Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

August, 2003:

Important reminder

As we reach the end of August, be sure to mark your calendar for that all-important September holiday, National Talk Like A Pirate Day, coming at you in less than three weeks, on the nineteenth. Dave Barry plugs it in his column today, meaning that I’ve been getting a lot of referrals from the Pirate Links page. It’s things like this that remind me what a truly great country we live in. Arrr!

They dumped Thom Marshall for this?

I’m not feeling very pundit-like (punditesque?) today, so I’ll go for the easy and cheap shot by pigpiling on the Chron’s hotshot new columnist Rick Casey, who comes to the amazing conclusion that maybe, just maybe, competitive districts for elected officials may be good for democracy. This particular effort contains more artificial filler than a truckload of Twinkies:

What would you say if I came up with a plan that gave both of you a chance to greatly increase the number of seats you held in the Legislature and in Congress?

A plan that would ensure that you would never again suffer the kind of stand-off that is now making both sides the ridicule of the nation and the objects of disgust among Texans.

A plan that would strengthen the nation while making the working lives of elected officials more pleasant.

What’s the plan? Before I tell you, let me remind you of your commitment to the virtues of free enterprise, competition and a government run more like a business.

Because the fact is, your behavior doesn’t reflect your stated beliefs.

When it comes to a commitment to competition, you act in ways that would make John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould and Leland Stanford blush.

If Texaco and Exxon Mobil divided up market share the way you do, somebody would go to prison.

Harris County is not atypical. We have 25 state representative districts, at least part of seven state senate districts and at least part of eight U.S. House districts.

He then spends six paragraphs telling us why this is a Bad Thing before admitting that the idea of competitive districts was suggested to him by someone else, then finally goes for the big finish by touting the advantages of this idea, which are conveniently enough the exact converse of the disadvantages of the current system. Someone get me some smelling salts, all this excitement has me feeling faint!

Does he mention Senate Bill 2 and its faithful companion House Bill 49? Does he mention the March 2001 Texas Legislative Council report, which is called “State and Federal Law Governing Redistricting in Texas”? Heck, since he was really more interested in a computer program to do redistricting instead of people doing it, does he mention that the Texas Legislative Council already owns such a program? Please. Do you eat your Twinkies with a wheat germ chaser? I didn’t think so.

Thom Marshall, come back! All is forgiven!

Two Rosenthal profiles

About a month ago, the Houston Press ran a reasonably fair and balanced profile of Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal, who has had a difficult first term in office as the replacement for his retired mentor, the well-respected Johnny Holmes. (I coulda swore I’d blogged about it, but I’ve scoured my archives and I didn’t. Oh, well.) Reporter Rich Connelly had access to Rosenthal for the story, and though he touched on most of Rosenthal’s missteps since taking office – the Houston Crime Lab debacle, the trials of Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford and Captain Mark Aguirre, his sublimely inept performance in front of the Supreme Court arguing for the state in Lawrence v. Texas – he liberally quoted Rosenthal’s defenders as well as Rosenthal himself.

Today, the Chron has its own profile of Rosenthal, and though it doesn’t mention the latter two lowlights, it’s a lot more critical of Rosenthal. These quotes are indicative:

“There’s an air in the district attorney’s office now that I don’t feel was quite there when Johnny Holmes was in office,” said lawyer Katherine Scardino. “I don’t get the impression that Chuck is as open as Johnny was. And, frankly, I don’t think he’s as smart.”

Lawyer Dan Cogdell said, however, that the difference is more than intellect.

In August 1997, Cogdell and another criminal defense lawyer, Kent Schaffer, found themselves in a legal dilemma when a federal government informant attempted to double-cross them. The attorneys feared they might be targets of a Justice Department sting, so they went to Holmes for advice and help. Holmes came to their rescue by running a reverse sting and arresting the informant on bribery charges.

“Without Holmes’ stepping up and doing the right thing, I would have had a very expensive legal battle, and probably a change in my ZIP code,” Cogdell said. “There’s no way that if I went to Chuck, and I had a federal sting headed in my direction, that Rosenthal would intercede.”

Rosenthal did not talk to Chron reporter Steve McVicker, which may explain why the overall tone was more negative towards him. In addition to focusing on the crime lab problems, the story and its sidebar examine some of Rosenthal’s ethical lapses as assistant DA, most of which I was unaware of.

I’ll say again that if there’s one countywide office the Democrats should set their sights on in the 2004 election, it’s this one. Rosenthal can be beaten with a good candidate and sufficient funding. My suggestion: Eric Andell, currently slumming it in the Department of Education. Come home, Eric! Your city needs you!

Registering Latino voters

On Thursday, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project kicked off a big voter registration drive.

The voter project, founded in San Antonio in 1974, bills itself as a national nonpartisan, nonprofit group that mobilizes Latinos to vote.

“We have invited Democratic presidential candidates to speak, since the Democratic primary race is the juciest, and there’s no race on the Republican side for president,” said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the voter project.

The group hopes to register 2 million more Latino voters by the 2004 general elections, increasing the number to 10 million. It also hopes to mobilize 8 million registered Latino voters to cast votes come fall 2004.

“Houston has the top concentration of unregistered Latinos in Texas and is second in the country for concentration of unregistered, eligible Latino voters,” said Gonzalez.

The group hopes to register at least 30,000 new Latino voters in the Houston area by fall 2004. Gonzalez said the area now has about 200,000 registered and 200,000 unregistered, eligible Latino voters.

Although the group has concentrated its Texas efforts in San Antonio and South Texas in the past decade, it plans to get more involved in Houston, whose Latino population has exploded in the past 15 years, Gonzalez said.

The group, he said, mobilizes voters by first networking with community leaders, elected officials, civic groups, businesses and church leaders.

“We offer them training so they can go door to door and literally register people one voter at a time,” he said.

Mobilizing Latinos to vote has never been more important, Gonzalez said, because the increased population holds the potential to help Republican and Democratic candidates gain or maintain a majority in political offices.

“There was a time the mainstream didn’t believe the Latino vote could make a difference,” he said. “But both parties know they need a larger share of our vote, and that gives us a lot of leverage. If we play our cards right, we can advance issues from our various points of view in politics.”

The group hopes to raise $3 million and plans to focus efforts in 14 Southwest states and assist sister organizations in the Midwest, East and Southeast.

It said it has registered more than 2.2 million Latino voters throughout the Southwest and Florida.

Al Sharpton was the keynote speaker, and he got in his usual jabs at President Bush. I’m with Kos on this – Sharpton’s been a good presence in the primary so far. He’s focused on Bush and has highlighted some differences in the Democratic Party without being divisive. That could change, of course, but for now all that scaremongering about his candidacy has been just hot air.

Turner criticizes rail plan

No surprise here: Mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner is critical of the stripped-down Metro proposal to add 22 miles of light rail over the next nine years, and calls out Bill White for supporting it.

Standing adjacent to a rail station on the 7.5-mile rail line under construction, Turner said the Metro board should reconsider its decision to take a $640 million expansion to voters Nov. 4.

Instead, Turner said, the board should offer a $980 million alternative that would provide 40 miles over 14 years rather than 22 miles over nine years.

Metro has three more weeks to consider the matter before setting the final ballot language, Turner said. At that time, Turner will decide whether he will support or oppose the referendum.

“I am now and have always been pro-rail,” Turner said. “I will be pro-rail for years to come, but this plan is broken. To the Metro board, I say, ‘Fix it.’ ”


Turner said the plan was designed to boost White’s candidacy. White is supported by former Mayor Bob Lanier, who took part in negotiations that resulted in the 22-mile plan.

“In public, the Metro board was all too eager to do what it needed to placate the masses,” Turner said. “Behind closed doors, Metro lost its backbone and caved in to rail opponents and special interests who did not bother to attend Metro’s public meetings.”

Schechter said White did not take part in negotiations. He noted that while White has supported the $640 million plan, the candidate also voiced prior support for as much as $980 million.

White warned that Turner was playing a dangerous political game if he ultimately opposes the referendum.

“Sylvester says he is for rail, but defeating the bond issue could set us back a decade,” White said. “Nobody gets exactly everything they want. Leadership is building consensus and moving forward.”

White pointed out that when Turner ran for mayor in 1991, eventually losing to Lanier in a runoff, he and Lanier both opposed a monorail plan proposed by then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire. During that campaign, Turner said that if elected, he would return with a different rail plan.

That’s the pro-rail schism in a nutshell. As I said before, either you think this is the best plan that could have gotten passed, or you think Metro wimped out. I’ll take what’s before me and will work from there, but I know not everyone feels that way. It makes sense for Turner to advocate this position, as White’s moderation is seen as a copout by some and the two candidates are mostly fighting over the same voters anyway. Turner, who like Orlando Sanchez got into the race a lot later than White and Michael Berry, needs to do some catching up, and distinguishing himself from White is a clearcut strategic move.

Speaking of Sanchez, he still appears to be on his own little planet:

Rail has been one of the most-discussed issues in the mayor’s race because the next mayor must oversee implementation of the plan if one is approved.

Of the other major candidates, Michael Berry has said he opposes the plan and Orlando Sanchez continues to study it.

Okay, this issue has been in the headlines for months. The different options Metro debated have been public knowledge for weeks. The biggest concern voters have is traffic congestion. You’re honestly telling me that Sanchez doesn’t freaking know what he thinks about the Metro rail plan? What is he doing, waiting for the Cliff Notes? Unbelievable. The only logical explanation I can think of for Sanchez’ utterly inept performance in this campaign is that he’s been replaced by a pod person. Before today, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to tell the difference, but there you have it.

The lesson of Groucho

The Chron editorial page recalls a bit of history that would have served the pinheads at Faux News well had they too remembered it:

The Warner Brothers movie studio threatened to sue Groucho Marx when it learned that the Marx Brothers were going to make a film called A Night in Casablanca. Warner Brothers argued that the title was too similar to their now classic Casablanca. Groucho was not about to be threatened. “I’ll sue you for using the word Brothers,”Groucho replied. Warner Brothers dropped the matter.


You read it where first?

Notice anything similar about this Houston Press article from last week and this column in today’s Chron by their new hotshot Rick Casey? Me too. I can think of three possible explanations: Casey didn’t read Tim Fleck’s story and found out about Rep. Nixon and his associated sleaziness on his own; Casey did read Fleck’s story and didn’t bother to credit him with printing it first; Casey wrote this story last week and had other columns in the pipeline before this one.

My guess some variation on the latter. Since both pieces are so similar, they’re probably the result of each writer getting a call from lawyer Fred Hagans, who wanted to get the word out about how Nixon was affecting his court case. Since I’d assume that Hagans would call the guy at the paper with the bigger circulation first, Casey either sat on this or just took his time between writing it and printing it. Meanwhile, Hagans either called Fleck as he’d always planned to and Fleck was simply quicker off the draw, or he got impatient waiting on Casey and called Fleck out of frustration and/or spite.

Obviously, I’m just guessing. But I’ll bet that if Casey hadn’t read Fleck’s column before his own ran, he now wishes he had. And I’ll also bet that this is the subject of a future Hair Balls piece.

Three Day Weekend Roundup

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals has named the three-judge panel to hear arguments in the Texas 11 Democrats’ lawsuit which contends that dropping the 2/3 rule is a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The panel includes George Kazen, the judge who sent it to the panel despite his doubts about it, Patrick Higginbotham, who was one of the judges responsible for the current boundaries, and Lee Rosenthal. Kazen was appointed by President Carter, Higginbotham by Ford, and Rosenthal by Bush 41.

(Note: The above paragraph contains corrections – I misread the Chron article and named one judge incorrectly. Thanks to Beldar for pointing this out to me.)

I can’t see the Democrats winning on this lawsuit, and I can’t say that’s a bad thing. I find Kazen’s logic that the courts should wait until after a map has been adopted to be compelling. I feel for them, but that’s the way it should be. I will say this – when the court rules for the state, will those who criticized Judge Higginbotham for his part in the 2001 redistricting case suddenly decide that he’s a pretty sharp guy after all?

(On a side note, a good friend of mine spent a year clerking for Higginbotham and had nothing but praise for the man. Take that for what it’s worth.)

Assuming the Democrats’ don’t get an unexpectedly favorable ruling from the court, the next question will be when is the third session to start and will they attend? There was apparently a brief ruffling of feathers among the Texas 11 in Albuquerque as Sen. John Whitmire had wanted to make an undercover trip home and got chewed out for it, but everyone seems to be friends again. Running out the clock would remain the only viable option to be sure of killing redistricting for the 2004 election, but cost and strain on the senators might make them decide to take their chances in court later.

Dave McNeely thinks the racial angle in the federal lawsuit may backfire on the Dems by casting anglo West Texans, who oppose redistricting on grounds of losing Congressional clout, as their enemy. He doesn’t cite any specifics or offer any quotes, but the psychology is sound.

On the other hand, the Republicans’ tactics have backfired on themselves a few times as well. The latest example of their mentality is this report:

As a potential hurricane headed toward South Texas two weeks ago, so did the Senate sergeant at arms — to see whether AWOL Democrats would return to check on their homes and thus leave themselves open to being served with an order to return to the Capitol.
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst confirmed Thursday that three two-person teams made the unsuccessful attempt. Tropical Storm Erika did not become a hurricane, and the senators didn’t show up, so Sgt. at Arms Carleton Turner and the others left after an overnight stay.

“If they failed to try to round up the senators, they would not be doing their job properly,” Dewhurst spokesman Dave Beckwith said of the Aug. 15 trip south by Turner, four assistant sergeants-at-arms and a Senate doorkeeper.


Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, called the effort “cruel and opportunistic” and said it also showed a lack of concern for Turner and the others sent to South Texas.

“There is a storm — a hurricane — coming, and you send people into it?” she asked.

Asked whether the trip was Dewhurst’s idea, Beckwith said, “It was the Senate’s idea that they take all available reasonable measures to enforce a quorum.”

He said he saw nothing wrong with the timing.

Would you put yourself in the path of a hurricane on your boss’ orders? I don’t get paid enough for that, but maybe that’s just me.

Schlitterbahn in Galveston

Here’s some more good news.

Schlitterbahn announced plans Thursday to build a $28 million water-park resort in Galveston.

The family-owned, New Braunfels-based company plans to build the state-of-the-art park on 25 acres adjacent to Moody Gardens and the Lone Star Flight Museum on city-owned property that was once part of Scholes International Airport.

“We want to become the Club Med of family water parks,” Jeff Henry told Galveston City Council on Thursday. Henry is general manager of Schlitterbahn Beach on South Padre Island.


“There are 5 to 6 million people within two hours of here,” Henry said. “It’s a great market.”

Henry told the council that Schlitterbahn Galveston will be the world’s most advanced water park. He said his company has developed rides that push water uphill so visitors won’t have to leave their floating tubes to go from one water course to another.

More than twice as big as the park on South Padre Island, the Galveston park will be built around a man-made river almost a mile long. Visitors will be able to placidly drift down slow-moving streams or careen over white-water rapids.

There will be beaches with artificial surf and room for visitors to stretch out and catch some sun, he said.

Parts of the park will be covered with movable roofs, allowing the action to continue during rainy and cold weather, Henry said.

Henry said the company hopes to attract 400,000 to 450,000 visitors a year.

“There will be no environmental impact because we just don’t create any pollution,” Henry said.

The water used at the family’s New Braunfels park returns to the Comal River cleaner than it is when it is taken out to be used on the water rides, Henry said.

Sounds fine to me, though like Ginger I expect to remain loyal to the original New Braunfels location. If they sell a season pass that’s good at any of their parks, that’ll really rock.

Plea bargain coming for Enron treasurer?

Hmm, this could get interesting.

Indicted ex-Enron Treasurer Ben Glisan Jr. is negotiating a plea bargain and cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors.

Glisan, one of the highest ranking Enron officials before he was fired for his involvement in a side-deal, is charged with two dozen counts of money laundering, fraud and conspiracy. His charges are part of a 109-count indictment against Glisan, former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow and former Enron executive Dan Boyle.

“When Glisan flips, this could be a bloodbath,” said one lawyer familiar with the Enron investigation. Glisan was installed as Enron treasurer in 2000 and was known as a protege of both Fastow and ex-CEO Jeff Skilling.

Sounds good to me, but I must temper my joy somewhat:

There is still no indication that the Enron Task Force is prepared to either accuse or clear former CEO Skilling or ex-Chairman Ken Lay, however.

Well, at least there’s still hope. My fingers are crossed.

Time for a little laugh

Well, hey, if certain other bloggers can post interesting photos of themselves from olden times, I figure I can too. This picture was just sent to the MOB mailing list. (I’m the guy on the left, in case there’s any question.) It’s vintage 1991, which I can tell from the T-shirt I’m wearing, which was the official band shirt that year and was based on the movie The Rocketeer. I was fresh out of graduate school and obviously still had that grad-student look.

By the way, the surgical mask on my fedora was a prop from a show we did at the University of Texas called The MOB Looks At The Environment, in 1989. One of the bits we did was about the wreck of the Exxon Valdez. We formed a tanker on the field and played a medley of “Tequila” followed by “Wipeout”, having the ship move forward during this. A gaggle of show assistants dressed up as birds flapped around nearby. When we started “Wipeout”, another group of show assistants emerged from the ship formation and unfurled a huge swath of black plastic (imagine a Hefty bag large enough to cover a bus) and, um, wiped out the SA birds with it. Not in the best of taste, perhaps, but really really funny.

Flood the Zone Friday: Unstable Stewardship

It’s Friday again, meaning it’s time for the second Flood the Zone Friday. This week the boys at Not Geniuses are focusing on the environment. They’ve got some better guidelines for writing and sending your letter, based in part on last week’s effort, along with a set of talking points and a nifty new FTZF graphic. Check it out.

The second part of the Friday gig is Fund The Zone Friday, with this week’s recipient being the Democratic National Committee. Click on my Boot Bush icon on the sidebar or on this link if you’d like to throw a few bucks at them.

[set mode = “slightly preachy”]

As always, remember that while doing this sort of thing is fun and may make a splash, it’s more style than substance. Really making things happen takes a lot of time, effort, and money, and is often done in anonymity and obscurity. Having designated one day a week as the day to send a letter to the editor, let’s not forget that there’s a ton of other stuff that needs to be done every day. Let’s think of FTZF as a first step.

[set mode = “usual level of snarkiness”]

Kudlow on Dean

Really, I’m not a Deanblogger…I can stop any time…

Mark Yzaguirre sent me this article by Larry Kudlow on Howard Dean, and I have to say it’s one of the funnier things I’ve read in awhile. Take a look at how Kudlow leads off:

A shocking Zogby poll this week had Vermont Gov. Howard Dean at a giant 21 point lead over former New Hampshire frontrunner Sen. John Kerry. That’s more than two-to-one with a 38 percent to 17 percent margin. Dean is the clear frontrunner and may well lead the Democrats next year. So, this is a wake-up call for the Bushies. It’s time for all the president’s men to aggressively defend Bush’s policies and attack Dean’s extreme left-liberal positions.

So far, Dean has been relying on a relatively narrow base of voter support — largely Bush-hating, anti-war liberals who make up about half of the Democratic party and a third of the electorate. But Dean is well-funded and he has quickly become the darling of the liberal media.

Following his successful rally in New York’s Bryant Park this week, the New York Times saw fit to run a huge frontpage story with a color picture of the candidate. Meanwhile, a story on Bush’s excellent speech at the VFW convention — where he emphasized a stay-the-course commitment in Iraq — was placed below the Dean story with a much smaller headline.

In the long Times piece on Dean you had to go 23 paragraphs deep to find a statement on the candidate’s basic policy positions: universal health insurance, opposition to the Iraq war, balanced budgets, tax-cut repeal, affirmative action, and gay rights. This is not a winning combination, as numerous moderate Democrats point out. Still, if Dean’s the one, administration spokespeople should start underscoring the extremism that defines his campaign.

For example, Dean’s universal health-care insurance is Hillarycare. It’s the same government-paid health insurance that’s been a disaster in Western Europe and Canada. And it’s the same socialist proposal that was defeated handily in a Democratic Congress ten years ago.

It’s impressive how much misinformation Kudlow packs into a few short paragraphs. I have to wonder just what sources Kudlow has been reading about Dean. “Extreme left-liberal”? That’s so last month. And of course, you have to love Kudlow’s use of the traditional tactic of advising a political adversary on policy positions. “Unless those other guys adopt our positions on everything, they’ll never amount to anything.” Don’t call us, Larry, we’ll call you.

Still, as Mark mentioned in the email he sent to me, it’s interesting to watch righty pundits start to sit up and see Dean as a threat. One of the things that I’ve liked about Dean so far is that he really has run a good campaign. He’s gained a competitive advantage through his use of the Internet, he’s generated an awful lot of free (and favorable) publicity for himself with a few well-chosen media buys, and he’s survived the few bad things that have happened to him (his son’s arrest, spamming supporters) without any lasting effect so far.

The one thing Dean hasn’t done yet is respond to a coordinated attack. Kudlow’s right in that the press coverage of Dean has been generally positive if occasionally clueless. How will he do when the President turns his guns and his umpty-million dollar campaign war chest on him? Unfortunately, we won’t know until primaries are in full swing, if not already over. I can’t imagine Bush taking Kudlow’s advice and attacking a specific Democratic candidate four months before an actual vote is taken – that just strikes me as projecting vulnerability. However, this may be a sign that the mighty Wurlitzer will start to make some noise. When that happens, the key question will be whether or not Dean can neutralize the falsehoods before they become conventional wisdom in the mainstream. If he does, whether through his own nimbleness or the media’s continued love affair for him, then I don’t think anyone can reasonably question his viability.

UPDATE: As hamletta points out in the comments, the Dean Defense Forces have responded as well.

Will Kay Bailey come home?

The Quorum Report points to a pretty fascinating editorial on Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and redistricting in the Park City Peoples Newspaper. This looks to me like a little suburban Dallas rag, and I daresay they’re more R than D (please correct me if I’m wrong). Anyway, I’ve reproduced it below since it looks like their links aren’t permanent. Check it out.


RIP, Jim Wacker

In all the excitement yesterday, I failed to post about the death of former TCU football coach Jim Wacker, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 66. He was a breath of fresh air in the old Southwest Conference after taking the reins for the Horned Frogs, and when he discovered, in the year following the school’s most successful season in decades, that seven players had been accepting payments from a booster, he unhesitatingly did the right thing and took his medicine from the NCAA. (Naturally, being the hypocritical organization that it is, the NCAA slapped the Frogs a lot harder than they would have a big state school, even though the Frogs turned themselves in. But that’s a rant for another day.) It’s clear from reading what his former players and colleagues have had to say about him that he was a man of integrity. Rest in peace, Coach Wacker.

Looking at libertarians again

Awhile back I wrote about how there would be opportunities available for Democrats to make a pitch to Libertarian voters in the next election (here and here). Today Jim Henley points me to this article by W. James Antle III about the incipient breakup of the 40-year-old conservative/libertarian coalition.

The commitment to limited government and constitutionalism that animated Barry Goldwater is conspicuously missing from today’s Republican Party and, worse, the conservative movement. Fred Barnes recently wrote approvingly of “big government conservatism,” arguing that efforts to shrink government should be abandoned because “people like government so long as it’s not a huge drag on the economy.” And Irving Kristol described a “neoconservative persuasion” that Arnold Kling recognized to be in conflict with libertarian principles.

The end result of all this is that many libertarians see no compelling reason to support the Republican right they identify with John Ashcroft and Sen. Rick Santorum. By default this means that they often end up working with the left. They’ve joined with the ACLU and other traditionally liberal civil libertarian organizations to oppose Patriot Act-style legislation (although some prominent conservatives joined them in opposition). Antiwar libertarian bloggers and Internet columnists often link to left-of-center websites like Indymedia, Common Dreams, and CounterPunch in making their arguments.

I don’t pretend to believe that large numbers of libertarians who are long used to pulling the lever for Republicans are suddenly going to vote Democratic in 2004. The thing is, though, we don’t actually need that many in our evenly-divided electorate. Heck, as long as they’re not voting for Republicans, it doesn’t really matter if they’re voting Democratic or Libertarian or just plain abstaining. Every little bit will help.

There are any number of things that the Democrats can do to encourage libertarians to look for alternatives to the Republican Party. They can, of course, start to champion some of the causes that libertarians hold dear, but as some of the bigger ones directly conflict with important planks in the Democratic platform, that option is somewhat limited. Far easier would be to stop doing certain things that annoy libertarians, such as the ill-conceived recent legislative crackdowns on file sharers and rave parties. A continued and intense focus (rather like a laser beam, as someone once said) on the excesses of John Ashcroft, Rick Santorum, Roy Moore and the entire theocratic wing of the Republican Party would be wise. And of course, if one wants to be a bit Machiavellian, one could also encourage the Libertarian Party to run a strong candidate for President in 2004. (Anyone have Ron Paul‘s phone number?)

For what it’s worth, Howard Dean is probably in as good a position to maximize this effect as any Democratic Presidential candidate. There is a Libertarians For Dean group, though unlike almost every other group-for-Dean they don’t have their own web page. However, as Henley and Antle make clear, there are plenty of reservations about Dean as well, so I’d consider it foolish to expect much more than grudging or least-of-evils type support.

Early voting begins today

Early voting for the September 13 Constitutional Referendumpalooza begins today and runs through Tuesday, September 9. Proposition 12, the freedom-limiting and patient-endangering tool of Republican special interests, is the reason why this election is being held on a Saturday in September instead of on Election Day, when Houston’s mayoral race might have raised overall turnout to an undesireable level for its supporters.

Anyway, as you contemplate the long list of amendments that will be up for your approval or rejection, take a moment to read about the poster boy for why medical malpractice insurance rates are what they are. When doctors figure out a way to weed out bad apples like this one, then we can talk about jury awards.

Rick v. Carole

Regarding my earlier post about Gov. Perry’s mediocre poll numbers, Kevin made a reasonable comment:

I suspect when Perry reminds voters he held the line on taxes when most states raised them, his numbers will rebound. With all of the (mostly negative) publicity over redistricting, I’m surprised his numbers haven’t sagged further. Very surprised, actually.

Looks like Perry will have to do that reminding over his Comptroller’s voice.

Texas taxpayers will shoulder $2.7 billion of the state budget in higher fees, charges and other out-of-pocket expenses over two years that will kick in next week, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said today.

Teachers and school employees will bear most of it with increased insurance premiums, co-payments and health care contributions, according to the analysis released this week by the comptroller’s office.

During the next two years, health care costs to doctors, nurses and state employees will account for more than $596 million in fees and other costs, the report said.

“September 1, next Monday, is a red letter day because much of the legislation from the regular session of the 78th session goes into effect next Monday. Because of this, I believe that it’s critical to notify Texans in advance of the changes they will face in the costs of various services state government provides to them,” Strayhorn said.

Not to mention the likelihood of higher costs for local services, as the tax burden trickles down from the feds to the states to the counties and cities.

I agree with Governor Perry about as often as this happens, but I have to admit he has a point here:

“Mrs. Strayhorn didn’t raise any of these concerns during the session and did not offer any real alternatives for funding trauma centers, cleaner air, greater public safety and better roads,” Perry said Wednesday. “However, the Legislature did agree that stiffer penalties for drunk drivers, traffic violators and polluters were far superior to Mrs. Strayhorn’s last minute calls for $2 billion in higher taxes and more gambling to fund bigger government.”

In April, Strayhorn proposed allowing video-lottery gambling at Texas racetracks to help pay for public education, among 42 other money-saving recommendations. She said at the time that the gambling proposal would have generated $712 million.

Strayhorn proposed an increased cigarette tax and endorsed video gambling as noted, both of which Perry shot down, and released a report on various cost savings, so it’s not fair to say she did nothing. However, between her sandbagging on the revenue estimate and her end-of-session certification two-step, I can never tell where her political ambition leaves off and her honest opnion (assuming she has one) kicks in. It is fair to say that she’s been at odds with Perry for months now, so whenever she says something that contradicts him, it’s best to reach for the salt shaker first.

That said, Perry will have to contend with her and her fondness for calling him out between now and 2006. If this is an extended primary for Governor or Senator, she’ll be doing whatever she can to help keep his approval ratings down.

UPDATE: That was an AP wire story. The Chron story has some more details.

“She sounds like a candidate who’s running for higher office. My gut on the deal is it’s lieutenant governor,” said political consultant and lobbyist Bill Miller, noting “longstanding ill will” between Strayhorn and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Dewhurst also thinks something’s up with Strayhorn, but he suggested she’s possibly running for Gov. Rick Perry’s job, not his own. “It sounds like the Republican primary started early this year,” Dewhurst said about the points Strayhorn raised at her news conference.

“I think you’re going to have to ask Governor Perry about that,” Dewhurst added.

Other Republicans piled up on her as well.

“As I recall, this self-styled watchdog for the taxpayer more closely resembled an attack dog when she proposed new gambling initiatives and increased taxes as a way to deal with a drastic revenue shortfall that she failed to predict,” said Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo.


House Speaker Tom Craddick made clear he thinks Strayhorn was not only criticizing fellow Republicans but doing so unfairly.

He said her comments “continue a pattern of misguided messages that seem intended more to stir up trouble than to increase public confidence in state government.”

I dislike Strayhorn for the reasons cited above, but that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy watching her piss off her colleagues. Keep it up, Carole!

Federal judge punts lawsuit to three-judge panel

Good news and bad news for the Senate Democrats, I guess. A federal judge in Laredo has called their lawsuit against redistricting “all but totally frivolous” but agreed to let the three-judge panel review it anyway.

U.S. District Judge George P. Kazen said he believes Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s push for mid-decade congressional redistricting is wrong and a waste of taxpayer money. However, Kazen also criticized the Democratic senators for fleeing to Albuquerque, N.M., to break the Senate’s quorum.

“We’re almost like the Middle East. We’ve got these two camps over here, and it’s total victory or total surrender,” Kazen said.

Kazen refused to grant the Democrats’ request for a restraining order to prevent the Senate sergeant-at-arms from arresting them in case there is another special session. Kazen also urged Perry not to call a session until the three-judge panel hears the Democrats’ lawsuit in about two weeks.

“Let’s chill out for awhile. Let’s stop spending the taxpayers money for awhile,” Kazen said.

The self-exiled Democrats had hoped to find a friendly judge by filing the lawsuit in Laredo. Kazen was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter. But the judge made it clear from the start of today’s hearing that the only reason he was not throwing the case out was that federal case law requires voting rights questions to be answered by a three-judge panel unless the lawsuit is wholly frivolous or fictitious.

“The agreement we’ve made is your lawsuit is not wholly frivolous,” Kazen told Renea Hicks, a lawyer representing the Democrats.

“That’s cold comfort, but I accept it,” Hicks replied.

According to the Statesman, the three-judge panel, which is the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, will probably convene in mid-September. No word on the next session or the Dems’ return to Texas, but this AP report has some info:

Kazen told Max Renea Hicks, attorney for the Democrats, that he would not grant a temporary restraining order that would permit the Democrats to return to Texas. But the judge liked Hicks’ counter proposal that the Democrats be given 72 hours notice before Republican Gov. Rick Perry calls for a third special session on redistricting.

“Let’s all chill out for a while and stop, stop spending taxpayers money for a while and get this ruled on,” Kazen said.

R. Ted Cruz, the state’s solicitor general, said that he didn’t have the power to agree to a 72-hour advance notice but that he would take the idea to Perry and Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Once again, the Express News has the most interesting stuff.

“The issue is not whether it’s right or wrong, but rather if I should rule on it at all,” Kazen said, adding the lawsuit didn’t appear to be frivolous, either.

“Right now, I do disagree with you, but I don’t think it is totally off to disagree with you, myself,” he said.

Kazen said a solo judge should not act on voting rights cases unless the claims are “wholly unsubstantial or frivolous.”


Despite setbacks for both parties, each walked out of the downtown courthouse today resilient about their case.

“We got what we asked for, and that is a three-judge court,” Hicks said.

R. Ted Cruz, solicitor general for the state of Texas, said he’s confident that the courts “will resolve this in the appropriate way.”

“We believe under state law the answer is forward,” Cruz said.

The state argued the redistricting proposal doesn’t violate the voting rights of minorities and that because it hadn’t been adopted, the federal court couldn’t address it.

It was an argument that Kazen agreed with today. The judge told lawyers that when and if the redistricting plan passes, then Democrats can file lawsuits challenging it.

“That protection is there,” the judge said. “The question is, does it apply to the internal process?”

Cruz supplied the court with a Justice Department finding announced Tuesday that it didn’t.

One last bit of info is that Judge Kazen himself will probably be on that three-judge panel, so the Dems have their work cut out for them.

As always, stay tuned.

Proposition 12

The Chron finishes off a four-part look at Proposition 12, which would encode a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases in the state Constitution. Part one looks at the players involved, part two examines the case against Prop 12, part three looks at the case for, and part four looks at the insurance companies themselves.

The second article covers something that I think is under-discussed in these debates. I’ll quote from the article to get the context.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Merrimon Baker once left a surgical sponge inside a patient’s body. In another case, the Cleveland, Texas, physician operated on the left leg instead of the right. In another, he operated on the wrong hip.

He lost privileges to perform surgery at two hospitals. Later, in court, his ex-wife testified that she divorced him because of his addiction to prescription painkillers. In 2000, a jury found Baker partially responsible for botching a routine back operation and leaving a 42-year-old man with severe brain damage.

“I’m happy to know that hopefully something will change,” that patient’s wife, Dolores Romero, said after winning a $40.6 million verdict in a medical malpractice lawsuit, “and other people will not have to go through this.”

But in regard to Baker’s practice, little has changed. The 46-year-old doctor still sees patients in his Cleveland office and performs surgery at Houston Community Hospital on Little York. Baker did not return phone calls for this story.


“I can neither confirm nor deny we still have (Baker) under investigation,” said Dr. Donald Patrick, executive director of the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, the agency that oversees and licenses physicians. “But you never know what the future is going to hold, is about the strongest I can say. Anything that’s still under investigation is a matter of confidentiality. Believe me, I’d like to tell you the whole story.”

In 1998, Ricardo Romero of Humble decided to undergo back surgery. Romero, a 20-year employee of Houston Marine Services, had injured his back while moving a heavy hose. After 12 months of medication and therapy the problem wasn’t better, so he opted for an operation.

He saw Baker’s advertisement in the Yellow Pages and liked the fact that Baker was conveniently located at Columbia Kingwood Medical Center. When Romero met Baker, “He seemed pretty nice. He seemed to be knowing what he talked about.”

On July 15, 1998, Dolores Romero kissed her husband goodbye before he was wheeled back for what she understood was an uncomplicated operation. Hours passed without word of her husband’s progress. When Dolores Romero pressed hospital employees for news, they told her they didn’t know anything.

What she later learned was that her husband had lost nearly all of the blood in his body during the operation. Blood for a transfusion was late in coming, and in the meantime his heart stopped beating. His brain, deprived of blood and oxygen, was severely and irreversibly damaged.

In the malpractice lawsuit that followed, Dolores Romero gained a wealth of information about Baker that would have helped her avoid the doctor.

The Romeros’ attorney, Richard Mithoff, ticked off a laundry list of malpractice allegations against Baker — 12 separate incidents between 1988 and 1998. One 1994 case involved an unnecessary ankle surgery, lawyers said, which led to an infection and ultimately the amputation of the patient’s foot.


Today, the information about Baker unearthed by Mithoff’s staff sits in four cardboard boxes in a Harris County storage facility, where it remains too difficult to access, or interpret, to be of any practical use for consumers. Online county court records list malpractice suits against Baker, but without enough detail for customers to draw conclusions.

The National Practitioner Data Bank lists malpractice payments made by doctors, as reported by insurance companies, but this information is shared only with hospitals and state medical licensing boards — not with the general public.

One of the keys to a successful free market, as I’ve always understood it, is unfettered access to full information. If I have no way of knowing that someone is selling widgets across town for one dollar each, I may wind up buying them at my neighborhood store for two dollars each. Or I may not buy them at all because I can’t afford them. This is an inefficiency in the market, one that would be solved if full information about widgets had been available to me.

As we see with the story of Dr. Baker, propsective customers have no good way to get the information they need to make their choice. How many patients do you think he would have if his record were easily available? Surely if Ricardo Romero had known, he would have chosen a different doctor for his surgery, and that $40 million jury verdict never would have happened.

I understand that there are privacy issues, and I understand that there are always problems with centralized databases of this sort, but I also understand that the cost of doing nothing is that the Dr. Bakers of the world will continue to practice medicine on an uninformed public. Everybody – patients, competent doctors, insurance companies – loses in that case. Yet here we are, pursuing new government regulation instead of looking for a way to make the free market more efficient. Aren’t Republicans supposed to favor that sort of thing?

It’s interesting to note, by the way, that one of the organizations against Prop 12 (PDF) is the Texas Eagle Forum. I can’t wait for someone to explain to me why their opposition doesn’t matter because they’re not really conservative.

There’s been a lot of good blogging on the subject of tort reform and medical malpractice insurance. Check out The Bloviator on one doctor’s Road to Damascus moment, Something’s Got To Break for his examination of Prop 12, and of course PLA, which is your one stop shop for tort reform analysis.

Senators cancel trip to Laredo

As of yesterday, several of the Texas 11 were planning to make a quick trip to Laredo to attend a hearing on their federal lawsuit today. There were concerns that such a trip carried risks.

[Governor] Perry has said he will call a third special session on redistricting but will not say when. If he called one immediately, and any of the boycotting senators were in Texas and forced back to the Capitol, it would restore a quorum in the 31-member Senate.

Perry said the Democrats should fear arrest.

“I don’t think the lieutenant governor has any other option,” he said. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, with the approval of senators present at the Capitol, could issue an order for the arrest of quorum breakers in Texas once a session was under way.

But the four senators planning to attend the court hearing said they don’t expect that the governor will call a sudden session to trap them.

“We’re comfortable that we can get to the federal courthouse and get out,” said Sen. Royce West of Dallas. “I do not believe the governor would stoop to that level.”

West and Sens. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, John Whitmire of Houston, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo plan to fly to Laredo this morning and return to Albuquerque immediately after the hearing. The plane they are taking has room for two more, and other senators also were considering making the trip.

The Democrats hope a favorable court ruling would enable all of them to return to Texas.

As of late last night, the Senators decided to heed warnings of their arrest and have cancelled their trip.

Democratic consultant Harold Cook said the group cancelled the trip after the Democrats obtained “credible evidence” that Gov. Rick Perry intended on calling another special session and “deputized officials” would try to detain the senators.

Cook did not say what the evidence was, but said a Republican senator advised his Democratic colleague not to return to Texas today.

“They haven’t come this far just to get caught,” Cook said.


The Senate Democrats believed they could return to Texas safely because the special session had expired. But they became concerned, Cook said, when they began hearing reports that Perry might call lawmakers back to Austin today for another session. The Democrats then could have been detained if they were in Texas.

The hearing is expected to continue today without the senators. The senators had planned to meet again Wednesday night to decide whether they are staying in New Mexico or returning to Texas.

The Express-News has more details:

“Because of very credible information that we have gotten out of Austin, no senators will be making the trip this morning,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio said early today. “We felt there was a possibility that we would be caught and trapped, and so we wanted to act with extreme caution.”

Van de Putte, head of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said that senators had met till after midnight before finally deciding the risk was too great.

They feared that Gov. Rick Perry would quickly call a third special session of the summer while the five to seven senators would be inside the courtroom at the Laredo district court for a 9 a.m. hearing.

“The risk would have been too great to be trapped,” she said.

She said that earlier in the day, lawyers for the Texas 11 had advised them not to make the Laredo trip.

“A Republican Senate source in Austin (Tuesday night) indicated it was in their best interests not to go to Laredo,” said Harold Cook, an adviser to the Democratic senators here.

Sources close to the senators had cited concerns that plans were being made late Tuesday to have the Senate sergeant at arms in Laredo.

Among the strongest rumors that initially caused them to cancel their plan, Democrats here heard two senators preparing to leave Austin were intercepted at the airport and asked not to leave.

The unidentified senators were told their presence would be needed for an important meeting to be held this morning. The Senate and House adjourned Tuesday, and no legislative business was scheduled for today.

Still no word when the next special session will be. I’d guess at this point that Gov. Perry is waiting to see if the federal lawsuit gets dismissed or not. The Texas 11 are weighing their options as well.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said the senators would make a decision on when and whether to leave New Mexico later in the week.

Some Democrats said they would fight Mr. Perry as long as it took.

“Let’s get it on,” said Sen. Mario Gallegos, a retired firefighter from Houston. “I’ve fought fire before. They cool down but then they flare back up. I know how to fight. Let’s do it.”


Still, there was talk of a possible return to Austin among the senators, weary after weeks away from home.

[Sen. Royce] West said if the federal court in Laredo ruled against them, the lawmakers might have to return to Austin.

“But let me assure you that once they get their map out that it’s not over with, because we will continue to fight the issue through the Justice Department end of it, and ultimately it will end back in the judiciary,” he said. “This is long from over.”

Several of the articles quoted Lt. Gov. Dewhurst as saying he’d made a new proposal to the Democrats. Sen. Van de Putte confirmed that they had spoken, but denied that anything new was offered. The Quorum Report mentioned a rumor yesterday that said a “watered down” redistricting proposal that would give the GOP 18 seats was being discussed and possibly delaying the introduction of the new boundaries until 2006. I have to say, if that’s true and if there’s a map already drawn for it and if there were ironclad carved-in-stone guarantees that no other map would be up for debate and if the sales pitch for this proposal included dropping all fines and other sanctions against the Texas 11 and their staff, I’d consider that an acceptable compromise. Doesn’t look like it’s any more than rumor, though.

Remember that Scripps-Howard poll from yesterday, the one that showed that people opposed redistricting and the Texas 11 boycott? Turns out they also asked about how the Governor is doing.

According to the Scripps Howard Texas Poll, 48 percent of Texans disapprove of Perry’s job performance, his highest disapproval rating ever — and equal to that of former Gov. Ann Richards in 1994, the year she lost the governor’s job to George W. Bush.

Perry’s 44 percent approval figure tied his fall 2002 numbers.

The Texas Legislature hit an all-time low in the summer poll, with only 22 percent approving of the job lawmakers are doing. Sixty-eight percent disapproved.

That’s a 30-point rise in the disapproval ratings from 2001, when 47 approved and 38 disapproved of the Legislature; in the spring, 32 percent approved and 53 percent disapproved.


About 35 percent of respondents approve of the job Republican David Dewhurst is doing as lieutenant governor while 39 percent disapprove and 26 percent couldn’t answer. Twenty-seven percent approve of the job House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, is doing. Thirty-three percent disapprove and 40 percent couldn’t answer.

State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn had relatively strong ratings, with 45 percent approving and 23 percent disapproving, but a third said they didn’t know or couldn’t answer.

The low approval ratings for Gov. Perry confirm what Democrat-aligned pollster Jeff Montgomery discovered last month. Once again, though, he’s not up for reelection until 2006, and he’ll have another regular Legislative session to work on his image in the meantime.

Warren Zevon

I just wanted to say that I’m glad I took Brian’s advice and made sure that I caught the rebroadcast of the VH1 special on Warren Zevon tonight. I confess, I’m not very familiar with Zevon’s body of work, but after seeing this show tonight, I plan on rectifying that.

No pre-clearance needed

The Justice Department has issued a ruling saying that the Senate did not need pre-clearance from them in order to do away with the 2/3 rule in a special session on redistricting.

“Our analysis indicates that the practice in question is an internal legislative parliamentary rule or practice — not a change affecting voting — and therefore is not subject to the preclearance requirement,” Joseph Rich, chief of the voting section in the Justice Department’s civil rights division wrote to state officials.

Federal law requires changes to voting patterns or districts in southern states to be considered by the Justice Department before taking effect to ensure that minorities’ voting rights are protected.

The ruling could affect a court hearing in Laredo on Wednesday, where a federal judge is expected to review the Democrats’ lawsuit and the Republicans’ motion to dismiss. The Democrats also have challenged Dewhurst’s move on other legal grounds but much of their argument rested on the claim that waiving the two-thirds rule requires federal approval.

I don’t know if this will have any effect on the federal lawsuit, but I can’t say it’s a good sign for the Democrats. The lawsuit is their best hope to either scuttle redistricting now or at least give them cover to return home without being dragged back to Austin. If the lawsuit gets dismissed, or if an unfavorable ruling gets handed down, their only option is a continued holdout.

Still no word yet when the next session will be, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is threatening more sanctions for when it does occur.

Dewhurst said he had advised the boycotting Democrats that he intends to propose changes in Senate rules that would lay out penalties against members who deliberately break quorum.

Republican senators levied fines and other penalties against the Democrats who left, but the Democrats contend those measures are invalid because the Senate had no quorum when it voted on them.

Once again, how one can change the rules in the absence of a quota is left as an exercise for the reader. Sure is a good thing there won’t be any residual acrimony when the Democrats eventually return, right?

Our own Roy Moore

It seems we’ve got our own little battle brewing over religious displays in public places.

Citing concern over what she perceives as growing religious fundamentalism, a Houston woman filed suit Monday in federal court against Harris County, demanding it remove a King James Bible from a monument near the Fannin Street entrance of the civil courthouse.

The Bible, tattered and waterstained, has occupied the lighted display case since 1995, when an employee of then-state District Judge John Devine’s court undertook an effort to refurbish the neglected monument. The 4-foot-tall pedestal was erected in 1956 to honor industrialist William Mosher for his philanthropic contributions to the Star of Hope Homeless Programs.

“It’s unconstitutional and I expect our elected officials to follow the law,” said real estate agent Kay Staley, explaining her suit. Staley, who also is a lawyer, is a member of the Houston chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The lawsuit was filed by civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen.

Late last week, Kallinen indicated the lawsuit would be filed only if further negotiations with the county, started in May, proved fruitless. Early Monday, however, he announced he would move forward with the legal action.

For what it’s worth, I don’t feel quite as strongly about this as I do with Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments monument. The monument is smaller, it was apparently built to honor an individual, and it’s not quite as exclusive as the Protestant version of the Commandments that Moore has displayed. It’s not that I think this is appropriate, it’s just that there are bigger fish to fry.

Of course, the best argument against such monuments invariably come from their strongest proponents, who would surely be appalled if the icon in question came from a non-Christian faith. To wit:

Devine, who served as a civil court judge from 1995 to 2001, said refurbishing the monument became his “personal cause,” and he directed his staff in the work.

“We have this insane rush to eliminate every Christian tradition and symbol from our culture,” Devine said. “As much as the Bible is a religious text, it is a book of law. It’s always had a position in the courtroom since the early 1800s. Witnesses and jurors were sworn in on the Bible.”

Devine dismissed the concept of separation of church and state as “falsity,” saying it was supported neither in the Constitution nor Declaration of Independence.

“The Bible is not welcome anywhere in the American system, it appears,” Devine said. “I think that’s outrageous. It’s been here 200 years, and now someone has the harebrained idea it doesn’t belong.”

Devine, who first ran for judge on the campaign slogan “The court needs Devine intervention”, was one of the loopier judges in Harris County. He’s spent campaign funds on a wide assortment of religious and patriotic art, been reprimanded for displaying the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, confounded observers by resigning to make an unsuccessful run for the lower-prestige County Attorney’s office, and is now apparently the contact for a lawsuit-financing group. He’s gone from the bench (thankfully), but his essence apparently lives on.

UPDATE: Ginger has some more details about John Devine and his cohort Aubrey Vaughan.

Two down, who knows how many more to go

Today is the last day of the second special session, the fourth such session ever to end without a bill being passed. It’s unclear as yet when the next session will be called, as Gov. Perry has made no announcement and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has called for a “cooling off period” first. The Democrats say they’ll stay away as long as they must, and called on Dewhurst and Perry to be specific about their plans.

The Star-Telegram is now reporting a Scripps-Howard poll that the Quorum Report mentioned a few days ago. The poll shows general opposition to the Democrats’ walkout, and general opposition to redrawing Congressional lines.

According to the Scripps Howard Texas Poll, 62 percent of those surveyed oppose the decision by 11 Democratic senators to leave the state in order to strip Republican leaders of the quorum necessary to conduct business. Only 29 percent said they supported it.

On the flip side, just 40 percent of those polled support redrawing congressional lines now, compared with 46 percent who expressed opposition.


Other findings in the Texas Poll:

• Sixty percent of Republicans polled support redrawing congressional lines now, and 27 percent oppose it. Only 19 percent of the Democrats support it, with 68 percent against. Thirty-two percent of independents polled said they want it now, and 32 percent don’t.

• A whopping 89 percent of Republicans opposed the Democratic boycott, and 7 percent supported it. Sixty-two percent of Democrats supported it and 27 percent expressed opposition.

• A narrow plurality, 47 percent, agreed with Perry’s decision to call a special session on redistricting, compared to 44 percent who didn’t. But 49 percent opposed a second special session on redistricting, and 43 percent approved.

• Many of that 43 percent who expressed support for a second special session changed their minds when told it costs $1.7 million in taxpayer money: 65 percent still favored it, but 30 percent said they now did not.

• Among ethnic groups, blacks were the most likely to support the walkout. Some 49 percent said they agreed with the decision, and 39 percent opposed it. Anglos opposed it 68 percent to 25 percent; 54 percent of Hispanics disagreed with the boycott, compared with 36 percent in favor.

The message I take from this is that the Democrats need to do a better job of explaining why walking out was their only viable strategy. The Republicans have obviously done a good job at getting their base to toe the line. Of course, the only opinions that really matter right now are those in the 11 Senators’ districts, and there are no indications that I’ve seen that would indicate they have anything to worry about there.

Perhaps the million dollars raised by MoveOn to run ads in Texas and elsewhere will have an effect on public opinion. I have my doubts, since I don’t think it can buy nearly enough air time to make a difference, but it probably can’t hurt to try. Given the large personal cost of the boycott, I’d like to see a few of those dollars tossed at the Senate Democratic Caucus to help defray them.

Both sides are claiming victory in the aftermath of a district judge dismissing a case that everyone apparently wanted dismissed.

In an example of the legal quicksand surrounding the standoff, lawyers argued for two hours Monday in state district court in Austin over the dismissal of a lawsuit that both sides agreed should be dismissed.

District Judge Darlene Byrne finally ended what she called the “ping pong” match and handed down the dismissal sought by both parties, leading both sides to declare they’d won a significant victory.

Democrats had sought to bar authorities from forcibly returning them to the Capitol and challenged Mr. Perry’s authority to call a special session for redistricting. Republicans had countersued, asking for a court order to compel the senators’ return. Ultimately, both sides agreed that the state judge should dismiss the case while each side pursues the matter on other fronts.

With that decision, attention will shift to Laredo. The Democratic senators hope that they can persuade a judge to empower a three-judge panel to determine whether the removal of the two-thirds rule violates the voting rights of minorities.

The federal lawsuit in Laredo, which should have some sort of ruling by tomorrow, will clear things up a bit. Or not. That’s just how it’s been lately.

Finally, some misdirection from Sen. Jeff Wentworth:

Wentworth says he tried to reason with his San Antonio colleague, Democratic Caucus Chair Leticia Van de Putte, before Gov. Rick Perry called the current special session and the Democrats left for Albuquerque. “I told her I had 201/2 senators willing to vote for my fair map,” Wentworth recalled — a number that included Republican Bill Ratliff, Democrat Ken Armbrister, and “almost” one more Democrat. “She said she couldn’t accept a fair map because, she said, ‘I have to give my guys a win.'” Wentworth insists that his map could have prevailed against the less-fair proposals already adopted by the House and Senate. “My concern is that a fair and balanced map may not be on the table when [the Democrats] return.”

I’d really like to believe Sen. Wentworth. Unfortunately, the problem with his premise is that his “fair” map wasn’t approved by the redistricting committee. Sen. Staples’ map was. I never read any story that indicated his map was ever even up for consideration by the committee. There’s also no evidence that I’m aware of that indicates his map would have been approved by the House, mostly because it was never up for consideration in the House. If David Dewhurst were to stump for Wentworth’s map, then he’d have a case. Until then, he’s kidding himself.

UPDATE: This is curious. The Star-Telegram said “Thirty-two percent of independents polled said they want it [redrawing congressional lines] now, and 32 percent don’t”, but this graphic in the Chron shows independents saying “No” to that question by a 53-32 margin. I’m not sure what accounts for the difference.

Back to normal

Now that Faux News has dropped its lawsuit against Al Franken after a judge declared it wholly without merit, I’ve decided to reset my banner back to its original state. I’ll second Joe Conanson’s suggestion for a new slogan at Faux.

J.R. Richard

Chron columnist Ken Hoffman provides a nice update on former Astro star J.R. Richard, who is now helping teach kids how to pitch at the Sports House athletic facility in southewest Houston.

Richard began coaching kids last year. He happened to drive by the Sports House and stopped in to talk over an idea with owner Ivan Shulman.

“He said he wanted to teach kids how to pitch,” Shulman said. “This was J.R. Richard talking! Of course I knew who he was, and I knew his story. I jumped at the chance to get him here.

“You should hear him. He’s pretty straight with them. He says, ‘Look, your father is paying me to teach you how to pitch. Don’t waste his money or my time.’ The kids do listen to him, I’ll say that.”

The kids may not know that Richard struck out 15 Giants, including Willie Mays three times, in his big-league debut in 1971. They probably don’t care that he struck out 300 batters in 1978 and 1979. Or that he put together the best winning streak in Astros history. He won 20 games in 1976 and 18 games each year 1977-79.

His students can plainly see that he’s 6 feet 8 inches tall, wears a sleeveless T-shirt that shows off his muscles, has hands the size of skillets and, at age 53, can still throw a fastball 90 mph.

And he still has that glare. He was perhaps the most frightening pitcher ever. A batter would have been crazy to dig in against Richard. He once walked 10 batters in a game — and still pitched a shutout.

His teammate, mind you, his teammate Bob Watson once said, “I’ve never taken batting practice against him, and I never will. I have a family to think of.”

As you may know, Richard went through some tough times a few years ago, winding up homeless and living on the street. He’s back on his feet now, and it’s good to see. There’s been a grassroots effort for some time to get the Astros to retire his uniform number 50, but they haven’t done so. Richard was quoted by Chron columnist Mickey Herskowitz last year as saying he doesn’t feel welcome by the Stros. That’s a damn shame, and I can only hope they change their minds.

Here’s an interview from 2001 with Richard, conducted by the same fan who’s pushing for his number to be retired. Richard’s career stats are here. It’s pretty clear that had he gotten another five or six seasons like the ones he had between 1976 and 1980, he’d have been a Hall of Famer.

Suing over Star Trek

This isn’t exactly fresh news, but what the heck, it was news to me.

Activision, Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI), a leading developer, publisher and distributor of interactive entertainment software products, today announced that it has filed a breach of contract suit against Viacom.

In its complaint, which was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California on June 30, 2003, Activision accused Viacom of breaching its fundamental promise to continue exploiting the Star Trek franchise consistent with its practice at the time the agreement was signed in 1998. “Activision cannot successfully develop and sell Star Trek video games without the product exploitation and support promised by Viacom. A continuing pipeline of movie and television production, and related marketing, is absolutely crucial to the success of video games based on a property such as Star Trek,” charged Activision in its court filings.

However, through its actions and inactions, Viacom has let the once proud Star Trek franchise stagnate and decay. Viacom has released only one “Star Trek” movie since entering into agreement with Activision and has recently informed Activision it has no current plans for further “Star Trek” films. Viacom also has allowed two “Star Trek” television series to go off the air and the remaining series suffers from weak ratings. Viacom also frustrated Activision’s efforts to coordinate the development and marketing of its games with Viacom’s development and marketing of its new movies and television series.

The complaint goes on to state: “By failing and refusing to continue to exploit and support the Star Trek franchise as it had promised, Viacom has significantly diminished the value of Star Trek licensing rights including the rights received by Activision. Moreover, in so doing, Viacom has breached a fundamental term of its agreement with Activision … and has caused Activision significant damage.”

You know, if I were the judge in this case, I’d rule that each side’s lawyers must come to court dressed up as either Klingons or Romulans. Of course, I’d instruct the bailiff that all phasers, disruptors, and batleths must be checked at the door. Wouldn’t want things to get out of hand, after all.

Via Tacitus.

UPDATE: Dwight says that lawyers are Romulans and Ferengis, never Klingons. He’s probably right, but making them talk like Klingons would be worth it (“Tremble before the might of my deposition, lowly targ!”).

Dean in Texas

I really don’t intend to become a Deanblogger – there are plenty of more qualified folks for that job – but I do want to comment about something in this article about Dean’s swing through Austin and San Antonio today. The speaker quoted is Glen Maxey, former state representative and current chair of Dean for Texas.

Win or lose — Clinton or Dukakis — Maxey sees Dean as a no-lose candidate for Texas Democrats.

“This is the real thing,” Maxey said. “The kicker for me about Howard Dean is, I want to see the Democratic Party revived in Texas. What I see in Howard Dean is a catalyst for reviving an institution.

“There is so much residual effect of this campaign. In the last 10 years, all we’ve done is lick our wounds and pick up the pieces after an election. George Bush, unless I perform a walk-on-water miracle in this campaign, is going to win Texas,” Maxey said.

But here’s where Maxey embraces the dreaded McGovern analogy that is anathema to the Dean campaign.

“I see happening for a lot of people what happened for me in 1971,” he said, recalling when he worked in the McGovern campaign, which also included young folks such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Garry Mauro and others who later built careers in politics and public service.

“There’s hundreds of college kids organizing the San Antonio rally,” Maxey said. “They’re going to be state reps and state senators 20 years from now.”

I think that’s exactly right. Barring a complete meltdown of some kind (and even then I wouldn’t bet on it), Texas’ electoral votes will not be in play for the Democrats in 2004. What will be in play, though, are a bunch of other offices – every State and US House seat, various State Senate seats, and countless local offices. The single best thing that could happen to the Texas Democratic Party in 2004 is for there to be a Presidential candidate on the ballot that people here will want to get out and vote for, even with the realization that that particular vote is meaningless, because that will also generate votes for all of the down-ballot candidates.

We all know that (again, barring some kind of unprecedented meltdown) Republicans will be out in force voting for President Bush. Having a Democratic candidate at the top of the ticket that generates some excitement will be necessary just to not lose any more ground. And if the stars align well, a decent turnout among Dems could not only protect various vulnerable incumbents (such as Congressmen Stenholm and Edwards, assuming no change in districts, and State Rep. Patrick Rose, to name three) but maybe score a few pickups. I’m thinking the 23rd CD, where Rep. Henry Bonilla won 51.5-47.2 in 2002, and State House districts 5, 8, 9, 19, 32, 48, 134, and 149, all of which were won with less than 56% of the vote by the GOP candidate.

Longer term, as Maxey alludes to, getting people involved when they’re young is an unqulified boon as well. The future has to come from somewhere, after all. Whatever else happens, if Dean’s candidacy means there are more Democratic volunteers for 2006 and beyond, it will have been a resounding success.

Joe Nixon, man of the insurance companies

Tim Fleck does a great job showcasing Rep. Joe Nixon’s utter hypocrisy about his mold claim. Not only has he received preferential treatment, he’s actually helping to represent Farmers Insurance in a lawsuit filed by a church that didn’t get nearly as cordial a deal.

At first glance, Houston State Representative Joe Michael Nixon and Spring’s Oak Ridge Baptist Church would seem to have a lot in common.

In the past few years both have been forced to leave their homes because of health-threatening mold contamination. Both filed claims to cover the costs of remediating the damage and both claims were initially denied by their insurance companies.

The 46-year-old Nixon moved his wife and three teenage sons to a cramped two-bedroom apartment for a year while the mold demons were exorcised from his Briargrove Park home in West Houston. The church had to move out of its contaminated building on I-45 and hold its services at four different temporary locations, losing half its membership in the process.

There the similarities between the mold cases of the District 133 legislator and the church end, even though their paths have now converged.

Nixon received a $300,000 settlement of his claim by Farmers Insurance Group. It has spawned a Travis County grand jury investigation after a former Farmers official claimed the payout was unjustified favoritism designed to influence a state legislator.

The church is still seeking its day in court. A trial had been set for last February in Montgomery County, but in November 2002 the defendants — a group of insurance companies headed by Utica Lloyd’s of Texas — added a new attorney to their team.

He was none other than Joe M. Nixon.

As noted, the advantage that Farmers gets in having Nixon on its team is that they get automatic continuances for as long as the Legislature is in session, meaning that until the redistricting fiasco is finally resolved (or Governor Goodhair gives up), the church’s case will not be heard. Pretty tidy, no?

While Nixon wouldn’t address the issue of hypocrisy, he did tell constituents in a newsletter sent out last February that “the homeowners insurance crisis has been primarily driven by a barrage of increasingly expensive mold claims.”

He went on to blast “a cottage industry of mold remediators and experts who are unregulated and unlicensed.” Additionally, noted Nixon, “the science behind much of the alleged danger of various molds is coming into question.”

Of course, that stance didn’t stop the legislator from using his own remediators and experts and their own questionable science as the basis for his mold claim.

As for his own settlement, Nixon hints that he asked for even more than Farmer’s gave him. “There’s a lot of assumptions,” he says. “How do you know the claim wasn’t really $600,000 and I settled it for less?”

Well, if you stopped playing coy and gave us all some full disclosure about what happened, that might be a start. After all, how do we know that the damage wasn’t really $100,000 worth and Farmers decided to sweeten the pot in anticipation of your tort reform bill? Would you have questioned such a generous payout from them, or would you unquestioningly accept it and then huffily insist that there was no quid pro quo?

Will all of this make Joe Nixon vulnerable in the next election? Greg Wythe, who makes the same point about Nixon’s lack of forthrightness, speculates about the possibilities. We can only hope.

Electronic voting in San Antonio

San Antonio is the latest city to adopt electronic voting, and the latest city to feel a bit queasy about doing so.

With Bexar County’s first fully electronic election less than three weeks away, some are raising red flags about what they see as a vulnerable paperless ballot process.

“There’s something about this technology that obscures your ability to ever really know the outcome of an election, because there’s no paper trail,” said Alyssa Burgin, a member of Citizens for Ethical Government.

On Sept. 13, voters statewide will hit the polls to cast ballots on 22 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.

Those in Bexar County will do so using $8.1 million worth of touch-screen machinery touted as user-friendly.

County officials contend that the machines, made by Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software, are secure.

“There’s no fail-safe system in voting,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “But I think the new touch screen system is better than anything else we’ve seen.”

But there are challenges that come with electronic voting, which is spreading throughout the country as officials turn to technology for elections that produce fast results.

“The technology itself opens up new kinds of fraud that we haven’t seen before,” said David Dill, a computer scientist at Stanford University who studies electronic voting.

We all know the concerns about electronic voting, at least for the black-box/proprietary code variety (see here for some background), but this is the first article I’ve seen in which a county official has tried to counter the doubters.

One suggestion critics have is to print out a receipt at the time a ballot is cast. The voter could confidentially review the paper ballot to make sure it matches their computerized choices and then place the paper ballot in a lock box.

[Bexar County Elections Administrator Cliff] Borofsky raised several concerns with a printed receipt:

Would the electronic result or the printed page be the official record of an election?

What if the printer goes out?

On a long ballot, like next month’s 22-amendment slate, will people remember how they voted on each question?

Since allowing voters to stop and review their ballot would add extra time at the polls, will the county have to buy more machines to get voters in and out in the required time?

Borofsky said investing in printers would cost an additional $2.5 million in addition to the $8.1 million the county has already invested in the touch-screen machines.

In order:

1. The printed page would be the official ballot. That’s the best defense against fraud. Sure, it’s possible to do bad things with printed ballots, but we have a lot more experience guarding against it and detecting it when it does happen. As far as I’m concerned, the fancy touchscreens should be used only as the interface, not as the database.

2. You can always use regular optical-scan ballots as a backup if there are no extra printers available. Honestly, though, I’d advocate having a printer built into every electronic voting machine.

3. This is a red herring. In Harris County, at least, the eSlate machines allow you to review your ballot before you cast the actual vote. Those who take the time to review their ballots before they commit to them will know if there’s an error on the hard copy. Besides, no one is saying we must have perfection (if that were true, we wouldn’t be where we are now, anyway).

4. Maybe. Maybe the counties can push early voting, which would help alleviate the congestion. Hell, maybe it’s time the whole country re-thought the idea of having elections on a single weekday instead of, say, over a weekend. As with the previous point, this is mostly FUD.

5. It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? Look at it this way – would you rather spend $8.1 million on a bad solution, or $10.6 million on a good one? Alternately, if there’s a scandal that results from the inability to verify electronic votes, how much will it cost to fix that? I guarantee the extra $2.5 mil is cheap insurance and money well spent.

What do you say, Mr. Borofsky? Is your mind made up, or are you willing to consider the possibility that the solution you have in place isn’t what it’s cracked up to be?

Weekend update

Just a quick look at the not-much-to-say-but-we’ve-gotta-write-something stories about the Texas 11. Next week, as this session ends and the federal courts make some rulings in the various suits and countersuits, there’ll be some real news.

Anyway. The Senators miss their families but are finding ways to cope as they get support from well-wishers and from the MoveOn fundraising effort. They met with some House Democrats to talk strategy for the next session, though nobody knows when exactly Governor Perry will call it. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is advocating a cooling off period before another session is called, but the decision is solely up to Perry. The Dems continue to insist they’re in for as long as it takes:

But [Sen. Leticia] Van de Putte of San Antonio said [the boycott is] not about making a statement.

“They don’t get it. It’s about protecting voting rights,” she said. “We’re not out here for show.”

Democratic strategist Kelly Fero said the absent senators won’t trust any GOP offers at this point.

“There’s going to need to be some sort of legal restraint placed on the people who are running this power grab so the Texas 11 can come home and know that they are still able to represent the interests of their constituents” Fero said.

The most interesting article is this one about Sen. Bill Ratliff, who has seen his influence wane and is considering resiging.

Ratliff admits he’s lost influence with his Republican colleagues because he opposes redistricting.

“I’m not nearly as effective as I have been in my career,” Ratliff said this week. “It’s not a whole lot of fun to feel like you are out of step with the leadership and what appears to be most of my colleagues.

“Fifteen years may be long enough.”

He doesn’t appeeaer to regret the position he took, though.

Ratliff insists his relationship with Dewhurst remains cordial. Last week Ratliff said he talked to Dewhurst about resigning.

“I wasn’t after him,” Ratliff said of Dewhurst. “I believed I was representing the people of Northeast Texas when I did it. My mail and phone calls have confirmed to me that I was.”

Stay tuned for the lawsuit results.

RIP, Bobby Bonds

I wish I had a clear memory of Bobby Bonds, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 57 yesterday, but I don’t. I remember the Yankees traded fan favorite Bobby Murcer straight up for him, he had one of his patented 30/30 seasons in 1975, back when the only other player to ever have a 30/30 season was Willie Mays, and then got traded to the Angels for Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers, who were two cornerstones of the three pennant-winning teams that followed. That’s pretty much it.

I’m not really sure why Bonds, whose career numbers would have put him on a Hall of Fame track had his career lasted a bit longer, made so little impression. Ray Ratto suggests it was being ahead of his time and being in the shadow of Mays and McCovey with the Giants. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I wish I did remember him better. Having Barry Bonds as a son is certainly a great legacy, but Bobby Bonds’ career is well worth remembering in its own right. I hope a few people will take the time to look at his numbers and to read what his contemporaries are saying, as that can only help.

Bill White update

Two recent items of interest concerning Bill White‘s mayoral campaign. First is this report, via Greg Wythe, which says that the Harris County GOP is already running ads accusing White of being a liberal.

[Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared] Woodfill says the county GOP decided to place the ads because White, the former chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, is attempting to win the support of Republican voters.

Woodfill says “Bill White has spent a lifetime trying to defeat conservative candidates,” he said. “The last election, he supported Al Gore against President Bush on down to congressional and state representative races.”

“When he was chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, he presided over one of the most liberal platforms in the history of Texas.”

“Now, he is trying to define himself as an individual who is moderate to conservative,” Woodfill claims.

Woodfill says the county GOP concluded that many Republicans “didn’t know who (White) was.”

“He was redefining himself and there was confusion,” said Woodfill. “So as our role to educate Republican and conservative voters, we launched this campaign to identify who Bill White is.”

“It is all based on truth,” Woodfill insists.

Putting aside the question of whether or not White actually qualifies as a liberal, at least by someone who uses the label as something other than an insult, it seems to me that this is an indication that White is doing better than expected so far. Why bother spending money to attack the guy this early in the cycle if his numbers are lagging? Frankly, as a White supporter, I consider this to be good news.

Then there’s the recent Metro vote for a scaled-back light rail extension. White is the only major candidate to support the plan as it is – Sylvester Turner wanted the bigger plan, Michael Berry wants no plan, and Out Of Town Orlando will check with his buddy Paul Bettenourt before announcing that he, too, wants no rail. This puts White in a position to get support from the Bob Lanier types, but may cause some defection from liberals into Turner’s camp.

In my previous post, when I mentioned that some pro-rail supporters were upset by the Metro vote, some of them also directed some venom at White. White has opposed the termination of Metro giving road funds to the smaller cities in its jurisdiction, voiced support for delaying the November referendum, and has generally advocated a smaller rail plan than Turner has. These are all defensible positions, though I confess none of them are my first choice, but they all carry a risk of losing support from people who should be in White’s corner.

All in all, a mixed bag. I really can’t wait to see a poll. Is it Labor Day yet?