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July, 2003:

A two-blog newspaper

Not content to let the artsy types be the only bloggers on their block, the Austin American-Statesman now also has a political blog called The Lasso. It’s a one-person blog that appears to be mostly a news-roundup kind of thing. The good news: Daily archives, organized in a calendar format (one presumes there will be a link to previous months’ archives; we’ll see tomorrow). The bad news: Only one permalink per day, no categories or blogroll. If it weren’t on a newspaper’s site, I’d think it was hand-rolled HTML code.

Found via Byron. Hope had mentioned this in the comments to my earlier post, but I didn’t go looking for it at the time.

Being Insane

I’m fairly sure that this is a weblog unlike any other you’re used to reading. It’s by a college classmate of mine, Arthur Diggins, who is…well, I’ll let him explain it:

OK, to be totally honest, I’m not technically Schizophrenic and I don’t live in a Mental Asylum. I am Schizoeffective, which is like being Schizophrenic – delusional, paranoid, subject to The Voices – but with the added bonus of making me vulnerable to the symptoms of any number of other mental illnesses: Manic-Depressive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder, etc.

As to the Mental Asylum part, my home is actually a half-way house for people recently discharged from a Psych Ward or from jail. As you may read about in the General category, it is filled with a constantly changing pirate’s crew of psychos; I am one of the longer term residents here, being possibly the most acute psycho of all the residents combined. I have frequent sobbing spells, fits of unprovoked rage … in general, I am totally unstable and can never count on going to bed in any place other than the Quiet Room of a Psych Ward on any given day. This last year has been good, though: I have been hospitalized only twice for two days each time. You can read about the residents of the house in the General category, and about the experience in being in a Psych Ward for a day separately.


It is my hope that this weblog will not only provide a few cheap thrills, but will also educate people on the experience of being mentally ill, and the treatment of the mentally ill. See the Insane Poetry category for my insider’s musings on these subjects.

Arthur’s condition is the result of a meth addiction. He has a BA in English and an MA in Cinema and Television (Screenwriting) from USC, so his musings will surely be worth reading. Take a moment and check it out.

Cold feet in the County Commissioners’ Court?

That $244 million projected cost overrun on the Katy Freeway expansion seems to have spooked our venerable County Commissioners’ Court.

Commissioner Steve Radack sent a letter Wednesday to Art Storey, Harris County public infrastructure director, asking him to meet with the Texas Department of Transportation to address “continued participation in the project using toll-road funds.”

Harris County signed an agreement with the state March 14 to contribute $250 million in Toll Road Authority revenue bonds toward construction of a four-lane tollway down the middle of the Katy Freeway between Texas 6 and Loop 610.


“Obviously if you’re a government putting $250 million into a project and you see that the project is already more than $200 million over budget — almost what the county has put in — it’s prudent to ask some questions,” Radack said Wednesday in a phone interview from Hilton Head, S.C.


Radack said the freeway project is “in jeopardy” because the Toll Road Authority can’t repay its debt until the toll lanes are open and generating revenue. That is supposed to happen in late 2008 but could be pushed back if right-of-way acquisitions don’t speed up or funds dry out.

“I want to see that freeway done,” he said. “But I’m not going to sit there and see the taxpayers gouged.”


County Judge Robert Eckels said he planned to huddle with Storey on Wednesday evening.

“There may come a time when it’s appropriate to withdraw from this project if it is not going to be financially viable for the Toll Road Authority, but I don’t believe we’re at that point yet,” Eckels said. “We need to get together with TxDOT and get to the bottom of the problem.”

This project isn’t going anywhere if the Court doesn’t give its full support to it. Since the Commissioners clearly want this project to succeed, the next article you see will very likely be about how they have come to an agreement with Art Storey and are now confident that the issue has been resolved. (Hell, I could probably write that piece right now.) They’ll be careful not to leave any visible marks, too.

This does not fill me with a warm feeling:

Eckels and Radack both called on Gov. Rick Perry to add two bills to the special legislative session agenda that would make it easier to condemn parcels needed for the freeway widening.

I thought these guys believed in limited government and property rights. Am I missing something here? If you have to pass a law to make it easier to throw people out of their homes in order to build this freeway extension, is that not a sign that maybe your plan is flawed? I’m just asking.

UPDATE: Charles M points out this Chron article in the comments which describes the bill that Eckels and Radack are shilling for.

Beats all you never saw

(Note: the title (now corrected, thanks to Omar in the comments) is a hat tip to Angry Bear, who recasts the Democrats’ getaway as a Dukes of Hazzard episode. I can’t tell you how disquieting it is to realize that I was able to do as he suggested and read his post in the voice of Waylon Jennings.)

The mind games and he-said-she-said battles continue on across the Texas-New Mexico state line.

Dewhurst and the dissidents couldn’t even agree, at least publicly, that they were speaking to each other.

“We’re talking. I’m urging our colleagues to come back to the table,” Dewhurst told reporters in Austin. “I’ve encouraged them to come back, sit down with us, work with us on a plan that’s fair.”

In Albuquerque, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, of San Antonio, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said that, as far as she knew, Dewhurst had spoken only with Sen. John Whitmire of Houston since the Democrats arrived in Albuquerque Monday afternoon.

Whitmire said he returned a message that Dewhurst had left on his cell phone but that the conversation was short and insignificant.

Dewhurst spokesman Dave Beckwith said later that the lieutenant governor had heard from more than one of the missing Democrats but wouldn’t say how many.

“It appears that some senators are not leveling with each other,” Beckwith said.

Dewhurst has his own problems with confusion in this odd episode:

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday that AWOL Democrats could face Senate expulsion if they ignore an arrest warrant for their return — but he said he’s not recommending it, and a spokesman said it won’t occur.

“Quite frankly, there are ways to bring back senators without using physical force,” Dewhurst said when asked how the Democratic senators’ return could be compelled.

They fled to New Mexico to block action on a GOP-backed congressional redistricting plan.

Senators who stayed in Austin have ordered the Senate sergeant-at-arms to return their missing colleagues. Dewhurst has indicated there’s not much that can be done while they’re out of state.

But if they come back to Texas, he said, the sergeant-at-arms would be sent out. He said there’s “no question legally” that the sergeant-at-arms can present an arrest warrant signed by the secretary of the Senate.

“When a warrant of arrest is handed to a senator, if they do not comply, that’s a very, very serious — very serious — violation,” the GOP lieutenant governor said. “I’m not recommending this, but ultimately it could result, if the Senate so chose, with the expulsion of that member.”

Soon after Dewhurst made those comments, his spokesman, David Beckwith, phoned to say expulsion wouldn’t be tried and that “nobody’s suggesting it.”

“He (Dewhurst) was asked a hypothetical — ‘What could happen?'” Beckwith said. “But it will not happen.”

The Republican leadership has also attempted to ratchet up the pressure on the missing Democrats by highlighting other agenda items that are also being affected by the walkout.

Republicans have said the Democrats have jeopardized a slew of other bills.

One measure would allow the state to make $800 million in payments to school districts a month earlier — August rather than September. School districts say the delayed payments aren’t a problem.

Other measures would give the governor and legislative leaders freedom to spend more than $470 million in newly available money, although the state budget might already give them that power.

And the latest must-solve problem to reach the Legislature’s agenda Wednesday was school finance.

Of course, as Dave McNeely points out, this leads to a question that the Republicans don’t have a good answer for: if these things are so important, why are we bothering with redistricting?

Dewhurst said more than $1 billion in appropriations and funding shifts are needed to avert calamity.

A drafting error that made a one-month payment shift in $800 million of school funding from the intended 2005 to 2003 must be fixed, Dewhurst said.

As 14 TV cameras rolled tape, naturally came the next question: Are those issues such a priority that Perry should pull down congressional redistricting?

“These issues of appropriating a billion dollars, addressing government reorganization, school finance, I think, are critical to all of us here in Texas,” Dewhurst replied.

“I’ve had a number of conversations with the governor, and my conversations with the governor remain private.

“He has chosen to call us back into a second special session. We all took an oath of office to uphold the duties and the laws of the State of Texas,” Dewhurst said, “and I think that part of those duties . . . is to show up for work.”

So, since even Texas’ GOP attorney general says the current districts can be used until 2011, are those issues so critical that Perry should lay redistricting aside?

“Well, I think they’re incredibly important, and I think the governor’s made a decision to have the Senate and the House address redistricting, and so he’s already made his decision,” Dewhurst said.

Regarding those other agenda items, I’m rather surprised to see school finance reform on there. Honestly, I thought that was going to get a special session of its own, maybe early next year. The good news is that any hard feelings from the boycott don’t seem to have carried over to other business like this yet, as two Democratic Senators were named to the Senate Select Committee.

Finally, as Byron notes, there is an effective deadline for redistricting: October 6, which is the latest that a map could be submitted in time for Justice Department approval prior to December 3, which is the deadline for candidates to file for the primaries.

Editorials and op-eds:

The DMN praises David Dewhurst for his initial attempts at a compromise.

The Chron runs an op-ed by Dewhurst in which he defends his decision to suspend the 2/3 rule.

The Quorum Report has a press release from the GOP (PDF) which touts a survey done in Austin that says 53% of Texans oppose this Democratic boycott, a series of quotes (Word doc) by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst which shows his evolving opinion of redistricting and the blocker bill (compiled by a Democratic strategist), and an editorial roundup (Word doc) compiled by Rep. Martin Frost, which is a subset of the editorials I’ve pointed to so far.

Barry vs. the Babe

Barry Bonds, whose many skills do not include tact, generated some controversy at the All-Star Game when he talked about eclipsing Babe Ruth.

The San Francisco slugger leads the majors with 30 home runs at the All-Star break and has hit 643 in his career, putting him just 17 shy of matching his godfather — Mays — for third on the all-time list.

“Willie’s number is always the one that I’ve strived for,” Bonds said before Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

“And if it does happen, the only number I care about is Babe Ruth’s. Because as a left-handed hitter, I wiped him out. That’s it. And in the baseball world, Babe Ruth’s everything, right? I got his slugging percentage and I’ll take his home runs and that’s it. Don’t talk about him no more.”

This generated the predictable outraged response from the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, as well as from some sportswriters. Adrian Wojnarowski’s overly emotional but totally unconvincing response is typical.

Bonds does have his defenders, such as the Dallas Morning News‘ Kevin Blackistone, who makes a provocative case.

The greatest compliment that can be paid a baseball player is to call him “the only man,” as in: Hank Aaron is the only man to hit as many as 755 home runs in a major league career. Or as can be said of first baseman and new Hall of Famer Eddie Murray: He is the only man to have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs as a switch hitter.

In fact, the only other men to have as many hits and home runs in a career are Aaron and Willie Mays, both one-time Negro League players.

Babe Ruth was once an “only man.” He was once the only man to have hit as many as 60 home runs in a season. He lost that designation over two generations ago and now stands behind four players on that list, which is topped by Barry Bonds.

Ruth was once the only man to have knocked in as many as 2,213 runs in a career. Aaron left him behind in that category, too, almost a generation and a half ago.

In fact, Ruth was once the only man who could, without question, be called the greatest offensive weapon the game has ever seen.

He isn’t anymore. He hasn’t been for quite a spell. The biggest record he has left is career slugging percentage. It is time to take a deep breath and move on. Earth won’t careen into the sun.

The simple fact is black baseball players such as Aaron, Mays, Murray, Rickey Henderson and, yes, Bonds have erased many of the most revered offensive records in what was once America’s pastime. These marks, established by Ruth and Ty Cobb, were thought carved in stone. Home runs. RBIs. Walks. Runs scored. Stolen bases. Season slugging percentage. Black players hold them all now.

Yet, those black players aren’t afforded nearly the reverence, if any at all, of the folks whose records they obliterated.

Blackistone is, I think, more right than wrong in what he says, but he’s far too casual in his insistence that Ruth has been eclipsed. He makes a common error in argument-by-statistics, which is that he doesn’t present enough context to the stats he’s giving.

I’m not going to get into the serious stathead world of Equivalent Averages and Value Over Replacement Players, both of which are heavy-duty stats that try to even out differences in era and ballparks. I’m not qualified for that, and it wouldn’t change anyone’s mind anyway. I just want to point out that we’ve got a fruit basket of numbers here, and we need to sort through them a bit more carefully.

Since Blackistone mentions Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, the other two sluggers that Bonds is chasing, let’s take a closer look at them. There’s a key difference in the career stats of Aaron, Mays, and Babe Ruth, and it can be summed up in four numbers:

Name Games At-bats HRs ================================= Aaron 3298 12,364 755 Mays 2992 10,881 660 Ruth 2503 8,399 714

Aaron and Mays played far more games than Babe Ruth did, mostly because Ruth spent his first four seasons as a pitcher. Both had many more at-bats than the Babe did. Ruth hit a home run in 8.5% of his at-bats, while Aaron and Mays went yard 6.1% of the time.

To put it another way, how would the career numbers stack up if Mays and Ruth had had Aaron’s 12,364 at-bats, assuming that they hit home runs at the same rate over the extra time?

Name Projected HRs ====================== Ruth 1051 Aaron 755 Mays 750

The thing about Babe Ruth is not only that he hit a ridiculous number of home runs, it’s also that he hit an even more ridiculous number than his contemporaries. The Babe out-homered whole teams many times. Someone on (it might have been Rob Neyer, I can’t find it any more) once determined that if every season had been as homer-happy as 1998 and Ruth had hit them at the same relative rate to the rest of the league, he’d have wound up with over 2000 for his career. He really was a giant among Lilliputians in his time.

(Astute statheads may be grumbling at this point about Aaron and Mays playing in the pitcher-dominated 1960s, and how they might have done in a more offense-friendly era. I acknowledge the dissonance but cannot give you a good answer. I recommend pestering someone at the Baseball Prospectus.)

Now let’s add Barry to the mix. As it happens, his stats through 2002 are a pretty decent match for the Babe’s.

Name Games At-bats HRs ================================= Aaron 3298 12,364 755 Mays 2992 10,881 660 Ruth 2503 8,399 714 Bonds 2439 8,335 613 Name Projected HRs ====================== Ruth 1051 Bonds 909 Aaron 755 Mays 750

Bonds goes deep 7.4% of the time, meaning the advantage is still Ruth’s.

Of course, there is a player who does outdistance the Babe by this measure. Any guesses who?

Name Games At-bats HRs ================================= Aaron 3298 12,364 755 Mays 2992 10,881 660 Ruth 2503 8,399 714 Bonds 2439 8,335 613 McGwire 1874 6,187 583 Name Projected HRs ====================== McGwire 1165 Ruth 1051 Bonds 909 Aaron 755 Mays 750

Yep, Mark McGwire, who merits not a mention in Blackistone’s column (how quickly they forget) despite his record-setting 9.4 HR percentage. I will not be uncharitable and suggest that had McGwire been as healthy as Aaron (and mind you, staying healthy is a skill as much as it is luck) and shattered Aaron’s career record as many expected him to do before his sudden retirement, Kevin Blackistone would have muttered dark imprecations about steroids and asterisks. Feel free to do so yourself, however.

Someone once said that statistics are like a string bikini: What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is crucial. I believe the record shows that Barry Bonds is one of the greatest players to ever play the game, and that he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves for it. I believe that Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, as great as they were, are also often sold short. I believe that Babe Ruth is still the pinnacle to which everyone aspires and against whom everyone will be measured. And I remain confident of the Earth’s ability to maintain its orbit. I hope Kevin Blackistone does as well.

UPDATE: In the comments, Joe asks for the same comparison with plate appearances (at-bats plus walks, hit by pitches, sacrifices and sac flies) instead of just at-bats. I aim to please:

Name PA HR HR % Proj HR ========================================== Aaron 13940 755 5.4 755 Mays 12493 660 5.3 736 Ruth 10617 714 6.7 937 Bonds 10417 613 5.9 820 McGwire 7660 583 7.6 1061

Katy Freeway cost overrun

They’ve barely begun to move dirt and already the cost estimates for the massive boondoggle-ish expansion of the Katy Freeway have been increased by 17%. That’s $244 million, for those who prefer real numbers.

“We’re concerned that perhaps some of these unanticipated events and extra costs might delay the project,” said John Johnson, state transportation commissioner. “The department is doing everything possible given the circumstances to move the entire project from 610 out to the Fort Bend County line forward on the time schedule.”

Boy, you could just knock me down with a sledgehammer there. Whoever heard of unanticipated events in a multi-year rush-job construction project?

The rest of the article has the usual Serious Concerns and whatnot. I expect there to be more in the near and not so near future. Maybe a better plan might mitigate things, not that I expect the powers that be to consider one. BTW, those powers don’t include Houston Mayor Lee Brown. Better find a scapegoat quick, guys!

New Mexican Standoff, day 2

(Note: the subject is cribbed from a commenter on Atrios or Daily Kos, I can’t remember which at this point. Someone other than me came up with it and I thought it was funny.)

Rob has a decent answer to my question about the House passing the same ol’ map. I think his scenario makes a lot of sense, but I have my doubts that it will happen. Giving in on the blocker bill just has to be seen as a defeat for the GOP, and at this point I’m not sure how much trust the Dems are willing to put into any promises that Dewhurst will make them. Still, Rob is absolutely right about the fact that sooner or later, these guys have to come back to Austin, whether it’s next week or 2005.

This DMN article offers a suggestion that Rob’s hypothesis may come true:

While maps under consideration during the regular session and the first 30-day special session would have boosted GOP seats in Congress from 15 to 20 or 21, the Republican lieutenant governor suggested he was open to a more modest gain.

“A fair map is one that reflects the voting trends of the state, that protects our minority rights and our minority communities, that doesn’t cut communities of interest and to me – this is simply to me – has about 19 seats,” Mr. Dewhurst said in an interview on TXCN (cable Channel 38).

(Psst! Dave! Check out the Wentworth and Armbrister plans. And burn this note!)

Byron has a good roundup to get your morning started, along with a post on Polstate. I posted an afternoon news update there yesterday. Josh Marhsall is bemused by several aspects of this story. Julia has an appropriate response for the Governor’s current they’re-hurting-the-children! attack on the Dems, which you can read about here. This is my favorite bit from the article:

Democrats and Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said they found the governor’s newfound interest in health care spending surprising.

Strayhorn had been rebuffed when she repeatedly asked Perry to let lawmakers appropriate the money for health care during the first special session.

“Let me tell you on the record, after the governor’s statement from yesterday, I fully expected for the governor to let the Legislature vote on health care funding,” Strayhorn said. “I was surprised that this was not added to the call today.”

Indeed. Elsewhere, the Chron describes the Dems’ getaway, which like its Ardmore predecessor was done in secret and in haste. The El Paso Democrats have vowed to help the boycotting Senators with any supplies they might need, while New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson says he may consider some redistricting of his own if the Texas GOP doesn’t back down.

Redistricting should be done only after new U.S. Census Bureau numbers are reported every 10 years and not rammed through the Legislature by a dominant political party just because its members disagree with election results, Richardson said.

“I have refrained from taking those steps. I will leave the door slightly opened because I’m concerned about Republican efforts in Texas, Colorado and other parts of the country to disenfranchise voters,” he said. “I don’t want redistricting. I think it’s wrong, especially in a year that is not a redistricting year.”

Keep an eye on that one.

More editorials:

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal calls Governor Perry a disappointment and compares him to a “spoiled 2-year-old child”.

The Chron calls the endless fight for redistricting madness.

The Waco Trib really smacks the Governor, whom they call a “well-pressed con man”. This needs some quoting:

How hypocritical is Perry in light of the partisan meltdown over redistricting? Let us count the ways.

—-1. His silence was deafening—-

Perry speaks now about $800 million in newly freed-up money that could go to human services if the Democrats would only come back. What was he saying during Special Session No. 1? Nothing.


If Perry really wanted to direct $800 million to social services, all he had to do was put it on the agenda. Instead, legislation he supported would have routed the extra money into an “emergency fund” under the control of the governor and the Legislative Budget Board.

Just how many Texans would benefit from that, Mr. Governor?

—-2. He dropped ball in 2001—-

Perry is the very last person on the planet to be saying, “It is lawmakers’ responsibility, not the courts’, to redraw congressional lines.” That responsibility sat snugly in his lap in 2001. He brushed it off like lint.


—-3. He would dispense with rules—-

Whenever Perry uses the words “fair” or “fairness,” he isn’t thinking that way when it comes to the legislative process and redistricting.


The Lufkin Daily News compares the whole thing to the movie Groundhog Day.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times also uses the term madness, but they’re actually pretty mellow about the whole thing.

Finally, the El Paso Times, which was nearly alone in condemning the Democrats for the Ardmore walkout, condemns everyone for the current boycott.

Just an observation

I’ve heard it said many times that the Congressional redistricting performed by the Texas Lege in 1991 was a masterful job of gerrymandering by the Democrats. After the 1992 election, the first one held following that session, the Texas Congressional delegation had 21 Dems and 9 Republicans.

In 1994, Steve Stockman ousted 20-term veteran Jack Brooks in the 9th CD, while Mac Thornberry unseated Bill Sarpaulius in the 13th.

In 1996, Pete Geren did not run for reelection in the 12th, opening the door for Kay Granger. Greg McLaughlin changed parties after the 94 election, then lost a Republican primary challenge to Ron Paul. John Bryant abandoned his 5th CD seat in an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for Senate, and Pete Sessions swooped in. Meanwhile, Nick Lampson made the loopy Stockman a one-termer.

That’s the last time an incumbent was defeated, though several others have had close calls, and it’s the last time a seat changed parties. There were a few retirements (Bill Archer, Dick Armey, Jack Fields) and other open seats (Ken Bentsen), but in each case the same party held the seat.

Thus, in the two elections immediately following the “great gerrymander” election of 1992, the Republicans picked up four seats. They got two more after the 2001 reapportionment, bringing us to the current total.

I don’t really have a point to make here, I just thought this was interesting. Make of it what you will. You can find all of the data here; please note that there was a “special” election and a runoff election in 1996, which accounts for most of the several missing Congressional election results in the November general election.

Redistricting passes House

According to Byron, the State House has apparently managed to scrape up a quorum, and almost immediately afterwards passed redistricting bill HB1 (2) by a 75-26 margin, with one member voting “present”. I suppose this has to be the same House bill that the Senate pooped on last session – how else could it have gotten out of committee so fast? – but I can’t say for sure just yet. Here is the bill, as noted by Rob. I’ll try to find a map later.

Meanwhile, the Chron has an article on Sen. Ken Armbrister, the lone Democrat to remain in Austin (with the apparent blessing of his colleagues), and an article on the House Dems, who are expressing their solidarity with their Senate colleagues. The Statesman has a timeline from yesterday and an update on the Burnam lawsuit. Other newspapers are still reporting that the House did not have a quorum today. I expect they’ll catch up soon.

UPDATE: The Chron confirms that the House passed the same bill that the Senate rejected in the first session.

[A]t about 12:55 p.m., the House had the necessary 100 members to restore the quorum and get back to work. Then 20 minutes later, at 1:15 p.m., the House agreed to suspend all rules and passed a congressional redistricting bill on final reading without referring it to a committee first. The bill is the same one the House passed in the first special session.

That means the issue now goes to the Senate for consideration, but there has been no quorum in that chamber since Monday, when 11 Democratic senators fled to Albuquerque, N.M., to block any effort to pass a redistricting bill this session.

Stupid question: given that the House bill is no more likely to pass the Senate in this session than it was last session even if the Dems come back, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to either pass the Staples bill from last session or to draw up another bill? What exactly have they gained from this, other than the ability to adjourn and say they did their piece? Assuming, of course, that Craddick et al are willing to let any of the Dems who are currently present out of their sight.

My head hurts.

UPDATE: More on the House bill, how it passed so quickly, and reaction from House Dems, who appear to be ready to head home.

Those wacky librarians

And now for a short break from the re-redistricting follies to catch up on some other wacky zealotry, this time up in Montgomery County, which is north of Houston. Some of you may recall the efforts of a group called the Republican Leadership Council to ban certain books from the local libraries, and also to censor some men’s room murals at a restaruant. (Read about it here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Today, the Chron reports that the RLC is at it again, but this time they were thwarted by the Commissioner’s Court.

The Christian conservative Republican Leadership Council suffered a setback Monday when Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted to keep the county’s membership in the American Library Association and to leave county library book-selection policies unchanged.

The 3-2 showdown vote ended weeks of momentum for the divisive issue, which ostensibly centered on whether the ALA, the national organization for professional librarians, has too much influence on what books go onto county library shelves.

ALA opponents say the group is atheistic, communistic and supportive of homosexuality.


RLC leaders sought to make the vote a referendum on the moral views of county leaders. Last fall, the organization raised the same issues on the eve of a $10 million library bond proposal, which later passed with 52 percent of the vote.

This time around, RLC speakers targeted the county’s approximately $1,000-a-year ALA membership and urged commissioners to support Sadler’s proposal to drop the affiliation in what one ALA foe, Mark Cadwallader, called “an ultra-liberal, atheist-based organization for the advancement of pornography and homosexuality”

Well, at least they toned down the rhetoric this time around. I just want to thank the RLC for reminding all of us that no matter how crazy things may get up in Austin, the real foolishness is always at the local level.

Morning roundup

As everyone knows by now, the “Texas 11” Democratic State Senators are holed up in Albuquerque, thus denying the Senate a quorum and scuttling (for now) the second special session which was called yesterday afternoon, immediately after the first session was adjourned. Though there is no organized boycott on the House side, that chamber may also have quorum problems:

On the House side Monday, members remained in the chamber between special sessions. Only 85 members were present, 15 short of the quorum that’s needed to conduct business, when the second special session began.

Both chambers plan to reconvene this morning, though there’s little chance the Senate will have enough members to do business. The House also might be out of business for awhile. Democratic leaders said they don’t think the House will have a quorum any time soon.

“I would hope not. There’s no reason to be here,” said Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

But [House Speaker Tom] Craddick assured reporters the House would be ready to do business today with 100 members.

Democrats made their move amid fear that they would have been locked in to the Senate chamber otherwise.

[Sen. John] Whitmire said that Democrats — who had prepared a contingency plan that included two chartered planes — feared that [Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst would then have moved quickly to order the Senate doors locked to prevent a walkout.

By the time Dewhurst convened the Senate for the second session about 4 p.m. Monday, the 11 Democrats were already airborne. The only Democratic senator to stay behind was Ken Armbrister of Victoria, who said he supported his colleagues’ effort but preferred to try to work out a redistricting compromise.

Dewhurst spokesman Dave Beckwith denied that the lieutenant governor had been preparing a trap for the dissidents.

“There wasn’t going to be a surprise where they got locked in. There were no surprises planned,” Beckwith said.

It seems unlikely that any extraordinary measures will be taken to track the Texas 11 down, but they’re wary anyway.

Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, said the dissidents would remain in Albuquerque, where they checked into a Marriott Hotel, “as long as it takes.”

“We’ve got lawyers,” he said, adding the Democrats were prepared to fight any steps to get them back. He said they already had notified the office of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, that they were visiting his state.

Gallegos said the Democrats had heard that Republican officials back home were planning to hire “bounty hunters,” or private investigators, to round them up. But Beckwith replied, “I don’t think it will come to that.”

Before he knew for sure that the Democrats had left Texas, Dewhurst said Senate officials were considering hiring off-duty police officers to assist in tracking down the missing senators. He said he doubted that Texas Department of Public Safety troopers would be used.

The use of DPS troopers and Texas Rangers to aid House officials in tracking down the Democrats who fled to Oklahoma created controversy.

The state attorney general’s office advised Dewhurst on Monday that the Senate sergeant-at-arms or officers appointed by him “have full legal authority to arrest absent senators ‘wherever they may be found.’ ”

And Assistant Attorney General Jeff Boyd told reporters that he would advise the DPS to go after the absent senators.

But as long as the senators are in Albuquerque, Dewhurst added, “From a practical standpoint, there’s not much we can do.”

However, a stalled ruling in the lawsuit by Rep. Lon Burnam against DPS leaves the matter open from a legal standpoint.

When 51 House Democrats went missing in May, Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick ordered DPS officers to locate and haul them back to the Capitol.

State Judge Charles Campbell ruled on July 10 that Craddick overstepped his authority and could not use DPS officers as a resource. Campbell was expected to make a final ruling in the lawsuit filed by Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, on Monday, but postponed his decision for further review. Burnam filed the lawsuit in May to stop what he alleged was the destruction of documents that were gathered to find the missing House Democrats.

Campbell, a visiting judge who once served on the Court of Criminal Appeals as a Democrat, said he would not consider how the outcome of the lawsuit would affect the Senate.

“This lawsuit is not on behalf of the Texas Senate,” Campbell said. “There is no reason to include them because they’re not a party of the suit.”

Attorneys for Burnam argued that because the House and the Senate are members of the Legislature, they are under the same rules and should be considered in the suit. If a senator approached Burnam to be added to the suit, Senate members could be added quickly, said Art Brender, a lawyer for Burnam and chairman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party.

The stalled ruling gives Dewhurst the option of asking for DPS assistance in bringing the senators back because the case would not apply to the Senate, only the House.

However, Dewhurst said he would not use DPS officers to bring them back.

One tack the Republicans will take this time is to protray the Democrats as being on vacation.

Mr. Dewhurst predicted the wayward Democrats “will lose the public relations battle” by traveling to a vacation spot.

Asked whether he considered Albuquerque a vacation destination, the lieutenant governor said, “I certainly think it’s more of a vacation spot than Ardmore.”

[Sen. Leticia] Van de Putte said Democrats chose Albuquerque because of available medical facilities that could aid Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, recuperating from a heart attack earlier this summer.

“Even though my doctor opposed it, I knew how important it was to have 11,” Mr. Lucio said.

FWIW, I’ve been to Albuquerque, and with all due respect it’s as much a vacation spot as Houston is. Santa Fe or Ruidoso, now those are vacation spots.

The Democrats say they will stay away for as long as it takes, but they will return if the 2/3 rule is restored.

“We did not want to be here,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said here at a news conference, hours after two private jets delivered the 11 senators safely out of state.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s call for a second special legislative session to consider redistricting forced them to break a Senate quorum the same afternoon, Van de Putte said, and breaking a quorum was “one of the tools granted to us under the Texas Constitution.”

She said the Democrats would return home if Gov. Rick Perry canceled the redistricting effort or if Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst agrees to restore the Senate rule that allowed them to block that effort in the special session that had ended just hours earlier.

The rule that keeps the Senate from debating bills without a two-thirds majority also has been used by Republicans in the past to block redistricting proposals by Democrats in the majority, Van de Putte said.

Senators said they were prepared to stay away the full 30 days the special session may last.

“Anything to kill this session,” said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

The Dems also note that the 2/3 rule has killed redistricting efforts before.

The Democrats noted that former colleague Republican Sen. David Sibley of Waco and a coalition of Republican senators used the Senate’s two-thirds rule in 2001 to block a congressional redistricting bill.

“Two years later, now that every single African-American and Hispanic member of the Texas Senate wants to use the same rules to stop consideration of the same issue, suddenly they want to change the same rules,” the Democrats said.

As always, stay tuned for more.

Editorial spotlight:

The DMN has the Top Ten Reasons why this second special session is a bad idea.

The Statesman says there’s simply no need to redraw the lines.

The Express-News says Gov. Perry should pull the plug.

The Star-Telegram says this is a bad investment which is costing the state money it can ill afford.

No opinions on this subject today from the Houston Chronicle (which has been strongly anti-redistricting from the beginning), Waco Trib, El Paso Times, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Corpus Christi Caller, or Midland Reporter-Telegram.

Early coverage

Some of these are AP wire reports, but they’re all different, so here you go:

Morning News

More tomorrow.

Going, going…

The special session is ending a day early, with another to start almost immediately afterwards. However, it may be a moot point, for it appears that 11 Democratic Senators have left town.

One Democratic senator who asked not to be named, told the Chronicle in a phone interview that senators were apparently on their way out of town.

“I have no idea where we’re going. I just know in a little bit we will be out of pocket,” the senator said.

He would not say how many senators had left but called it an “adequate” number to break a quorum and keep the Senate from conducting business.

The Senate requires two-thirds, or 21 senators, to be present to conduct business, meaning the absence of 11 senators could break a quorum. There are 12 Democrats in the Senate.

The senator said the action was precipitated by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s decision to bypass a traditional Senate rule that requires a two-thirds vote to debate any bill.

That rule, which has been in effect during the current special session, has so far blocked redistricting in the Senate.

The senator said the Democrats fled because they feared Perry would immediately call a second special session and Dewhurst would lock down the Senate chambers and prevent members from leaving.

The first session was to end by midnight Tuesday, but the Senate adjourned at 2:30 p.m. and the House was expected to adjourn minutes later.

Dewhurst earlier had told reporters Perry was expected to call a second special session minutes after both houses adjourned.

Of the 12 Democratic senators, the only one to show up for a 2 p.m. session today was Ken Armbrister of Victoria.

According to the Quorum Report, the House Democrats have also vamoosed. This is going to get out of hand in short order.

What happens next? According to the Quorum Report, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst will “put out a call on missing Democrats”, which I’m guessing means an announcement that if they come back now, he’ll pretend nothing happened, and if they don’t, he’ll take whatever steps are at his disposal to bring them back. He only needs one, after all. Judge Charles Campbell is expected to rule shortly whether or not Dewhurst can use DPS to find them.

If Campbell rules that DPS is off limits, I can’t really see what Dewhurst can reasonably do. I doubt he’ll send out bounty hunters, though at this point I’m leery to make any unqualified remark. If DPS is in play, then I’d expect this to be over quickly, though the apparent re-disappearance of the House Dems greatly complicates things.

If at some point both houses have a quorum, then a bill still has to be passed in each chamber. The House bill from the first session was rejected by the Senate, and the Senate bills did not create separate districts for Midland and Lubbock, a point of contention for House Speaker Tom Craddick, who wants two different districts, and almost everyone in Lubbock and Abilene, who likes things as they are.

Man. And I thought May was a crazy month.

UPDATE: Byron reports at Polstate that the Dems are off to New Mexico, another state with a Democratic Governor and Attorney General. Fasten your seat belts…

UPDATE: According to the Quorum Report, the House Dems did not walk out, they just were scattered at 2 PM. It’s just the Senators that have gone missing.

UPDATE: According to Byron, the renegade Dems are in contact with the Republicans in Austin and will come back if there is a blocker bill. That would be a major victory for the Dems, though I expect they’d have to agree to rescind their “unalterable opposition” letter in order for this to be worth the GOP’s consideration.

UPDATE: Here’s a partial statement from the “Texas 11” as posted on the Quorum Report:

“Today, we 11 Democratic senators have availed ourselves of the tool granted to us under the Texas constitution to break the quorum of the Texas Senate.

“This is not about Democrats or Republicans; this is about democracy. It’s about civil rights.

“This is not an action we take lightly. There are not many issues that would rise to the level of importance as this one, but we do not take giving minority Texans a voice lightly, either.

“When the congressional districts of those Democrats targeted by Republicans are eliminated, over 1.4 million minority Texans will have no advocates because their homes will be drawn into districts in which they will have no voice in choosing their member of Congress.

“In these targeted districts, minority Texans know that the Democrats who represent them, elected with a coalition of minorities and Republicans, are the last advocates in Congress they will ever have if the Republican leadership has its way.

Confirming what Byron noted earlier, they say they’ll be on the “first flight bacK” if the 2/3 rule is restored.

Darned Good Questions Dept.

Stephen Bates, in the comments to this post, asks a couple of darned good questions about electronic voting machines:

[W]hat compelling argument can any corporation offer that its vote-counting software should be proprietary? What gives any nonpublic entity the right to count the votes without a close inspection of the means by which they do so, by any interested parties?

Anyone want to take a crack at them? Personally, I think he’s dead-on right.

Blogging: Not just for Dallas any more

You know that the Dallas Morning News has a Corner-style political blog written by its editorial board, but did you know that the Austin American-Statesman has an arts and entertainment blog written by its arts and entertainment staff? It made its debut on July 15. The good news: Actual archives (sort of) and a bio of each blog writer. The bad news: No permalinks on each entry, archives only for the days of that week and all of the previous week, no blogroll. The depends-on-your-perspective news: Each entry is a self-contained unit with its own subject, so no confusing references to previous entries that may have scrolled off the page and no “conversation”. I do predict that eventually they’ll figure out to add permalinks, if for no better reason so that they can refer to an earlier post.

That’s two major Texas dailies with blogs. What’s everyone else waiting for?

If you love something, set it free

On Saturday, I discovered Tiffany sitting at the computer, logged into a webpage called BookCrossing, which is some kind of crunchy-granola peer-to-peer book swapping network. (My first question to her: Does the RIAA know about this?) She was busily entering the ISBN’s of her soon-to-be-liberated paperbacks, applying BookCrossing stickers to them (they had arrived in the mail on Friday), and plotting where she’d set them free. We dropped off a couple at Rudyard’s later that night, she’s got jury duty today and will be depositing a couple others there, and so on. All of this was entered into the BookCrossing database – title, category, “release notes”, where released, etc. I’ve been greatly amused by the whole thing.

You never know what this sort of thing can bring, though. Tiffany has a fondness for trashy paperback romance novels (best recent title: Nerd in Shining Armor). BookCrossing allows you to search for books by category, and on Sunday she had received an email from a woman in Tehran who was very interested in getting her hands on any of these books. Apparently, trashy American romance novels are a rarity there (go figure), so having noticed Tiffany’s recent entries, this woman wanted to know if she’d reconsider her release strategy. As such, Tiffany has decided to mail some books to this woman instead. (My second question to her: Are you sure this won’t land us on some Ashcroftian blacklist?)

Anyway, if you’re overburdened with paperbacks and find this sort of thing appealing, read about BookCrossing and see if it’s for you. You never know where your books may wind up.


One of the effects of adding Sitemeter code to my archive pages was to move up by about a month the date on which my 100,000th Sitemeter hit would arrive. Counting the roughly 18,500 hits I got on my old Blogspot blog, that hit came this morning at 7:52 on a referral from Calpundit. That seems fitting, as it was a couple of links from Kevin that helped spike my traffic even more this month. With two different counters, two different blog locations, and a long stretch of not seeing search engine requests in my Sitemeter stats, this is of course a totally arbitrary event. But then so is most of blogging, so what the heck.

Thanks as always to everyone for reading and for coming back for more. Now on to seven digits! Just don’t ask me to estimate a date for it.

This ought to be fun

So that Ramirez cartoon which has caused such a kerfuffle is in today’s Chron. I can’t wait to see the letters to the editor. I make it even money that at least one person will write to say that he will cancel his subscription because of it. Whatever else you may say about Ramirez, any cartoon that can be this grossly misunderstood has to be considered a flop.

(On a side note, both of the comics on Page 2 of the op-eds were Ramirez cartoons. How about a little variety, guys? There are plenty of other cartoonists out there. One Ramirez cartoon is more than enough.)

Sunday editorials

I thought there’d be some editorial action regarding the effective end of this special session in the major dailies today, but pretty much all there is can be found in the Chron, with one minor exception: This Star-Telegram piece attempts to analyze the claim that state legislatures should draw Congressional boundaries to reflect the state’s political landscape. The conclusion is that this is not the norm around the country, but unfortunately it’s missing a link to a graphic that depicts this. A shame, that.

Anyway, in the hometown fishwrap we have yet another unsigned editorial calling for the end of the GOP’s attempts to redraw the lines and a Clay Robison column that mocks Comptroller Strayhorn for her braying about losing some power in the Death Star government reorganization bill, the fault of which, he tells Carole, lies not in the stars:

The audits, begun by former Comptroller John Sharp under a 1991 state law, are designed to save taxpayers money, and they have, to the extent that the Legislature and local school boards have adopted the comptroller’s recommendations.

But equally important for the politically ambitious Strayhorn, the high-profile tasks also provide frequent publicity opportunities. She can brag about saving tax dollars, even though the comptroller’s main job is something far less attractive — collecting taxes.

Could the audits be performed as efficiently and thoroughly by the Legislative Budget Board? Perhaps. But would the LBB, which is an arm of the Legislature, be as independent as the comptroller? Maybe. Maybe not.

It is an issue that would be better left for the next regular session of the Legislature to address in 2005. But political retribution doesn’t like to wait.

Strayhorn said she was the victim of “political payback” because she was a “staunch protector of taxpayer dollars.”

The comptroller’s primary enemy, however, is her obvious political ambition. She seems constantly on the prowl for higher office, which makes both Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate’s presiding officer, wary, since either — under the right circumstances — could stand in her way.

Perry, Dewhurst and countless legislators of both parties also are still miffed that Strayhorn, with little warning, doubled her projected revenue shortfall on the eve of the regular session last winter and then ranted — ludicrously — about the Legislature throwing a spending “party” two years ago.

A better person than me would not gloat about such things. Good thing I have such low standards.

On the op-ed side, we have this slap at Governor Perry for denying $300,000 in discretionary funds to the American GI Forum, and this call by an “independent” voter for an “independent citizens’ redistricting commission”. Not directly related to redistricting but of interest nonetheless is this piece about the Democratas Unidas project and its attempts to woo Hispanic voters in 2004.

Happy reading. I feel a nap coming on.

A short rant about the National Anthem

I’m a season ticket holder for the Houston Comets and have been for four years now. I generally enjoy the experience – the price is right, the fans are into the action, the team is good – but there’s one part of every game that makes me cringe. I speak of the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner”.

Almost every singer of the National Anthem at these games is some kind of pop-singer wannabe who gives a breathy, wants-to-be-soulful-but-comes-off-as-tacky version of the song, and it always just sounds wrong to me. Today’s rendition, performed by one of the Comets’ “Team NRG” dancers, was the most egregious I’ve yet encountered. I swear, I thought the girl was going to start writhing during the bridge. The Comets have had a color guard present the flag before each game, and I can’t help but wonder what they think of this.

Now, I don’t believe that the only proper arrangement of the Anthem is based on John Phillip Sousa’s. It’s still a piece of music, and and that means it’s a valid means for creative exploration by different artists. But as my friend Eve once remarked, the Star Spangled Banner isn’t supposed to sound sexy. That’s just not appropriate.

I think what bothers me the most about these singers is that their performance of the Banner sounds to me like it’s about them rather than about the song. Every added pause, every trill and fermata, and especially the sky-high octave on “land of the free”, often comes across to me as the performer’s ego. Again, there’s nothing wrong with adding some color to the song, but it should be in the interest of the song and not the singer. This isn’t “American Idol”, dammit. It’s a sporting event, and you’re fulfilling a ritualistic obligation. Sing the song and take your seat.

I admit, I’m an old-fart classic-rock-listening stick in the mud whose taste is very much out of step with most of the audience at these games. But know this: When the revolution comes and I’m put in charge of this sort of thing, any singer who commits an offense against good taste in performing the National Anthem will get five years on the chain gang. You have been warned.

WAC to expand?

The Western Athletic Conference, home of your 2003 National Champion Rice Owls Baseball Team, is thinking about expanding to 12 teams.

Speaking at the WAC preseason football media gathering, [WAC Commissioner Karl] Benson said the league’s athletic directors expressed interest during a meeting last fall of adding two teams and splitting into eastern and western divisions.

The WAC has 10 teams, only four of which are in the Central Time Zone — Rice, SMU, Tulsa and Louisiana Tech. Adding two more schools from the Central Time Zone would allow the conference to have two six-team divisions and reduce travel.

Boise State, Hawaii, Fresno State, San Jose State, Nevada and Texas-El Paso would be in the west, with Rice, Louisiana Tech, SMU, Tulsa and two other schools in the east.

Benson said the conference toyed with the idea of splitting into divisions in 2000 but shelved the idea until last fall. Now that the dominoes have been put in motion for nationwide realignment with Virginia Tech and Miami leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference, Benson believes the WAC needs to be proactive.

“From a timing standpoint, everything rests in the Big East’s hands, and we’re waiting for the Big East to decide what their structure is going to be,” he said. “We are prepared that if the Big East goes in the direction they’re headed and extends invitations to some Conference USA schools, that we’ll be prepared to react in a way to put us in a positive position.”

Benson wouldn’t identify which schools the WAC would target, but Houston — which currently competes in C-USA — is believed to be on the list. TCU, which left the WAC for C-USA following the 2000 season, and Tulane are options.

“We have identified some particular schools we thought could be a good fit,” he said. “The six-team Central Time Zone division is still a top priority for us, but I’ve been able to say as the dominoes fall that there may be schools available to the WAC that weren’t available to us in 2000 when we started to go down the division route.”

Interesting. It’s not quite the Yoda Plan, which calls for expansion to 14 teams and leaves UTEP in the Eastern division, but I like the fact that the conference is at least being proactive about its future. After all the years we’ve had to hear about various schools flirting with with Mountain West Conference, it would be nice to try and get some actual stability. I applaud them for that.

Lines in the balance

Redistricting is dead…for now.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Friday declared congressional redistricting dead for the current special session but said it will pass even if it takes two more sessions.

“Sooner or later, we’re going to have a new plan,” Dewhurst said.

Dewhurst said he expects Gov. Rick Perry to call a second special session on congressional redistricting soon after the current session ends.

Each special session costs taxpayers an estimated $1.7 million.

Dewhurst said it would be almost impossible to pass redistricting in the current special session, which ends at midnight Tuesday, because there are not enough votes in the Senate to bring the bill up for debate.

“In essence, redistricting in this session is dead,” Dewhurst said.

Whether the Democratic Senators will boycott another session, and whether anyone has the authority to drag them back to Austin if they do boycott, is open to debate.

When House members fled to Ardmore, Okla., in May, House officials sent the Department of Public Safety in search of them. A lawsuit sparked by that action has produced a preliminary ruling by a state district judge saying that the DPS cannot hunt down AWOL lawmakers.

Although the Texas Constitution gives the Legislature the power to compel attendance, it leaves it to each chamber to decide on enforcement.

Austin attorney Keith Hampton, advising Senate Democrats, has told them that the Senate’s GOP leadership cannot have them arrested and returned to establish a quorum.

“They can just go home,” Hampton said. “I don’t think one member or one group of members could exercise any force against the others.”

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office is expected to ask state District Judge Charles Campbell on Monday to narrow or change his ruling on the use of law enforcement agencies, and Abbott has said he will appeal the decision.

Hampton also thinks the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms cannot use his staff or hire private investigators to track down senators.

“If the senators aren’t doing what the people want, then the people can throw them out of office,” he said.

On apparent side effect of all this is the death of SB22, the Death Star government reorganization bill, and its provision to remove power from the Comptroller’s office.

It remains unclear whether the government reorganization legislation would return in a second special session. The bill’s House sponsor watched as a variation of the bill died during the regular session.

“I don’t know how many times a bill can die, but that one has a long and storied history of being dead,” said Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas.

The bill’s apparent death on Friday was a major blow to Perry, because it would have given him greater authority over state agencies, and to Dewhurst, because his responsibilities would also have expanded.

But the demise of Senate Bill 22 was a huge victory for Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who managed to beat back an attempt to strip her agency of the authority to audit the state’s bureaucracy and transfer the duties to the Legislative Budget Board, which Dewhurst heads.

She had blamed Dewhurst for the legislation, saying the lieutenant governor had ushered the bill through the Senate on Thursday. Strayhorn had earlier angered her fellow Republicans leading the Legislature by criticizing their budget priorities.

“This is political payback — and it has no place in state government,” Strayhorn said.

If nothing else, all this has been good for the various pollsters and political scientists who get quoted in analytical articles like this one.

Political scientists and polltakers agreed that few voters care deeply yet about the prolonged redistricting battle, though they differed about whether the public eventually will punish one side or the other.

“It’s an activist fight,” said Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “The mass public does not have a way to relate to how redistricting is affecting their interest.”

Mr. Buchanan said he was surprised that Republicans and Democrats are not spending advertising dollars to sway the public to their side.

Democrats packed field hearings with critics of the push for a new redistricting plan by such Washington Republicans as U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land and senior White House adviser Karl Rove.

For instance, at seven meetings the Senate held across the state, 89 percent of the 2,620 witnesses opposed any change in the congressional maps drawn by federal judges two years ago, after the Legislature failed to produce a plan.

Ordinary Texans may not be aware of the redistricting battle at all, said Mr. Montgomery and Mike Baselice, a GOP pollster in Austin.

However, Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said he thinks a good many voters are watching the spectacle at least sporadically and with casual interest.

“The public is sitting back, sort of bemused at this point,” Dr. Jillson said. “It’s having a hard time sorting out fact from fiction. Republicans say it’s a matter of fairness, that they’ve got 58 percent of the vote in this state. … Democrats say this is a heinous act of political hardball.”

Tune in Monday for more.

Spotlight on electronic voting flaws

I’ve not really covered the subject of electronic voting and the problems that are inherent to its implementations – several other bloggers have done yeoman’s work on the topic – but I’d still like to point out the newfound interest that the mass media has taken on the subject. None of this is really news to anyone who’s followed the story – in fact, experts have warned about the problem for years. It’s not that this can’t be done properly, it’s that the way the leading vendors have chosen to do it is flawed, both from a security perspective and an auditing one.

Rob puts his finger on the issue.

This story points to a bigger problem in the way people approach technology. Many problems that we encounter in the business world are not “technology-solvable” problems, they’re process problems. For example, a given person’s roles and responsibilities are not defined. Whatever the nature of the problem, technology will not solve it. People solve problems.

Same with the voting systems we use here. If we just used the machines and no other tools, fraud could run rampant. Just like with punch cards. There has to be a process for verifying a person’s identity and ensuring that they only vote once.

That’s exactly right. What was the problem that all this technology was supposed to solve? It was that punch card and optical scan ballots often did not record votes properly and the people who cast those votes had no way of knowing it. You could have largely solved this problem by giving people a way to check and correct their ballots before they relinquished control of them. I’ll grant that some electronic voting schemes, such as the e-Slate system in Harris County, do allow for that, but at the cost of losing an unassailable audit trail and opening the door to more subtle and sophisticated means of fraud. How exactly is that improving anything?

And the crazy thing is that a lot of the issue vanishes if the voting machines simply printed out a hard copy of the ballot after the voter has checked and approved it. Drop the hard copy in a bin like before and count those. You still have the identity question to deal with, but at least now you’ve got ballots that people will have confidence in and a surefire way of verifying them. Seems like a slamdunk to me.

Anyway, the full report by the researchers is here. Like Ginger, I’m acquainted with Dan Wallach; in fact, one of his students, whom I also know, tipped me to these links (thanks, David!). Houston’s a big ol’ small town sometimes.

Payback’s a bitch

Back in January, just after ‘fessing up that her projection of a $5 billion budget shortfall was off by a factor of 2, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn uttered the following words: “The last Legislature had a party and left this Legislature with a hangover.” Quite a few Senators took umbrage to this assertion. Yesterday, they extracted a bit of revenge.

The Texas Senate on Thursday stripped the state comptroller’s office of two major components, including one that has served as a platform for the comptroller to cite waste in state government.

Senate Bill 22 included a host of measures aimed at streamlining state government and broadening the powers of the governor.


But the most controversial measure was moving the comptroller’s e-Texas division and state school performance audits to the Legislative Budget Board.

Supporters said the move will save the state $14 million a year.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Legislative Budget Board already performs efficiency audits for other state agencies.

“Why in the world would we have a group in the Legislative Budget Board and a group in the comptroller’s office doing virtually the same thing?” Dewhurst asked.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn hinted that the move was “political retribution” for her criticism of the Legislature for not showing more spending restraint during strong economic times.

“I believe the lieutenant governor is misguided, and I hope this is not some form of political retribution for my efforts to be a staunch defender of taxpayer dollars and an honest ‘tell it like it is’ watchdog for all the people of Texas,” she said in a statement.

Pardon me while I gag. Strayhorn sandbagged everyone in January – well after the elections were safely over, mind you – with her “revised” estimate of the budget shortfall. She refused to recognize economic reality and kept up the happy talk until it was too late to have an honest debate about what was happening. She’s an opportunistic, grandstanding hack, and I have no sympathy for her.

Sen. Rodney Ellis puts it best:

Ellis chuckled at the suggestion that he had any political motivation for including the provision stripping away Strayhorn’s so-called E-Texas operation, which conducts agency audits and recommends money-saving measures to the Legislative Budget Board.

“I’m sure she was not referring to me,” Ellis said with a grin. “Although I was chair of [the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee] at the ‘party’ she made reference to. I don’t know if it was [another lawmaker] or me who said if there was a party, she must have been the bartender.”

You might notice, by the way, that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst supports this provision. If nothing else, that gives Ellis some cover from Strayhorn’s attack.

Of course, payback comes in many forms. The American GI Forum strongly protested against redistricting, and now they face major cuts in thier Veterans Outreach employment program.

Because of a $300,000 loss in funding that some have blamed on partisan politics, the San Antonio-based outreach program will close three of its six statewide offices today.

Offices in Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth will shut down, while operations in San Antonio, El Paso and Houston will remain open.

“This is not hurting the American GI Forum; this is hurting veterans — period,” said Ram Chavez, state commander of the civil rights group, composed primarily of Hispanic veterans.

The forced closures have sparked a political backlash from veterans and Democrats who charge that Republican Gov. Rick Perry cut the funding as retaliation to the GI Forum’s boisterous opposition to Texas’ congressional redistricting plan.

Democrats from Austin to Washington immediately registered their disapproval.

U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, questioned whether “political reasons” caused Perry to yank the funding that every governor has approved since the 1970s.

He was joined by state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio.

“It is beyond me why the governor would choose now to stop a federally funded program to aid veterans in their return to society,” she said. “The only reason I can think of is retaliation for the GI Forum demonstrations against redistricting.”

Politics is such fun, isn’t it? I’m so glad we’ve got another 30 days of the Legislature to look forward to.

Will they stay or will they go?

Despite continued wooing from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and redistricting map author Sen. Todd Staples (R, Palestine), Senate Democrats continue to make hints and allegations that they will not stick around for another, blocker-bill-free, special session. Testimony from a defense attorney who asserted that the state Constitution says they can’t be arrested for not showing up can only bolster them.

Criminal defense attorney Keith Hampton also told the Senate Democratic Caucus that an arrest by a Senate sergeant at arms or a private security agency to force senators to the Senate floor for a vote might be prosecutable as kidnapping under state law.

“And it gets worse than that. If someone in the Legislature directed them to do that, there is the crime of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping,” punishable by up to life in prison, Hampton told the Houston Chronicle Thursday.

I presume this is a logical extension of the state court ruling by Judge Charles Campbell that rebuked Speaker Tom Craddick for using the DPS to hunt down the Killer Ds. Republicans were noncommittal in response to Hampton’s warning.

Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, evaded questions about whether he would order the Democrats arrested if they broke the Senate quorum.

“I will continue to follow state law. I understand that (Campbell’s) ruling has been appealed by the attorney general,” Dewhurst said.

Campbell’s ruling applied state law, and Hampton said it will provide a starting point for any challenge to Department of Public Safety authority to bring in legislators who break quorum.

Dewhurst is slightly mistaken – Campbell’s ruling hasn’t been filed yet, and so it hasn’t been appealed yet – but I imagine that’s not a big deal.

Several Senators have explicitly declared their intentions.

“I’m ready to walk,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the Senate’s longest-serving member.

“For me, there is no benefit to staying for another special session,” said Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston. “I can tell you as far as breaking a quorum, 11 will break it.”

Neither Sen. Bill Ratliff, the lone Republican to “unalterably oppose” redistricting, nor apparently Sen. Ken Armbrister (D, Victoria), who was the first to mention a walkout in response to a suspension of traditional Senate rules, will boycott another session, meaning it’s the 11 other Senate Democrats, which would be exactly enough to prevent a quorum. There’s not a whole lot of margin for error there. It’s also leading to a sense of paranoia:

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said some senators are afraid Perry will call a new special session immediately after the current session ends on Tuesday, while Democratic senators are still in the Capitol.

“You get a strong paranoia or concern that they are going to sine die (adjourn) at noon and call us back an hour later so they can lock us up in here,” Whitmire said.

Mr. Gallegos, a former firefighter, said Democrats are aware that Mr. Dewhurst could lock members in Senate chambers, especially if a special session is called immediately after the current one adjourns. It can end no later than midnight Tuesday.

“I do keep ties with my firefighters that have the Jaws of Life,” Mr. Gallegos said. “They can bolt any door open here in the Capitol.”

(Note: the Whitmire quote is from the Chron, the Gallegos quote from the Morning News.)

We will know soon what the Democrats plan to do, and then presumably what if anything the GOP will do in response.

Democrats are expected to meet within the next day to discuss the logistics of skipping a second special session.

“I think there are 11 who are extremely firm in their view that this is not an issue that warrants us coming in for a special session,” said Leticia Van De Putte of San Antonio, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“All senators need to make their own decisions, then we will make a collective decision.”

There is one possible bargaining chip that I can see, which is Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s less aggressive map, perhaps in addition to Wentworth’s bill to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission. That bill is starting to pick up public support.

The continued fuss prompted government watchdogs, voter groups and religious groups to push for a proposal by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, to have redistricting done in the future by an independent commission rather than lawmakers.

The groups include the League of Women Voters, Campaigns for People, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Independent Texans, the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and Texas Impact.

“In a democracy, the voters are supposed to be supreme and they’re supposed to choose their representatives,” said Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People. “Under our redistricting process in Texas, the politicians are supreme and they choose their voters” through the way they draw districts.

Wentworth’s bill is SJR2, the slightly-unreadable text of which is here.

UPDATE: Redistricting is officially dead this session, without a map being brought up for a vote. A second session will be called (my guess: next week) and there will be no blocker bill. The Chron just has an AP wire story right now, but the Statesman has a slightly fuller staff report. I’ll survey the news stories tomorrow morning.

A little blogwatching

Just a few things that caught my eye recently…

Cowboy Kahlil does some electoral math.

You’ve probably already seen Calpundit’s pointer to the Medpundit‘s Road to Damascus moment (scroll down to that title) regarding tort reform and malpractice insurance, but you probably haven’t been reading Hope‘s recent posts on various related topics. Check out Socialism? Or Common Sense?, Play Or Pay?, Controlling Health Care Spending, with “Tort Reform” right underneath it. Her links are screwy, so scroll down to the given title for each.

The Minute Man has a useful timeline of the Valerie Plame affair.

Pete has a troubling report of a big sequel that may be in the works.

Mark Evanier reminisces about Ray Bradbury.

David discovers a novel way to boost revenue in Pennsylvania.

Ginger talks about ideology, character, and blog-reading.

And Dwight at P.L.A. has three top-notch posts, about frivolous lawsuits, balancing the budget, and pork-barrel spending.

Happy reading!

Poll numbers for Perry

Rob comes through again in the comments on this post, by finding this report on the Montgomery poll regarding redistricting and Governor Rick Perry’s popularity. It ain’t pretty:

Surveyors told respondents, “Governor Perry has called an unusual special session to change current congressional districts, although they were redrawn just two years ago,” and then asked “Do you support or oppose this redistricting effort?” 45.5 percent of Texans opposed redistricting; 30 percent supported it. One in four respondents (24.5 percent) did not have an opinion.

Strongest opposition came from Democrats (70.9 percent), East Texans (55.7 percent), African-Americans (55.7 percent), Central Texans (52.5 percent), and Hispanics (51 percent). Self-identified Republicans were the only demographic group who were more likely to support than oppose the redistricting effort (47.9 percent supported, 24.8 percent opposed). Texans aged 18-34 were in a statistical tie on the issue, 36.9 percent supporting and 35.4 percent opposed.

Margin of error is plus or minus 3.1%. I wish that we could see a full breakdown of the numbers, but the message is pretty clear: this effort is not popular with anyone.

So how’s Perry doing?

On the Governor’s job performance rating, 7.4 percent of respondents said Gov. Perry was doing an excellent job; 38.1 percent said a good job; 34.1 percent said “only fair”; and 14.5 percent said the Governor was doing a poor job. 5.8 percent had no opinion. That’s an overall 45.5 percent positive, 48.6 percent negative rating. Except for a bump among Republicans (64.4 percent positive), Perry did not do particularly well among any group. He did particularly poorly among African Americans (73.4 percent negative) and Democrats (68.4 percent negative).

Perry’s impression numbers were mixed. 33.7 percent had a favorable impression of him, while 24.6 percent had an unfavorable impression. 38.7 percent were neutral. These numbers held fairly steady among most demographic groups, except for the expected shifts among self-identified Republicans (51.9 percent favorable, 10.4 percent unfavorable) and Democrats. (15.8 percent favorable, 43.1 percent unfavorable).

This comes with a couple of big caveats. First and foremost, Perry doesn’t run for reelection until 2006, which is an eternity from now. Second, these numbers are not all that different from what they were just before the 2002 election.

The [Scripps Howard Texas] poll also showed that only 44 percent of the people approved of the governor’s performance in office — his lowest mark since taking office. It was down 23 percentage points from fall 2001, when Perry enjoyed a 67 percent approval rating.

In other words, the Democrats would still have to field a good candidate in 2006 in order to take advantage of Perry’s lukewarm ratings, and that’s just a start.

Still, though, if the Democrats play their cards right, they should have a good campaign issue on their hands in 2004. If no map gets passed on a majority vote, or if a map does get passed but then gets thrown out by the courts, they can make a lot of hay about what a waste of time and money this all was, and they can tie individual legislators with Perry for the blame. If nothing else, this poll indicates that it ought to be better for the Dems to talk about the redistricting issue in 2004 than it will be for the GOP.

“Only get mad on purpose”

One of the interesting possibilities resulting from the House “fruitcake” flap last week involving Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (see here for some background) is that it just might give the national Democratic Party a platform on which to campaign for regaining control of Congress. Here’s Dick Armey to explain it to you:

“There’s an old adage in politics,” said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a retired Texas Republican who helped lead Republicans to their majority. “Only get mad on purpose.”

Armey said Thomas, whom he called “abrasive,” handed Democrats an opportunity to showcase their new strategy to wrest back control of the House.

“The theme is 10 years of one-party rule is enough,” Armey said. “They (Republicans) have had control for 10 years, they’ve gotten arrogant, they demean the institution, they demean democracy by virtue of the heavy-handed way they run the House, minority rights are downtrodden, and it’s time, Mr. and Mrs. America, to make a change.

“That isn’t a whole lot different from the case we made in ’94, after 40 years,” Armey said, recalling the stunning GOP takeover engineered by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Keep an eye on that. Republicans had some advantages in 1994 that Democrats may not have next year, but motivation and message shouldn’t be among them.

Crossroads time

Well, now that a map has finally passed out of the Jurisprudence Committee, we enter the next stage of the game. With a second session that will feature no blocker bill looming, what will the Democrats’ strategy be? The Republicans, who may have unity problems on their side, are making conciliatory noises.

Sen. Todd Staples of Palestine, who chairs the Senate Republican Caucus, sponsored the bill and encouraged his colleagues to work with him as the bill makes its way to the floor.

“My door is open,” Staples said. “I want to be completely unambiguous. Come join us.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who has already given the Democrats a now-or-never ultimatum, says they’re starting to see it his way.

“I see some movement by both Republicans and Democrats in coming together,” Dewhurst said. “Will it happen tomorrow? I doubt it. Do I see momentum? Yes. May it take us another week or two? Maybe.”

Democrats are not yet convinced.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, warned again that abandoning the Senate’s two-thirds rule could destroy the chamber’s traditions of bipartisan cooperation.

But she said the 12 Democratic senators have not decided whether to boycott the proceedings – their last resort to try to kill redistricting, much as House Democrats blocked it during the regular session that ended June 2 by going to Oklahoma.

“Nobody relishes having to exercise that extreme option,” she said, referring to a possible walkout, which would require 11 senators to break a Senate quorum.

“But it’s there, and it’s there for a purpose,” Ms. Van de Putte said.

Ratcheting up the pressure on Mr. Dewhurst, she said, “This is a real test for our presiding officer.”

And more:

Sen. John Whitmire, the longest-serving Democrat, said he would not vote for redistricting and would not rule out the possibility that 11 senators would boycott so the Senate could not conduct business.

Yet the Houston Democrat said redistricting opponents are discussing whether it’s better to negotiate a better map from Republicans or hope the courts will strike down the maps the GOP have offered so far.

My best guess is that the Dems will not break quorum, for unlike the Ardmore adventure there’s no artificial deadline to hold out for. That seems to be the party line right now.

The perception that a Republican victory is inevitable seems to be a factor in any discussion of how to end the redistricting debate.

“If you break a quorum,” Whitmire said, “ultimately they get everyone back in.”

In May, House Democrats left the state for four days so the House could not conduct business. But a boycott during a series of 30-day special sessions is another matter.

“How do you win if everybody walks?” asked Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria. “You can’t be gone 60 days; you can’t be gone 180 days.”

Armbrister contends there are Republicans who don’t want to vote for the redistricting map as it stands now.

“If the D’s run off, then it lets other members off the hook who don’t want to vote on this, either,” he said.

Armbrister had threatened to lead a boycott if Dewhurst changed a Senate rule requiring a two-thirds vote to debate the redistricting bill.

We all know by now how hard it is for the GOP to draw a map that enough of them like. Maybe it’s time to make them play the hand they’ve dealt themselves.

Whatever happens, a lawsuit will surely follow. Scenarios like this one will lend credence to the Democratic case.

In addition, Houston Democratic Reps. Chris Bell and Gene Green and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas might be vulnerable to primary challenges because of the ethnic breakdown in their redrawn districts. But their districts likely would continue to elect Democrats in the general election.


Johnson, who is black, is elected from Dallas’ predominantly black 30th District.

In Staples’ map, the black voting age population in her district would stay at about 40 percent, but Hispanic population would increase from 28 percent to 37 percent. That enhances the possibility that Johnson could face a primary challenge from a Hispanic.

I think the state will find it hard to argue that they’re enhancing minority representation if one reasonable end result is the replacement of a black legislator with a Hispanic one.

Another argument will be that minorities will not be as well served if the districts are changed to elect more Republicans. Along those lines, Dave McNeely examines the record of the current delegation.

For example, Democrat Charles Stenholm of Stamford has fewer minorities in his district — 23.8 percent are African American or Latino — than recently retired Republican Larry Combest in the adjoining West Texas district, which has 40.2 percent.

Yet Stenholm’s ranking on votes on issues important to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the past two sessions of Congress was 60.5 percent — and it was 60 percent on the scorecard of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, which comprises a half dozen Hispanic groups, including the League of United Latin American Citizens and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Lubbock-based Combest scored 21 percent with the NAACP and 7 percent with the Hispanic leaders.

The comparison is the same for almost all of the white Texas Democrats in Congress and their Republican colleagues, although only three of the Democrats represent districts in which blacks and Hispanics are the majority.

The rest have districts ranging from 21.5 percent to 44.8 percent minority. Only three districts held by Republicans have minority populations of less than 20 percent.

Except for conservative Democrat Ralph Hall of Rockwall, who often votes with the Republicans, Stenholm’s is the lowest score among the white Democrats.

Republican Ron Paul of Surfside, once the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, has the best ranking among the Republicans, scoring 33 percent with the NAACP and 44 percent with the Hispanic leaders.

I still don’t know where those numbers come from, but they at least are consistent with what Sheila Jackson Lee said back at the hearing I attended last month.

Back in 1981, then-state Rep. Craig Washington, an African American Democrat from Houston, said it made no sense for minority lawmakers to join Republicans in packing minority voters in one district.

Washington said that would simply mean the replacement of two white Democrats sympathetic to minorities with one black Congress member and a Republican one, whose vote might cancel out the black member’s votes.

Yo, Ron Wilson. Did you hear that?

Finally, the Austin Chronicle lays it all out:

Until then, the public game is chicken. Dewhurst is telling Senate Democrats that if they want to have any input on the map, they’d better seize their chance in this session, or Perry will call another, and the lite guv will then invoke “the Bullock precedent” and dispense with the two-thirds rule currently keeping a map from the floor. (In 1992, under a court order, the Senate drafted a map by simple majority — and neither Republicans nor Democrats objected to Bullock’s dropping of the two-thirds rule.) In response, the Senate minority says it will either refuse to appear again or break the quorum should Dewhurst try to force the issue. That’s one reason why Jurisprudence Committee member Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, told reporters this week the Republican plan “is dead. It’s dead, it’s dead, it’s dead.”

We don’t know yet if all that is false bravado. Meanwhile, the private game — among Senate Republicans — is where the real action is right now, as Todd Staples, R-Palestine (to whom the map-drawing task fell when Chris Harris, R-Arlington, abandoned it in a mysterious huff), attempts to come up with a map that can even win a 16-vote majority in the Senate. The public committee testimony has been all about racial minority retrogression — but the real, backroom struggle is for a Republican map that can please Harris, Staples, Lubbock’s Robert Duncan, Waco’s Kip Averitt, maybe even San Antonio’s Jeff Wentworth, who has proposed his own map to accompany his perennial proposal to turn the whole job over to an independent commission. (What? And give up show business?) The Republicans (except for Ratliff) are playing NIMBY — they all say, “Yes, I support redistricting 100% — but leave my congressman alone.”

The article also mentions the negative poll numbers for redistricting but doesn’t cite a source. I still can’t find anything in Google about the Montgomery poll, which I noted after it was mentioned on the Quorum Report. Perhaps this mention will be the first of several in the mainstream media.

Thanks to Rob Booth for the McNeely and AusChron links.

UPDATE: Here are the NAACP and National Hispanic Leadership Agenda scorecards for the Texas Congressional delegation.

Malcolm Gillis on collegiate athletics

Texas Monthly has an article on Rice University President Malcolm Gillis (requires free registration) in which he shares his thoughts on the state of college athletics and how a school like Rice fits in. A few excerpts to whet your appetite:

MALCOLM GILLIS, THE PRESIDENT of Rice University, likes to tell the story of the football player who was being recruited by Rice and another Texas university of, shall we say, less intellectual rigor. The coach of the other school asked the prospect about his scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. “Fifteen-fifty” was the answer—a breathtakingly high score that is close to the maximum score of 1600. There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the coach said, “Hell, son, you could get into school here twice for that.”


There are three issues that Gillis and other reformers would like to see addressed to slow the movement toward professionalization: academic reform, reduced spending (especially for multimillion-dollar coaching salaries), and less commercialization of athletics (for example, banning the display of corporate logos on uniforms). These were the principal recommendations of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which issued two reports a decade apart, in 1991 and 2001, producing much publicity but little action.


“There are two scenarios for the future,” Gillis told me. “Scenario number one is increasing commercialization until, over a period of ten to fifteen years, the teams in the big conferences will be semi-professional, with athletes getting paid. Scenario number two is that presidents and boards come to their senses and institute some reforms.” He paused for a moment, and then he said, “Do you know how much I am willing to bet that never happens?”

Gillis and Rice have joined a coalition of non-BCS schools to lobby for change in how college football operates. I wish them well.

Situation normal…

Haven’t seen this on any of the usual Saddam-coddling lefty sites, so I figured I’d air it here.

Want to know how far off the rails things have slid at the Pentagon? Recently, the Army wanted to tally up how much money it had been forced to divert to private contractors as part of Rumsfeld’s rush to privatize military tasks. The Rummycrats forbid it. They refused to let the Army balance its own books — because the privatization mafia knew what they would find: Contractors cost more, not less, than soldiers.

That’s Retired Military Officer Ralph Peters venting a little spleen. Thanks to Justin Slotman for the link.

Mayoral debate

I missed the mayoral debate that was on PBS last night (oddly, there’s no Chron coverage of this), but thankfully Greg Wythe was paying attention. He’s got a fine overview of the candidates’ performances, and one of the better zingers I’ve seen lately, regarding a challenge that each candidate was given to apportion 100 $1 bills as they would for the city budget:

[Michael] Berry was a big spender on the category that favored infrastructure, but low (ironically) on public safety. So while the streets will be paved over, this will allow for fleeing criminals to get away quicker.

Heh. If you want to see the entire debate summarized in this fashion, then Alex is your man.

Dean, Dean, the debate-making machine

More on the is-Dean-electable debate, for the three or four of you who aren’t already obsessed with it and/or sick of it, from Teixeira, MyDD, Demosthenes, Yglesias, Democratic Underground, and a Canadian perspective from Ikram Saeed. Check them out.

One erratum from my own entry: The states that Bush won in 2000 are now worth 278 electoral votes thanks to the reapportionment that followed the 2000 Census. As such, any Democratic candidate would need to either peel off more than one red state (just New Hampshire wouldn’t be enough) or would need one of the bigger ones, such as Missouri. That makes the South a bit more important to consider, but still not vital and in my opinion not as potentially lucrative as the West. I should note that The Scrum says it all comes down to three states – Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, in what they call their FlaPaMi hypothesis. That’s good news and bad news for both sides. They have some more detailed Bush approval numbers from those states as well.

Support waning?

Rob Booth is off the redistricting reservation:

I’ve got to say this is getting a little nuts. The last two maps from Sen. Staples (1324 and 1325) have really messed up west Houston. Putting CD 7 into any county other than Harris is wrong, no matter what the goal. And any version of CD 7 that doesn’t include the old Taco Bell on Memorial near Kirkwood is a travesty. You see, that was the Culberson for Congress headquarters, from which a bunch of us busted our butts to get John Culberson in the Congress representing Harris County.

I guess that the driving force behind these maps is the belief that we can jettison the 2/3rds rule during a second special session. That’s making these map-drawers get as bold as Rep. Frost in 91. I’ll just put it down in writing, what I’ve been thinking. We lost by the 2/3rds rule for many years. We should win by the 2/3rds rule as well. And we ought not draw maps with the only purpose being to increase the number of Republicans.

I’ll repeat something I’ve said before: It didn’t have to be this way. If redistricting had been on the menu from the beginning, if there had been an honest effort to draw reasonable lines rather than play the maximalist game (funny how no one seems to spout the 56% rationale anymore amidst all these maps that are designed to give Republicans somewhere between 62 and 68% of the seats, no?) along with statewide hearings that actually paid attention to the feedback received, I think the GOP could have increased its body count to 18 or 19 without much of this fuss. I wouldn’t have liked it, but I’d have been hard-pressed to argue against it.

I think the GOP leadership, having committed to taking whatever action it deems necessary to achieve the result it wants, is finding that they’re out on a limb. The rank and file isn’t rallying to support them, while the opposition is united and the media is unimpressed. I’ve got to wonder if any of them are starting to ask if this is really worth it. (Answer: apparently not.)

Let’s assume that there is another special session as seems likely, and that there is no blocker bill. Given that every single Republican-drawn map has generated opposition from Republican senators whose districts are carved up in that particular map, can anyone say with assurance that the Senate actually will pass something on a straight majority vote? Do these guys really want to risk being held responsible for what might happen in a joint House-Senate committee? Maybe they will, I don’t know. The question is, do Perry and Dewhurst?

The longer this drags on, the more I become convinced that whatever the outcome, the Democrats will get more out of the experience than the Republicans will.