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February, 2004:

One billion dollars


The city of Houston’s main pension program has a billion-dollar funding shortfall because benefits have been boosted so high that many employees will earn more in retirement than they received while working, according to a report obtained by the Chronicle. A few will retire as millionaires.

To properly reduce the shortfall, taxpayers would have to put nearly $100 million extra into the fund next year, according to an analysis prepared for the pension’s board.

Further, the city cannot reduce the benefits for any employee who already has worked five years, thanks to a Texas constitutional amendment passed by voters last fall.

As a result, the city is considering closing the plan to new members and moving new employees into a less generous plan. The only alternatives might be a tax increase or widespread layoffs, city finance officials said.

I’m about to run out the door for the day, so I’ll get back to this later. But for now, ugh.

UPDATE: Okay, I’ve looked at this again, and I’m appalled. The details are amazing.

Today’s problems can be traced to 2001, when the pension, governed by a board whose majority is made up of current and retired city workers, asked the city to increase benefits. The city agreed, based on a Towers Perrin report that the city would not have to contribute more than 14 percent of its payroll.

The improvements to the employee-contribution program were substantial.

· In 1993, the program promised 52.5 percent of income for a retiree with 25 years of service. The new program promised 88.75 percent.

· To reach 65 percent of income in retirement, an employee now needs just 20 years of service, compared with the 25-35 years required by most cities.

· Only one other city surveyed gives a surviving spouse 100 percent of the pension. Others require their retirees to accept smaller pension payments in order for their survivors to keep receiving benefits.

· Houston gives a 4 percent cost-of-living increase, regardless of the actual Consumer Price Index computed by the federal government. Others give less or even none at all.

But the most expensive changes were revisions to a deferred retirement plan, available to any employee whose age and number of years of employment equal 70 — for instance, an employee who is 50 years old with 20 years of service.

With a so-called “drop” account, the employee essentially “retires” for pension purposes but continues working at his normal salary. Meanwhile, his monthly pension benefit — 65 percent of salary in the above example — is paid into an account that he can’t touch until he really retires.

In addition, the account receives whatever interest the overall fund is making on its investments, but always at least 8.5 percent, compounded daily, no matter how poorly those investments perform.

The employee also continues to contribute 4 percent of salary. And the monthly benefit gets an annual 4 percent cost-of-living increase.

In the case of a worker hired at age 22 who entered the deferred program after 24 years at a salary of $40,000 and retired for good at age 65, the lump sum waiting for him would be $2.75 million, Esuchanko calculated.

I’m not an actuary, but every one of these bullet items jumps out at me as a red flag. How hard could it have been to do some means testing? Give me the raw data and a few hours with Excel and I probably could have told you this was a lot more expensive than what we were told. How is it possible that someone who does this for a living screwed up so badly? I’m at a loss to understand it. I just hope there’s a way to fix it.

Draft Day

Thursday night was the draft for the Timbergrove Little League, so barring anyone coming or going, the rosters are now set. Quite a bit happened that night, starting with the fact that I am no longer the head coach of the Twins. I am now an assistant coach. I’ll explain that in a minute.

The draft started off with all of the coaches for each respective division gathering together. The league president went over all of the administrative tasks – team sponsorships, deposits for equipment bags, practice fields, candy sales, and so on – then explained the rules for the draft. Basically, each team started with a certain number of players who were guaranteed to be on their teams. They are coaches’ children, and players who were on that team the previous year and wanted to return to it. Some players expressed a desire to be on a certain team or to be on the same team with certain other players, and we were to try to accomodate them within reason.

The teams with the fewest players would pick until each team had the same number, then the draft proceeded with rounds alternating in worst-to-first and first-to-worst order. The Twins had the fewest players to start with and finished in last place, so the draft was a chance to rebuild.

After all of the preliminaries, the six coaches in the Mustang Division realized that there were only 55 players total, meaning nine players per team. That wasn’t gong to work, since every kid misses a game here and there, so we decided to combine two teams. There were two teams that had one player each – the Twins, who had a single returnee from last year, and a new team, the Giants, who had the coach’s son. That coach and I volunteered to join forces, with the new team keeping the Twins name. Since he has a son playing, we agreed that he’d be the head coach. So now you can just call me Assistant Coach.

The draft went spectacularly well for the Twins. Every other team had between three and six players to start out, and they all had certain kids that they had to take to satisfy various requests. We had no such constraints and were able to pick off several of the more talented kids that we’d seen last Saturday.

The kid we picked first was one of my guys from last year, who had originally indicated that he wanted to be on a different team. Fortunately, when I spoke to him and his mother on Saturday, they both said they’d be okay with having me as his coach again. The other coaches were also okay with that. Even better, he and another good player had asked to play together, so we wound up with both of them. We picked up two other standouts during the catchup rounds, and by the end of the evening felt like we were loaded for bear.

The thing that I liked about the draft the most, though, was actually getting to know my colleagues a bit. Coming in last year with an already-formed team, I was never really acquainted with the other coaches. Now I feel like I’m on more equal footing with everyone else.

As for my “demotion”, I’m happy to be relieved of some tasks that I didn’t have to face last year due to my last-minute status, such as arranging for a team sponsor. With the baby due in May, which is season’s end, I knew I’d need someone else to help me out anyway, so this works out just fine. But I admit that a part of me already misses being the guy in charge. I’m going to need to keep my instinct to take command in check.

Practices should start this week, probably Tuesday. I’m ready to get started.

Perry questions Earle

This is the clearest sign I’ve seen yet that Travis County DA Ronnie Earle is getting close to something in his investigation of the Texas Association of Business and Texans for a Republican Majority: Governor Perry is attacking him.

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday said the “appropriate authorities” should investigate Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle for his probe into possible political misuse of corporate money to help Republican legislative candidates.

“My concern is the extraordinary leaks that have come out of the grand jury system,” Perry said. “When the news media finds out about issues going on in the grand jury even before subpoenas have been delivered to people, there’s something gravely wrong with that system.”

Earle said there have been no leaks out of the grand jury.

“Neither this office nor the grand jury has divulged any information obtained as a result of the grand jury investigation,” Earle said.

“A grand jury investigation is an inquiry into the truth. Others have an interest in determining the truth about Texas government,” Earle said. ” That includes the media, which aggressively pursue their own sources of information. Those sources include civil litigants, government watchdog groups and concerned citizens”


Perry did not specify what he meant by grand jury leaks, nor did he say who should investigate those leaks.

“I’m more worried about both the appearance and the actuality of impropriety that appears to be going on,” Perry said. “The district attorney will need to answer those questions to the appropriate authorities.”

Perry spokesman Robert Black later said the appropriate people to question Earle about the leaks would be the grand jury foreman or state District Judge Mike Lynch, who oversees the grand jury.

First DeLay, now Perry. Earle is certainly ruffling someone’s feathers.

Note the complete emptiness of Perry’s charge, by the way. He claims there have been “leaks” from the grand jury proceedings, but does he offer even a single piece of information that’s been cited in any media outlet that shouldn’t be known to the public? Does he claim that someone involved with the grand jury investigation has come forward with informtion of impropriety? Did he even talk to the “appropriate authorities” before shooting off his mouth? If you believe any of what he’s saying, then you’ll probably believe that I have in my possession a list of 57 known Communists now working in the State Department, along with the recipe for Secret Sauce.

As always, you can count on the state GOP to provide a little comic relief in these matters.

Texas Republican Chair Tina Benkiser on Thursday filed an open records request with Earle asking for all records of his office’s contacts with the news media in connection to this investigation. She also sought records detailing how much money had been spent on it.

“It is widely believed that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is engaging in a baseless partisan witch hunt apparently designed solely to score political points by generating negative media coverage of Republicans,” Benkiser said.

The Texas Association of Business twice last year tried to halt Earle’s investigation into its political activity, but the all-Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals allowed Earle to move forward.

You’ll have to speak a little louder, honey. The State Supreme Court justices didn’t hear you.

A funny definition of “indecency”

So the evil conglomerate Clear Channel is waging war against indecency – they’ve dropped Howard Stern from the 0.5% of their member stations who were running his show, they’ve fired Bubba the Love Sponge, whose antics in Tampa they were surely unaware of before now, and they’ve got everyone from local DJs to industry insiders all abuzz about the new trend in Non-Shock Radio.

And how do they prove their commitment to decent, clean, family-friendly airwaves here in Houston?

Clear Channel may have dumped Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge, but it recently added controversial radio jock Michael Savage to its lineup at KPRC in Houston.

MSNBC fired Savage last summer after he referred to a caller to his weekend cable TV show as a “sodomite” and said he should “get AIDS and die.”

Ken Charles, Clear Channel regional vice president of programming for Houston, did not return calls from the Chronicle on Thursday.

Yeah. That Michael Savage.

Here’s Ken Charles’ contact page. Feel free to thank him for doing his part to make the airwaves so much more clean and decent here in Houston.

The first female trail boss of the HLSR

Meet Cheri Hambrick, the first female trail boss in the history of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

“She runs a very clean operation and makes it easier on the committee,” said Yance Montalbano, chairman of the Trail Ride Committee. “I told my wife, `We have a first lady trail boss,’ and it couldn’t have been a more appropriate lady.”

In her volunteer position, Hambrick spends six months mapping out the trail’s route. She speaks to city and county officials about getting police escorts, finds camping sites for each night out, and keeps count and notice of every person, animal and wagon on the ride. She’s also chiefly responsible for the safety of the entire crew during the seven-day drive.

“My parents say they don’t know how I got here. I was raised a city girl, but I had a love for horses,” said Hambrick, 48, who wears her straight blond hair loose beneath a tan cowboy hat.

Several horsemen said Hambrick is resurrecting what was becoming a crippled ride. In one year, membership for the 108-mile ride from Brazoria doubled.

Each of her safety scouts now uses walkie-talkies, and she doesn’t tolerate any lewd behavior.

“I feel very successful,” she said.

Concerned about the safety and health of both the riders and the horses, her group takes breaks each hour and the caravan doesn’t move faster than a human can walk. Some groups, she said, don’t tend to their animals as they should.

“We have so much consideration for the riders, but not the horses,” said Hambrick, a rider of 26 years. “I’ve been on rides where they don’t even take the break for the horse.”

Texas Independence, which began riding Feb. 21, will roll into Memorial Park today with the 13 other trail riding groups.


When Hambrick enters the park today, she completes her second year in a 52-year tradition dominated by men.

Mark F. Odintz, associate editor of the Handbook of Texas, said women weren’t considered when it came to the rugged rides common during the pre-railroad cattle driving days.

Few women worked at that time, Odintz said.

“There were women ranchers, but they were mostly widows who had taken over the ranch. That would have been your best bet” for involvement among women, he said.

Of course there were cowgirls, he said, but they didn’t get their golden reign until the early 20th century.

Even in the 21st century, Hambrick was leery about breaking in.

“We’d been trying hard to get her but she kept saying, `No, women don’t do it,’ ” said Barbara Dean, 59, a fellow rider from Magnolia who has known Hambrick for more than 10 years.

“But she has the panache to pull it off — and we like her,” Dean said before pausing briefly. “No, we don’t like her. We love her.”

Is it just me, or does it seem really strange to be talking about a first female something-or-other in the year 2004? Sometimes I feel like there can’t possibly be any more new frontiers like that, and then I get slapped upside the head by reality. Whatever, three cheers for Cheri Hambrick. May there be many more like her.

BTW, if you’ve never seen a trail ride, this picture will give you an idea of what it’s like. Yes, they’re riding on the highways and main roads once they hit town. What did you expect?

Local Voter

I want to take a moment an plug a pretty cool site that I’ve been fooling around with lately, LocalVoter. It’s a one-stop shop for what you need to know about elections and elected offices – who your incumbents are, who’s running for what, links to city and county resources such as polling places and election results, and so on. Not all of Texas is covered just yet – right now, it has info on the Houston, Austin, Dallas, and Southeast Texas areas – but all of it should be by the time November rolls around.

One other useful thing LocalVoter has is resources for candidates, in which people who search for their ballot information can be pointed to a campaign webpage or a request for a yard sign. Those of you out there who do actual work with candidates might want to check that out.

I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Chris Ladd, the man behind LocalVoter, earlier this week, and I came away impressed with the work he’s done here. He’s started to get a bit of notice for himself and the site (see here, here, and here for his media mentions) and I think he’s going to get a fair bit of traffic this election season. Early voting for primaries is going on through the end of next week, so now’s as good a time as any to check out LocalVoter and see what it can do for you.

Mayor White makes moves

Mayor Bill White, continuing with his Gather No Moss philosophy early on in his tenure, gave his first State of the City address yesterday. He touched on the usual quality-of-life highlights, like regional health care and mobility, and also called for some volunteers.

“I need the help of the people in this room,” White told an audience of about 1,400 business and civic leaders. “We will not be able to deliver more and better services simply by relying on city employees. A city will only work well if citizens are involved in it.”

Reaction to both tone and substance of his speech was positive.

Councilman Michael Berry was pleased that White reached out to county leaders by name.

“It suggested a strength in his humility,” Berry said. “He wanted his audience to understand how big the challenges are and that they cannot be spectators; they are going to have to be involved.”


“I liked the fact that he wasn’t telling that room what he was going to do. He was telling them what he wanted them to do, which was sort of a call to action, which I think is needed,” Berry said. “It was a recognition that his success or failure is going to be dependent on that room buying into what he’s doing.”

Political consultant Nancy Sims agreed, noting that White has been an active member of the organization he was addressing.

“He got up and delivered a speech to his peers,” she said. “It wasn’t a strong, commanding, `I am your leader’ speech. He was conversational in his presentation. It was quite effective for that audience.”

Funny how Boy Wonder Berry keeps getting quoted in all these articles, isn’t it? I don’t know if he’s developed a Phil Gramm-like quality of always being where the media is, or if he just gives the best quotes. Still, this is a sign that the honeymoon is not over, and that’s a good thing. Heck, White even seems to be winning over the coveted Whited constituency, and you know how big a deal that is.

Anyway, looks to me like the priorities he’s laid out seem pretty reasonable and doable. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing his flood-abatement plan. This was a pretty contentious issue last year, and when you promise a “bold plan” to fix a big problem in a time of budget shortfalls, you’re setting up some high expectations. Lots of times when a politician does this, he’s about to present a warmed-over version of something a rival or predecessor had floated and which he shot down as being insufficient or impractical. White rejected a one-dollar drainage fee during the campaign, so keep an eye on any part of his proposal that calls for a new revenue source.

White is also poised to name Phoenix Police Chief Harold Hurtt as the next Chief of HPD. Don’t know a thing about the man (any Phoenixites want to comment on this, please do so), but as with the other story, reaction (including the obligatory Berry quote) was positive. With all that’s gone on with HPD the past two years, this is yet another big thing Mayor White needs to get right. So far, so good.

RIP, Bart Howard

Bart Howard, who wrote the song “Fly Me To The Moon”, died earlier this week at the age of 88. FMTTM was the first-dance song at our wedding (we did a foxtrot, for those who care about such things), and it was the first-dance song at my parents’ wedding (yes, that’s the main reason why we chose it). As such, it’s always had a special place in my heart.

Mr. Howard’s signature song, originally titled “In Other Words,” was introduced in 1954 by the cabaret singer Felicia Sanders. Its popularity spread after Peggy Lee sang it on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1960, and it became a bona fide hit in a 1962 bossa nova instrumental version by Lee’s conductor, Joe Harnell.

“I’ve always said it took me 20 years to find out how to write a song in 20 minutes,” Mr. Howard recalled in an interview with The New York Times in 1988. “The song just fell out of me. One publisher wanted me to change the lyric to `take me to the moon.’ Had I done that I don’t know where I’d be today.”

Born Howard Joseph Gustafson in Burlington, Iowa, Mr. Howard left home at 16 to be a pianist in a dance band that toured with the Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Hoping to write songs for the movies, he traveled to Los Angeles in 1934 and ended up accompanying a female impersonator, Rae Bourbon. He moved to New York after teaming with Elizabeth Talbot-Martin, a comedian and impersonator who was booked at the Rainbow Room in 1937.

Mabel Mercer, whom he met in 1938, was the first to sing one of his songs in New York (“If You Leave Paris”). After spending four years (1941-45) as a musician in the Army, he got a job playing piano at Spivy’s Roof, a New York cabaret, until Mercer hired him away to accompany her at Tony’s West Side.

From 1951 to 1959 he was the M.C. and intermission pianist at the stylish Manhattan nightclub the Blue Angel, where he introduced Eartha Kitt, Johnny Mathis, Dorothy Loudon and others. The success of “Fly Me to the Moon” made him so materially comfortable that he slowed down as a songwriter. In the late 80’s and 90’s he played a few cabaret stints and concerts, including at Jan Wallman’s. His latter-day muse and favorite cabaret singer was KT Sullivan, who recorded a live album of his songs in 1997. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999.

His other widely recorded songs included “Let Me Love You” and “Don’t Dream of Anybody but Me” (to a tune by Neal Hefti). Portia Nelson, his 1950’s muse, recorded a whole album of his songs in 1956.

Neal Hefti, who was a composer/arranger for the Count Basie Orchestra, was the guy who wrote the “Batman” TV show theme song. Just so you know.

Rest in peace, Bart Howard. Thanks to Kevin for spotting this.

Those Perry rumors

I presume by now that everyone has heard the rumors about Gov. Perry and the Big News that was supposed to break about his personal life Any Day Now. I never wrote anything about it because I never really believed it. Besides, if it was all true, sooner or later someone was going to take an action that couldn’t be explained away.

Anyway, the Austin Chronicle did what should be done and tried to find out if there was anything to the stories. They found nothing, and they say so. That should be pretty much be that.

But do read to the bottom of the story, because despite the lack of truth to all of the bosom-heaving that was floating around, our Governor was indeed involved in scurrilous activities recently, and all of it was happening right in front of our faces.

Gov. Perry and his wife spent Presidents Day weekend in the Bahamas, accompanied by major political sponsors James and Cecelia Leininger and John and Bobbi Nau, who together have donated more than $175,000 to the governor’s campaigns. Also on the trip to the Abaco Islands were Perry’s political adviser Dave Carney; Chief of Staff Mike Toomey; Deputy Chief of Staff Deirdre Delisi and her husband, GOP political consultant Ted Delisi; Perry’s budget director, Mike Morrissey; Texas Public Policy Foundation President Brooke Rollins and her husband, Mark; and GOP anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist.

When public interest groups complained about the unseemliness of the governor vacationing with deep-pocketed donors, spokesman Robert Black described the cruise as a “working trip” paid for by “campaign funds” and devoted to a discussion of “public school finance.” That is, during a luxury retreat in the Bahamas, the governor discussed “public school finance” with a group of wealthy right-wing activists who have done everything in their power to undermine, or even abolish, public education. But we should be reassured by the knowledge that foxes paid for the chicken feed.

How nice for all of them. But hey, at least he’s faithful to his wife, and that’s what really matters, right?

UPDATE: Harvey Kronberg weighs in on the Perry rumors, and he minces no words. Full text below the More link, as this will evenetually disappear.


Baseball go boom

Cubs fans. What can you say?

If a curse can somehow live in the intricate windings of cork, rubber, yarn and cowhide that make up a baseball, then the Chicago Cubs can look forward to a luckier future.

The team’s catastrophic playoff meltdown last October began when Steve Bartman batted a seemingly catchable foul ball away from a Chicago outfielder, capping decades [of] Cubs ineptitude — much of it blamed on an unshakable jinx.

Chicago fans the world over are hoping a massive measure of modern-day voodoo will put an end to all that.

The ball will be obliterated by a special-effects expert on live television tonight to lift the “curse” afflicting the Chicago Cubs and bring some closure to one of the most painful losses in the team’s doleful history.

Grant DePorter, who helped buy the ball at a December auction for $113,824 on behalf of Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group, has lined up three hours of music, comedy and celebrity appearances leading up to the climactic event — everything short of Steve Bartman, the fan who deflected the ball during Game 6 of the National League championship series.

The ball will be sent into oblivion by Michael Lantieri, an Oscar winner who wrecks things for a living and has worked on such movies as “Jurassic Park” and “Back to the Future.” Lantieri, a Cubs die-hard himself, would not reveal his exact demolition plans but admitted he has been blowing up a dozen balls a day in his California lab in preparation.

“That ball’s gotta go,” said DePorter, managing partner of the restaurant group, which organized the event as part of its annual tribute to Caray, the beloved Cubs broadcaster who died six years ago Thursday. “It’s like the ring from `The Lord of the Rings’ and we’re kind of like Frodo, trying to get it over with.”


The ball will get VIP treatment in its last hours, from a farewell trip to Wrigley and a last night on public display in a hotel suite to a final “dinner” of prime steak and lobster and even a massage.

Then comes the final reckoning. Among thousands of fan suggestions for the act: having NASA put the ball into orbit, dropping it off the Sears Tower and having Chicago native Bill Murray, in “Ghostbusters” gear, obliterate it.

DePorter promises only that “it will be destroyed in a way that there is a mess.”

Practicing for the big moment, Lantieri has tortured baseballs in various ways, concluding that “they’re harder than you’d expect to blow up.”

Anybody else reminded of the bits David Letterman used to do in which objects suggested by the studio audience were crushed by a steamroller or a hydraulic press? My favorite was “A good nutritious breakfast”. I’m shocked to learn that MSNBC and ESPN will be covering this event and not the Cubs’ flagship station/corporate masters WGN, but there you have it.

More here. I like this guy’s suggestion for Steve Bartman. He really could be a Tom Arnold for this generation if he wanted to, which is perhaps why he doesn’t. Some fans of other teams would like to get in the act as well. Maybe we could make this kind of thing into an annual ritual. Hey, we do it twice, it’s a tradition! Various links via David Pinto.

The other edge

I’ve spoken about how blogs can benefit Democratic candidates, and while I firmly believe that this is and will continue to be true, it’s not a freebie. As Stephanie Herseth is surely learning, the blogreading public is very much in the activist camp, and we don’t appreciate candidates who don’t stand up for our principles. We want to give you our support, but we’re not going to let ourselves get sold down the river in the process.

Obviously, one of the reasons for the “Hate Amendment”, as Kos calls it, was to sow dissension within the Democratic ranks, and it annoys me to no end that it’s had an effect. What’s worse is that this should have been easy to sidestep. Just throw it right back at the Republicans – “We believe that the Constitution is a document that should not be tampered with lightly, and we believe that joblessness, terrorism, the deficit, and rising health care costs are a far greater threat to the family than anything else.” (Ginger is more succinct and even less wishy-washy than I am.) Leadership is about making people go places they wouldn’t go on their own, and I’m really getting tired of those on my side who claim to be leaders but run away from every opportunity to actually get out in front of the crowd and influence its direction. Heat, kitchen – you know the rest.

I’ll say it again and again – I’m a half-a-loaf kind of guy, and I’ll overlook a lot of sins to get a lesser evil in place. But even I have my limits. Help me out here, folks.

Subpoenas target DeLay

Another batch of subpoenas in the ongoin TRM investigation was made public by Travis County DA Ronnie Earle yesterday, and they are all about Tom DeLay in one way or another.

Nearly 50 subpoenas — some issued Tuesday and others dating back to last October — were made public as part of the ongoing investigation into Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee formed by DeLay, R-Sugar Land.

The subpoenas seek testimony and documents from the committee’s researchers, political consultants and fund-raisers, including DeLay’s daughter, Danielle Ferro.

That would be Danielle Too Hot For The Hot Tub Ferro, for those keeping score at home. The Statesman has a fuller list of lucky winners.

* Russell Anderson, the accountant for Texans for a Republican Majority, who has been asked to testify today. He already was subpoenaed for a list of 81 types of records, including financial records, copies of political polls, research, correspondence and documents concerning the committee’s relationship with DeLay and other elected officials.

* Demetrius McDaniel, an Akin Gump lobbyist, who has been summoned to the grand jury today in connection with corporate donations he made to the Republican Majority group on behalf of two clients: $2,500 from Primedia Inc., and $5,000 from Lexmark Inc. McDaniel addressed at least one of the donations to Craddick at the committee’s Austin address.

* Danielle Ferro, DeLay’s daughter, who was paid by her father’s Texas committee to plan committee events.

* Records from the Republican National Committee concerning an exchange of $190,000 between an arm of the party’s national committee and Texans for a Republican Majority. The Texas committee gave the national party $190,000 in corporate money in the fall of 2002.

In a single day two weeks later, the national party cut seven checks to Texas House candidates totaling $190,000. Republican officials have called it a coincidence. Critics claim the Texas committee was laundering corporate money that it could not legally donate to candidates into legal donations.

Two Austin candidates, Jack Stick and Todd Baxter, got $35,000 each from the national committee and went on to become freshmen lawmakers who voted for Craddick as speaker.

* Records of John Colyandro, the Texas committee’s executive director. He ran the organization under an advisory committee that included DeLay, state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; state Reps. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, and Beverly Woolley, R-Houston; and then-Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza.

* Consultants who provided polling, research or other services to Texans for a Republican Majority. Among them are DeLay’s corporate fund-raiser Warren Robold of Washington, Austin researcher Milton Rister, Austin consultant Todd Smith, Dallas-area consultant Kevin Brannon and Austin fund-raiser Susan Lilly.

* Matt Welch, a lobbyist with Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group that worked to limit lawsuits in the past legislative session.

* Records of Americans for a Republican Majority, DeLay’s national political action committee.

* Records from several Austin restaurants and private clubs, plus the Purple Sage Ranch of Bandera, where officials with the Texas committee had a weekend retreat.

* Records from Blakemore & Associates, a Houston consulting firm, and Clinton International Investigations of Houston. Toomey hired private investigators to do criminal background checks on Democratic candidates, then asked Texans for a Republican Majority to help pay for those services.

Blakemore and Associates is the big cheese among Harris County GOP political consultants. The Chron story has more on them:

Among the newer subpoenas was one issued Tuesday to Houston political consultant Allen Blakemore, who was ordered to provide records next week related to his contacts in 2002 with TRMPAC, Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Mike Toomey, then a lobbyist for the Houston-based lawsuit reform group. Toomey now is chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry.

Blakemore said there was nothing unusual in Toomey hiring him to employ a private investigator to conduct background checks on Democratic House candidates Debra Danburg of Houston, D.L. “Donnie” Jarvis of Sherman and Danny Duncan of Commerce in September 2002. Blakemore said it was a public records search.

“It’s not looking through somebody’s window or looking through trash,” Blakemore said.

Houston private investigator Kenny Rodgers charged $4,412.53 for the investigation.

Blakemore said he did not ask Toomey why he wanted the information, but assumed it was to help clients make a decision on whether they should make contributions in particular races.

“It’s part of my business to handicap races and give them information,” Blakemore said.

Danburg and Duncan are among the losing candidates who are suing TRMPAC, seeking damages by accusing the committee of violating state campaign law.

That lawsuit was filed almost immediately after the election. I didn’t think much of its chances then, but I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

For more background, read this Texas Observer piece, which seems to have anticipated most of the action that has occurred recently.

Clear Channel drops Howard Stern

There are a number of interesting things to contemplate in Clear Channel’s announcement that they would drop Howard Stern from their member stations, but before I get into that, I have to marvel at their official statement.

“Clear Channel drew a line in the sand today with regard to protecting our listeners from indecent content and Howard Stern’s show blew right through it,” John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio, said in a news release. “It was vulgar, offensive, and insulting, not just to women and African Americans but to anyone with a sense of common decency.”

You’re telling me that you’ve just now noticed that Howard Stern, the guy who was doing Lesbian Dial-A-Date back in the 80s and whose TV show often features women competing for free breast implants, is vulgar? Wow. We may have to retire the Claude Award now. You just can’t make this stuff up.

A diarist on Kos notes that Stern is now firmly in the John Kerry camp, which I’m glad to hear. Stern has always been an antiestablishment libertarian type, in the Dave Barry mold, and his support of Christie Whitman is credited in part for her initial election as Governor of New Jersey. I agree with the Kos commenter that Stern speaks to a mostly apolitical audience, so having him hammer on Bush and defend Kerry on a regular basis will be the kind of thing that can influence swing voters. Every little bit helps.

On a local note, Howard Stern has never been on the radio in Houston. KLOL, the station whose demographics best fit Stern, has always had its own wacky morning DJs, and like them or not, the explanation I always heard as to why Houston was a Stern-free zone was that KLOL was sufficiently happy with Stevens and Pruett’s ratings to pony up for imported talent. I don’t know how well the witless mouthbreathers they have on now are doing, but they’re still in no danger of being bumped for Stern, as KLOL is part of the evil Clear Channel empire. Alas.

Chevron buys Enron building

ChevronTexaco will buy that grand monument of riches-to-rags excess, the new Enron building. They’ll move some 500 non-Houstonians (from New Orleans, Midland, and San Ramon) into it, as well as employees from their other downtown locations.

A couple of points of interest to me:

1. The picture of the building is taken from Smith Street, even though the official address of the tower is 1500 Louisiana Street. The circular walkway that you see connects it to the original Enron building, the one that had the crooked E in front of it, at 1400 Smith. That building was put up for sale in August.

2. The new building was bought by Intell Management for $102 million in 2002. The story doesn’t mention a price tag, but I’d bet Intell did not make any money off this sale.

3. The two buildings that ChevronTexaco own downtown, which will be sold off as part of this deal, are the Chevron Tower near Two Houston Center and the downtown mall, and the architecturally interesting Texaco Heritage Plaza, which is about a mile west of the Chevron Tower. I’ve had the opportunity to visit each building as part of my job. THP has some excellent views out its west-facing windows. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I wish there were some more observation decks in a couple of our downtown office buildings. I’m pleased to note that there is at least one, which I need to check out one of these days.

UPDATE: Here’s the full story from today’s front page, which among other thing tells me that Texaco Heritage Plaza is not owned by ChevronTexaco. Oops. Still no word on the purchase price, but we do have this tidbit:

The investors who bought it for $102 million at a bankruptcy auction, New York-based Intell Management & Investment Co., tried to distance the building from its history by calling it 1500 Louisiana, but it still was commonly called the Enron Building.


The sale price was not disclosed, but Intell President Gary Barnett said in a release, “Kudos to them for acquiring a trophy building at a fraction of its cost.”

At the time of the Intell purchase, many said $102 million was less than half of what it would cost Enron to complete the unfinished tower.

ChevronTexaco also will get a break from the city: It will pay taxes on the building’s $80 million base value, the mayor said. The company is expected to add $45 million in improvements.

Make of that what you will. The story also notes that while Intell tried to call this the “1500 Louisiana building”, everyone still calls it “the Enron building”. Get used to it, ChevronTexaco – I still call our city’s tallest structure “the Transco Tower”, and you’ll never hear me utter the words “Reliant Astrodome”.

And the beat goes on

Seems like just about everyone close to Tom DeLay is being investigated for some allegation of malfeasance or another. He may have to franchise himself at this rate.

In the Travis County hot seat today is DeLay aide Jim Ellis.

When Jim Ellis, a key aide to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, was preparing to deliver money to an arm of the Republican National Committee, a DeLay ally in Texas had a blank check sent to Ellis with the amount to be filled in later.

John Colyandro, executive director of DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority, said in a deposition that he had the blank check sent because Ellis had a meeting with Republican National Committee officials scheduled the next day.

It has been known for almost a year that Texans for a Republican Majority gave $190,000 in corporate donations, which could not be donated legally to candidates, to the Republican National State Elections Committee. In a single day two weeks later, the national committee cut seven checks to Texas House candidates totaling $190,000 in money that could be legally given to candidates.


Colyandro and officials of the Republican National Committee have always contended that the $190,000 amounts were a coincidence. The blank check, however, raises questions about who determined the amount and how they arrived at that number: Did Ellis, who also played a key role at Texans for a Republican Majority, fill in the amount? Did he negotiate the amount with national GOP officials?

Officials of the Republican National Committee said they didn’t know who met with Ellis or who decided to send money to Texas.

“You are going to have to talk to Jim Ellis about how he came to the conclusion of $190,000,” said Lindsay Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “No one would have come in here with a blank check.”


Larry Noble of the Center of Responsive Politics, which tracks federal campaign spending, said there may have been a benefit for the Republican National Committee to accept recycled corporate donations.

He said changes in federal campaign laws, effective after the 2002 elections, were forcing the national political parties to adjust their accounts: “The money was sorting itself out.”

Tom Craddick may be in more trouble in San Antonio.

Republican stalwarts pulled together a small San Antonio reception in 2001 to support Rep. Tom Craddick’s quest to become speaker of the Texas House, but records give no indication he paid for the event — a possible violation of state law.

The law that governs the speaker’s race requires candidates to make all campaign expenditures from campaign funds, with the exception that other individuals can spend up to $100 on correspondence to “aid or defeat” a candidate.

Craddick spent money from his speaker’s campaign account on several meals at San Antonio restaurants in 2001 and 2002, but did not report any expenditure for the Nov. 13, 2001, event at the Plaza Club, according to his speaker campaign reports at the Texas Ethics Commission.


The invitation to greet Craddick in San Antonio, posted last week by the Quorum Report — an Austin-based online political newsletter — is signed by San Antonio businessmen Red McCombs, George Hixon and Jim Leininger, as well as lawyer Tom Loeffler.

“It is our belief that the members of the (2003 Legislature) will select” Craddick as speaker, their letter states.

“The changing political landscape, his years of service in the House of Representatives and initial base of support make this projected outcome quite clear. We have asked Tom to join us for a private reception where he will outline his current thoughts on the speaker’s race and the various ways we may support his efforts.”

San Antonio lawyer W. James Jonas III, Loeffler’s law partner, said Monday he organized the event and composed the invitation, but took care not to spend more than $100.

Jonas said he assumed the cost of the event was picked up by Craddick, in keeping with the law.

“I’m not sure I ever got a bill” from the club, he said.

A club official declined to specify the cost of the event, but said receptions can cost from $150 to $1,500, with club members charged on their monthly accounts.

You figure with a name like “Plaza Club”, you’re out a hundred bucks just with valet parking and coat check. But maybe they’re all cheap tippers, so who knows?

Another DeLay buddy, a lobbyist named Jack Abramoff, has gone so far as to shock a GOP Congressman into requesting an investigation of his activities.

In letters to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) cited an article published in The Washington Post on Sunday that detailed how a Washington lobbyist and a public relations executive with ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) have charged a handful of tribes more than $45 million in the past three years to influence public policy.


“This is shocking,” Wolf scribbled across the bottom of his letters to Mueller and Ashcroft asking that they examine whether laws have been broken. The articles, Wolf wrote, “point out how the Indian gambling issue exploits Indians and potentially corrupts government officials.”

The FBI has questioned members of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Mount Pleasant, Mich., in recent days about the $3.9 million the tribe spent to hire Greenberg Traurig lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the $10 million it has paid public relations executive Michael Scanlon. Some tribe members have complained that they have gotten little for their money, and that Scanlon’s firm helped engineer the election of the tribal council that awarded the contracts.

Federal law requires that casino proceeds benefit tribes as a whole, not individuals.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said his department “will review Chairman Wolf’s request.”

Here‘s the original article. If anyone can tell me what those lobbyists did to deserve an eight-figure payout, I’m all ears.

All of this seems to be making our boy Tommy a little testy.

With Republican campaign-spending practices under investigation in Austin, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay blasted Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle on Tuesday for using his power for “vindictive” ends.

“This is nothing more than a vindictive, typical Ronnie Earle process. The district attorney has a long history of being vindictive and partisan,” Mr. DeLay said at a weekly session with reporters, responding to a question about a grand jury investigation being run by Mr. Earle.

“This is so typical. This is criminalizing, or an attempt to criminalize politics. We have a runaway district attorney in Texas,” Mr. DeLay said.

Mr. Earle said of the leader’s comments: “Being called partisan and vindictive by Tom DeLay is like being called ugly by a frog.”

I can’t top that. Thanks to Alfredo Garcia for the links.

UPDATE: One more from the Star Telegram, which adds a bit more to the DeLay-Earle sniping. I’ll pick it up where Earle’s frog comment leaves off.

“My job is to prosecute felonies. Texas law makes it a felony for corporations and labor unions to contribute to campaigns,” Earle said.


Earle said he could not comment on whether he would subpoena DeLay. He said additional subpoenas will be filed in coming days.

Earle, an Austin Democrat who is running unopposed for another four-year term, said that since 1977 he has prosecuted 11 Democratic and four Republican elected officials.

“They have all said it was political,” he said.

Two of the 15 officials were acquitted, including Hutchison, who was cleared in 1994 of using her state treasurer’s office for political purposes.

The memory of the Hutchison case is worrisome to me. She came away from her acquittal a lot stronger than before. Better to drop charges than to go for the kill and miss. I’d love to see some of these miscreants get charged, but the risk is non-trivial. Get those ducks lined up, Ronnie.

Almost a good idea

Clear Channel has adopted a zero tolerance policy for indecency in order to ensure that none of its DJs expose one of Janet Jackson’s breasts on the air, or something like that.

“Clear Channel is serious about helping address the rising tide of indecency on the airwaves,” Mark Mays, president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. “As broadcast licensees, we are fully responsible for what our stations air, and we intend to make sure all our DJs and programmers understand what is and what is not appropriate on Clear Channel radio shows.”

Mays said the company will institute a zero-tolerance policy for indecent content, which will include company-wide training and automatic suspensions for anyone that the FCC alleges has violated indecency rules on the air.

“If the FCC accuses us of wrongdoing by issuing a proposed fine, we will take immediate action,” Mays said. “We will suspend the DJ in question, and perform a swift investigation. If we or the government ultimately determine the offending broadcast is indecent, the DJ will be terminated without delay.”.

Whatever. Wake me up when they adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards the playing of anything by Bad Company. Then we’ll be getting somewhere.

Kronberg on TRM

Harvey Kronberg of the Quorum Report did some analysis of the TRM investigation for his weekly bit on Austin’s Channel 8. Not much new, but a fairly concise summary of what’s gone on and why there’s been such a flurry of news lately. Check it out.

Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you

All right, enough with all this gay marriage stuff. Let’s look at something of real importance.

Princeton physicist Paul Chaikin’s passion for M&M candies was so well known that his students played a sweet practical joke on him by leaving a 55-gallon drum of the candies in his office.

Little did they know that their prank would lead to a physics breakthrough.

The barrel full of the oblate little candies made Chaikin think about how well they packed in. A series of studies have shown they pack more tightly than perfect spheres — something that surprises many physicists and Chaikin himself.

“It is a startling and wonderful result,” said Sidney Nagel, a physicist at the University of Chicago. “One doesn’t normally stop to think about this. If you did, you might have guessed what would happen, but you’d have guessed wrongly.”

The issue of how particles pack together has intrigued scientists for centuries and has implications for fields such as the design of high-density ceramic materials for use in aerospace or other industries.

Chaikin and his colleague, chemist Salvatore Torquato, used the candies to investigate the physical and mathematical principles involved when particles are poured randomly into a vessel.

Writing in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, they said they found that oblate spheroids — such as plain M&Ms — pack surprisingly more densely than regular spheres when poured randomly and shaken.

When poured in, they said, spheres occupy about 64 percent of the space in a container. M&Ms manage to pack in at a density of about 68 percent.

“We just stretched a sphere and suddenly things changed dramatically,” said Torquato. “To me, it’s remarkable that you can take this simple system with common candies and probe one of the deepest problems in condensed matter physics.”

Mars Inc., which makes M&Ms, did not help sponsor the research although it donated 125 pounds of almond M&Ms to Chaikin, Princeton said in a statement.

Hmmm. I wonder if there’s any difference in the packability of plain vs. peanut vs. almond M&M’s. Clearly, more research is called for. Pass me that bag over there, would you?


Front page headline in today’s Chron: Al Qaeda Still Poses Threat.

Despite U.S. success in attacking al-Qaida’s hierarchy, the terrorist network is still capable of “catastrophic attacks” against the United States, CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday.

The U.S. assault on al-Qaida has “transformed the organization into a loose collection of regional networks working autonomously,” Tenet said. The smaller groups “pick their own targets, they plan their own attacks,” but they share an anti-American goal.

The most immediate threats include the possibility of “poison attacks” and al-Qaida’s ongoing effort to produce anthrax material, he said.

“Extremists have widely disseminated assembly instructions for an improvised chemical weapon using common materials that could cause a large number of casualties in a crowded, enclosed area,” Tenet said.

“We are still at war against a movement,” he said, appearing with other administration officials to discuss global security threats. “People who say it’s exaggerated don’t look at the same world I look at. It’s not going away anytime soon.”

Well, I’m sure they’ll understand that we have more pressing matters to take care of right now, and will agree to lie low until we’ve got this whole gay marriage thing worked out. It’s the least they can do.

Funny how in every Bush administration, a crisis arises that can only be dealt with by amending the Constitution. Turned out that flag burning really wasn’t such a grave danger, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to let our guards down now. Maybe we can come to a compromise here that would also address this little bit of unfinished business that Poppy left us. I hereby propose an amendment to the Constitution that strictly forbids gay people from burning the flag. Who’s with me?

Gay marriage

I’m trying, I’m really trying, to make sense of the idea that anyone, let alone the President, could think that amending the Constitution for the purposes of restricting the rights of a subgroup of citizens is somehow good public policy. I also don’t understand why the full force of the federal government is needed to settle the question. Make no mistake – the proposed amendment would very much deny states the right to make up their own minds about this. I just don’t get it.

Marriage is a religious rite and a civil contract. No one is trying to make any organized religion change its doctrine. It’s the civil contract, which confers many clearly defined benefits to those who enter it, that is being targeted for change. You could think of it as a gender-equity issue – why should spousal rights be denied to some people because they’re the wrong sex? I don’t see the problem.

There have been a lot of really ludicrous arguments about why gay marriage is bad that have been floated around lately, from the truly wacky (it could lead to bestiality! and child molestation! as if the legal distinctions regarding animals and minor children would suddenly be mooted) to those that say more about the advocate than anything else, like those who argue that it would somehow weaken “traditional” marriage. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I haven’t felt the slightest twinge to divorce Tiffany and head down to the nearest bath house. I think that any marriage that did fall apart as a result of what’s been going on in San Francisco was perhaps not built on the stongest foundation to begin with.

I attended a wedding between two women some years ago, at one of the more liberal churches here in Houston. It was one of the most traditional ceremonies I’ve ever been to – a high mass with full choir, both women walked down the aisle by their fathers. If you’d not seen the participants, you wouldn’t have known the difference. They’re still together, and last I heard were talking about children. The world continues to spin on its axis in the meantime.

Like Kevin, I don’t even think Bush is motivated by principle to do this. (Of course, I don’t think he has any real principles other than tax cuts and bidness deregulation, but that’s neither here nor there.) I think this is as clear a confirmation of Ruy Teixeira’s ongoing theme that Bush is rapidly losing support among independent voters, and as such he has no choice but to play to his base. Issues don’t get much redder or meatier than this one.

Of course, you know we’ve truly gone down the rabbit hole when Tom DeLay is counseling restraint.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said he appreciated Bush’s “moral leadership” on the issue, but expressed caution about moving too quickly toward a constitutional solution, and never directly supported one. “This is so important we’re not going to take a knee-jerk reaction to this,” Delay said. “We are going to look at our options and we are going to be deliberative about what solutions we may suggest.”

I thought I’d seen a squadron of pigs circling overhead while driving home, but I’d chalked it up to too much caffeine. Now I’m not so sure.

Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather

I can’t claim to be the world’s biggest fan of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, mostly because you never can fully take the New York out of the boy, but I’m always fascinated by the trail riders who come in every year from miles away to camp out in Memorial Park. They’re on their way now, as the Rodeo kicks off next week, and I’m charmed once again by their simple respect for traditions. This story was about the Sam Houston trailride group from Huntsville, and though they don’t have far to go to get here, they still face challenges with aplomb.

Sam Houston’s bunch is one of 14 groups expected to reach Houston by Friday, some traveling as far as 400 miles away and one coming from the neighbor to the east — Louisiana. Nearly 4,800 people on horseback and in wagons will camp out in Memorial Park Friday night, then lead a parade through downtown Houston Saturday morning.

This 52-year-old pilgrimage began when four men saddled up for a ride from Brenham, thus beginning the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s trail ride tradition.


The riders have a deep affection for one another — a type of humor-bound camaraderie that is easily understood in the calming country. No surprise that their love for the land is strong.

Dione Futral, in her 23rd year with the Sam Houston group — the second-oldest trail — said that with each passing year, it pains her to see less shrubbery and fewer trees.

“It’s getting hard to find camp sites because subdivisions and shopping centers, road houses and golf courses,” said Futral, a 54-year-old Montgomery resident who is riding with 250 others in her group this week.

None of that steers riders away, Futral said. Futral said the bond in the Sam Houston group is evident. Everyone has the same appreciation, she said.

“You don’t hear the telephone, you don’t hear a fax machine or a copier,” she said. “You’re sitting there and listening and you think, `(Trail riders) used to do that back in the old days — how did they do it?’ ”

Yep. For sure, this Internet-dependent city boy would have a hard time with it. Be sure to check out the photo gallery with the story. Happy trails, y’all.

Don’t it turn my red states blue

The goal: Defeating President Bush in November.

The requirement: Turning at least one Red state from 2000 into a Blue state.

How are we doing on that front?

Well, John Kerry and John Edwards are both leading George Bush in New Hampshire.

In a University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll conducted this week, 47 percent of New Hampshire adults said they approve of the job Bush is doing as president, 48 percent disapprove and 5 percent are neutral. That’s down from a high of 71 percent in April and down 9 percentage points since October.

Looking ahead to the November election, 38 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Bush, and 53 percent said they would vote for Democrat John Kerry. In a matchup with Democrat John Edwards, 51 percent said they would vote for Edwards and 37 percent said they would vote for Bush.

Via Kos, who notes that just picking up NH would be insufficient thanks to the reallocation of electoral votes after the 2000 Census. One may also be skeptical of this poll when one recalls that Bush had significant leads over both the then-inevitable Howard Dean and the generic Democrat back in December. But I’ll still take it.

More ominous for the President, perhaps, is this Ohio poll, (PDF) sponsored by the University of Cincinnati, which shows his approval rating in the Buckeye State below 50%.

The latest Ohio Poll finds President Bush’s approval rating remains well below the ratings he received in the early months of 2003. Forty-nine percent of Ohioans approve of the president’s performance, 49 percent disapprove and two percent neither approve nor disapprove.

The president’s approval rating in Ohio continues to be in close proximity to the rating he receives from the nation as a whole. The most recent national survey conducted by The Gallup Organization placed the president’s approval rating at 51 percent.


In the latest Ohio Poll, 47 percent of Ohioans approve of the way Bush is handling foreign affairs. Forty percent of state residents approve of the president’s handling of the economy.

Ohioans’ ratings of the president’s handling of foreign affairs and the economy are now the lowest of his presidency.

Unfortunately, they don’t take the logical next step and ask the pollees whom they’d vote for in November. (They do have a very nice breakdown of the results by various categories.) I think, though, we can safely conclude that Ohio is not a lock for the President.

Standard caveats apply: it’s early, it’s only one poll, the moon’s ascendancy in Pisces may portend future uncertainty for all Capricorns, etc etc etc.

UPDATE: Angry Bear crunches some job numbers in Ohio, and it ain’t pretty for the President.

CD09 update

With early voting for the March 9 primary underway as of yesterday, the race in CD09 has gotten spirited. Candidates Al Green and Rep. Chris Bell both landed some high profile endorsements for the home stretch.

Former Houston Justice of the Peace Al Green got support from U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. She gave him a $5,000 check from the caucus’ political action committee during a noon news conference at a south Houston early voting location.

Later Monday night, Waters’ husband, Sidney Williams, hosted a fund-raiser for Green at the Warwick Hotel.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Chris Bell announced support from a number of congressional leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas, the immediate past chair of the black caucus.

In a race in which Bell and Green differ little on most issues, both are making their backgrounds the litmus test for voters in a district that is 35 percent African-American, 30 percent Hispanic, 20 percent white and 15 percent Asian-American.

Monday, Waters indicated that Green’s background as a longtime leader in Houston’s African-American community best suits him to represent the diverse district. He is a former president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Waters said Green has support from at least 11 of the black Democrats in Congress, including Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois.


The Bell campaign argues that experience gained in his first term in Congress gives him a leg up over Green. Bell noted that the national NAACP gave him a 90 rating on its annual report card on legislative issues.

Monday, the campaign released names of congressional leaders supporting him, including Pelosi, Johnson, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ciro Rodriguez.

The third Democratic Party primary candidate in the 9th District is lawyer Beverly Spencer. The winner will face the winner of the GOP primary race between A.R. Hassan and Arlette Molina.

With all due respect to Rob, the winner of the Democratic primary will be sent to DC in November. The presence of Beverly Spencer may force a runoff, but that’ll be the end of any intrigue.

Bell’s touting of his NAACP rating generated a minor kerfuffle, according to John Williams yesterday.

The Houston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has complained about advertising U.S. Rep. Chris Bell is doing in his Democratic Party primary race against former Justice of the Peace Al Green.

Yolanda Smith, the branch’s executive director, issued a statement last week saying that Bell’s radio advertising and mail-outs “are misleading.”

Smith said her office has received complaints that the advertisements suggest that the NAACP is supporting Bell. The NAACP does not formally endorse political candidates.

Bell said his advertising never makes such a claim.

It states that Bell received an “A” rating from the annual NAACP Legislative Report.

The report chronicles the voting records of all members of the Senate and House.

Other lawmakers, such as U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., publicize their NAACP ratings without complaint from the organization.

The possible difference?

Green is the former president of the local NAACP branch.

The Bell campaign said the campaign ad will continue to run.


Finally, Greg Wythe attended a candidates’ forum over the weekend that included both Bell and Green and came away unimpressed with the challenger. I don’t believe the Chron has made an endorsement yet (annoyingly, I can’t find a link to a collection of all of their recommendations so far), but if I were a betting man I’d put a dollar on their supporting Bell.

Defining terrorist down

Remember when no one paid any attention to Rod Paige? Boy, weren’t those the days.

Education Secretary Rod Paige called the nation’s largest teachers union a “terrorist organization” today, taking on the 2.7-million-member National Education Association early in the presidential election year.

Paige’s comments, made to the nation’s governors at a private White House meeting, were denounced by union president Reg Weaver as well as prominent Democrats.

The education secretary’s words were “pathetic and they are not a laughing matter,” said Weaver, whose union has said it plans to sue the Bush administration over lack of funding for demands included in the “No Child Left Behind” schools law.

Paige said later in an Associated Press interview that his comment was “a bad joke; it was an inappropriate choice of words.” President Bush was not present at the time he made the remark.

“As one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks, I should have chosen my words better,” said Paige, the first black education secretary.

What an utter moron. That’s also possibly the lamest use of the “just a joke” defense I’ve ever heard. Here’s a hint for the future: Try your jokes out before a sympathetic test audience before going on the road with them. Anything that makes these people flinch or recoil should be immediately dropped.

I was going to write a long indignant rant about how using the word “terrorist” indiscriminantly strips it of all meaning, but honestly, is there anyone (besides Paige) who doesn’t already know this? Haven’t we all been inundated with the same sort of rant about terms like “Nazi” and “fascist” these past few years? You know what I’m saying, so I’ll spare you the verbiage.

I just have one question: How long will it be before President Bush declares Rod Paige a “tolerant person” and never speaks of the matter again?

There’s recruiting and then there’s recruiting

Buried near the bottom of this rather pedestrian story about sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ stuff on the Bigtime College Athletics Recruiting Trail is a fairly sensible suggestion, made by UT Coach Mack Brown.

UT and A&M are in unusual positions in terms of recruiting because so many of their signees commit before their official visit, so the “selling” of the university has been done.

And with most of the players signing with the schools being from the state, the majority of them bring parents or guardians on their visits.

“You get better behavior from a guy when mama and daddy are in town with him,” Brown said. “In fact, I wish the NCAA would look at (allowing schools to pay for) parents’ visits. That would help when you bring in out-of-state kids.”

Hard to argue with that. I think the NCAA would do well to at least consider the suggestion.

Way more interesting was this companion article about an enduring anachronism, the all-female “hostess” squads that meet up with recruits during their visits.

At most schools, the moment a high school recruit arrives on campus or at the local airport, he is welcomed by a hostess from the groups of all-female students. (Reportedly, these days a few campuses around the country have male members, but none are in Texas.)

At Texas A&M, they are known as Aggie Hostesses. Texas calls them the Texas Angels. Texas Tech’s are the Raider Recruiters. Baylor has the Baylor Gold. Houston has the Cougar Cruiters. The Eagle Angels are at North Texas, and the Purple Hearts at TCU.

Legends in coaching like UT’s Darrell Royal and UH’s Bill Yeoman have said how valuable the Angels and Cruiters were to their programs in the 1960s and ’70s.

Baylor’s football media guide describes the Gold as “vital to the football program and the whole recruiting process.” Tech’s guide says the Raiders Recruiters are “the backbone of Texas Tech’s recruiting efforts.”

They are attractive, outgoing and at many schools, not necessarily representative of the makeup of the overall student body. UT’s 2003 football media guide has photographs of 37 Texas Angels, with as many as 14 who appear to be black (37.8 percent), compared to the black student population of 3.2 percent in 2002.

These are not the average girls on campus — any campus — but the groups are adamant that they are not there to use their sexuality to entice high school recruits.

“They are outgoing, charming ladies,” Dana Butterfield, a Colorado athletic department employee who oversees the Ambassadors program, told the Denver Post. “I think they have a flirtatious nature with anyone. I don’t think they turn on the sexiness for recruits.”

Organization leaders in Texas dismissed flirtation or anything like it as part of their duties.

“Using them as anything in that way is not what our organization is all about,” said Lacey Glenewinkel, a member of the A&M football support staff and sponsor of the Aggie Hostesses. “They’re here to meet with the recruits and so they have one more person on campus for the recruit to talk to and know.

“I don’t feel like what has happened at Colorado reflects on our organization.”


While the NCAA rules do not mention sexual relationships, most of the organizations have rules that call for dismissal of women who become involved with recruits.

“These are some exceptional young ladies who are there to help the families feel more comfortable,” UT recruiting coordinator Michael Haywood said. “The mothers love ’em. They are able to answer questions that we can’t answer because they live on campus and deal with college life every day.

“(Sex) is not even a thought. We have young ladies with great character that are pursuing careers and degrees. We haven’t had any issues in that area. And I don’t know any organization in the country that uses those young ladies for that purpose.”

OK, I think we’ve all got the message there. There are just so many things I never knew about, coming from a Division III school.

Making BlogAds work for future candidates

You’ve probably seen the Wired article on BlogAds and their role in helping Ben Chandler get elected to Congress by now. It’s good coverage of the story and provides a good view from inside the Chandler campaign of the ads’ impact. The big question, mentioned in the article, is now that a bunch of other candidates are running blog ads, will anyone come close to replicating Chandler’s success with them?

I think it’s pretty clear that no one will duplicate the kind of 40-fold immediate return on the investment that Chandler got, mostly because no one will ever duplicate the perfect storm of Chandler’s candidacy – special election, winnable race, pickup opportunity on the other guy’s turf, easy to see that your contribution really did have an effect, and so on. Fortunately, given the relative inexpense of BlogAds, pretty much any decent candidate can and should be able to recoup his or her investment several times over, though it may take longer to get that kind of return.

I think there’s a simple key to making this a viable long-term strategy for candidates, and that’s to grow the audience. As I noted before, the total receptive readership for these ads is in the 100,000 to 200,000 range, depending on how much overlap there is among the most popular blogs. That’s a pretty shallow well to tap into, and it won’t take more than a handful of candidates busking there to dry it out.

The good news, though, is that the size of the audience now is tiny compared to its potential size. Simon Rosenberg notes that nearly 50 million people will vote Democratic in 2004, so there’s a huge amount of room to expand. This is where the establishment, by which I mean the DNC, the DSCC, and the DCCC, can return the favor and help the bloggers by working to bring more readers into the fold.

How to do that isn’t any great mystery. What I want to see these guys do is to mention blogs – their blogs, other like-minded blogs, whatever – at every opportunity. I want them to put their blog URLs on their letterheads and in their email sigs. They should mention them every time they speak to someone, and make sure every candidate they work with knows them and is strongly encouraged to do the same. While they’re at it, start talking to state party organizations and get them to make like the Yellow Dogs, and have them push down to the county level from there. It’s just good old-fashioned networking, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that a group of paid political consultants/advisors/whatnot ought to excel at.

By raising awareness of their own efforts in cyberspace, they’ll naturally help point some new eyeballs at the quadrumvirate of Atrios, Kos, Calpundit, and Josh Marshall, which in turn should help the rest of us downstream from there. A very realistic goal should be to double each one of these guys’ daily hit counts by November, and in doing so, they’ll have a bigger group of potential responders to those blog ads that we’ll never get away from now. It’s a clearcut win-win.

I should note that in talking up blogs, it’s important to help people realize how they’re different from standard online-brochure political sites. Atrios says it well here.

What the Dean campaign tapped into was a bunch of people who wanted to feel personally invested in a campaign, but hadn’t found any way to do that. Too many state and local parties are completely ossified and don’t return calls by people offering to volunteer, and are often run by people who don’t seem to want any new blood interfering with their little fiefdoms. Between impeachment, Florida, and the Bush administration there are a lot of people new people who decided they wanted to become “involved” but didn’t know how. The internet allows a small degree of personal involvement by a large number of people, and they’re grateful for candidates who let them feel involved.


Look, a lot of the internet “personal involvement” is an illusion – and most people know that. Nobody ever thought Howard Dean read through thousands of comments on his weblog, but it nonetheless allowed them to feel they had a wee personal connection to the campaign, and that’s all that mattered. The truth is, I think it’s relatively easy for a campaign to tap into that sentiment, though not all campaigns will be comfortable doing that – and nor should they try. Blog readers are not your “typical voter” or your “typical Democrat,” and not all campaigns/candidates are necessarily well-suited for trying to tap into that particular vibe. But, some are and with a little creativity and not too much effort they might be able to get the little extra money/attention they need to put them over the line in November.

It is about making people feel a little more connected, a little more involved, a little more listened to. There’s a community aspect to blogging in general and to certain specific blogs in particular (Kos especially). Feeling like you’ve found a community of people like yourself and becoming a part of it is hugely desireable to many, many people. That’s what we’re aiming for here, and the rewards for getting there will greatly outstrip the cost.

UPDATE: Atrios adds on, and the DCCC shows that it is listening. Good!

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a WiFi-enabled bus

This is downright cool – it’s a project to bring Internet access to remote locations by means of solar power, wireless access points, and data transmissions via buses or motorcycles. Here’s a press release from one of their projects in Cambodia.

BANLUNG, Ratanakiri, Cambodia, September 1, 2003. A project launched today in one of the world’s most remote regions, Ratanakiri in northeastern Cambodia, will bring e-mail to 13 villages that have no telecommunications and can mostly be reached only by motorbike or ox-cart.

These villages have no water, electricity, phones, cell phone access nor television or newspaper delivery. They are far from health centers. Per capita annual income is under $40. But they now have e-mail.

At these villages’ new schools which are equipped with solar panels on the roof to provide sufficient energy to run a computer for six hours, there is now an e-mail link via a motorcycle delivery system.

Early every morning, five Honda motorcycles leave the hub in the provincial capitol of Banlung where a satellite dish, donated by Shin Satellite, links the provincial hospital and a special skills school to the Internet for telemedicine and computer training. The moto drivers equipped with a small box and antenna at the rear of their vehicle, that downloads and delivers e-mail through
a wi-fi (wireless) card, begin the day by collecting the e-mail from the hub’s dish, which takes just a few seconds.

Then, as they pass each school and one health center, they transmit the messages they downloaded and retrieve any outgoing mail queued in the school or health center computer that is also equipped with a similar book-sized transmission box, and go on to the next school. At the end of the day they return to the hub to transmit all the collected e-mail to the Internet for any point on the globe.

Each school also has a computer and e-mail-trained young teacher graduated from the Future Light Orphanage in Phnom Penh, including four women, who are the village computer teacher and e-mail postmaster. The children in the village are being trained to take over this function in a couple of years.

You may wonder what good this will do for a village that has no water, electricity, or phones. Well, I’ll tell you.

Children in the school are able to communicate with their donors overseas and tell them what they need for their school and studies; they can also communicate with other children in other villages via attachments typed in the Khmer font; teachers can send and receive reports and directives from the ministry of education; the village health worker can report instances of illness and send digital photos of such patients to obtain guidance from the provincial referral hospital and beyond from the Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope in Phnom Penh and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School in the U.S. which is already linked into a telemedicine program with the provincial hospital; any villager can send a message or grievance directly to the governor who has such an e-mail unit in his office and welcomes village communications to which he has pledged to respond. Newspapers can transmit their pages to the villages; villagers can announce their handicraft products and order goods from the market. Many other uses of this system will be developed by the villagers themselves.

Like I said, pretty doggone cool – the friend who emailed this to me said “think UUCP, but with cars instead of modems”. Cheap, too – check the specs and ordering info. Nice to know that it is possible to actually make the world a better place, isn’t it?

Fill ‘er up!

My, my. The TRMPAC scandal investigation continues to expand, as Travis County DA Ronnie Earle’s office sends out dozens of subpoenas over the next few days.

Nine subpoenas were officially filed Friday. They went to House Speaker Tom Craddick and eight other people, including six Republican House members.

The subpoenas seek documents related to the 2002 speaker’s race, which ended in 2003 with Craddick becoming the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction.


The subpoenas went to Craddick and six of his top lieutenants: Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple; Kent Grusendorf of Arlington; Phil King of Weatherford; Mike Krusee of Round Rock; Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson; and Beverly Woolley of Houston; all Republicans. Another went to Bill Ceverha, a former state representative and treasurer for the Republican majority group.

They were ordered to produce pledge cards — which speaker candidates and their allies typically collect from House members during a race — and any e-mails or other correspondence related to the speaker’s race. The documents are supposed to be delivered to the grand jury Feb. 26.

Beverly Wooley will wake up today to see a front page story about her fundraising activities on behalf of TRM.

Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, swept through [Reliant Energy’s] Houston corporate offices on Sept. 9, 2002, raising money for targeted House races as well as for Texans for a Republican Majority, according to an itinerary of her travel obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

Notes on her itinerary indicate she spoke to some donors about what types of legislation they would like.


Notations on Woolley’s itinerary indicate that one energy executive said property taxes are “outrageous” and another energy executive wanted to take the “volatility out” of “severance tax policy.” A banker who agreed to make $22,000 in donations directly to TRM-sponsored candidates wanted “to clean up home equity lending.”

For financier Charles Hurwitz, it was noted he had an interest in improving the Texas horse racing industry, which he helped sponsor. The note said he had “retained (lobbyist) Elton Bomer — Talked to (lobbyist Michael) Toomey.”

At the time, Bomer was a horse racing lobbyist and Toomey was a lobbyist for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. TLR was one of five organizations targeting Republican House races.


A hand-written note on the itinerary called the trip a “36Kday + 25 Reliant.” That meant $36,000 raised directly for candidates plus $25,000 in corporate money from Reliant.

The donation to TRM was made by then-Reliant Senior Vice President Bruce Gibson. Gibson now is chief of staff for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Gibson said he remembers meeting with Woolley but nothing that was discussed. Gibson said it was not unusual at the time for political organizations to seek corporate “soft money” to finance state and federal campaign funds.

“There were all kinds of soft-money accounts. I got hit hard,” Gibson said. “They usually were not involved in races. They were for other expenses.”

According to the itinerary, Woolley spent the rest of the day raising money directly for specific House candidates from Houston executives on behalf of TRM.

Woolley went on to be named the chairman of the House Calendar Committee, which is the panel that decides which bills to debate on the House floor. Not that this will stop anyone from attempting the lame “no quid pro quo” defense. Who would ever stoop so low as to think that the person in charge of prioritizing legislation might remember who handed her an envelope full of unmarked bills along with a word in her ear about severance tax policy? The very idea is just so tacky.

The grand jury gets to pore over these documents on February 26. Mark it on your calendar.

Another race to watch

There’s one statewide race this year, for Railroad Commissioner. The incumbent, Victor Carrillo, was appointed by Rick Perry to finish out Tony Garza’s term. He’s now facing opposition in the Republican primary, and the GOP establishment is going all out for him.

Presidential adviser Karen Hughes endorsed Railroad Commission Chairman Victor Carrillo on Friday in the GOP establishment’s latest effort to give him a boost in a four-way primary election race.


In the primary, Carrillo faces Douglas G. Deffenbaugh of San Antonio, president of an oil and gas service company; retiree Robert Butler of Palestine; and K. Dale Henry, a Mullin engineer.

The winner will face Democrat Bob Scarborough of Fort Worth.

Hughes described Carrillo — a geologist, geophysicist, energy lawyer and former Abilene City Councilman and Taylor County judge — as “exceptionally well qualified for this job.”

With the GOP working to attract Hispanic voters, Hughes also cast him as the party’s future.

“The future of the party is reaching out to more Hispanic candidates, to women, to African Americans to diversify our party,” she said. “The Hispanic community is a very important constituency.”

Deffenbaugh responded, “I think the future of the Republican Party is staying true to our conservative ideals of less taxes and less government — and putting small oil and gas operators out of business is not staying true to our conservative values.”

Deffenbaugh said such operators are hurt by a requirement for oil and gas well operators to have a bond to ensure they have the money to plug wells when they’re done with them.

The requirement, aimed at ensuring wells aren’t abandoned, is required in state law. The law is implemented by the commission.

The reason for all this top-dog attention to Carrillo is that the GOP would very much like to avoid a rerun of 2002, when Steven Wayne Smith, a less qualified candidate with vocal and embarrassing views on race defeated the Perry-appointed Xavier Rodriguez in the primary for State Supreme Court, a result which put a bit of a crimp in their Hispanic outreach program. I don’t believe any of Carrillo’s opponents are as notorious as Smith, who was the litigator in the Hopwood case, and none of them have such an evocative name, but apparently the powers that be aren’t taking any chances. The wailing and gnashing of teeth potential if Carrillo goes down is very high.

So that’s where they’re hiding!

Headline in today’s Chron: Volunteer discovers a new asteroid on Internet. I must confess, I never would have thought to look there myself.

Buy Girl Scout cookies!

Is there no end to what some people will politicize?

People in Waco were more than a bit taken aback after turning on a Christian radio station and hearing a community leader call for a boycott of Thin Mints and Caramel deLites.

“I encourage you to join me in abstaining from Girl Scout cookies,” John Pisciotta, director of Pro-Life Waco and an associate professor of economics at Baylor University, has been saying for two weeks in public-service announcements running around the clock on KBDE/89.9.

Pisciotta then says the Waco-based Bluebonnet Council of Girl Scouts supports Planned Parenthood’s annual sex education seminars.

The vaguely worded radio announcements are the latest and most public attempt by the group to discourage the Girl Scouts from even a casual affiliation with Planned Parenthood, an international organization that promotes reproductive freedom and provides health care services related to reproduction.

Criminy. I suppose nothing the so-called “pro-life” movement does should surprise me, but I still found myself shaking my head when I read this. On the plus side, their little tantrum seems to have had little effect.

So far, the fallout has been limited. Two of the 400 Girl Scout troops in the Bluebonnet Council’s Central Texas district have reportedly disbanded after learning of the Planned Parenthood connection.

The controversy has made for better cookie sales in Waco.

[Beth Vivio, executive director of the Bluebonnet Council of Girl Scouts] said the Girl Scouts expect to sell more than the average 432,000 boxes of cookies during the sale, which runs through February. And the Girl Scouts office has seen more calls and drop-in visitors requesting cookies.

A flurry of letters to the editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald seems to support her assessment: The pro-cookie writers outnumber the writers who favor Pro-Life Waco’s campaign.

“You (Pro-Life Waco) just made buying Girl Scout cookies a political statement,” wrote M.B. Tankersley of Woodway, “and it’s one I am not afraid to make. Thanks for the reminder that we need to support this worthy organization.”

Good for her, and good for the rest of the cookie-buying public in Central Texas. I’d already bought three boxes this year, but if another Scout comes knocking on my door, I’ll buy more.

Checking out the talent

Today was tryout day for the Timbergrove Little League. Unlike last year, when I was called in to coach an already-formed team, I had the opportunity to observe and participate in a brief workout of the new and returning players in the 9- and 10-year-old Mustang division. Four players from my team last year will still be in this division – one is already on the roster, one has requested to play for a different team, and the other two, who want to play together, will be in the draft.

As my reward for coaching a winless team in 2003, I will get the first draft choice when we choose up sides next Thursday. As it happens, the player I plan on picking is one of my guys from last year. He was a good player then – his teammates picked him as their MVP – and he’s improved since then. Picking him ought to give me the inside track on my other former player and at least one other kid, a boy who happens to be a neighbor of mine. Kids are allowed to express a desire to be on the same team as another kid, and while coaches aren’t bound by that, we do have a gentlemen’s agreement to try to accomodate them. If I can use that to my advantage and get a couple of kids who already know me, I most certainly will.

I took some notes on each player during the workout, but there’s not much to go on. The kids who stood out were fairly few, and with some 30 kids there, no one got a lot of opportunity to distinguish him or herself (one player there was a girl). The draft will be a crapshoot, and frankly I’m just hoping for some good citizens with parents who understand it’s a game.

By this point, it also seems pretty clear that I am in fact the head coach of the Twins, by default if nothing else. I sure do hope I’ll have an assistant who can stand in for me in May when I’ll be otherwise occupied. Of course, maybe the baby will wait until the season is over before she makes her appearance. Surely that’s the least she can do for her dad, right?

Keeping an eye on the candidates

It goes without saying that the upcoming election is vital, and I consider it a top priority to help every good candidate that I can to win. I’m going to highlight a few of these candidates here, and will continue to keep an eye on them and push their campaigns during the year. I’m also going to issue an open invitation to every Democrat I mention here: If you’d like for me to publish an interview with you, drop me an email at the address above.

Via Southpaw, check out Gary R. Page, who will be running against Kenny Boy Marchant, the golden boy of the State House who got his very own custom-made district out of our endless legislative summer. As noted here, Marchant is nothing but a Forgy Kerr candidate, a nonentity whose purpose in life is to serve the interests of those who aim to put him in Congress. Now, I don’t have any illusions about Gary Page winning this race – if Martin Frost didn’t think the new 24th CD was winnable for him, it sure won’t be winnable for some Democrat no one’s ever heard of. But that doesn’t mean any of us should be willing to roll over and die.

You’ve already met Morris Meyer, who’s running against Smokey Joe Barton in the 6th CD. He’s been busy with his blog ads, and he’s been getting a push from Atrios, which ought to help him out. Again, this is a race the Democrats should have no chance in, but I like the fact that we’re fighting. I believe only good things can result from that.

And when you read Atrios’s link to Tom DeLay’s charming comments about homosexuals, remember that Richard Morrison is taking on DeLay. Richard has a primary opponent in Erik Saenz, and while I’ll be happy to support Mr. Saenz if he winds up with the nomination, I strongly believe in Richard’s candidacy and would like to see him win in March. Given that he needs to be campaigning now, Richard could really use a little help.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this past year, it’s how important control of the State House is. Greg Wythe is strongly supporting a few Democratic House candidates, including Byron Barclay, who hopes to unseat Martha “No Thong” Wong in HD 134; the perenially threatened Scott Hochberg in HD 137, who is consistently one of our best incumbents; and Alma Allen, who hopes to unseat the turncoat Ron Wilson in HD 131. I urge my Houston readers to get to know these candidates, especially if you’re in one of their districts.

Finally, Byron has more about Alma Allen and Ron Wilson (with similar stuff posted in his Kos diary). He’s also watching the GOP-only 10th CD race, and I’m sure he’ll be equally focused on Austin’s State House races.

It’s never too early to get involved. The new Congressional boundaries may be reality, but they don’t have to be destiny. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get down to it.

More rail studies in Sugar Land

I guess this is progress.

A commuter rail along the U.S. 90A corridor is a workable transportation option for passengers commuting from Fort Bend County to Houston, according to a feasibility study released Friday.

“The future of Fort Bend County depends on an effective passenger rail line,” said Leonard Scarcella, Stafford’s mayor and an avid supporter of a Fort Bend commuter line.

The findings from the $250,000 study, conducted through the Houston-Galveston Area Council, were presented to a committee of state and local officials.

The committee recommended that federal, state and local leaders organize a second study called an alternative analysis, which would begin this fall or next year.

The next study, estimated to cost between $1 million and $2 million, would take a more detailed look at commuter rail and examine all possible transportation options in the corridor, including buses and the use of other rights of way for rail.

It also would examine other issues, including noise, safety and grade-crossing traffic.

I guess the fact that the studies are getting more expensive is a sign that they’re getting more serious. I fear it also means it’ll take longer, too. It sure would’ve been nice to have something in place while the downtown spur is being rebuilt, wouldn’t it? Maybe next time.