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August, 2004:

Real ladies vote Republican

I was trying to come up with a clever way to describe this USA Today poll which shows that single women are more likely to vote Democratic while married women trend Republican, and the reaction to it by Focus on the Family, but I don’t think I can do any better than Jonathan did. In case you’ve ever wondered why the Phyllis Schlaflys of the world are called Ladies Against Women, this ought to help you understand.

Rack up another Enron plea

The count is now 14.

Former Enron Broadband Services executive Kevin Hannon pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud, becoming the 14th former executive to strike a plea bargain with prosecutors.

Originally indicted on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and insider trading, the former chief operating officer of Enron’s Internet business avoided an Oct. 4 trial by entering the plea this afternoon before Judge Vanessa Gilmore. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 penalty, but he remains free on a $1 million bond, and his sentencing will come later.

As part of the plea bargain with prosecutors, Hannon agreed to forfeit $2.2 million in assets, pay a $1 million civil penalty to the Securities and Exchange Commison, and drop a claim for $8 million in back pay from Enron.

His plea could further complicate the standing of the five remaining defendants in the broadband case. In July, former EBS Chief Executive Officer Ken Rice pleaded guilty to making misleading statements during a Jan. 20, 2000, meeting with analysts where he and others at the company touted the capabilities of Enron’s broadband network.

The remaining defendants are Joe Hirko, EBS’ former chief executive officer; F. Scott Yeager, former senior vice president of business development; Rex Shelby, former senior vice president of engineering and operations; Kevin Howard, former vice president of finance; and Michael Krautz, former senior accounting director.

The five still headed to trial are scheduled for a hearing before Judge Gilmore on Wednesday. They are expected to discuss motions to move the trial out of Houston and to argue that the government allowed key evidence to be destroyed when Enron auctioned off much of the computer hardware and software that was part of the broadband business.

The prosecutors are certainly earning their money.

There’s multitasking and then there’s multitasking

There must be a mighty big hat rack in State Rep. Ray Allen’s office, because his staffers sure do wear a lot of hats.

When state Rep. Ray Allen was passing bills in the Legislature last year, he relied on government employees for help. For political work, it was campaign staff. And for his prison-lobbying business, he taps private-sector workers.

Nothing remarkable there, except that they’re all the same people — Allen’s Austin-based state employees — records and interviews show.

Allen’s top aide, Scott Gilmore, has even continued to draw a state salary while traveling outside Texas to consult and lobby — for pay — for the prison factory industry, Allen said.

The arrangement has drawn criticism from two government-watchdog groups, but the Grand Prairie Republican sees no problem with it. Allen said his employees are putting in more than enough time with the House of Representatives to justify their full-time salaries from taxpayers.

And he said they have almost always used private computers and phones — even when working out of his taxpayer-provided office in the Capitol. Any use of state equipment has been incidental and unintended, he said. Records also show that Allen has periodically reimbursed the costs of private long-distance calls.

Allen acknowledged that it might be unusual to have employees assigned to three different jobs, but he said it is ethical and legal.

“It’s probably more unusual for somebody to use state staff in a private industry business, but campaign work would be very common,” Allen said. “The question is not, Is it wrong to do it? The question is, How do you keep it separate?”

But two watchdog groups question the multitasking use of state employees, particularly when they work at the Capitol.

“They need to get everything that is not directly related to the business of being a state representative out of the state Capitol,” said Suzy Woodford, director of Common Cause of Texas. “I do not believe that you can keep everything that segmented.”

Fred Lewis, director of Campaigns for People, said Allen should require a full written account of the precise hours his employees put in for the state, for the campaign and for Allen’s lobby practice, known as Service House.

I’m sorry, but I have a real hard time believing that every one of the time-splicers in Rep. Allen’s office is always able to separate one of their jobs from the others. I have a hard time believing that none of them has ever done work for one of their private sector or campaign gigs while on the state’s dime. And I have a real hard time believing that Rep. Allen really thinks the arrangement is hunky dory.

There’s an easy answer. Pay campaign staff to do campaign work only, and tell regular staff they can’t moonlight. I have sympathy for any legislative aide who says he or she can’t get by on the salary they get paid, but this isn’t the way to fix that problem.

Rep. Allen, by the way, is facing Katy Hubener, another one of our fine Democratic State House candidates, in November. Hubener was on our list of People To Profile For Texas Tuesdays, but we never quite connected with her, though I hear we may get a late entry for her eventually. She was recently named a Dean Dozen candidate, and I expect her to give Rep. Allen a good race this fall. Check her out, and give some thought to giving her a hand.

(Thanks to KF for the reminder on this story.)

Mister Sinus lawsuit

Like Seth, I can’t say I’m surprised by this.

Mr. Sinus, an Austin sketch-comedy group that skewers movies at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, is under attack.

Best Brains Inc., the company that owns the TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” has sued the Mr. Sinus group, alleging that it is infringing on the “Mystery Science” trademark by using its format. Mr. Sinus comedians Jeremy Pollet, Owen Egerton and John Erler, and Alamo South Lamar LP have been named in the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court.


The problem, according to Best Brains, is that Mr. Sinus takes its format from “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” also known as MST3K or MST 3000 — abbreviations the lawsuit says can also apply to Mr. Sinus Theater.

The TV show, which ran from 1988 through 1999 but was shown in reruns until January, features the silhouettes of three figures who sit at the front of a theater and interject satirical comments during movies.

The TV show is appropriate for viewers of all ages, the lawsuit states, unlike Mr. Sinus, which the lawsuit describes as vulgar. One Mr. Sinus performance skewered “Nude on the Moon,” which featured nudity. The comedians have also targeted commercially successful movies such as “Dirty Dancing” and “Top Gun.”

Best Brains says the trouble began when it asked Alamo representatives to show episodes “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

“Alamo then approached Pollet with the idea to create a comedic group in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000,” according to the lawsuit. “Pollet, Egerton and Erler then formed Mr. Sinus and premiered in September 2000.”

The lawsuit notes that the Alamo group continues to stage Mr. Sinus shows even after Best Brains refused to provide them with a license. The company also says that it asked the comedians to stop using Mr. Sinus Theater 3000 or any similar name.

Unlike Star Bock Beer, this is a case where I can pretty easily see people being legitimately confused. I hope both sides can come to a resolution before the depositions start flying, but I think the plaintiff has a pretty decent argument, and I say that as a Mr. Sinus fan.

UPDATE: Liz thinks that Best Brains is wrong to sue the Mr. Sinus folks.

You can take the girl out of Texas…

Listen to Ginger. Hot dogs and chianti? These things simply are not done.

Oaks at Rio Bend redux

Remember Oaks at Rio Bend and Celebrations for Children? The Chron gives us an update now that the GOP convention is here.

Would-be donors to a charity benefiting the subdivision, Oaks at Rio Bend, originally were invited to a New York golf tournament, late-night party, convention VIP room and yacht cruise with DeLay, who has been a foster parent of at least three children.

With donation packages from $10,000 to $500,000, potential contributors were offered a special suite at the convention for President Bush’s nomination acceptance speech. At the most expensive level, donor perks would include dinner with DeLay before and after the convention, according to event promotions. A 13-page brochure had exactly one sentence mentioning abused and neglected children.

The brochure was more expansive on such things as Broadway tickets and a golf tournament at the Bethpage Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y.

But the events were dropped in May after criticism from groups that monitor political fund-raising. The organizations, such as Common Cause, said the events wrongly were being used to sell access to DeLay, and the GOP convention, to various interest groups.

“This so-called ‘charity’ is set up to divide its contributions between helping poor children and electing the very politicians whose policies help keep these children improverished,” the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy said last year when the convention fund-raising plan was unveiled.


In Fort Bend County, Oaks at Rio Bend administrator Margaret Gow said the project could have used the donations.

“Certainly it would have made our lives easier,” Gow said.

The project sits on 50 acres donated by the George Foundation and has received at least $6 million with the help of the DeLay Foundation for Kids. Last year, organizers said at least $4 million more was needed for completion of the first phase of the community.

The vision of DeLay and his wife, Christine, who has served on the project’s board of directors, Oaks at Rio Bend intends to provide stability and support services that may be lacking in the normal foster care system.

When the project broke ground last September, officials predicted the first families would move in 12 months later. Instead, only site preparation is visible now. There are no residents.

Gow said the problem is not funding, but drainage.

Oaks at Rio Bend did not submit its plans to the Fort Bend County Drainage District, part of the construction approval process, until Jan. 20, officials said. Approval did not come until June because the plans originally lacked information on a required pond for flood control.

Gow hopes house construction will start in October.

From the GOP’s perspective, given all of the negative news about DeLay over the past few months, it’s just as well that a big fat-cat fundraiser with a tangential charitable purpose got cancelled. I’d bet this would have been quite the distraction.

Texas Tuesdays: Stephen Frost

We wind up our tour through the State House today with a look at Stephen Frost, running to replace the retiring Killer D Barry Telford in HD1. This is a seat that the Democrats should hold, but just as we get excited about possibly picking up open Republican seats, they get excited about maybe picking up some of our open seats, and we all know they have the resources to give it their best shot. HD1 is also one of the areas that Max Sandlin will need to do well in to win, so helping Frost is a twofer. Check out the intro and the interview, and as always, if you like what you see, you know what to do.

Next week, we start again on Congress. You can find links to our earlier coverage of Congress, as well as a convenient way to make donations, here on our ActBlue page.

He never gives up

There’s a fine line between “persistent” and “delusional”. You tell me which side of that line Governor Perry is on.

Gov. Rick Perry said Sunday that he would not rule out a special, lame-duck legislative session – perhaps after the November elections – on school finance reform.

“There is always the possibility, if we can find the consensus and get the House and Senate to sign off on a plan,” Mr. Perry told reporters after speaking to a gathering of GOP women at the Republican National Convention.

“I’ve told no one to disregard the fact that if we’re into the fall, that’s a reason not to be prepared to come into Austin with a week’s notice.”

Mr. Perry called lawmakers to a special session this spring, but lawmakers were unable to agree on a solution.

It’s unclear how the dynamics of a November special session would affect the ability to get a bill passed. Elections earlier in the month could leave a number of lame ducks in the Legislature.

Having a bunch of lawmakers who won’t have to answer to voters making vast changes to the tax code – there’s a capital idea.

Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who has been involved in the talks, said the Nov. 2 elections, along with the time off many officials take after campaigning and with Thanksgiving, would complicate returning to Austin.

“If the governor wants to be hard-core and call a special session, I’ll be there,” said Mr. Branch, whose district includes the property rich Highland Park school district.

I’ll take “Lukewarm endorsements” for $100, Alex.

Not much more to say here. I don’t see any reason to take this pronouncement more seriously than any of the others. Via Lasso.

Ralph Reed’s gambling riches

TAPPED brings us this Roll Call article on Ralph Reed and the millions he’s been given to pimp casino gambling by a disgraced lobbyist.

Reed was paid more than $3.8 million during a yearlong period in 2001 and 2002 by Michael Scanlon, a former aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), according to documents obtained by Roll Call.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee has scheduled a public hearing for Sept. 14 to begin reviewing the activities of Scanlon and Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who together were paid in excess of $45 million by four American Indian tribes for lobbying, public relations and grassroots organizing from 2001 to 2003. Congressional and federal investigators, as well as some members of the tribes themselves, are now asking what the two did to merit such exorbitant fees.


The payments to Reed from Scanlon were made to two Georgia-based companies that Reed operates, Century Strategies and Capitol Media, and covered a mix of grassroots organizing and media buys. Reed kept his involvement in these efforts private and has never registered as a lobbyist for any of the four tribes or any other clients.

Reed, now a corporate consultant, was chairman of the Georgia Republican Party from May 2001 until February 2003 and served as executive director of the Christian Coalition from 1989 to 1997. Reed is currently the chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign for the Southeast region.

In the past, Reed, who has called gambling “a cancer on the American body politic,” has said he has done no work for casino clients.

In an interview last week, Reed reiterated that he has never been employed by any casino operator, including Indian tribes.

“I’ve worked for decades to oppose the expansion of casino gambling, and the work Century Strategies did on these projects was consistent with that longstanding opposition,” said Reed. “The work that we did was part of a broad coalition that included anti-gambling groups, churches and nonprofit organizations. And at no time did my firm have a relationship with nor were we retained by any casino or any casino company.”

Scanlon, however, was working for four different Indian tribes with casinos, and Reed was brought in on a number of projects to gin up opposition to increasing the number of casinos from conservative Christian groups, including sites proposed by rival tribes in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as a video poker initiative in Alabama. Reed’s efforts specifically benefited two of Scanlon’s tribal clients, the Louisiana Coushattas and the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, in their bids to protect their casino interests.


Reed’s involvement with Scanlon began in early 2001 as the Louisiana Coushattas sought to prevent state officials from granting more licenses for riverboat casinos in the Lake Charles region, seeing it as a threat to the Grand Casino Coushatta, the largest casino in the area.

Reed also took part in a later effort by the Louisiana Coushattas to shut down a casino outside Houston opened by the Alabama-Coushattas, a rival tribe. Texans are a big part of the customer base for Bayou State casinos.

While anti-gambling forces launched a widespread campaign in the Lone Star State, Reed worked to build support for a lawsuit filed by then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn (R) against the Alabama Coushattas and another tribe that had opened their own casino. A federal judge eventually closed both casinos in July 2002.

In addition, Reed sought to block legislation allowing video poker machines with unlimited cash payouts at four Alabama dog tracks in 2001. The proposal was rejected by the state legislature, thanks in part to political pressure from religious groups like the Christian Coalition of Alabama.

So Scanlon paid Reed to organize grassroots opposition to certain casinos on behalf of their rivals. It’s like being paid by Anheuser-Busch to rabblerouse against the evils of alcohol for the purpose of torpedoing a Miller brewery. And all to a man who calls gambling a “cancer” on society.

“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” — Luke, Chapter 16, Verse 13.

You can find some more background on the Abramoff/Scanlon story here, here, here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE: Via Julia, Reed has confirmed taking money from Greenberg Traurig, the consulting firm for whom Scanlon and Abramoff worked, but claims he had no idea that he was representing gambling interests with one hand while agitating against gambling with the other.

Ralph Reed, Southeast regional chairman of the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, confirmed on Sunday that he accepted more than $1 million in fees from a lobbyist and a public relations specialist whose work on behalf of American Indian casinos prompted a federal investigation.


Scanlon’s company paid Reed $1.23 million, according to sources familiar with the transactions. The two law firms Abramoff worked for, Greenberg Traurig LLP and Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP, paid fees to Reed and Century Strategies, but the amounts were not immediately available.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Reed said: “I have worked for decades to oppose the expansion of casino gambling, and as a result of that, Century Strategies has worked with broad coalitions to oppose casino expansion. We are proud of the work we have done. It is consistent not only with my beliefs but with the beliefs of the grassroots citizens that we mobilized. And at no time was Century Strategy ever retained by, or worked on behalf of, any casino or casino company.”

Asked if he had been aware of the clients paying Abramoff and Scanlon, Reed said, “While we were clearly aware that Greenberg Traurig had certain tribal clients, we were not aware of every specific client or interest.”

Wow, that’s weak. Stay tuned.

Chocolate is good for you

Tiffany is a big fan of dark chocolate. News like this makes her happy.

Eating dark chocolate can improve healthy blood flow and prevent clots forming in the veins, an international heart congress has heard.

But the same benefits might not be gained from eating milk chocolate.


Blood clots, depending on where they form can lead to thrombosis, embolism, stroke, heart attack and angina.

Dr Charalambos Vlachopoulos, of the Hippokratian Hospital at the University of Athens, who presented the research, said that eating 100 grams of dark chocolate improved function in healthy young adults for at least three hours.

The study involved 17 volunteers who ate either 100 grams of dark chocolate or a non-chocolate substitute. On another day the groups were swapped over.

The results showed that functioning of the endothelium, a thin layer covering the innermost surface of blood vessels, was improved in the dark chocolate group but not in the group that ate the chocolate substitute.

How does one get to be a volunteer for this kind of study? Luck, or connections?

The Internet at 35

Later this week, the Internet moves to a higher age bracket.

Stephen Crocker and Vinton Cerf were among the graduate students who joined UCLA professor Len Kleinrock in an engineering lab on Sept. 2, 1969, as bits of meaningless test data flowed silently between the two computers. By January, three other “nodes” joined the fledgling network.

Then came e-mail a few years later, a core communications protocol called TCP/IP in the late 70s, the domain name system in the 80s and the World Wide Web — now the second most popular application behind e-mail — in 1990. The Internet expanded beyond its initial military and educational domain into businesses and homes around the world.

Today, Crocker continues work on the Internet, designing better tools for collaboration. And as security chairman for the Internet’s key oversight body, he is trying to defend the core addressing system from outside threats, including an attempt last year by a private search engine to grab Web surfers who mistype addresses.

He acknowledges the Internet he helped build is far from finished, and changes are in store to meet growing demands for multimedia. Network providers now make only “best efforts” at delivering data packets, and Crocker said better guarantees are needed to prevent the skips and stutters now common with video.

Cerf, now at MCI Inc., said he wished he could have designed the Internet with security built-in. Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and America Online Inc., among others, are currently trying to retrofit the network so e-mail senders can be authenticated — a way to cut down on junk messages sent using spoofed addresses.

Among Cerf’s other projects: a next-generation numbering system called IPv6 to accommodate the ever-growing armies of Internet-ready wireless devices, game consoles, even dog collars. Working with NASA, Cerf is also trying to extend the network into outer space to better communicate with spacecraft.

But many features being developed today wouldn’t have been possible at birth given the slower computing speeds and narrower Internet pipes, or bandwidth, Cerf said.

“With the tools we had then, we did as much as we could reasonably have done,” he said.

By the way, here’s what Vint Cerf had to say about another inventor of the Internet.

Sheri Dew

The GOP may be putting on its best moderate face at the convention, but apparently someone forgot to tell that to Sheri Dew, the woman who will be giving the opening invocation and who apparently believes that people who don’t oppose gay marriage are just like the people who didn’t oppose Hitler back in the day. Wouldn’t it be nice if, as Atrios suggests, someone in the media were to ask a few questions about this? You know, to see which of these nice, soccer-mom-friendly moderates might agree with that sentiment?

Dems protest Perry

Bob Perry, that is. Byron has the scoop. Check out the pictures.

Smoky Joe vs. Kid Meyer

Here’s a nice little plug for Morris Meyer, spotted in the Dallas Morning News editorial blog:

The editorial board interviewed Morris Meyer, the Democratic candidate for Congressional District 6, this afternoon. The incumbent, Republican Joe Barton, declined our invitation to be interviewed alongside Mr. Meyer.

If I were Mr. Barton, I’d be worried. Mr. Meyer is the real deal — a smart, passionate, well-informed citizen-politician who appears to be riding the crest of constituent unhappiness with Smokey Joe’s defense of industrial polluters at the expense of vulnerable children and elders. I’d enourage people in the heavily Republican district — which includes Ellis County and Arlington — to give Mr. Meyer a serious and open look.

posted by Timothy O’Leary @ Aug 27, 6:45 PM

There are no permalinks in the DMN EdBlog, so this will shortly disappear. The Meyer campaign blog flagged it for future reference. Look for another appearance by Morris Meyer on Texas Tuesdays soon, and if you can’t wait that long, help him out now.

Lampson v. Poe

More like this, please.

U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, one of the Democratic incumbents targeted in the Republican redistricting effort, faces a tough challenge from Republican Ted Poe, who became nationally known for creative sentencing during two decades as a Houston felony court judge.

“For the casual outside viewer, this is a Republican district. And it’s a Republican year,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein. “But this is a much closer race than people realize.”

Amy Walters, editor of the Cook Political Report, which analyzes races, said Lampson is forcing this race toward local issues such as flood control and pressuring Poe to address those issues. “Lampson could win by detaching himself from the national party label and running as an independent moderate,” she said.

Poe is campaigning partly on his record from his 22 years on the Houston bench.

He has several factors working in his favor — name recognition, a reputation in Houston and a district created to elect him or someone like him — but he can’t rely on those alone to win, analysts said.

Lampson acknowledged he was initially apprehensive about running in the district, which extends from Beaumont to northwest Harris County. Fifty-six percent of that is territory in Harris County that he does not represent now.

“It was intended for me not to win. But I got my confidence back,” Lampson said. “Fund-raising is a key indicator of whether people truly support you, whether they want to invest in you.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to Congress, is concentrating on Lampson and four other races in the state where Democratic incumbents are vulnerable because of the redistricting plan passed by the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature last year.

Poe has received support from national GOP stars, including Vice President Dick Cheney, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land and House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who have headlined fund-raisers on his behalf. Lampson has raised $1.5 million to Poe’s $725,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports compiled by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.

There’s more where that came from. This is easily the best article I’ve seen in the Chron on any of the competitive or potentially competitive local races this year. It even overcomes my usual objection for this kind of article by who the candidates are and what they stand for instead of focusing on what they say about the other guy. Kudos to Kristen Mack and Justin Gest for the excellent work. Now let’s see some more articles like this about every other race of interest in the area.

As we approach Labor Day and get down into the acknowledged campaign season, I’m going to be pushing for donations to candidates and groups more often. I feel very strongly that the Democrats have a shot at taking the House this year, but whatever the odds of that actually are, there are plenty of individual races where a few bucks can help make a difference. Nick Lampson, to whom you can donate here, is a great Congressman, and back in 1996 when he was gearing up to knock off the evil Steve Stockman, he became the very first political candidate I ever gave money to. He can win, and you can help. We’ll be featuring him again on Texas Tuesdays in the coming weeks – you can review all of the original TT posts on Congressional candidates as well as make a donation via the Texas Tuesdays Act Blue page. Finally, you can help the DCCC help Lampson and others by contributing to them as well. You’ll be glad you did.

Defending Heflin, discussing Vo

Rick Casey keeps on the Talmadge Heflin beat by taking a look at Heflin’s opponent, Hubert Vo.

Candidate Hubert Vo, who has been active in the community and is on the Super Neighborhood Council, is smarter than the state party chairman.

He is making no statements on Heflin’s ability to get a judge to send a constable to take the baby away from its mother or his spectacularly clumsy argument on the stand that “we all know the terrible problem that black male children have growing up into manhood without being in prison.”

Nor did Vo take the campaign slogan suggestion of one volunteer: “Vote for Vo: He won’t steal your baby.”

Vo knows the media have already alerted voters to the Heflin baby controversy. He is sticking to issues that could play well in a district that looks nothing like the population that first elected Heflin 22 years ago. District 149 is mostly in Alief and stretches up above Westheimer to Memorial west of Dairy Ashford. What used to be a standard American suburb is now suburbia Houston-style.

The 2000 census put it at 36 percent white, 21 percent Hispanic, 20 percent black, 18 percent Asian and 5 percent other.

Among the minorities, Vo, who speaks Spanish as well as Vietnamese, expects Heflin to be hurt by his record of using his appropriations chairmanship to cut state school funding and children’s health insurance. In addition, Vo is playing up Heflin’s proposal of raising sales taxes and expanding them to such things as car repairs.

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray estimates the district’s 71,300 registered voters trend to 52 percent Democrat. But fewer of the lower-income voters counted as Democrats make it to the polls.

Two years ago, Heflin beat a poorly funded opponent 56 percent-44 percent. But turnout was only 34 percent in that nonpresidential election, giving Heflin a margin of just 2,600 votes.

What’s more, Gov. Rick Perry is believed to have turned out his vote effectively, while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez didn’t.

A normal presidential-year turnout could be 50 percent higher, and most of those additional voters would likely vote Democrat.

Vo is running a well-funded, professionally staffed campaign. He expects to spend $300,000, and he has been personally knocking on doors since the beginning of June.

The conventional wisdom among the pros is that Heflin will win, though not by much. But then, the conventional wisdom was that Bill White wouldn’t make a mayoral runoff.

Of course, we covered quite a bit of that ground on Texas Tuesdays before the Heflin custody case made the news. Nice to see it get a wider dispersal, though.

Meanwhile, Heflin’s minister presents a fairly strong defense for him on yesterday’s op-ed page.

What would you have done if you had been in the shoes of state Rep. Talmadge Heflin and his wife, Janice?

A single pregnant woman you barely know comes to you asking for help.

Most of us would have simply told the woman that we could not get involved, but not the Heflins. Instead, they offered to support the mother and her child.

The baby was born prematurely and had health problems. The mother had no place to stay, so the Heflins gave her one.

Would you have done the same?

The mother took a job, leaving the child with the Heflins, and for over a year, she rarely spent any time with the baby.

The Heflins did.

Would you have made the same sacrifices to care for this baby?

What would you do when you tried to take that baby in for medical care, the mother nowhere to be found, and the doctor tells you he cannot administer care without a parental signature?

What if you then came to find out that this was not the mother’s first child to be raised by others?

In fact, and to your shock, you find out from police affidavits, while the mother is being investigated for fraud by Houston police in 2003, that she has five children — one left behind in Europe, three in Africa and now one in the United States.

How would you react to that?

I think the Heflins acted in what they thought was the best interest of the child, and if what is said here is true, their actions were honorable. That said, the dismissal of their lawsuit and the remaining questions of how they got custody in the first place still speak for themselves. However honorable and well-intentioned they may have been, they overstepped their bounds. And yes, Talmadge Heflin’s statement about black children and jail, at best an awkward phrasing, still casts doubt on their motivations. Sooner of later, Talmadge Heflin and not his lawyer or his minister, is going to have to explain himself more fully.

Politicians today are easy targets, but Talmadge has an honorable record in his public and his private life.

Talmadge helped add 356 Texas Child Protective Services caseworkers during the last session of the Legislature.

Heflin added $1.9 billion to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), even in a year in which Texas already had a $10 billion deficit. And, he did it all without raising taxes.

Thanks to his work, there are now 110,000 more needy young Texans a month who receive medical care. Make that 110,001 counting Fidel Jr.

To say the least, these figures are debatable. How they square with 147,000 children dropped from CHIP’s rolls, I couldn’t say. But at least here we’re on ground that I think we can all agree is fair game for vigorous debate, which brings us back to Hubert Vo. Let these two have it out, and may the best man win.


H-Town Blogs points to Metroblogging, which appears to be a group blog about events and happenings in different cities by the people in those cities. As yet, Houston is not represented, but that will be rectified when enough people have signed up. If that interests you, send in an application. Here’s their FAQ if you want to know more.

Do you want to rephrase that?

Tim Dunlop catches an unfortunate turn of phrase during one of the womens’ diving events. His commenters supply a bunch more, all of which are amusing.

I’m reminded of a story from the late 1960s, when the New York Yankees’ empire had crumbled and the team was really bad, and usually played in front of many empty seats. One day, the radio broadcasters, one of whom was the immortal Dizzy Dean, spotted a couple making out in the far reaches of the upper deck.

“Look at that, Diz,” said the first announcer. “He’s kissing her on the strikes.”

“Yeah,” replied Dean. “And she’s kissing him on the balls.”

[short pause]


Don’t know if that’s actually true or not, but it ought to be.

Kitzman to resign

Oliver Kitzman, the Waller County DA who tried to keep Prairie View A&M students from voting in that county, will resign his post in September.

Oliver Kitzman announced his plans to resign during a monthly Republican party meeting Thursday night, said Ann Davis, chairwoman of the Waller County Republican party.

“He said he would be sending a letter to the governor and would be resigning on Sept. 16. He said it was for personal reasons,” Davis said.

Kitzman could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Last November, Kitzman sent a letter to the Waller County election administrator saying students at Prairie View, a historically black university, were not automatically eligible to vote locally.

His comments ignited a flury of debate that led to protest marches, complaints to state and federal officials and a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Kitzman later apologized for his “threatening” behavior toward students seeking to register to vote in Waller County.

Waller County Justice of the Peace Dewayne Charleston said Friday he was pleased that Kitzman planned on resigning. He said Kitzman’s actions went beyond the students at Prairie View.

Charleston accused Kitzman of operating a “reign of terror” that targeted black ministers, municipal officials, judges and election officials.

Charleston and other community members filed a federal lawsuit against Kitzman earlier this month.

Charleston said members of the black community were rejoicing in his plans to resign.

“It’s like an emancipation proclamation on a much smaller scale,” he said. “Everyone is upbeat and cautiously optimistic.”

Good riddance. There’s only one small fly in the ointment:

Because Kitzman plans on resigning close to the coming election, the governor will appoint a new district attorney, said Charleston. He said he wished Kitzman’s plans to resign would have come earlier, allowing residents to choose a new district attorney in a special election.

I nominate Cliff Vacek. It’s not like he’ll have anything else to do between now and November, after all.

Ben Barnes

By now, you’ve probably heard of the Ben Barnes story.

Former Democratic Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, in a video posted on the Internet, says he is ashamed that he got President Bush and other young men from important families into the Texas Air National Guard to avoid service in Vietnam.

Barnes, a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, in the past has not personally discussed his role in getting Bush into the Guard. He previously said in a statement that he recommended Bush for a pilot’s position at the request of a Bush family friend.

Bush has denied entering the Guard in 1968 to avoid Vietnam service.


The Barnes video was shot at a May 27 meeting of Kerry supporters in Austin.

“I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard when I was lieutenant governor of Texas, and I’m not necessarily proud of that, but I did it,” Barnes said. Barnes actually was Texas House speaker when Bush entered the Guard.

Bush’s father at the time was a congressman from Houston.

“I got a lot of other people in the National Guard because I thought that’s what people should do when you’re in office: You help a lot of rich people.”

Barnes told the crowd he came to seriously regret his actions recently after visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and seeing the names of men and women who died in the Southeast Asian conflict.

There are two things that I’d like to see come out of this. One is a more widespread acknowledgement of the fact that that of the two major candidates for President, one of them benefitted from family connections to avoid combat duty, and the other volunteered for it. Two is a more widespread acknowledgement that for all his affectations of being “down-home” and “folksy”, George W. Bush is a man of wealth and privilege, and he would not be where he is now without those assets.

Now of course, Republicans will counter that Barnes’ statement is politically motivated and conveniently timed. They’re right on both counts, but that doesn’t matter. Nobody seems to be disputing the fundamental truthfulness of Barnes’ statement, just the motivation behind it. Josh Marshall reminds us of the first time this issue was raised, and how then-Gubernatorial Candidate Bush responded, from a story by Jim Moore.

During the 1994 Texas gubernatorial race between Ann Richards and George W. Bush, I was a panelist on the only televised debate between the two candidates. The question I chose to ask Bush first was about the National Guard. I had lost friends in Vietnam, and many of them had tried to get into the Guard. We were all told that there was a waiting list of up to five years. The Guard was the best method for getting out of combat in Vietnam. You needed connections. George W. Bush had them.

“Mr. Bush,” I said. “How did you get into the Guard so easily? One hundred thousand guys our age were on the waiting list, and you say you walked in and signed up to become a pilot. Did your congressman father exercise any influence on your behalf?”

“Not that I know of, Jim,” the future president told me. “I certainly didn’t ask for any. And I’m sure my father didn’t either. They just had an opening for a pilot and I was there at the right time.”

Maybe. But it’s more likely he was there at the right time with the right name. Col. Buck Staudt, who ran the air wing in which Bush served, had filled his “champagne unit” with the politically connected and wealthy. The sons of U.S. Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower of Texas were in that unit, along with the son of Texas Gov. John Connally and the two sons of Sidney Adger, George H.W. Bush’s closest friend in Houston. I should have let that speak for itself.

Will President Bush now categorically deny Ben Barnes’ version of this story? I’d like to see someone ask him.

The video of Barnes making his statement is here. More coverage is here (via Drive Democracy), and here.

UPDATE: Sarah reminds me that Barnes brought down the house at an Austin for Kerry rally back in June.

UPDATE: The WaPo fills in some blanks.

[Barnes] intervened on Bush’s behalf sometime in late 1967 or early 1968 at the request of a good friend of Bush’s father, then a Republican congressman from Houston, the sources said. The friend, Sidney A. Adger, was a prominent Houston business executive who died in 1996. The Guard official contacted at his behest, Brig. Gen. James M. Rose, died in 1993.

Both Bush, now governor of Texas and front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, and his father, the former president, say they did not ask for any help with Guard officials and have no knowledge of any assistance from Adger or anyone else.

“Gov. Bush did not need and did not ask anybody for help,” said a Bush campaign spokesman, Scott McClellan. “President Bush has said he did not seek any help for his son in getting into the National Guard.”

Jean Becker, a spokeswoman for former president Bush, confirmed that the senior Bush and Adger were good friends, but she said Bush firmly denies talking to Adger about helping his son get into the Guard.

So let’s suppose that Barnes acted on behalf of someone who was acting on his own initiative. It doesn’t change the narrative of Bush as a man of privilege. One could argue that this shows him to be extra specially privileged, since his wish to avoid combat was magically fulfilled without his direct knowledge or involvement. Good things just happen to George W. Bush. Always have, always will.

Free Kenny Boy!

This was bound to happen sooner or later – is online. The only info there so far is a picture of Kenny Boy and a personal note in which he states his innocence “of all charges that Andrew Weissmann and the President’s Task Force allege in their July 7, 2004 indictment”, but if they put up a blog with an RSS feed, I’m so there.

Elsewhere in Enronarama, Skilling and Causey are claiming discovery difficulties.

A federal judge has already shown an interest in forcing the issue. And this week, prosecutors wrote letters to attorneys for ex-Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling and former chief accountant Rick Causey to clarify what they will or won’t do to help the defendants.

Ever since 1963, federal law has required that prosecutors provide defendants with collected evidence that would tend to exonerate those accused of crimes. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a new punishment trial to Maryland death row inmate John Brady because prosecutors hid his co-defendant’s confession to a slaying committed during a robbery.

Attorneys for Skilling and Causey complain that they’ve been pointed to no exonerating information, even though the government has compiled at least 50 million — maybe 80 million or more — documents.

The defense lawyers have pointed to several documents they found themselves that they say help their case. One is ane-mail from an Enron lawyer saying Skilling would have stopped a side deal if he knew how much money then-Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow was making.

Enron Task Force prosecutors counter that the e-mail at issue was provided to Skilling by the government; it just wasn’t highlighted. They say they’ve been unusually open, providing a room where lawyers can look at and copy the documents. Prosecutors say the government has more than met its burden by opening these files.

In court, prosecutors have said they found no information that would fall under the exonerating evidence rule.

In letters, they promise to try to point up any such information.

A defense motion has been invited by the judge and should be forthcoming in October. Stay tuned.

The unpublished opinion

Interesting – an unpublished opinion by the Texas Ethics Commission in 1998 suggests that yes, corporate donations to PACs for political purposes are banned by state law.

Fred Lewis, executive director of Campaigns for People, said the unpublished opinion shows that the Ethics Commission did nothing despite believing that corporate contributions to PACs, which now amounts to millions a year, are prohibited under Texas law.

“I believe if the Ethics Commission knows something is illegal and it is occurring, they have a duty to enforce the laws of Texas,” said Mr. Lewis, who obtained the opinion draft through the Texas Public Information Act.

“They do not fulfill their duties by doing nothing,” he said.

Sarah Woelk, the commission’s acting executive director and the author of the unpublished opinion, said the draft was a cautious reading of a law that contains ambiguity. She said it would not have served as an ultimate authority on what is legal.

“I think it’s an open question. It’s not one of these easy opinions,” she said.


State and federal law prohibit corporations from using their wealth and shareholder’s money to make political contributions, but there is an exception: They can pay for “administrative expenses.”

The draft shows that initially Texas law copied federal law, which only allows a corporation to cover the administrative costs of its own PAC.

But the wording of the Texas statute was changed in 1975 so that one or more corporations could “finance the establishment or administration of a general-purpose political committee.”

Some lawyers now interpret that to mean that corporate donations to third-party PACs are allowed.

To Terry Scarborough, the attorney for TRMPAC, there’s no question about it.

“It is the black-letter wording of the law,” he said. “God only knows why the Ethics Commission didn’t issue that opinion, but had they issued it, it would have flied in the face of the statute.”

Ms. Woelk said still at issue is what is an “administrative expense,” which TRMPAC has interpreted as expenditures that pay for the political work at the essence of a PAC, but that don’t promote a specific candidate.

But if administrative expense comes to mean only rent and utilities, PACs wouldn’t be interested in corporate funding because they could only use those donations in a very limited way, she said.

Lawyer Scarborough’s assertion that “administrative expense” has a very broad meaning was examined in more detail in the AusChron piece I linked to yesterday.

In the courtroom and on the PR trail, attorney Scarborough has taken the novel position that the longtime Texas political understanding of “administrative expenses” is in fact a mass delusion. Instead, he insists, the relevant Texas law (and Ethics Commission opinions) only forbids the use of corporate funds for “express advocacy” – urging voters to vote for or against a particular candidate. “It may be that the TAB pushed the envelope a little further [in their advertising],” Scarborough told me, “but what TRMPAC did, didn’t even come close to the line.” Asked if he thought the court would share his interpretation, he continued, “My case is going to turn on that [express advocacy], and I’m going to win because of it.”

As noted above, Scarborough thinks that unpublished opinion is inconsistent with the law. I suppose we’d have had a court decision over that interpretation well before now had that opinion seen the light of day back in 98. We’ll get one now, for what it’ll be worth.

Houston Press on Fort Bend Follies

The Houston Press (scroll down to “Benchwarmer”) takes note of the judicial bait and switch in Fort Bend. Nothing new there – “Hairballs” is not and was never intended to be a replacement for Tim Fleck – but at least it got mentioned in a newspaper with a citywide circulation. The Fort Bend Sun also reported the story. Not a peep from the Chron, of course.

Welcome to the minority

According to the state demographer, “non-Hispanic whites” are now officially a minority in the state of Texas.

Buried within a new Census Bureau report, “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States,” was an estimate that 49.5 percent of Texans in 2003 were “non-Hispanic whites.”

Texas State Demographer Steve Murdock said demographic trends had long shown that the milestone would inevitably be passed, just not quite so soon. “Recent projections suggested 2004 or 2005,” he said.

Anglos already made up far less than half of the population in Houston, Harris County and the Houston metro area.

The 2003 state population estimate showed Hispanics at 35.4 percent and blacks 11.4 percent. Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in Houston, by 40.1 percent to 29.2 percent Anglos, and have edged past blacks as the largest U.S. minority.

More here.

Estimates show Texas was 49.5 percent white in 2003, down 1.5 percentage points from 2002 but still a large plurality. Almost all the loss was made up by Hispanics, who made up about 35.3 percent of the populace.

“The future of Latinos is the future of Texas, as the population numbers show,” said Luis Figueroa, legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The black population remained basically flat at around 10.8 percent. Asian-Americans now accounted for about 3 percent of Texas.

The dip of whites below the 50 percent mark was inevitable, although its occurrence in 2003 was at the early end of the predicted scale, Murdock said.

“We thought it probably would happen this year or next, so it’s only a year different,” Murdock said. “It does indicate that Hispanic growth is occurring more rapidly than we anticipated it would.”

Murdock said Texas’ continued explosion in Hispanic growth, fueled largely by international immigration that made up 36 percent of the state’s growth from April 2000 to July 2003, helps explain the socio-economic numbers.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad news to go with this.

Most states did not report a significant change in income or poverty from 2001-02 to 2002-03, according to the Census Bureau. Not Texas, which had an estimated 3.8 percent decline in median household income to about $41,000 along with a 1 percent hike in the poverty rate.

The Census Bureau’s definition of poverty varies by the size of the household.

There was little change in the percentage of Texans without health insurance, which was basically flat at 24.7 percent. But with nearly a quarter of its residents uninsured, Texas still easily leads the nation in that unwanted statistic.

Figueroa pointed to a recent report that immigrant teens with sterling academic records are having trouble getting into college because of a lack of citizenship.

“If you keep putting up barriers to obtaining success, a lot of times the result is going to be a cycle of no insurance and lower incomes,” he said from his San Antonio office.

Not all the numbers paint such a grim socio-economic picture for Texas. The percentage of Texans at least 25 years old with a high school diploma grew slightly to 77.8 percent while those with college degrees was flat at 24.5 percent.

However, the rate of Texas adults who didn’t even make it to high school also rose slightly, to 10.8 percent.

There are charts with data in this story. Note the across-the-board decline in Median Household Income from 2000 to 2003. Any bets on how much attention that gets in the media?


Could Monday Night Football be in danger? It’s apparently a big money-loser for ABC, but their affiliates love it, and there are plenty of suitors out there if Big Mouse asks for a divorce. Read this LA Times article for the scoop. Via Tom Kirkendall.


Today Tiffany put away all of Olivia’s 0-3 month clothing, as she’s now officially too big for all of them. She’s somewhere north of 12 pounds as she nears turning 12 weeks old on Sunday, and she’s almost too long to bathe in the kitchen sink. She’s getting very close to turning herself over – if she could just figure out what to do with the arm that gets pinned underneath, she’d be there. She can already scoot around a bit on her back by pushing off with her legs. The deadline for babyproofing the house is bearing down on us.

Occasionally, Olivia helps me blog. Only thing is, she likes being in motion more than she likes sitting still, so I have to bounce on the chair (we have one of these, which at least makes it easy enough to accomodate her) to keep her from squirming. Let me tell you, your words-per-minute really takes a hit when you type while bouncing.

Tomstown update

The AusChron brings us some news in the TAB/TRM investigation/lawsuit front (which The Stakeholder has already commented on). The bottom line here is that all of these cases are stuck in molasses – the original lawsuit against TAB was filed three weeks after the 2002 election, for Pete’s sake – and I for one have no idea how much longer things will take.

To [Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People], the prolongation of the civil cases against TRMPAC and TAB, like the institutional feebleness of the Ethics Commission, has increasingly become a mockery of the law. “We’re entering another election cycle,” he points out, “and I hope the lesson is not: We might as well continue doing it [raising corporate cash] because we’re going to get away with it.”

Lewis is not the only one beginning to wonder whether and when the ongoing investigations of possible criminal violations by TRMPAC, TAB, Speaker Tom Craddick, the state GOP, and the various players leading back to DeLay – are going to bear fruit. Travis Co. Attorney David Escamilla just announced an indefinite delay in the misdemeanor investigation, apparently punting to the Lege itself (good luck). District Attorney Ronnie Earle – who some weeks ago declared the case to be about “corporate greed” – has shifted to more gnomic utterances: “We are searching for the truth, and the truth has no deadline.”

Reassuring, isn’t it? Read it and weep. If you’ve forgotten the details since the last update, you can read the original “Tomstown” story, this “Tomstown Suit Goes Forward” piece, and this piece about why the criminal investigation has dragged out. This Texas Observer story was the original catalyst for the criminal investigation.

99 aluminum bottles of beer on the wall

Beer technology marches ever forward.

PITTSBURGH – How much would you pay for a bottle of beer that stays cold nearly an hour longer?

Pittsburgh Brewing, maker of Iron City Beer, is asking an additional $1 per case.

The brewery has partnered with Alcoa to produce aluminum bottles that keep beer colder for as much as 50 minutes longer than a glass bottle, Alcoa officials said.

About 20,000 cases of the new aluminum bottle beer are en route to as many as 28 states and should be on shelves this week, Alcoa and Pittsburgh Brewing said Tuesday.

The bottles have three times the aluminum of a typical beer can. That gives them superior insulation, Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery said.

It’s not the first time Alcoa has teamed up with the local brewery to put out a new product. In 1962, the two put the first pull tab on beer cans.

“We think it’s much better than a can and as good or better than glass,” said Joe Piccirilli, vice chairman for Pittsburgh Brewing.

Iron City wants to expand sales. But the aluminum bottle may be more important to Alcoa. The aluminum giant wants to win back a share of the market it lost to beer bottles, both glass and the plastic ones now common at sporting events nationwide.

I certainly favor cold beer. The problem I have is that in my experience, beer doesn’t taste as good when it comes in a can. That may be a function of the kind of beer which has a can option, of course. And it goes without saying that putting beer in a plastic bottle is a crime against nature. In any event, I don’t see any aluminum bottles in my future.

Soechting wants Heflin investigated

State Democratic Party Chair Charles Soechting has requested an investigation of State Rep. Talmadge Heflin, whom Soechting said may have perjured himself during the recent custody fight.

In a letter to Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal on Wednesday, Charles Soechting cited discrepancies in state Rep. Talmadge Heflin’s account of the mother’s role while she and the child lived in his Houston home for more than a year.

During a court hearing last week, Heflin called Mariam Katamba a house guest, but she maintained she was employed as a maid by Heflin and his wife, Janice. Soechting alleges that Heflin also has referred to Katamba as an employee.

Heflin spokesman Craig Murphy denied the allegations.

“Representative Heflin has been consistent on this, and everyone who has seen (Katamba) has seen her as nothing but a guest,” Murphy said.

Rosenthal confirmed that he received the request and said he would look into the matter, as he would any such allegation, after a transcript of the court proceedings is complete.

He added that any investigation would wait until after the November election in which Heflin is seeking a new term.

“It has been a long-standing policy of this office not to influence the outcome of elections,” Rosenthal said.

I wonder what the deadline is for the DA’s office for a matter like this to be close enough to an election to affect it. June? March? The year before? Immediately after the last election? Just curious. Let’s all hope they take faster action on this than they did with the allegations against Texans for True Mobility.

Soechting’s press release is here. Somehow I managed to miss this Chron editorial from yesterday, which raises some familiar questions:

Heflin and his wife say their only motive was love for the 20-month-old child and concern for his welfare. However, they presented in court no corroborated evidence that the child’s parents were unfit. Heflin’s testimony was unpersuasive and based on notions of social superiority and noblesse oblige that went out of fashion a century ago.

Had Talmadge not been the powerful Republican chairman of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, residing in a county where Republicans dominate the courthouse, he probably would not have been able to get an associate judge and a judge of a family district court here to sign an order granting him temporary custody.

The representative’s lawyer asserted in court that Heflin deserves the child because the parents cannot afford health insurance, and because Medicaid patients have to wait for exams and treatment. A leader in the Legislature, Heflin was instrumental in cutting children’s eligibility for subsidized health insurance. Now he makes the grotesque claim that parents who can’t insure their children are unfit.

The case offers another incongruity: Heflin belongs to the party most frequently associated with law and order and opposition to illegal immigration. Yet Heflin admits he sheltered an immigrant who had overstayed her visa.

I certainly hope the editorial board doesn’t forget these words when it comes time to making an endorsement in this race.

Finally, the judges who were responsible for assigning temporary custody to the Heflins are named here.

The Heflins, who said they were worried about the child, sought an emergency order July 27 granting them temporary custody. Family District Judge Linda Motheral, who was presiding over the custody case, was out of town. Her associate judge, David D. Farr, reviewed the Heflins’ filings, including allegations of abuse.

Katamba, who is from Uganda, and Fidel Odimara Sr., who is from Nigeria, denied those allegations.

Farr approved the Heflins’ motion, and Family District Judge Frank Rynd signed an order. Farr could not sign it because he is an associate judge appointed by Motheral to assist her.

I would very much like it if someone were to ask Judge Farr and Judge Rynd what exactly they were thinking.


There were many reasons why Clayton Williams lost the 1990 Texas Governor’s race to Ann Richards despite the large lead he held in the polls through most of the campaign. The turning point for him was probably when he refused to shake hands with Richards before a televised debate. Williams, a political novice who’d ridden his personal fortune and a load of folksy charm to the Republican nomination and favored status in the general election, was perceived as boorish and rude for this stunt, and his poll numbers, already slipping due to a number of other gaffes, slid further downward.

I thought about that when I saw this picture of Max Cleland outside George Bush’s Presidential compound in Crawford. I think Kos‘ assessment is accurate.

So Bush ignores Cleland, and looks like a boorish classless ass by snubbing a war hero triple amputee. If Bush comes out and accepts the letter, he looks weak and outclassed.

The best course of action would’ve been to send a rep to invite Cleland, and only Cleland (no entourage or media) for a private meeting in the ranch. If Cleland declines, it is he who appears without class. If he accepts, Bush appears gracious, even with the opposition. Thankfully, Bush blew it.

I like Josh Marshall’s take on this, too.

On a related matter, check out this piece on Bob Dole (via TalkLeft).

City propositions on the ballot for November

There will be three city propositions on the ballot this November, two of which are intended to restrict how much the city can spend in a given year.

[Mayor Bill] White’s proposed charter amendment, Proposition 1, would limit annual increases in property tax revenue and water and sewer rates to the combined increases of population and inflation for Houston or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower.

Proposition 2 would cap annual increases on all city revenues to the combined increases of population and inflation for Houston. Even if council members had not agreed Wednesday to place this on the ballot, the city would have been required to do so because the group Let the People Vote collected more than 20,000 signatures for the initiative.

Under both proposals, exceptions to the caps can be made with voter approval. If both propositions get more than 50 percent approval from voters, the one with the most votes will become law because they propose conflicting policies.

White proposed his amendment Aug. 11 as an alternative to Proposition 2, saying the grass-roots initiative could force the city to cut basic services such as police and fire protection. White said Proposition 2 does not distinguish between general revenue funds and enterprise funds.

Enterprise funds — such as aviation, water and sewer, and hotel and rental car taxes — must by law be used in their respective areas. White maintains that under a revenue cap, any significant increases in enterprise funds would force the city to cut general revenue and thereby reduce basic services.

I plan on voting against both of these propositions, but if polling shows that they’re both going to pass, I’ll vote for Prop 1 since I think it’s not as bad as Prop 2. Prop 3 has to do with allowing the city comptroller to audit various city departments, offices, and programs, which seems innocuous enough on its face. I don’t know anything more about it at this time.

Toomey reportedly leaving Guv’s office

Mike Toomey, Rick Perry’s chief of staff, is set to leave soon, according to Dave McNeely.

Rumors continue to fly around the Capitol that are not about whether Mike Toomey will be leaving as Gov. Rick Perry’s chief of staff, but when. And who his replacement might be.

Toomey, an old buddy and ideological gyroscope for Perry during their days in the Texas House of Representatives, had been thought ready to leave in August. But then that got pushed back to September.

The latest version is that Toomey, who is credited with having huge influence over Perry, particularly on budget matters, will hang around until at least November to see if a special session might be in the offing.

When Toomey leaves, there is talk that his deputy, Deirdre Delisi, who ran Perry’s 2002 campaign, will move up. But it’s also thought that someone like former senator and representative Dan Shelley could come on board to handle dealings with the Legislature. Shelley is currently a lobbyist.

Toomey became Perry’s chief of staff after the 2002 election. The governor’s office is mum on whether or when Toomey might leave.

The presumption is that if and when he does, in the revolving-door Texas tradition between government and the private sector, Toomey will go back to his lucrative lobbying practice, perhaps picking back up some of the clients like the anti-plaintiff’s lawyer group Texans for Lawsuit Reform and others.

Toomey is to Perry as Rove is to Bush, at least according to a subscriber-only-online article in Texas Monthly a year or so ago. Toomey is credited with the push from the last legislative session to consolidate more power in the Governor’s office, and he’s supposedly quite the whip when it comes to enforcing party discipline.

Sarah speculates that Toomey’s departure could be related to one of the ongoing grand jury investigations, which include a peek at Toomey’s role in the 2002 elections when he was involved with TRM. That’s a logical connection to make, and I’m a bit surprised McNeely didn’t at least address it.

Another Enron plea

Anyone keeping count here? I’ve lost track.

Mark Koenig, the former head of Enron’s investor relations section, pleaded guilty this afternoon to a charge of aiding and abetting securities fraud and agreed to cooperate with the government.

U.S. Judge Ewing Werlein asked Koenig if he was “just shaving it” when he misrepresented the financial health of several Enron divisions to investors and analysts.

“I was making an untrue statement of material fact that was misleading investors,” said Koenig as he stood before the judge in a dark navy suit, flanked by his two Washington, D.C. lawyers.

Koenig, a 49-year-old Kingwood man who joined Enron in 1985, could be sentenced by Werlein to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. The sentencing date is set for February but will likely be postponed since Koenig will likely be a trial witness at least against ex-Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling.

Koenig’s plea papers noted that he several times heard Skilling misrepresent facts to analysts. He also mentions being prodded to answer questions falsely by Skilling. Skilling and ex-chief accountant Rick Causey are charged together an a wide-ranging indictment that also includes several charges against ex-Chairman Ken Lay. All three of those executives have pleaded not guilty.


Koenig admitted that he was aware that Enron’s publicly reported financial results and filings with the SEC did not truthfully present Enron’s financial position, results from operations, and cash flow of the company and omitted facts necessary to make the disclosures and statements truthful and not misleading.

He admitted that statements made by him and others relating to the performance of two of Enron’s core businesses, Enron Broadband Services and Enron Energy Services were false and misleading.

Because Koenig and his staff drafted earning releases and scripts for conference calls with analysts and he accompanied other executives when talking publicly about the stock, he could be an important witness for prosecutors.

Paula Rieker, who worked under Koenig, has already pleaded guilty to an insider trading charge and is cooperating with the Enron Task Force and is expected to be a witness is several trials.

Koenig was not indicted by the Enron grand jury, but rather prosecutors filed the charge independently. The charge accuses Koenig of involvement in concealing failures at the Enron Energy Services unit through a rigged reorganization. The charge said Koenig knew Skilling misrepresented this in a first quarter 2001 call to analysts.

The charge said Koenig himself misled analysts about the source on the Internet broadband division’s earnings in the same phone call.

And the beat goes on.

Took her long enough

And Comptroller Strayhorn piles on Governor Perry regarding the continued underfunding of CHIP.

In a letter addressed to the governor and in a speech at the Austin Hilton, Strayhorn accused him of shifting the cost of, rather than cutting altogether, kitchen staff at the Governor’s Mansion. And in a bit of political maneuvering, she linked the staffing costs with the Children’s Health Insurance Program, for which new state rules took effect Tuesday. She called the changes a “mean-spirited means test” which will “literally jeopardize the health of countless children of the working poor.”

“If you can magically manage to keep two maids, a cook and a porter on your staff at the Governor’s Mansion while claiming that they are not part of your budget, certainly you can figure out a way to continue insuring the health of these children,” she wrote.

“By shifting your personal Mansion staff and salaries of five other staffers to another agency, you claimed a $300,000 budget cut. Had that cut been real, the state could have used those dollars to draw down an additional $771,000 in federal money. This would have provided health insurance to an estimated 930 children for a year.” “Governor, your maids and cook and porter, I am certain, are vital to your quality of life,” she continued. “Please understand the insurance you are denying children with this new means test is vital to their life, period.”

“It’s hypocrisy,” she told reporters after a speech delivered Wednesday morning before the Texas Association for Home Care. “I guess the porter is still portering.”

I always thought porters ported, but if so, does that mean that butlers butle? It’s all very confusing.

With the nimble quickness of a charging bull, however, she narrowly avoided committing herself to the election.

“I am strongly delivering the message: It’s time to put children first,” she told reporters after her speech.

When she finally does announce her candidacy, what percentage of news stories do you think will refer to it as the “worst-kept secret in Austin”? I’m guessing at least half.

UPDATE: It’s a twofer! Strayhorn bashes Perry over toll roads!