deets.

refinish69 at Doing My Part For The Left wants everyone to say thanks to Barbara at Avenue Gallery- NOT!!!

nytexan at Bluebloggin points out just how McCain and Palin are alike with their FEC violations. We've gone from 8 years of the "emperor has no clothes" to "the empress has new clothes." The GOP is priceless. Palin is following in McCain's footsteps for FEC violations, what a pair of mavericks. CREW Files FEC Complaint Against Palin. And, for McCain, apparently he and Palin have an affection for Russia; McCain's New FEC Violation: Asks Russia For Campaign Money.

George at The Texas Blue wants you to know your job's not over just because you voted. We look at the early voting excitement across the state and remind you that it's critical
to tell your friends and family to vote as well!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 27, 2008
He's guilty

In honor of Alaska's soon-to-be-former Sen. Ted "Tubes" Stevens and the jury of his peers that found him guilty today, I present to you the following musical tribute:

Gotta love Steven Bochco - even when he failed, he still succeeded.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Campaigns respond to Chron polling

I hope you've now had a chance to digest the latest poll news from the Chron, because the campaigns for Rep. Nick Lampson and Michael Skelly would like you to hear their side of the story. I have in my hot little hands two campaign memos, each with their own polling numbers, to go along with what we've seen from the Chron. First, from Team Skelly:

With less than two weeks until Election Day, wind energy businessman Michael Skelly is in a heated race with incumbent Congressman John Culberson. Currently, Skelly trails 44% - 49%, with 3% for the libertarian candidate and 4% undecided. The fact that Culberson is under 50% as an incumbent, with Skelly within striking distance, in what has been a traditionally Republican district is remarkable and demonstrates just how competitive Skelly is in this district. Furthermore, with recent public polling showing Barack Obama and Democrats leading Republicans countywide, Skelly has the momentum as the campaign heads into the final week.

Points to note:

1. They include Libertarian Drew Parks by name in their question, unlike the Chron/Zogby poll.

2. This poll shows Skelly leading Culberson among independents, while as before taking more R support from Culberson than he loses in Ds.

3. No crosstabs, so I cannot say what the partisan mix of the sample is. My back-of-the-envelope guess says it's similar to Zogby, as Culberson does better among Rs as well.

4. The Skelly campaign emphasizes in the memo that the trendlines are good for Skelly. You can see a chart in the memo that clearly shows this, as Skelly has gone from down 52-33 to down 49-44.

5. Not addressed in the memo is the question of how the early vote is looking for either candidate. An awful lot of early voting activity is in CD07, as the daily EV by location stats indicate.

6. Sample size is 400, margin of error is plus or minus five points, same as Zogby.

Next up is the Lampson memo. I may not have been aware of polling in CD22, but there certainly was some:

Internal polling has tracked positive trends for Lampson - ongoing improvements in his favorability and job performance, and sustained success on key attributes of Hurricane Ike recovery and caring about people like you - while Olson remains vulnerable because of his support for a 23 percent national sales tax and lingering questions about the criminal investigation he faces for felony voter fraud in Virginia.

Our most recent poll of likely general election voters in Texas' 22nd Congressional District shows the race for Congress remains tight, tied at 42 percent. The American Association of Political Consultants named the person who conducted this survey "Pollster of the Year" in 2007. His firm, the Beneson Strategy Group is credited with the handling the polling for Sen. Barack Obama's winning primary strategy and general election to date.

They too have a polling history, which shows Lampson closing an eight point gap since July. As Ed Emmett has apparently benefitted from his work during Hurricane Ike, so too has Lampson, as his favorability numbers have improved considerably in recent weeks. The campaign also emphasizes the early voting figures so far, claiming a sizeable lead among voters whose partisan ID can be determined. The subject of the memo is "Lampson Will Win", so you can tell what their mood is.

It should be noted, as Burka reports, that the Olson folks are confident of their victory as well. I'm sure they have polls, and Culberson has polls, to back them up, though I'm not privy to that data. As I said before, I thought the Skelly/Culberson result was reasonable, and the Lampson/Olson one was unexpected. I believe both of these races will be close. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early voting: Weekend edition

One full week of early voting is in the can, and as you can see, the pace compared to 2004 continues. So far, 314,252 in person votes have been cast, which rises to 359,613 when mail ballots are added in. In 2004, those totals were 152,436 and 171,286, respectively.

If you like pictures instead of numbers, I've charted the daily totals for you:

The big question of course is whether or not this will continue at this rate. I've heard very confident expressions from some Democrats about the numbers so far, and I've heard some converns from others that it's the usual suspects doing the voting and not the new folks who came out during the primary. My guess would be that we will see a greater number of voters this week, as the extended hours will be a big help, and the closer that trendline stays to a doubling of the 2004 totals, the less the folks in the latter group will have to worry about. Thursday and Friday in particular will be days to watch, as nearly half the second-week early voting total from 2004 came on those two days. Anybody vote today, or have a report from an EV location? Leave a comment and let me know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Chron polling in Congressional races

After two days of mostly discouraging news for the local GOP, today's Chron poll of two area Congressional races should make them feel better.

Two Houston-area congressmen under political siege likely face opposite fates in the Nov. 4 election, according to a poll conducted for the Houston Chronicle.

U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, trailed Republican challenger Pete Olson by 17 percentage points early last week, according to the survey by Zogby International. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, led Democratic challenger Michael Skelly more modestly, by 7 percentage points, with virtually the same margin of error.

In both Republican-friendly districts, a key factor appeared to be the Democratic candidates' inability to run strong among independent voters and cut deeply into the ranks of Republican voters.

In the 22nd Congressional District, represented by Lampson after the 2006 resignation of Republican powerhouse Tom DeLay, only 5 percent of Republican voters in the survey had defected to Lampson.

Lampson led Olson among independents, 45 percent to 39 percent. But only 16 percent in the poll identified themselves as independent; while 52 percent said Republican and 32 percent said Democrat.

Links to all the results and crosstabs are here. As noted, Lampson wins 83.5% of Dems while Olson gets 87.9% of Rs. Skelly is doing better on this score, getting 85.2% of Dems to Culberson's 80.2% of Rs; he's also collected 11.9% of Republicans, to Culberson's 8.5% of Dems. If Skelly were doing as well among independents (he trails, 38.7 to 32.4) as Lampson, this race would be close to a dead heat.

The surveys in both districts are based on assumptions about the ethnic and geographic makeup of the electorates.

For instance, the survey in Lampson's district drew more than 40 percent of its sample from the Harris County portion. A significantly lower turnout there, or higher turnout in the other counties, could alter the results, probably cutting into Olson's advantage.

Curiously, unless I just missed it, I didn't see a county-by-county breakdown of the CD22 sample. In 2004, the totals were 64,590 votes out of 150,386 from Harris County (42.9%); 58,444 from Fort Bend (38.8%); 18,159 from Brazoria (12.1%); and 9,193 from Galveston (6.1%).

The CD07 poll is easy to comprehend, and it's well within range of other polls of that race. A Research 2000 poll from two weeks earlier had Culberson leading 48-40. Interestingly, that R2K sample was less Republican than this Zogby one - it had a 39/33 R/D split, whereas Zogby has 45R/33D. These are small subsamples, with larger margins of error, so don't read too much into that. I'm just noting it for comparison.

As for CD22, I can believe Olson is ahead, but I would not have expected it to be by that much. I can't think of any other polls of this race that I've seen - which is odd when you get right down to it - so I just don't have a basis to evaluate it. If you were skeptical of the other polls because of Zogby's general reputation for flakiness, you shouldn't put that feeling aside just yet.

One last item to note about these two polls is that there is a Libertarian candidate in each race - multi-timer Drew Parks in CD07, and John Weider in CD22. I would expect each of them to get about two or three percent of the vote. Neither was mentioned by name in the poll - they're lumped in as "Other" with the "Not sure" responses.

For whatever the reason, the Chron did not choose to poll the other hot Congressional race in the area, which is CD10 and which may end up being the closest race of the three. Research 2000 released a poll for CD10 over the weekend, and it showed incumbent Mike McCaul leading challenger Larry Joe Doherty by a slim 46-42 mark. A poll from earlier in October had it at 43-38 for McCaul. Given that the McCaul camp is worried about how early voting has gone, it might have been nice to get a result from here as well.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
A list of interviews to date

I am almost completely done with my series of candidate interviews for this cycle - I expect to do one more, which should be published by Wednesday, then it's all over till the 2009 municipal elections. I hope you've found this to be useful, because it's a lot of work, and I admit I take a fair amount of pride in it. Next year should be a banner year in the city of Houston, so I'm looking forward to tackling those interviews. But I'm looking forward to taking a break from it all first.

Here, for your convenience, is a sorted list of the interviews I've done for the general election. Happy listening!

Rick Noriega, US Senate

Rep. Nick Lampson, CD22
Michael Skelly, CD07
Eric Roberson, CD32

Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7

David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Adrian Garcia, Harris County Sheriff
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Jim Henley, HCDE Trustee

Dexter Handy, Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Richard Morrison, Fort Bend County Commissioner, Precinct 1

Chris Bell, SD17
Joe Jaworski, SD11
Wendy Davis, SD10

State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Joel Redmond, HD144
Virginia McDavid, HD138
Trey Fleming, HD135
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Kristi Thibaut, HD133
Joe Montemayor, HD127
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Still to go

As we enter the last week of early voting, here are the races in which the Chron has not yet made a recommendation:

1. Railroad Commissioner

2. US House, Districts 07 and 10

3. State Senate, District 17

4. State House, District 133

5. District Clerk

6. HCDE Trustees

7. County Commissioner, Precinct 3

8. Family Court and Probate Court

9. Justice of the Peace, all precincts

10. Constable, all precincts

The Chron took a big step towards getting the total number of races to go down by making endorsements in the district civil courts. They picked five Democrats out of the sixteen benches:

Alfred "Al" Bennett for 61st Judicial District: A University of Texas law school graduate, Democrat Bennett will bring a record of community service as well as diversity to the civil courts. He is an adjunct professor at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.

Kyle Carter for 125th Judicial District: A native Houstonian with seven years' legal experience, Democrat Carter served as general counsel to the Texas Legislative Committee on General Investigation and Ethics.

R.K. Sandill for 127th Judicial District: A young lawyer who focuses on labor and employment law, Democrat Sandill offers varied civil litigation experience to serve on a judiciary dominated by former defense firm attorneys.

Jaclanel McFarland for 133rd Judicial District: McFarland has practiced law in Houston for more than three decades. A Democrat, she promises to keep politics out of her rulings.

Robert Schaffer for 152nd Judicial District: Democrat Schaffer has practiced law for nearly a quarter-century in Houston and has served as the president of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association.

All five appear to be in races with judges who have been elected before, so the Chron has gotten over whatever reluctance it may have had there. As for the rest of the races, there are eight days remaining, and as you can see ten categories of races. I suppose they could combine Constables and JPs, or maybe SD17 and HD133, but unless they plan to skip something, they'll need to throw a couple of these together to get them all done by next Tuesday. Which do you think will be the last races to be endorsed?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Republican case against Tom Craddick

State Republican Executive Committee Mark McCaig says something that won't get him invited to many cocktail parties.

What was once a 26-seat Republican majority in 2003 has dwindled down to an eight-seat majority today, and this number will almost certainly shrink again this year. The Republican Party simply cannot afford any more losses in the Legislature, let alone a return to Democratic control.

The only way to prevent further erosion of the Republican majority in the Texas House is for Tom Craddick to immediately announce that he will not seek another term as speaker.

Republican leaders must acknowledge that they are to blame for squandering their legislative majority instead of blaming others or pretending nothing is wrong. New Republican leadership would go a long way to help repair the tarnished image of the party in the minds of traditionally Republican voters who have become disenchanted with politics in Austin.

Under Craddick's failed leadership, he has abandoned the conservative principles he was elected on and promoted a lobby-driven agenda at the expense of issues important to ordinary Texans.

Fiscal conservatives have had little to celebrate under Craddick's tenure. State spending has increased by more than 40 percent since 2003, and the most recent state budget included millions of dollars in so-called "special items" for Craddick's Midland-area district. Additionally, bills filed by conservative legislators to reduce property appraisal caps and limit state spending were sent by Craddick to committees where they faced certain death. Craddick also supported the oppressive business margins tax, which will likely come under scrutiny during the next legislative session because of the adverse impact it has had on small businesses.

Craddick's legislative failures are not limited to fiscal issues. He was instrumental in passing special interest bills protecting influential industries such as homebuilders, pharmaceutical manufacturers and insurance companies at the expense of consumers and injured individuals. At the same time, bills important to conservatives on issues such as illegal immigration and gun rights died due to opposition from the business lobby. He has also remained steadfastly opposed to any changes in the tuition deregulation law he helped pass that has resulted in skyrocketing tuition rates across the state.

An ethical cloud also surrounds Craddick due to his close ties with lobbyists. Last year, Craddick and a prominent lobbyist were sued by a tour company following a dispute over a fishing trip to Brazil that Craddick and the lobbyist had canceled. Financial disclosure forms filed by Craddick also show a business relationship with a lobbyist he refuses to identify.

I obviously don't agree with McCaig's overall perspective, and I think there's room to disagree on the matter of some of the bills he complains about. The main point seems pretty inarguable to me, however, and I confess that I don't quite get why more Republicans don't see it this way. The GOP has gone from a huge lead in the House to possibly reverting back to minority status after three election cycles with a map they drew to elect as many of their guys as they could. Some of this is demographics, some is the general decline in the Republican brand, and some is overreaching on their part. But just as head coaches get fired and starting quarterbacks get benched for failing to perform, you'd think the Republicans would want to hold Craddick accountable for this clearcut failure. That more of them haven't seen it McCaig's way is very fortunate for the Democrats, and represents either a lot of denial, or them really being in hock to the guy. Either way, no complaints on my part. Y'all keep doing what you're doing, we'll keep clawing our way back.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Sign stealing

Sign stealing is lame, no matter who does it. And here's what I have to say about it:

Don't mess with my signs.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 26, 2008
Chron overview of SD17

Just a couple of thoughts regarding this Chron overview of the SD17 special election. First, not to sound like a one-note Johnny or something here, but it would be nice to see some updated poll numbers for this race. Have the attacks on Bell dragged him down a bit? Have Furse or Huffman (or heck, Harpold) raised their name ID enough to be within shouting distance of Bell? If there is a runoff, who's in line to participate in it? What effect, if any, has pseudo-Dem Stephanie Simmons had on the race? I realize we're practically awash in polls these days, and I don't want to sound like I'm never satisfied. But this is a high profile race that can have a huge impact on the next legislative session, and what we know about it is outdated. Maybe one of the campaigns will release some polling data soon.

Second, speaking of Simmons:

Also running as a Democrat is attorney Stephanie Simmons. Bell, who contends Simmons was covertly recruited by Republican operatives, challenged her last-minute candidacy on residency grounds but lost in the courts. Simmons says she came to her decision independently and will represent the everyday person with passion.

"I want to offer choice," Simmons said.

Just as a reminder, Simmons has been exclusively bankrolled so far by Republican interests, and in fact has been endorsed by Texans for Lawsuit Reform, who have also endorsed Joan Huffman. There's one real Democrat in this race, and I hope Democratic voters remember that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Weekend link dump for October 26

Have you voted yet? Early voting ends on Friday. Thus endeth the message, now here come the links.

Stayin' alive, literally.

New frontiers in physics, McCain-style.

Vito Fossella, the soon-to-be-former Congressman from my hometown, was convicted of drunk driving in Virginia.

Why the Texans should fire their defensive coordinator.

Times are tough for lawyers.

Burma Shave!

How Sarah Palin did on SNL.

Kill your blog? Like Dwight, I say no thanks. Via McGuff.

Is David Bradley the SBOE's Big Bully? All signs point to "Yes". Vote Laura Ewing!

How John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin. I have a feeling that's a story that will told many times, by many different people, in the coming months.

KTRK profiles Skelly versus Culberson. Props to KTRK, they've given a lot of attention to this race.

Remember that huge donation T. Boone Pickens made to his alma mater, Oklahoma State, for its athletic program? Turns out much of that money is gone thanks to some bad investment decisions Pickens made. And OSU may be on the hook for the loss. Ouch.

More on the San Antonio term limits referendum.

Meet America's oldest college basketball player.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: The line in the sand

I am exceedingly pleased to note that the Chronicle has endorsed Diane Trautman for Harris County Tax Assessor.

The duties of the Harris County tax/assessor collector are straightforward: collecting and disbursing property taxes, registering and titling motor vehicles, and registering eligible citizens to vote. Nowhere in the job description is part-time politicking mentioned.

The office is clearly intended to be a service organization. In earlier times, citizens would come to the window at the courthouse to pay their taxes or renew a car registration. Now, many go online to take care of these same chores. It's a good, workable system.

From Texas' earliest days, the state's leaders were careful to keep politics far removed from the business of tax collection. The 1833 Texas Constitution contained language prohibiting tax collectors from holding political office until their tax collecting duties had been fully and finally discharged. That is as it should be.

In his 10 years as Harris County tax assessor/collector, Paul Bettencourt has performed the duties of his office credibly. But all too often the affable Bettencourt has danced near and, on occasion, across the line on politics. Bettencourt is a staunch partisan, and he makes no secret of it. That just won't do for a Harris County tax assessor/collector in 2008.

The most obvious cause for concern over Bettencourt's frequent forays into politicking is the untenable shadow they cast over his function as registrar of county voters. Local Democrats have groused about what they view as hassling of minority citizens seeking to register and/or vote. Even if these complaints are unfounded, Bettencourt does himself and the office no service with his vocal partisanship. Perceptions matter. With his frequent appearances on highly partisan radio talk shows and other activities, he is giving a harmful impression.

We believe the Democratic challenger, Diane Trautman, will clear the air of partisanship while offering able administration of the office's core duties. We recommend a vote for Trautman as Harris County tax assessor/collector.

Trautman vows to run "a service organization, not a political organization." She pledges to return "servant leadership" to the office.

I was a bit wishy washy in calling this one, but I thought Bettencourt would get the nod unless the Chron thought he'd gotten too partisan. Which they did, and I'm delighted to see it. I noted early on that Bettencourt has a somewhat puzzling reputation for being nonpartisan. I think this campaign season has helped to ding that, thanks to the voter registration follies. I hope those two KHOU Defenders stories about the troubles so many eligible voters have had getting his office to approve their applications have gotten wide play, because they really make him look bad. This is a big part of his job, and he's put partisan interests above doing what he's paid and elected to do.

And I'll tell you, if you thought reaction from certain quarters to the Chron's Obama endorsement was fierce, this will be even more so. Bettencourt is the guy the local GOP will truly go to the mat to defend. He's a conservative hero, thanks to his anti-tax advocacy as well as his aggressive efforts to purge the voter rolls. For him to go down would be truly back-breaking for them. If you hear a high-pitched whine in the background today, it's the wailing and gnashing of teeth that this endorsement will engender.

The Chron also finally gets going with the county judicial races with recommendations for the criminal court benches. They pick two Democrats among the nine:

Ruben Guerrero for 174th Judicial District: Guerrero has a distinguished 30-year record as lawyer and judge. The late Gov. Ann Richards appointed the Democrat to an unexpired term for the 263rd Judicial District, and former President Bill Clinton tapped him to lead the Small Business Administration for five southwestern states.

Shawna L. Reagin for 176th Judicial District: In almost 20 years practicing criminal law, Democrat Shawna Reagin has handled thousands of felony cases. Editor of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association magazine, she is committed to citizens' right to fair trial and says her experience helps her understand lives marked by poverty and lack of education.

Guerrero is running against Bill Moore, who survived a four-way Republican primary in a runoff this year to replace the retiring George Godwin. Reagin is running against Brian Rains, who is considered one of the least-liked judges on the bench. Reagin gets the endorsement of A Harris County Lawyer, who was undecided in the 174th race as of September. As far as I can tell, Reagin is the first Democrat to get endorsed by the Chron over a judge who is running for re-election.

(UPDATE: My bad. Reagin is the second such Democrat. Susan Strawn was the first. All other Dems who have been endorsed so far are running against appointees or primary winners.)

Meanwhile, the Star-Telegram has finally made an endorsement in the Presidential race.

Americans need new leadership.

For many of the same reasons that the Star-Telegram recommended Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992, it is recommending Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.

Obama provides the prescription for America's ills at this moment: a fine, inquisitive intellect, paired with an eloquence that allows him to articulate a message with clarity and substance; an ability to inspire people of all ages, races and ethnicities who never before were engaged in the political process; and an unflappable temperament that allows him to weather a barrage of withering personal attacks.

Under his leadership, the Obama campaign has been amazingly disciplined, efficient and effective. Those same talents will be essential for the difficult work ahead to rebuild the nation's faltering economic institutions and restore citizen confidence.

They took their time, but they got it right, and they lay out an excellent case for Obama, hitting on all the appropriate notes. Well done. That gives Obama a majority of the big five, which frankly I never would have guessed would have happened.

Yesterday, the Chron made the easy calls of endorsing incumbent Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Gene Green for re-election. Neither has a serious opponent or a close district. I will say that there's actually a fair number of signs for Jackson Lee's opponent in my general area, almost as many as there are for McCain-Palin. Not that it matters, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

Finally, Parent PAC added two more candidates to its roster in the past few days, Joel Redmond in HD144, and Laura Ewing for State Board of Education. For Redmond:

The extreme differences between Redmond and his opponent on public education were one reason the Houston Chronicle endorsed Redmond and proclaimed him to be the "best candidate." The Chronicle noted in its endorsement that Redmond pledges "to work to increase state funding for public education and oppose a voucher system that would undercut public schools."

"Joel Redmond understands the importance of a top-notch public education for every child," said Staley Gray of the Texas Parent PAC board of directors. "He knows first-hand from his work with prison ministries that children must have quality education, family support, and character education to grow up and become successful, law-abiding citizens."

She said Redmond speaks with compassion about the need to address the root causes of societal problems, ranging from reducing poverty with expanded vocational training and job creation to stopping the flow of illegal drugs across the border.

He is the founder and president of Christian-based Peace By Believing Ministries, which helps prisoners prepare to be responsible, contributing members of society and to break the cycle of generations of incarceration within families. The ministries also assist those who are homeless.

And for Ewing:

"It's time for a change on the State Board of Education. Parents and children deserve to be represented by someone of Laura Ewing's caliber," said Texas Parent PAC board of directors member Darci Hubbard of Houston. "She is a career educator, former member of the Friendswood City Council, and a respected leader throughout the state."

Ewing is the first State Board of Education candidate endorsed by Texas Parent PAC, created by parents in 2005 with the goal of electing more state leaders who will consistently stand up for public education. In 2006-2007, candidates for the Texas Legislature were the PAC's sole focus. A broad base of individuals and business leaders supports these bipartisan grassroots campaign efforts.

The State Board of Education is not well-known by voters. The 15-member elected board is responsible for establishing policy and providing leadership for the Texas public school system, which educates 4.5 million students on more than 7,900 campuses in 1,227 school districts and charter schools.

"Unfortunately, many view the State Board of Education as dysfunctional, with some decision-making based more on political ideology than the best interest of school children," Hubbard said. She pointed to recent controversies involving Board actions on reading-language arts standards, science standards, and state textbook adoptions.

"This election has statewide implications, because the State Board of Education sets policy affecting every child and every public school classroom in Texas," Hubbard said. "Laura Ewing will bring much needed educational expertise, leadership, and common civility to this important board."

Ewing's superior credentials led to her endorsement by the Houston Chronicle and the Beaumont Enterprise, as well as teacher association political committees. The Chronicle also noted Ewing's experience as an elected official, serving two terms on the Friendswood City Council.

I should add that some questions have been raised about Bradley's legal residence, which has led attorney Chad Dunn to send a letter to Secretary of State Hope Andrade on Ewing's behalf asking for an administrative declaration that Bradley is ineligible to run. You can see a copy of the letter, with accompanying documents, here (PDF). I presume that as would have been the case in SD10, a favorable ruling for Ewing means Bradley would remain on the ballot, as clearly it's way too late to remove him, but would mean that if he won the seat would be vacant and require a special election to fill. I suspect this effort will fail for the usual reason of residency being defined very broadly, but you never know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
More Chron polling: Most Dems lead in the county races

Continuing from yesterday, the Chron gives us more catnip.

Democrats have reclaimed the voting advantage they lost 14 years ago in elections for Harris County offices, according to a poll conducted for the Houston Chronicle. But Republican County Judge Ed Emmett appears to be swimming strongly against the tide.

Voters favored Democratic candidates over Republican candidates by 7 percentage points in elections for county leadership jobs, except in the county judge's race, where Emmett has a 13-point lead over Democrat David Mincberg, according to the survey. Sixteen percent of the respondents were undecided or said they lean toward neither party's entry.

The number 7 also popped up specifically in the race for district attorney; Democrat C.O. Bradford ran 7 percentage points ahead of Republican Pat Lykos in the poll, conducted Monday through Wednesday as early voting began for the Nov. 4 election.

As the Chronicle reported Saturday, the poll by Zogby International shows Democrats ahead by the identical gap, 7 percentage points, in the presidential and U.S. Senate races among county voters.

The pattern suggests that the Democratic identity has become more popular here in the last two years and/or that Barack Obama's lead in the national presidential race is filtering down to local elections, pollster John Zogby said.

"It's about the party, and it's about the (presidential nominee) characters," he said.


In the 40 judicial races on the ballot, voters favored Democratic challengers over Republican incumbents by 3.7 percentage points. The finding puts the party's judgeship slates in a statistical tie, because the gap is within the poll's margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.

Most Republican judges seeking re-election have campaigned as a group, saying they protect people and property through their work in the criminal and civil courts. Democratic candidates for court benches mainly have campaigned individually or as part of the overall Democratic ticket.

Also against the grain, Emmett, the county government executive, has a strong lead, according to the poll.

Emmett, whose public profile was heightened during local governments' relief response to the damage caused by Hurricane Ike, had 46 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for Mincberg.

Results in that race ran counter not only to the other countywide races, but also against the way Harris County voters identify with the political parties, according to the poll.

Forty-six percent in the survey said they are Democrats, 38 percent Republicans and the remainder independent.

A Zogby International poll for the Chronicle in February produced the same numbers in response to the party question.

Well, that addresses the question of the partisan breakdown that I raised yesterday. I'm still a bit skeptical of it, but if it was skewing that way in February as well, there must be something to it.

Democratic candidates now have pulled ahead as a group, according to the poll, after months in which the two major parties chose their presidential nominees and nation's financial systems stumbled, putting the focus on an issue that voters consider better off in the hands of Democrats.

In county leadership races and specifically in the race for district attorney, the Democratic contenders had robust leads over their Republican opponents among moderate voters and even got 20 percent or more from conservatives, according to the survey.

This year has been troubling for Republicans on the local scene. The campaign season has included the resignation of Republican District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal and controversies about the actions of Sheriff Tommy Thomas and Commissioner Jerry Eversole.

It's unfortunate that the poll only specified the County Judge and DA races. I really would have loved to have seen a result from the Sheriff and Tax Assessor contests as well, the former because I believe it is likely to represent the zenith of Democratic support in Harris, and the latter because Paul Bettencourt was the top vote-getter for Republicans in 2004, even more than George Bush. While I'd say it's probably the case that Emmett has the high score this time around, I'd peg Bettencourt as the next most likely to survive. It would have been nice to have a specific data point on that.

Full results are here and crosstabs are here (both PDFs). You have to scroll past the Presidential and Senate results, as well as the interesting-if-mostly-meaningless results of the 2010 gubernatorial matchups, to see today's numbers. Bradford's lead over Lykos is mostly a function of the partisan gap, but not entirely, as he does better among Dems than she does among Republicans. Lykos does win among unaffiliateds, but there are a lot of "not sure" responses in that group - a plurality, in fact. If she kicks butt there and consolidates the Republican base, she can close the gap.

Emmett leads Mincberg because he does much better among Rs than Mincberg does among Ds (79.3% of Rs pick Emmett, compared to 61.6% of Ds for Mincberg), he wins a sizable number of crossovers (20.2% of the D vote goes to Emmett, while only 4.9% of Rs choose Mincberg), and he gets a plurality of indies. Mincberg needs to do much better among his fellow Dems to catch up.

The "Are you likely to vote D or R in county leadership elections" question is basically a recapitulation of party ID. It's 45.6 D, 38.5 R, and some 89% of each group plans to stick with the home team. Dems have a tiny lead in unaffiliated support, but "not sure" is still the top number there. About 17% of indies say "neither", which translates to 2.8% of the overall sample, and may just be the Libertarian crowd.

In the judicial races, the Dem lead of 43.9 to 40.2 is again mostly a function of party ID. Rs do a little better among their own (88.7 to 84.5), with Dems being a bit more likely to cross over or be unsure. That makes sense to me - I've no doubt that among the legal community, most Republican judges will draw at least a few votes from some of the otherwise-Democratic attorneys that appear before them, with some doing better than others, and a few losing support from their own side as well. Whether that makes a difference in the end will depend on how wide that partisan gap winds up being.

Finally, I suspect that a fair number of people were not completely honest when they were asked if they planned to vote straight ticket or not. Less than a majority said Yes, with a dead even split among Ds and Rs. I guarantee you that the total number of single-button-pushers will be well above 50%, and if the party ID numbers are correct, a majority of them will be Dems. Maybe this is the "Bradley effect" for the new century.

Tomorrow: Polling in CDs 07 and 22. I can't wait.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Rick Noriega on Texas Monthly Talks

Check out the video at Evan Smith's place. And drop him a few bucks at Kos' if you feel so inclined.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 25, 2008
Early voting: Making history

You know the story by now. Here's some detail to add a little pep to it.

Leaning against a weathered brick wall outside the Palm Center early voting station, Dexter Willis crossed his arms, took a deep breath and soaked up the moment.

He had cast his ballot days earlier, but felt drawn to the spot again, smiling at voters as they streamed by. He wasn't handing out leaflets or stumping for votes, just taking a break from work to watch people potentially make history.

"Sometimes as black males in this society, we put limitations on ourselves," said Willis, a 41-year-old cable technician for a small telecommunications company. "Seeing Barack accomplish what he's accomplished, to me, the sky's the limit."

More than 220,000 people jammed polls throughout Harris County in the first week of early voting, while another 40,000 returned mail ballots so far. The total is more than double the number that participated in the first week of early voting in 2004.


Based on this week's turnout, University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray projected 1.3 million or more people will cast ballots in Harris County this election. About 25 percent will come from black voters, he estimated, up from 18 percent four years ago.

Voting among all racial groups is up, but blacks are voting even more heavily than others, he said. More than 44,000 people had voted at predominantly black polling places by Thursday, compared to just under 20,000 in the first four days of early voting in 2004.

"It shows something about the savviness of the Obama campaign," Murray said. "They said a long time ago they would increase black turnout across the country by 30 percent. I think it's actually probably driving it up 40 to 50 percent."

We've already discussed turnout among African-American and Hispanic voters. I keep saying it, but I'll say it again - if what we're seeing in early voting is more than just people shifting their behavior, then we really are on the cusp of something historic.

By the way, that 1.3 million figure would represent nearly 67% turnout in Harris County, which is pretty damn amazing. It would also suggest that unless things drop off a bit next week, we probably will have had about 60% of all votes cast by the end of early voting. That's a bigger share than I had thought originally, but again unless things ease up, there's no other realistic possibility.

My Google spreadsheet comparing 2004 EV turnout by location to 2008 has been updated. At this point, assuming the same trends hold, more than 300,000 people will have voted by Monday; if things are a bit heavier than that, we could see 100,000 votes just this weekend. Another 500,000 would vote next week at that pace. Hard to imagine, but then so was the turnout for the primary.

The concern is that this is just the base vote coming out, and that in the end the turnout model won't be all that different than in previous years. Most of the Democratic vote so far has been from reliable Democrats, according to a Quorum Report story, which quoted Democratic number-cruncher Leland Beatty. Be that as it may, at least some Republicans are genuinely worried about how things have gone so far.

The campaign of U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, wasn't exactly thrilled with the first few days of early voting.

McCaul campaign manager Jack Ladd told supporters on Wednesday night that, according to past primary history, Democrats in Harris and Travis counties outvoted Republicans two-to-one in early voting.

"This is very bad news," McCaul campaign manager Jack Ladd said in an email to supporters. "If you think your friends are volunteering, they are not. I know I'm not going to sit down and die, and I know you will not either. There are only 12 days left, and this is not a lifelong commitment, we are asking you just give part of a day or days and help keep CD10 Republican."

Between the extra-strength turnout in Travis County and the HCDP coordinated effort, McCaul has reason to be worried. He's not the only one, you can be sure of that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Chron does some polling

My plaintive cries have finally been heard.

Harris County voters are on the verge of favoring a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in 44 years -- putting the area out of step with the rest of Texas, according to a Houston Chronicle poll.

They gave Barack Obama the edge over Republican John McCain by 7 percentage points this week, with very few undecided or backing another contender.

Voters also favored Democrat Rick Noriega of Houston against Republican Sen. John Cornyn by the same amount -- with 13 percent undecided or committed to another candidate.

The survey results were compiled by Zogby International as early voting got under way for the Nov. 4 election.


Other than in the 30-49 age group, where Obama and McCain were in a statistical tie, Obama was ahead in every age category in the survey. The pattern was the same in the Noriega-Cornyn race.

The county is poised to reverse the trend not only because of population shifts, pollster John Zogby said, but also because of the political mood of the nation, which leans toward Obama in several polls.

From the Houston-area view, he said, "if the Democratic 'brand' hasn't been enhanced, the Republican 'brand' has certainly been damaged, state and nationwide" by economic woes, President Bush's unpopularity, the Iraq war aftermath and other factors.

The Chronicle poll of 602 people, conducted Monday through Wednesday, has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.

More than two-thirds of Harris County voters said the economy is the most important issue facing the U.S. The next most frequently mentioned issue was Iraq, at 11 percent.

In February, well before the financial crisis hit the nation, 35 percent of Harris County voters in a Chronicle poll placed the economy at the top, followed by Iraq at 16 percent.

This month's poll assumes the black and Hispanic populations each will contribute 20 percent of the countywide vote.

The full results are here and the crosstabs are here (both PDFs). A few observations:

- The first thing everyone is going to latch on to is the partisan breakdown of the sample, which is 46D/37.5R/16.5I. I have to say, that seems a little Democrat-heavy to me. I have no trouble believing that the Dems have erased the Republican's lead here, and can believe they have nosed ahead, but an 8.5 point gap in the Dems' favor strikes me as excessive. Needless to say, I'll be delighted to be wrong about that.

(For what it's worth, if you assume that the sample should have an equivalent number of Ds and Rs and you recalculate based on the R/D/I percentages Zogby found, you get a dead heat, 47-47. What this suggests to me is that the Republicans had better hope they haven't lost their edge in party ID.)

- Hand in hand with this is the poll's projection, deemed low by "some local experts" in the story, that 40% of the turnout in this election will come from Hispanic and African-American voters. Richard Murray points out that Hispanic and African-American turnout in early voting is way up from 2004, much more than Anglo turnout. The more this holds true, the more accurate Zogby's partisan breakdown is likely to be.

- The Chron is promising polls tomorrow and Monday on countywide races and the judicial contests. This will help answer the question of what kind of coattails, if any, Obama may have. I've spoken before about how Bush voters in 2004 were much more likely to skip downballot races than Kerry voters were - the average GOP judicial candidate in a contested race got about 93% of Bush's vote total, where the average Democratic judicial candidate got about 98% of Kerry's, and in one case exceeded his total. How many Obama voters are just there to push the button for him, and how many will take heed of the HCDP's efforts to get them to vote straight Democratic? How many Obama voters are actually Republicans who just won't be voting for McCain, like the many high profile defectors we've seen lately? Everybody not running for President will be sweating those questions out.

- This poll also has Rick Noriega leading John Cornyn by a 47-40 mark; there are considerably more "not sure" responses" for this race. More self-proclaimed Democrats are unsure than Republicans, so there's more room for Noriega to go up. In the small subsample of Hispanic voters, Noriega leads 50-33, and Obama leads 53-36. Again, I expect Noriega to do better with this group, and I believe that will help him do better overall than Obama.

- In the end, Harris County will be about 15% of the state vote total. If Obama and Noriega are doing this well here, they may well be doing better statewide than recent polls have shown. That's assuming Zogby's sample is representative, which is no sure thing. But it's definitely possible.

I can't wait to see the other results. This stuff is like catnip for junkies like me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Chron overview of Skelly v. Culberson

As they did with CDs 22 and 10, the Chron has an overview of the race for CD07, and it's a good one.

The 50 Republicans gathered in Pat Wood's spacious living room in Houston's Memorial area heard their congressional candidate talk about the merits of a balanced budget, cutting wasteful federal spending, aggressively drilling for oil and blocking Barack Obama's proposed tax hikes on the wealthy.

That's the kind of campaign rhetoric you would expect at an event hosted by Wood, the former chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission under then-Gov. George W. Bush and head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission after Bush became president.

What you might not expect is the identity of Wood's candidate: Democrat Michael Skelly, a former wind energy executive who is challenging Republican incumbent John Culberson in Harris County's 7th Congressional District.


Skelly says Culberson's scrappy style is out of sync with the pragmatic, pro-business constituency of the 7th District.

"My opponent is a highly, highly partisan politician," Skelly said. "I'm just not wired like that."

Skelly, who has run ecotourism and alternative energy businesses, calls himself "a Bill White, pro-business moderate." He offers himself as an unusual Democratic change agent: a businessman with energy expertise and no history of partisan rancor.

Skelly has spent at least $1 million of his own money on ads touting his resume and portraying Culberson as a pork-barrel politician. The allegations leave the incumbent incredulous.

"This guy is running against me because I am not conservative enough?" Culberson said. "That's something I've never, ever been accused of. About the only guy who votes 'no' more than me is Ron Paul."

Actually, Rep. Culberson, I think he's saying you're too partisan and out of touch with the district. The fact that you don't seem to grasp that fits in nicely with Skelly's message.

I have no doubt that a Congressman Skelly will frustrate me on a number of issues. Now is the time to be talking about stimulating the economy, not balancing the budget, and I for one think Obama won't be raising taxes enough on the quarter-million-a-year-and-more crowd. But man, will it be nice to have a representative who will be an ally to public transportation, who will vote for S-CHIP, who won't demagogue on immigration, and who believes there's more to energy policy than "drill here, drill now". This is not a hard choice to make, not by a longshot.

Posted by Charles Kuffner

You can add this to the List Of Ways I Can Tell I'm Old: I had no idea the kids were hot for Polaroid cameras these days.

Polaroid's teenage acolytes so love the clunky cameras, which went out of production a few years ago, that they scour junk shops and Web sites to snag one. And since the Concord, Mass.-based company announced in February that it would stop manufacturing instant film, fans are hoarding cartridges in refrigerators and closets or stacking it atop already cluttered bureaus.


For the younger generations, Polaroids add old-school charm to a PhotoShopped, digitally mastered age. The cameras' vintage look and slightly off-kilter color reels them in, but the near-instant gratification -- point, click, wait two minutes -- and the hold-in-your-hand payoff is what compels their hobby.

"It's so much better to hold a picture in your hand than to see it on a computer screen," Polaroid enthusiast Zoe Kanan said.

"I like the instantaneous thing you get from Polaroids," added Gabriella Flournoy, who says at least 90 percent of her friends are addicted to their Polaroid cameras.

For these teens, the uncertainty of how the photo will turn out only adds to the Polaroid experience.

"When you take a Polaroid, you totally go on impulse," Kanan said.

I suppose the reverse of that is why I love my digital camera, because I've taken too many crappy pictures in my day, and the sooner I realize it, the better off I am. More evidence of my decrepitude, clearly.

On the social-networking site Facebook, more than 31,000 people belong to the group "Save the Polaroids." One of them is Kanan.

When designer and photographer Dave Bias learned of the film's impending demise, he decided he wasn't letting go without a fight. Shortly after the company's February announcement, he co-founded SavePolaroid.com.

"We thought we needed to take a stand on this if nothing else," Bias, based in New York City, said of the effort.

"That way, the world would see that not only is Polaroid film viable, but there's a market for it."

The Web site lets grieving fans download "action packets" that include ready-to-mail letters imploring Polaroid to reconsider its decision and do-it-yourself stencils to help spread the word. Bias said the campaign has attracted a couple of thousand responses.

With tens of thousands of fans rallying in Europe and Asia, Bias hopes that the enthusiasm and outrage lead to a revival of Polaroid film.

"It's the film everyone knows," he said emphatically. "The Polaroid print has value. It has worth. It is real."

You'd think someone, if not Polaroid, would want to try to capitalize on this market. Maybe no one thinks the fad will last, or maybe the manufacturing costs are too high to generate enough of a margin, I don't know. But you'd think with a ready-made market like this, someone would want to give it a go.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 24, 2008
Friday random ten: Putting it all together

In my previous writings about Genius-generated iPod playlists, I have suggested that perhaps it's greatest strength would be shown when you put together those smaller lists into one big one. Well, I've done that for the first four Genius lists, and here's the Random Ten I get when I just tell the iPod to do its Shuffle Songs thing.

1. "C-U-B-A", Austin Lounge Lizards
2. "Wham" - Stevie Ray Vaughan
3. "Sisters of Mercy" - Leonard Cohen
4. "Flip, Flop & Fly" - Blues Brothers
5. "Material Girl" - Madonna
6. "Bad Moon Rising" - Thea Gilmore
7. "So Far Away" - Carole King
8. "Good Times Roll" - The Cars
9. "The Sweet Sound of Rhythm and Blues" - Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows
10. "One" - Eddie from Ohio

Okay, that's pretty good. If I can't get Genius to cross genres, I can at least fake it in this fashion. I'll try this one or two more times before I start generating more lists. It's nice to see proof of concept.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early voting Day Four: Same as it ever was

Here are your Early Voting numbers for Harris County through Day Four. The totals have crept up a bit each day, which differs from 2004 where the highs were on Tuesday and Thursday, and the lows were Monday and Wednesday. Friday beat all of them by a little last time, so let's see if the trend this year continues.

Saturday should be the strongest day of the first week, as it is the first day to have EV centers open from 7 to 7. If 2008 continues to perform at roughly double the level of 2004, expect there to be about 300,000 ballots cast in person after poll close on Sunday.

Note as well that voting by mail is up from 2004 - the four day total then was 11,519, and now it's 37,381. More mail ballots had been returned by Day One this year (29,301) than in all of 2004 (24,767). Over 33,000 mail ballots have not yet been returned; according to Hector de Leon of the County Clerk's office, with whom I inquired about this earlier today, about 86% of mail ballots wind up being returned in time and thus counted. That should mean a mail ballot total of around 60,000.

Here are the Top Fifteen totals from the Secretary of State. Travis County has the strongest showing so far, with 17.65% of all registered voters there having cast their ballots already. Following Travis are Fort Bend (16.40%), Williamson (15.34%), Galveston (14.96%), and Bexar (14.71%). Yes, Galveston is among the top performers so far. Apparently, hurricanes and dislocations aren't enough to keep people away.

Harvey Kronberg, who noted Galveston's strong showing so far, got a response from GOP pollster Mike Baselice about the earlier report that folks with Democratic voting histories were outvoting those with GOP histories by a 2.4 to 2.6 to one margin.

Baselice said it's more instructive to compare the ratio of voters with a Democratic primary history to voters with a GOP primary history. Of the registered voters in Harris County, 446,445 have a Democratic primary history, he said, while 243,046 have a GOP primary history. That's a 1.84-to-1 ratio.

Looking at the first couple of days of early voting, 49,159 voters with a Democratic primary history have cast ballots as compared to 32,456 voters with a GOP primary history. The ratio there is 1.51-to-1.

Baselice said those numbers tell him that either Democrats are underperforming relative to their strength in the voter files or many of them are waiting until Election Day to vote. He noted that Republicans usually carry a 3- or 4-point advantage from early voting to Election Day.

I'll accept Baselice's word about the numbers, since this is something that can easily be verified or rebutted by someone on our side if he's BSing. Two things to note, however: One, this still puts the Dems in a strong position to have big advantages going into Election Day, which is not the historical norm. And two, note the comparison Baselice didn't make, which was to the ratio of people with D versus R primary history in the first few days of early voting from 2004. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that ratio is much more favorable to the Ds this time.

Now again, nobody really knows how much of this early showing is a shift in behavior from voting on E-Day to voting early, and how much of it portends an increase in turnout. Given the national trends, I think some increase in turnout is to be expected. It's just a matter of how much.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
"Banned from the ballot box"

Want to know why Harris County has barely more registered voters this year than it did four years ago despite having hundreds of thousands more people now? Watch this KHOU Defenders story, then read Part Two, and find out. It's no wonder more people aren't registered when you have a voter registrar like Paul Bettencourt who isn't just indifferent to getting more people on the rolls, but is actively hostile to such efforts. It's what happens when you have a registrar who testifies before the Legislature about "iron-clad cases of voter fraud", many of which turn out to be errors on the part of his own office, and when he gets called on it he says he's just doing his job. Well, voters willing, it won't be his job for much longer.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: County Judge

The Chron goes for Ed Emmett.

While building an effective working relationship with the evenly divided partisan commissioners, he tackled the politically touchy question of ethics reform. Serving on a court often accused of maintaining a pay-to-play culture in which those seeking county business feel compelled to contribute to officeholders, Emmett appointed a citizen task force to recommend ethics standards for county officials and employees as well as authoring a comprehensive ethics proposal.

He showed leadership in forcing the resignation of the County Sports and Convention Corp. chief who later was indicted in an unrelated city bribery scandal. He also launched proceedings with the state to remove District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal from office for official misconduct.

How a candidate conducts a campaign is usually a good indicator of how they will behave in office. To his credit, Emmett has stuck with the issues. He supported Metro's plans to build light rail even when attacked on that stand by his opponent in the GOP primary. During that same contest Emmett refused to be drawn into a divisive debate on indigent care for illegal immigrants and stressed the county's mission to provide quality health care for those in need. He also chairs the county juvenile board and is committed to finding a new model to keep juveniles out of jail and away from crime.

In his limited time in office he has made several excellent appointments, including Houston attorney and civic leader Edgardo Colon to chair the Sports and Convention Corp.

The judge teamed with Houston Mayor Bill White and other local officials to provide strong leadership during Hurricane Ike. While generally satisfied with the disaster response, Emmett says the county will produce a study within several months recommending improvements.

The Democratic candidate in the race, David Mincberg, is an able businessman and solid citizen qualified to be judge. However, he has relied too much on campaign mudslinging rather than projecting a detailed vision of how he would run the nation's third -argest county. Those tactics raise questions about whether Mincberg would be able to lead from a position whose effectiveness depends on persuasion more than statutory power.

This is a close race and both candidates have skills that would serve the citizenry well. The Chronicle believes that Emmett has shown in his limited time in office that he can be an effective county judge and urges voters to return him to office.

I've called so many of these correctly, it's starting to get boring. I think the Chron gives Emmett too much credit for ethics reform, given how long it's taken him just to bring the issue up for discussion, though I admit I'm surprised they didn't talk more about Hurricane Ike, which I thought would be the basis of their endorsement. As for this being a close race, it sure would be nice to get a picture of just how close, wouldn't it? Alas.

On a side note, yesterday was the day the Chron did its ed board screening for Railroad Commissioner. Apparently, incumbent Michael Williams didn't bother to show. I doubt it'll affect their final decision, but keep it in mind when you read their recommendation.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Chron overview of the District Clerk race

I don't recall seeing a Chron story based on what happened during the editorial board interview before, but here's one now, about the District Clerk's race.

The county district clerk's race centers on improving the office's ability to accept electronic court filings -- District Clerk Theresa Chang says the process is under way, and her opponent, Loren Jackson, says it's not happening quickly enough.

"We do not have a standardized electronic filing system in place," said Jackson, a Democrat. "Tarrant County does."

Chang, a Republican appointed by local state district judges to replace District Clerk Charles Bacarisse last year, said she has made improvements so electronic records can be accessed much more quickly after they have been filed.

Criminal court policies, she said, tie her hands about whether she can allow electronic filing for criminal cases.

I don't really have much to add to it, other than to note that apparently the tax issue that Jackson raised about Chang earlier this week wasn't a topic for the story, and to wonder how long the cycle from interview to endorsement is. Guess we'll find out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
One last Texas poll

I may not get my wish for a poll of Harris County before Election Day, but we have at least gotten one last set of Texas results from Rasmussen. It's a somewhat mixed bag. First, the Presidential matchup:

John McCain is moving ahead in Texas, where he now tops Barack Obama by 10 points, 54% to 44%, in the latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state.

For the four previous months, McCain has led by nine. His new 54% showing is also his highest ever since polling on the race in Texas began in the spring. Forty-four percent (44%) is also Obama's best showing to date.

Now just one percent (1%) of Texas voters say they are undecided.

Sounds like all of the partisans have come home. And as we've discussed many times, that level of support for Obama is thought to be good news for the downballot Democrats. So far, so good.

The Senate poll is less encouraging.

Republican Senator from Texas John Cornyn has opened a fifteen point lead over challenger Rick Noriega in his bid for re-election. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state finds the incumbent leading 55% to 40%.

The latest poll is good news for Cornyn, who watched his lead slip to seven in September after leading by double digits in all previous polls since May. The senator is seeking his second term.

Cornyn now has a 54% to 32% lead among unaffiliated voters in Texas.

That stands in contrast to the recent R2K poll, as well as the September Rasmussen poll. I don't have access to Rasmussen's crosstabs, so I can't say what's different between these two results. It may be that this is a case of partisans coming home as with the Presidential race, with a few more undecideds that I'd guess are likely to break for Noriega. I find this result a little odd, mostly because I believe Noriega will ultimately run a point or two ahead of Obama. I certainly could be wrong about that, and if the undecideds here are really Democratic leaners, so that the "actual" result is something like 55-43, I can see that. Mark it down and we'll see how Rasmussen fares soon enough.

Another point to consider, going back to the Presidential numbers:

McCain is supported by 91% of Texas Republicans and four percent (4%) of Democrats. Ninety-four percent (94%) of the state's Democrats and nine percent (9%) of GOP voters back Obama. McCain leads by 14 points among unaffiliated voters.

The Republican leads among male voters by 19 points and among women by four. Hispanics favor Obama to McCain 54% to 42%.

That result among Hispanic voters is significantly better for McCain than national polling has shown and continues to show.

Recent Gallup polls show Mr. McCain running far behind Senator Barack Obama among Hispanic voters nationwide, only 26 percent of whom favor the Republican. The possibility that Mr. McCain can duplicate George W. Bush's performance among Latinos in 2004, when Republicans won 44 percent of the vote, now seems remote.

I don't think McCain will do any better among Texas Hispanics than he will elsewhere, and I also don't think Rick Noriega will do worse among them than Barack Obama will.

One last thing: While I'd guess this poll was conducted prior to the start of early voting, you have to wonder if the so-far significant Democratic tilt of the early vote would have changed Rasmussen's likely voter screen. With Democrats leading the way in early voting across the country, maybe we'll see some last minute updates to various polls.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 23, 2008
Chron overview of CD22

The Chron has a pretty good overview of the CD22 race, one of three high-profile Harris County-area Congressional races; they had an overview of the CD10 race yesterday, and proimise a CD07 overview tomorrow. I just want to highlight one bit from this story, because in some ways it is the story:

Now that Lampson has on-the-ballot Republican opposition for the first time here, along with a challenge from Libertarian John Wieder, the national Republican Party badly wants the seat back, seeing few other chances around the country to expand its ranks in the House this year.

How badly do the Republicans want this seat back? Consider this:

A document provided to Washington Whispers from a House GOP official shows that they could lose a net 34 seats. That means the Democrats would have a 270-165 advantage in the 111th Congress. In the Senate, Republicans expect to lose also but to keep up to 44 seats, ensuring their ability to stage a filibuster.

The document provided to Whispers is no gag: It comes from one of the key House GOP vote counters. The source called it a "death list." The tally shows several different ratings of 66 House Republicans in difficult races or open seats held by retiring Republicans. "Rating 1" finds 10 Republicans "likely gone." Those districts are New York 13, Alaska, Arizona 1, Virginia 11, New York 25, Illinois 11, Florida 24, Michigan 7, Nevada 3, and North Carolina 8. Under "Rating 2," nine Republican seats are listed as "leaning Democratic." Under "Rating 3," some 22 GOP seats are listed as "true toss-up." The fourth rating, "lean Republican," finds 15 seats in the category that comes with this warning: "If there's a wave, some could be in trouble." The last "likely Republican" rating finds another 11. Only three Democratic districts are seen as "hopeful" GOP pickups. They are Florida 16, Pennsylvania 11, and Texas 22. Another 10 Democratic seats are listed as "possible" pickups. The loss of 34 House GOP seats is among the most dire predictions in Republican circles. Most analysts have suggested a drop of at least 20 seats and at most 30 seats.

Losing 30+ seats is bad enough. Losing them while still not being able to win back the one you really really want is worse. This one would hurt for the GOP if they lost it.

Anyway. For more on the CD22 race, check out Julie's report from the recent candidate forum. You can also listen to my interview with Rep. Lampson.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early voting Day Three: Strong and consistent

Yet another strong day of early voting, with 43,782 ballots cast in Harris County. That's up slightly from yesterday, and as before, more than double the total from same day in 2004. As you can see in the spreadsheet, it's almost exactly a 100% increase from the last election, from 63,276 to 126,394.

Will that keep up? It's a little hard to fathom, not so much from the perspective of imagination - after what we saw this March, surely that's conceivable - but from logistics. The first seven days of early voting in 2004 saw an average of 22,000 people per day, and the last five had 52,000 per day, with a high of 67,000 on the finale. Our current rate of 42,000 per day, which will probably inch up a bit by Sunday, as it did in 2004, translates from that to over 99,000 per day. Can the early voting locations really handle that? Especially if Halloween gets the 130,000 to 140,000 voters one would expect at this rate? I have no idea. I certainly don't envy the poll workers the task if that is in the cards.

And let's say that it is, and we get the 800,000 or so early votes that we're currently on track for. What will final turnout be then? I think it's safe to say in such a case that we'd have seen the vast bulk of the voting by that time. I'd probably peg the 1.2 million turnout we once projected as on the low end, but what would the high end be? I'll pull a number from the air and say 1.4 million. May as well get the crazy guesses out of my system now, before the real numbers take all the fun out of it.

Anyway. I went and voted yesterday at the Power Center, which is not only convenient to where I work by the Astrodome - just take Main/90A out to South Post Oak - but had no line at all when I arrived at lunchtime. If you're anywhere near there, and I'd include any place that can easily get to Main west of the Medical Center or the West Loop to Bellfort/South Post Oak in that definition, I highly recommend it. What has your voting experience been so far?

I should note, by the way, that partly to save time, and partly to see for myself what happens, I for the first time in my voting life selected the "Straight Democratic" button. I noticed that the eSlate filled in all of the Democratic candidates on each page, which is what I'd have had it do. I then went to one particular race and deselected the Democrat to see what would happen. That did generate a warning, and after I confirmed my action I saw that candidate's box was no longer filled in, but all the others were. That satisfied my curiosity, and made me feel a little better about the whole thing. But then I'm an IT professional and a reasonably sophisticated computer user. I was comfortable with what I was seeing, which made sense to me. Dan Wallach explains what the experience might be like for someone who isn't very computer literate. So while I'm gratified to know that the eSlate interface is better than I thought for this situation, it's still not as good as it could be.

Turns out a lot of people are also choosing the straight ticket option.

In the 2004 presidential contest, almost two-thirds of the 1.08 million voters who cast ballots in Harris County took a legal short cut. They pressed the "straight ticket" button for the Republican, Democratic or Libertarian party, voting in a single touch for their party's candidates in every contest, according to county records.

Never before in the last 30 years or more had that large a portion of the local electorate voted automatically along party lines.

This time, straight ticket voting will reach the same level or go even higher, according to experts.

Straight ticket voting does not exist in most of the nation. Texas is among 17 states that allow it. But its popularity in Harris County may stem from a unique situation.

"I think Harris County has the longest ballot in the country," University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. "Certainly it's a time-saver, if you're looking for efficiency."

Forty judgeships, from the Texas Supreme Court to a county probate court, are on the ballot in Harris County. Most voters know little or nothing about such candidates in Texas, which is one of only a few states that elect judges in partisan contests. And Harris County has the most county courts in the state, which helps create the extra-long ballot.

If you think it's long this year, wait till 2010 when all the statewide offices are up, as well as far more county judicial seats. As I've said before, I have always voted in each race, partly out of habit, and partly because I've done some ticket-splitting and deliberate undervoting. This year, the Democratic slate was sufficiently strong that I felt the need to do much less of that, so even though I was at an uncrowded location, I decided to save some time and let one button fill in all the boxes for me, then go from there. I still wound up spending a fair amount of time at the machine, as I checked and doublechecked everything, but at least I didn't get carpal tunnel syndrome from all the clicking this time.

And while I've made my rough guesses as to how the voting is going so far, I've noted that the rosters of who has voted are available, and that the people who do this for a living have a much clearer view because they have precinct and voting histories to go by. Well, Alan Bernstein tells us who some of those people are, and what they're seeing:

About two-thirds of the record-smashing, high-volume early vote in Harris County supposedly has been cast by people with a Democratic voting history.

Harvey Kronberg elaborates:

A reliable Republican source tells QR that a computer analysis of early voting in Harris County indicates that Democrats have had a very good first two days of early voting.

By matching up early voters with their primary histories, our source tells us that Democrats outvoted Republicans 2.6 to 1 on the first day of early voting and 2.4 to 1 on day 2

Want to put that in perspective? Take a look at the 2004 cumulative report from Harris County. Note that the straight ticket vote went 54.83 to 44.82 in favor of the Republicans during early voting, but only 50.85 to 48.55 on Election Day. George Bush got 55.90% of the early vote to John Kerry's 43.60%, but only 53.84% of the E-day vote to Kerry's 45.84%. Over in HD149, now-former State Rep. Talmadge Heflin won early voting by a 51.50% - 48.50% margin over now-Rep. Hubert Vo. But Vo carried Election Day by 53.58% to 46.42%, which also helped him erase a 900-vote deficit in absentee balloting. Point I'm making is simply that this is not the historic norm. If this keeps up, a lot of Republicans are going to be doing a lot of sweating a week from Tuesday.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
If you're going to say it, stand behind it

Here's the Chron story about that ugly attack mailer in HD144. What stands out to me is the reaction by all those who are in one way or another responsible for it:

The mailing is criticial of Democratic House candidate Joel Redmond in the Pasadena-area District 144 race. His Republican opponent is Ken Legler.

The mailing was paid for by a conservative Austin political committee called Empower Texans, but it was produced and mailed out by Legler's political consultant Allen Blakemore of Houston.


Legler also said he didn't consider it racist. He also said he did not know Blakemore had anything to do with the mailing's design or production.

"I was told it was being put out by Empower Texans," Legler said.


Legler said the mailing started arriving in his district last week. He said no one he knew saw it as racist and he didn't either. Legler said he just saw the piece as an attempt to place Redmond on the political spectrum.

"I didn't see anything wrong with it," Legler said. "I didn't send it out. Empower Texans sent it out."

Legler political consultant Blakemore said Empower Texans only used photographs of Democrats who are on the ballot this year. He said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who is white could have been used but that Whitmire is not running for re-election this year.

"It's an Empower Texans mailing. It wasn't put out by our campaign," Blakemore said.

Blakemore denied giving the mailer or the idea to Empower Texans director Michael Quinn Sullivan but admitted to talking to Sullivan about the race.

Sullivan said the mailing was not racist, and he accused Democrats of injecting race into the campaign. He said the piece is meant to link Redmond to "liberal" politicians and the platform positions of the Texas Democratic Party.

"To suggest that race is something that would sway a voter is insulting," Sullivan said.

But Sullivan also said the piece was mailed out without his permission and would have looked different if he had anything to do with it. Sullivan said the piece was developed and mailed out by Blakemore and a Houston direct mail company called Right Mail.

It's like one of those "Family Circus" cartoons. Daddy asks which of the kids sent the mailer, and Billy and Dolly and Jeffy all say "NOT ME!" All that's missing here is the smirking little ghost scampering away.

Along those lines, there was Rick Casey's column about the Furse/Huffman kerfuffle in SD17, about which I'll say two things: One is that I saw a TV ad last night for (and featuring) Furse in which he made the scurrilous-but-not-apology-worthy charge that Huffman was somehow "soft" on child molesters because she signed off on plea deals that the DA made. I like Republican-on-Republican violence as much as the next Democrat, but I still hate seeing crap like this because it so poisons the discourse and leads to bad legislation like "Jessica's Law". And two, the common thread in both of these instances is Allen Blakemore, who I'm told isn't making any new friends these days.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Candidate Q&A: Mike Engelhart

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

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

Mike Engelhart. I am running to become Judge of the 151st Civil District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil disputes including business disputes, injury cases, consumer claims, civil rights cases, real estate matters, among others.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running to bring balance to the courts as there are currently no Democratic judges in any countywide Harris County courts. Further, I have a specific plan HERE to restore efficiency and balance to the Court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I was an Associate Editor of Houston Law Review in law school. I have been trying cases my entire career, and I know what works and what doesn't work. I have substantially more experience than my opponent did when she took the bench. I am the only candidate with trial experience, as well as appellate and federal court experience.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because I believe in the importance of juries. The right to trial by jury is being compromised in Harris County and in Texas. This valuable right must be protected and reinvigorated. The courts of Harris County, including the 151st, dismiss cases at an unusually high rate. A new approach is needed.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me now and on November 4th because I will remember two things when I take the bench. First, the voters put me in that courtroom and can remove me. And second, that the taxpayers pay my salary. Therefore, I will treat the position like the privilege it is, and treat the litigants in my courtroom like I am there to do a job for them and that I am the one who should bend over backwards to help.


Dion Ramos, 55th Civil Judicial District Court.
Shawna Reagin, 176th District Criminal Court.
Al Bennett, 61st Civil Judicial District Court.
Judge Jim Jordan, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
Mike Miller, 11th Civil Judicial District Court.
Andres Pereira, 190th Civil Judicial District Court.
Steven Kirkland, 215th Civil Judicial District Court.
Martin Siegel, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 7.
Randy Roll, 179th District Criminal Court.
Leslie Taylor, Court of Appeals, First District, Place 5.
Kyle Carter, 125th Civil Judicial District Court.
Hazel Jones, 338th District Criminal Court.
Bert Moser, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 4.
Peter Rene, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1.
Larry Weiman, 80th Civil Judicial District Court.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Appeals courts

The Chron, perhaps recognizing that it needs to pick up the pace a bit, made endorsements in the six races for the First and Fourteenth District Courts of Appeals. They went with four incumbent Republicans, and two Democrats:

Mary M. Markantonis for justice, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 6: On an all-Republican court whose judges tend to come from large defense firms, this Democrat offers a fresh perspective and a wide variety of life and legal experience. In 30 years of legal practice, the Houston native has specialized in employment law.

Jim Sharp for justice, 1st Court of Appeals, Place 3: In 19 years of practicing law, Democrat Jim Sharp has accumulated a wealth of experience representing clients in civil, criminal and family cases, as well as on the appellate level. He promises to offer new views and legal ideas on a court that is currently all Republican.

Sharp ran for this court in 2004 and 2006, coming very close to a win in 2006 as he won a majority of the vote in Harris County. He's technically running for an open seat, as the incumbent judge in the First Court, Place 3, former HPD Chief Sam Nuchia, was defeated in the Republican primary. Markantonis is running against incumbent Judge Bill Boyce, but for an unexpired term as Boyce was appointed last December. I didn't make any specific predictions for these races, I just thought the Chron would go with a mix of Ds and Rs. Which they did, so I'll claim victory.

While these six recommendations represent the largest number the Chron has made in a single day so far, it's still one category of office, which as we know is a pace that will have them making endorsements right up till Election Day. And I can't believe they'll do 27 of these in one day when they do the county judicial races. So, something still has to give.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Making financial disclosures public


For years the Texas Legislature has resisted calls to publish politicians' personal financial information on the Internet. But the modern world caught up with state lawmakers today, when a fledgling watchdog group posted the disclosures online.

Texas Watchdog, a nonpartisan organization that uses public records to pull back the curtain on state government, obtained scanned copies of the financial disclosures for the major state officeholders and published them on its Web site.

Before the forms were only available on paper at the state Ethics Commission in Austin.

"If the public can't easily get at these records, they don't do voters and taxpayers much good," said Trent Seibert, editor of Texas Watchdog. "Through this site, Texas residents will be able to keep a close eye on public officials and sound the alarm if they spot a conflict of interest."

Closer, anyway. As the story notes, there are still large areas of secrecy and obfuscation - Tom Craddick's mystery lobbyist client and David Dewhurst's trust fund, for example. In addition, as we learned through the Bill Ceverha saga, it's not just elected officials who have something to hide in their finances. But this is a good start, and kudos to the Texas Watchdog for undertaking it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The state of beer in Texas

Nice story in the Press about the sad state of craft beer brewing in Texas.

I have been drinking craft beers and visiting breweries and brewpubs all summer in an attempt to gauge the zeitgeist of Texas beer culture. When it comes to beer, Texas is a puzzling place. We are a beer-loving people, thanks to our cultural heritage, but we are also the former home of Carrie Nation and the epicenter of a 150-year-old Prohibitionist tradition. Statistically, we are among the nation's biggest beer drinkers. But our liquor laws make it ridiculously difficult to run a brewery, a brewpub or a beer festival.

There are now 70 craft breweries in Michigan, and 60 in New York State. Texas, one of the biggest beer-drinking states of the union, has just six.

As the story notes, most of the brewpubs that once operated in Texas have closed down, and many of the craft breweries either went out of business or got gobbled up by a major. I have fond and increasingly receding memories of brewfests here in Houston, when there were enough craft beer makers to make such an event possible. It sure would be nice to attend such a thing again.

Of course, as the sidebar story reports, that would require a change to the law in Texas.

There's a Texas law that prohibits breweries from selling their beer in their gift shops. Bill Metzger, the publisher of Southwest Brewing News, says it's the worst of many bad beer laws in Texas.

"It doesn't make any sense," he says. "It's like you make a killer brisket at your barbecue joint, and when people come to visit, you have to tell them you can't sell them any. I can't tell you how many small breweries in New York and California have told me that without their gift shop they would go out of business."

Once you subtract retail markup and the distributor's cut, a small brewery sees very little of the price you pay for a six-pack in a supermarket. Fledgling craft breweries don't make enough beer to interest distributors or retailers either, according to Tony Formby, managing partner of Rahr & Sons Brewing Company in Fort Worth. Selling beer for full retail from a gift shop can help a tiny brewery survive.

But it's not just the profits that make on-site sales so important, it's the marketing. When you go to a brewery, you want to buy the beer you just tasted and then show it off to your friends, says Metzger. "That creates a buzz that gives the little guys a chance to grow."

"Texas wineries got together and got a law passed that allows them to sell bottles at the winery -- people don't understand why we can't do the same thing. The difference is that there are 160 wineries in Texas and they have the Department of Agriculture behind them," says Formby. The wineries are getting support from the wine distributors, help from the tourism department and encouragement from their local communities. "There are only five or six of us, and we don't get any support at all," says Formby.


In 2007, Brock Wagner, the founder of Saint Arnold Brewing Company, led a coalition called Friends of Texas Microbreweries in an attempt to convince the Texas Legislature's House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee to change the law to allow sales at ­microbreweries.

"Every place where microbrew­eries have flourished, the laws have been changed to give them the ability to sell to the public," Wagner points out. Every member of the legislature he talked to in Austin was supportive, but the bill never reached the committee.

Mike McKinney, the beer lobbyist who represents Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, the Budweiser and Miller distributors, had a lot to do with the death of this bill. The beer distributors are major campaign contributors to licensing committee chair Kino Flores (D-Palmview), as well as just about every other politician in the state of Texas.

Brock Wagner vows to try again in 2009.

That effort from 2007 was called Saint Arnold Goes To Austin, which I and many other Texas bloggers, on both sides of the political aisle (since as I said back then, beer is a bipartisan issue), supported. I look forward to supporting it again, hopefully with a better outcome this time around.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 22, 2008
TAKS changes coming

Stepping out of campaign coverage for a second, here's a look ahead to some TAKS tinkering the Lege will take up next year.

Texas public school students could face less pressure on the TAKS test under a proposal that key lawmakers unveiled Tuesday to overhaul the state's school accountability system.

Under the plan, elementary and middle school students would no longer have to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test to advance to the next grade level.

Schools still would be held accountable for low test scores, but they would get credit for improvement -- even if students fell short of certain targets.

While several parents and school leaders praised the proposed changes to the school grading system as being more fair, others expressed concern that Texas would be lowering its standards. The Legislature is expected to consider the idea, offered by a special House-Senate committee on school accountability, next year.

"What this proposal does is eliminate the high-stakes testing in elementary schools, and I think that's a very positive development," said Spring Branch Superintendent Duncan Klussmann.


The revamped school grading system, which would require extra help for the struggling students, also would base annual performance ratings on three years of test scores instead of a single year and would give credit for student improvement. Districts would get judged on their financial health, too.

Pasadena ISD Superintendent Kirk Lewis applauded the move to averaging scores, noting that under the current system a school could be stigmatized with a low rating if it barely missed the mark in one subject one year.

"I think it will be helpful in taking some of the pressure off the schools," Kirk said. "I believe in accountability ... but the tweaks they're making, it appears it would be a positive improvement over what we've got."

Legislative leaders concede weaknesses in the current system -- which rates schools on TAKS scores, graduation rates and dropout rates -- and they heard complaints from educators and parents during hearings around the state this year.

"We found that the TAKS was the main focus of a lot of our education efforts, and it's a minimal-skills test," said House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands.

Standardized testing has its place, but I think the consensus after ten years of it here in Texas is that it's become an end rather than a means to an end, and that it's high time some effort was made to scale it down a little. I think bigger changes than this are ultimately needed, but this is a step in the right direction. Kudos to Rep. Eissler for listening to the feedback from parents and educators.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Curbside recycling to start again


Curbside recycling in Houston -- suspended since Hurricane Ike made landfall more than one month ago -- will resume next week, Houston's Solid Waste Department announced Monday.

Meanwhile, about 200 debris contractor teams will begin removing hazardous trees or limbs hanging over public right-of-ways.

As most solid waste employees had been diverted to the debris removal effort, the department was unable to begin collection of recyclables until next Monday, when households in the "B" week can put out their recyclables on regularly scheduled days. Households in the "A" week can do so starting Nov. 3.

To find out your collection day, go to www.houstonsolidwaste.org and click "Schedules For Trash Pickup."

That would mean Monday for us, as that would have been our regular date had Ike not struck. That's about when I'd have hoped this would resume. Kudos to the city for clearing all that debris as quickly as they did.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early voting, Day Two: Still going strong

Day One was not a fluke.

The first day of early voting in the state's most populous counties drew 156,417 more voters than on the kickoff day of voting four years ago.

The Secretary of State's Office has kept day-by-day voter turnout statistics for 15 counties since 1996 -- and this year's numbers are off the charts. A total of 346,688 people voted in person or through mail-in ballots that were received Monday, compared to 190,271 on Oct. 18, 2004.

Voting more than doubled in Harris County on the first day and continued to be strong Tuesday. County Clerk Beverly Kaufman reported that 43,411 people had been processed for voting Tuesday, in addition to the 39,201 who voted in person Monday.

Even in Galveston County, where election officials had to scramble to get ready for voting after Hurricane Ike, first-day balloting was up by more than 3,000.

Still waiting for the SOS page with the day's totals from the top 15 counties to update and reflect Tuesday's results. Will check back later and update when they appear.

Political pollsters began analyzing the data Tuesday as candidates began spinning it. Nearly everyone agrees it bodes well for a state that falls below the national average in voter turnout -- 56 percent in 2004 compared to 64 percent nationwide.

"There's a lot of pent-up demand for voting," said Leland Beatty, a Democratic consultant who specializes in identifying voting trends. "People who have not been interested in elections for a long time are really interested this year."

Republican pollster Mike Baselice said it's too early to say if the higher numbers of early voters will translate into a record turnout.

"We don't know if more voters are just taking advantage of the early voting opportunities that present themselves," said Baselice, adding that surveys have shown voters are more interested in this election than they were four years ago when Texan George W. Bush was at the top of the ballot.

"An open-seat race can drive more interest," he said.

I think the interest is being driven by more than just the open seat, but I do agree with Baselice that it's too early to tell if this is a definite indicator of a turnout spike, or just more people shifting their behavior to early voting. Certainly, the Democrats here have emphasized early voting over and over again this cycle. The professional number-crunchers ought to have a feel for this pretty soon.

As for me, I'm keeping track of the daily totals at each early voting location, along with a comparison to 2004, in this Google spreadsheet. After two days, here's how things look when we add up the numbers from each of the State Rep districts:


Tues GOP 20,910
Tues Dem 20,790

2-day GOP 39,672
2-day Dem 39,802


Tues GOP 11,144
Tues Dem 9,760

2-day GOP 21,852
2-day Dem 19,137

Republican HDs had a slight lead in yesterday's voting, but the Dem districts still lead overall. The voting in 2004 favored Republican districts by a wider margin. Again, this doesn't really tell us who is voting, but it does give a rough indicator of what's happening.

I still haven't voted yet, but may try it today at the Power Center, which is convenient to where I work and not as busy as some other sites. I can vote anywhere I want because I can get around easily. If you know someone who can't get around all that well but still wants to vote in person, Vote Now Houston may be able to help them:

Thanks to Vote NOW Houston, transportation challenges will not keep voters from going to the polls in Houston. The mission of Vote NOW Houston, a non-partisan organization, is to increase voter participation in the 2008 general election.

"Early voting has begun," said Robert Rugg, president of Yellow Cab. "To ensure that every voter has an opportunity to get to vote during early voting and on Election Day, Vote NOW Houston is sponsoring free Yellow Cab rides (up to $25 each way, per trip) to the voting booths."

"There are no screening criteria," said Nikki Johnson of Vote NOW Houston, "the ride is for anyone who wants to take it, and based on the response we have been getting, it appears that people who don't need it aren't taking advantage of it."

The rules of the program are simple:

  • Reservations must be made through Yellow Cab's special ride-to-vote hotline at 713-428-5880 or by placing a request for service online through http://www.VoteNowHouston.com.

  • Voters must­ vote at the polling station closest to their point of origin.

  • The total fare each way, including wait time, cannot exceed $25.00. Any amount in excess of $25.00 is the responsibility of the passenger. Free fare estimates are available at http://www.yellowcabhouston.com/mapquest/mapquest_ychouston.php.

Thanks to Andy Neill for the tip about this. If you know someone who could be helped by this, please make sure they know about it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Richard Morrison

It gave me great pleasure to sit down with Richard Morrison, who is running for Fort Bend County Commissioner in Precinct 1, for an interview. Morrison was the first candidate I ever interviewed, back in 2003 as he was beginning his campaign against Tom DeLay in CD22. We've all come a long way since then, and I'm pleased to report that Morrison is as feisty and dedicated as before. The issues are different, but the reasons for running and the desire to make things work better remain the same. Here's the interview, as always in MP3 format.


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Dexter Handy, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Joe Jaworski, SD11
Jim Henley, HCDE Trustee
Rick Noriega, US Senate
Kristi Thibaut, HD133
Joe Montemayor, HD127
Rep. Nick Lampson, CD22
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Garcia and Noriega

The Chron may have taken yesterday off, but they make up for it today with two good endorsements. First, in what I had termed their easiest call of the bunch, they tap Adrian Garcia for Harris County Sheriff:

In the past year the Harris County Sheriff's Office has been buffeted by a series of issues raising questions about the ethics and management abilities of its leadership.

The unjustified arrests and subsequent surveillance of the Ibarra brothers for videotaping deputies making a drug raid next door to their home resulted in an adverse court judgment and legal costs totaling more than $2 million in taxpayer funds. As occurred in the District Attorney's Office, attempted deletions of internal Sheriff's Office e-mails containing religious and racially insulting comments provoked embarrassment and led to apologies by incumbent Tommy Thomas to Muslims and others.

The high number of prisoner deaths at the Harris County Jail prompted a federal investigation, and the adequacy of medical care there has long been a public concern. A coordinated dispatch system tying area law enforcement agencies together remains in the discussion stage, even as manpower shortages demand more efficient use of available officers.

The Houston Chronicle believes 23-year Houston Police Department veteran and current Houston City Councilman Adrian Garcia offers voters the best opportunity to bring new energy and fresh perspectives to the Sheriff's Office. We agree with the unprecedented endorsement of the Democratic challenger by three unions representing a majority of county deputies. Richard Newby, head of the largest group, told the Chronicle that the decision to back Garcia resulted from the current administration's inconsistent policies and failure to communicate with employees.

As we know, there are plenty more reasons to indict Tommy Thomas for lack of leadership and inadequate ethics. Honestly, I don't even know what the case for Thomas is. If you care about the state of governance in Harris County, the only rational choice for Sheriff is Garcia.

The Chron goes on to endorse Rick Noriega for Senate.

Come January, the halls of Congress will likely be populated by strengthened Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Texas will need able representation in all arenas in that shifting legislative environment.

It will be especially important for Texans to have a strong, respected voice inside the expected Democratic majority in the Senate. Rick Noriega offers such a voice, with a distinctive Lone Star tone and perspective. The Chronicle endorses Noriega for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican John Cornyn.

Noriega, a Houstonian, describes himself as a Texas Democrat. That term, once common currency in the state's political conversation, seems to have fallen out of favor over the past several Republican-dominated years. But it resonates once more in this season of voter discontent with partisanship uber alles. Some old-fashioned moderate bipartisanship, Texas style, should be much welcomed in the Washington debate, particularly on overheated topics such as energy and immigration. Rick Noriega can provide it.

Noriega well understands that there are subjects on which Texas Democrats must stand apart from the party's national leadership. Energy is one. He is committed to bringing the message that the nation will need new domestic oil and gas supplies as it builds a bridge to greater energy independence and increased reliance on alternative energy sources. He will be able to point out in a forceful and personal way the folly of relying almost exclusively on hurricane-prone areas of the Gulf for supplies when abundant reserves can be tapped on the East and West coasts with little risk to the environment.

On immigration, Noriega is in step with traditional Texas views of tolerance and a warm embrace of cultural differences, rooted in respect for the law. He will bring calm and reason to the national debate.

As his role model for senatorial conduct, Noriega has selected the late Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. When facing difficult decisions in the Senate, Noriega says he would ask the question, "What would Lloyd Bentsen do?" This is more than a catchy slogan or a nostalgia trip: As a North Star for conduct and policy judgment, Noriega could scarcely choose truer than Bentsen.

Our decision to support Noriega was not made without due consideration of Cornyn's strengths. The one-term incumbent has been a strong and reliable supporter of freedom of information and open government laws. And he worked to speed up the citizenship process for immigrants serving in the military. But John Cornyn also has been a too-loyal foot soldier for the Bush administration, willing to make a right turn off the cliff in support of fatally flawed policies on Iraq and torture, as well as casting improvident votes on a host of social issues. Unlike Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, he is not known for his attention to constituent services.

I don't know that I can really add anything to that. Well done.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
TAB cops a plea

Well, this puts an end to one aspect of the whole Tom DeLay saga.

The state's largest business organization pleaded guilty today to violating campaign finance law six years after helping elect a slate of Republican lawmakers.

The Texas Association of Business pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, unlawful direct campaign expenditure, and paid a $10,000 fine.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle claimed victory for the people of Texas, but the settlement was a setback for Earle, who had pursued felony charges of unlawful political contributions by a corporation.

Those charges were dropped today with an agreement that they can be re-filed if the association violates the law in the next year.

Tuesday's settlement involved the last of the criminal charges against the Texas Association of Business in a six-year investigation by Travis County prosecutors.

Earle accused the trade association, which is a corporation, of making illegal corporate donations to its own political action committee by paying the salaries of two employees as they traveled the state, appearing at fundraisers and other events, urging voters to support the state GOP candidates, speaking to the news media on behalf of the candidates and consulting on strategy. Those two employees were association president Bill Hammond and the association's lobbyist, Jack Campbell.

State law generally prohibits the spending of corporate money in connection with a campaign.

"I now recognize that while working as a salaried employee of the Texas Association of Business, it was a violation of the law to expressly advocate for the election of these candidates," Hammond told reporters today. "I take full responsibility for my actions. I apologize to the voters of Texas and to the members of the Texas Association of Business."


Earle said the facts supported a felony but that he's pleased with today's agreement. The punishment for a felony would have been a $20,000 fine.

"The difference between $10,000 and $20,000 when you factor in the cost of the trial ... was simply not worth the cost-benefit analysis," Earle said.

Turner said the felony charge was "the line in the desert" that the association wasn't willing to cross.

"There's no way in the world we felt like they were responsible for a felony conviction in this case," Turner said.

I guess that makes this a win-win, then. Judge Mike Lynch had ruled TAB must stand trial on the remaining counts against it last month. Other codefendants such as Sears had pled out years ago. Far as I can recall, all that's left is the DeLay/Colyandro/Ellis/RoBold trial,which ought to be at a theater near you eventually.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The ethics plan finally gets introduced

So Judge Ed Emmett's task force plan for improving ethics in county government was introduced to Commissioner's Court today. It didn't get very far, but that was pretty much expected at this point. I do want to highlight something that one member of Commissioners Court said about it prior to its debut:

Commissioner Steve Radack reiterated his argument that none of the measures would make a big difference since the district attorney's office, county attorney's office and Texas Ethics Commission already have the authority to investigate and punish wrongdoing.

And haven't they all done such a splendid job of enforcing those laws and punishing all that wrongdoing? I think it's safe to say that we wouldn't be where we are today without the contributions of Chuck Rosenthal and Michael Stafford. I'm sure Brad Bradford and especially Vince Ryan, who advertises himself as an aggressive guardian of the county's business and who received the Chronicle's endorsement based on that, appreciate the vote of confidence. You make the case for them beautifully, Commissioner Radack.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 21, 2008
Endorsement watch: Three for Larry Joe

While we wait for the Chron to get back in the game, here's three Austin endorsements for Larry Joe Doherty in CD10. First, the Statesman:

[Incumbent Rep. Mike] McCaul is an engaging, interesting former prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice. But his low profile and support for so much of the Bush administration program over his past two terms makes him an ill fit for Austin. That's one of the reasons we are endorsing Larry Joe Doherty for this seat.

Doherty is a rather eccentric personality with an unusual way of speaking, but he's smart and he's firm on the issues. He wants us out of Iraq, he didn't like parts of the Wall Street bailout but supports federal investment in struggling banks, and he's for a single-payer health plan. His agenda would be good for Austin.

Doherty has the money and support to give McCaul a challenge in a district DeLay and the Legislature drew for a Republican. McCaul has refused to debate Doherty, which lends credence to those who believe the district is a toss-up this year. McCaul hasn't given voters a reason to support him for another term and Doherty offers a viable alternative.

Next, the AusChron:

[McCaul is] little more than a rubber stamp for President Bush's warmongering, pro-corporate policies. Attorney and former TV personality Doherty is chomping at the bit to return District 10 to the progressive, populist tradition it had under Lyndon Johnson, Homer Thornberry, Jake Pickle, and Lloyd Doggett. First and foremost, he's sick of the Iraq war and recognizes its immorality. He also supports universal, single-payer health care and effective re-regulation of a freewheeling Wall Street that has spun out of control. Having lawyered in Houston, lived near Brenham, and now residing in Austin, he understands all aspects of this diverse district. It's time to root out "Congress­man Clear Channel" and let Doherty represent people, not money.

And finally, the Daily Texan:

Larry Joe is as down-home a Texan as we've ever seen (his name is Larry Joe, after all). But he has Texas' future at the forefront of his mind, and wants to put his efforts and legal-know how (Doherty is an expert in legal malpractice) into bolstering a progressive agenda for our state. The first item on his impressive list is withdrawal from Iraq. But he's also pledging to be a champion of lower-cost college educations, affordable health care and the environment, all pertinent domestic issues for which we see support for as inarguable. Thus, our vote for Doherty is one of great certainty and foresight.

Will the Chron make him four-for-four? My guess was no, but I'll be happy to be wrong about that. Whenever they get around to it, of course.

How about an unendorsement as a change of pace? Awhile back, Sen. Kim Brimer was touting the endorsement of all the Mayors in his district. Turns out that's not totally true. From the Wendy Davis campaign:

Kennedale Mayor Bryan Lankhorst said today that he never endorsed Kim Brimer for the District 10 State Senate seat.

Mayor Lankhorst said that he had never spoken to Brimer or any of his representatives about an endorsement. This revelation calls into question whether or not 15 other mayors actually ever agreed to endorse Brimer. The only mayors that have made any public statement about his endorsement are Fort Worth's Mike Moncrief, Arlington's Bob Cluck, and Euless' Mary Lib Saleh.

Oops. Gotta hate it when that happens.

Somewhere in between is this, not an endorsement but not a non-endorsement.

Here's a photo of a big yard sign for Democratic Texas House candidate Joe Moody. What's the big deal about that?

Well, what caught my attention is the location of the sign. It's at 7700 Alabama Avenue, the same address as the El Paso County GOP headquarters. What's more is that property is owned by Republican County Commissioner Dan Haggerty, brother of GOP state Rep. Pat Haggerty who lost an ugly primary fight with Moody's opponent, Dee Margo.


Dan Haggerty said Moody asked if he could put signs up on some of his commercial properties.

"So I gave him a list and I said, 'Sure, put them up,'" he said.

But Dan Haggerty said the signs aren't an endorsement of the Democratic candidate.
He said he's still undecided about the race.

If Margo would have asked to put up signs on his properties, Dan Haggerty said he would have told him yes, too.

"I believe in the two-party system," he said, adding that he has signs for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in front of his house.

That may be as much as Moody will get from the Haggerty clan. It's not too shabby if it is. Click the link above to see the picture.

And finally, one of the more interesting campaign-related emails from the veritable gusher of such things I've been getting lately, from Sarah Weddington, the successful attorney in the Roe v. Wade case:

You know how politically active I am and how intensely involved I am regarding issues that impact woman's health and reproductive rights. Typically I focus on federal or state races in this regard. However, there is a particular Harris County race that we need to pay very close attention to as well.

The Harris County Judge is the equivalent of the "Mayor of Harris County". For example, the Harris County Judge oversees the Harris County Hospital District. The person is this position can have a tremendous impact upon woman's health concerns locally.

David Mincberg is currently running for the position of Harris County Judge. He is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin School of Law. He is a long-time friend of our issues and is a past board member of Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas.

His opponent Ed Emmett is the polar opposite. His record when he served in the Texas House of Representatives shows that he twice voted to eliminate family planning funding. Had either measure passed it would have cut funds to Planned Parenthood. He also failed to support an amendment providing that parental consent for abortion would not be necessary for a teenager who had been raped and voted to require parental consent in cases of incest.

Access to appropriate woman's health care in Harris County should not be subject to someone with knee-jerk approval of the Texas Republican Party platform. Emmett hasn't been publicly discussing his views on choice much; some even think choice is not a big issue for him. I am sending this email because in many ways Emmett is no different on our issues than the most vocal of opponents. And there is a great candidate also in that race.

I can't say that I've ever considered reproductive freedom to be an issue at the county level, so as far as the actual governance of Harris County goes, this doesn't really mean much. But as an admirer of Planned Parenthood and supporter of its goals, it gives me a little extra reason to feel good about Mincberg's candidacy.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Two weeks out, time for the sleazy attack mailers

Ah, there's nothing like the last two weeks of a campaign to bring out the truly special campaign tactics. Here's Harvey Kronberg catching one such example near here.

In a year potentially sitting on the powder keg of racial politics, a direct mail piece put out by Empower Texans may have crossed the line.

In this instance, the battleground is the Pasadena based open seat vacated by the retirement of Republican Robert Talton. It is a battleground seat pitting Republican Ken Legler against Democrat Joel Redmond. Given Redmond's deep evangelical ties, Democrats believe the seat is winnable. It is a key seat in next January's speaker politics.

On one side of the mailer pictures Democratic contender Redmond surrounded by pictures of Democrats. None of them are white.

The title of the mailer: "Don't be misled: Bad company corrupts good character."

Prominently displayed are Sen. Mario Gallegos, Cong. Sheila Jackson Lee, Rep. Harold Dutton, Rep Garnett Coleman and, of course, presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Notably missing are Democrats Bill White, Gene Green, John Whitmire, Scott Hochberg and Nick Lampson.

Empower Texans president and CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan explained , "Some people may look through politics through a racial lens, which I find absolutely disgusting and reprehensible. All I can I do is look at how people vote; I'm offended you would suggest anything else.

"We simply pulled together the most liberal members from the Houston delegation who are on the 2008 general election ballot - using the TFR (Texans for Fiscal Responsibility ) Index for state officials and the National Journal ranking for federal officials.

"In each case, these are the individuals with the most liberal (and fiscally irresponsible) voting records were presented from the party Mr. Redmond would like to represent in the Texas House."

Fair enough. The only problem is that the mailer presumes that bubba in Pasadena recognizes Dutton, Coleman and the rest and understands they are running for re-election. There are no names attached to the individuals and no explanation of the common theme that binds them together.

It is also worth mentioning that both Houston Reps Jessica Farrar and Alma Allen have lower scores on the TFR list than do Dutton or Coleman.

I've got a scanned image of the mailer uploaded - here's side one and side two. Obviously, one can read or not read whatever one wants into such things. But especially in a year like this, when the McCain campaign has been making increasingly overt racial attacks on Barack Obama, it's more than a little precious to create a mailer of a white guy surrounded by a bunch of black people, headline it with "Bad company corrupts good character", then get all defensive when the racial aspect of the piece is pointed out. Let's all be grownups here, OK?

At least one person associated with the Empower PAC had the grace to be sensitive to this:

In its recent 30 day out report, the PAC indicated total contributions of $56,600 with $50,000 of that coming from Bob Perry. It is likely that other contributors will surface in the 8 day out report.

Perry spokesman and Patriot Group member Anthony Holm said, "Clearly they need to be more careful so people don't misinterpret their mail pieces."

It's still all in our heads, but at least it's something. I'm sure there will be plenty more where this came from.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
More on Day One of early voting

Here's the Chron story about Day One of early voting in Harris County.

A total of 39,201 votes were cast Monday in Harris County, a record turnout almost double that of 2004's first day and one that was mirrored across Texas. The precise total of ballots case in the state's 15 most populous counties will not be known until today, but the number certainly will eclipse the 145,000 from four years ago.

Here are the totals for the top 15 yesterday. You'll be able to follow those numbers here. For comparison purposes, the Day One 2004 numbers are here, with all of the dailies here. The total for yesterday in these counties was 231,728 in-person votes, or 2.74% turnout; for Day One of 2004, it was 144,598 and 1.78%. Definitely a spike for this year, so the question is whether it will continue, or if it was just a first day phenomenon.

In Harris County, the combined totals for the early voting locations in every State House district except for HD128 were up from 2004, in some cases dramatically so. The biggest gainer percentagewise was Moody Park in my home district 148, which went from 227 in 2004 to 977 yesterday. HD130 had the biggest absolute gain, going from 615 in 2004 to 2446 yesterday; there are now two early voting locations in that district, which probably helped facilitate the gain. Overall, more votes were cast in the 13 Democratic-held HDs than in the 12 Republican HDs, a reversal from 2004. In 2004, there were 9,377 votes cast in those 13 HD locations, or 44.9%, and 10,938 votes cast in the 12 GOP HDs, or 52.4%. This year, it's 19,012, or 48.5% for the Dems, and 18,763, or 47.9% for the GOP. I consider the downtown location, which went from 553 in 2004 to 1426 yesterday, to be neutral turf. Again, we'll see if all this continues or if day one was an anomaly.

Dallas County surpassed its record of 23,000 voters two hours before the expected end-of-day rush, leading election administrator Bruce Sherbet to say that if the trend keeps up over the course of the 12-day voting period "there's not going to be anything close to compare it to."

In Corpus Christi, the surge of first-day voters briefly overwhelmed a computer system that "wasn't ready to handle the load," election manager Rochelle Limon said, who added that the problem was fixed in 15 minutes.

Even in Galveston, where problems caused by Hurricane Ike give people plenty of other things to worry about, the first-day turnout was heavy, with more than 4,000 ballots cast. The only real issue is on Bolivar Peninsula, where the remaining residents have no site at which to vote.

"I think it's terrible," said Curt Rodriguez, assistant chief of the Port Bolivar Volunteer Fire Department. "I won't vote early because of it."

Other reports have come in for Travis, Hidalgo, Williamson, Fort Bend, and Grayson Counties, with some bonus Travis County number-crunching thrown in for good measure.

Kaufman's office was informed early Monday that some of the first voters had cast straight-ticket Democratic ballots only to discover that the machines had recorded their presidential vote as Republican.

DeLeon said the equipment was tested and found to be working properly, but he suggested that voters should double-check their selections before submitting the vote.

Straight-ticket voters should not select any individual candidates as that might cancel out their vote in that particular race.

Just a reminder, people: If you're going to vote a straight ticket, just vote a straight ticket. The only other race you need to consider is the special election in SD17. If you don't see that on your ballot, push the straight ticket button, cast your vote, and you're done. Don't mess with anything else.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Um, nobody?

Really, Houston Chronicle? No endorsements today? Let's review the bidding so far, and see which offices have and have not had a recommendation from the Chron:

1. President and Vice President - Done

2. US Senate - No endorsement yet.

3. US House - Endorsement in CD22, none yet in CDs 07, 10, 18, or 29 (CDs 02 and 09 are uncontested).

4. Railroad Commissioner - No endorsement yet.

5. State Supreme Court - Done.

6. Court of Criminal Appeals - Done.

7. 1st and 14th District Courts of Appeals - No endorsement yet for any of the six benches.

8. State Senate - Done for SD11, not yet for SDs 06 or 17 (SD04 is uncontested).

9. State Board of Education, District 7 - Done.

10. State House - Done for HDs 126, 127, 129, 134, 135, 138, 141, 143, 144, 145, 148, 149, 150. Not done for HD133. The rest are uncontested, at least by a major party.

11. County Judge - No endorsement yet.

12. District Attorney - Done.

13. Sheriff - No endorsement yet.

14. Tax Assessor - No endorsement yet.

15. County Attorney - Done.

16. District Clerk - No endorsement yet.

17. Harris County Department of Education trustees - No endorsement yet for either position.

18. Harris County District, Criminal, Family, and Probate Courts - No endorsement yet for any of these 27 benches.

19. Harris County Commissioner - No endorsement yet for Precinct 3 (Precinct 1 is Dem versus Lib).

20. Justice of the Peace - No endorsement yet for any of Precincts 1, 5, or 8 in Place 1 (other JP precincts are uncontested).

21. Constable - No endorsement yet for any of Precincts 1, 2, 3, or 5 (other Constable precincts are uncontested).

So that's 23 offices done, and 36 to go, using my generous-to-them count of only considering Dem-versus-GOP races. If we just consider categories of races, there are 14 of them, and we are exactly two weeks out from Election Day. I think you can do the math there. And yet today they rest. You'd think this year of all years, they'd want to work a little harder to get these all or at least mostly done in a timely fashion, but as with the primaries, that doesn't appear to be the case.

On a side note, still no Presidential endorsement from the Star-Telegram or El Paso Times. Burka and Evan Smith are keeping track of Texas newspaper endorsements, which included a few small papers for McCain yesterday. And finally, TexBlog PAC candidate Diana Maldonado picked up another endorsement for HD52.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Still talking about buried power lines

Seems to me this article is a lot like this article. At the end of the day, my basic point is still the same.

Houston's Galleria area had relatively few power outages following Ike, which area boosters attribute largely to projects to bury above-ground lines.

The Uptown Houston District, created by the state in 1987 to oversee public improvements in the Galleria area, has spent close to $10 million in recent years to move or bury power lines, said John Breeding, president of the district.

"We may be known for the arches and rings at the intersections in our area, but we've probably spent more on burying power lines than anything else in recent years," Breeding said.

Projects to bury lines in the district cost $500 to $750 per foot, or between $2.6 million and $4 million per mile, Breeding said.

"You're not just burying the lines but the switches and transformers," he said. "So, something that you just attach to a pole up in the air becomes a $50,000 cost to put underground."

Floyd LeBlanc, a spokesman for CenterPoint who has worked with the district on those projects, said the original estimate to bury all the lines was closer to $40 million. When the company realized the district was concerned first about the aesthetic drawbacks of the above-ground lines, workers found less expensive ways to move some lines behind buildings, where they were less visible, rather than bury them.


"I feel like burying lines should be something CenterPoint is allowed to put into the rate base," Breeding said. "At 10 a.m. Saturday after the storm, I walked into my building on Post Oak, hit the elevator button and went up to an office that was fully functional. It was like that for most of the area. Just think about the economic losses if a whole office building is without power."

It still makes sense to me for all the stakeholders to get together and see where the biggest bang for the buck would be for burying power lines, then figure out how best to pay for it. Maybe some modeling of what the Uptown District did would make sense. Again, I don't claim to know what the best answer is, but I do think we need to be asking the questions.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Will someone please poll Harris County?

So the Republicans are offically worried about a Dallas-style sweep of the local elections, especially the judiciary, but they're doing their best to maintain a stiff upper lip.

That fear is reinforced by local Democrats vetting and policing their candidates this year, resulting in a full, diverse-looking slate of opponents. Then there's the possibility that Barack Obama could win the presidency and have coattails long enough to shatter the local Republican judicial monolith.

Coattails and parties matter a lot in the 26 races for family, civil and criminal district courts. Judicial candidates cannot discuss specific cases, which makes campaigning generalized and vague. Few voters have the time or means to investigate each judicial race.

"The reality is that in down-ballot races, people don't know who the candidates are," said Jared Woodfill, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party.

It seemed to be about party affiliation in November 2006, when more than 40 Republican judges in Dallas County were evicted from their benches. Now, some Republican jurists there are switching party affiliation before they run for office in 2010.

I've heard a fair amount of grapevine chatter than the sitting judges who are up for election are pessimistic about their chances. I don't hang around the courthouses myself, but I hang around people who do, so take it for what it's worth. There have also been persistent rumors about Republican party switchers in 2010 for months. The truth value of that will be directly proportional to the number of Republican former judges after this election.

I don't know if you noticed, and I don't intend this as a criticism of story reporter Mary Flood, but there's a critical piece of information missing from this article: Polling data. With all these high-profile countywide races going on, in a year where Democrats have expressed confidence in their ability to break the longstanding Republican hegemony, with all the expectations of an Obama surge in turnout, and with all the spending and advertising and organizing in the county, you would think someone would want to be able to objectively measure where things stand right about now.

So I have to ask: How is it that two weeks before Election Day we haven't had one single public poll of Harris County? Of course, we really haven't had all that much polling of Texas in general, so I suppose I shouldn't wonder about this. But really, how is this possible? Is there nobody who wants to know about this?

Actually, I'm sure that there have been polls taken, by various campaigns. I've heard of one recently, which was favorable for the Democrats. But it's not for public consumption, and I know nothing more about it than its existence, so I can't even offer a novice level critique of it. Usually, when I post an item like this, someone who has this kind of information available will email me to tell me about it, usually off the record. So I may wind up getting some answers to my questions, even if I can't share them. I hope that won't be all that there is, but I fear that it will.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texas blog roundup for the week of October 20

Early voting has begun. That's all the intro you need for this week's Texas Progressive Alliance blog roundup. Click on to read the highlights, and get thee to an early voting location.

The Texas Cloverleaf took part in Blog Action Day this past Wednesday. Find out how you can combat poverty in your neck of the woods.

Bay Area Houston listed the fines for State Representatives and Senators issued by the Texas Ethics Commission in 2007 and 2008. Enjoy!

jobsanger discusses voting and registration. He says the E-Voting Can't Be Trusted without a paper trail, and ACORN Is Not Committing Fraud in their effort to register over a million new voters.

Vince at Capitol Annex notes that State Rep. John Davis (R-Clear Lake) is misleading voters about his poor record on education in his newest mailer, and that the mainstream media is calling John Cornyn's performance in the final senatorial debate "less than senatorial."

In the first of a series of posts on past presidential elections, Neil at Texas Liberal offers up Who I Would Have Supported For President 1788-1820.

WhosPlayin goes off on a Republican County Chair who thinks a candidate's sexual preference is more important than the substance of his ideas.

Off the Kuff takes a look at why some people won't be able to cast their ballot during the first few days of early voting.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants a fair election without Republican voter suppression and questionable electronic voting machines.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on the fake controversy about voter "registration" fraud, Gone nuts about ACORN. And Diana Maldonado released her first TV ad this week, HD-52: Diana Maldonado is on TV, "Texas' Comeback".

Now that McBlogger has torn him a new cesspool, Joe The Plumber's fifteen minutes of fame are OVER

North Texas Liberal dissects Obama's wide lead on McCain in the polls and the projected electoral map. Also, former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorses Obama for president. (Start following us on Twitter for mini-updates and breaking news!)

Gary at Easter Lemming Liberal News has put up his Early Voting Info post but also announced he is rapidly becoming a clueless Cassandra.

BossKitty at TruthHugger is sad to recognize that Sex Scandals, Scams, Phishing and Your Bank Account are signs of deeper disorders. Power, Money and Sex are hopelessly intertwined with EGO.

Justin at AAA-Fund Blog laments the loss of Gordon Quan as a future candidate.

Burnt Orange Report takes a look into the numbers of the latest poll in the U.S. Senate race and tells why it might be even closer than it looks.

Over at TexasKaos, fake consultant discovers a Giant Load of Hooey in one of THOSE emails. Just for fun, he investigates the "facts". The result is an education in how desperate the McCain-Palin crowd have become.

Harris County clerk Beverly Kaufman predicts that 500,000 Houston-area voters will cast early votes, but Harris County tax assessor-collector Paul Bettencourt and Texas SoS Hope Andrade have done their best to hold that number down. Brains and Eggs has the details.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 20, 2008
Theresa's taxes

I have to admit, I hadn't expected there to be much in the way of issues in the race for District Clerk, at least outside of the normal functioning of the office. But today at a press conference, Loren Jackson raised one. From his press release:

According to records from the Secretary of State and Comptroller's office, the Peter & Theresa Chang Foundation, Inc. has been under tax forfeiture since 1999 after failing to submit required tax information. Even though Chang's organization was stripped of up its right to operate in the State of Texas, it has continued to be active, underwriting scholarships in 2007 and 2008.

"How can we trust Theresa Change to be chief record keeper for the third largest county in America if she can't keep her own records straight?" said Loren Jackson, Democratic candidate for District Clerk. "Certainly supporting the educational pursuits of outstanding women is of the utmost importance, but Theresa Chang needs to explain to the people of Harris County how she can accurately and efficiently keep up with the records and documents of their lives, while dropping the ball in her own."

Theresa Chang has had nine years to contact the Secretary of State and the Comptroller's office and submit the proper paperwork to be in good standing and legally reinstate her foundation before funding any scholarships. Not only does this question her competency as District Clerk, but it also questions her own ethical standards.

Stace has the full release. I kind of doubt Chang will bother to respond to this, since it hasn't gotten picked up by any mainstream media that I'm aware of, and with so many other races commanding attention, it probably won't be. Maybe there's a simple explanation for this, I don't know. The linked document is pretty clear, so if there is an explanation, I'd like to hear it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early voting, Day One: Very busy

Fresh from the County Clerk's office:

As of 6:51 pm on Oct. 20th 2008, the Harris County Clerk's early voting statistics showed that 39,201 persons had been processed for voting in Harris County on the first day of early voting in-person for the Nov. 8th 2008 election. In the 2004 Election, a total of 20,868 persons were processed during the whole first day of early voting in-person. That is an 87.8% increase compared to the first day of early voting in-person in 2004.

We ought to be able to see where these people voted tomorrow. That will tell us a lot more than just the gross numbers. For comparison purposes, here's a Google spreadsheet of that breakdown from 2004. By my calculation, 9377 votes were cast in Democratic (as of 2008) House District locations, while 10,938 were cast in Republican HD locations (I'm not counting the 553 cast downtown as either). It's a rough guide - precinct and voter history info will be much better - but let's see how that compares to this year when we see it.

I have not yet voted. I drove past the West Gray multi-service center on my way to work, before the polls opened, and there was a long line already. I wandered by the Fiesta on Kirby and OST later in the day to check it out, and the line stretched all the way across the store and then some. I may try again later this week around lunchtime, or I may wait till next week and aim for 7 AM one morning. How was your experience?

On a related note, we finally surpassed 2004 in voter registrations in Harris County.

The count of registered voters stands at 1,950,300, about 8,000 more than for the presidential election in 2004, according to Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, the county voter registrar.

Bettencourt had predicted that registrations for the Nov. 4 election would top 2 million, but has since lowered his forecast.


Although early voting started today and the deadline to register was Oct. 6, Bettencourt's staff is still processing applications and sending them to the Secretary of State's Office in Austin for final approval.

More than 13,000 applications have not yet been processed, Bettencourt said, and a large portion will not result in new voters being added to the rolls because the forms are unintended duplicates or address changes for voters already on the lists.

But some newly registered voters may not be on the computerized lists of eligible voters available today at the county's 36 early voting stations.

Those voters can cast a provisional ballot today -- meaning their votes will be set aside until the county verifies their registration status -- or come back later during the 12-day early voting period or on Election Day.

Election workers may not be telling some voters about all of their options, however.

Thankfully, we have PDiddie for that:

I'm going to do a little shouting now.

If your name does not appear on the voter roll when you go to vote, PLEASE DO NOT FILL OUT A PROVISIONAL BALLOT. Leave the polling place and call this number: 1-866-OUR VOTE (687-8683).

This is also why you should vote early; so that if there are "issues" with your registration, they can be cleared up -- hopefully -- in time for you to cast a ballot that counts (with at least as much faith as we are able to place in electronic voting systems, anyway). You don't want to be experiencing this circumstance at 6:45 p.m. on Election Day.

I spoke to someone today who said, about three-quarters jokingly, that he was going to vote as early as possible just in case he got hit by a bus before Election Day. Whatever your motivation, make sure you vote, and make sure your family and friends do as well.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
I'm sorry, so sorry...

The Republican soap opera in SD17 takes an even more melodramatic turn.

Joan Huffman and Austen Furse, Republican rivals for state Senate whose surrogates have engaged in a bitter war of words previously documented on this blog, had a talk tonight on a street corner near her house in quiet Southside Place.

We're not making this up.

Furse called Huffman a few hours ago and asked her to meet him under the streetlight, according to Huffman. And there he apologized to her, she said, for the fact that he and his supporters have alleged quite sharply, by mail and the Internet, that she had averaged 78 days of vacation for each of the six years she served as a Harris County felony court judge. The allegations were accompanied by images implying that Huffman was a beach-loving slacker who had shirked her responsibility to the taxpayers.

sniff I'm getting all verklempt over here. Give me a minute to compose myself...

OK, better now. What I want to know is if the apology itself was accompanied by anything else - flowers, a box of chocolates, suitable music. A little groveling never hurts, either. More details are definitely needed here.

Fort Furse can't reach everyone who viewed the misguided stuff electronically. But it does know who it sent the colorful mail to. Will Blakemore and his associates mail those voters a correction, as Huffman now says he should?

No. He said he will rely on the news media to get the word out.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! And I'm sure, since this was a front-page, above-the fold story in the Chron, that everyone who was misinformed before has now been duly corrected. You're such a card, Allen.

Meanwhile, in other SD17 news, Clay Robison reports on the Democratic donors who (I certainly hope) learned their lesson with the Strayborn debacle of 2006 and have come home to support Chris Bell this time around. And it seems Huffman has remembered that she's actually running against Bell - or, at least, she wants to be. Texas Politics has her latest ad, which focuses on Bell, and Bell's response ad.

UPDATE: Well, so much for that apology. We are deep into popcorn time now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early voting starts today

This is it. Time to vote. Stace was there for last night's rally at Discovery Green - there will be a similar rally tonight in Austin. Everything you need to know about early voting for Harris County is here (PDF). Everyone expects it to be busy, so plan accordingly. And leave a comment here with your experience when you hit the polling place. Let's see if those projections are right.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Rep. Nick Lampson

I've said before that I've been a longtime fan of Rep. Nick Lampson, going back to 1996 when I donated to his campaign to unseat the loony one-term Rep. Steve Stockman. Though I admit that some of his votes this cycle have frustrated me, he's still what he's always been - an effective, hard-working Congressman who represents his district very well, and is just an all-around nice guy to boot. For sure, the last thing we need is for a Phil Gramm acolyte like Pete Olson to get elected, so I'm certainly rooting for him. I had a lot of questions for Rep. Lampson in my interview with him, which I think you'll enjoy.


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Dexter Handy, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Joe Jaworski, SD11
Jim Henley, HCDE Trustee
Rick Noriega, US Senate
Kristi Thibaut, HD133
Joe Montemayor, HD127
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: District Attorney

As expected, the Chron endorses Pat Lykos for District Attorney.

The next chief of the Harris County District Attorney's office must plunge into a multilevel rehab job. Despite a staff that boasts many superb professionals, former DA Chuck Rosenthal managed to savage the office's reputation. For decades before that, Rosenthal and predecessor John B. Holmes Jr. helped embed in the DA's office a culture that prized conviction at almost any cost, sought death sentences with a conveyor-belt monotony and followed outdated policies that choked access to justice.

This fall's candidates for district attorney, Democrat C.O. "Brad" Bradford and Republican Pat Lykos, both pledge to transform that culture. Of these two qualified contenders, the Chronicle recommends Lykos for Harris County district attorney.


A graduate of South Texas College of Law, Lykos has served on the front lines of law enforcement, as a police officer, a lawyer and a criminal court judge. No one could accuse her of being soft on crime -- she has signed death warrants -- but Lykos' judicial signature has been her role on panels and commissions seeking modern, preventive responses to family violence, juvenile crime and mental illness.

She has been a trailblazer in innovative sentencing, working to include community service and victim restitution as part of probation requirements.

Lykos was also an early advocate for a regional, independent crime lab to replace the discredited Houston Police Department facility. The corruption and ineptitude in that lab began before former Police Chief Bradford took office, but his under-aggressive responses have weakened his leadership credentials.

Lykos has her leadership flaws: She has been criticized privately and officially for poor listening skills and brusqueness with colleagues and subordinates. To her credit she has worked with noticeable success in mellowing what she calls her "intense" demeanor.

We hope that Lykos applies this improved openness to the best proposals from her competitor. While Lykos has called for more care in the DA's future pursuit of the death penalty, Bradford is commendably blunt in calling for capital punishment as a "last resort."

Bradford also proposes creating a public defender's office and changing grand jury selection to include more working people and minorities. Citing fiscal stewardship, he favors giving citations rather than incarceration for some low-level, nonviolent crimes. We think these are sensible proposals for urgent problems. Lykos should take them seriously.

Sounds to me a little like they preferred Bradford's platform, but chose Lykos anyway. Folks who think the Chron has it in for Bradford are not going to be dissuaded of that. I'll be very interested to see how A Harris County Lawyer, who had previously discussed some of the issues the Chron cites, thinks about their endorsement.

By the way, according to Grits, the Austin PD is now implementing that cite-not-arrest policy for Class B misdemeanors. If they can do it, so can we.

Meanwhile, no Presidential endorsements yet from the Star-Telegram or the El Paso Times, though the former is at least promising one this week. Elsewhere, the Bryan-College Station Eagle joins the list of papers that had never before endorsed a Democrat that are now recommending Barack Obama.

This year is different, in large part because of the very difficult challenges facing this nation after eight years of a failed Bush administration. We are faced with a choice between Sen. John McCain, who claims to be an agent of change but promotes the policies of the past, and Sen. Barack Obama, who also wears the change mantle, but offers a vision for the future, even if he has yet to fully explain how he would carry out that vision if elected president in little more than two weeks.

Every 20 or 30 years or so, a leader comes along who understands that change is necessary if the country is to survive and thrive. Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century and his cousin Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan -- these leaders have inspired us to rise to our better nature, to reach out to be the country we can be and, more important, must be.

Barack Obama is such a leader. He doesn't have all the answers, to be sure, but at least he is asking the right questions. While we would like more specificity on his plans as president, we are confident that he can lead us ever forward, casting aside the doubts and fears of recent years.


Also of great concern is McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Like Obama, she has little experience in governing, but unlike the Illinois senator, she is a candidate of little intellectual curiosity who appears to be hopelessly unready to be president. The fact that people are confused by the difference between Palin and comedian Tina Fey's caustic impersonation is clear evidence that Palin should not be, as they say, a heartbeat away from the presidency.

We also are dismayed by the tenor of the McCain-Palin campaign. If their goal is to severely wound an Obama presidency should that come to pass, they are dangerously close to succeeding.

Gotta say, especially for a paper in such a deep red area (read some of the comments for the flavor of it), they have a much firmer grasp of what this campaign is about, and what has actually taken place, than the DMN or the Express News. Kudos to them for taking a stand.

Then there's the Waco Trib, which chooses to wuss out.

While applauding the upsurge in voter engagement, we lament what has become a poisonous environment.

So, after long, even painful, deliberation, we have decided to side with neither Barack Obama nor John McCain.


The message that we want to deliver in our non-endorsement this year is that we must get beyond the reflex to attack those fellow citizens with whom we disagree.

If recent political trends hold true, on the day after our election, we can count on roughly half of our citizens to either actively or passively undermine whoever the eventual winner of this contest will be.

Instead of unifying behind our leadership and behind the concept that democracy is strengthened by the collective wisdom of all, our tendency as a nation is to destroy opposing viewpoints and destroy those who hold such viewpoints.

If they have demonstrated anything, both Sens. McCain and Obama have demonstrated that they are patriots who have a deep love of our country. To suggest otherwise is to feed into the poison.

That's a lovely sentiment, and as hard as it may be to argue with it, I have to ask, what election have they been watching? The McCain campaign has been nothing but destruction, divisiveness - hello, "real America" and "real Virginia", anyone? - and poison for weeks now, and it's just going to get worse. How can you wring your hands about this without acknowledging where it's coming from? I'm sorry, but that's just gutless.

On the plus side, the Trib did endorse Linda Yanez and Sam Houston for the Supreme Court, and had some nice things to say about Jim Jordan. So they have that going for them.

Finally, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times appears to have perfected time travel, because the John McCain that they endorse for President was last seen around 2003 or so. They also continue a remarkable trend in that every single paper that has endorsed McCain has not mentioned the campaign he has run, and only one (the Globe-News, in passing) mentions Sarah Palin. I guess if you really want something badly enough, you can find a way to justify it.

UPDATE: Here's AHCL on the DA endorsement.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Supreme Court money race

As we've seen in other races, Democratic candidates have been able to keep up with, even surpass, Republican incumbents in fundraising. That's also true in the State Supreme Court races.

According to Texans for Public Justice, the three Republican incumbents -- Jefferson, Wainwright and Johnson -- received an average of 65 percent of their campaign contributions through June 30 from lawyers and litigants who have had motions or interests in cases before the high court since 2005.

Through June 30, the three justices had raised more than $1.5 million, with Jefferson raising $661,000 of that.

Their major contributors included defense-oriented law firms, insurers and other businesses and tort reform groups favoring limits on civil lawsuits and judgments.

Texans for Public Justice didn't attempt to link individual contributions to lawsuit outcomes. But other studies have shown that the Supreme Court, since the Republican takeover, has sided with doctors, insurance companies and other corporate defendants in the vast majority of lawsuits brought by consumers.

Through June 30, the Democratic challengers -- Jordan, Houston and Yanez -- had collectively raised $722,000, about half of the Republicans' total. Some 69 percent came from lawyers or other people who had business before the court over the past three years.

That may not seem like much, but consider that the Dems' top Supreme Court candidate from 2006, Bill Moody, raised $60K in the first six months of that year, and had $5K on hand thirty days out from the election. This is a big step up.

If you are (quite reasonably) concerned with who gives what to the justices and the candidates for justice, I think the best solution is strictly enforced recusal requirements in cases where one or more parties have made contributions above a certain limit to any of the justices. I don't see how making judicial elections non-partisan would help - people still make contributions in such elections, after all. Judge Jordan's suggestion of moving judicial elections to May, mentioned here, is interesting, but I fear it would mostly ensure these races are always low-turnout affairs. Public financing is also a possible answer, though I don't think there's nearly enough support for it to ever be viable. All things considered, I think requiring a justice's removal in cases where a litigant has contributed to (or against) his election is the best we can do.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Still no love for the Ashby highrise

Missed this earlier, but Swamplot's eagle eye was on the case.

The developers of the Ashby high-rise sent their plans back to the city of Houston just days before Hurricane Ike hit, and not long after the Public Works Department resumed operations, Buckhead Investment Partners were rejected for a seventh time.

Records show the plans were filed again Sept. 11, seven days after being returned. They were denied a remaining permit again Sept. 29.

In his comments, city engineer Mark Loethen said plans for a driveway permit contained no revisions and there was "no current justification" for restriping plans on Bissonnet Boulevard at Ashby Drive.

The controversial development at 1717 Bissonnet St. has cleared six of seven departmental reviews, but still lacks clearance from Public Works and Engineering's traffic section.

Here's the previous update. Given that the Ashby developers are unlikely to give up and go away, it seems there are two possible outcomes for this. One is that those developers eventually get mad and sue the city for stringing them along, and the other is that the city eventually approves their permit request. Which may lead to another lawsuit getting filed, but would still likely be the simpler option.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 19, 2008
A little late night viewing

Here's a few campaign ads running locally, beneath the fold. A lot of these run on cable in select areas only. See what you think.

Sherrie Matula, HD129:

Ashish Mahendru, 334th Civil District Court:

Martin Siegel, 14th District Court of Appeals:

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Colin Powell

It had been rumored for months, but today it happened: Former Secretary of State for President Bush Colin Powell has endorsed Barack Obama.

"I think he is a transformational figure, he is a new generation coming onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Sen. Barack Obama," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Powell said he was concerned about what he characterized as a recent negative turn of Republican candidate Sen. John McCain's campaign, such as the campaign's attempts to tie Obama to former 1960s radical Bill Ayers.

"I think that's inappropriate. I understand what politics is about -- I know how you can go after one another, and that's good. But I think this goes too far, and I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. It's not what the American people are looking for," he said.

More here, with video clips here and here. As far as endorsements go, this is huge, as it undercuts even more just about all of McCain's arguments for his election. I mean, if even a loyal Bush Republican like Colin Powell thinks we need the change of direction that Obama represents, then who's left to advocate for the status quo?

UPDATE: MyDD puts it in perspective.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Weekend link dump for October 19

Early voting begins tomorrow. A big celebration of that is going on at Discovery Green today. And now we dump a few links.

Centenarian nuns for Obama! And rednecks and bassets, too.

Oh, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

I said, turn that thing down!

Obama v. McCain on tech issues. Via Dwight, as was the previous link.

"Sarah Palin's reaction to the Legislature's Troopergate report is an embarrassment to Alaskans and the nation. That's what happens when a politician makes assertions that are flatly false.

NBA layoffs. Things really are tough all over.

When 2 > 13..

Barack O'Lanterns. Freaking awesome. Thanks, Jeff!

Republicans work with ACORN, too. I'm just saying.

RIP, Neal Hefti. You may not know the name, but as the guy who wrote the theme song to the "Batman" TV show, you know his music. I knew his work as a composer/arranger for Count Basie - "The Kid From Red Bank" is one of my faves.

Holy brewskies Batman!

I have no use for Sarah Palin, but she doesn't deserve this. Nobody does. It's disgusting and contemptible. Among the things that I fervently hope result from this Presidential campaign is a sharp reduction in the public's tolerance for racist and sexist remarks and attitudes, no matter who expresses them. For shame.

I mean, for crying out loud, there's plenty of legitimate grounds on which to criticize Sarah Palin. Why go anywhere else?

I live in the pro-America part of Houston. What about you?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Once in a lifetime

For the first time in my life, the Houston Chronicle endorses a Democrat for President.

After carefully observing the Democratic and Republican nominees in drawn-out primary struggles as well as in the general campaign, including three debates, the Chronicle strongly believes that the ticket of Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden offers the best choice to lead the United States on a new course into the second decade of the 21st century.

Obama appears to possess the tools to confront our myriad and daunting problems. He's thoughtful and analytical. He has met his opponents' attacks with calm and reasoned responses. Viewers of the debates saw a poised, well-prepared plausible president with well-articulated positions on the bread-and-butter issues that poll after poll indicate are the true concerns of voters. While Arizona Sen. John McCain and his running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have struck an increasingly personal and negative tone in their speeches, Obama has continued to talk about issues of substance.

The last time the Chron recommended a D for the Oval Office was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. They hit on all the right notes in this one, which will surely have heads exploding all over town. I am more than happy to have been wrong in my prediction.

The Chron is joined by the Statesman, which comes as a pleasant surprise:

Each of the two major presidential candidates fill the air with different words that all say "change," but only Sen. Barack Obama defines change clearly and positively.

It is a time of peril, both at home and abroad, and the nation needs the focused, energetic leadership Obama has projected and delivered since he announced his presidential candidacy in early 2007.

Like the Chron, and unlike a couple of others I'll mention in a second, they actually seem to have been paying attention to the campaign and what the candidates have been saying and doing. Amazing how much better a decision you can make when you do that. Anyone know how long it's been since they last endorsed a Democrat for President?

Meanwhile, the Dallas Morning News wasted no time making hash of Evan Smith's prediction that the five major dailies would go for Obama. It's everything you'd expect from the DMN - they completely ignore the harshly negative and increasingly substance-free tone of McCain's campaign, tout his experience without ever mentioning the words "Sarah Palin", and convince themselves that he's the change we can believe in. As with the Globe-News, you really have to admire their capacity for cognitive dissonance.

Slightly less obtuse but still as unwilling to mention the campaign or the Vice Presidential nominee is the Express News, which adds bonus wackiness points for buying into the idea that Social Security needs to be saved. That would mean privatization in a McCain administration, and hey, who wouldn't want to turn over more of their retirement savings to Wall Street these days?

So that's two for Obama and two for McCain, which frankly is two more for Obama than I'd have expected. The tiebreaker will be cast by the Star-Telegram, which chose today to endorse Dan Barrett in HD97, and Kim Brimer in SD10. I obviously disagree with the latter, but at least they gave a coherent reason for it, unlike some of the other endorsements we've seen lately. The S-T has just about run out of other races in which to make recommendations, so I'm going to guess they'll tackle the Presidential race tomorrow.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The continuing Republican pie fight in SD17

I was going to write something about the latest outbreak of Republican-on-Republican violence in the SD17 special election, as told by Gary Polland and Robert Miller (see beneath the fold), but frankly I don't think I can do any better than Alan Bernstein did. So go read his post, it's a hoot.

Two points to note. One, the more of this sort of thing there is, the better I feel about Chris Bell's chances. Even if he doesn't win outright on November 4, it's reasonable to think he'll have something like double the votes of the runnerup, which means that the Republicans will have to get it together and put all this stuff behind them to prevail in the runoff. If we were talking about a March primary and the need to unify for November, that'd be one thing. In the short time frame of a December runoff, though, I have my doubts that bygones can become bygones that quickly. Oh, the losing candidates can publicly kiss and make up and say all the right things about the need to hold the seat and blah blah blah. But the people who cared about the vote they cast, it's harder to see why they'd be motivated to bother doing it again. I could be wrong, but I like the position Bell is in right now.

And two, for what it's worth (which is admittedly probably not much), I have yet to see a single sign - in a yard, in a vacant lot, on a fence or tree, you name it - for Austen Furse. I've seen plenty for Bell, plenty for Huffman, even plenty for Grant Harpold, who I think will be lucky to get 10% of the vote, but not a one for Furse. I admit I only drive around a limited area of the district. Maybe Furse's stronghold is elsewhere. Maybe his campaign isn't into signs. Whatever the case, I'm just saying what I'm seeing. Make of it what you will.

Email from Robert Miller:

As you know, I am supporting former Judge Joan Huffman in the Special Election to replace State Senator Kyle Janek. Austen Furse is the other viable Republican in the race. I have known Mr. Furse to be a decent and honorable man.

On Wednesday, Mr. Furse's campaign launched an attack on Judge Huffman claiming that she took an average of 78 days of vacation (15-1/2 weeks) every year that she served as a criminal district judge in Harris County. They apparently mailed this claim to all Republican voters in SD 17, launched a website www.judgehuffman.com , and produced a parody video of Judge Huffman purportedly traveling the world while serving as Judge. The Furse campaign arrived at this figure by assuming that every time there was a visiting judge in her courtroom, Judge Huffman was on vacation.

Of course, this claim of Judge Huffman taking 78 days of paid vacation every year is not true. Judge Huffman averaged only 18 days of vacation a year. Many of the days that were purported vacation days Judge Huffman was handling capital cases. A capital case is where the death penalty is sought by the State and requires individual questioning of potential jurors -- a lengthy process. It is the standard practice in Harris County for a visiting judge to handle the regular docket of incoming and pending cases while the sitting judge is handling the capital case. A complete explanation is attached.

Politics is a contact sport in Texas. But it is wrong to lie. It is particularly wrong to lie about a judge saying they were on vacation when they were actually trying capital murder cases. This goes beyond the pale.

Mr. Furse should apologize and acknowledge that he made a mistake in claiming Judge Huffman took 78 days of vacation every year she was on the bench. If he won't do that, then he will have become just another politician who will say and do anything to get elected. That is not the Austen Furse I used to know.

Best personal regards,


Posted by Charles Kuffner
The term limit battle in San Antonio

There was a debate over the referendum to modify the term limits ordinance in San Antonio last week.

Voter turnout has fallen since term limits were enacted in San Antonio, as have the number of individuals who enter City Council and mayoral races.

That's the conclusion of Henry Flores, a political scientist from St. Mary's University who compared the eight local elections held since term limits passed in 1991 to the eight that came before limits were imposed.

Flores did the research in preparation for a live debate for Texas Public Radio over the Nov. 4 ballot measure that will ask voters to extend the city's current two two-year terms to four two-year terms.

Mayor Phil Hardberger, who is leading the charge to relax the limits, faced off against Bob Martin, president of the Homeowner Taxpayer Association, whose group opposes the measure.

Flores was invited, along with Express-News columnist Jaime Castillo, to bring context and historical perspective to the debate, which aired at noon and 7 p.m. Friday on KSTX-FM.

Voter turnout in the eight elections from 1977 through 1991 averaged 28 percent, he found. From 1993 through 2007, it dropped to 14 percent.

The number of individuals who ran for council seats in a given election also dropped, from an average of 46 per election to 35, while those running for mayor dropped from an average of 7.6 candidates down to 6.3.

"Incumbent success," or the ability of the incumbent to get re-elected, has been higher since term limits were enacted, Flores said, jumping from 73 percent to 87 percent.

Those findings seem to contradict some of the arguments against loosening term limits.

As the story indicates, the numbers aren't likely to matter too much. Either you like the idea of term limits or you don't, and the most motivated group will win. For what it's worth, I saw several billboards for the pro-reform side, and nothing for the antis. They've got some funding along with the backing of the popular Mayor Hardberger, so they've got a chance. San Antonio's a tough place to pass this kind of referendum, as the pro-fluoridization forces could tell you. But at least they have a shot.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 18, 2008
Some late night reminders

Just some reminders about upcoming events. Like this:

And this.

Plan your days accordingly. And for those of you in Dallas, while it's not an event, the Dallas County Coordinated Campaign has some Meet the Candidate videos for your viewing pleasure. Check 'em out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Vote early, if you can

You're going to hear a lot of exhortations to vote early over the next two weeks. But if you registered to vote near the deadline, you may not be able to, at least right off.

The voters will be allowed to cast ballots but may have to fill out special forms at polling stations or wait a few days before voting, according to state and Houston-area election administrators.

Officials blame a deadline-beating rush of registration applications before Oct. 6, and maintenance to a computer database of Social Security numbers, for the fact that many registrations won't be processed in time for the early voting kickoff.

In Houston, about 70 employees in the voter registrar's office will work through the weekend to clear most of a backlog of about 30,000 applications, Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said Friday. Some will turn out to be valid, others duplicates or address changes for voters on the rolls.

But, he said, perhaps 7,000 applications from Harris County residents will require extra verification and probably won't be cleared before Monday, the first of 12 days of early voting at 36 county locations.

The Secretary of State's Office in Austin must also verify the applications, using driver's license and partial Social Security numbers, before voters are added to lists in each county of qualified voters.

But as the state agency works through the weekend to handle applications submitted by counties, it will take about 24 hours to approve each new voter.

"We were keeping up very well with the increased load, but we started to run a little behind when the Social Security Administration closed their (computer program) down for maintenance last weekend," said Ashley Burton, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Hope Andrade.

"Since the start of October there has been a huge increase in the number of new voter records that the counties have submitted for verification," she said.

Bear in mind that a big part of the reason for all this delay and wheel-spinning is that the Social Security database itself isn't all that reliable, which can result in "disenfranchisement by typo". I've noted before that an awful lot of the voter registration activity, especially in Harris County, has been to re-qualify perfectly legal and eligible voters who got removed from the rolls for the sin of having moved. As Matthew Yglesias points out, we could make it a lot easier for these folks to get back into the good graces of our keepers of the qualified lists:

As you know, I'm in the process of moving to a condo I recently bought. As part of that process, I just used the US Postal Service's convenient online change of address application that quite neatly lets you forward your mail. It would be possible for a country that was really committed to running sound elections to put a step in that process where you can check a box to change your voter registration. Then if you checked the box, the information would be conveyed to the relevant authorities and just as your mail would start magically showing up at your new address, so, to, would you suddenly be registered to vote at the new place.

But of course we don't live in a country like that. Instead, we live in a country where in order to vote I would need to separately change my information with the DC Board of Elections. Except I can't actually change my registration because it's too late. Consequently, Matthew Yglesias, a United States citizen over the age of 18 and lacking a felony record, nonetheless doesn't seem to have any pathway to legal voting. A country with a modern constitution would probably establish an affirmative right to vote for adult citizens, requiring that election administrators make it possible for all qualified voters to cast legal ballots. Instead, we began as a country with a sharply restricted franchise. Over time, we've created various rules saying you can't disqualify a voter for certain reasons. You can't disallow my vote on the basis or race, religion, or gender. Nor can you decide that I'm too young to vote. But there's no amendment protecting the right of people who've moved recently to vote.

And so the process is hard because we choose to make it hard. And we wring our hands and say to the thousands of applicants who will be inconvenienced, or told they just missed the deadline, that there's nothing we can do about it. There is, we just don't want to do it. And this is the result:

About 1.94 million voters will be eligible to cast ballots this year in Harris County, roughly the same number for the last presidential election. The statewide voter roll has edged up to 13.4 million, about 300,000 more than last time.

For a county that's grown by a couple hundred thousand people since 2004, that's really a disgrace. What it is not, however, is an accident. It was a choice, and as long as we have a voter registrar who's more interested in purging the rolls than in adding to them, it's what we'll get. Thankfully, we have the opportunity to make a better choice. It's up to us.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: The WaPo and the ChiTrib for Obama

I figure this Sunday we'll see a bunch of Presidential endorsements, as it's the day before early voting begins here. I don't have any faith that Barack Obama will claim even one major paper recommendation in Texas, though I'm sure it'll be amusing to see what justifications they come up with for touting John McCain and the ugly, repellent campaign he's run, but that's not my problem. While we wait for that, let's take a look at what they should be writing, courtesy of the Washington Post.

Mr. Obama is a man of supple intelligence, with a nuanced grasp of complex issues and evident skill at conciliation and consensus-building. At home, we believe, he would respond to the economic crisis with a healthy respect for markets tempered by justified dismay over rising inequality and an understanding of the need for focused regulation. Abroad, the best evidence suggests that he would seek to maintain U.S. leadership and engagement, continue the fight against terrorists, and wage vigorous diplomacy on behalf of U.S. values and interests. Mr. Obama has the potential to become a great president. Given the enormous problems he would confront from his first day in office, and the damage wrought over the past eight years, we would settle for very good.

And here's the Chicago Tribune:

On Nov. 4 we're going to elect a president to lead us through a perilous time and restore in us a common sense of national purpose.

The strongest candidate to do that is Sen. Barack Obama. The Tribune is proud to endorse him today for president of the United States.


This endorsement makes some history for the Chicago Tribune. This is the first time the newspaper has endorsed the Democratic Party's nominee for president.

Yes, you read that right - this is the first time they've endorsed the Democratic nominee. Surely that means that a Texas paper or two can follow suit, right? Well, here's the Lufkin Daily News:

Today through Sunday, we're making our endorsements for the 2008 election. Our endorsements are not partisan -- we supported George Bush in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. Our choices reflect whose policies and strengths we think, after careful consideration, will mean a better, stronger economy and way of life for Angelina County, Texas and the United States.

To that end, the choice for this year's president is clear: Barack Obama, senator from Illinois.

His strength has been to appeal to a broad range of people, including the vital youth who are tomorrow's leaders. After watching an inflexible president go overboard in a $700 billion bailout on loyalty for his nominee, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, we think it's time for a changing of the guard.


It's the working class that are the backbone of this country, and we need someone to help us share the wealth while still encouraging a free market economy. We believe Obama has shown more interest in helping the middle class, and has proposed plans to make that happen.

Another consideration is that we should elect a president whose vice president would be ready to lead if, heaven forbid, the president were to die in office. We think Joe Biden's experience overwhelms Sarah Palin's limited appeal as a candidate who would instill confidence during a national crisis.

But just as a reminder that we're still in Texas, here's a reality check from the Amarillo Globe-News:

Barack Obama mirrors the tax-and-spend philosophies of liberal Democrats, which is not the type of change the nation needs.

John McCain has built a more conservative track record during his service in both the House and the Senate, with just the right mix of moderation, to lead the country in a positive direction.

It must be tough to hold onto the cherished old ideals these days. Who knows how much effort it must have taken to look past the outgoing two-term Republican President, who had a Republican House and Senate for much of his tenure, and the looming trillion dollar deficit he's bequeathing us, while still believing that Democrats are fiscally irresponsible? You just have to admire their tenacity in keeping the faith.

Both links come via Evan Smith, who has managed to convince himself that the big five in Texas will all endorse Obama. Evan, I love you, man, but that's just crazy talk. I'll pay for all your purchases at Starbucks for a week if that prediction pans out. Hell, I'll pay for Eileen's, too. Not gonna happen.

Meanwhile, I forgot to note yesterday that the Chron made the easy calls of endorsing incumbent State Reps. Patricia Harless in HD126 and Senfronia Thompson in HD141. Both were expected, though in Harless' case you have to wonder what changed, besides Chad Khan's disappearing act as a candidate, since 2006. At least they accurately portrayed her record and positions, unlike some other Reps I could mention.

UPDATE: Sorry, Eileen. Didn't even get a chance to work up a little suspense. Maybe next time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Montemayor and Cohen

Another day, two more good endorsements by the Chron:

Joe A. Montemayor for State Representative District 127: Although this northeast Harris County district running from Kingwood to Baytown has been represented for eight terms by Republican incumbent Joe Crabb, the Chronicle feels that it is in need of new leadership.

Democratic challenger Joe Montemayor, a Navy veteran who served more than 25 years as an Immigration and Customs officer, has the background for the job. Montemayor is a small-business owner in Crosby who believes public school districts in the 127th are being starved of funds and must have more state support. On other issues, the candidate pledges to work to increase access to health care for those with financial challenges, strengthen and enforce environmental laws to protect our citizenry, and make Texas a leader in preventative medicine and medical research.

Ellen Cohen for State Representative District 134: In her first term in the House, Cohen has been a powerful force on health and environmental issues. The Chronicle urges voters to return her to Austin to continue that work.

Cohen, a breast cancer survivor whose district includes the Texas Medical Center, was the first House sponsor of Proposition 15. Voters approved this constitutional amendment to create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and fund $3 billion in research grants to search for treatments and cures for the disease.

In the past session, Cohen was a staunch advocate of the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program. She also fought a bill that would have gutted Mayor Bill White's efforts to enforce pollution laws from her position on the Urban Affairs Committee. Cohen also successfully pushed an adult entertainment fee to raise funds for victims of sexual violence without raising taxes. She joined a bipartisan coalition opposing a statewide ban on stem cell research.

In recognition of her work on medical issues, Rep. Cohen received the 2008 Patient Advocacy Award from the Texas Academy of Family Physicians this summer.

Voters can issue Cohen their own award at the ballot box.

The Chron has felt that HD127 has needed new leadership for at least three of Crabb's terms, because they've been endorsing his challengers since 2004. That made predicting their call for this race easy. It certainly helps that Montemayor continues a tradition of strong challengers in HD127. But it's fair to say that the Chron doesn't like Joe Crabb.

Cohen was an easy one to guess as well. The Chron, who understandably never liked Martha Wong in HD134, gave her a hearty recommendation in 2006, she did the things she said she was going to do after being elected, and she's running against an invisible opponent. What more do you need?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
R2K TX-SEN poll: Noriega within 6

The Rasmussen poll for September showed Rick Noriega trailing Sen. John Cornyn by seven points. Now we have confirmation of that from Research 2000, via Kos:

Research 2000 for Daily Kos. 10/14-15. Likely voters. MoE 4% (5/5-7 results)

Cornyn (R) 50 (48)
Noriega (D) 44 (44)
Adams (Schick) (L) 2 (n/a)

That's pretty good, and the partisan breakdown of the sample (40R/33D/27I) seems reasonable. There's also a Presidential result - McCain 52, Obama 40, "other" 4. I expect Noriega to do a little better than Obama in Texas, though I'd estimate it as a point or two, not four points. But this could happen.

The difference between Noriega and Obama is clearly visible in the crosstabs. Noriega and Cornyn each get about the same level of support from their own party - Noriega wins Dems 85-8, Cornyn carries Rs by 87-9. They split indies, with a 47-46 margin for Cornyn. Obama wins Dems 80-14 (McCain gets Rs at a 84-7 clip) and loses indies 51-41. He has some room to grow there.

How can Noriega close the gap? Well, the R/D/I split may ultimately be more favorable to him, especially with Obama on the air with no response from McCain. A strong turnout effort by Democrats can have an effect there. The sample also has Noriega winning Hispanic voters by a 63-31 margin, which I think is a bit low for him. He is also probably doing better among black voters than the 78-7 split suggests - I'd bet the vast majority of the "undecideds" break for him. Obama is at 89-4 among black voters and 57-33 among Hispanics; again, I think the latter spread will be greater in the end. Finally, I don't think Obama will lose among voters aged 18-29, as the poll currrently shows him trail 49-44; Noriega leads this group by 47-46. At the very least, the potential exists for a stronger showing. This is a good result, and if it helps generate enough late money to keep Noriega on the air over the next two weeks, who knows? It's close enough to go his way, and the wind is at his back. I'm encouraged.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Vote early but pick your spot

Remember how crowded the early voting locations were during the primary, and how so many people were reporting wait times of up to two hours to cast their (Democratic) primary ballot? Well, things will be considerably busier starting Monday.

An unprecedented half-million Harris County voters are expected to cast early ballots for the presidential race and other offices during the two-week early voting period, an increase sparked in part by political parties and candidates urging supporters to vote before Election Day.

In response to the forecast of a record-high early vote that starts Monday in Texas, county officials have added extra polling stations and voting booths and new auxiliary equipment to keep waiting lines as short as possible.

For a point of comparison, some 51,000 votes were cast early in the Republican primary, and 170,000 more were cast in the Democratic primary. That means we're looking at more than twice the traffic at those locations this time around. Plan your trip accordingly - I'll probably skip my preferred location on West Gray and use either the Fiesta on Kirby and Old Spanish Trail or Moody Park. Whatever the case, getting there right as it opens is likely to be best.

There are several reasons for the anticipated increase in early voting.

The percentage of votes cast early has climbed with every past election, and the trend is expected to continue as voters become more comfortable with the idea of getting voting out of the way before Election Day.

In 2004, almost 40 percent of the Harris County vote was banked by the end of October. The total county vote then was 1.08 million, a 58 percent turnout of all registered voters.

With the participation rate expected to climb along with the use of the early voting options, experts say at least half of the Harris County votes -- a half-million or more -- will be cast before Nov. 4.

I'm not sure I agree with the "at least half" part. Early turnout for Harris was about 38% of the final total (221,000 early votes, 580,000 votes total), or 41% if you include the 20,000 mail ballots as early votes. Here are the early vote totals from the last four elections in Harris County:

Year EV total Vote total EV %
2000 252,083 974,822 25.9
2002 166,694 648,077 25.7
2004 436,896 1,067,968 40.9
2006 191,533 589,348 32.5

A big jump in 2004, but a backslide in 2006. Maybe the Presidential election years are different. For what it's worth, here's how the early vote went in the primaries those years in Harris, compared to the November vote:

Year EV total Vote total EV % Ratio
2000 35,204 212,820 16.5 0.64
2002 34,625 171,825 20.2 0.78
2004 35,381 152,645 23.2 0.57
2006 33,362 109,848 30.4 0.94

"Ratio" compares the early vote percentage for primaries to that of the general. The dip in 2004 can be easily explained - that was a high-interest general election, but a dud of a primary, especially on the Republican side. What I'm trying to get at here is that I'm not convinced there's enough data to say what trends exist other than noting that early voting has become more popular in recent years. Whether that has peaked or still has room to climb, I couldn't say.

For what it's worth, a half-million early votes would represent a countywide turnout of 1.25 million if we vote early at the same rate as in 2004. Other values are left as an exercise for the reader. I'll see what it looks like on November 1 and do the math thing again from there. In the meantime, the early voting locations and schedules for Harris County are here (PDF). Plan accordingly, come to the early vote rally at Discovery Green on Sunday night at 7, and get ready to vote.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 17, 2008
Friday random ten: That's more like it

Since I first started using the iPod Genius feature to generate playlists, I've been wondering if it would show some sign of imagination, instead of simply plucking songs of the same genre to fill up the quota. Perhaps it was just a matter of giving Genius the right inspiration in the first place. If that's the case, I may have found the secret by giving it CAKE's classic cover of "I Will Survive" as the seed song. Here's what I got, in order and randomized.

As given:

1. "I Will Survive" - CAKE
2. "The Underdog" - Spoon
3. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" - They Might Be Giants
4. "The Way" - Fastball
5. "Don't Look Back In Anger" - Oasis
6. "Casey Jones" - The Grateful Dead
7. "Two Princes" - Spin Doctors
8. "Wild World" - Cat Stevens
9. "Don't Stand So Close To Me" - The Police
10. "Romeo and Juliet" - DIre Straits

As played:

1. "I Will Survive" - CAKE
2. "Let My Love Open The Door" - Pete Townshend
3. "Don't Stand So Close To Me" - The Police
4. "Tell Him About It" - Billy Joel
5. "Wild World" - Cat Stevens
6. "Bad Moon Rising" - Creedence Clearwater Revival
7. "It's All Been Done" - Barenaked Ladies
8. "Born to Run" - Bruce Springsteen
9. "Money" - Pink Floyd"
10. "The Boxer" - Simon and Garfunkel

OK, so the broader spread of this playlist, which spans the gamut of rock from Elvis to the Decemberists, gets lost in the first ten songs to actually get played. But overall, it's at least bigger than a radio station playlist, and that counts as progress. Next up, we'll pull randomly from the four Genius lists so far and see if it really is a good way to fill up an iPod mini. See you next week.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Deadline looming for the hippie bohemian attorneys

Is the dream doomed?

The developers of the Sonoma project are up against it - specifically, up against a one-year deadline to accomplish a few specific tasks related to the Bolsover abandonment.

A condition, passed by the Houston City Council at the time of the sale, specified that some changes to the site of the high-end condo over retail project must be completed within one year.

"The work that has to be finished within 12 months of the effective date of the ordinance pertains to utility work and changing the appearance of the street," Public Works spokesman Alvin Wright said.

The sale of the 2400 block of Bolsover was approved Aug. 8, 2007, but was contingent on the receipt of two letter of credit, one -- for $55,315 -- to cover the work required within a year.

Because an extension to the line of credit was granted by the city, the deadline to complete the work was pushed back until the end of October, Wright said.


The alterations to the property that must be made by the end of the month, pending extensions, are:

The plugging and abandonment of the 8-inch water line within the street, and the relocation of the existing storm sewer inlets to Bolsover and Morningside.

The developer is "required to eliminate the appearance of the public street" at the intersections of Bolsover and both Kelvin and Morningside.

As if the project didn't have enough problems. So the obvious question is what happens if this deadline isn't met? Will City Council and Mayor White aggressively pursue getting their street back? Or will they grant an extension, perhaps contingent on some condition like modifications to the construction schedule and/or a financial penalty?

I posed that question to Council Member Anne Clutterbuck's office, since Sonoma is in her district. They told me that they were researching this and would get back to me. I will post an update when that happens.

(Thanks to Swamplot for the catch.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Joe Montemayor

With all the time spent by people like me talking about the high-profile races in Harris County, it's important to remember that there are good candidates doing the hard work of running in races that aren't considered top tier as well. One such candidate is Joe Montemayor, who is working to build on what Diane Trautman accomplished in 2006 in North Harris' HD127. Montemayor is a longtime public servant, having done a stint in the Navy and having recently retired after a long career with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and he's an all-around good guy. You can hear what he has to say in my interview with him, as always in MP3 format. Let me know what you think.


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Dexter Handy, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Joe Jaworski, SD11
Jim Henley, HCDE Trustee
Rick Noriega, US Senate
Kristi Thibaut, HD133
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Campaign finances for the Congressional races

A little update from the Chron on the three high-profile Congressional races in the area.

Houston-area congressmen John Culberson and Nick Lampson are seeing major shifts in financial support for their opponents' campaigns as the candidates meet the latest deadlines for disclosing their funding.

Democrat Michael Skelly's campaign spent $1.5 million through September in the Republican-friendly 7th Congressional District, more than twice as much as Republican Culberson's, Federal Election Commission records show.

Skelly, a wind energy executive who has now lent almost $1 million in personal money to his campaign, came into October with more cash in his campaign account than Culberson and has raised more than the incumbent from donors.

The latest figures make the west Houston race one of the few in the nation in which the challenger has maintained a campaign money advantage over a House member seeking re-election on Nov. 4. Much of Skelly's money has paid for a constant stream of TV ads and mailings.

Word on the street is that Culberson is going negative on Skelly in his latest ad. That at least has a chance of being credible, unlike the ridiculous "now is the time to put partisan politics aside" spot Culberson currently has going. I mean, as if. The fact that he is going negative says a lot about where he thinks this race is. I can't wait to see the next batch of polls.

In the race for the nearby 22nd Congressional District represented by Democrat Nick Lampson of Stafford, candidate Pete Olson is among several Republican challengers across the country whose financial backing from the National Republican Congressional Committee has sunk.

The committee has cut its local TV advertising budget on behalf of Olson to about $600,000 from $1.5 million, according to TV station records, amid national news reports that the NRCC is redirecting much of its funding to help Republican congressmen outside Texas who are facing robust re-election challenges.

It struck me recently that the CD22 race really isn't all that high profile this year. In 2006, it was just about the top race in the state, and one of the top races nationally, at least in terms of media attention and funding. This year, it's not been nearly as prominent. Now granted, the 2006 race is an impossible act to follow, and everything is overshadowed this year by Obama, but still. You just don't hear as much about CD22 (outside of the district, anyway) as you might expect. And that's a very good thing for Rep. Lampson, because it suggests there isn't all that much drama to this race.

In the 10th District, which stretches from far northwest Harris County to Austin, Republican Michael McCaul of Austin maintained the customary campaign finance advantage for an incumbent. He reported having $598,000 on hand as October started, compared to $221,000 for Democratic challenger Larry Joe Doherty, a lawyer who lives in Burton.

McCaul has lent $200,000 to his campaign; Doherty pumped $100,000 into his race.

I think this race deserved more space in the article. First, as BOR notes, Doherty was almost even with McCaul in the quarter, once you factor out McCaul's late self-donation. And second, Doherty has been added to the DCCC's latest Red to Blue list, which also features Skelly. There's some real potential for a late push here.

Finally, on a somewhat tangential note, Marc Ambinder reports that the DNC is considering dropping some late money into state legislative races across the country, including in Texas. That's almost mind-boggling to contemplate. Maybe Tom Craddick's cash reserves won't mean so much after all.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
How would you recycle all that?

Given all the tree debris that resulted from Hurricane Ike, it comes as no surprise that there's way more of the stuff than the city knows what to do with. So the city is asking for your help to figure it out.

The city of Houston will sponsor a nationwide contest in hopes of recycling all of the 5.6 million cubic yards of tree waste cleaned up from households and front yards in the month since Hurricane Ike devastated the region.

The contest will pay $10,000, $5,000 and $2,500 for the top three ideas for how to best use the heaps of debris, which city officials have said would be enough to fill up the Astrodome nearly four times over. Proposals are due by the end of the month.

So far, the city has given about 700,000 cubic yards of wood waste to two companies that will turn it into mulch and compost for resale. But the sheer volume of debris far outstrips local market demand for recycling it.

For that reason, Mayor Bill White said, the city has launched "Recycle Ike" to keep the wood, most of which will be chipped, from going to waste.

"We don't want to have to fill up our precious landfill sites with a bunch of wooded waste, so we're going to try to recycle all of it," White said. "It will probably be the single biggest recycling project that there is in the country this year."

If you've got a brilliant idea, go to recycleike.com for the details. One way or the other, we need to do something with all this stuff.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
If you're going to vote straight ticket, just vote straight ticket

Thanks to for reminding me about this.

An e-mail circulating throughout Texas and apparently targeting supporters of Democrat Barack Obama falsely warns voters that casting a straight-ticket Democratic ballot won't register a vote for Obama.

Democratic leaders are crying foul. First, it's not true, they say.

Second, they think it could cause people using the eSlate electronic voting machines to inadvertently cancel out their downballot straight-ticket voters, eliminating potentially millions of votes for Democratic candidates in state and county races.

"For those who normally vote 'Straight Democratic', please pay close attention!!!!!" states the e-mail, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

"I was informed this weekend by a group of Obama volunteers that when voting for the presidential candidate this November, you have to make sure you punch Barack's name first, then proceed to punch 'Straight Democratic' or else the vote for the president won't count," the e-mail says.

Quite the opposite, says Texas Democratic Party spokesman Hector Nieto said.

With eSlate, punching the button for presidential candidate Obama after punching the straight-ticket button will actually cancel the straight-ticket vote, Nieto said.

HCDP Chair Gerry Birberg sent out an email in response to this a couple of days ago. The TDP has this on its webpage.

If you wish to vote for all candidates of a particular party:

When you mark "Straight Democratic" then cast your ballot, your vote will count for Barack Obama and all the Democratic candidates, including all congressional, state and local Democrats on the general election ballot.

NOTE: A separate vote for an individual candidate is required only in a special election (e.g., Senate District 17)


If you do not wish to vote a straight party vote, you must mark each individual candidate for whom you wish to vote, and then cast your ballot.



Additionally, carefully read the review screen after marking your selection and before casting your ballot. If you have any questions at the polls, ask an election judge for assistance. Visit our Voter Information page for more information about deceptive voting information and to review your rights as a Texas voter.

So bottom line: If you intend to vote for all Democrats, just push the Straight Democratic button and be done with it. If you intend to do something else, skip the straight ticket button and vote (or skip) each race as you see fit.

Now of course, a better-designed interface would warn you if you were about to do something that you might not intend to do, and give you the option to back out of that action before you commit to it. The eSlate does show you a list of who you voted for before you cast your ballot, but as I always vote in each race individually I can't say what they display for straight-ticket-with-overrides case. Just be aware of this and push back on it if that email lands in your inbox. Thanks.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 16, 2008
Ibarra brothers sue Lloyd Kelley

Sometimes you think there are no twists and turns left in a story, then you find there are indeed.

Erik and Sean Ibarra filed suit Wednesday in a Harris County court, accusing Lloyd E. Kelley of breach of contract. The brothers are disputing the amount of expenses Kelley incurred and that he wants them to pay.

"They feel like they are being victimized by their own lawyer trying to charge more," attorney Randy Sorrels said today.

Kelley said that he had not been served with the lawsuit and knew about it only because Sorrels, the brothers' new attorney had called him.

The brothers received a $1.7 million settlement earlier this year. Kelley asked the court for $2.2 million in legal fees, but was awarded $1.4 million.

Kelley said he had $300,000 in expenses, but a judge approved only a reimbursement of $51,000. The remainder of the expenses, according to the contract signed by the brothers and Kelley, says the brothers must pay the expenses.

"I expect to be reimbursed, and I'm entitled to be paid from their settlement," Kelley said. "When you're getting $1.7 million for one night in jail, and one (brother) had two nights in jail, is phenomenal. They didn't pay one dime over the last six years and they don't want me to get reimbursed for those expenses. That is ingratitude."

I figure if you were to walk past any of the offices of Sheriff, District Attorney, or County Attorney in the next couple of days, you might hear the sound of bitter laughter, perhaps mixed with the occasional choice obscenity, emanating from within. Stace has more.

UPDATE: A bit late, but here's Mark Bennett's take..

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Early Vote rally preview

A small peek at what's coming on Sunday night for the early vote rally at Discovery Green:

Apparently, YouTube has blocked the sound, but you'll hear it on Sunday night starting at 7 PM. Guest speakers will include Senate candidate Rick Noriega, who is finally getting some national attention from folks like Bill Clinton and Bill Richardson, and former Senate candidate and Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who saw his own county turn blue in a dramatic fashion last election. More to come on this later. Oh, and if you're interested in helping with the blockwalk beforehand, in the afternoon, give a call to the Midtown HQ at 713-524-1338 and let them know you can help. Thanks!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Et tu, Mike?

I've said more than once that the office of the County Attorney has played a significant role in the various scandals emanating from the District Attorney and Sheriff's offices. Now, thanks to the work of Wayne Dolcefino, it seems that County Attorney Mike Stafford may have his own skeletons in the closet. Let's start with this story, which talks about how a one dollar fee that gets added to fines for toll road violations has been spent by the CA's office.

Coconut shrimp anyone? That's part of the menu for the county attorney's office Christmas party.

Yes. Your toll fines paid for the catering bills from the east side Italian eatery Pizzinis. One party cost $5,625.


Next time you get called for jury duty you'll have to pay $5.50 for parking a day. Too bad you don't have control of that toll road fund.

The county attorney's office has used $196,000 so they can all park for free, even though most county employees have to pay their own way.

Sheriff's deputies pay three bucks to park in another lot every day.

"Anytime I can use the fund instead of tax dollars I'm going do it," Stafford said.

More than two million dollars has gone into the public toll road fund. Nearly $100,000 has gone to provide extra pay to selected employees.

"There were people who were unable to get a raise because of the salary cap and they deserved it," Stafford said.

Oh, by the way, the toll road fund could have been used to pay the salaries of the county lawyers who are working with the toll road. Two lawyers were paid $225,000 a year.

"I think that's an idea worth considering," Stafford said.

Okay, I'll admit that spending this money on discretionary stuff for CA employees doesn't get my temper up. As I've said before in the case of City Council and State Senate staffs, these are generally talented and dedicated folks who could be making a lot more in the private sector. Rewarding them in other ways ensures that quality people can be hired and maintained. The optics of this may be bad - Wayne sure likes to say the words "coconut shrimp" - but I'm not going to get bent out of shape about this. If the intent was for these monies to be used by the CA for toll road-related expenses - such as the salaries for the lawyers dedicated to toll roads - then that should be clarified in the law.

The next story, however, sounds an awful lot worse.

It's sunrise and Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford is starting his work day, not from home, but from a house on Pine Lake in west Houston. It's the home of woman named Donna Lightfoot.

"How would you describe your relationship with her?" we asked him.

"Wayne, that's personal and I'm not going to get into that," said Stafford.

We asked because at the time of our surveillance, Lightfoot was a $47,000 a year aide in the county attorney's office.

On surveillance video, we saw them at Los Cucos Mexican restaurant on Memorial. And there's me.

"Do you think it's appropriate for someone sitting there to have a relationship with someone who works under you?" we asked him.

"I don't know," he answered.

"You don't have an opinion?" we asked.

"I don't know," said Stafford. "It would depend on a lot of things you haven't put out there."

"Like?" we asked.

"I don't know," said Stafford.

We know Donna Lightfoot used to be Stafford's neighbor in Indian Springs near Crosby. She lived a couple of doors down. There is no county policy forbidding hiring personal friends, but five weeks after she was hired, she got a 65 percent raise, six raises in two years. Her salary was in line with more senior assistants.

It actually gets worse from there, and you really need to read the whole thing. It was hard keeping the phrase "I want to kiss you behind your right ear" out of my head while reading it. Stafford's explanations and evasions, such as they are, are pathetic.

Dolcefino completes his trifecta with a story about how much of Stafford's campaign contributions go towards pricey Friday night dinners, reportedly for his staff. It's clear that it's the story about Stafford's relationship with Donna Lightfoot that's going to have legs, because it's got local Republicans worried.

County Republican Chairman Jared Woodfill said he plans to speak informally with Stafford about the allegations.

"I've known Mike Stafford for years, and he is a very honest man, a man with a lot of integrity, a good man," Woodfill said.


Woodfill noted that Stafford and the woman are both single and that she has since moved to another department, the tax-assessor collector's office.

"Maybe they were working together, and there were some type of feelings toward each other, and they decided that if they were going to have a relationship, one of them would have to move on. And I guess she left the department and went and worked somewhere else," Woodfill said.

He said he would not compare the allegations to revelations that forced District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal to resign in February.

"This is nothing like Rosenthal," Woodfill said.

Yes, I'm sure the last thing they want is for the name Chuck Rosenthal to get dragged back into the discourse. Woodfill's explanation for Stafford's behavior is feeble, but it's probably the best anyone can do until Stafford himself talks about it. I for one can't wait to hear it.

Finally, I should note that the HCDP has called on County Judge Ed Emmett, whose ethics plan has not come up for a vote before Commissioners Court yet, to denounce Stafford. Their statement is beneath the fold. Given all that's gone on in county government in recent months, I think he at least has to address it. What say you, Ed?

Harris County Democrats called on Republican County Judge Ed Emmett to give more than lip service to cleaning up Harris County government. He must publicly denounce County Attorney Mike Stafford in light of revelations of inappropriate activity by Stafford.

"If Ed Emmett has any sincerity at all when it comes to cleaning up the ethics mess in Harris County, he would start right now by denouncing the actions of County Attorney Mike Stafford," said Harris County Democratic Party Chair Gerry Birnberg.

Emmett's support for ethics reform in Harris County government has always been half-hearted. In the wake of former DA Chuck Rosenthal's terrible scandal regarding racist and pornographic emails, Emmett promised an ethics reform plan within 90 days. When the Houston Chronicle asked him about the plan after 90 days, Emmett said he'd forgotten he'd made the promise. Eventually, he produced a report, 70 days late, from an ethics panel headed by one of his contributors. To this day, none of the proposed reforms has been implemented or brought before the County Court. (http://www.texasrepublicanrapsheet.com/Emmett.html)

Now Ed Emmett faces a new dilemma as he must react to scandals involving the man shielding him from an open records request involving emails from his official office.


"Ed Emmett must make a choice," added Birnberg. "Will he side with another of his scandal-plagued Republican colleagues who is currently shielding him from having to release emails to the public? Or will he side with the people of Harris County and denounce Mike Stafford? It's hard to see how Stafford could be a part of Emmett's solution when he is, himself, part of the problem."

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Candidate Q&A: Larry Weiman

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

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

I am Larry Weiman, the Returning Democratic Candidate for Judge of the 80th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

General civil litigation cases. This includes: Personal Injury cases such as auto and truck accidents, slip and falls, dangerous products, work-related accidents, as well as consumer cases, Medical/Professional Malpractice, business disputes, Insurance Law, Employment Law, Toxic Torts, Construction and Real Estate Litigation and more.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Because I want to bring balance, fairness and justice to our court system where currently we do not have a single Democrat serving on any of the 82 county-wide trial courts in Harris County. I was the Democratic Candidate for the unexpired term of the 80th District Court in the 2006 general election and I came close with 263,507 votes (approximately 48%) and I won the 2008 Democratic primary.

As part of my campaign, I am advocating reform of current campaign financing laws that so that everyone will be treated equally and impartially in our courts regardless of their financial status.

While present Judicial campaign finance laws do not prevent judges and candidates from accepting campaign contributions from attorneys or parties with active cases in their respective courts, this practice should be changed to eliminate or avoid the appearance of impropriety and/or injustice. As a candidate for judge I have already taken this position by requesting that attorneys or parties who have cases presently pending before the 80th District Court not make cash contributions to my campaign while they are an attorney or party of record in the 80th District Court.

In addition, I will provide oral hearings on any motions that any party wishes to be heard by the 80th District Court and make prompt rulings. Further, I will streamline court procedures, consistent with the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, to reduce if not eliminate waste of attorneys' time and their clients' money.

Also, I will ensure that cases go to trial in a timely manner in accordance with the Rules and Texas law so that both sides can seek justice at the earliest, practical date. This will also minimize litigation costs.

In addition, I will be professional, impartial, fair, courteous and respectful of all who come before this court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have a Juris Doctor Degree from South Texas College of Law, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Management from Boston University and Mediation Certification from the A.A, White Dispute Resolution Center from the University of Houston.

In addition, I have over 17 years of experience representing clients in trial and appellate courts in Harris County and all over Texas. My areas of practice include: Personal Injury, Commercial Litigation, Insurance Law, Medical/Professional Malpractice, Employment Law, Breach of Contract, DTPA, Toxic Torts, Construction, Real Estate Litigation, Products Liability, Premises Liability, Dram Shop. This includes trials, mediations, appeals, administrative hearings, EEOC hearings, etc.

5. Why is this race important?

This is the only re-match in the judicial races from the 2006 election (since that race was for the unexpired term of the 80th and now the full term is up). I only have to close a small gap of a little over 2% to win this race and become among the first Democratic judges elected in Harris County in over a decade in an effort to bring balance to our courts. This will ensure that all who come before this court are treated with courtesy, respect, fairness and equality.

If elected, I will set an example in the 80th District Court to stop the current practice of cash campaign contributions being solicited or accepted by judges from attorneys or parties with cases pending before them.

Also, I will make sure that more cases go to trial and that the juries are fair, balanced and impartial.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have the most diversified experience in handling the broad range of cases that come before this court. I have represented both Plaintiffs and Defendants in trial courts in Harris County and through Texas during my career and I am a certified mediator. Therefore, I am able to objectively understand and listen to both sides of a case fairly and impartially.

I am committed to the principle that everyone in our community is entitled to be treated with courtesy, respect and fairness in our courts regardless of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, age, financial status, sexual orientation or political affiliation. I am the proud father of two grown, successful children and I'm a person who cares about others and tries to give back to the community.

I will continue to work to bring about campaign finance reform to judicial races beginning with eliminating direct contributions from attorneys or parties to judges with whom they have active cases pending in this court. There should never be even the appearance or perception that a party or an attorney has an advantage or disadvantage because of contributions made or not made to the presiding judge, at least while they have a case pending in this court.

I believe that the Civil District Court Judges can help speed up the dockets of the Family Law Courts for citizens who need to get hearings and trials sooner then the current backlog allows. Since there is presently a much higher case load in the 9 Family Law Courts than that of the 25 civil district courts, if elected as Judge of the 80th, I would volunteer to serve at the Family Law Center as needed to hear discovery, enforcement and other routine motions that any civil district judge can rule on. While attorneys for the parties would have the right to object, I believe that many would agree to have their routine motions heard more quickly by a visiting civil district court judge rather than waiting a much longer period to appear before the presiding judge or associate judge. This would help move the dockets of these courts by allowing the presiding Family Law Judge and the Associate Judge of each Court to get to the more difficult Family Law hearings and divorce and custody trials much sooner and speed up access to these courts for Harris County citizens.

If elected, I will work to help establish programs to encourage voluntary jury duty participation so that we can ensure fair, balanced and unbiased juries that are representative of the population of Harris County.

It has been reported that currently, less than 20% of people who receive summons for jury duty are appearing to serve as required under Texas law. I will encourage and assist in promoting the use of public service announcements that will raise public awareness of this civic duty and the importance of eligible citizens performing this public service which is the foundation and lifeblood of our constitutional right to a trial by a jury of our peers. If more people view jury service as extremely important, honorable and patriotic, I believe that more citizens would appear for jury duty whereby they can proudly serve their community and country.

I have been endorsed in this race by: The Jewish Herald-Voice, The Pakistan American Counsel, The Mexican American Bar Association of Texas, AFL-CIO, GLBT Caucus and many others. Also, I was endorsed in the primary by The Houston Chronicle, Off The Kuff and many others. Please go to my website: www.larry4judge.com for more information and endorsements.


Dion Ramos, 55th Civil Judicial District Court.
Shawna Reagin, 176th District Criminal Court.
Al Bennett, 61st Civil Judicial District Court.
Judge Jim Jordan, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
Mike Miller, 11th Civil Judicial District Court.
Andres Pereira, 190th Civil Judicial District Court.
Steven Kirkland, 215th Civil Judicial District Court.
Martin Siegel, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 7.
Randy Roll, 179th District Criminal Court.
Leslie Taylor, Court of Appeals, First District, Place 5.
Kyle Carter, 125th Civil Judicial District Court.
Hazel Jones, 338th District Criminal Court.
Bert Moser, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 4.
Peter Rene, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Two out of three ain't bad

Three more Legislative endorsements from the Chron today. I got two of them right.

Dwayne Bohac for Texas House District 138: Republican incumbent Bohac was born and raised in this northwest and west Houston district and has served in the Legislature since 2003. He has worked hard to revitalize deteriorating parts of the district, sponsoring a bill creating the Spring Branch Area Community Improvement District to boost economic development. "We have to do a better job of funding health and human services," says the incumbent. "We have to do a better job of funding public education and changing especially the funding formula."

Joel C. Redmond for Texas House District 144: For this seat formerly represented by Republican Robert Talton, the Chronicle feels the best candidate for the job is Democratic challenger Joel Redmond. Running in a district with a distinctly conservative bent, the home mortgage executive has the credentials to match.

Redmond, a Baylor graduate whose father is pastor of First Baptist Church Pasadena, founded the Peace by Believing Ministries, whose outreach services include helping prisoners prepare for gainful futures and assisting homeless people.

He pledges to work to increase state funding for public education and opposes a voucher system that would undercut public schools.

Brad Neal for Texas House District 150: In this district that runs across the northern rim of Harris County, the Chronicle endorses Democratic challenger Brad Neal, a Texas A&M University graduate and oil equipment business engineer. Neal sees the state budget as the most important matter facing the Legislature and hopes to rein in the state's bond debt.
As an advocate for District 150, Neal wants to bring in new industry through tax breaks and more efficient environmental permitting. And he wants tax relief for small business.

He further proposes to streamline the Children's Health Insurance Program to eliminate the bureaucratic hassles that curtail access to thousands of Texas youngsters.

Rep. Bohac demonstrates that it is possible to regain the Chron's endorsement once you've lost it, at least if you're not Debbie Riddle. As with John Davis, though, I have to ask: What exactly is it about Bohac's record that would make the Chron believe he's the least bit sincere when he says he wants to "do a better job" of funding education and health and human services? I mean, he's been a reliable foot soldier for Speaker Craddick since 2003, with all of the bad votes that entails. His priorities in office have been voter ID, appraisal caps, and taco trucks; if the Chron can point to any pro-education or pro-HHS bills for which Bohac has advocated, I'd love to know about them. And of course, Bohac owes his spot in the Lege in part to Tom DeLay and his illegal corporate cash from 2002. With a record like that, he must have had a heck of an interview this year to have fallen back in the Chron's good graces.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: More for Strawn and more

Susan Strawn keeps racking up the endorsements of her candidacy for Texas' Worst Court. Here's the Statesman:

The Court of Criminal Appeals should be a showcase of Texas justice. Instead, it has become a national embarrassment. It's time for a change but, unfortunately, voters have a good choice in only one of the court's three seats being contested in the Nov. 4 election.

The nine-member court is the state's highest appeals panel for criminal cases, and it automatically reviews all death penalty convictions.

Not surprisingly in a state as conservative as Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals is stocked heavily with judges with prosecutorial backgrounds and attitudes. Defendants who challenge their convictions face a skeptical group of judges.

But too often too many of the judges on this court are not just skeptical, but indifferent, even hostile, to the appeals they are charged to hear. At times, they appear to go out of their way to uphold a conviction and avoid a new trial.


Place 3. Republican incumbent Tom Price, 63, of Richardson is one of the more moderate members of this court.

But the need for bracing change is so strong that voters would do well to support the Democratic candidate, Susan Strawn, 46, of Houston, a former federal prosecutor.

The court, Strawn says, doesn't do its job of critically reviewing death penalty appeals but leaves that to the federal court system. And, she says, at times the judges on the state court "appear to be at war with the (U.S.) Supreme Court."

And here's the Star Telegram, which had endorsed all incumbents for the Supreme Court:

Memory hasn't quite faded of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' embarrassment last year when Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wouldn't keep the clerk's office open after 5 p.m. for a last-minute petition from a Death Row inmate who was scheduled to die that night. He was executed even though the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to consider the constitutionality of lethal injection.

The court has rehabilitated its image somewhat by adopting a better intake system for emergency appeals and forming an integrity unit to recommend changes that will prevent wrongful convictions.

Some changes in personnel could improve the performance of Texas's highest criminal court. But only one of the three contested races presents voters with a challenger who meets or exceeds the incumbent's credentials. Libertarian candidates in each of the races don't appear to have adequate qualifications for a court that hears appeals of everything from drug possession convictions to death sentences.

Place 3

Judge Tom Price, a Republican who joined the state's highest criminal court in 1996, said that if he won in 2002 it would be his last term. He then challenged Keller in 2006 but lost. Now Price, 63, says that he isn't ready to retire, he's worried about his legacy and this will be his last election.

We believe it's time for a new face in this seat.

Democrat Susan Strawn, a Houston lawyer, has an impressive resume as a former longtime Justice Department lawyer who has prosecuted consumer fraud, money laundering and other white-collar crime. She spent two years helping set up a judicial system in Kosovo and targeting corruption, and she worked on financial crimes enforcement in several West African nations for the Treasury Department.

Strawn, 46, was a University of Texas law school classmate of Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. She told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board that she wants to advocate for better criminal procedures to improve the integrity of the justice system and for a nonpartisan method for choosing judges.

She would have a lot to learn about the specifics of Texas law, but she seems bright and experienced enough to be a quick study.

The Star-Telegram recommends Susan Strawn for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 3.

Sadly, the San Antonio Express-News decided to go against the grain:

This year, Democrats have fielded their best challenger in a long time, but unfortunately she is attempting to unseat a solid centrist who has a track record of dissenting from the majority's excesses.

Republican JusticeTom Price is seeking a third term on the court, and is being challenged by Democrat Susan Strawn.

Under other circumstances we would readily recommend Strawn, but Price deserves another term.

Price unsuccessfully challenged Keller in 2000 and 2006 in an attempt to bring better leadership to the court's top job.

He has a track record of working to fairly apply the state's laws and has been critical of the majority's most appalling decisions.

When the majority disregarded the fact that one defendant's lawyer was ineffective, Price wrote that competent counsel "ought to require more than a human being with a law license and a pulse."

Court records show that Price, 63, is carrying a full share of the court's workload. Price should be re-elected to the Place 3 seat.

There's one in every crowd, I guess. Note the comments each of these papers made about the lack of choices in the other races, one of which features perennial candidate JR Molina. If getting three qualified candidates on the ballot for 2010 isn't a top priority for the Texas Democratic Party, we need to rethink what our priorities are.

Meanwhile, ParentPAC adds two more candidates to its roster of endorsees. First is freshman Rep. Allen Vaught, who faces a rematch with the incumbent he turned out last time:

The bipartisan Texas Parent PAC today announced its endorsement of Allen Vaught for re-election as state representative in House District 107, which covers east Dallas surrounding White Rock Lake and parts of Lake Highlands, Garland, and Mesquite.

"Allen Vaught unquestionably supports public education and is proactive in finding solutions that improve and strengthen our neighborhood public schools," said Texas Parent PAC board member Pam Meyercord of Dallas. "At the Capitol, he is viewed as a strong and effective leader, a quick learner, and a gifted negotiator who relates well with both Republicans and Democrats."


"Allen Vaught represents the mainstream views and interests of families in East Dallas," said Dinah Miller of the Texas Parent PAC board of directors. "His opponent, Bill Keffer, is aligned with extremist organizations that push tax-funded home-schooling and private school vouchers." She said Keffer has been a staunch critic of public education for many years, which is why five pro-public education political committees are supporting Vaught.

Keffer served in the legislature for two sessions before being defeated by Vaught. Miller said at the Capitol Keffer voted against funding for pre-kindergarten, advanced placement and gifted and talented programs, and reading, math, and science initiatives. The extreme differences between Vaught and Keffer on public education were one reason the Dallas Morning News again endorsed Vaught and proclaimed him to be the "superior candidate."

"Dallas families deserve to have a legislator who represents the needs of the community, not someone whose votes are based more on ideology than the public interest," Miller added.

They also endosed El Paso's Joe Moody, who is one of our TexBlog PAC candidates as well:

The bipartisan Texas Parent PAC today announced its endorsement of Joe Moody for election as state representative in House District 78, which includes west and northeast El Paso and Canutillo, Anthony, Westway, and Vinton.

"Joe Moody will hit the ground running at the Capitol and be a very effective legislator," said Texas Parent PAC chair Carolyn Boyle of Austin. "He is extremely bright and articulate, a man of integrity, with a passion for representing the folks from El Paso County in Austin."

"Joe Moody will be viewed as a rising star when he joins the new generation of leaders in the Texas House who are working hard to change Texas for the better," Boyle added.


Boyle said Moody is the only candidate who can be trusted to stand up for schoolchildren and their neighborhood public schools. "His opponent, Dee Margo, is aligned with extremist organizations that push tax-funded home-schooling and private school vouchers." She said Texas taxpayers cannot afford to subsidize private schooling.

"Joe understands the financial challenges faced by public schools today and what is needed to help every child to do his or her best," Boyle said. "He will listen to parents and be their advocate in Austin, because he knows quality education for the next generation is critical for the economic prosperity of individuals, families, and Texas."

And finally, not on the endorsement front but a curiosity that I thought worth mentioning, there's a letter to the editor of the Denton Record-Chronicle from the Denton County GOP Chair attacking Democratic HD64 candidate John McClelland. I have to ask: Does it really add anything to the debate for the chair of one party to write a letter to the editor about a candidate? Any candidate? I mean, what are they going to say that might be news to you? At least they clearly identified her, so anyone reading her letter would at least have a proper filter for it. By the way, you think the Rs are maybe a teeny bit worried about how things are going if it was seen as a good use of their County Party Chair's time to write this? I'm just saying.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
And the Democratic perspective

This article appears to be a companion piece to the earlier story about the Republican game plan, though it's less about strategy and more about the legislative horse races.

[T]hough Texas Republicans dispute any notion of losing their leverage, political experts agree the Republican brand name is in trouble.

"With all that happening, it's pretty inconceivable that Texas isn't going to participate at some level in a movement toward the Democratic Party," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, who expects Texas Republicans to lose their House majority.


In the Houston area, Democrats are targeting the open seat held by retiring Rep. Robert Talton, a Republican, that covers Pasadena and southeast Harris County. Voters will choose between Democrat Joel Redmond and Republican Ken Legler.

Democrats also are targeting Republican incumbent John Davis and his southeast Harris County district. The district still favors Republicans, but Democrats are hopeful about their candidate, Sherrie Matula.

The second tier of targeted Democratic contests includes Kristi Thibaut challenging Republican incumbent Jim Murphy in western Harris County.

Republicans' best hope of defeating a Houston-area Democrat rests with Greg Meyers, who is challenging two-term incumbent Hubert Vo in southwest Harris County district.

I personally would include Thibaut in the top tier, since she has done quite well at fundraising, and would mention Virginia McDavid for the second tier. She hasn't kept up in the money game, but HD138 is purple enough (Jim Sharp got 46.3% of the vote there in 2006) that it could easily tip if Barack Obama wins Harris County by more than a hair. As for Vo-Meyers, I agree the Republicans have hopes there. I don't think it's a lot of hope, and as with the rest of the county it will be dependent to some extent on the level of support that Obama gets versus McCain. Even with Vo's issues this year, he has a history of overperforming the Democratic numbers in his district, and that will give him some cushion.

Kelly Fero, a veteran Democratic strategist and campaign consultant, believes his party will get between five and 12 Texas House seats. Elections give voters a choice between the status quo and change, he said, "and this is as much of an election about changing the way things are as we have ever seen in our lifetime.

"The polling shows there is far greater intensity among Democrats and independents and even among moderate Republicans -- both nationally and in Texas -- to move in a new direction," Fero said. "And that means they blame the party in power, so Republican incumbents are likely to take it on the chin."

House Republicans picked up 13 seats in 2002 when the party benefited from new boundaries drawn in their favor in the redistricting process a year earlier.

Texas Democrats won five House seats in the 2006 election, which was another bad election cycle for Republicans nationally. But it will be difficult for Democrats to make additional gains because most of the GOP-held seats remain friendly for Republicans, said Eric Bearse, a GOP campaign strategist.

Democrats contend that aggressive efforts to increase voter turnout in Houston and Dallas will help their candidates in those areas.

"Democratic candidates have put themselves into a position to take advantage of a good political atmosphere," said Matt Angle, a Democratic campaign strategist.

But Republicans can point to tort reform -- which puts limits on lawsuits -- school accountability and a fairly healthy state economy to separate them from the national party, said Ted Delisi, a GOP strategist.

"I think there's a certain level of rock throwing when you are this close to the election and the economy is bad," he said.

I have no idea what that quote means. I'll simply note as I've mentioned before that I heard Ted Delisi speak at a panel the day after Election Day 2006, and he said that generally Texas was two years behind the nation in terms of electoral trends. Maybe he's singing a different tune these days, but I don't see any reason why we shouldn't have caught up to the national mood at least as it existed then.

As for Fero's prognostication, he's a bit more optimistic than I am - I can imagine a 12-seat pickup on the top end, if everything goes really well, but I think the floor is lower than five. It's not out of the question to me that the Dems could lose ground, though I think that's pretty unlikely. Dems are in about as strong a position as you could want, and unlike 2006 I think a lot more people will see it coming, but it's still going to take a few things to go well to capture the House. I feel pretty good about those things happening, but you never know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 15, 2008
Kennedy and Edwards for the HDCC

I mentioned in an earlier post that the HDCC had a big fundraiser coming up in Houston. Here's what you need to know:

Image courtesy of BOR, which has more details. Click the image to get RSVP info. Any questions, please let me know. Thanks.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
It wasn't me, it was my evil twin!

Sometimes, even in Texas, truth is stranger than fiction. Remember the story about Republican CD22 candidate Pete Olson and his multiple voter registrations? Well, the Lone Star Project went ahead and filed a complaint (PDF) about it in the Commonwealth of Virginia. And then it got a little weird:

Documents obtained by the Lone Star Project and provided to Virginia authorities show that Olson voted in both Virginia and Connecticut during 2003, which is a felony violation. Olson has deep roots in both Virginia and Connecticut. He only recently moved to Texas, arriving in August 2007, just in time to file for the District 22 Congressional race against highly respected incumbent Congressman Nick Lampson. (Source: The Houston Chronicle, February 10, 2008)

The Lone Star Project made Olson's apparent violation public in a report released on October 1, 2008, which provided the new Texas resident an opportunity to give a credible answer for his double registration and voting. However, instead of demonstrating that he had officially changed residences and switched his voter registration or showing proof that the documents are somehow incorrect, Olson's campaign made the bizarre and implausible claim that although a Peter G. Olson may have voted in the August 2003 special election, "it was not candidate Olson." (National Journal's House Race Hotline, October 6, 2008) In making this fantastic claim, Olson did not say if he has alerted authorities to look for and apprehend his alleged imposter.

I just have one question: Does the mirror universe version of Pete Olson have a beard like he's supposed to? Because that ought to at least make identifying him easier.

On a completely tangential note, I found this excellent, geeky blog post when searching for that picture. Go read it, you'll enjoy it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Nick Lampson

I'll say this for the Chronicle: Their pace of making endorsements in maddeningly slow, but at least they've been easy to predict. That continues to be the case as they give the nod to Rep. Nick Lampson in CD22.

With looming national elections likely to cement his party's hold on Congress, constituents should carefully consider their community interest in choosing between Lampson and Republican Pete Olson.

Nationally, Republicans have targeted this race as one of the top chances to pick up a Democratic House seat. Lampson previously served four terms in Congress from Beaumont before being redistricted out of office. Since returning to Washington, he has cultivated bipartisan ties and taken positions against the House Democratic leadership on key measures. He supported expanded offshore drilling, voted against legislation to force a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and opposed the recent financial bailout plan.

Perhaps most significantly for the residents of the sprawling district, which extends from NASA and Clear Lake to Sugar Land, he used his influence as a majority party member to pass $42 million in earmarks for projects in District 22. Though they have a bad reputation, earmarks can be good when they are used to build drainage and transit infrastructure.

He has also worked to create a presence in the district, attending hundreds of town hall meetings to convince constituents of his sincerity.

"I believed that if I could show people that I was going to be available and accessible to them differently than what they'd ever seen before," says Lampson, "then they would honor that and respect me enough to send me back as their representative."

Equally as important, if Lampson wins he will be in a position to use his accumulated seniority to head a key House subcommittee overseeing NASA during the next session. He holds a strong commitment to increased funding for manned spacecraft development in the future.

This is clearly one election where the district's pocketbook interests should outweigh partisan considerations at the ballot box.

Not much I can add to that. Some of Lampson's votes have greatly frustrated local and national Democrats, myself included. They may help insulate him in that still-conservative district against charges of being "too liberal", not that the facts have ever mattered in that kind of attack ads. On the other hand, with the NRCC having to beat a retreat, and with Olson having some issues of his own, Lampson is much better positioned to make the "I vote my district, not my party" argument to the non-Democrats that he needs to persuade in a convincing fashion. This is still a tough race, but I feel more optimistic about his odds than I did earlier. If Lampson can hang on through the 2010 election, he may even wind up with a redrawn district that won't be nearly as hard for him to hold.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Kristi Thibaut

Kristi Thibaut is a repeat candidate from 2006, taking another shot in HD133 against now-first term incumbent Jim Murphy. Thibaut's race got a little lost in 2006, as much of the local action was focused on CD22 post-Tom DeLay and HD134, where now-Rep. Ellen Cohen was knocking off then-Rep. Martha Wong. She garnered a little more than 41% of the vote, which sounds unimpressive until you realize how different turnout was in HD133 from the Presidential year of 2004 to 2006. Taking the 2004 turnout levels, and applying the same vote proportion to the precincts of HD133 changes the result to 53.7-46.3 in favor of Murphy. Now consider the likelihood of better Democratic turnout in this election, plus the general erosion of the Republican vote in that part of town, and it's easy to see why this race is very competitive for Thibaut, who has stayed close to Murphy in the fundraising department. My interview with Kristi Thibaut is here, as always in MP3 format. Let me know what you think.


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Dexter Handy, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Joe Jaworski, SD11
Jim Henley, HCDE Trustee
Rick Noriega, US Senate
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Third Court soap opera

Just keeps getting weirder.

A 3rd Court of Appeals justice is accusing Chief Justice Ken Law of refusing to file her dissent in a politically charged case involving two associates of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Justice Jan Patterson, a Democrat, is asking the Texas Supreme Court to intervene. She claims that Law, a Republican who's up for re-election, blocked the filing of her dissent to last week's ruling on whether fellow Justice Alan Waldrop, also a Republican, should step aside in the money-laundering case involving DeLay's associates.


Patterson's filing with the Texas Supreme Court late Friday afternoon revealed a few more details about the infighting among justices at the 3rd Court, which has four Republicans and two Democrats.

On Sept. 25, three days after [Travis DA Ronnie] Earle filed his allegations, Waldrop told his colleagues he would not step aside.

According to her filing, Patterson said she twice requested responses from the defendants regarding the recusal motion and Law refused to obtain a response and instructed the clerk not to seek one.

Patterson then informed her colleagues that she would file a dissent to the ruling on Waldrop's staying in the case. She wrote that Law instructed the court clerk not to file her dissent.

Keith Hampton, a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association vice president and longtime observer of the Texas appellate courts, said he knows of nowhere in Texas law or court rules where the right to file a dissent is discussed.

However, Hampton said that dissenting opinions are important to developing a full record and registering all ideas and thoughts on legal issues. He said it is rare for appeals judges to be denied a chance to dissent.

"I cannot see how the other judges can prevent an elected judge from dissenting," he said. "Dissent in the appellate courts is extremely valuable to the development of jurisprudence."

Like I said, weird. And Texans for Public Justice has joined in the fun as well. BOR has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Hold that registration!

The city wants to make it harder to not pay red light camera fines.

City officials hope to step up enforcement of Houston's red-light cameras by getting the state to deny vehicle registration renewal to drivers who do not pay up after repeated warnings.

A quarter of the drivers nabbed by the cameras have never paid the $75 citation. The result, officials said, is more than $7 million owed to city and state coffers.

Under a plan before the City Council this week, the city will work with the Texas Department of Transportation to place a "hold" on vehicle registration renewals until motorists' red-light penalties are paid. If approved, the plan could take effect before the end of the year.

"There are no consequences for not paying," admitted Joseph Fenninger, the chief financial officer for the Houston Police Department. The proposed arrangement will finally give the red-light camera program some "teeth," he said.


While 70 percent of red-light runners do pay the penalty, the other notices are eventually turned over to a collection agency hired by the camera contractor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions.

The collections process has been "largely ineffective," the HPD's Fenninger said, with an 18 percent success rate.

In principle, I have no objection to this. There should be a consequence for not paying this fine, and withholding registration renewals until that is done seems like a reasonable and proportionate response. How they want to go about it matters, and I'd prefer for them to take a less aggressive approach to a more aggressive one, but I think the idea is a valid one.

Paul Bettencourt, the Harris County Tax Assessor, says the city needs to move cautiously before using registration holds as an enforcement tool. His office handles vehicle registration on behalf of TxDOT.

"There are a significant number of technical things that have to happen first," Bettencourt said. "We've given the city a long list of items to consider, and we have not heard back."

The city must make sure its violations data is accurate and updated, and matches information kept by TxDOT, he said.

Again, I have no objections to this. It should be on the city to make sure they're dunning the right person, and if that means they need to do a check with TxDOT first, or to do an upgrade on their municipal court systems, then they should do those things. Seems to me the latter is something they'd want to do anyway, so let the goal of better fine collection serve as an incentive if need be.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The cult of Buc-ees

I'm not exactly sure what one has to do to get this kind of free advertising in a major paper, but big props to the guys at Buc-ees for getting it done for themselves. I will say this, they've got an interesting story, and they certainly picked a good location in Luling, because it used to be fifty miles of basically nothing between Seguin and Flatonia. As the parent of preschoolers, believe me when I say that having more potty options on the highway, especially ones that are dependably clean, is a very nice thing. If they do for Madisonville and Wharton what they've done for Luling and Giddings, I'll consider that a good thing.

One more item:

The flagship Buc-ee's draws a vivid mix of big city and small town customers, and on weekends they come in droves. Busloads of soldiers and students poured in on a recent Sunday.

It seems to have special appeal for children and college students: "They all want a T-shirt -- they all think it's cool," said Andrew Herman, a sixth-grade Kinkaid School teacher with his class.

Bumper stickers, too. I've seen a ton of them in the past year or two. You have to respect that kind of viral marketing capability.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 14, 2008
If you have neither the facts nor the law, pound on the judge

Do you ever get the feeling that Sen. Kim Brimer really really really didn't want to have to run an actual campaign against Wendy Davis? Because he sure won't quit griping about the fact that he lost all of his lawsuits to keep her off the ballot.

State Sen. Kim Brimer on Monday accused a Fort Worth appeals court of dragging its feet in his appeal, which ultimately defeated his legal challenge to Democrat Wendy Davis' eligibility on the November ballot.


Brimer, R-Fort Worth, suggested Monday that [Second Court of Appeals Chief Justice John] Cayce acted too slowly for the courts to render a ruling on Davis' eligibility.

"I can't explain to you why the appeals court didn't expedite the case like they did in February, except I will tell you that I understand through the grapevine that Mr. Cayce was still upset that he didn't get the appointment to the (Texas) Supreme Court," Brimer said Monday at a Star-Telegram editorial board meeting, which is part of the on-the-record interview process to earn the paper's endorsement.

"I did not stand in his way at the time," Brimer added.


Cayce said the 2nd Court of Appeals first received the case in early August and granted every motion filed by Brimer's attorneys to expedite the case.Justicecayce

"It sounds as if he is disgrunted with our prior decision," he said. "I can't remember a case in my 14 years that was treated with more emergency attention than this case. We did everything they asked us to do and more, but he is acusing us of delaying his case? It was an emergency created by Sen. Brimer and his attorneys, with the timing of his filing the case and expecting us and everyone else in the judicical process to act at a rate of speed that is impossible."

"It sounds like he is disappointed in the outcome and is grasping at straws and looking for people to blame," Cayce said.

Cayce is a fellow Republican, by the way. As noted, the original lawsuit, filed by Brimer's allies in the Forth Worth Fire Department, was tossed before the March primary. Brimer filed his suit in July. I can't imagine the facts of the case changed much between March and July, so if Brimer is complaining about running into a deadline, it seems to me he had the chance to prevent that. Whining about it doesn't change that basic fact.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Planned Parenthood

As a progressive in Texas, I often find myself in the position of having to bite my tongue when it comes to some of the not-exactly-progressive positions that a number of my fellow Democrats take. Some do so out of genuine principle, which I generally respect, and some do so out of electoral pragmatism, which I try to understand. I do this, as do many of my fellow progressives, because if we've learned anything in this decade, it's that building a legislative majority is a lot more important than bipartisanship. That may not be the best way to run a government, but it is how things are these days, and wishing for an ideal won't change that. So we smile and look the other way as needed, and wait for the hoped-for payoff of a better agenda with fewer bad bills to kill. That's the operating theory, anyway.

So with all that said, it's a genuine pleasure to give support to the candidates who are with us on issues that we have to fight for and need more than just an operating majority to protect and enhance. Candidates like those who have earned the endorsement of the Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas Action Fund, who are some of our best allies on reproductive freedom, health care, and women's issues. From the press release:

"We are excited to provide a redesigned website and more functional web experience," said Peter J. Durkin, President of the PPHSET ACTION FUND. "This is an historic election and we want as many people as possible -- our seasoned supporters and especially all of the newly registered voters -- to learn about and vote for the candidates who support access to affordable reproductive health care and common-sense programs that help women and men stay healthy and avoid an unintended pregnancy."

You can learn more by visiting http://www.pphsetactionfund.org/ and taking action where you can. It's not just about governing, it's about doing right and advancing the causes we believe in. Let's make sure we help those who will help us do that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The GOP aims downballot

There's a lot to talk about in this front page story about how the Texas GOP is going to focus its efforts on downballot races, but let's start by talking about the one thing the article doesn't bring up: Money. The Democrats have a comparable amount of it, and in many key cases they have a lot more. That's a sharp reversal of recent trends, and given how Democrats have been making gaisn while having a relative paucity of funds, it bodes very well for them. It's not just in the State House, either: Dems are at least competitive financially in three State Senate races. Reps. Nick Lampson and Ciro Rodriguez hold significant fundraising leads in their re-election bids, while Larry Joe Doherty and Michael Skelly have each raised over a million dollars and are being helped by the DCCC. The state and various county Democratic Parties, especially here in Harris, have far more resources than they're used to having. It's true that John Cornyn has a lot more money than Rick Noriega, and that Tom Craddick has a lot of cash he can slosh around. The point is that Dems are in a far stronger position on this front than they've been in years, and Republicans should not be assumed to be able to swoop in and dominate the endgame.

There's still a lot of money being raised at this time, too. The HDCC has a big fundraiser coming up on Monday the 20th at the Mithoff house with special guests Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Congressman Chet Edwards; I'll have more details on this later. At this point, if you've been watching TV at all, you know the airwaves are slowly but surely being saturated by ads, and that's what a lot of this late money will go into. It's almost like living in a swing state, which when you think about it is basically what Harris County is these days.

Now onto other matters:

Two national Internet sites that aggregate poll results -- Pollster.com and RealClearPolitics.com -- Monday showed voters nationally are trending toward Democrat Barack Obama for president. And Obama has a lead in enough states at the moment to collect more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

But the average of national polls that have sampled Texas show McCain has a commanding lead here with an average of more than 13 percentage points over Obama.

There's FiveThirtyEight.com as well, which is my preferred choice for poll-watching, since it includes all the data you could want. And if you look at 538's data for Texas, you'll see that there have been seven Presidential polls of Texas since June. Three are by Rasmussen, from July, August, and September, which show McCain leading by eight, ten, and nine, respectively. There are one-offs from UT (McCain +10, July) and the Texas Lyceum (McCain +5, June). And there's two from ARG, which put McCain up by 21 in September and 19 in October. Average it all out and you do get a composite score of McCain +13 in the Lone Star State, but when five polls have him up by 5 to 10 points, and two others say it's in the +20 range, you have to wonder if maybe one of these things is not like the other. I don't know what ARG's poll innards look like, and for all I know they could be right, though their track record doesn't inspire confidence. I could see McCain getting 57%, which is the level the ARG result for October has for him, but you're going to have a real hard time convincing me that he's on track to do almost as well in 2008 as George W. Bush did in 2004. Among other things, Congressional and Senate polling do not jibe with what ARG is reporting. Throw out ARG and you've got McCain up by an average of 8.4, which is right in line with Paul Burka's guess as to the final spread. I'd love to see more polling, and I'd love to see ARG's internals, but until I see evidence that they're on to something, I cannot take ARG's numbers seriously.

Neither presidential campaign has an organization in Texas designed to win the state.

Both field calls from the Texas news media through their national headquarters. Whatever Obama advertising Texans see on television arrives in their home as part of a buy on national programming.

As noted, there's a lot of ads on the air right now. I don't know how extensive the air wars are in other parts of the state - for sure, things are hopping in places like the Metroplex - but the more Obama is on the air, even as part of a national buy, and McCain isn't, the more likely Obama is to draw out people who might not otherwise have voted. We saw in 2006 the difference in vote totals for candidates who advertised extensively and those who didn't. Iconsider this a factor in the Dems' favor. Not a huge one, but in their favor nonetheless.

[Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Michael] Williams, who is in a contest with little-known Democratic opponent Mark Thompson, said he believes concerns about Republicans not voting in Texas due to a dispirited McCain campaign were washed away when McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

"There's no doubt that there was an intensity gap between Democrats and Republicans prior to the conventions," Williams said. "With the selection of Governor Palin as Senator McCain's running mate, the intensity gap closed significantly."

I would agree that Sarah Palin has mostly fired up the Republican base, though there has been some blowback as well. More importantly, she's been a drag on the ticket with independent and moderate voters, as poll after poll has shown. What happens to the Republicans in Texas if the soft-R vote, the folks who've been pushing the button at the top level for the Rs but who don't vote in primaries and have been persuaded to vote for at least some Ds downticket, find Palin (and McCain for having chosen her) unpalatable? Now maybe some of those judicial seats are at risk, especially with all the endorsements the Dems are getting. Again, it would be nice to have more polling, but I'm not convinced at this point that Palin has been a net positive for the Rs in Texas. I can see it going either way.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Candidate Q&A: Peter Rene

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

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

I am Peter René, I live in the Westchase District in West Houston and I am running for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1. I am a longtime Houstonian and a longtime resident of Precinct 5, residing and voting in the Westchase District of West Houston since 1997. I attended then, Johnson Jr. High School, and graduated from Westbury Sr. High School in Southwest Houston.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1 court have jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters as well as a number of other duties that are not judicial in nature. This court also has jurisdiction in, but not limited to:

  • Class C Misdemeanor offenses (Traffic/Speeding)

  • Civil disputes where the amount in dispute is $10,000.00 or less

  • Evictions and enforcement of Deed restrictions

  • Signing and issuing search and arrest warrants

  • Issuance of Bad Check and Theft by Check - up to $5,000.00

  • Failure to Attend School (Truancy)

  • Small Claims Court

  • The Justices of the Peace perform weddings at their courthouses

Justices of the Peace have original jurisdiction in criminal cases that are punishable only by a fine or by a fine and a sanction not consisting of confinement or imprisonment.

The Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1 does not have jurisdiction of suits for divorce, suits to recover damages for slander or defamation, suits for title to land, or suits to enforce a lien on land.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this particular bench, first and foremost, to promote Fairness, Dignity and Respect to the people of Harris County who appear before this court. It is the duty of the Judge to make sure that: 1) fairness is apparent in every case before the court; 2) that the individual leaves the court with dignity and 3) that they were treated with respect. Anything short of this could create a mistrust of our legal system. We have a very diverse population in Precinct 5; so, justice in this court must be rendered regardless of race, creed or color. Therefore I will make it a high priority the treat everyone appearing before this bench fairly without regard to their race or background.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I believe that everyone appearing before this bench should be treated fairly, with dignity and respect. My management, organizational, leadership skills and my strong desire to promote justice, fairly, gives me the qualifications for this bench and as such, I will demonstrate impartiality, without regard to race or gender; I will be courteous and attentive towards the fine women and men standing before the court; I will follow the law, promote a professional court atmosphere, I will rule decisively and timely, and will work hard everyday and will be prepared to handle the court's docket and case load. I have worked in many diverse sectors of our economy: from working in the construction sector as a laborer to working at one of the largest law firms in Houston, and can identity with the people of Precinct 5, whether they contribute to our economy as a member of the working class or wage earners.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because of how the people of Harris County view our legal system, which can be argued, is not a positive one. When individuals are not treated fairly when appearing before the court, they may leave the court feeling dejected, sometimes confused, and at times, disillusioned. And so, we may have one more individual in Harris County walking out of a court of law, questioning our legal system, and perhaps seeing our legal system as unfair. Regardless of if the case was decided for or against the person appearing before the court, if I am elected, I will make sure that everyone before my court is treated fairly, with the hope that they leave my court with a positive view of our legal system.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me in November because I will work tirelessly to INSURE that everyone appearing before my court leaves the court feeling that justice was fairly administered in their case. Whether the case was decided for or against the individual, my ultimate goal as Justice of the Peace will be to uphold the law, administer the laws with fairness, treat the individual before me fairly and show the highest level of respect to the individual standing before the bench. It is my hope, as Justice of the Peace, that everyone leaving my court will feel that they were treated fairly.


Dion Ramos, 55th Civil Judicial District Court.
Shawna Reagin, 176th District Criminal Court.
Al Bennett, 61st Civil Judicial District Court.
Judge Jim Jordan, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
Mike Miller, 11th Civil Judicial District Court.
Andres Pereira, 190th Civil Judicial District Court.
Steven Kirkland, 215th Civil Judicial District Court.
Martin Siegel, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 7.
Randy Roll, 179th District Criminal Court.
Leslie Taylor, Court of Appeals, First District, Place 5.
Kyle Carter, 125th Civil Judicial District Court.
Hazel Jones, 338th District Criminal Court.
Bert Moser, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 4.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Jaworski and Vo

The Chron gives two more fine endorsements today:

Joe Jaworski, Texas Senate District 11: In a district that includes portions of hurricane-ravaged Galveston, constituents need a forceful and energetic senator to promote their interests in next year's legislative session. The Chronicle believes the right candidate for the job is Democratic challenger Joe Jaworski, an attorney and fourth-generation Texan from a prestigious line of litigators, including his grandfather, Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski.

The candidate lives in Galveston with his wife and two children and has already compiled a record of distinctive public service there. Jaworski served three terms on Galveston City Council, the last as mayor pro tem. He chaired the city's ethics commission and promises to push ethics reforms with high standards for public officials in Austin. Jaworski favors clamping down on rising higher education costs for reversing deregulation of tuition and expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover all eligible Texas youngsters.

Hubert Vo, State Representative District 149: After becoming the first Vietnamese-American to serve in the state Legislature, this incumbent Democrat has been a champion for fully funding CHIP and reclaiming millions of federal matching funds for the program. Revelations of Vo's failure to maintain rundown apartment complexes he owned in Houston have been a stain on his reputation. To his credit, he did react to the revelations by quickly performing city-mandated repairs. The Chronicle believes Vo has learned his lesson and deserves to continue representing his constituents.

Very nice. The Chron also endorsed incumbent Republican Rep. Gary Elkins in HD135, which wouldn't have been my preference but was my guess. Other than that one Bizarro endorsement, they've done pretty much exactly what I thought they would. The only curious thing from today is that they never mentioned environmental issues in their selection of Jaworski over Sen. Mike Jackson, which is what I thought they'd highlight. Obviously, there were so many good reasons for making this call they couldn't get to them all.

Meanwhile, the Statesman takes a remarkably strong stand in a couple of Austin-area House races.

Races for the Texas House of Representatives this year are colored by the failed Republican leadership in the lower house of the Legislature.

House Speaker Tom Craddick's disastrous handling of challenges to his leadership has heightened House races across the state, including several in Central Texas. Whether voters know it or not -- and certainly most don't -- House races on the Nov. 4 ballot are a referendum on Craddick's heavy-handed rule.


District 52

Though both candidates are strong, we believe Democrat Diana Maldonado would best represent the district. Maldonado is a former president of the Round Rock school board and was an employee in the state comptroller's office until she was forced to resigned to run for this seat.

Maldonado, 45, has a reputation as a budget hawk who understands accounting. And she can be counted on to be an effective voice for education issues and public schools. She supports the law that grants college admission to the top 10 percent of the graduating class in Texas high schools and wants to reconsider having the Legislature set college tuition rates.

Her Republican opponent is Bryan Daniel, 38, a Georgetown insurance executive who narrowly won a GOP primary runoff last spring. Daniel is a strong candidate with a good resume and an independent mind, but he is not a sure vote against the current House leadership.

Maldonado knows the district and has served as an effective leader in her five years on the Round Rock school board. She should be elected in District 52.

District 17

Democrat Donnie Dippel, from La Grange, and Republican Tim Kleinschmidt, an attorney and rancher from Lexington, are good candidates with strong community ties. But we believe Dippel would be best for the far-flung, largely rural district.

Dippel, 57, a consultant who worked for the Texas Department of Agriculture for 14 years, opposes voucher programs for schools, selling water to buyers outside the district and the Trans-Texas Corridor. He supports more vocational education and is concerned about health care, particularly in rural areas.

We would like to see Dippel show more support for requiring not-for-profit electric co-operatives, which serve rural areas, to observe the state's open records and meeting laws. He wavered on the issue, brought to light by the deposed former leadership of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative, which hid from scrutiny because it isn't subject to sunshine laws.

Kleinschmidt, 51, who narrowly lost to Cook in 2006, has indicated he would support a limited voucher program financed by public school dollars and is not a sure vote against the disreputable GOP leadership in the House. Dippel wins our endorsement in District 17.

Emphasis mine. I certainly couldn't give a better reason for picking one candidate over another for the Lege this year, and I'm delighted to see the Statesman do the same. Maldonado was the first TexBlog PAC endorsee, so that makes this even sweeter.

Finally, I want to point out that Phillip Martin has a fine series of analyses of the various hot House races at BOR, most of which were published today. In particular, check out his view of the Dippel, Maldonado, and Vo races.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Houston Pavilions update

The next big project downtown is still moving ahead, despite the current state of the economy.

Chandeliers were being hung in XXI Forever, a trendy apparel store which represents a significant new injection of soft retail downtown. At 25,000 square feet, the "urban flagship" XXI Forever debuts Thursday, the same day [Houston] Pavilions officially opens.

Last week, the shelves had been stocked at Books-A-Million, also opening Thursday. The tables have been laid out at seafood restaurant McCormick & Schmick's. The restaurant will have its grand opening on Nov. 3.

But other tenants won't arrive until December, with more opening in the spring, giving the center an incomplete look for the immediate future.

Its biggest obstacle, perhaps, will be luring customers on nights and weekends when much of downtown Houston can turn sleepy.

"This will be the new kid on the block. People will be made aware of it citywide and be curious enough to check it out," said Larry Plotsky, a real estate broker who specializes in Inner Loop retail. "Then you have to see how everything goes."

Some tenants have a good track record for drawing the crowds, including the retro/chic bowling lounge Lucky Strike. House of Blues is expansive, with a music hall, private club and restaurant featuring Southern cuisine and including a Sunday gospel brunch.

There's little doubt that the Pavilions will have a captive audience during the weekdays. The project is along Dallas, between Main and Caroline.

As the story notes, there was nothing there before. The more that happens downtown, the better. I look forward to seeing what this thing looks like.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texas blog roundup for the week of October 13

Nothing like a weekend of nostalgia to recharge your engines. But 20 years is a long time to look back, so let's just go for a week, to review the Texas Progressive Alliance's blog highlights. Click on for the roundup.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme agrees with Webb County Elections Commissioner Patricia Barrera and Webb County voters: Electronic Voting machines need a voter verifiable paper trail.

jobsanger thinks the Texas Legislature should rescind the Texas Driver Responsibility Program, which has one million Texas driver's owing $815 in fines, and wonders if a Denver mural is artwork or a political sign.

Justin at AAA-Fund Blog makes note of near-violent anti-Iraqi racism at Texas A&M.

Captain Kroc at McBlogger has some advice for evangelicals narrowly focused on abortion.

Voter suppression by Republicans in Harris County is carefully distinguished from the "voter fraud" the conservatives continually whine about, but PDiddie's favorite (indeed his only) conservative commenter studiously doesn't get it. At Brains and Eggs.

nytexan of BlueBloggin points out that once again Bush lied and Congress went along with NSA Eavesdropping On Americans And Bush's BS War On Terror. Americans now have the pleasure of knowing that NSA has listened to US citizens. Happy now!

Off the Kuff takes a look at the 30-day finance reports for Harris County candidates.

Mail in ballots returned for postage? It has already happened in Denton County. The Texas Cloverleaf has more.

Gary at Easter Lemming Liberal News posted videos, from why Obama is leading in North Carolina to the new GOP base and other stuff in one of his rambles around the web.

BossKitty at TruthHugger is saddened how some Americans cannot progress beyond old thinking. I'd Rather Not Say Its About RACE is an expose showing how Republican Politics exploits "old thinking" to control voters.

If you live in Bellaire, Sugarland, Galveston, or another part of the oddly gerrymandered SD 17, you may have gotten a "push poll" from folks trying to whittle down Democratic candidate Chris Bell's lead in the state Senate race. George at The Texas Blue points out some the dirty tricks in Texas' 17th Senate district.

Vince at Capitol Annex--freshly back from a six-day hiatus after moving servers--has ranked "Hot" Texas House races in anticipation of the 2008 elections.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 13, 2008
Mark your calendars
More info on this event will be forthcoming through the week. Early voting begins on Monday. Time to get fired up!
Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: More court action

The Statesman has some things to say about the current makeup of the Supreme Court.

Three of the nine seats on the Texas Supreme Court are up for election this year, and all three have Republican incumbents facing competent Democratic challengers. Most voters probably have little idea about just who the court's justices are, and that's not only because of the usual obscurity of the court. It's also because these nine, all Republicans, think pretty much alike. It's time for a change.

The principal criticism of the court, which handles only civil cases, has been its uniformity in ruling for business in cases where it is pitted against consumers or workers.

By one measure, a study by University of Texas law professor David Anderson of the court's 2004 and 2005 tort cases in which the court issued an opinion, the defendant -- usually a business -- won 87 percent of the time. While the court should not be expected to rule 50-50 in such cases, 87 percent suggests that justice isn't blind at the Texas Supreme Court.

A good example of the court's tilt toward business was its 9-0 ruling in the Entergy case, which for the first time protected plant owners from negligence lawsuits when contracts workers were injured on the job. To reach that ruling the court had to ignore years of settled practice on that very point in Texas, as well as legislative intent. Facing a storm of criticism, the court has agreed to reconsider the ruling.

In another case, the court ruled 6-3 in a case that a Colleyville church could not be held liable for harm to a young woman held down for two hours against her will to free her of a demon. Constitutional protection for religious liberty, the majority said, protected the church.

Yes, these problems, not to mention the ethical and legal issues some other Justices, none of which are on the ballot this year, have finally been getting some of the attention they deserve. And the Statesman puts its money where its mouth is:

Place 7 - Texans are so used to candidates of dubious qualification but well-known name running for public office that they might automatically dismiss someone named Sam Houston, 45, a Democrat who is challenging the Republican incumbent for this seat, Dale Wainwright, 47.

But voters should take this Houston -- no relation to the original -- seriously enough to vote for him. From Houston, Houston is a trial lawyer with broad litigation experience and a critic of the Supreme Court, which he says needs more balance.

Wainwright has a terrific resume and is personally impressive, but his output has been light compared to the other justices.


Place 8 -- Linda Yanez, 60, a Democrat on the state's 13th Court of Appeals, based in Corpus Christi, is challenging the incumbent, Phil Johnson, 63, a former chief justice of the 7th Court of Appeals at Amarillo.

Yanez, too, says the court needs to go more to the middle, and her up-from-the-bootstraps personal story would bring a useful perspective to a court dominated by the products of big law firms.

They didn't go for a sweep but had some nice things to say about Judge Jim Jordan as they endorsed Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. For those of you keeping score at home, the Statesman and the Caller-Times have endorsed both Houston and Yanez, the Chron endorsed Yanez but not Houston, the DMN endorsed Houston but not Yanez, and the Star-Telegram went for all incumbents. I have not seen anything from the Express News as yet.

On a side note, in a race that's not otherwise on my radar but has taken on statewide implications, the Statesman weighs in on the Chief Justice, Third Court of Appeals race:

In 2002, Kenneth Law, an associate district judge specializing in family law cases, decided at the last minute to file as a candidate in the Republican primary race for chief justice of the 3rd Court of Appeals. He won the primary and went on to win the election. Now he's up for re-election on Nov. 4 -- but voters should replace him with his challenger, Woodie Jones, an experienced appeals court judge and appellate lawyer.

The 2002 victory was something of a fluke for Law. His only primary opponent was Justice Lee Yeakel, who was so highly thought of in the legal community that no one filed in the Democratic primary.

While Law was not well known in the 3rd Court's 24-county district, which stretches from Austin to San Angelo, he had a good ballot name and defeated Yeakel -- and ran unopposed in the general election.

Law, 60, is not a bad man. But he's proven ineffective and he has presided over a court that has become all too politicized as Republicans have won a 4 to 2 majority on the six-member court.

Case in point: Law was one of three justices, all Republicans, who recently volunteered, in a case involving Republican defendants, that a money-laundering law did not apply to checks, only cash -- a conclusion that defies common sense but appears to open a huge loophole for the defendants to leap through. The ruling came only after the court had studied the case for two years.

Jones, 59, Law's Democratic challenger, served on the 3rd Court for about 12 years. He lost in the 2000 tide of Republican voting to David Puryear.

Citing figures from the state's Office of Court Administration, Jones lays out a compelling case that Law has not provided leadership or productivity to a court that has developed a serious backlog.

"The chief justice is supposed to crack the whip, to some extent," Jones said. While Law cannot be blamed for all of the court's backlog, Jones said, "He himself is the slowest producer."

In its poll of lawyers in the district, the State Bar of Texas reports, 1,427 voted for Jones while 249 backed Law. Asked about the poll, Law dismissed it -- but acknowledged that he would be touting it if it had gone his way.

Jones' extensive court and appellate experience and his record of fairness, regardless of party, stand out. We strongly recommend that voters elect Jones as chief justice of the 3rd Court of Appeals.

Knowing Law's limited background and lack of respect from the legal community explains a lot about that bizarre "checks aren't cash" decision. Whatever ultimately happens in that case, I hope we can get a correction to the court here. BOR has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: State Board of Education

Another good call by the Chronicle:

The State Board of Education performs an extremely important function for the state's school system. It provides direction to Texas schools by adopting policies and setting standards for educational programs. The board is now faced with the task of determining curriculum standards for the state's new science textbook. The Chronicle believes the best candidate for the District 7 position is veteran educator and former Friendswood City Council member Laura Ewing.

The question facing the board, in the first overhaul of the science curriculum in more than a decade, is whether the curriculum will continue to include teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including evolution. It sounds reasonable. But a coalition of Texas scientists says the "strengths and weaknesses" provision is simply an excuse to expose students to "supernatural and fringe explanations" instead of traditional scientific principles. Sahotra Sarkar, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas, stated the case for the coalition: "We should teach students 21st-century science, not some watered-down version with phony arguments that nonscientists disingenuously call 'weaknesses,' " she told the board recently. "Calling 'intelligent design' arguments a weakness of evolution is like calling alchemy a weakness of chemistry, or astrology a weakness of astronomy."

One of the board members supporting the "strengths and weaknesses" provision is the vice chairman, David Bradley of Beaumont. Bradley, a Republican representing District 7, which includes parts of the Houston area, contends: "Evolution is not a fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proved. Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions."

Ewing, by contrast, says she believes in creationism but thinks it is best discussed in personal religious practice rather than in the classroom. The Chronicle couldn't agree more.

Professionals over ideologues. I can't always fathom the Chron's logic, but for stuff like this they're pretty consistent. Turns out incumbent David Bradley has residency issues, too. Put it all together and it's easy to see that Ewing is the better choice and an easy call for the Chron to make.

Speaking of professionals versus ideologues, there's another such race on the SBOE, in District 14, where incumbent Republican member Gail Lowe is apparently a global warming denier. Lowe has a professional educator for an opponent as well in Edra Bogle, but that's a much tougher place to run - the district cuts a swath through red North and Central Texas, with Denton County making up almost 40% of it. Lowe was unopposed in 2002 for the open seat, then again in 2004 (SBOE elections are like those for the State Senate - everyone runs after redistricting, then half run again in two years and half in four), so maybe not having had a general election opponent before will fluster her or something. Dos Centavos has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Rick Noriega

I think you all know how I feel about Rick Noriega. It's been a long and hard race, as statewide campaigns tend to be around here, and there have been a few bumps in the road, but I've been proud of him and the things he has articulated throughout. Despite his large fundraising advantage, Sen. Cornyn has not been able to put this race away, as recent polling has suggested. Cornyn's vote for the bailout bill, which Noriega opposed, appears to have lost him some support as well, much like his flipflop on the Medicare funding bill lost him the support of the Texas Medical Association. Noriega has been consistently right on the issues, and it shows. He was also actively involved in Hurricane Ike recovery efforts, which was one of many things we talked about. Please let me know what you think.


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Dexter Handy, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Joe Jaworski, SD11
Jim Henley, HCDE Trustee
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The border fence boondoggle blues

You ever get the feeling that the border fence just wasn't a very good idea? Yeah, me too.

The federal government has completed just a half-mile section of the 110 miles of pedestrian border fence promised along the Texas-Mexico border.

Texas' incomplete portion, about 109.5 miles, accounts for about a third of the 316 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barriers that remains to be built along the border that officials had hoped to complete by the end of President Bush's term in January.

The delays in completing the politically charged project, designed to stem illegal immigration, have been blamed on politicians' resistance, landowners' unwillingness to sell, shortages of materials, soaring costs and unforeseen construction problems.

"The Department of Homeland Security pontificates about how they're securing the border when they're not. They have no credibility on border security," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, a staunch supporter of the fence.

Just savor the idea of Ted Poe calling someone "not credible" on border security. This is like being called "not credible" on email security by Tommy Thomas.

Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, the chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, a leading opponent of the project, said the next president and Congress will weigh the fate of the fence and, he hopes, replace it with "a more responsible and effective border security strategy."

Border crossings by illegal immigrants have dropped 56 percent over the last four years without a fence, according to Foster's organization.

Anyone else think there might be a correlation to the lousy economy here? Why bother crossing the border if things aren't all that much better than they were in the home country?

I certainly hope Foster is correct that the next President and Congress will rethink the fence concept, and in doing so come to the rather obvious conclusion that it's nowhere near worth the cost, and act accordingly. That will take some leadership, and a willingness to put up with howls of outrage from the likes of Ted Poe, so I can't say I'm expecting this to happen. But I have hope.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Another poll shows a competitive race in CD07

I've said before that I wanted to see a poll in which one of the local Congressional challengers broke the 40% mark while also holding the incumbent below 50. Well, ask and ye shall receive.

Research 2000 for Daily Kos. 10/7-8. Likely voters. MoE 5% (No trend lines)

Culberson (R) 48
Skelly (D) 40

Nice. Looking at the internals and crosstabs, I think the sample is a tad bit less Republican than I'd have expected (39R/33D/28I), but that may just be a reflection of how things have changed. The poll also has McCain leading Obama in CD07 by a 51-39 margin, which reasonably suggests Skelly will lead the ticket for the Democrats in that district. He has room to grow, as Culberson does better among Republicans than Skelly does among Democrats (82-6 for Culberson, 79-10 for Skelly) and also leads among indies by a 46-41 mark. Still a lot of ground to make up, but well within striking range. And again, if the GOP is doing this poorly in CD07, especially compared to their own expectations, their prospects in Harris County and even statewide aren't so hot. If they're not running up the score in a high-turnout GOP-friendly district like this, where will they do it?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Plaintiff against Sheriff's office no-billed

Okay, so back in July a part-time municipal court judge named April Jill Walker, who is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the Ibarra brothers alleging that the Sheriff's office retaliated against people who had filed complaints against it, was arrested by Sheriff's deputies after she intervened when her two sons were being questioned over a traffic incident. There were sharply differing accounts of what happened - she said the deputies followed her home, they said she was verbally abusive and then fled the scene when they ordered her to stand aside. Now a grand jury has declined to indict her on the charges for which she was arrested.

After hearing from several witnesses, the grand jury chose not to indict April Jill Walker, an associate judge who also teaches law at Texas Southern University, on any criminal charges.

The July 2 arrest came after Harris County sheriff's deputies alleged that Walker interfered with the questioning of her two sons during an arrest, then sped away in her car after an officer asked her to stop. Walker has said that the charge against her was harassment, following an earlier run-in with the sheriff's office on an unrelated charge.

Walker was first arrested in January after calling 911 to report suspicious activity in her neighborhood. Sheriff's deputies charged her with impersonating a public official after she identified herself as a judge. The charges were later dropped when officials realized she was, in fact, a judge.

Walker filed a complaint against the deputies, and has called her July 2 arrest an act of retaliation for her complaint.


The Harris County District Attorney's office does not expect to pursue the charges any further, said spokeswoman Donna Hawkins.

"It takes pretty extraordinary circumstances to assemble another grand jury," Hawkins said. "It's not anticipated."

Another fine moment for Tommy Thomas. Here's some free legal advice: When Lloyd Kelley makes a settlement offer this time, give serious thought to accepting it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 12, 2008
Chron overview of the DA race

Pretty good article on the state of things in Bradford v. Lykos, with a well-needed focus on the issues the office faces and the direction the two contenders want to take it going forward.

Harris County voters looking for a district attorney candidate with a tough on crime" theme are out of luck this fall.

The situation is a startling departure from the law-and-order tone set for the last 30 years by Republican former district attorneys John B. Holmes Jr. and Chuck Rosenthal.

But Rosenthal resigned in disgrace early this year, opening the door for Democratic candidate C.O. Bradford and Republican candidate Pat Lykos, former police officers who have never prosecuted a criminal case, to put the local justice system on trial instead.

Bradford, the former Houston police chief, and Lykos, a former felony court judge, make sure to mention, in a county known nationwide for its frequent use of the death penalty, that the worst criminal offenders should be prosecuted to the hilt. But, despite substantive differences between the contenders, they both put greater emphasis on reforming the system so that many minor offenders get drug or mental illness treatment rather than a cell in the already crowded jail.

"Simply locking everybody up for everything isn't going to get us out of the process we are in now," Bradford said. "Our taxes are high, the jails are full and crime continues to go up. So let's exercise good stewardship of fiscal resources, reduce crime and understand that most people who commit offenses are salvageable, they can be rehabilitated, but they must be given realistic opportunities to reintegrate back into our society.

"That's not occurring and there are a number of reasons for that ... There are a lot of people who make a lot of money, billions of dollars, designing, building, constructing (prisons) and there's not a concern about whether you are guilty or innocent. They get paid to keep a warm body there. That's not justice."

Lykos called this "a critical period in our county. We have a tarnished law enforcement system. It is bad for justice, it is bad for public safety and it's bad for business. I pledge to you to restore public trust and confidence in the district attorney's office.

"I do not want to see youngsters with a (juvenile justice) record that will irreparably cloud their future and will prevent them from going into certain occupations," she said.

I want to see Bradford win this race. I believe he will make this sort of change a higher priority, and I believe he will take it to greater (and still very necessary) length to get it done. Having said that, I am gratified that Judge Lykos approaches the issue of what constitutes justice in a similar fashion. I'm glad to see that at least this year, the debate has moved past the kind of "git tuff on crime" posturing that has caused all the problems that these two candidates now seek to clean up. I want to see Bradford take on that task, but I am heartened that the Rosenthal era truly is over.

Point to ponder: Will we someday look back at the work of our soon-to-be-elected DA and reconsider the legacy of Johnnie Holmes as has happened to Henry Wade? My guess is no, partly because from all I have ever heard of Holmes he was much more of a standup guy, and also partly because Harris County doesn't have anywhere near as much old-case DNA in its possession as Dallas does. I suspect some kind of reckoning will be out there, but I don't think the needle will move that much.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Weekend link dump for October 12

"Let us drink a toast, as each of us recalls
Ivy covered professors, in ivy covered halls."

That has nothing to do with link dumping, but I'm attending my 20-year reunion, so please cut me some slack.

Suppressing the vote, Montana GOP style.

"Niedermeyer: Man of Iron".

Mail goggles. What will they think of next?

Bye-bye, Liddy.

Let's put our students first.

What could be better than truck balls? Why, truck balls that glow in the dark, of course. Thanks (I think) to Michael for enlightening me about this.

Evil Knievel? Say it ain't so!

The incredible elitism of Smallville (original here.

I didn't even know there were rat factories.

Laura Bush says "I did my time in Crawford, now give me high society or else!" Insert your own "Green Acres" joke here.

Why John McCain's health care plan won't work.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: County Attorney

The Chron gets back on track after yesterday's oddity by making the right call in the County Attorney race.

In the past year Harris County has suffered through a disturbing series of public ethics scandals that resulted in the resignation of District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal and a civil rights lawsuit against sheriff's deputies in the Ibarra case that is costing the county millions of dollars in legal fees.

The county badly needs an independent county attorney who will do more than be a loyal legal adviser to Commissioners Court and other elected officials. The holder of that office must also be an advocate for the citizenry and a watchdog who can detect and defuse situations before they deteriorate into legal train wrecks.

The Chronicle believes that long-promised but never-delivered ethical reform at the county would best be served by a county attorney committed to rocking the boat as well as representing it. In the current race, the person best positioned by experience and determination to accomplish that goal is former Assistant County Attorney and Houston City Councilman Vince Ryan.

"Your paper has said it, I agree with it, the system of checks and balances at the county has broken down," says Ryan. On ethical issues, he believes "the key official should be the county attorney. When it gets to be the district attorney's business, it's gone way too far. It's time for somebody to be in office whom the contractors, developers, architects and engineers don't want."

Ryan is a Vietnam veteran and a retired lieutenant colonel is the U.S. Army reserve. He served as first assistant under former County Attorney Mike Driscoll and three terms as District C councilman. In that capacity he chaired the city's campaign finance reform committee, experience that will no doubt serve him well in a county structure that has had more than its share of allegations of campaign fund misuse.

I'm happy to say not just that I called this right, but that I got it for the right reason. The County Attorney played an overlooked and under-appreciated role in the scandals that the District Attorney and Sheriff's offices got themselves tied up in. Mostly that was by not doing anything to put a stop to them before they got out of hand, but there were some sins of commission by the County Attorney also. If you've found yourself wondering where the grownups are in county government, here's your chance to make sure we have one in a role where that's needed.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Don't mess with Juanita

You go, girl. Read and enjoy.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Count everybody

Former Texas State Demographer Steve Murdock, now the director of the US Census, sounds an alarm about that upcoming tasks.

Fear of the government in some communities after the Sept. 11 attacks and years of debate over immigration policy could create problems in getting an accurate count of the U.S. population in 2010, the director of the Census Bureau said last week.

"We have a lot of fear about government intrusion; we have a very contentious debate going on about immigration," said Steve Murdock, the agency's director.

To combat people's hesitancy, the bureau will work with local governments and organizations such as churches and community groups to make sure people understand what the census is and that the data won't be shared, Murdock said.

Participation in the nation's count every 10 years is required, but no one has been prosecuted for refusing to respond. Getting an accurate count of everyone who lives in the country is vital because it determines how congressional seats are apportioned and how federal funds are given out, among other things.

"A community that doesn't respond to the census doesn't exist," said New York City's chief demographer, Joseph Salvo.

Just so we're all clear, all kinds of allocations - various types of federal funds, Congressional districts, and so on - are based on population. Not population of citizens, population as a whole. A community that has a lot of uncounted immigrants will lose out as a result. It is very much in those communities' best interests to make sure every nose gets counted.

As long as I've mentioned Steve Murdock, I want to point you to this Observer article about him from 2005. Here's some words to live by:

By [20]23 or [20]24, we're talking about three out of every four Texas workers being non-Anglo. I like to say, well, if I, as an aging Anglo, forget that the quality of services I'm going to have--fire, police, and other services--depend on how well primarily the working-age population is doing, I really do so to my own detriment. Our fates are intertwined and related. How well our non-Anglo citizens do in Texas is how well Texas will do.

And as he says earlier in the piece, as Texas goes so goes the rest of the country. I hope we all remember this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 11, 2008
Endorsement watch: The Chron still loves John

The Chron makes four easy and obvious endorsements today, and one puzzling one. The obvious ones are for Sen. Mario Gallegos in SD06, Reps. Ana Hernandez and Jessica Farrar in HDs143 and 148, and Carol Alvarado in HD145. All have good records and token opponents, and are in districts they will win by comfortable margins.

And then there's this:

John E. Davis, Texas House District 129: This veteran Republican initially voted for cuts in the Children's Health Insurance Program as well as imposing six-month eligibility cycles that resulted in a sharp reduction in the number of program participants.

However, to his credit, Davis changed his views in the last session and joined Houston State Rep. Sylvester Turner in a successful bipartisan effort to expand the program and double eligibility periods to a year.

The owner of a contracting firm, Davis believes the margins tax is far too complex and discriminatory against small businesses and must be the subject of major alterations in the coming session.

That endorsement reads quite a bit like the one they gave him in 2006, where they note all of Davis' sins but then reassure us that he's promised to do better this time. If the things listed here that Davis says he'll fight for this time around represented clear differences with Sherrie Matula, that would be one thing. But Matula has been a stronger and more consistent advocate of these things, not that you'd know if from this writeup. What irks me is that while Davis did see the light about kicking kids off CHIP, that "successful bipartisan effort" from 2007 only undid about half the damage that Davis and his Republican colleagues caused in 2003, with no clear promise that I'm aware of that they intend to do any more; indeed, it will likely be a fight to make sure that the 12-month eligibility rule isn't taken away. And as for the margins tax and its effects on small business, which is something that Matula has loudly criticized, it might have been nice for the Chron to note that Davis voted for the thing during the 2006 special session. I suppose it's commendable that he keeps changing his mind about these bad things he once supported and promising to fix them, but wouldn't it be better to not do them in the first place? And wouldn't it make more sense to support someone who'll get it right the first time? Maybe the Chron just likes a good redemption story, I don't know. Whatever the case, I got this one wrong, which would bother me less if I could figure out what the logic of it was.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
And in those other Senate debates

Tonight is the night that KUHT channel 8 runs the debate between SD11 candidates Joe Jaworski and Sen. Mike Jackson. Or, at least, the debate that would have been between Jaworski and Jackson if Jackson had kept his word and bothered to show up. I'm not sure how it will play out, though having been a guest on Red, White, and Blue myself, I have every confidence that David Jones and Gary Polland handled Jackson's school-skipping with ease. If they had an empty chair, or a cardboard cutout, to stand in for him, that would have been entirely fitting. Tune in tonight at 8 to see for yourself.

Meanwhile in Fort Worth, Sen. Kim Brimer stepped out from behind his attorneys long enough to actually engage Wendy Davis in a candidate forum. We all know how busy he is these days filing appeals and whatnot, so let's all be grateful that he managed to work this one in. A statement from the Davis campaign is beneath the fold.

Kim Brimer once again displayed how out of touch he is with the concerns of Tarrant County families at a League of Women Voters candidate forum last night.

Brimer made repeated attempts to sugar coat his less-than-impressive record on the issues, claiming success in working to benefit groups like children and seniors - groups which many experts say have been gravely hurt by Brimer's votes in the Texas legislature.

"We've invested in million of dollars in our seniors in the form of certification, regulation and outreach for senior citizens," Brimer said, not giving any specific examples.

Davis countered by reminding the audience that Brimer voted for HB2922, a 2003 bill that had dire consequences for children and seniors in low- to middle-income families.

"I believe Mr. Brimer doesn't care about our children, and he doesn't care about our seniors. Why else would he have voted in 2003 to remove 230,000 children from the Children's Health Insurance Program, and why would he remove 25 percent of a long-term-care seniors' meager allowance from $65 to $40 a month . . . money that they use to buy their toothpaste, their deodorant and their greeting cards to their grandchildren," Davis said.

Davis pointed out that her early life experience would guide her in standing up for the groups that most needed the legislature's help in difficult economic times.

"As a young single mom, I had to balance some very tight budgets, but I never did that at the expense of my children, and I won't do that to your children either," Davis said.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Curbside recycling still on hold

I've been wondering when the curbside recycling program would be restarted. The answer is "soon, we hope".

Eco-minded residents who normally place plastics, newspapers and other items at the curb for recycling will have to continue to visit city drop-off sites or H-E-B grocery stores while city-contracted crews focus on removing vast amounts of Hurricane Ike debris. It is unclear when the city's curbside program, which serves about 160,000 households, will resume.

The city suspended its curbside recycling program after Ike made landfall last month so that every available truck could be devoted to debris removal.


[Mayor Bill] White has pledged to reduce the amount of trash Houston sends to landfills by 20 percent in the next 18 months.

Now, that objective and the city's plan to improve its recycling program are both stalled.

"We're just temporarily sidetracked by this major storm," said Frank Michel, the mayor's spokesman.

City officials hope crews, including those normally assigned to the recycling program, will have made a pass to pick up debris along all city streets by Oct. 18.

Additional passes to pick up the remaining materials will continue in the coming months.

"Our primary goal is on getting rid of storm debris," Department of Solid Waste Management spokeswoman Marina Joseph said. "We are making good progress with storm debris pickup. We want everything to get back to normal."

OK, so check back in a week or so, and keep taking your stuff to neighborhood or citywide dropoff centers in the meantime. And hope for the best.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Nostalgia alert

Dateline 1988, somewhere in San Antonio. The shaggy guy in the green shirt and ever-so-fashionable glasses is me.

Ten years later, at the Class of 1988 reunion. Tiffany and I had been married for all of three weeks at the time.

We're at the 20-year reunion this weekend. Photos, memories, adult beverages, introducing the next generation to each other, all with (mostly) better hair. It's a beautiful thing.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 10, 2008
Friday random ten: Blues Genius

I mentioned in my last list a couple of ways for the iTunes Genius feature to be improved. That really came home this time around, when I made a list based on "Rubber Biscuit" by the Blues Brothers, as many of the artists it selected have five or six songs to their credit. That may be an indictment of my collection - and I have to admit, doing this made me realize that I hadn't yet ripped any of my Stevie Ray Vaughan discs - but I think it's an example of Genius being too literal with classifications, and not really giving enough thought to the actual song and what might really complement it. I know, that's a much harder question. But hey, you wanna be called Genius, you gotta impress. I like this feature, but I can't say I'm impressed by it, at least not yet.

For some reason, unlike the previous two when the Playlist listing appeared random, this one appears to be sorted by artist, so doing an as-is accounting isn't particularly interesting. Just the first ten songs on shuffle this week:

1. "Rubber Biscuit" - The Blues Brothers
2. "Long Long Time" - Guy Forsyth
3. "I Wonder" - Robert Cray
4. "Shot Gun Blues" - The Blues Brothers
5. "You Can If You Think You Can" - Ball, Barton, Strehli
6. "Nothin But A Woman" - Robert Cray
7. "Walking Thru The Park" - Muddy Waters
8. "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" - Muddy Waters
9. "The Power of Love" - Marcia Ball
10. "Po' Lazarus" - from the "O Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack

Note to self: Finish ripping those CDs already. I need my Stevie Ray.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Texas' worst court

The Chron makes its recommendations for the Court of Criminal Appeals, and makes the right call.

Susan Strawn, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3: The Chronicle believes the best candidate for Place 3 is Democrat Susan Strawn, a fourth-generation Houstonian and former federal prosecutor who worked on white-collar criminal cases during 14 years at the Justice Department. She also has international experience investigating extremist groups and organized crime in the Balkans and West Africa.

Strawn, a cum laude graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, currently teaches anti-corruption law at the University of Houston Law Center. She will bring fresh views and strong leadership skills to a court whose public image is badly in need of rehabilitation.

They also endorsed incumbent Judge Cathy Cochran, so I called them both right. This was an easy one, but you never know. Now let's see if they can manage to do more than two races in a day so we can maintain hope they'll finish on time.

UPDATE: The Corpus Christi Caller-Times endorses Strawn, and throws in nods for Sam Houston and Linda Yanez as well.

Place 7, Supreme Court

The Editorial Board recommends the election of Sam Houston, Democrat, a respected lawyer in Houston. He is an experienced lawyer and Baylor law school graduate who would bring greater political, legal and philosophic balance to the state's highest civil court.

"It has been my impression and many others (including noted professors of the law schools in the state)," said Houston, "that our Supreme Court frequently disregards jury verdicts and too often sides with defendants and corporations. I believe it is time to balance our court, which will best happen by electing a trial lawyer who is also a Democrat."

Houston's opponents on the ballot include the incumbent, Dale Wainwright, Republican. Wainwright has been on the court five years; it has been pointed out that he wrote only four signed opinions in the last year for which statistics were available. The other opponent in the race is David Smith, Libertarian, a lawyer in Henderson.

Place 8, Supreme Court

For Place 8, the Caller-Times recommends voters elect Linda Yanez, Democrat from Edinburg, who is the senior justice on the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi. Yanez is widely respected in the legal community and would also help bring greater political and judicial diversity to the court.

"All nine members of the Supreme Court are from the same political party," Yanez said, "which has translated into a 'groupthink' mentality . . . They are actually of one mindset."

The other candidates in the Place 8 race include incumbent Phil Johnson, Republican, who was appointed to the court in 2005 by Gov. Rick Perry. He was chief justice on the 7th Court of Appeals in Amarillo. While Johnson has been a dependable, solid member on the high court, Yanez would help to restore some needed balance. Drew Shirley, Libertarian, is a lawyer in Round Rock.

Like the state's Supreme Court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- the state's highest court for criminal matters -- also needs greater balance. This court was once notorious for leaning toward the rights of defendants, but for the past decade or so, it has become notorious for being a prosecutors' court. Voters in this election have an opportunity to make one significant change.

Place 3, Criminal Appeals

The Caller-Times Editorial Board recommends the election of Susan Strawn, Democrat, a Houston lawyer who served 12 years with the U.S. Department of Justice, from 1990 to 2002. She served as a judicial reform adviser in Kosovo and in West Africa. Recently, she has been an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

The incumbent in this race is Tom Price, Republican. He has been on the Court of Criminal Appeals for 11 years and over that period of time he has earned a reputation for his frequent absences and low productivity. The third candidate on the ballot is Matthew Eilers, Libertarian, a lawyer in Universal City.

I harp on this sort of thing because as we saw in 2006, I believe that a string of newspaper endorsements in down-ballot races where there's little to no money spent on advertising can be worth a few points in the voting for the endorsee. If Texas is a more Democratic state overall this year - say, a 45% baseline for Barack Obama - I believe that could be the difference between winning and losing. The more endorsements I see for Strawn, Houston, and Yanez, the better I like their chances.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Noriega v. Cornyn, round 1

It's on my TiVo for later, as I was unable to watch the debate between the US Senate candidates in real time last night, but it sounds like it was a good one.

Sen. John Cornyn defended his leadership on the economy as his Democratic challenger Rick Noriega asked Texans if they are better off now than they were six years ago during a wide-ranging debate Thursday night.

"Government in Washington has got us in the ditch because its priorities have been about special interests and not Texas families," said Noriega, a member of the Texas House.

He noted that the controversial $700 billion bailout plan passed by Congress has not helped the stock market from its severe slide.

"We've seen today that the market has not responded," said Noriega. He said he wouldn't have voted for the economic rescue bill because it lacked oversight and was sugar-coated with earmarks.

Cornyn, who is seeking his second term in the U.S. Senate, noted that 75 senators, including Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, voted for the bill.

"Sometimes, I think leadership calls for hard decisions," Cornyn said. "And when I hear people say, 'Well, I wouldn't have voted for that' even though it would have left the American people and our economy in ashes potentially, (that) is not responsible leadership."


The candidates also clashed on health policy. Noriega said that since Cornyn has been in office, health premium costs have gone up 80 percent.

"We're number one in the United States in children that are uninsured. That's unacceptable," said Noriega.

Cornyn said Noriega and other Texas lawmakers have failed to reach 800,000 children who are eligible for government programs but have not signed up.

"Let's cover those low-income children who were intended to be covered in the first place," Cornyn said.


The candidates took a few questions from reporters after the debate.

"Right now, Senator Cornyn has had kind of a deathbed conversion on energy choices, although he's voted I don't know how many times against renewable energy," said Noriega.

Cornyn unveiled a new ad Thursday that shows him with West Texas wind turbines.

Well, at least it's not another cow-themed ad. BOR, who remembers that Noriega didn't do very well in the primary debate against Ray McMurrey, thought he won last night. Texas Kaos has a comprehensive liveblog of the proceedings, and also thought Noriega did well. Texas Politics also liveblogged it. The Noriega blog did the rapid-response thing. If you watched last night, what was your impression?

Yesterday was also the debut day for Noriega's first general election TV ad. No cows or phony cowboys were involved.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Jim Henley

I was very pleased to see that Jim Henley got into the race for Harris County Department of Education Trustee this year. I thought he ran a fine campaign for Congress against John Culberson in 2006, with his better-than-expected showing helping to pave the way for Michael Skelly. I knew this was going to be a good year to run in Harris County as a Democrat, so I thought this race afforded him a good chance to get that opportunity to serve. And when the two long-term and generally well-respected incumbent trustees were knocked off in the GOP primary by a couple of right-wing ideologues, well, I was really glad that the Democrats had a couple of solid progressive professional educators in Henley and Debra Kerner there to challenge them. I had a lively chat with Henley, and I hope you'll enjoy it.


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Dexter Handy, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Joe Jaworski, SD11
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Harris County countywide candidates' 30 day finance reports

Here, as best as I can collect them, are the 30 day out campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates.

Candidate Contrib Expend Cash
Mincberg 156,542 1,268,257 82,593
Emmett 331,870 174,618 726,603

Bradford 77,455 69,126 74,062
Lykos 79,397 114,003 21,138

Garcia 26,000 40,150 19,332
Garcia PAC 122,579 33,483 164,778
Thomas 218,377 57,110 763,467

Trautman 51,516 15,699 121,625
Bettencourt 0 10,518 116,469

Ryan 12,171 12,573 5,628
Stafford 13,000 26,155 35,001

Jackson 2,843 3,669 8,094
Chang 26,310 36,766 93,569

I'm skipping the HCDE Trustee races here, as neither Debra Kerner nor Jim Henley had more than $4K on hand, and neither Stan Stanart (no report as of yesterday) nor Mike Riddle (report turned in Wednesday but not available online till today) had reports I could see. A few comments about this:

- Unlike the state campaigns and their TEC reports, these are all scanned images, so it's a lot more work to get what you want. I didn't go back and check for July cash on hand numbers, but you can get some of that information here.

- Ed Emmett outraised David Mincberg this time around, but Mincberg has spent a ton since July, with a lot of it going to TV ads. He's been on the air for weeks, while Emmett has only recently gotten started. I've talked about how having a lot of cash on hand at this point doesn't mean quite as much if you haven't been spending all along - there's only so much you can do in three or four weeks. In this case, having less cash on hand is less of a problem for Mincberg than it might normally be precisely because he's been using the cash he had.

- I'm a little surprised there hasn't been more money raised and spent in the DA race. You'd think if nothing else, the fact that it's an open seat - to say nothing of how it got that way - would have been a greater draw for donations. Regardless, the two candidates were about even in donations, with Lykos spending more and Bradford having more cash at the end.

- On the other hand, there has been a lot of money in the Sheriff's race, with Adrian Garcia picking up the pace from last time. There may be other PACs out there - that was the one I could find. Tommy Thomas has said he plans to run TV ads, and he's certainly in a position to do so. I still don't know what he'll say in them, but that's his problem. Garcia should have plenty to say, for however much he'll be able to say it.

- Either Paul Bettencourt has a PAC that I didn't find, or he's taking an awfully laid back approach to his campaign. Like Stace, I can't believe the local GOP will sit idly by - Bettencourt is the last guy they want to see unelected. Either way, it's nice to see Diane Trautman with more cash on hand than him.

- I still can't believe a two-term incumbent who went unopposed in 2004 can have such a small campaign account balance. I have to think that if Mike Stafford survives this election, he'll step it up a notch for 2012.

- Someone suggested to me a few weeks back that Theresa Chang would be the face of the local GOP ticket. Easy to see why: new blood, no known association to the scandals, etc. That may be a reason why she's doing as well fundraising for an office like District Clerk as she has.

That's all I've got. What do you think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
License to drive

So DPS wants to prevent undocumented immigrants from driving. Good luck with that.

In a clampdown on illegal immigrants, the Texas Department of Public Safety has adopted a new policy requiring noncitizens to prove they are in this country legally before they can obtain or renew a driver's license.

Gov. Rick Perry applauded the change, which went into effect Oct. 1, as a way to strengthen the state's security.

"Texas is a great place to live and work, and while we welcome legally documented individuals to the Lone Star State, we must ensure that this privilege is not abused by those seeking to enter our country illegally," he said.

But Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the policy change is a bad idea because illegal immigrants are going to drive anyway.

"People have to drive to get to work. You want people to get (auto) insurance. They can't get insurance if they don't have a driver's license," he said.

I predict three things will result from this change in policy. One, as Harrington suggests, we'll see more unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road. Two, the market for high-quality forged drivers licenses will significantly expand. And three, we will see at most a modest reduction in the number of undocumented folks who drive.

It's pretty simple, really. Like the issue of immigration itself, this is largely a matter of supply and demand. People want and need to continue driving, and they will do so regardless of what the law says. If the system becomes an obstacle, they'll work around it. We can wave magic wands all we want, we're not going to change that reality.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
RIP-to-be: Opus the penguin

You've probably already figured this out from the tone of the recent strips, but for the third and apparently last time, cartoonist Berkeley Breathed is preparing to quit the funny pages.

The 51-year-old cartoonist said he will pull the plug on his comic-strip career and "Opus" after Nov. 2.

In an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times, the 51-year-old Breathed wrote, "30 years of cartooning to end. I'm destroying the village to save it. Opus would inevitably become a ranting mouthpiece in the coming wicked days, and I respect the other parts of him too much to see that happen. The Michael Moore part of me would kill the part of him that was important to his fans."


Breathed, who won a Pulitzer Prize for "Bloom County," also writes screenplays, novels and children's books. In a press release from the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates "Opus," he said, "With the crisis in Wall Street and Washington, I'm suspending my comic strip to assist the nation. The best way I can help is to leave politics permanently and write funny stories for America's kids. I call on John McCain to join me."

Five years ago, when Breathed first spoke about resurrecting Opus, he said "It was painful to sit through the war without a public voice." I guess he decided that the voice he had, doing children's books and other stuff, will be sufficient for him going forward. I wish him well in those pursuits.

By the way, if you go to BerkeleyBreathed.com, you can guess what ulitmately happens to Opus. I think I'd feel a little too weird about that to participate. Better to imagine him as perpetually in the 1980s, pursuing dandelions, rock and roll, and Diane Sawyer.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 09, 2008
Galveston early voting locations

With some early voting locations not available due to Hurricane Ike, Galveston County officials consider their alternatives.

[Democratic] Party Chairman Lloyd Criss told county commissioners during their Wednesday meeting that Hurricane Ike shouldn't disenfranchise 1,000 or so people living in a tent city at Alamo school or residents of senior-living communities on the island.

County Clerk Mary Ann Daigle said early voting starts Oct. 20, presenting a time crunch.

During early voting, county residents can cast ballots at any polling site, unlike the Nov. 4 election when voters have to visit their precinct.

"People are dislocated, and their cars might have been ruined," Criss said of the storm surge that inundated Galveston and left many without reliable transportation. "We can't let Hurricane Ike deprive citizens from voting."

Daigle said the polling sites have already been entered into the county's election database, and any added would mean the county would have to count mobile ballots by hand.

"Whoop-de-do," Criss said. "Count the ballots by hand. I don't care if it takes a week. Count the dang votes ... It won't cost that much more, and I don't think any person who holds an elected office has any higher responsibility than to provide the right to vote."

Daigle said she had no objection to hand counting votes.

"I need the commissioners to make up their mind which direction to go in," Daigle said.

Obviously, I think all options should be on the table, and since we're talking early voting, I don't see why a slower method of counting votes should be an obstacle. Some people would consider hand-counting to be a feature, after all. Let's please get this figured out soon, since early voting begins a week from Monday.

A list of proposed sites is beneath the fold. In the meantime, here's the advice of the TDP for all Ike evacuees:

Many voters have been affected by Hurricane Ike. Some may not be able to return to their homes before Election Day and others may find that their local polling location has been damaged and they will need to vote elsewhere. There are options available to these voters which vary depending on the circumstance. Whether you are in an affected county or your county is sheltering Hurricane Ike evacuees, please be aware of the voting options available to you and help facilitate that information to others.

Option 1: VOTE EARLY IN PERSON - If the voter is in or near the county of their residence during Early Voting, they should try to vote then. All Early Voting locations are county-wide, so it won't matter if they are in the right precinct. Early Voting locations can be obtained from the County Early Voting Clerk, listed here.

Option 2: VOTE BY MAIL - If the voter is not going to be in their county of residence for the entire early voting period or on Election Day, absence from the county qualifies the voter to cast a ballot by mail. Voters who choose to exercise this option should make sure that they have somewhere to have their mail ballot sent that is outside their county of residence where either the voter will be for the remainder of the election or where there is someone who can forward it to them. Furthermore, we have recently confirmed with the Texas Secretary of State's office that a mail ballot can be forwarded to a specific address as long as there is an official forwarding request filed with the United States Postal Service (voters can file a formal forwarding request with the United States Postal Service by clicking here.

* Voters who are over 65 years of age or are disabled are automatically entitled to cast a ballot by mail. These voters may have the ballot sent to their residence, as opposed to being required to have it sent outside the county.

* An application for a ballot by mail can be found here.

Option 3: VOTE ON ELECTION DAY - Voters must make sure to verify the correct polling location for their precinct. Voting on Election Day is precinct specific, so the voter will need to know exactly which location they must go to, and it may not be the one they are used to using. Elections officials in the affected areas are working to finalize the Election Day locations and they should be available soon. However, the best option is to vote early. If a voter waits until Election Day to vote and there is a problem with their registration or location, it may be too late.

It is the voter's right to cast a ballot in the jurisdiction of their permanent residence, even if that residence doesn't exist anymore. No one, not even an Election Judge, can question a voter's residency.

The Texas Democratic Party is working with our County Chairs and campaigns in the affected areas to make sure that all voters get to exercise their right to vote and have their ballot counted. Voters can visit the TDP website's Voter Information page for more details. You can help by disseminating this information to others who may have friends or loved ones facing these situations.

If you have any questions about how to help these voters exercise their rights, feel free to call the Texas Democratic Party at 512-478-9800.

Please help make sure anyone who is still displaced by Ike knows about this. Thanks very much.

Proposed early voting branch sites:

  • Bacliff Community Center, 4503 11th St. in Bacliff
  • Dickinson Community Center, 2714 Highway 3 in Dickinson
  • Friendswood City Hall, 910 S. Friendswood Drive in Friendswood
  • Galveston County Courthouse, 722 Moody Ave. in Galveston
  • Galveston County Justice Center 600 59th St. Galveston, 2nd Floor Conference Room
  • St. Matthews United Methodist Church, 1308 Weeks Ave. in High Island
  • Galveston County Municipal Utility District 12, 2929 Highway 6 in Hitchcock
  • Hitchcock Community Center, 6905 Backstrom St. in Hitchcock
  • Environmental Health Center, 1205 Oak St. in La Marque
  • League City County Annex, 174 Calder Road in League City
  • Lloyd Ferguson Elementary School, 1910 Compass Road in League City
  • West County Building, 11730 Highway 6 in Santa Fe
  • Nestler Community Center, 2010 Fifth Ave. N. in Texas City
  • Park Avenue Community Center, 6901 Park Ave. in Texas City

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: More Supreme Court

I guess the Supreme Court was so complicated, the Chron had to do its endorsements in two parts, with the second installment today. I'm pleased to note that I called this one, too.

Linda Yanez, Texas Supreme Court, Place 8: Yanez is the Democratic challenger in this race. She has served 15 years as a justice on the 13th Court of Appeals. Active and well-respected in state and national legal circles, Yanez has an impressive grasp of the law and of the workings of the Supreme Court.
Noting that the high court justices ruled unanimously in almost all their decisions last term, Yanez promises to bring a fresh perspective to their proceedings.

"The challenge I will bring will be intellectual, not antagonistic," Yanez pledges.

Despite their expressed concerns about "this GOP-dominated body, often criticized for returning decisions that appear to follow ideology over the merits of individual cases", the Chron also endorsed incumbent Justice Dale Wainwright. Whatever. I thought their choice for this race might be influenced by their pick in the Presidential election, so if you think there's anything to that cockamamie notion, you can take this as a straw in the wind for the eventual McCain endorsement. Or not.

So that's one tyoe of office accounted for, and another twenty-five or so to go. I'll spare you the "at this rate..." reckoning for today. Suffice it to say they need to pick up the pace a bit.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Look out, Fulshear, here we come

I found this Chron article about the coming encroachment of Houston onto the little (real little - population 719) town of Fulshear to be fascinating. It's interesting, and commendable, that the town's honchos have been planning for this eventuality. (Planning! OMG! What would Randal O'Toole think?). And I liked the comment to the effect that some people long for small-town living until they realize there aren't any grocery stores nearby.

Of course, from Fulshear, there's lots of stuff that isn't nearby. But people will be moving there anyway, once all the new houses are built.

Six housing developments, totaling more than 14,000 homes, are planned or under way in Fulshear or its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Assuming an average of three people per household -- a figure recommended by Texas State Demographer Karl Eschbach that accounts for likely vacancies -- these projects alone would add 42,000 people to Fulshear's population by 2020, when all are scheduled to be completed.

Mayor James W. Roberts predicted even higher levels of growth, saying Fulshear could surpass Sugar Land as the county's largest city in 20 to 25 years.

The town's government will be challenged to provide services to all the new residents as its population takes a "quantum leap," said Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert.

In some ways, Fulshear is well-positioned for this growth. The town is close to the Energy Corridor, a burgeoning job center where expanding oil and gas companies and commercial developers are adding more than 3 million square feet of office space.

The Westpark Tollway, which stops just a few miles east of Fulshear, provides access to the Galleria area and other destinations in Houston.

Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering if recent events - say, the mortgage meltdown and the higher price of gas - might perhaps have an effect on all this? It isn't discussed in the story, so I'm not sure if this isn't something they're worried about, or just something they'd rather not talk about. I figured someone ought to bring it up.

The line about Fulshear being well-positioned for this growth because it's "close" to the Energy Corridor and not-too-inconvenient for the Galleria, brought me up short. It sure didn't look close from the map provided in the print edition, but let's not rely on that. Let's get some driving directions from Google Maps and see what it tells us. I chose as my starting point a place that was implicitly mentioned in the story, Dozier's Barbecue, at 8222 Farm-to-Market 359, which is conveniently located right at the intersection of FM1093, which in turn runs into the Westpark Toll Road. Here's how you get from Dozier's to the Adam's Mark Hotel, just inside Beltway 8 at Westheimer. Google Maps tells me it's 3.8 miles to the Westpark Tollway, about 18 miles to Beltway 8, and a little more than 19 miles to my destination, or 26 driving minutes. Not too bad, though not really my idea of "close".

How about the Galleria? Google Maps says "25.7 miles - about 36 minutes (up to 50 minutes in traffic)". That's rather an understatement, wouldn't you say? But hey, when you gotta shop, you gotta shop, and this is closer to you than it would be from The Woodlands.

Bear in mind, of course, that all of this is a best-case scenario. These are the easiest parts of Houston to reach from the Westpark Toll Road - imagine continuing on to downtown or the Medical Center instead - and it's using the most convenient location as a starting point. Once all those developments get built, with their cul-de-sacs and one-way-in, one-way-out accesses, all of the other suburban traffic issues will apply, which could add fifteen minutes or more to any real commute. Taking the Westpark this distance every day also means paying $5.70 a day in tolls at current rates. And don't expect any mass transit options any time soon. You want to move to Fulshear some day, be prepared to spend a lot of time and money in your car. Greg has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Candidate Q&A: Bert Moser

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

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

I'm Bert Moser. I'm the Democratic candidate for the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, Position 4.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

With the exception of cases in which the death penalty is imposed, the court hears appeals in all cases, civil and criminal, from Harris and nine other counties. The vast majority of cases do not go higher than this court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have the qualifications to be a credit to the judiciary. But equally important, I believe I can be a part of an effort to help restore the faith that too many have lost in the fairness of our courts.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a lifelong Houstonian, an honors graduate both of Rice University and the University of Texas Law School. I had the privilege of servicing as law clerk to Chief Judge John R. Brown of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, then the country's largest constitutional court. In almost forty years as a lawyer, I have been trial counsel in almost every kind of case. I have wide ranging experience in the appellate courts as well. I have been board certified as a specialist in civil appellate law since 1991. For fifteen years, I was certified as a specialist in criminal law as well, a distinction shared by very few lawyers. I have taught in law school, presented papers at seminars, and published articles in legal journals.

When they were in private practice, most sitting judges in Harris County represented the government or large corporations. Most of my clients have been those whose rights have not been given the same dignity, such as small businessmen, investors, consumers, homeowners, and employees. I understand what the individual citizen faces when going through the legal process.

5. Why is this race important?

Of the 118 judges voted on in Harris County, 118 are Republicans. These judges represent a narrow ideological perspective. The widespread perception is that judges seem to be less interested in justice and more interested in listening to only one side of the case. The right to a jury verdict to redress grievances no longer commands the respect our laws provide. If the courts had people who came from a broader range of experience and practice, the more the public would have confidence that the outcome of cases was fair.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have the experience, the background, and the temperament to do the job and do it well. The pursuit of justice is one of the noblest human endeavors. It is what will guide all of my work.


Dion Ramos, 55th Civil Judicial District Court.
Shawna Reagin, 176th District Criminal Court.
Al Bennett, 61st Civil Judicial District Court.
Judge Jim Jordan, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
Mike Miller, 11th Civil Judicial District Court.
Andres Pereira, 190th Civil Judicial District Court.
Steven Kirkland, 215th Civil Judicial District Court.
Martin Siegel, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 7.
Randy Roll, 179th District Criminal Court.
Leslie Taylor, Court of Appeals, First District, Place 5.
Kyle Carter, 125th Civil Judicial District Court.
Hazel Jones, 338th District Criminal Court.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Mighty big pile of debris you've (still) got there

Still a lot of debris to be dealt with.

More than a third of the heaping piles of debris in front of Houston households have yet to be touched by the army of laborers tasked with cleaning them up, and may not be for at least another week.

Solid waste officials and contractors say the process has taken a few days more than originally envisioned because they have moved more than twice the expected amount of felled trees and other detritus shaken loose in Hurricane Ike.

The total volume in the city and county is staggering, possibly as high as 12 million cubic yards, or enough to fill up the Astrodome more than six times, according to city and county officials.

Again with the football-related metrics, though I note we've shifted from two dimensions to three. What comes next in the progression from field to stadium?

And costs could exceed $200 million, as much as 50 percent more than what local officials originally set aside. At least three-fourths of that is expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, officials said.

In Houston, contract workers have made a first pass by 65 percent of homes, meaning they have picked up some debris with an intent to come back. Although contracting officials originally projected they would have reached every home by Oct. 14, they now say it will not be until Oct. 18. They have yet to set a goal for when they will return to pick up debris that remained after the first pickup.

They came through my neighborhood over the weekend and cleared out most of the stuff on the streets. There's still some stuff left, but it's largely back to normal. I'm hoping this means we'll get back to curbside recycling pickup soon. Even with this small setback, I think the city has done an amazing job with this. How is it where you live?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Billboards today, AGDs tomorrow

Got the following email, which I thought was interesting:

Dear Super Neighborhoods,

In June 2008, Mayor White established an On-Premise Sign Task Force to make recommendations and improvements to the City of Houston 's Sign Code. One of the first recommendations of this group is to ban the use of Attention-Getting Devices in the City of Houston . The city has an ordinance that limits the use of these devices to 104 days per year, but because the days do not have to be consecutive, and can occur over the 365 day calendar year, it is difficult to enforce. In addition, the Task Force believes that it is important to eliminate this visual clutter, before it makes improvements to the sign code. Banners and on-premise signs currently compete for visibility with the AGD's, and they offer a less expensive alternative, that can be less distracting and can be structurally permitted. The prohibition of these devices does not affect the use of banners, seasonal holiday displays and banners, or real estate signs. In addition, the ordinance does not preclude the use of these devices for festivals, parties, or holiday celebrations.

I am attaching some pictures of AGD's in the city.

We appreciate your thoughts and input on this issue. I am available to answer any questions you have regarding this email.


Nancy Brewer Flores
Planning and Development Services
Public Works and Engineering

I've uploaded one of the sample pix here. Here's the document that was attached to the email as well:

On-Premise Sign Task Force
Attention-Getting Devices (AGDs)

Houston's current Attention-Getting Device (AGD) Ordinance is unwieldy and virtually unenforceable. As written, it states that AGDs are unlawful, yet in a separate section allows them, if permitted through the city's Sign Administration Department, for a limited number of days each calendar year. As these days do not have to be consecutive, enforcement of the ordinance has proven extremely difficult, especially given the sheer size of the city. This inability to enforce the ordinance has led to unfettered clutter and blight, which adversely affects the quality of life of its citizens.

The On-Premise Sign Task Force compared the current Houston ordinance governing AGDs with those of other U.S. cities to which Houston is frequently compared in terms of economic development and quality of life:

  • Atlanta

  • Baltimore

  • Boston

  • Charlotte

  • Chicago

  • Dallas

  • Indianapolis

  • Jacksonville

  • Memphis

  • Oklahoma City

  • Omaha

  • Philadelphia

  • Salt Lake City

  • St. Louis

  • San Diego

  • San Francisco

  • San Jose

These listed cities employ different methods to control the proliferation of AGDs. Some of these cities completely ban them. Other cities ban AGDs in certain districts. Some cities ban certain types of AGDs while allowing others. Some allow a very limited number of AGDs for specific occasions or time periods. All of these cities have an enforcement mechanism in place that prevents unruly clutter.

From this comparison review, the Task Force concludes that allowing AGDs in Houston is unnecessary for economic competitiveness or development. Further, the proliferation of AGDs causes dangerous driver distraction and creates an unwanted visual blight. Accordingly, the Task Force recommends a complete ban on attention-getting devices in the City of Houston.

Well, so much for Mr. Giant Inflatable Pink Gorilla Maker. I will stipulate that these things do grab one's attention. At least, they grab Olivia's - she likes to point out these things when we drive past them. I don't object to them the way I object to billboards - I can't fully articulate why, I just don't find them as obnoxious - but I also don't object to a stricter policy regulating them. What do you think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Why lotteries make me queasy, continued

I've said before that I have decidedly mixed feelings about state-sanctioned gambling, in particular state lotteries. Part of that is because of the social costs of gambling, especially on lower-income folks, and part is because of the sleazy characters involved in the gambling trade. My dilemma for the near future is that I fully expect expanded gambling to be on the agenda in the Lege in 2009. It was always going to be, but with Hurricanes Gustav and Ike putting pressure on the state's cash reserves, there will be a greater push to find new revenue sources. I don't like it, but the choices I'd be presented with as alternatives, such as an expanded sales tax, are worse. Most likely, I'm going to have to suck it up and push for the least bad possibility.

But again, that doesn't mean I have to like it. And being reminded again what a bunch of scuzzballs the leading players are doesn't help. There are people who I hold in great esteem, like State Sens. Rodney Ellis and Mario Gallegos, who are big proponents of expanded gambling. I respect their position, and will probably grudgingly accept it when it eventually comes to pass. But again, I doubt I'll ever like it. Harpers link via Yglesias.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 08, 2008
HCDP08 video: "This is our time"

This was shown at the Johnson Rayburn Richards Dinner last weekend, which Tiffany and I attended as guests of Ashish and Sameera Mahendru:

As you might imagine, it went over well. If you like it, please consider making a donation of $20.08 to the HCDP to help them with their GOTV efforts. Thanks very much.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Harris County campaign finance reports, 30 days out

I will try to put together a report on the Harris countywide races, time permitting. Here for now is an accounting of the more interesting legislative races:

Dist Candidate July COH Raised Current COH
129 Matula 73,153 125,824 136,934
129 Davis 66,915 46,563 62,046
133 Thibaut 94,078 86,065 102,982
133 Murphy 171,797 87,401 169,294
134 Cohen 231,337 70,469 216,670
134 Agris 2,614 4,875 463
138 McDavid 18,584 38,400 18,632
138 Bohac 135,569 52,651 124,106
144 Redmond 87,206 137,045 90,446
144 Legler 0 44,720 14,276
149 Vo 44,440 97,621 54,233
149 Meyers 26,795 105,757 37,070

11 Jaworski 410,390 135,418 101,018
11 Jackson 1,210,257 134,480 1,205,115
17 Bell 658,428 457,750
17 Simmons 47,500 47,500
17 Harpold 44,078 27,252
17 Huffman 97,017 1,605
17 Furse 145,550 371,045

"July COH" refers to the cash on hand total from the July 15 report. I skipped that for the SD17 contenders, since not all of them were actually in the race then. The other columns refer to how much they raised since then, and what their current cash on hand totals are.

Going through the House numbers, I included the 134 totals for grins, and because I don't think I've quite finished whipping that deceased equestrian. But I admit I'm getting close. While Ginny McDavid hasn't quite kept up with her colleagues in HDs 129, and 133, and 144, she's done a respectable job considering how overlooked she's been. Kristi Thibaut has kept pace in each period with Jim Murphy; the cash on hand difference is basically due to Murphy having $80K in the kitty as of January.

If you aren't blown away by the Democratic dominance in HDs 129 and 144, you should be. Sherrie Matula and Joel Redmond basically tripled their Republican counterparts, and that's with them being beneficiaries of that Karl Rove fundraiser. Matula in particular, running against an incumbent in a district that wasn't thought to be competitive last cycle, has truly excelled. If these are leading indicators for November, Harris County Democrats will have a lot to celebrate.

The dark cloud is in HD149, where Greg Meyers outraised incumbent Hubert Vo this period. Vo has the cash on hand lead, and the ability to write himself a check as needed, but this should be a wakeup call. I believe Vo will prevail, but this race is a lot tighter than it should be. Unfortunately, Vo has himself and his apartments to blame for this.

On the Senate side, Mike Jackson started out with a huge cash advantage, and he maintains a huge cash advantage. Sometimes, though, that can be too much of a good thing. Joe Jaworski's diminished bank balance from July is due to his spending over $300K in this period, with a lot of it going into TV ads - he told me he's been on the air continuously, with the exception of the two weeks around Hurricane Ike, since August. Jackson spent a tiny bit more than he raised, and would have to run five-minute spots during "Dancing With The Stars" to make full use of his coffers. Far as I know, at least as of the end of September, he wasn't on the air. I've no idea what he has in mind.

As noted before, Chris Bell has been the 800 pound gorilla, with nearly triple the haul of his four top rivals combined. (There's another Republican in the race, whose name escapes me; I seriously doubt he's a factor.) Austen Furse, who has been in the race the longest, had $323K on hand in July, which included a $200K loan. He's spent $90K since then (Bell has spent $200K) and still shows that loan on the books, as the majority of his cash on hand.

I can't make head or tail of Huffman's report. According to her report, she's spent a staggering $1.6 million, but most of that - $1.25 million, according to the detailed report - was repayment of two loans, a $500K bank loan, and $750K as "Loan as itemized on SPAC Texans for Joan Huffman". I didn't find a report for that PAC, though, so I don't know if it just isn't published yet (some other reports were not available as I wrote this) or if I'm just missing something. If you can help me understand all this, drop me a note and let's talk.

Finally, there's Stephanie Simmons, the alleged Democrat who filed at the last minute. Her detailed report shows a total of four donors: $30K from Ron Wilson (plus a $7K loan for legal services); $2500 from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC; $10K from Jeff Sandefer, who is an Austin developer and board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation; and $5K from a Preston Marshall, about whom I know nothing because Google kept directing me to pages for the late former Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall. All I can say is that if that's the donor profile of a for-real Democratic candidate, I'm John Riggins.

So that's what I know at this point. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: OK, this doesn't actually have anything to do with finance reports, but I'm putting it here anyway. Remember how I mentioned the local debate schedule and pointed to the Red, White, and Blue webpage because they had a bunch of them queued up? Well, today was supposed to be taping day for a debate between Joe Jaworski and Mike Jackson, to be aired on Friday. Except that Jackson never bothered to show. Can't wait to see how that plays out.

UPDATE: Here's the link for the Texans for Joan Huffman PAC, which is where the action is for her. She reports $131K in donations and an impressive $876K on hand for the PAC, of which $750K is a loan. According to a press release from her campaign, she has raised $405K since announcing her candidacy. So there we have it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: The Chron gets in the game

Mark the date: Wednesday, October 8, twelve days before the start of Early Voting and 27 days before Election Day, the Houston Chronicle made its first endorsement for November, going (as I predicted they would) with incumbent Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court Wallace Jefferson. All I can say is that at this rate, they'll be done just in time to start making endorsements for the 2009 municipal elections. So, um, Go Chron!

(Actually, looking at the sample ballot, there's 105 races, of which nine are uncontested, not counting various ballot propositions, MUD elections, and non-Houston ISD and municipal races. If the Chron does one endorsement in a contested race per day from here, they'll finish up on Sunday, January 11, 2009. To get every race in before the start of Early Voting, they'll need to average eight per day between now and the 20th; just to get everything done by Election Day means doing a bit less than four per day. Now you know why I harp on this all the time.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Gene Locke

Miya talks to the latest hopeful in the 2009 Mayor's race field, former City Attorney Gene Locke.

Locke served as City Attorney under Mayor Bob Lanier. A partner with Andrews and Kurth for the past decade, Locke says pretty close to deciding to run for mayor. Locke says he's been thinking about it for a while, and has talked to "a lot" of people (which, of course, includes Mayor Lanier.) Currently, Council Member Peter Brown, Controller Annise Parker, former Kemah Mayor Bill King have all said they intend to run. Former Governor Mark White is also seriously thinking about it. Though if Locke runs... well... let's just say that Gov. White and Locke have talked. Political experts say Locke would immediately have an impact because he would be the first minority candidate in a growing field, and has the backing of Mayor Lanier.

Alan Bernstein has more. I'm just passing these along, as they represent the sum total of what I know about Mr. Locke. Anyone have anything to add?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Joe Jaworski

As with Sherrie Matula, there's not much I can say about Joe Jaworski that I haven't already said. He's dynamic and charismatic, a fighter on issues that I care about, and is literally a breath of fresh air against incumbent Toxic Mike Jackson. Jaworski, like many residents of Galveston, was personally affected by Hurricane Ike, as were many of his campaign staffers, all of whom worked overtime in the immediate aftermath to assist with recovery efforts and get information about PODs and city services and just about everything else they could get their hands on to those in Ike's path. We talked about that at some length, as well as many other things related to this race, so I hope you'll give it a listen and see what you think.


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Dexter Handy, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Council still looking at convention center hotel options

We sure do seem to want another convention center hotel around here, don't we?

The city is ready to step up efforts to land a second convention center hotel, offering a local tax rebate to encourage developers to build within walking distance of the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The City Council could vote on the rebate plan during Wednesday's meeting. If approved, the city would return to the developer its 7 percent share of the 17 percent hotel occupancy tax, or "HOT tax." The remainder of the HOT tax is divided among the county, state and the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority.

To qualify for the rebate, a developer would have to build a 350-room hotel within walking distance of the convention center. New hotels built elsewhere in the central downtown district could get a 50 percent rebate on the tax.

A year ago, the city hoped market forces would be enough to encourage new hotel development downtown, said Richard Campo, chairman of the Houston Convention Center Hotel Corp., which owns the property.

"The credit crunch has definitely caused a big dislocation in the market, and we think other incentives are needed," Campo said.

Maybe that's a sign that now is not such a good time to be considering a plan like this? You could convince me otherwise, but I think the burden of proof is on the "do something" side, not the "do nothing, at least for now" side. The city has done pretty well collecting revenues lately. Given the increasingly fragile state of the economy, is this a wise investment of a decent chunk of those revenues at this time? Again, this doesn't have to be "now or never". It can be "now or later". So what about it?

Downtown officials frequently have said another hotel near the convention center is critical to drawing larger conventions and meetings to Houston.

"Cities are ranked by the number of hotel rooms they can block and offer to convention delegates," said Dawn Ullrich, director of the city's Convention and Entertainment Facilities Department. "That isn't part of our strong suit right now.

"Many of our competitors can offer room blocks of 5,000 to 6,000 rooms within walking distance, or at least within a mile," she said, mentioning Dallas and San Antonio. "In order to do that, we have to bus them to outlying hotels, and that adds complexity and expense."

How many conventions that meet those standards are there, and who would we be competing against to land them? All due respect, but just having the space available doesn't mean conventioneers will chose us over, say, Las Vegas or Orlando. It'd be nice to have a realistic assessment - that is, not one generated by a hotel consultant hired by the city - of that. And assuming that we could compete, what kind of retuirn on the investment are we looking at? Again, give me something reality-based here, and not the usual voodoo economics that get passed off at times like these.

Oh, and a still-unanswered question for me is how (if at all) would another downtown convention center hotel be affected by the Astrodome Convention Center project, assuming it ever comes to fruition? Would they be fighting for the same kinds of bookings, or would they occupy different parts of the market?

The tax break could push forward the stalled development of an Embassy Suites west of Discovery Green and possibly spur redevelopment of the vacant Days Inn near the Pierce Elevated, said Andy Icken, deputy director for Planning and Development in the Department of Public Works and Engineering.

Ah, the old Days Inn. It will truly be a new chapter in Houston downtown history when that thing has been transformed into something worthwhile. It's a bit of a hike from the GRB, but a short ride on the Main Street/East End rail lines, so having it in the mix is as plausible as anything else.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Obama effect in Park Cities

Kos brings word of a fascinating poll in one of the wealthier areas of Dallas.

Texas Rep. Dan Branch commissioned a Baselice & Associates poll of his district the week after the Republican convention, and what he found was surprising. While McCain was enjoying a national "Palin bounce," District 108 wasn't feeling the love. Branch's poll found that 47 percent of voters planned to pull the lever for Obama, only 45 percent for McCain.

To appreciate the significance of those numbers, have a look at the boundaries of District 108. From the north, it includes Highland Park and University Park, site of the future Bush library, in case you'd forgotten. To the south, it includes most of downtown Dallas. In other words, there's a reason Branch is a Republican. That same poll found Branch leading Democratic challenger Emil Reichstadt 58 to 24 percent. In the Senate race, Republican John Cornyn was leading Democratic challenger Rick Noriega 49 to 40 percent.

I'd have to do some research to prove it, but I'd just about bet a week's salary that George Bush carried HD108 with at least 60% of the vote in 2004. Having said that, this result shouldn't be that shocking, since HD108 is being subject to the same trends as the rest of Dallas County, and it really wasn't all that red (PDF) in 2006. Bill Moody got 47.9% of the vote there, and nearly every other statewide Republican did a point or so worse there than they did overall. (Elizabeth Ames Jones and Rick Perry were the exceptions, though Chris Bell also did better in HD108 than he did statewide.) It's not that great a stretch from there to imagine Obama carrying the district.

Note too that this poll was taken a week after the Republican convention, when Palinmania was still pretty strong, and McCain was still leading in the national tracking polls. I'd love to know what a result from this week might look like. For that matter, I'd love to see another Baselice poll of Texas - he hasn't had one since May - or any other respectable poll for that matter, if for no other reason than to see if it agrees with the recent Rasmussen results.

Two other things to consider. One is that in 2004, quite a few Democrats in the State House and elsewhere got elected in districts where Bush won a majority of the vote. I can't think of any Republicans, in the State House, State Senate, or US House, who got elected in a district that John Kerry carried. This year, that may not be the case, as we see from Branch's situation. How well will some of these guys do if the tide is no longer flowing in their direction? Also, this is another illustration of the point I raised concerning some recent Congressional polls. We're not living in 2004 any more. Solid red areas may not be, and some of them will surprise us. Be ready for it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Duncanville's war on swingers continues

The city of Duncanville has raised the stakes in its ongoing war on swingers.

Duncanville police have again arrested the owners of the Cherry Pit, who host swingers' parties at their home.

Jim Trulock, 59, and Julie M. Norris, 30, have been arrested on suspicion of engaging in organized criminal activity. The first-degree felony carries a penalty from five to 99 years or life in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000.


Duncanville Detective Dan Hunt said in a news release Friday that additional arrests will be made.

Okay, look, for all the jokes I've made about this case, I get that the Cherry Pit could be a big nuisance in the neighborhood, and I understand why the city wants to shut it down. But felony charges that could result in life imprisonment? Isn't that maybe just a tad bit excessive? I'm sorry, but I don't see how this is an appropriate response to their actions.

The couple have a Duncanville municipal trial date set for Oct. 27 on several citations issued for violating the [recently passed ordinance banning sexually oriented businesses]. They also have a civil case pending against the city that challenges the ordinance.

Last month, the Duncanville couple were arrested on suspicion of violating the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code for allegedly possessing large amounts of liquor in their home.

So they've been cited for violating the anti-SOB ordinance, they've been busted for possessing too much booze (and who knew that was a crime? Fraternities across the state should be worried about that), and now they're facing what sounds like racketeering charges. I have to say, I'm getting a bit of a sense of desperation here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 07, 2008
The Big Dog for Bell


Former President Clinton will help raise campaign money in Houston next week for state Senate candidate Chris Bell, seven months after Bell campaigned across Texas for Hillary Rodham Clinton for president.

Bell is among two Democrats and four Republicans in a special election for the state Senate District 17 seat from which Republican Kyle Janek resigned. The district includes southwest Houston and the upper southeast Texas coast.

Bill Clinton, who has been busy helping Barack Obama's presidential campaign and raising money along with President George H.W. Bush for victims of Hurricane Ike, rarely gets involved in state legislative races. His staff was not immediately available for comment today.

Clinton will attend a reception for the Bell campaign Monday at the home of lawyer Arthur Schechter, who was a prominent donor to both Clintons' campaigns and served under the Clinton White House as ambassador to the Bahamas.

"It's unusual to have a former president of the United States help raise money for a state legislative race," Bell said, "but he knows that this is an incredible opportunity for real progress for the people of Texas."

Very cool, and also very nice to get national figures here to raise money that will stay here. Bell has done well on that front - over $650K raised, with over $450K on hand at the 30-days-out mark. That more than settles any concerns I had previously expressed about him getting the support he deserved. Well done.

Bell's not the only Democrat to file an impressive finance report. I haven't yet done an exhaustive search, but I can cite a few - Sherrie Matula, Dan Barrett, Diana Maldonado, Wendy Davis (over $1 million raised, according to a press release). You want to know which way the wind is blowing, follow the finances.

One more of interest, since I've beaten this horse before:

State Rep. Ellen Cohen - $ 216,669.76 cash on hand.

Joe Agris - $ 462.74 cash on hand.

To think, I can remember when this was supposed to be a race to watch. Those were the days.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The traffic lights are working again

Good news.

The other 2,426 intersections in Houston now have working red, yellow and green light cycles. So far, the city has spent an estimated $6.31 million fixing the signals -- including costs for equipment, overtime and the hiring of more than 120 contract workers, according to Michael Marcotte, director of Public Works and Engineering.

But the work is not done, said Mayor Bill White. While 43 percent of signalized intersections are considered fully restored to pre-Ike normality, the remainder still have issues with timing or cameras. Many flow-control devices that can lengthen or shorten green signals during rush hours still need repair.

Nice work. The city had previously said that this work may take till the end of November. Presumably, that included getting everything re-synched and re-timed. I also presume that the cameras mentioned above are the traffic flow cameras and not the red light cameras. I haven't seen any mention of them in these Ike-related stories, but it's a good question: If the lights may not be in sync, are the red light cameras still functioning as intended? That argument might make for an actual valid defense to a camera-generated ticket for now.

If Ike's damage had a silver lining, it is this: The city has been able to speed up the replacement of incandescent traffic bulbs with the more energy-efficient light-emitting diodes. LED bulbs use less power and last longer. The city can save about 90 percent per bulb compared to an incandescent light.

LEDs will replace incandescent traffic bulbs entirely by the end of 2009, officials said.

All part of the greenhouse gas reduction plan. Take your good news where you can find it, I always say.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Candidate Q&A: Hazel Jones

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

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

I am Hazel Jones and I am the Democratic Nominee for Judge of the 338th Criminal District Court of Harris County, Texas. I am a mother, a friend to many and a person who cares about our community. Most importantly, I am a part of this community; a product of this great city and county. I grew up in northeast Houston and graduated with honors from M.B. Smiley High School in 1984. Both of my parents were teachers in Harris County for over 40 years combined. My parents taught me basic principles that I believe are important for a judicial candidate and judge. They taught me to be respectful of others, to be genuine in character and person; they taught me to be humble, yet strong in the midst of adversity; and they taught me about fair play and about the value of truthfulness and honesty.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 338th Criminal District Court hears felony cases that are filed in Harris County. Felony cases are those that are punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or by death.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for Judge of the 338th Criminal District Court because I believe that there is a need for positive change in the Harris County Judicial System. Unlike my opponent, after leaving the Harris County District Attorney's Office, I broadened my professional experience as a prosecutor in federal court and as a criminal defense attorney in State court before seeking the judicial bench.

If the citizenry is looking for a judge who will be fair to all persons, truly open to hearing and considering the arguments from both parties in the courtroom, intellectually honest in reaching its rulings, and presiding over a court without being influenced by the policies and procedures of the District Attorney's Office, then the best jurist on the bench is a person who has not only worked as a Harris County prosecutor but who has worked on the other side of the table as a defense attorney, and who has experienced and worked in other jurisdictions. I am such a person.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced criminal law in Harris County and in the surrounding counties for over 11 years. I graduated from Howard University Law School in 1996. I became licensed the same year and began working as a Harris County Assistant District Attorney. I worked over six years at the Harris County District Attorney's Office as a misdemeanor and felony prosecutor trying over 50 cases to Harris County juries. I have also worked as a Special Assistant United States Attorney for over two years trying eleven cases to federal juries. I am currently a criminal defense attorney practicing in State court and Federal court in the Southern and Eastern Districts of Texas.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is very important to all those in Harris County who want to see a positive change in the judicial system. The problem with maintaining integrity, fairness, and justice is not solely a problem of the District Attorney's Office; the problem is systemic impacting the courtrooms in Harris County.

One of the most important reasons that this race is important is because there is a realistic opportunity to change the make-up of the judicial bench. There is a realistic opportunity to place persons on the bench who will question long held practices and procedures that are not necessary for the administration of justice. One practice that is in question is the procedure of assembling a grand jury. We need a procedure that will fairly represent all of the citizens of Harris County in the selection of grand jurors.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I bring a broader perspective to the judicial bench because I have worked from both sides of the table in the courtroom in both State and Federal Court. I have experienced the strengths and the weaknesses in the system and have recognized the need for change. As a result, I will bring positive reform, integrity, fairness, and justice to the courtroom. A vote for "Hazel Jones" is a vote for confidence in the judicial system, and, of course, a vote for safety in our community. I want all citizens of Harris County to feel safe and confident when they walk down the streets of their neighborhoods no matter what part of town they may live. Protecting the citizenry from those who refuse to follow the laws of this State would be my utmost concern and responsibility as judge. Punishment should be swift, fair, and just making a deterring impact on those who refuse to abide by the laws of this State. I believe the people of Harris County want this type of positive change in their judiciary, and that is why I believe they should vote for me as Judge of the 338th Criminal District Court because I will bring that change to the bench.


Dion Ramos, 55th Civil Judicial District Court.
Shawna Reagin, 176th District Criminal Court.
Al Bennett, 61st Civil Judicial District Court.
Judge Jim Jordan, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
Mike Miller, 11th Civil Judicial District Court.
Andres Pereira, 190th Civil Judicial District Court.
Steven Kirkland, 215th Civil Judicial District Court.
Martin Siegel, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 7.
Randy Roll, 179th District Criminal Court.
Leslie Taylor, Court of Appeals, First District, Place 5.
Kyle Carter, 125th Civil Judicial District Court.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The state of the lottery: Booooooring!

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Texas lottery revenues are declining.

Texas officials fear that revenues dropped more than $100 million in the most recent fiscal year -- a $49 million blow to public education -- because the current crop of games are tired, unappealing and at the end of their life cycle. Sales are down 2.7 percent, including a $73 million decrease in the normally mega-popular scratch-offs.

"People get bored. How many times can you employ the same games?" said Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, chair of the committee that oversees the Texas Lottery Commission.

There's a marriage counseling joke in there somewhere, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Flores and officials at the commission complain they can't fix the problem in the state's 16-year-old lottery.

Texas law restricts the lottery commission from introducing new forms of gambling, such as keno, video lottery terminals and instant online games. Those games give instant results, which are appealing for players.

Unlike the scratch-off games, which take forever to let you know if you've won or not.

"We can't expand, we can't do anything," Flores complained, directing his ire at gambling opponents who he insists have blocked a good number of his gambling initiatives in the Legislature.

Texas lottery officials estimate that video lottery terminals at racetracks could bring in an additional $1.4 billion in state revenue over a five-year period, with keno, a bingolike gambling game, bringing in as much as $173 million in additional revenue over a five-year period.

But gambling opponents aren't swayed by the numbers. They say the state has no business expanding games that tend to appeal to those least able to afford them.

Jokes aside, this is the key bit to the story. Whatever your opinion of expanded gambling in Texas is, it's not just going to be on the table in 2009, I expect it to be one of the hotter issues. There's a ton of lobby money behind it - take a look at Rep. Flores' campaign finance statements, for instance - and there are proponents and opponents on both sides of the partisan aisle. If there's even a hint of a revenue dropoff in the next Comptroller's report, look for this to climb even higher on the issues ladder. And if a bill passes and Gov. Perry vetoes it, or if no action gets taken, don't be surprised to see this an an issue in the 2010 elections. Might be time to get Mayor White and Senator Hutchison on the record about this.

On the bright side:

The drop in lottery revenue doesn't have education officials overly anxious.

"The public has the perception that the schools are highly dependent on lottery funds, but they're not," said Texas Education Agency Spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe. "Typically the lottery provides us with a billion a year. When they slip below that, other state monies make up the difference."

Good to know, though I wouldn't get too comfortable while Tom Craddick is Speaker. Frankly, if we do wind up with expanded gambling, I'd just as soon it be targeted for general revenue, since I would never expect it to be a consistent source from year to year. Regardless, do keep this in mind for the next time you hear someone mention gambling as being a primary source of education funding in Texas.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
It's debatin' season

With early voting fast approaching and voters really tuning in to campaign coverage, now is the time that candidates get together to debate. Or at least, one candidate calls on another to do so, with varying effect. We know all about the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates; there's another Presidential debate this evening for those of you who like that sort of thing. We've also got two Senate debates, between Rick Noriega, Sen. John Cornyn, and LIbertarian Yvonne Schick, scheduled for this Thursday the 9th and next Thursday the 16th. These too will be televised at 8 PM on KUHT Channel 8 locally; check your PBS station for a listing if you're not in Houston. We've had County Judge debates, we've had District Attorney debates, and though it was a close one for a while there, we've had a Sheriff debate. There's plenty more where that came from - take a look at what Red, White, and Blue has on tap, for instance - though some challenges will go unheeded.

I've got a couple of calls for debate in my Inbox, which I'm passing along to see if they come to fruition. First is an email from Michael Skelly to Rep. John Culberson:

Dear Congressman Culberson:

Given the seriousness of the challenges our country faces, including a financial meltdown and an energy crisis, it is critical that voters be given the opportunity to hear where their candidates stand - and where they differ - on the most critical issues of our time.

The voters of the Seventh District of Texas deserve to hear us participate in a substantive policy debate so that they can make an informed choice about which direction they want to take moving forward.

I was disappointed to hear that you rejected the League of Women Voters invitation to host a debate between us. I am writing to request that you agree to two debates in the month of October, to be coordinated between our campaigns.

There is no justifiable reason why the people of the Seventh District should be deprived of this crucial aspect of our democratic system.

Please direct your staff to contact Dylan Loewe at (713) 522-7535 to coordinate a time and place of mutual agreement to conduct these debates.


Michael Skelly

We'll see if Skelly has any more luck with this than Larry Joe Doherty did. Let's just say I'm not expecting much.

Meanwhile, the office of Harris County Department of Education Trustee may be obscure, but any debate featuring Jim Henley would be worth the price of admission. Henley sent the following to his opponent, Stan Stanart:

Dear Stan,

Many voters may be unaware of our campaign for At-Large Position 7, as this is a presidential election year that brings many distractions.

This past March you defeated the long serving president of trustees in the Republican primary.

Traditionally, trustees have been non-partisan citizen volunteers who support public education.

In a radio interview prior to the primary, you stated that you were "highly entertaining doing away with the board"*. I am certain that you agree that the elimination of the Harris County Department of Education is an issue thatshould be publicly discussed and debated prior to Election Day. I hope that you will accept my invitation to debate the future of the HCDE.

A series of three debates held across Harris County will provide voters with the opportunity to make an informed decision when they cast their ballot in the next few weeks.

I am flexible on dates and venues and will work with you to schedule these debates during the month of October.

I look forward to hearing from you. I can contacted by telephone at 281-685-3117 or by email atjim@henley4winningschools.com.

Best Wishes,

Jim Henley

* (www.thewhatsupradioprogram.com - January 29, 2008. See Archives: guest, Stan Stanart for recordedinterview).

Incumbents can usually duck debates for a host of reasons, but it's a bit dicier for a non-incumbent to do so. I'll pass along word of any response when I get it.

(With apologies to MeMo for dropping the "G" in the title.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texas blog roundup for the week of October 6

It's time for another Texas Progressive Alliance weekly blog roundup. No debates, no spin room, just a week's worth of blog highlights. Click on for more.

John Cornyn is bleeding support from the conservative wingnut base as a result of his 'yes' vote on the Wall Street bailout. Click on the links in PDiddie's "Bailout Burger, extra bacon, cut the taxes" post at Brains and Eggs.

Keep hanging onto your wallets, CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme warns. Texas is taking it in the shorts over the Bush bailout.

Off the Kuff takes a shot at projecting November turnout.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on the on the connections between county elected officials and the ethically challenged 3rd Court of Appeals Chief Justice W. Kenneth Law in Broken Law and the criminality of what is legal.

In the midst of all the brouhaha about bailouts and golden parachutes McBlogger tells a Real Life Tale of Trying To Buy Something in a store.

The Republican economic policies have caused the loss of 2.2 million jobs in the United States in the last 12 months. jobsanger tells us that the job losses are still growing, and finds a picture that accurately expresses how many Americans feel about Wall Street.

The Texas Cloverleaf recommends voting Yes on the Denton County bond proposal this November.

North Texas Liberal analyzes last week's vice-presidential debate between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden.

nytexan at Bluebloggin takes a good look and John McCain and his dear friend G. Gordon Liddy. As Sarah Palin tries to connect the imaginary dots of terror between Bill Ayres and Obama, Palin should take a very close look at the relationship between John McCain and convicted criminal G. Gordon Liddy, John McCain's Dear Friend American Terrorist G. Gordon Liddy . People in igloos shouldn't throw fireballs.

Neil at Texas Liberal says it's crazy that Houston school kids will not be asked to make up days missed because of Hurricane Ike.

Burnt Orange Report rounds up the reasons why Rick Noriega is back in the Texas Senate race with newfound momentum.

BossKitty at TruthHugger is amazed how Mainstream Media brings attention to nonsense while ignoring how N Korea, Russia, Iran, Myanmar Nukes and US Elections are connected to our future.

In light of its history of endorsement against farmers and agribusiness, Vince at Capitol Annex asks whether Farm Bureau's AGFUND is still relevant.

Over at TexasKaos, Txsharon tells us that Sarah Palin put out a whopper in her one on one with Joe Biden. Natural Gas is NOT the clean alternative Palin claimed

Julie Pippert at MOMocrats interviewed experts about the economic crisis and discovered that Women hit disproportionately hard by economic crisis, don't receive adequate help in current bailout, experts say. She also appeared on FOX News Radio, XM Sirius, and Blog Talk Radio on Monday.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 06, 2008
Appeals court tosses Brimer's suit

Three strikes, he's out!

The 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas has rejected the lawsuit by state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, who was appealing a lower court ruling that former Fort Worth City Councilwoman Wendy Davis is eligible to challenge him on the November ballot.

A panel of three justices hinted during oral arguments last week that they were reluctant to overturn the ruling by state District Judge Tom Lowe in Fort Worth, who ruled in July that Davis is an eligible candidate. Brimer appealed Lowe's ruling.

But the appeals court in Dallas today upheld Lowe's ruling, saying in its opinion that "Brimer's only legally recognized interest in pursuing this appeal is to avoid being opposed by an ineligible candidate."

"Even if Davis is ineligible to hold office -- an issue we do not reach in this appeal -- her name will be included on the November 4, 2008 general election ballot in opposition to Brimer. We cannot, at this point, change that outcome and, therefore, this appeal is moot," the justices wrote.

You can read the ruling here. I'm not a lawyer, but my interpretation of this is that ad Brimer filed his suit prior to the deadline for removing a candidate's name from the ballot, he might have stood a chance. He probably still would have lost - it seems clear that the court wasn't going to rule Davis ineligible anyway - but at least it wouldn't have been a moot issue. That's what you get for procrastinating, Senator.

He could still appeal to the Supreme Court, assuming that they can get their act together in time before Election Day. Maybe, just maybe, he'll consider running a campaign instead. A press release from the Davis campaign is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: North Texas Liberal has a timeline of events in the case.

UPDATE: Burka weighs in.

The Wendy Davis Campaign called on Senator Kim Brimer today to stop using legal challenges to hide his history of trying to force taxpayers to pick up the tab for personal bank loans he refused to repay.

Brimer was denied by the 5th Court of Appeals in his second attempt to use the courts to avoid a competitive campaign that would shed light on his 20-year record of ethical lapses and self-dealing.

Davis campaign spokesman Bernie Scheffler pointed out that the second ruling in favor of Davis' eligibility would place some pressure on Brimer to answer to questions about his past attempt to use taxpayers to bail him out of personal loans that he refused to pay. Scheffler outlined Brimer's methodical plan to game the system and get relieved of his debt:

  • Brimer refused to repay multiple loans, resulting in lawsuits and a judgment against him saying he had to pay his debts

  • One of the banks that Brimer refused to pay failed, and his loan was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

  • Even though he owned a successful insurance company and drew a government salary, Brimer told the FDIC he could not afford to pay back the $24,000 loan, forcing his personal debt onto taxpayers

  • During the same time period Brimer was refusing to pay his debts, he wrote himself nearly $50,000 in checks from his campaign account, including $25,000 just 60 days after telling the FDIC he couldn't afford to pay them

"Kim Brimer took deliberate steps to avoid paying his personal debt and to force it onto the back of taxpayers. Tarrant County families who are feeling the effects of the economic downturn are having enough trouble paying their own debts - they shouldn't be forced to pay Brimer's debts too," Scheffler said.

Political observers around the state have called the contest between Brimer and popular former Fort Worth City Council member Wendy Davis "the race to watch." Davis welcomed today's ruling and expressed a strong desire to continue the campaign that Kim Brimer has worked so hard to avoid.

"I am very pleased with the Court's decision today, and I look forward to continuing my conversation with Tarrant County families about the issues they are facing. What I'm offering voters is a representative who will bring real change to the way Austin does business," Davis said.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: ParentPAC for Sherrie Matula

The Sherrie Matula engine keeps chugging along. From Texas Parent PAC:

The bipartisan Texas Parent PAC today announced its endorsement of Sherrie Matula for state representative in House District 129, which covers south Houston, Clear Lake-NASA community, cities of Seabrook and Webster, and the surrounding area.

"Sherrie Matula will have an immediate impact in the Texas House of Representatives, because she is experienced, energetic, and totally committed to representing the people of her district," said Manuel Rodriguez, Jr. of Houston, a Texas Parent PAC Board member. "The families of H.D. 129 need better representation, and it is time for a change at the Capitol."

Texas Parent PAC was created by parents who joined together to elect strong and effective legislative leaders who will stand up for children and parents and strengthen neighborhood schools. In addition, a broad base of individuals and business leaders is supporting this bipartisan grassroots campaign effort.

"Unlike her opponent, Sherrie Matula represents the mainstream views and interests of parents and children, taxpayers and businesses," said Darci Hubbard of Houston, Texas Parent PAC Board member. "Bay Area families deserve an independent representative of the highest integrity who will consistently stand up for their needs."

Matula is the only candidate in this race who has taken a stand to oppose siphoning money from public schools to fund private school vouchers. "In 2005, incumbent John Davis spoke on the House floor in support of a tax-funded private school tuition voucher program for low-income and Spanish-speaking Houston students," Rodriguez said. "Davis was irresponsible in pushing a new voucher entitlement program that could have cost taxpayers $200 million in the first two years of the Houston program." The voucher program Davis supported was defeated.

Texas Parent PAC leaders said Matula will use her leadership and collaboration skills to solve problems affecting families, including skyrocketing homeowners' insurance costs, electric bills, and college tuition. As a member of the Chamber of Commerce, she will work to address small business concerns with health insurance and the margins tax. She is a fiscal conservative who will work to balance Texas fiscal operations and attract new businesses.

Way to go, Sherrie!

UPDATE: Matula is also kicking Davis' butt at fundraising.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Where the voters are being registered

I mentioned in my previous post that there are voter registration efforts going on all over the city today. You can find a list of them at http://registerhoustonnow.blogspot.com/, with more information such as hours of operation (some of these will be going on till midnight) and Google map links in this Google spreadsheet. If you want to assist in any of these efforts, or have any questions, you can reach Patrick Reilly at 713 702 5702 for more information. As I said before, this is it, so get registered or be prepared to sit this one out. Thanks very much.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
No super precincts in Galveston

I thought the idea of "super precincts" - that is to say, early voting-style locations on Election Day - had already been shot down. Apparently, it was still being pursued, but it was still rejected.

"The biggest issue is that many of our Galveston County voters are displaced," county elections coordinator Douglas Godinich said.

An idea proposed by a state representative to prevent displaced voters from becoming disenfranchised was rejected by the county clerk because of time constraints, and the county will move ahead with its normal election plan, Godinich said.

The idea was that Hurricane Ike evacuees who have found shelter in other areas of Galveston County would be able to vote at any county precinct Nov. 4 under a system some have dubbed "super precincts."

But Galveston County Clerk Mary Ann Daigle turned down an offer by the Secretary of State's Office to use super precincts because there wasn't enough time to complete the work needed to make the switch, Godinich said.

"We examined that option, and it is not a good fit," Godinich said.

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, said he met with Secretary of State officials a week ago to make sure that Galveston County had the option to use the super precincts, which are formally known as voting centers.

County Judge Jim Yarbrough could not be reached for comment, but Eiland said he had the backing of Yarbrough and several commissioners for the idea before he learned Thursday that it had been rejected.

"I would have preferred to be able to tell people on Election Day, 'If you're from Galveston, go to the poll where you are,' " Eiland said.

Godinich says that displaced voters can avoid problems by casting a ballot during early voting, Oct. 20-31, or casting an absentee ballot by mail by Oct. 28.

I can understand that there isn't time to implement a plan like this now, for this election. But how about we all agree that going forward, a standard aspect of hurricane planning is to have some contingency available for dealing with unusable or unreachable polling locations? This situation is going to happen again some day. Why not think about it now, so we can be ready for it then?

And just so we all know, today is the last day to register to vote in Texas. The Chron sidebar story has all the information:

Today is the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election. For more information, go to http://www.sos.state.tx.us/

Are you a Harris County resident, a U.S. citizen 18 or older by Nov. 4, not serving a felony sentence (including parole) -- and still not registered to vote? Here are three ways you can register by today's deadline:

  • Complete and mail a postage-free Texas voter registration card, which can be obtained at public libraries, post offices, 16 county tax offices, county clerk marriage license offices, Texas Department of Public Safety offices and offices of the state Health and Human Services Commission, Department of Aging and Disability Services, Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and Department of State Health Services. Card must be postmarked by today's date.
  • Print and complete a voter registration form from www.tax.co.harris.tx.us/
    and mail it with postage. Forms are available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. It must be postmarked with today's date.
  • Register with one of the county's 4,343 deputy voter registrars, most of whom are trained volunteers. Private groups continue their registration drives through today.

To check by computer to see if you are already listed as a registered Harris County voter:

Go to www.tax.co.harris.tx.us/voter/voter.asp

To get more information by telephone:
Call 713-368-VOTE (8683)

Last chance, people. Early voting starts in two weeks. Don't miss out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Sherrie Matula

I don't think I need to give too much intro to Sherrie Matula, whom the TexBlog PAC endorsed in June. She's a career educator who ran a strong underfunded race in a district (HD129) that no one saw as competitive in 2006, but by doing so she put herself and her campaign on the map for this year. And indeed, the establishment has taken notice and gotten on board, as groups like Annie's List and Texas Parent PAC have also endorsed her. Matula lives in Clear Lake, which was hit hard by Hurricane Ike, and her campaign has been as busy providing information about assistance and other resources for affected residents as it had been campaigning, which is something that can't really be said for her opponent. This is one of the first interviews I did post-Ike, and one of several with candidates who live or work in some of the badly damaged areas, so a lot of what we talked about, as always in MP3 format, was related to that. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: After posting about the ParentPAC endorsement, it occurs to me that while I knew this was coming, I hadn't realized that it hadn't been formalized till now. Sorry for the mixup.


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Dexter Handy, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The current overview of the County Judge race

In many ways, the race for Harris County Judge has unfolded more or less as I thought it would. Except for one teeny little factor that I didn't anticipate at the time.

Earlier this year, Democrat David Mincberg appeared to have lucked into a perfect storm in his bid to unseat County Judge Ed Emmett.

Republican county officials faced scandal after scandal. Barack Obama's historic presidential campaign promised to bring in scores of new straight-ticket Democratic voters hungry for change. And Mincberg had plenty of his own money to air months of television ads to woo the electorate.

Then a storm named Ike came roaring ashore, sweeping Emmett's name, face and voice into the homes of county voters hanging on his every word about evacuations, cleanup and the distribution of much-needed supplies.

The result of this confluence of events is an unusually competitive race for chief executive of the nation's third-largest county, a powerful but typically obscure position held by only five men in the past 50 years.

As I wrote in my Guess The Chron Endorsement post, I think Emmett's performance during Ike will net the paper's recommendation for him. (Assuming that the Chron ever gets around to doing endorsements this year, that is.) I suppose the good news from Mincberg's perspective might be that most people didn't have power, and thus didn't see Emmett on the teevee, in the days following the storm. On the other hand, Mincberg's current ad campaign, in which he is critical of the response to Ike, risks getting a negative response. He can't not talk about the hurricane, but finding the best way to do it may be tough. All I can say is I hope there will be some polling data to analyze soon.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
State Senate staffer salaries

I suppose I have the same objections to this story about the don't-call-them-bonuses that get paid to State Senate staffers at the end of the fiscal year as I did to this this earlier story about City Council expenditures.

State senators may be violating a Texas Constitution ban on using taxpayer money for bonuses to government workers by approving temporary end-of-year raises to give staffers thousands of dollars in extra pay.

In the last two years, state senators have given senior staffers scores of temporary pay increases, effectively issuing bonuses totaling more than $650,000, according to state payroll data analyzed by the Houston Chronicle.

The records, obtained under the Texas Public Information Act, show a clear pattern in many Senate offices in which salaries are inflated as the end of the state's fiscal year approaches, only to be reduced a month or two later.


Senators, who receive $37,000 a month to run their offices and hire staff, offered similar explanations for the extra pay. They argued that their employees work long hours, often at salaries lower than in comparable private-sector positions. The money, they said, can persuade experienced staffers to stay in the Legislature, offering continuity for constituents.

Some said they keep salaries lower throughout the year to avoid going over budget should they need more staff to tackle a problem. Such an instance occurred in the middle of the last session, when abuse allegations at the Texas Youth Commission prompted an unplanned investigation by [Sen. John] Whitmire's criminal justice committee.


Any leftovers from those office budgets at the end of a fiscal year go back into a broader Senate pool, a fact that some say prompts members to spend, said Peggy Venable, Texas director with Americans for Prosperity, a grass-roots group for fiscal conservatives.

"We, as taxpayers, would like to think that if they are prudent and careful with their expenditures, and at the end of the year there is money left over, that it should go back into the general fund," she said.

I'll reiterate my earlier point about the appearance of frugality in office budgeting not necessarily being a virtue, and will note that the amount we're talking about here is even tinier relative to the state budget. Given the Comptroller's estimate (PDF) of $83 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2008-09, we're talking less than one ten-thousandth - that's less than 0.01% - of the pie. Calling it "chump change" would be an overbid.

And again, I don't know what the color of the sky is on Peggy Venable's planet, but here on Earth, this sort of practice is completely normal in the business world. And hell, even by her own logic, if the money would have gone back into the general fund, it most likely would have been spent on something else. So what difference would it make?

Now to be sure, the honest thing to do here is to change the law to allow for this practice, instead of finding creative ways to work around the prohibition. That would require a constitutional amendment, which is no small hurdle to clear. It would also surely be fanatically opposed by the likes of Perry Venable, for whom her ideology is more important than practical reality. Given that, I can't say I blame anyone for choosing this approach. But it would be more honest to change the law.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Don't mess with Alaska

Andrew Sullivan notes that Texas Republican activist Kelly Shackleford is among the litigants in Alaska trying to forestall the Troopergate investigation. To which Evan Smith asks:

Why the devil is a Texan -- and a Texas-based organization -- messing with parochial Alaskan affairs?

I can't answer that question, but I can ask another one: What do you suppose the reaction here would be to an out-of-state organization coming into Texas to throw sand into some aspect of our state's business? Probably not too pleasant, I'm thinking. Just something to think about.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 05, 2008
Weekend link dump for October 5

I got yer doggone weekend link roundup right here, you betcha...

In case you missed it before, Michelle Obama posts on MOMocrats. Very cool.

The woman behind Miss Piggy. I had no idea she was inspired by Peggy Lee, but it makes all kinds of sense. Via Greg.

In Valhalla, there is no beer, at least for the time being. And that's just...wrong.

The ten worst #1 songs of all time. Warning: Earworms abound. Don't click if you can't take it. Via McGuff.

Video gamers are in better shape than you'd think.

What's taking the newspapers so long to make an endorsement in the Presidential race?

If you're Sarah Palin, every question is a "gotcha" question.

Eva Longoria wants you to vote.

Yearbook yourself. The possibilities are more than a little scary. Link via Mean Rachel.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher "solves" the Kennedy assassination. That's Robert Kennedy. And he does it while undercover. In drag. You know, we have a lot of crazy politicians here in Texas - it's practically a growth industry - but I don't think we can top that.

Weird Al says let my music out!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Once again with the electrical infrastructure

Look, I get that a complete hardening of the electrical infrastructure against hurricanes would be very expensive, probably more than it would be worth in savings. We don't have enough hurricanes around here to make it worthwhile, as it was in Florida, though we are in the midst of a period of greater tropical storm activity. But what I don't understand is why this has to be an all-or-nothing proposition, and why we can't talk about what the full range of options is.

After Ike struck Sept. 13, more than 2 million of CenterPoint Energy's 2.25 million customers were without power. An additional 705,400 Entergy customers lost electricity. These included hospitals, nursing homes and schools. Power outages closed most of the Houston Independent School District's 265 campuses for a week or more.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, state utility regulators and other officials have said the cost of strengthening the power distribution system along the Gulf Coast would outweigh the benefits. Why? Because the likelihood of a hurricane like Ike doing damage to a Texas power system is less than in Florida.

"Florida, they have water on both sides of the state, and their likelihood is greater to have storms in the future and for them to completely cross the state," said Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, chairman of the Senate committee that oversees Texas electric utilities.

[Florida Public Utility Commissioner Lisa Polak] Edgar agreed that her state's geographic vulnerability was a factor. Florida had been hit by eight hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, she said, and "the public perception was we were going to have many, many more."

University of Houston economist Barton Smith said unless a Hurricane Ike hit Houston every four or five years, the cost of hardening the electrical grid would be excessive, especially if hardening meant retrofitting the city with underground lines.

"The benefits wouldn't come close to the costs," Smith said.

Given that the vast bulk of the economic cost of Hurricane Ike came from the forced shutdown of businesses due to the power outages, might it not make sense to pick and choose a few places to see about the feasibility of burying power lines? Say, places like the Medical Center, Greenway Plaza, Greenspoint, and the Energy Corridor out in Westchase. Seems to me that would get your biggest bang for the buck, and it something that the business districts and nearby residential associations can decide for themselves.

I'm sure it's more complicated than this, and there will be other considerations, like the politics of focusing on some areas over others. Maybe it's simply not doable. All I'm saying is let's have that conversation rather than simply be told "we can't do that". I don't think that's too much to ask.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Tell me what that big yellow thing in the sky is again

The Texans home opener will be played today with the roof open, under natural conditions. Apparently, that requires an explanation for people not used to such things.

The Texans insist they are ready to play their home opener Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, their third consecutive AFC South opponent.

The question is: Will the fans be ready, too?

Because of Hurricane Ike, the Texans will play eight home games with the roof open, beginning Sunday when there's supposed to be a clear sky and temperatures in the mid-80s.

"We urge all fans to check the temperature and please dress accordingly," said Shea Guinn, president of Reliant Park-SMG.

Somewhere, J. Fred Duckett is laughing his keester off. The accompanying "Outdoor Football 101" sidebar piece in the print edition was too precious for words - it boiled down to "The sun is hot, you will feel hot while the sun is shining on you, so drink lots of water". As someone who has spent more hot September afternoons than he can count in a wool/polyester uniform at Rice Stadium, all I can say is that it's a beauuuuuuuuuuuutiful day for outdoor football. Play ball!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
"The Strangerer"

You may recall the news from 2006 that President Bush read Albert Camus' "The Stranger" while on vacation in Crawford, the announcement of which caused a few heads to explode. If you think you've sufficiently recovered from that, then you will be pleased to hear that The Catastrophic Theater will be presenting the regional premier of the play "The Strangerer":

In hopes that the French philosopher might shed some light on the recent political clime - or vice versa - Mickle Maher's new play The Strangerer collides several of Camus' works with the first Bush/Kerry presidential debate in 2004. The formalities of the debate are overturned as Bush and Kerry struggle with the question not of if or why an innocent man should be killed (the man in question being moderator Jim Lehrer), but rather what is the proper manner in which to go about killing him. The Strangerer is part political satire, part classical drama, and part contemporary debate. A murder mystery with the murderers in plain view.

And who among us hasn't wanted to murder a debate moderator this year? The show runs on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from October 16 to November 8 at DiverseWorks Artspace (1117 E. Freeway). Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
New Mersenne prime found

Time for some math news: Researchers at UCLA have discovered a new Mersenne prime number.

UCLA mathematicians appear to have won a $100,000 prize from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for discovering a 13-million-digit prime number that has long been sought by computer users.

While the prize money is nothing special, the bragging rights for discovering the 46th known Mersenne prime are huge.

"We're delighted," said UCLA's Edson Smith, leader of the effort. "Now we're looking for the next one, despite the odds," which are thought to be about one in 150,000 that any number tested will be a Mersenne prime.

Prime numbers are those, like three, seven and 11, that are divisible only by themselves and one. Mersenne primes, named after the 17th century French mathematician Marin Mersenne, who discovered them, take the form 2^P - 1, where P is also a prime number.

In the new UCLA prime, P = 43,112,609.

Thousands of people around the world have been participating in the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, or GIMPS, in which underused computing power is harnessed to perform the complex and tedious calculations needed to find and verify Mersenne primes. The prize is being offered for finding the first Mersenne prime with more than 10 million digits.

The details of the EFF prize are here. There's more where that came from, if you can find some even bigger prime numbers.

Of course, the discovery of a new Mersenne prime means we also have a new perfect number. I suppose since that's a corollary result, it never gets the same publicity as the Mersenne prime discovery does. I think it's just as cool, even if it didn't take any of the work.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 04, 2008
Voter registration may not reach 2004 levels in Harris County

Voter registration may be at an all-time high statewide, but here in Harris County we'll be lucky to match 2004 totals.

Ahead of Monday's registration deadline, about 1,912,000 citizens were on the voter roll as of Friday, county officials said. The number will grow as registrations continue through the weekend and mail postmarked by Monday arrives next week.

But the county must add 30,000 new eligible voters just to reach the 2004 level, and Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, the county voter registrar, acknowledged a strong chance that the sign-ups will go no higher than the figure from four years ago.

Bettencourt predicted at midyear that registrations in the sprawling county would break the 2 million mark for the first time as groups such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and the League of Women Voters mounted registration drives.

Texas has already set a record of 13.2 million voters qualified to cast ballots in next month's election or early voting this month, according to the Secretary of State's Office. The previous high was almost 13.1 million.

But unlike in past elections years, Bettencourt said, registration efforts are producing an exceptionally high number of voters who are re-registering to update their address and a relatively low number of people who have never registered before.

So despite new high-water marks being set in places like Hidalgo, Travis, and El Paso Counties, Harris County, which has certainly seen its share of population growth, is stagnant. Why is that? I think part of the answer is in that last paragraph, and part of it can be seen in an earlier story. From the Chron in July:

For starters, 2 million citizens older than 17, in a county of roughly 4 million people, would represent only meager growth from the last presidential election here. The 2004 roll fell only 60,000 shy of 2 million.

On the other hand, the roll dropped to 1.8 million a year ago, due in part to Bettencourt's groundbreaking efforts under state and federal law to remove outmoded or improper registrations.

In other words, we started out 150,000 voter registrations in the hole. When you think of it in those terms, it's amazing we are where we are now.

One of the challenges facing the county registrar's office is the Houston area population's apparent wanderlust. Half of the residents here rent their dwellings, according to the U.S. Census. Many switch locations every few months or years.

If those voters fail to update their registrations with new addresses, under federal law they are purged from the voter roll after two federal elections. In the meantime, they may be told at the voting place in their new neighborhood that they must return to their old neighborhood to vote.

Bettencourt voluntarily pursues voters to update their registrations after they move from one Harris County location to another. Using driver's license address changes and other government records in a pioneering project, his staff sends letters to such voters -- about 100,000 every summer -- encouraging them to update their voter registrations.

As I hear it, those notices go to people's old addresses, not to their new addresses, so it's hard to say how effective that project is. Regardless, just having to get all these people updated puts a huge strain on volunteer efforts. So I ask again: Why is it so different in Harris? Is the so-called "wanderlust" cited that much greater here than elsewhere?

So with all that in mind, let's return to the question of projecting turnout, both in Harris County and statewide. 1.2 million voters may well be greater than 60% turnout here - at 1,912,000 registrations, it would be 62.8%, and at 1.94 million, the same as 2004, it would be 61.9%. Given Bettencourt's assertions that the vast majority of primary voters were people who had voted before, it seems reasonable to think that the already-registered would participate at a higher than usual level. I feel less comfortable projecting statewide turnout from this, so I'll leave any further number crunching to you.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
New CD10 poll has Doherty within five

Some good news for Democratic Congressional candidate Larry Joe Doherty in CD10: A new poll by Goodwin Simon Victoria Research has him trailing incumbent Mike McCaul by five points. Here's the polling memo (PDF):

In the initial trial heat,McCaul gets 43% of the vote to Doherty's 38%,a scant five percentage-point lead that shows McCaul's support as completely unchanged from our May baseline (also 43%McCaul), while Dohertyhas gainedfrom34% in May. McCaul was well short of the 50% mark in May, but it is doubly significant now, with only 4 weeks left, that he has done nothing to strengthen his position.

McCaul has relatively low name recognition - only 59% - which allows a reasonable well-funded campaign - Doherty has raised a million dollars. so far, so he qualifies - to try to define him. That will be key to closing the gap. There's no crosstabs or internals available, so I can't fully evaluate this poll, but it strikes me as perfectly reasonable.

I'm not quite ready to call this race "lean Republican" as BOR has (they have done the same for CD07 as well). Despite the closeness of this poll, and the recent seven-point poll for Michael Skelly, I want to see them crack 40% before I'll go past "likely Republican", as the Cook Political Report classified them in July. It's great that they're within single digits, and that the incumbents are below 50%. They've taken the first steps, now I'm looking for the next step, which I certainly believe they can and will take.

One more thing to ponder: As the national tracking polls in the Presidential race correlate with results in individual state races, so do statewide poll numbers track with downballot races like Congressional campaigns. The latest Texas poll shows John McCain leading by nine points, which is less than half of George Bush's margin of victory in 2004. Burka thinks 54-46 is a likely outcome. What I'm getting at here is that you can't have an eight-point margin for the Republican Presidential candidate and the same kind of partisan numbers in Congressional districts like CDs 10 and 07 as you did in 2004. We already know from 2006 that those districts aren't as red as they once were; this is more evidence to that. I expect that strong Congressional candidates like Doherty and Skelly, who will be spending large amounts of money on advertising and voter outreach, will run better in their districts than Barack Obama will, perhaps by a significant amount. So keep an eye on the state polls as well, such as we get them, because any tightening there should be construed as a boost for these candidates as well. Certainly, the closer things are at the top, the smaller the hill they have to climb.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The city's plan to cut greenhouse gases

The city of Houston has a plan to cut greenhouse gases.

Mayor Bill White's plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 11 percent below 2005 levels by 2010. City officials described the target as conservative, because it's based on existing programs, and they expect to introduce more, including additional solar panels on rooftops and expanded mass transit.

With the strategies already in play, the plan doesn't need the approval of City Council. What's new is the analysis of the city's emissions.

"While we have undertaken all of these initiatives, we've taken them for many different reasons," such as energy efficiency and cost savings, said Elena Marks, the mayor's director of environmental and health policy. "We hadn't captured what the emissions reductions would be."

The plan places Houston high on any list of green strivers, experts said. Austin's energy goals may be more ambitious, and Arlington has a broader inventory of emissions, but neither has a detailed plan for reducing pollutants that hover in the atmosphere.


The plan deals in areas that White directly controls, such as the city's energy use and power purchases.

It also shows how much of the reduction in greenhouse gases will come from which steps. For example, by swapping out every traffic-light bulb for a light-emitting diode, the city would cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 12,011 tons, or 69 percent, from 2005 levels.

The largest reductions would come from Houston's shift to wind energy, which is cleaner and currently cheaper than that from natural-gas plants. One-third of the city's power purchases for its municipal facilities already come from wind-driven sources under a contract that allows for incremental increases over time.

"I believe the city of Houston has done more concrete things in the last several years to reduce its emissions than many, many other cities," White said. "The proof in the pudding is how much less power is consumed by the city and where we get that power."

I like it. It's something everyone should be thinking about and doing something about, it's attainable, and it ought to be a money-saver over time thanks to lower utility bills. Well done.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: The DMN on the CCA

In my Guess the Chron endorsements post, I wrote that "Any respectable Democratic candidate running for the CCA, a/k/a "Texas' Worst Court", should expect to receive an endorsement." The Morning News comes through for me on that:

Susan Strawn in Place 3

Judge Tom Price has spent more than three decades in office - both in Dallas County and now in Austin. And for years, questions about the Richardson Republican's work ethic have persisted. Unfortunately, Judge Price, 63, has not learned from past mistakes. His absences continue to accumulate, and his reputation continues to deteriorate.

Many in the legal community have pointed to his haughty temperament and outward hostility as cause for concern. But even more dismaying, they say, is the amount of time his office sits empty. This court - and all of Texas - deserves better.

Democratic challenger Susan Strawn fits the bill. The Houston lawyer, who also teaches at the University of Houston Law Center, recognizes the court's shortcomings and offers innovative ideas for improvement. She strikes us as smart, measured, hard working and insightful.

While Ms. Strawn, 46, doesn't have bench experience, she has gained a strong understanding of the law through her work as a federal prosecutor. Her legal work for the federal government also has taken her to Kosovo and West Africa, where she wrote criminal procedure codes.

Judge Price has been quick to point the finger, laying blame for this court's deficiencies at his colleagues' feet while ducking responsibility. Ms. Strawn, though, is prepared to make needed changes on the court. She gets our recommendation.

Hopefully, that will be the first of many such endorsements for Strawn. Also as expected, JR Molina failed to respond to the DMN's requests for information, so they gave no endorsement in the Place 4 race. I have fond hopes for the Democrats putting up three real candidates for the CCA in 2010, and again in 2012 when Sharon Keller is on the ballot. For now, at least we have one.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 03, 2008
Friday random ten: How station managers do it these days

For my next Genius playlist, I went more mainstream, with Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" as the seed song. That wasn't my first choice, but it was the first song I tried that didn't report "no Genius information is available", so it'll have to do. When I saw the 100-song list that the iTunes Genius created based on it, my first thought was that you could use it in place of whatever they've got on the local Jack FM station and no one would notice anything odd. Maybe they mean it literally when they say the station's concept is "like an iPod on shuffle".

The first ten songs in the order given:

1. "Steppin' Out" - Joe Jackson
2. "Tempted" - Squeeze
3. "Burning Down the House" - Talking Heads
4. "Shock the Monkey" - Peter Gabriel
5. "Good Thing" - Fine Young Cannibals
6. "Sultans of Swing" - Dire Straits
7. "You've Made Me So Very Happy" - Blood, Sweat & Tears
8. "Fox On The Run" - Sweet
9. "If I Can't Have You" - Yvonne Elliman
10. "Psycho Killer" - Talking Heads


1. "Steppin' Out" - Joe Jackson
2. "Shock the Monkey" - Peter Gabriel
3. "Solsbury Hill" - Peter Gabriel
4. "Blister In The Sun" - Violent Femmes
5. "Once In A Lifetime" - Talking Heads
6. "You Can Call Me Al" - Paul Simon
7. "New York State of Mind" - Billy Joel
8. "Rocky Mountain Way" - Joe Walsh
9. "America" - Simon & Garfunkel
10. "Spinning Wheel" - Blood, Sweat & Tears

Not too shabby, really. It's clear that combining a couple of these lists will be a decent way to fill up a Mini like mine. I will say that my first suggestion to Apple will be to allow for some customization of Genius, so that you can specify things like "Max number of songs from any album" and "Max number of songs from any one artist". Not that it made bad choices here, just that one may prefer more variety. And I still think it needs to broaden its view of compatible music, but that will be a subject for next time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Mighty big pile of debris you've got there

That's a lot of debris.

If Ike were a football team, how many fields would it fill?

According to Coach -- er, Mayor -- Bill White, the storm would cover 390 football fields with debris stacked 6 feet high.

White called forth the startling visual on Wednesday to try to convey the immense damage Ike inflicted on Houston's 600-plus square miles.

"We're talking about a massive amount of debris and a tremendous amount of the personnel and resources," White said. "It is certainly the largest national disaster to hit Houston."

The hurricane brought down an estimated 5 million cubic yards of debris, White said. The city already has picked up about a third of it.

I've got to agree with the commenter on this who said "why not just round up to 400?" It's a much easier number to grasp. Be that as it may, the fact that the city has cleared about a third of it off the streets is mighty impressive.

There also has been progress on repairing traffic lights, White said, with 77 percent of the city's signalized intersections back in operation.

As of Wednesday morning, 549 intersections still were not working -- 341 of those were flashing reds, and 208 were out completely.

My own metric for this is the lights I encounter on a daily basis. I'm pleased to say that as of this morning, the lights at Greenbriar and Holcombe, and at White Oak and Heights Boulevard, are now working again. Still wating for Greenbriar at Rice Boulevard, and Greenbriar Shepherd at Bissonnet. Anyone else seeing progress on this?

Finally, there's good news on the power to the people front: CenterPoint is down to the last 4000 or so customers who are still in the dark. They may finally have this all done by the weekend. Hooray! And by now, almost all of them have cable and Internet, too. But for those who don't, who knows when they'll get it?

Comcast said 93 percent of its subscribers have service again after Hurricane Ike, but some customers say they are frustrated that the area's primary cable provider can't tell them when to expect their television, phone or Internet service to return.

The cable company has about 750,000 customers in the Houston area.

"We have assessed our plant and continue to work on the significant damage we incurred from the hurricane," Comcast said in a statement Thursday. "We are finding the loss of cable service continues to be severed drop lines caused by fallen trees or water damage."


Stephen Tew's West University Place home is among those still without cable. He said he has called Comcast about 20 times in the last few weeks and has received several explanations.

"Everyone I talked to had a different story," said Tew, who relies on Comcast for his land-line phone, Internet connection and TV service. "No one can give an estimate of when they'll have it fixed. With CenterPoint there were updates. You at least felt like they had a plan and were doing something."

It's got to be bad if they're being unfavorably compared to CenterPoint. Good luck, y'all.

UPDATE: Greenbriar at Rice is working! Now for Shepherd and Bissonnet...

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Sheriff debate does go on

Good to see that a debate between Adrian Garcia and Sheriff Tommy Thomas actually happened. I'd been worried about it, as you know.

Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas and Democratic election challenger Adrian Garcia clashed Thursday over inmate deaths in the county jail, with the Republican incumbent saying many accused criminals arrive there with life-threatening illnesses.

A few hours before that initial showdown between Thomas and Garcia, the candidates for district attorney continued their series of forums on other segments of the county's criminal justice system.

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating problems at the jail, the full staffing of which requires overtime pay to deputies in Thomas' agency. The problems include the deaths of about 140 inmates since 2001.

"There shouldn't be any (deaths)," Thomas said during a debate videotaped for broadcast 8 tonight on KUHF (Channel 8). "But most of these individuals have recurring problems when they came to the jail.


Garcia said that because the Sheriff's Office keeps inmate medical records on paper rather than computer, jail physicians may not have immediate access to such records when ill people end up in the jail as repeat accused offenders.

"You should have those medical records immediately available and who knows how that delay could have played into some of these deaths," Garcia said.

In addition to the Friday broadcast, the episode of Red White and Blue: The Great Debate Series will be shown again 5 p.m. Sunday.

Sounds pretty lively. Tune in tonight and see how it goes.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: TLCV and Parent PAC

The newspapers (some of them, anyway) may be dragging a bit in getting their endorsements together, but the various PACs and interest groups have been busy. I get a lot of these in my Inbox, way more than I can keep track or or post about, but there's a couple I'd like to highlight here. First up is the Texas League of Conservation Voters, which has a comprehensive list of endorsees here. It's all Democrats, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who pays attention to how the Lege operates, but what caught my interest is the fact that it's not just incumbents or nominees for sure-thing open seats. They've gone out on a limb and endorsed six challengers to sitting members - Sherrie Matula, Virginia McDavid, Kristi Thibaut, Carol Kent, John McClelland, and Chris Turner - plus five open-seat contenders who would represent a party switch if they won - Joel Redmond, Robert Miklos, Diana Maldonado, Sam Murphey, and Joe Moody. That's putting some skin in the game, and I think it should be applauded, because it's a real risk for them. For every one of these races where they back the wrong horse, their ability to get legislation passed (or blocked) next session diminishes by a little bit. It takes guts to advocate for change like this, and I salute them for it.

Next is the Texas Parent PAC, which annoyingly doesn't have a list of all its endorsees in one convenient place. Looking through my recent email, they're thrown their support behind folks like State Reps. Dan Barrett and Donna Howard, both first-termers (technically, I suppose Barrett is in his zeroeth term), Chris Turner, and open-seat challengers Donnie Dippel and Sam Murphey, who is their most recent endorsee. I'll quote a little from their press release for Murphey:

"Sam Murphey is widely known and respected in Bell County, and his involvement in local civic affairs is unmatched," said Texas Parent PAC board of directors member Charles Olson of Waco. "Sam is receiving bipartisan support throughout the county because people know he is a conservative leader with a track record of accomplishments for Bell County."


"Murphey will hit the ground running in the Texas House of Representatives," Olson added. "He has spent decades working on public policy issues, economic development, and constituent services as District Director and Military and Veterans Liaison for U.S. Representative Chet Edwards." Murphey held those positions during the period of 1991-2007.

He has worked tirelessly to ensure that Fort Hood remains a major Army installation, as well as on efforts to improve the quality of life for Fort Hood soldiers and their families.

Among Murphey's many accomplishments, he helped establish Temple Airport as the Army's processing site for retirement of the UH-1 "Huey" helicopter fleet, helped to keep the Waco VA Medical Center open with expanded service to Central Texas veterans, and played a key role in the establishment of the joint use airport at Robert Gray Army Airfield.

Murphey served in the U.S. Army during 1967-1989, with assignments in Europe, Korea, Vietnam, and the United States. In Vietnam, he served as a Field Artillery Forward Observer and Fire Support Officer.

During part of his military career, Murphey had teaching assignments in the Gunnery Department of the U.S. Army Field Artillery School. Later as a specially selected Air Officer Commanding at the United States Air Force Academy, Lieutenant Colonel Murphey trained cadet squadrons in military leadership and served as a role model for future officers.

I'm not quoting this to make you feel like a slacker in comparison (or maybe that's just me), I'm doing it because Murphey is running in a district in which no Democrat has any business winning. Look at the 2006 election analysis (PDF) - Bill Moody, the Democratic standard bearer statewide, got 37.9% in HD55. Parent PAC has shown it's not afraid to swing for the fences - they made their bones in '06 by knocking off the despicable Kent Gruesendorf in the GOP primary - but under normal curcumstances this is a race most PACs wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole because the numbers are so daunting. The fact that Murphey has racked up endorsements like these speaks both to his quality as a candidate, and to the overall optimism of Democrats in the state. It's an amazing thing to say, but he has a real shot at winning.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Someday, I hope we have clean air

According to the Chron, we may have to wait a little longer than we originally thought for that.

At the request of Gov. Rick Perry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday granted the eight-county Houston region an extra nine years to meet federal health standards for smog-forming ozone by formally classifying the problem as "severe."

The long-awaited decision ties Houston to Los Angeles in an unenviable way -- they are the only two places in the nation with a severe smog problem, according to the EPA.

Ozone is formed when emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks mix with sunlight. The toxic, colorless gas can damage the lungs, cause headaches and nausea and aggravate asthma.

Houston's car-dependent lifestyle, large concentration of industry and weather give the area one of the nation's longest smog seasons. Still, the EPA had classified the region's problem as "moderate" with a 2010 deadline for compliance.

In its ruling, the EPA deferred to the governor's request, saying that states have the right to volunteer for a higher classification. The new deadline is June 2019.


The request surprised some local officials, business leaders and environmentalists because Perry asked for a "double bump" in classification. They preferred a move from "moderate" to "serious" in classification and a corresponding 2013 deadline for compliance.

A recent state analysis showed that 18 of the region's 22 air-pollution monitors would achieve the standard by 2010, but two -- in Bayland Park and Deer Park -- would need until 2018 or later to get there.

I suppose changing the designation and the deadline really just makes it seem like the goal of clean air is farther away now. If it was going to take that long, it didn't matter how it was classified. I'm moderately curious as to why there wasn't a comment from Mayor White's office on this, since air quality has been a signature issue of his. If he decides this is BS, the story gets a lot more interesting, given the possibility of White versus Perry for the Governor's mansion. Let's see if there's a followup.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Olson gets his vote around

The Lone Star Projectdocuments some interesting voting behavior by CD22 candidate Pete Olson.

Documents obtained by the Lone Star Project show that Republican congressional challenger Pete Olson (Texas CD22 - Houston) voted in both the State of Virginia and the State of Connecticut during a five month period in 2003. By remaining on the voter rolls and casting ballots in both states, Olson may have committed voter fraud. Under Virginia law, a person who intentionally registers to vote in Virginia and any other state or territory is guilty of a felony violation.

Olson Voting Records
Pete Olson lived in Virginia until late 2007, when he moved to Texas to run for Congress. While in Virginia, he voted regularly in State and local elections. (Voter File, Virginia Democratic Party; See the Documents) During much of this same period, Olson also maintained his voter registration in Connecticut. (Newtown, Connecticut, Town Clerk; See the Documents) Election documents show that between June and November of 2003, Olson voted in the Virginia Republican Primary, a special election in Newtown, Connecticut and then again in the Virginia General Elections. (Voter File, Virginia Democratic Party; Newtown, Connecticut, Town Clerk)

The Law
Virginia does not allow individuals to register in multiple states. The Virginia election code states clearly that any person who "registers to vote at more than one residence address at the same time, whether such registrations are in Virginia or in Virginia and any other state or territory of the United States ... is guilty of a Class 6 felony." (Va. Code. Ann. Section 24.2-1004 (C)).

While Pete Olson resided in Virginia and participated in Virginia elections, he owned property in Connecticut and remained active on the Connecticut voter rolls through at least March 2005. Pete Olson's presence on the 2003 Connecticut voter rolls and his vote in Newtown, Connecticut, which was followed by his vote in the 2003 Virginia General Election, appears to violate Virginia election law.

BOR lays out the timeline. I don't know if someone is planning to file a formal complaint about this, but I look forward to hearing Olson's explanation. I'm sure it'll be a good one.

Speaking of complaints, the LSP has kept up its usual busy pace this season by filing an FEC complaint against State Rep. Bill Zedler, US Rep. Joe Barton, and US Rep. Kay Granger.

The violations result from an illegal fundraiser organized and authorized by the Bill Zedler Campaign. Republican Members of Congress, Joe Barton and Kay Granger, allowed Zedler to include them as honorary hosts of the event and to solicit contributions up to $5,000. Federal law specifically prohibits Members of Congress from raising more than $2,300 from any individual.

Oops. The problematic invitation can be seen here. Zedler is of course opposed by TexBlog PAC-endorsed candidate Chris Turner, who was just endorsed by the Star-Telegram, who said he is "smart and driven by a desire to improve the lives of the residents of District 96 and the rest of the state." I like the sound of that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 02, 2008
Michelle Obama wants you to register to vote

Michelle Obama pays a visit to the MOMocrats and issues a call to anyone who is still not registered to vote to please do so before the Monday, October 6 deadline.

In many states, you can register at post offices, public libraries, and the DMV and other local and state government offices.

And of course, you can register at any Obama For American campaign office.

To make it even easier, we've set up a Website to help. It's www.voteforchange.com. Go to that Website to find everything you need to know about how to register to vote... where to go on Election Day... and whether you can vote early in your state.

Time is running out. If you know someone who should be registered but isn't, please urge them to get on with it. Thanks very much.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Endorsement watch: Mayorbob for Bradford

From the C.O. Bradford campaign: An endorsement from former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier.

Lanier appointed Bradford police chief in 1996. He stated that he is supporting Chief Bradford and intends to vote for him because he is the best candidate for job, having been a police officer for 24 years, police chief 7 years, and an attorney for 15 years.

Lanier joins a host of individuals and organizations supporting Bradford in the DA's race. All the major area law enforcement organizations have endorsed Bradford, along with high-profile attorneys Rusty Hardin and Richard Mithoff, the Harris County AFL-CIO, SEIU-Houston Justice for Janitors and Houston Organization of Public Employees, the GLBT Caucus and many others.

Nice. Now when do you suppose the Chron will get started on its endorsements? We're at T-minus 17 days till Early Voting, and there's a heap of races to evaluate. Looking back at the primaries, the Chron got started 16 days before Early Voting, so I guess we're right on schedule. Tune in tomorrow and see if they aim for the same pace.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Brimer versus Davis in court today

Today's the day that the efforts by Sen. Kim Brimer to effectively knock Wendy Davis off the ballot in SD10 come to an end.

State Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, filed a lawsuit in July claiming that his opponent should not be allowed on the ballot. The legal arguments focused on whether Ms. Davis resigned from the Fort Worth City Council in time to run for the legislature.

State district Judge Tom Lowe ruled that Ms. Davis was eligible, but Mr. Brimer challenged that decision in the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. Just days before the scheduled oral arguments last month, the chief justice of the Fort Worth court asked that the case be transferred to the Dallas appeals court. No reason was given for the change of venue, which was approved by the state Supreme Court.

It should be noted that there was also a request by Brimer to the State Supreme Court to expedite this hearing, which was denied.

State district Judge Tom Lowe ruled that Ms. Davis was eligible, but Mr. Brimer challenged that decision in the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. Just days before the scheduled oral arguments last month, the chief justice of the Fort Worth court asked that the case be transferred to the Dallas appeals court. No reason was given for the change of venue, which was approved by the state Supreme Court.

The state Constitution says that those who hold a "lucrative office" are not "eligible to the Legislature." A seat on the Fort Worth City Council qualifies as lucrative, but each side disagrees on when Ms. Davis left the council.

Her replacement, Joel Burns, was sworn in at a private ceremony on Jan. 1, a day before the deadline to file for the primary. Mr. Burns was also publicly sworn in at a Jan. 8 council meeting. Ms. Davis filed for the state Senate seat on Jan. 2.

Mr. Brimer's attorneys argued that the Jan. 1 ceremony wasn't valid, but Judge Lowe disagreed.

The deadline for changing the November general election lineup has passed, so Ms. Davis will appear on the ballot no matter how the appeals court rules. However, if a court decides that she wasn't eligible, Ms. Davis would not be allowed to take office if she wins.

In which case there would be a special election, presumably an "emergency" one so that someone could be sworn in while the next Legislature was still in session. If Davis loses this ruling but wins anyway in November, I would expect her to win that special election easily. Which would ultimately accomplish nothing but to push her to the bottom of the seniority list. Let's hope the court spares the residents of SD10 that problem.

Assuming they before the election, anyway.

The justices on Thursday questioned what authority they have to declare a candidate ineligible now that a key deadline has passed that would have allowed them to remove a candidate's name from the Nov. 4 ballot.

Fort Worth attorney Nick Acuff, who represents Brimer, argued that voting has not yet started and that Davis is ineligible because Joel Burns was not sworn in to replace Davis until January 8, six days after she filed to run in the State Senate District 10 race.

Attorneys for Davis, the Texas Democratic Party and the chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party argued that Burns was qualified for office on Dec. 27 when he was given a certificate of election by the Fort Worth city secretary.

Justices for the 5th Court of Appeals did not issue a ruling Thursday or indicate when they might decide the case prior to their leaving the bench.

I'd think either they issue a ruling before Early Voting starts, or they wait till after the election. I can't imagine a court wanting to affect an election while it is actually in progress. Even a ruling for Davis, which would leave everything as is, could still have an impact on the vote if it came down after voting had begun. So figure that if we don't get a ruling by next Friday, we're not getting one till much later.

The Woodlands needs your help!

In these difficult times, the wants-to-be-a-city of The Woodlands is calling on its citizenry to help it through its hour of need.

Citing turbulence in the financial markets, The Woodlands Township, a special district with limited governing power, is turning to residents to help raise about $18 million as a down payment to becoming a city.

The township board unanimously voted Wednesday to issue bonds to mostly individual investors because large institutional investors, strapped for cash, have backed out of the municipal bond market.

''I'm not excited about the market but I feel very comfortable about the township's opportunity to sell our bonds," said board chairwoman Nelda Blair.

''We're really lucky we have as many potential investors that are our neighbors," she said. "We have a great mix of big businesses, individual residents and everything in between."

The bond money would be used to make the township's first lump sum payments to the cities of Houston and Conroe as required under regional participation agreements.

This would make The Woodlands the Green Bay Packers of Texas towns. Frankly, the thought of that is almost enough to make me want to buy one of their bonds.

The bonds would be issued on Oct. 21 or 22. The township is scheduled to make its payment of $16 million to Houston and $320,000 to Conroe by Nov. 16. If the township is unable to execute the terms of the bond issue, it will call a special meeting and look at its options.

There's always the direct email marketing option. Hey, somebody must be responding to those things.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Candidate Q&A: Kyle Carter

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

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

My name is Kyle Carter. I am an honest and hard-working democrat running for the 125th Civil District Court in Harris County Texas. I was born in Houston and have chosen to make this town home for my family. My father is an attorney who has mentored me and helped pass on the knowledge that an experienced lawyer can provide. My mother is a Methodist Minister, the Reverend Doctor Suzan Carter. Together, my parents have helped instill a sense of duty to my community.

As native Houstonian, growing up in Sharpstown, I attended Pat Neff Elementary and Sharpstown Middle School, before going to high school at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, where I graduated in 1994. In 1998, I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin, with a B.A. degree in Government. Then, I attended South Texas College of Law and began practicing law in May, 2001.

Immediately after getting licensed, I became the lead lawyer on numerous cases. Over the years, I have overseen these cases to the satisfaction of my clients. Such experience has given me the opportunity to try several jury cases, bench trials and administrative cases, all to verdict. I have represented the private sector including a group of Lincoln Mercury Automobile dealers and Ford Motor Company in a case before the Department of Transportation. Further, I gained public policy experience when I became general counsel to the State Committee on General Investigating and Ethics, as well as, General Counsel to the State Committee on Urban Affairs.

I have also worked with health care providers to insure the highest level of service, credentialing, reporting, and compliance in the industry. Most recently, I along with my law firm have been successfully taking on the Workers' Compensation insurance companies before the State Office of Administrative Hearings and the Travis County District Courts, regarding reimbursements that ultimately affect the ability of working people to have access to quality healthcare in Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears cases such as personal injury cases, contractual disputes, property damages, and other civil matters. This Court does not hear criminal, family, or probate matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 125th Judicial District Court bench because I believe that the current Judge has lost his way. Having been instilled with the value of being a "man for others", I believe that my duty is to serve the people of this community, not just the big business interests.

The current judge is a remnant of the George Bush governorship, as he was appointed by then-Governor Bush in 1999. Further, this Judge has particularly low marks from the Houston Bar Association Judicial Poll, as completed by attorneys practicing in the Houston area.

My candidacy is going to change this. Harris County deserves better. I will be a Judge who is honest, smart and fair. Harris County needs a Judge like me.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Please see the response to Question 1 above.

Additionally, I am a member of the Houston Bar Association, the Houston Young Lawyers Association, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the Texas trial Lawyers Association, and Who's Who International Historical Society.

I donate my time and service to my community. I am a Freemason and a proud member of the Shrine of North America. I am also a proud member of Redbuds, Trees for Houston, and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I have also participated in the HBA Habitat for Humanity project, and Operation Compassion, where I served food to the people impacted as a result of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Finally, I am married and have two children that deserve the best, as all children do. As such, I am committed to making Houston the best place to live and raise a family.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because we need a judge that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Harris County has been mired in ethical complaints and other issues that have destroyed the credibility of our current elected officials. I am running to restore this credibility. My experience with the Legislature and particularly the Committee on General Investigating and Ethics has shown me that everyone suffers when our leaders become complacent. Everyone must get involved with this election and ensure that we have the right people elected for the job.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me in the November election because I am the only candidate dedicated to restoring honor, fairness and dignity to the Harris County Courthouse. The current legal system tends to favor litigants with the most resources. I believe that every litigant deserves access to the justice regardless of financial status. The citizens of Harris County deserve a Court that offers justice for all, regardless of ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation.

Further, I have chosen the path of service in my life, and believe that I better represent the people of Harris County. As an attorney, I fight insurance companies to improve the health care system in Texas, and have also worked with the Texas Legislature to provide ethics reform to our city and state. In my private life I believe in helping others, and am a member of several charity organizations. My goal is to become a judge that indentifies with and represents all of the citizens of Harris County. If you believe like I do that every person should be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect, then please support me in November.


Dion Ramos, 55th Civil Judicial District Court.
Shawna Reagin, 176th District Criminal Court.
Al Bennett, 61st Civil Judicial District Court.
Judge Jim Jordan, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
Mike Miller, 11th Civil Judicial District Court.
Andres Pereira, 190th Civil Judicial District Court.
Steven Kirkland, 215th Civil Judicial District Court.
Martin Siegel, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 7.
Randy Roll, 179th District Criminal Court.
Leslie Taylor, Court of Appeals, First District, Place 5.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Election Procedures and Information Following Hurricane Ike (repost)

Posted before, now posting again as a reminder.

TO: Voter Registrars, County Clerks, and Elections Administrators
FROM: Ann McGeehan, Director of Elections
DATE: September 22, 2008
RE: Election Procedures and Information Following Hurricane Ike

The Secretary of State and her staff would like to extend their sympathy to all Texans affected by Hurricane Ike. As emergency relief efforts continue, we would also like to provide basic information with regards to the upcoming November 4, 2008 election. As we learn more about the situation in all affected areas, we will provide updated information. In the meantime, the following general information may be helpful to you.

Voter Information

We realize that evacuation is a difficult experience and that voters may not be certain of their future living arrangements, neither short nor long term. Voters who have been displaced have several options for voting in the November election.

  • Voter Registration and Residence. Regarding residence, our advice to people displaced by the storm is the same as to any other person--the voter is the one who decides what the voter considers to be home. If a voter relocated to another county before the storm and has decided to stay in their new county, they may register to vote in their new county. Voters in this situation must submit a new voter registration application in their new county of residence no later than October 6, 2008 in order to vote in the November election. However, if a person has been relocated due to the storm and is unsure when they can return to their home county, but intends to return, then that person can maintain their voter registration in their home county (or apply to register if not already registered).

  • If a voter is able to return to their home, they will likely vote as usual in their county. The counties hardest hit by the storm are still evaluating the state of their polling places, and there will likely be changes in voting locations, but it appears that all counties will be able to conduct voting during early voting and election day. Adversely impacted counties are still trying to restore power and assess damage, so it may be a few more weeks before final polling places will be ascertained.

  • A voter away from their county of residence may apply for a ballot by mail from their home county. Voters wishing to vote by mail must submit an application for ballot by mail to their county election office; the application must be received no later than Tuesday, October 28, 2008. On the application, the voter must indicate that they will be out of their home county during early voting and on election day. Voters need to provide a mailing address for the ballot which is outside of their home county.

Our office will continue to work with local election officials to ensure that all Texas voters are able to participate in a fair, credible, and efficient election. Voters with specific questions may contact the Elections Division, toll-free at (800) 252-VOTE (8683) or visit our website for updated information.

See also this post for more about voting procedures in Galveston.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Nine million voters?

PDiddie adds on to my post about the Harris County sample ballot, and includes a numerical tidbit of interest:

Harris County election officials project that 1.2 million votes will be cast here.

That jibes with what I've been hearing all along from local Democratic leaders, who have been counseling the need to aim for 650,000 votes in countywide races to ensure victory. It would be a 20% increase in total ballots from 2004, when just over 1 million were cast.

Let's assume this is an accurate estimate. How can we project statewide turnout from it? Well, Harris County represented 13.5% of the state total of 7.4 million votes in 2004. If the Harris/Texas ration holds this year - or, to put it another way, the state total increases by the same 20% as Harris - we're talking almost 8.9 million votes cast. That's a hell of a lot, probably too much more. I think eight million is well within range, but nine million feels like a stretch.

Another way to look at this is to consider turnout in Harris County. Statewide turnout in 2004 was 56.6%, which was slightly less than the 58.0% of Harris. I'm going to guess that 1.2 million votes in Harris County represents 60% turnout, which is to say 2 million registered voters. I think we should have 2.1 million registered voters, but I don't think we'll get it that high. Assuming 60% Harris turnout, that translates to 58.6% state turnout at that same ratio, so now we need to guess how many registered voters there will be. At 13.1 million, the same as 2004, we'd get 7.67 million votes. We know there's more registrations than that, so adjust accordingly. For eight million ballots statewide at this, we'd need 13.66 million registrations. To get to 8.9 million, we'd need 15.2 million registrations. I don't see that happening.

That's an awful lot of numbers and assumptions, any or all of which may be full of it. I'll take another crack at it after the voter registration deadline when we'll have some hard totals. I do think we'll get to 8 million votes - it's really not that big an increase from 2004 percentagewise - but I'll need some better data to feel confident about anything more specific than that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
No texting while driving in California

It is now illegal to send text messages while driving in California.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a law making it illegal to read or send text messages while driving in California.

The bill imposes a $20 fine for a first offense and $50 for repeat offenders using any electronic devices to read or send messages, starting next year.

Schwarzenegger said the law he signed Wednesday encourages drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.

At twenty bucks for a first offense, and fifty a pop thereafter? I think there's a nontrivial number of people who'd see that as a cost of doing business, not a deterrent. If this is such a big deal, why not set a fine that will make people think twice? I don't get the logic here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
October 01, 2008
Rasmussen September Texas polls

Rasmussen has finally given us some September poll numbers for Texas, and they're not too shabby. First, for the Senate race.

Incumbent Republican Senator John Cornyn now leads challenger Rick Noriega just 50% to 43% in Texas, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state.

Cornyn had an 11-point lead over Noriega in August. He had been out front by double digits in every poll conducted since May, when he had just a four-point lead over the challenger. Cornyn is currently seeking his second term in the Senate.

This month, Cornyn has a 50% to 33% lead among unaffiliated voters in Texas. He leads 51% to 43% among men and 49% to 43% among women.

That's close enough that the race might get some attention from the national folks, as the Democratic goal of 60 seats in the Senate is much more realistic these days than before. And Noriega may get a boost among unaffiliated voters thanks to an endorsement from Independent Texans. I've put their press release beneath the fold.

On the Presidential side, the spread is a little wider.

Still no change in the Texas presidential race, as John McCain continues to lead Barack Obama by nine percentage points. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state finds McCain ahead 52% to 43%.

The latest numbers mark the fourth straight month the Republican has held a nine-point lead in the Lone Star State. The closest match-up between the nominees was back in May, when Obama trailed by just six points.

Two points: One, as we've discussed many times, the key mark for Obama is 42 to 44%, which is the "consolidate their gains" number for Dems in the Lege. And two, as I suggested before, there wasn't much room for McCain to grow his support in Texas even after his base-exciting pick of Sarah Palin for VP, because he already had the overwhelming backing of Republicans plus a solid lead among the unaffiliated. This poll is evidence of that. BOR and Kos have more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Will the Sheriff candidates debate?

Miya reports that a scheduled debate between Adrian Garcia and Sheriff Tommy Thomas may not take place.

Challenger Adrian Garcia's campaign is accusing embattled Sheriff Tommy Thomas of ducking this week's planned debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters. It's set to air on Channel 8, the PBS station. Apparently, Garcia's folks says Thomas is claiming to be too busy with the Hurricane Ike recovery efforts to attend the debate.

Not so, says the Thomas campaign. The Sheriff's spokesperson told me over the phone that he never agreed to the debate because there was a scheduling conflict. She said the Sheriff had Sheriff duties to attend to, and was willing to debate on a different date. Besides, she says, Thomas can't really duck a debate he never agreed to in the first place.

I guess what we have here is a failure to communicate. Be that as it may, while I'm sure those are important Sheriffy things he has to do on Thursday night, couldn't they maybe be delegated or put off for a couple of hours? Assuming that you think having a debate is important, of course. Or if it must be delayed, is there a counteroffer on the table? The County Judge candidates have debated, the District Attorney candidates have debated. Can we please get a debate between the Sheriff candidates? I don't think that's too much to ask. More from KPRC and KHOU.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Interview with Dexter Handy

We don't get a whole lot of contested races for County Commissioner around here. The districts are drawn to elect someone from one party or the other, and as we know the Commissioners themselves have plenty of cash on hand to deal with any challenges that may arise. I have a certain amount of admiration for the people who are willing to take on a task like this. It helps when the candidates in question are just downright nice people who are doing this because they believe in the process. That's a good description of Dexter Handy, who's running against Commissioner Steve Radack in Precinct 3. My interview with Handy is here, as always in MP3 format.


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Voting in Galveston

They're going to try to make voting as normal as possible in Galveston. I don't know how successful they'll be, but they're going to try.

With several polling locations in the southern portion of Galveston County heavily damaged by Hurricane Ike, the county's commissioners court expects by Oct. 8 to finalize a new voting plan for the Nov. 4 general election.

The plan would then have to be approved by the federal government, County Judge Jim Yarbrough said.

Early voting starts Oct. 20 and ends Oct. 31.

Of the county's 76 polling locations, six have been confirmed as unusable, while another 15 to 20 may also not be able to be used, Yarbrough said.

All of the county's early voting sites remain intact, except for Precinct 103's site at the AARP Library in Crystal Beach, he said.

Yarbrough said he did not anticipate that the county would use the so-called "super precinct" plan, which would allow voters to cast ballots at any polling place instead of an assigned location. Only electronic machines can be used for that option, he said.

The county likely will use a combination of paper ballots and electronic machines for Nov. 4's elections, Yarbrough said.

"No final decisions have been made, but at the very least, we will certainly be consolidating a number of precincts, especially on the south end of the county," he said.

I might have thought that the "super precinct" idea would be worth exploring, but I suppose it's not a good thing to try out under these conditions, especially when you can't be sure that everyone who would need to know about it can be made aware of it. Consolidating precincts is a common occurrence in Harris, so hopefully it won't be too unusual in Galveston. As long as people are clearly told where they need to go, it ought to be all right.

In discussing the possibility of extending the voter registration deadline, Governor Perry's office has said that no county judges have contacted them about it. At least here in Harris, the same people who have asked Governor Perry about this are now asking Judge Emmett to take action.

At a press conference outside the county administration building [Monday] afternoon, representatives from Houston Votes and the Texans Together Education Fund said Emmett should make the request since registering to vote has been far from people's minds these past few weeks as they rebuild their lives after the hurricane.

Calling it a "fundamental issue of fairness," fund director Maureen Haver said the residents of southeast Texas should have a chance to catch up to people from other parts of the state who had no obstacles to registering.

Representatives from the offices of Houston State Sen. Rodney Ellis and County Commissioners El Franco Lee and Sylvia Garcia read statements in support of a delay.

Emmett spokesman Joe Stinebaker said the judge would be willing to discuss the plan with any constituent who contacted him directly.

He did receive an e-mail from Garcia just before the press conference started. He didn't plan to meet with her.

Haver said the group's public appeal to Emmett would be followed by personal requests. As of mid-afternoon, Stinebaker said, no one had contacted Emmett directly.

Call me crazy, but I don't expect anything to come of this. Has anyone talked to Galveston County Judge Yarbrough? Maybe if the request is made from one county, it will be easier to get it made from another. Just a thought.

Finally, as we know, some legislators have been talking about making the office of Insurance Commissioner (among others) elected instead of appointed. According to BOR, this has now become a campaign issue in a couple of State House races, with Ernie Casbeer and State Rep. Juan Garcia coming out in favor of it; Garcia has even released an ad touting the idea. This may have some traction next year, but it won't go through without a fight. Keep an eye on it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
City wins billboard lawsuit

Last September, the city of Houston was sued by billboard company RTM Media after officials threatened to issue citations under the sign code to dozens of advertisers using the company's billboards in the city's extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). The intent was to enforce the new billboard ordinance, which among other things limited where new billboards could be put up, and which RTM had been cited repeatedly for violating. At the time, US District Court Judge Melinda Harmon ruled that the city's strategy of going after RTM's customers infringed on the advertisers' free speech rights. She issued a temporary injunction preventing enforcement of the ordinance, which she later narrowed after the city said her order was too broad. Now Judge Harmon has reversed that order and ruled that the sign ordinance is constitutional.

U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon dismissed a lawsuit filed by a company with signs in the city's "extraterritorial jurisdiction," rejecting claims the ordinance violated free-speech rights.

City Attorney Arturo Michel said the order allows authorities to move forward with criminal and civil enforcement against the company RTM Media.

"This goes to the city's ability to enforce those types of nuisances," Michel said. "The city can take action that can have some effect and force."

The company still could appeal the order to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Company officials declined comment Monday.

That's a pretty big win for the city. Between this and Hurricane Ike, that's a double blow to the billboard business. I'm glad for this ruling and look forward to a long-term reduction in roadside clutter.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Fence finds funding

By the way, amid all the bailout and debate drama last week, the border fence got the extra money it needed to make up for its budget shortfall. The Observer, which continues to do great reporting on this story, has the details. There are still obstacles in place for actually starting construction on the fence, and Observer reporter Melissa del Bosque says it's looking like the border fence will be yet another leftover issue from the Bush administration for the next President to solve. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner