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October, 2004:

Heflin and Vo bring it home

It’s coming down to the wire in the hot race for HD149.

“I’m everywhere I can be,” said Republican state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, who is facing a strong challenge from his Democratic opponent, Hubert Vo. “Monday will be a long night. Tuesday will be a really long night.”

Like other candidates in close races across the region, Heflin and Vo are putting in 12- to 14-hour days, attending fairs, knocking on doors, manning telephone banks and making media appearances in the last hours before Election Day. Both began their campaigning Saturday at 7 a.m.

Heflin, the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee is seeking his 12th term in Austin, but must first fend off a challenge from Vo in a race that many political experts expect to be close.

Their constituency, House District 149 in western Harris County, is remarkably diverse — 36 percent Anglo, 21 percent Hispanic, 20 percent black and 18 percent Asian.

Vo spent much of Saturday at his campaign headquarters, overseeing a group of 125 volunteers spreading over the district hanging flyers, putting up yard signs and handing out pamphlets. Vo also planned to spend a few hours on the phone, calling targeted voters and urging them to vote on Tuesday.

“We just want to make sure that we do everything to cover every corner,” Vo said. “It’s a very close race, and I’m very much happy with the way it’s going right now.”

Will the forecast record turnout carry Vo to victory, or will the rising tide lift all boats? Will Kerry do as well as I think he will in Harris County, and in doing so sweep in Vo and maybe Jim Dougherty as well? Tune in Tuesday to find out.

“Embattled”…I like the sound of that

I agree with Kos: Any article that calls Tom DeLay embattled is one that I will enjoy reading. One point of interest:

DeLay has represented his district since 1984 and is accustomed to rolling up big victories. He got 60 percent of the vote in 2000 and 63 percent two years ago.

He is expected to win again this year, but not as handily as in the past.

“I think at the end of the day, Tom DeLay will win. But his margin of victory will be much smaller than usual,” said St. Thomas University political scientist Jean-Philippe Faletta.

Based on some polls, there is a possibility DeLay could get less than 50 percent of the vote because the ballot also includes a strong independent candidate and a Libertarian.

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray believes DeLay is running hard because he fears a narrow win could weaken him in Congress.

“His constituency is the Republicans in Washington,” he said. “If they see him as being damaged here in Texas on top of other things — it would not be good for the Majority Leader to just get a plurality win in his home district.”

If Tom DeLay underperforms George Bush in his district by a significant amount, say by ten percentage points, then I do think his authority will be weakened. Not a lot, since there’s still too many House Republicans who owe him, but I think the national media will pick up on the “DeLay is wounded” story line. Whether that actually leads to a decline in discipline among the GOP caucus is debatable – I’ll lean towards “not much, if at all” – but I think it might have an effect on his ability to raise funds for all of his puppets, and once DeLay’s moneymaking ability is sufficiently curtailed, then he’s toast.


Poll: Texas Democrats feel ready for comeback

They haven’t held statewide office since 1998. They lost control of the state Legislature in 2002. And last year many of them got drawn into congressional districts where it will be almost impossible for them to elect one of their own to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But a Houston Chronicle poll suggests Texas Democrats aren’t counting themselves out, and analysts say Republicans shouldn’t either.

“They still think they can be influential in Texas politics, even though they got killed,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, who analyzed the poll for the Chronicle.

The Zogby International poll of 800 Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery county residents shows that about 40 percent identify themselves as Democrats, and 90 percent of those say they follow politics very closely or somewhat closely — about the same percentage of attention described by Republicans.

Even though many more of them will be represented by Republicans when the next Congress convenes in January, area Democrats remain about as confident as Republicans that they can have some influence on government.

Thirty-four percent of Democrats and 35 percent of Republicans believe they are able to influence the decisions of government a lot. A slightly higher percentage in both parties believe they have at least a little influence.

And the Democrats would like to initiate a turnaround: almost 80 percent of them say the country is heading in the wrong direction, while about that percentage of Republicans say it’s heading in the right direction.

Stein says Democratic fortunes in Texas may be changing. Hispanics and blacks, historically Democratic constituencies, were almost as likely to say they intended to vote as whites, the poll showed. In the past, they have voted in lower numbers than whites, and still might. That won’t be known until Tuesday’s vote is counted and analyzed.

But Stein said their increased interest has helped stoke Democratic enthusiasm.

“Rank-and-file Democrats know that there is something coming; they can sense it,” he said.


Stein said the Democrats’ continuing belief that they can influence government suggests that rather than being demoralized, Democrats are more engaged and more likely to vote.

Gerry Birnberg, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, agrees with the conclusion but not necessarily the premise.

“It’s not quite, in my view, that they believe they can effect change as it is that they want to send a message that they are pissed,” he said. “There is a passion, anger and emotional involvement.”

If the party does “well enough” in 2004, by, for example, electing a couple of Democrats to Harris County district judge positions — or at least decreasing the margins by which Republicans win — then Birnberg believes the table is set for a resurgence in 2006.

“It’s not so much based on demographics as it’s based on our ability to recruit candidates and raise money,” he said.

What this poll didn’t ask is a question about whether one’s vote in the Presidential election really matters. Everyone knows that Bush will carry Texas as he did in 2000. The difference, from where I sit, is that this year Democrats are eager to cast their vote for their candidate. They want to send a message. In 2000, the overwhelming opinion was “who cares, it doesn’t matter”. That’s why Ralph Nader rang up 10% in Travis County; one could say there was a different message being sent. There’s actual excitement here, which I haven’t seen in a long time.

One measure of this, I believe, will be how John Kerry does in the strongest Republican counties. As noted yesterday, some of those counties have had extremely strong turnout so far. If Kerry does better in the Dentons and Collins than Gore did in 2000, I believe it’s because Democrats everywhere are energized, even in places where there’s little reason for them to bother. I could be wrong about this, of course, but I’ll be very interested to see how those numbers end up.

UPDATE: This is what I’m talking about.

As a self-described liberal living in the conservative bastion of The Woodlands, Ann Horst knows her vote is unlikely to have much influence on the presidential, congressional and legislative races in her area. But she’s voting anyway, she says, because that’s one sure way to make herself heard.

“To me, it’s never a waste of time to vote,” Horst said. “Voting is crucial. Whether it’s going to make a difference in Texas, no. But I need to have my vote out there.”


Bryan Webber of Spring is one of those voters. A 21-year-old first-time voter, Webber said he looks forward to casting his ballot for Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee. Like Horst, Webber knows that his vote is unlikely to shift Texas away from Bush, but he said he feels compelled to vote anyway.

“I don’t really necessarily agree with the Electoral College because … it does send a message that my vote doesn’t really count,” Webber said. “I think they should do it by the popular vote anyway. But I still feel like it’s really a privilege to be able to vote. It’s something that you believe in.”

There are balancing quotes in the article from Republicans who feel the same way. My point is that I think you’d have had no problems getting those quotes from Republicans around here four years ago as well, but not from Democrats. That’s the difference.

The sidebar on the poll, which is apparently in the dead-tree version of the Chron only, shows Bush leading Kerry in Harris County by a 51-44 margin, with 1% going to Badnarik and 4% undecided. I stand by what I said before about the margins in the big urban counties. Remember, Bush got better than 54% in Harris County in 2000 while Gore by himself got a bit more than 43%. The poll also indicated that Kerry led by wide margins among 18-24 year olds, and 25-34 year olds. That’s the best thing I’ve read all week.


Burnt Orange, Greg Wythe, and George Strong all have some Election Day predictions. I’m not going to go there, for the simple reason that it’s never a good idea to bet with your heart and not your head. Anything I wrote down here would be a reflection of what I’m hoping for, not what I really and objectively think will happen. Since you already more or less know what I want to happen, I won’t bother repeating myself.

That said, there are a few things that I’ll go out on a limb for:

1. The race that I think will surprise everyone is CD07. I’m not saying that John Martinez is going to win, or even come particularly close, because he won’t. What I do think, though, is that he’ll outperform the Democratic index of the district, which is 30% according to the Populations and Elections report for PlanC01374 (go here, click on PlanC01374, then click the Population and Elections button to see the report in PDF format). I’m basing this on the large number of Martinez signs that I see in the parts of CD07 I tend to frequent, which is to say Montrose and the Rice/Medical Center areas. For a candidate with no funds, no media coverage, and no name recognition, there are a lot of signs touting his campaign. I think the people in this part of the district, who used to be in CD18 and CD25, will vote heavily for him, and that by doing so, he’ll get somewhere between 35 and 40% of the total vote. This is as much wishful thinking as anything else I could write here, since I want very much for a good result by Martinez to spur a bigger and better candidate into challenging John Culberson in 2006, but I’ll go on the record with it anyway.

2. I believe at least one Harris County Democrat will win a countywide race. I’m not sure who it will be – maybe Reggie McKamie, maybe Kathy Stone, maybe Bruce Mosier – but I think at least one of them will. This will hopefully prod more Democrats to challenge Republican judicial incumbents in 2006.

3. Travis County will go for Kerry by a wide margin, something like 57-42. (In 2000, Gore+Nader was about 52%, with Bush getting just under 47%.) I believe there will be no more than a four point difference between Bush and Kerry in all three of Harris, Dallas, and Bexar Counties, and I believe Kerry will carry at least one of them by a smidgen. (This is not such a big stretch. The 2000 totals: In Bexar, Bush 52.24%, Gore+Nader 47.23%; in Dallas, Bush 52.58%, Gore+Nader 46.80%; in Harris, Bush 54.28%, Gore+Nader 45.25%.) I believe Kerry will get at least 42% of the vote statewide (2000 total: Bush 59.39%, Gore+Nader 40.13%).

Feel free to make whatever predictions you want to make here.

Early voting ends

Thursday was the fourth straight day in Harris County that the number of people voting early exceeded the day before. Over 54,000 ballots were cast here on the penultimate day, bringing turnout to nearly 19%. We’re still pikers compared to Travis County, though. According to Karl-T, who has final totals, Travis County saw over 217,000 votes cast in the twelve-day period, which represents 37% turnout, all before Election Day itself. To put that into some perspective, total turnout in Travis County for the 2002 elections, which included the Governor’s race and a hotly contested Senate race, was just under 40%. Karl-T thinks that in the end, over 70% of registered voters will turn out there. Given the generally Democratic tilt of the capital county (Ron Kirk had 55% in 2002, John Sharr and Kirk Watson over 58% each; even Tony Sanchez carried Travis, if only by 200 votes), that’s got to be good news for Patrick Rose, Kelly White, and Mark Strama.

UPDATE: Final totals are in. An amazing 67,000 people voted in Harris County yesterday, bringing the total vote to over 436,000 and turnout to over 22%. Even more amazingly, that 22% represented the low water mark for the Top 15 counties, where the overall turnout was 29.66%. Sixty percent turnout now would not surprise me.

Before anyone gets too giddy about that, note what Greg says.

CW is that higher turnout helps Dems. I’ll buy that … but only up to a point, and an unknown point at that. Just a formative bit of speculation here, but I think that once you see one side driven to get out to the polls, that starts to seep over to the other side. Higher turnout may help Dems given the current calculus. But hyper-higher turnout, I argue, tends to make the new voters look more and more like everyone else. We shall see soon enough, I suppose.

Consider the top five of the Big 15:

County Reg Voters Voters Percent =================================================== Collin 369,412 153,566 41.57% Williamson 200,344 77,142 38.50% Travis 584,949 217,428 37.17% Denton 321,700 116,632 36.25% Galveston 185,911 64,714 34.81%

Collin, Williamson, and Denton are three of the most Republican counties in Texas (Bush 2000 numbers: Collin 73.06%, Williamson 67.79%, Denton 69.60%). Galveston is more of a swing county (Bush 2000: 54.20%), though it still leans Republican (top Dem showing in 2002: John Sharp with 48.32%; Nick Lampson carried it with 54.21%, which may bode well for Richard Morrison). My point is, Democrats are not the only ones getting out the vote.

Embarrassing music

Pete and Ginger hash out this article on bad cover songs. I’ve never heard any of them, so I just have two comments. One, I’m not as reflexively anti-“Danny Boy” as Ginger is, so I have to agree with Pete. Johnny Cash is exactly the kind of artist you want covering that old standard, since he’ll resist the urge to get all puffy and faux-emotional, which is what causes most normal people to grind their teeth when they hear it.

Secondly, this is enough to make me question the wisdom of the whole endeavor:

9. Candy Flip ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’

Ric Peet and Danny Spencer believed that one of the most sublime pieces of music ever made could be improved by a semi-simian scally whining over a cheap cymbal-and-snare racket.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” is on my short list of Worst Beatles Songs Ever, so the author of this article and I are clearly coming at the concept with differing ideas of what constitutes racket. The Asylum Street Spankers‘ parody of “Strawberry”, in the epilogue to their hilarious “Whatever”, almost justifies the existence of this song. Almost. On the other hand, I suppose since I dislike the original so much, it makes sense that the cover sucks, too. So it probably belongs.

I have to say, though, I can’t believe anyone could come up with a list of worst covers and not at least mention Michael Bolton, who could generate a Ten Worst list all by himself. Someone explain this one to me, please.

Elsewhere in the Embarrassing Music files, John Nova Lomax gets a bunch of hip musicians to confess to their dark, guilty musical pleasures. Personally, it’s hard for me to identify the music that I like that I ought to be ashamed of because I’m not actually ashamed of any of it. I’ll freely admit that I own every Billy Joel album ever made (in one format or another), even if admitting it risks getting me delinked by Norbizness. I’m nowhere near Pete’s level of expertise, but I had a fondness for hair metal back in the day – really, what self-respecting child of the 80s didn’t have a soft spot for Ratt or Twisted Sister? – and I still regret that I never stole my former roommate Stephen’s copy of the Chess soundtrack. And I don’t feel the least bit guilty about any of it.

Now that I’ve admitted my fondness for Tim Rice, I’ll note with some pleasure how many of Lomax’s artists also share a taste for musicals.

Zamora, Julie. (Singer in the band Modulator.) Atop Zamora’s list is the Xanadu soundtrack. “Olivia Newton-John and ELO make this one my favorite guilty pleasure. She must have been ‘Magic,’ or at least used helium to hit those high notes.” Still on the ONJ tip, Grease is another of Zamora’s faves. “I’m glad you asked: Why, yes, I am an Olivia Newton-John fan. ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ tells the sad story of my life, while ‘Greased Lightnin” makes me want to pimp my ride.” Zamora also likes to mine ABBA‘s Gold (“Swedish melodrama rules!”) and trip the light fantastic to The Bee Gees Greatest Hits. “I had a huge crush on Barry Gibb — it must have been that high, effeminate voice juxtaposed with all of that facial hair. ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ makes me want to get into a fight just so we can make up.” And finally, there’s The Sound of Music. “What can I say? I was named after Julie Andrews. I absolutely love singing the title track (especially the high, lilting backing vocals) whilst twirling about in my apartment. Anytime I’m feeling down, I listen to this gem and go to that calm, happy place where everyone sings in harmony, is Austrian and is built like body builders.”

I’m right there with you, Julie, though maybe without the twirling. My buddy Syd once joked about forming a group called Straight Guys Who Like Show Tunes. I’d sign up as a charter member. You may begin mocking me at your convenience.

Lou and Leon

There are a number of good articles in the AusChron this last week before the election. I highlighted some others in this Congress post, but there are two others you should catch. This one is about Crawforf and Leon Smith, the publishers of the Iconoclast, which has had some hard times since it endorsed John Kerry. There’s also this interview with Lou Dubose, coauthor of “The Hammer”, the book about Tom DeLay’s rise and (one hopes, anyway) eventual fall. Check them out.

“The Candy Man”, 30 years later

Thirty years ago this Halloween, a man living in the Houston suburb of Deer Park murdered his 8-year-old son by spiking a package of Pixy Stix with cyanide. Halloween has never been the same since.

Timothy O’Bryan’s name may have faded from popular memory, but 30 years ago this Sunday his death shocked the country and earned the culprit the nickname “The Man Who Killed Halloween.”

The 8-year-old Deer Park boy died Oct. 31, 1974, after eating trick-or-treat candy laced with cyanide. Within days, his father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, stood accused of staging the crime as part of a life insurance scheme.

With his wife testifying for the prosecution, O’Bryan was convicted and sentenced to death. Dubbed the “Candy Man” by fellow prisoners, he was executed by lethal injection in 1984.


The decades-old idea that depraved strangers are targeting children with tainted Halloween candy, however, is more fiction than fact, says a sociologist who has studied the phenomenon for 20 years. University of Delaware Professor Joel Best said he has yet to find a case in which a stranger deliberately poisoned trick-or-treaters.

“This is a contemporary legend that speaks to our anxiety about kids,” Best said. “Most of us don’t believe in ghosts and goblins anymore, but we believe in criminals.”

Thirty years ago, after Timothy’s death, the idea of a madman poisoning children with Halloween candy was all too real.

“We were all shocked that someone would kill their own son, their own flesh and blood, for a lousy … $40,000 life insurance policy,” said former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Mike Hinton, who prosecuted the case.

O’Bryan apparently was willing to go further, passing the poisoned Pixy Stix to at least four other children, including his 5-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. Miraculously, officers were able to retrieve the remaining tampered candy before any other children ingested it.

An 11-year-old boy who was given one of the tainted Pixy Stix was found asleep in bed later than night, cradling the tube of poisoned candy in his arms. He had been unable to pry out the staples O’Bryan had used to reseal the plastic container.

“He didn’t have enough strength to get it open,” Hinton said. “It just sends shivers down your spine.”


The O’Bryan family had spent Halloween 1974 at a friend’s home in Pasadena, where Ronald O’Bryan volunteered to escort the children on their candy-collecting rounds.

He later told police that someone at a darkened home, who only opened the door a crack, had handed him five Pixy Stix — oversized plastic tubes filled with candy powder — for the children in his group.

It was crucial to O’Bryan’s plan, detectives said, that only his son eat the tainted treats. Back at the friend’s house, investigators said, O’Bryan leaped over a coffee table to prevent his friend’s 8-year-old son from eating one of the candies.

After returning to their home in Deer Park, O’Bryan told Timothy he could choose a single piece of candy before bedtime. Prosecutors said he urged his son to try the Pixy Stix.

The boy gulped down a mouthful of the powder, then went to bed after complaining that it tasted bitter. Minutes later, Timothy ran to the bathroom and began vomiting, police said. By the time he got to the hospital, he was dead.


A few days after Timothy was buried, an insurance agent had called police to report that, unknown to his wife, O’Bryan had taken out policies on his two children shortly before Halloween.

Detectives also learned that O’Bryan, deep in debt, had been boasting to co-workers at Texas State Optical that his financial health soon would undergo a remarkable recovery.

O’Bryan also quizzed one of his customers, a chemist, about poisons. He seemed particularly curious about potassium cyanide and asked where it could be purchased, the customer told police.

Investigators later scoured the family home, where they found O’Bryan’s pocketknife with traces of plastic and powdered candy stuck to the blade.

The jury took about an hour to convict O’Bryan and only slightly longer to hand down the death sentence.

Despite his findings, even professor Best admits he was not immune to trick-or-treat fears, though he said he made it a point not to closely examine his own kids’ candy hauls.

“I had too much pride in my research,” he said. “But I think my wife checked them.”

Tiffany has told me that she and her sister weren’t allowed to go Trick or Treating for years after that. Thankfully, the tradition has bounced back in Houston, at least if the hordes that show up in my neighborhood are any indication. For what it’s worth, we were never really affected by this in New York. Oh, we threw out anything that wasn’t wrapped in original packaging, but that was as far as my family’s paranoia ever went. notes other incidents that have kept the Halloween hysteria alive. I say be careful, but have fun anyway.

How long are those lines again?

Tiffany arrived at the West Grey Multipurpose Center around 9:30 to vote, but left after being told it was a 3 hour wait. Rob was already in line then; he comments here that he got there at 8:30 and it took him about an hour and 20 minutes. Tiffany wound up going to the Moody Park Rec Center on Fulton Street (map here), and reports that there was parking available and modest lines. Those of you in Montrose, Neartown, and the Heights who still haven’t voted but want to today should take note.

So how are those Congressional races going?

The Christian Science Monitor sees some surprises in the works for the Congressional elections, even in Texas.

On the House side, the conventional wisdom is that a turnover is out of reach for Democrats.

Still, the past couple of weeks have seen some surprises. One is the political resilience of Democrats in Texas, who had been expected to lose five seats due to redistricting by the Republican-controlled legislature. Instead, well-funded campaigns have brought Democratic Reps. Chet Edwards, Max Sandlin, and Nick Lampson within range.

Even Reps. Martin Frost and Charles Stenholm, senior Democrats viewed as hopelessly out of sync with the political landscape of their new districts, are running strong campaigns. “It will be very hard for Frost and Stenholm to win, but don’t count them out,” says James Thurber, a political scientist at American University in Washington.

The late-breaking ethical woes of House majority leader Tom DeLay, who engineered the Texas redistricting from Washington, is adding to the intensity of these races, and could help voter turnout for Democrats. The 10-term lawmaker was cautioned by the House ethics committee three times this month, and last week was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury looking into illegal corporate contributions in Texas.

In addition, National Democrats are trying to use DeLay’s ethical troubles to bash moderate Republicans, such as Connecticut Reps. Robert Simmons and Christopher Shays, who is counting on strong ties to constituents to pull him through an unexpectedly tight race.


“Turnout is the wild card in this election. I expect it’s going to be up substantially, which could be helpful to Democrats like Chet Edwards and Martin Frost in Texas,” says Eric Uslaner, a political scientist at the University of Maryland in College Park.

“Still, if I were a Democrat in Texas, I’d run for cover,” he adds. “Aside from a few places, I can’t see increased registration enough to overturn Tom DeLay’s artful handiwork.”

I haven’t seen any polling on the Lampson-Poe race (just a lot of those awful attack ads the NRCC is running on Poe’s behalf), so that’s encouraging. Early turnout has been pretty good in Jefferson County, where Lampson will need to run strong. Via the Max Sandlin campaign blog.

The Washington Times (believe it or not) echoes a similar theme:

In District 1, four-term incumbent Mr. Sandlin is leading in several polls against Republican Louie Gohmert of Tyler.

Mr. Sandlin is running as an independent and not as a Kerry-Edwards Democrat.

Mr. Gohmert, a former district and state appeals judge, is expected to carry Smith County (Tyler) handily, but Mr. Sandlin’s support in the rural areas is formidable.

In the District 11 race, Waco Democrat Mr. Edwards, appears to be leading his Republican opponent, Arlene Wohlgemuth despite her attempts to portray him as an archliberal.

Mrs. Wohlgemuth, a state representative who worked with Mr. Bush when he was governor to pass the state’s largest tax cut, has aligned herself with the president on all issues.

In Beaumont, four-term Democrat Lampson, faces a high-profile opponent in former district judge Ted Poe from Houston in the reconstructed District 2.

Mr. Lampson’s strong point is Jefferson County, which includes the city of Beaumont, where voters know him from previous campaigns. But a large chunk of conservative voters in north Houston and suburban towns to the city’s north and northeast are strong Poe supporters.

Mr. Poe, a prosecutor before becoming a judge in Houston, chose to enter the congressional fray despite some influential Republicans urging that he seek a higher court post.

“I think a lot here depends on whether or not Mr. Poe is swept in by a huge Bush turnout. I don’t think he can win it on his own,” Mr. Jillson said.

Of course, they also suggest that Becky Klein is running a close race against Lloyd Doggett, so take it all with a grain of salt. This is a very silly quote:

Many political observers say Mr. Doggett can’t win because he is too liberal for the new district and because the constituency is 68 percent Hispanic.

They were saying that before the primary, when Doggett went up against Judge Leticia Hinojosa of Corpus Christi. Doggett won with over 64%, including a majority in Hinojosa’s Hidalgo County, and pulled over 40,000 votes to Klein’s 3679 in the Republican primary. This is a 70% Democrat district, and it’s not on anyone’s radar. Via Byron.

Via Lasso comes this rundown from CD17.

On paper, the largely rural district looks like a Republican paradise. In the 2002 elections, GOP candidates statewide trounced Democrats in the district by an average of nearly 2-1. And some observers predict that President Bush, whose ranch near Crawford and his father’s presidential library at Texas A&M are in the district, could carry up to 70 percent of the district in his own re-election bid on Tuesday.

But Edwards, who spent nine years in the Texas Senate before going to Congress after the 1990 elections, is considered the Democrat most likely to survive last year’s congressional redistricting effort designed to bring as many as seven new Texas Republicans to Washington.

Even though almost two-thirds of the district contains areas that were not part of Edwards’ old domain, the Democrat did manage to hold on to his power base in McLennan County.

Wohlgemuth, meanwhile, is hoping to undermine that strength in the new district’s northern reaches. She hopes to capitalize on her close ties to the Republican president, sporting yard signs carrying the message “Bush-Cheney-Wohlgemuth.” She’s an outspoken opponent of abortion and an unapologetic critic of government spending who carried last year’s legislation that pared back the social service rolls by hundreds of thousands of Texans.


Thomas Myers, a political science professor at Baylor University, said most voters in the Waco area, which is the largest population center in the district, have grown accustomed to siding with Edwards even though they’ll pick the Republican in races for governor, U.S. senator and president.

“Maybe it’s civic pride, but they want their congressman to have Waco after his name, Republican or Democrat,” Myers said.

Edwards drew about 56 percent of the McLennan County vote in 2002 against Temple businessman Ramsey Farley, but many observers say he’ll need a larger margin to prevail in the new district. But Wohlgemuth may have helped him last year when she sided with area dairy farmers over a drinking-water quality issue involving Lake Waco.

Wolhgemuth and the farmers opposed tougher pollution standards, angering many McLennan County residents.

“On that issue, I guess you could say that water is thicker than blood,” Myers said.

With Wohlgemuth running strong on her home turf and Edwards secure in his base, the race may come down to the Aggie vote, said Harvey Tucker, a Texas A&M political science professor.

“Chet Edwards has to get the message through that ‘I am an Aggie, I am an Aggie,”‘ Tucker said. “Arlene just has to see how many times she can say George Bush’s name in the same sentence.”

As noted before, the campaigns of the GOP challengers to the endangered Democrats can basically be summed up as “Vote for me, and I’ll do whatever George Bush (well, Tom DeLay, anyway) tells me to do”. I guess it’s never occurred to the candidates or the voters they’re pitching to that Bush might, you know, lose. Byron has a race prediction thread going if you’re interested.

Via The Stakeholder, the AusChron looks at the huge early turnout in Travis County and sees good news for Democrats, bad news for Tom DeLay. They’re even a bit optimistic about the CD10, CD21, and CD31 races, which I’m sad to say is some irrational exuberance. I’d read these numbers as a much better omen for the HD48 and HD50 races, but we’ll see. They also handicap the major Congressional battles, including the one in CD22.

In case you’ve been wondering, this is what Chris Bell will be doing in the near future. I’m more than a little giddy to see that “Powered by Movable Type” disclaimer near the bottom. Here’s an AP story on his new PAC.

Mike Fjetland gets himself a little press.

Fjetland said that 40 percent of the Republicans who voted in the District 22 primary voted for Bush but not DeLay, who was unchallenged. The Daily News could not confirm that figure Monday night.

“They filled in the circle for Bush, but they didn’t fill in the circle for DeLay,” said Fjetland who challenged DeLay in the 2002 Republican primary.

“Could not confirm that figure”?? Um, do the yokels at the Galveston Daily News not know that all election returns since 1992 are available on the Secretary of State’s webpage? Here’s what Fjetland is referring to:

President/Vice-President George W. Bush REP 12,311 92.30% U. S. Representative District 22 Tom DeLay REP 8,352 100.00%

That’s from the 2004 GOP Primary returns in Fort Bend County. That took me all of 30 seconds, and I don’t have a research department. Geez Louise.

“A lot of people feel embarrassed by DeLay,” Fjetland said, pointing to last year’s turmoil over redistricting and the majority leader’s ongoing ethics imbroglio as reasons why. “They were just unhappy about the extremism by DeLay.”

Fjetland argues, however, that many of those same Republicans could never bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. That’s where he comes in.

“The key to this district is the moderate Republicans,” he said.


Even though he is running against one of the most powerful men in the county — as well as a Democratic challenger who is making a serious bid of his own — Fjetland insists he has a chance.

“I think it’s possible for me to pull out a plurality,” he said.

I don’t think it is, but I’ve come to the conclusion (which I admit may simply be wishful thinking) that a vote for Fjetland is a vote that DeLay would have gotten otherwise, so it’s fine by me if he exceeds expectations. You can read my interview with Fjetland here.

One more thing, from Fjetland’s email:

And don’t forget to see “Candidates Straight Talk” featuring the top three contenders for District 22 – DeLay, R. Morrison and Fjetland, Sunday, October 31 at 4 p.m. on KPRC, Channel 2.

Set your TiVos accordingly.

DeLay himself continues to be active. The article is mostly on the spate of negative ads DeLay has run, but we’ll look at what Rice University political scientist Bob Stein has to say.

“Tom DeLay will get re-elected. I don’t think there is too much of a doubt about that. The only question is how much does he win by.”

Stein said the 22nd District has been Republican for years but noted that growth trends and redistricting indicate it may begin to swing back to the Democratic camp.

Stein said if DeLay’s ballot total falls below 60 percent the result could encourage Democrats in 2006.

He said a candidate who has held elected office before and is adept at raising money might enter the 2006 race if DeLay’s election numbers fall off.

DeLay won with 63 percent of the vote two years ago and 60 percent in 2000.

Campaign finance reports show that as of Sept. 30, DeLay had spent $1.4 million compared to $417,000 for Morrison.

[Fort Bend County GOP Chair Eric] Thode said DeLay is running a bigger campaign this year because 30 percent of the district’s residents have never been represented by him before.

“So they don’t know him. So there is always a fear the other side is going to try and define you in a negative way,” he said.

We’ll see how accurate Stein’s prediction is. As for Thode, it sure took DeLay long enough to start “introducing” himself to all those new voters, didn’t it? Would he have bothered to do so if he weren’t being challenged? I wouldn’t be so sure.

Finally, Chris notes that Bev Carter, who thoroughly excoriated Tom DeLay in her last column, has endorsed Richard Morrison in this week’s column (which Chris reprinted in full as it is oddly not available online yet). Bev’s a GOP precinct chair, and I’m certainly sympathetic to the idea that a party’s precinct chairs should support that party’s candidates – Lord knows I’d be pissed at any Fort Bend Democratic precinct chairs who endorsed Tom DeLay. I know nothing about her, so I don’t know if she’s more of a Betsy Lake-style Republican, someone who’s worried that DeLay’s unbridled sleaze will eventually bring ruin to her party, or just an attention-seeker. Maybe she’s taken the old saying that “sometimes party loyalty asks too much” to heart, I don’t know. I do know you should read what Bev has to say, and then go read Juanita, who (I think we can all agree) is nobody’s idea of a Republican of any stripe.

Last day of early voting

This is it – it’s either today or Tuesday. Expect long lines and be patient. Forty-nine thousand people voted in Harris County on Wednesday, the third straight day this week that the already-heavy turnout has increased. Tiffany will be heading out to cast her ballots soon. I’ll report back on what she sees.

Even the libertarian Jim Henley

Has there been an upswing in rivers running uphill lately that no one has told me about? Jim Henley has endorsed John Kerry for President. OK, so it’s not much more enthusiastic than the Denver Post endorsement of Bush was, but hey. He’s a libertarian. It comes with the territory. And I’m sure he won’t get 700 angry letters criticizing him for it.

Radio ratings

Well, so much for taking Houston’s airways by storm.

Syndicated shock jock Howard Stern’s much-bally-hooed debut in the Houston market hasn’t captured listeners. Ratings for Stern’s show, which debuted on KIKK-AM (650) in late July, were so minuscule they didn’t show up in the Arbitron rankings.

Laura Morris, general manager of Infinity Radio’s four Houston stations, including KIKK-AM, predicts it will take another couple of ratings periods before Stern shows up in the ratings.

“People are still discovering that Howard is even on the air in Houston,” she said.

Ratings for Stern’s show are hampered by the fact that KIKK is a low-wattage AM station that barely registered in the ratings under its previous business-news format.

I can testify to the low-wattageness of AM 650. I listened to the Stern show for a few weeks, the all of a sudden my radio couldn’t pick up the signal any more. I got nothing but static. It’s got to be hard to get ratings when you’re broadcasting with less power than a bullhorn.

Maybe Stern’s rating will improve in the next cycle – he’s been on the air three months all together – but it seems to me that Infinity blew a lot of free publicity by not boosting KIKK’s signal strength. Why bother bringing Howard Stern to Houston if no one can hear him?

Off to the jury in first Enron trial

The prosecution and the defense have had their final say in the Enron “Nigerian Barge” trial, which actually has some former Merrill Lynch employees in the dock. A quick reminder of what’s at stake:

Two former Enron employees and four former Merrill Lynch bankers are accused of conspiring to fake a sale of the barges so Enron could meet profit goals that generated bonuses for Enron executives. The defendants say there was no secret guarantee that someone would buy back the barges from Merrill within six months at a locked-in profit.

The case is being watched on two fronts.

“It’s important because it’s the beginning of the end of the prosecutions in a way. People have been waiting a long time to see someone at Enron tried,” said Philip Hilder, a Houston lawyer who represents several Enron case witnesses.

Though the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force obtained a successful conviction of Enron accounting firm Arthur Andersen for obstruction of justice in 2002, this case is the first to focus on a side deal like the ones that are the basis of the bigger cases against Enron’s former chief executive officer, Jeff Skilling, and its former chairman, Ken Lay.

Hilder noted this case is also significant to Wall Street because bankers are on trial and “it puts some business practices under the microscope that may have been accepted elsewhere. People will now be cautioned about stepping over the line.”

If the prosecution wins, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more plea bargains result. If the defendants win, I’ll bet that Andy Fastow kicks himself for pleading out so quickly. Stay tuned.

Early voting much heavier in Harris County this week

If you haven’t voted early yet in Harris County, prepare for a wait. It’s much heavier this week than last.

People are lining up to vote early in record numbers throughout Harris County, reinforcing predictions of a high turnout by the time voting is over on Election Day.

On Tuesday, with three days of early voting left, Harris County surpassed its total early vote for 2000, as the total for this year hit 240,846.

County Clerk Beverly Kaufman said she expects that 400,000 people will vote in person by the end of early voting Friday. Another 50,000 are expected to send mail-in ballots.

She predicts in-person early voting will be about a third of the total vote, as it has been in recent elections.

That would bring the total turnout out to 1.2 million of the record 1.9 million registered voters in Harris County, Kaufman projects, a turnout of more than 60 percent.

If you look at the early voting numbers so far, you’ll see that Harris County had between 20,000 and 22,000 people per day in the first Monday-Friday period, and so far this week it’s seen 42,000 and 46,000 people show up. The Multipurpose Center on West Gray is especially busy.

All during the week of October 18, early voting at the West Gray Multi-Service Center has been a frustrating mess for people hoping to dash in and quickly take care of their civic duty.

“It’s been one of our busiest sites,” says David Beirne, spokesman for the Harris County Clerk’s Office. The pace of early voting is double that of 2000, he says.

“There were waits of 45 minutes the first two days, and you don’t usually see that until the last two days,” he says.

More from the Chron story:

At the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, one of the most popular early voting sites in Houston, more than 100 voters an hour cast ballots.

“It’s been that way every day since we’ve started. It hasn’t ceased,” said Lee Parsley, the supervisor of the polling place. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen lines at 4:30 p.m. That’s unprecedented for us at this location.”

He estimates that the site has processed as many as 2,000 voters a day.

Depending on the time of day, the wait can be anywhere from 15 minutes to more than an hour. During the lunch hour Wednesday, early voters stood in line for about 45 minutes before they made it to the voting machine.

Pick your place and time carefully, and bring a book for the queue. If you wait until Election Day, you must go to your designated polling location. All such locations for Harris County are here – you can find what precinct you’re in here or here. Nationally, you can find that information here or by calling 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

Blogging, catblogging, and problogging

Nice article in the Press about Houston’s own Matt Mullenweg, creator of blog software WordPress. Two comments: One, if you read through the whole thing, you’ll note that I got mentioned in there. The reporter contacted me about this story in late August or so. She told me the article was due out on September 23. When that turned out to be the Best Of Houston issue, in which I got the Best Local Blog award, I thought maybe it had been a ruse of some kind. I guess the publication just got delayed. Whatever the case, it’s a nice piece, and Matt deserves the attention.

Comment number two:

It’s unlikely that WordPress will ever charge users. For one thing, since the coding is available, someone else could just distribute it for free. That’s the biggest reason for the explosion of users in the past several months. Several months ago, a competing (non-open-source) software, Movable Type, suddenly announced it would be charging its most active users. The Web exploded with posts about its developers, San Francisco-based Ben and Mena Trott, “sucker-punching the Weblogging community.” Around the same time, the number of WordPress users spiked by several thousand.

Well-known blogger Mark Pilgrim, a big supporter of open-source software, wrote about the reasons for his switch on one of his 11 blogs: “This site now runs WordPress…I’ve taken the $535 that Movable Type would have cost me, and I’ve donated it to the WordPress developers. It’s not about money; it’s about freedom.”

Another prominent switch was made by a woman who’d just written a book about Movable Type, Molly E. Holzschlag. With Movable Type, her blog was getting so much “comment spam” that she was spending hours a day cleaning it out. Where readers can post comments responding to her entries, spammers had come in and posted them about Viagra and penis enlargement. This is increasingly becoming a problem bloggers face. Molly switched to WordPress to elude the spammers, at least for a time. And while she attributes her Movable Type spam to her simple domain name,, and the fact that she’s been blogging for years, Matt and other WordPress users say it’s better at blocking spam.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had very few comment spam problems since I installed MT Blacklist. At some point, I’ll get around to upgrading Movable Type so I can get the latest and greatest MT Blacklist, which is built in. I’m intrigued by WordPress, but I’m too lazy and too time-deficient to install, learn, and migrate all my archives to a new system.

Elswhere in blogging news, I see that catblogging has made the big time. Too bad they didn’t mention Laurence‘s catcam.

Finally, congrats to Luis and Jeralyn for their new professional blogging gig. Will any Houston old media outlets grasp the concept (no, this doesn’t count) and follow suit? Don’t hold your breath.

A boost for the Innocence Network

This story about the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals offering support to the Innocence Network is a very pleasant surprise.

A decision by Texas’ highest criminal court to support the struggling Texas Innocence Network may signal a crack in state officials’ longtime resistance to innocence claims.

The growing number of exonerations in recent years persuaded the Court of Criminal Appeals to put up $10,000 from an education fund it oversees to finance a Nov. 5 conference in Austin on how to expand the fledgling Innocence Network statewide, said Judge Barbara Hervey. The network currently is based at two universities.

The appeals court has been criticized for what some consider its indifference to innocence claims, most famously when it rejected DNA evidence in the case of Roy Criner.

Criner served 10 years in prison before being pardoned in 2000 after a second DNA test showed he did not commit the rape for which he was convicted.

“The court has been criticized, particularly by the defense bar, as being prosecution-oriented,” said law professor Robert Dawson, who heads the Innocence Network branch at the University of Texas at Austin. “That’s what makes Judge Hervey’s participation so remarkable.”

Hervey is the driving force behind the initiative by the appeals court, the state’s court of last resort in criminal cases. “My goal is to see Texas lead the way nationwide,” she said.


The effort to bolster the Texas Innocence Network has the backing of all nine judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals, six of whom will attend the Nov. 5 conference, Hervey said.

I’m completely flabbergasted. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is almost a misnomer – it’s been utterly indifferent to most actual criminal appeals. The Roy Criner case is a particularly egregious example of their bizarre views of jurisprudence, but it’s not the only one. This is such a monumental shift that I’m surprised no one felt the ground rumbling beneath them.

Many district attorneys are skeptical or even hostile to the idea of an innocence commission and the work of the Innocence Network because both review their work.

Rob Kepple, director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said he will attend the conference with an open mind.

“If it’s done properly and with a set of procedures, I think it’s great,” Kepple said. “If all it’s going to do is be press conferences and bashing people in the system and a way to abolish the death penalty, I think you’ve got problems.”

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, whose office has been plagued by problems at the Houston police crime lab that affected hundreds of cases, was uncertain about attending the gathering. He has clashed with the founding branch of the Innocence Network at the University of Houston but says he does not oppose expanding the network.

“I have never minded people grading my papers,” he said.

But he added that the UH Innocence Network has treated his office shabbily.

“I’ve been upset that they’ve wanted to handle cases in the media as opposed to the courts,” Rosenthal said. “There have been times when they have resorted to ad hominem attacks on people in this office as opposed to legal attacks.”

Dow, head of the UH program, said the network has good relations with other district attorneys’ offices but Rosenthal’s seems “unusually defensive and reluctant to admit fault.”

Rosenthal’s been saying that “grade my papers” line for awhile now, but I don’t think he really means it. I know that Rosenthal is all about being “tuff on crime”. Well, I say you can’t really be tough on crime unless you’re also vigilant about exonerating the innocent. Every wrongly convicted person currently rotting in jail does not just represent a failure of the system, however inadvertent or understandable it may have been. He or she also represents a real criminal who got away with it and is out walking the streets. If that doesn’t concern you, then you’re not really serious about crime no matter what you may say.

And so it happens

Congratulations once again to the Red Sox, who just completed one of the hottest runs in postseason history to win the World Series. I guess once every 86 years or so I can handle the Sox being champions. I fully expect, as Lis Riba’s husband Ian suggested, that the mortality rate in New England will spike, since everyone who’s been hanging on to see the Sox win the Series in their lifetime can now die happy. Cub fans everywhere are surely taking heart.

You know, it must really suck to be a Chicago White Sox fan. They’re totally overshadowed by the Red Sox and the now-defunct Curse of the Bambino, and the Cubs and the Billy Goat Curse. Their team hasn’t been champs since 1917 (the year before the last Red Sox title), but there’s no pop culture attached to it. Hell, nobody besides them even knows about it. I mean, did you know that it’s been 87 years since the Southsiders won the Series and 45 years since their last pennant? How about Cleveland, which won its last World Series in 1948? And then of course, there’s the Astros (sigh), who have never won a pennant. At least they got some attention for finally winning a playoff series, even if it was just the Division Series. Some teams are luckier than others in their misfortunes, I suppose.

So anyway. Congrats to the Sox. Enjoy the victory, savor it through the winter and spring. But don’t get too attached to it. You know better than I how hard it can be to do it again.

UPDATE: Pete shares a few thoughts.

I knew TiVo would get it right in the end

After complaining about how ABC was running a couple of shows I like past their expected end time, thus causing TiVo to stop recording too soon, I was pleased to see an urgent programming note on my set the other day informing me that “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives”, among other shows, are now scheduled to go an extra minute and to check my season passes as needed. Hurrah for TiVo!

Mark Evanier, TiVoholic extraordinaire, proposes a more general solution. Sounds good to me.

Anecdotal evidence update

I took another drive through my neighborhood, making sure I covered every block this time, to get an updated yard sign count. With a week to go before the election, the count stands 163 for Kerry, and 33 for Bush. That’s actually a pretty substantial improvement for Bush since last time – the new signs tally as 89 Kerry, 27 Bush, taking the ratio from over 12-1 to just under 5-1. That’s also still a better performance for the Democratic ticket in my highly Democratic neighborhood than in 2000, and from what I can tell there’s just a heck of a lot more signs overall.

A few notes:

– I didn’t see the Michael Badnarik sign this time around, but I did see one lonely sign for Green Party candidate David Cobb.

– Other candidates for whom I saw signs were Democrats Richard Morrison, John Martinez, Jim Dougherty (none of whom would represent this neighborhood, as their districts are elsewhere), Sheila Jackson Lee, Kathy Stone, Bruce Mosier, Jim Sharp, and Dale Gorczynski; Republicans Ted Poe (also not representing this area; typically, the sign in question read “Bush/Cheney/Poe”, with Poe’s name barely visible on the bottom), Chuck Rosenthal, Sharon McCally, and Riecke Baumann; and Libertarian Congressional candidate Brent Sullivan (running against Jackson Lee, who actually does represent this area). There were in fact quite a few signs for Jim Sharp, which is not too surprising since he lives here. Though I could probably infer support for one Presidential candidate or the other via these signs, I didn’t count a house unless it had a genuine Kerry or Bush placard.

– I saw exactly one house with a sign for the city propositions (it advocated a vote for Prop 2). Two hundred plus houses with campaign signs, and one having anything to do with the election that will have the biggest impact on all of them. That’s what I call confusion.

When Hammers attack

Tom DeLay, less than two weeks ago, on why he wouldn’t debate Richard Morrison:

“His name ID is nothing.”

DeLay must now be assuming that people know who Richard Morrison is, because he’s got an attack ad running that links Morrison to various evildoers (John Kerry! Howard Dean! Teenage immigrant welfare mothers on drugs!), which I saw last night on Channel 11. And now he’s continuing the attack himself.

DeLay supporters have pointed to a calendar listing on the Morrison Web site as a smoking gun linking Morrison to the LaRouchians.

“LaRouche is a con felon and all I can tell you is that Mr. Morrison has supported and campaigned with LaRouche followers and Mr. Morrison also has taken money and is working with the Daily Kos, which is an organization that raises money for fighters against the U.S. in Iraq,” said DeLay.

Morrison called DeLay out of line, accusing his connections in the capital for fighting his battles.

“Instead of addressing the real issues between us, the (National Republican Congressional Committee) decided to make a public calendar of political events in the 22nd district to make outlandish charges against me,” Morrison said.

“He should come forward and address (his recent legal and ethical problems) openly instead of using his Washington friends to lodge attacks.”

Via the aforementioned Kos.

Go back and read that again. This is the Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives. He’s one of the five or six most powerful people in the country, he’s got access to zillions of dollars, he’s got over a quarter-century of experience representing his district in Austin and Washington, DC, and in the waning days of a campaign against a modestly-funded, longshot first-time candidate, he’s screeching about bloggers and Lyndon LaRouche. He can’t campaign on who he is and what he’s done any more, mostly because what he’s done lately is get his ass reprimanded left and right for sleazy behavior, so this is what’s left for him. Does anybody out there still cling to the belief that he isn’t running scared? What a sad, pathetic little man he is.

The poor man is becoming delusional, too.

SUGAR LAND, Texas — “I did 95 doors yesterday in a little over two hours,” said Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who has traded his hard-soled dress shoes for white running sneakers since Congress recessed for the election.

“I love knocking on doors,” DeLay said Sunday, after giving a pep talk to nearly 20 precinct-walking volunteers in his campaign headquarters, tucked near a golf course in the Greatwoods planned community on the outskirts of Houston.


DeLay’s reelection campaign committee has organized precinct walks in the past, but not to the extent it is now — at least, not in years. His campaign is also airing an estimated $250,000 in television advertisements, after buying virtually no TV time during the past several elections.

And, personally, DeLay is throwing himself into his reelection effort, an effort that in the past required little of his time and attention. This past weekend, the solemn business suit, the standard uniform in Washington’s corridors of power, was gone, dropped in favor of collared shirt sleeves embossed with the American flag, all the better for navigating precincts in the heat and humidity of southeast Texas, still sweltering in late October.

DeLay decided unexpectedly last week to participate in a debate against Democrat Richard Morrison and two third-party candidates organized by a local high school’s debating team. It was the first time in political observers’ memory that DeLay had exposed himself to the barbs of political pygmies in a campaign debate.

He loves block walking, but it’s been years since he’s done any. Given the choice between knocking on doors in Clear Lake to introduce himself to new constituents, and holding big-money fundraisers for fellow Republicans – you know, like the ones who are trying to win in the new districts he drew for them – which do you think DeLay would rather do?

Validation time:

[Poll] numbers have prompted the conservative Club for Growth to spend tens of thousands of dollars on television ads in the district defending DeLay. David Keating, the group’s executive director, said that it wouldn’t have if DeLay had an easy race.

“People wouldn’t pay attention to them and [the ads] wouldn’t be a factor in what people are thinking regarding these issues,” he said.

Which is what I’ve been saying all along. Via The Stakeholder.

UPDATE: In case you want to find out more about Tom DeLay’s fascinating claims about Kos’ fundraising, you can contact his campaign via these addresses and phone numbers.

UPDATE: The Morrison campaign responds to DeLay:

“Tom DeLay has crossed the line many times before but this time he’s gone beyond the pale…even for Tom DeLay. In a desperate attempt to shore up his support by making outrageous claims about me he has libeled an American veteran. He claims Daily Kos is an organization that raises money for anti-American Iraqi fighters. This is a bald-faced lie. The Daily Kos is not an organization. It is a blog written by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, a veteran of the U.S. Army. Daily Kos doesn’t shy away from pointing out DeLay’s ethical and legal problems but that doesn’t make Markos a terrorist sympathizer. This is the United States of America and freedom of speech is a right that Tom DeLay can’t over ride just because he doesn’t like what you’re saying…even if he thinks he is the federal government.”


RIP, Robert Merrill

Opera singer and New York Yankees fixture Robert Merrill has died at the age of 87.

Merrill died Saturday at his home in suburban New York City, family friend Barry Tucker said Monday. Reference books gave conflicting ages for Merrill, 87 or 85.

Merrill performed around the country with Tucker’s father, tenor Richard Tucker, the younger man said. “My father felt that he had the greatest natural voice that America created,” he said.

Merrill, once described in Time magazine as “one of the Met’s best baritones,” became as well-known to New York Yankees fans for his season-opening rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner — a tradition that began in 1969.


Merrill’s lifelong enthusiasm for baseball led to his long tenure at Yankee Stadium, where he sang the national anthem on opening day for three decades.

Merrill, who often appeared in a pinstriped shirt and tattered Yankees necktie, performed the same duty for the Yankees during the World Series, the playoffs and at Old-timers Day.

He took the job seriously and once said he didn’t appreciate when singers tried to ad lib with “distortions.”

“When you do the anthem, there’s a legitimacy to it,” Merrill told Newsday in 2000. “I’m bothered by these different interpretations of it.”

Yankees team spokesman Howard Rubenstein called Merrill “a true inspiration for us, the ballplayers and all of our fans. … We dearly miss him.”

When I ranted about some modern “interpretations” of the National Anthem, it was with Merrill’s version in mind as the gold standard. Nobody did it better than Robert Merrill. Rest in peace.

Crime up, crime down

I’m not quite sure what to make of this Chron story about crime rates in Houston and Harris County.

Crime was down inside the Houston city limits last year, but the FBI reported Monday that many of the crimes committed in the unincorporated areas of Harris County continued to rise, furthering a trend that became apparent in 2001.


Houston’s crime numbers met or bested improvements seen nationally. It was an improvement from 2002, when the city recorded increases in most types of crime.

Last year, the city posted a 3.9 percent drop in violent crimes from the previous year, edging out the 3 percent decrease reported nationwide. The city also reported a 3.4 percent drop in property crimes, outpacing the nation’s marginal decrease.

Homicides increased 8.6 percent last year, but Houston recorded fewer forcible rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts, car thefts and arsons than the year before.

Unincorporated Harris County did not fare so well. While some numbers dropped — most significantly, homicide and auto thefts — there were increases in most types of crime, including rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries and thefts.

The FBI report notes that the county numbers “do not reflect county totals, but are the numbers reported by the sheriff’s office or county police.”

The Houston numbers were slightly better, marking a nearly 11 percent jump in robberies, a 5 percent rise in burglaries and a nearly 4 percent boost in larcenies and thefts.

Reported rapes during this period declined nearly 19 percent, while auto thefts dropped 11 percent and aggravated assaults dropped marginally, Houston figures show.

The bit that puzzles me is in the penultimate paragraph. The accompanying graphic does not go into that much detail, but it shows a decrease in robberies in Houston from 2002 to 2003 (no data on burglaries or larcenies). How that squares with “a nearly 11 percent jump in robberies” is a mystery to me.

Regardless, the overall trend is a good one, and one that I’m sure correlates with the real estate boom in and around downtown. The Houston Heights was considered a scary place to live 20 years ago, and I can recall looking at quite a few rent houses in the Montrose area circa 1990 with burglar bars on them. Not any more.

Have you voted yet?

Well, I did my civic duty this morning at the Fiesta on Kirby, which is a couple of blocks from where I work. I arrived at about 6:50, and there were already 20 people lined up ahead of me. We had to wait until the doors opened at 7, but it didn’t take me long after that. Early voting ends at 7 PM on Friday, so don’t wait too long.

Just over 200,000 people in the Top 15 counties voted on Monday, including 42,000 in Harris County. That was the heaviest early-voting day so far. I think Harris County will break 20% turnout by the end of the week; of course, Collin, Williamson, and Travis Counties are at 20% already, with Denton close behind. Those guys ought to break 30%, which is truly astounding.

PAC ruling overturned

An earlier injunction against a Republican PAC has been overturned by the Texas Supreme Court.

The Texas Supreme Court today overturned a lower court ruling that had ordered a Republican political action committee to stop raising or spending corporate money until after the Nov. 2 election.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of The Associated Republicans of Texas, which had said the money was used to finance its overhead.

The PAC has contributed money to Republican campaigns for 30 years and has raised at least $688,000 in corporate money since 2000.

A state district judge last week temporarily froze the group’s corporate account after two Democrats, David Leibowitz of San Antonio and Bob Glaze of Gilmer, filed a lawsuit claiming the committee violated state law that prohibits candidates from taking corporate cash.

Leibowitz challenges Rep. Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, and Glaze challenges Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in state House races.


The plaintiffs alleged that the corporate money, known as soft money, raised and spent by the committee freed up so-called hard money — direct contributions from individuals — to be contributed to the campaigns.

A judge had ordered a hearing on the issue Nov. 3, a day after the election.

The Supreme Court said the practical effect of the temporary injunction and hearing date would affect the committee’s right to participate in the election and would amount to a “non-appealable determination” that it had done something illegal without a hearing on the evidence.

A spokeswoman for the committee said most of the big money cited by the plaintiffs was raised to cover legal costs in lawsuits over redistricting. The committee said it only has about $3,000 in corporate money in a separate account it uses for things such as rent and supplies.

Presumably, the actual litigation will proceed after the election as originally planned.

Support a candidate near you

I’ve been a big booster of the DCCC here, and for good reason – they can really make the difference in a close race, and they can move quickly when opportunities arise. I’ve gotten some feedback that it would be preferable to direct some of the support that the DCCC provides. Well, now you can. They’ve set up five regional tickets, designed to funnel contributions directly to the candidates in those regions. Check them all out, and please consider supporting the candidates in your area. As Kos says, the last media buys are happening now. You can help make the difference.

Support the Texans

Support the Easterners

Support the Westerners

Support the Southerners

Support the Heartlanders

Fifty-nine percent turnout predicted

To say the least, that’s pretty darned high turnout.

Fifty-nine percent of the registered voters in Texas are expected to cast ballots in the Nov. 2 election, Secretary of State Geoff Connor said today.

Connor’s voter turnout estimate comes from studying early voting trends and looking at the state’s voting age population, he said. Early voting ends Friday.

Although large numbers of voters are showing up in some counties to vote early, it may be that more Texans are taking advantage of early voting, Connor said, adding that it may not translate into an overall boost in turnout for the election.

“I do hope that we have greater participation,” Connor said. He said turnout could be helped by interest in the presidential race and hotly contested local and congressional races and a surge in patriotism since the 2001 terror attacks.

Over the last several elections, there hasn’t been much change in the percentage of adults who turn out to vote, he said.

About 13.1 million Texans are registered to vote this year, a record number. But as a percentage of the voting-age population, it represents a decline in registration to 82 percent, down from 85 percent in 2000.

In the 2000 presidential race, when then-Gov. George W. Bush of Texas first ran for president, voter turnout for the state was 52 percent. At that time, there were 12.4 million registered voters in Texas.

Not sure if the slight decline in registered voters as a percentage of VAP is attributable to a greater proportion of non-citizens, or just an insufficient outreach effort. It’s still the second-best percentage ever, though, or close to it – it was 81.90% in 1998.

TXDOT on I-45 expansion

TXDOT is holding public meetings tonight and Thursday night regarding I-45 and light rail expansion.

The Texas Department of Transportation is holding two public meetings this week to present results of a study that analyzed possibilities for expanding the North Freeway.

TxDOT staff and consultants will describe study results and then listen to concerns and respond to questions from the public.

Meetings will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Davis High School, 1101 Quitman, and at the same time Thursday in the community room of Greenspoint Mall, 12300 North Freeway. For information, call 713-802-5000.

This study of Interstate 45 from downtown Houston to The Woodlands is part of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s examination of light rail in the corridor. Voters last year approved a transit-expansion plan that includes building light rail from downtown to Bush Intercontinental Airport. A draft environmental impact study for the first phase, University of Houston-Downtown to Northline Mall, is scheduled to be finished later this year.

Residents of my neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods vociferously opposed the original proposals to widen I-45 north of downtown. There’s a cemetary just east of I-45 and just north of I-10, so any widening in that area would have to go westward, which is to say into the bordering residential areas. You can see why that went over so poorly. I can’t quite tell from this little bitty story if that’s on the menu or if it’s just the next phase of light rail expansion, but if you live in this area, you might want to check it out.

Texas Tuesdays: Charlie Stenholm

This is our last Texas Tuesday of the 2004 election cycle. We wrap things up today with a look at the senior Democrat of the Texas delegation, Charlie Stenholm. He may have the toughest fight of all the redistricted incumbents, but he’s up to it. Check him out, and please consider helping him, helping all the Texas Democrats, and helping the DCCC.

Endorsement watch: Sheriff and Tax Assessor

With their endorsement of the incumbents for Sheriff and Tax Assessor (both of which I predicted), the Chron closes out its recommendations for this election season. I did pretty well in guessing their picks, mainly stumbling in the State House races where I thought they might go for Hubert Vo but not Jim Dougherty or Charlotte Coffelt. I presume they’ll run a review of all their endorsements on Sunday, which doesn’t really make up for not having an easily-accessed “We Recommend” page but is the best I’m gonna get.

Elsewhere, the Letters to the Editor today were all about their Bush endorsement two days ago. By my count, seven letter writers chastised them for it, three supported them, and one simply said “so much for the argument that the Chronicle is part of the liberal media.” Make of that what you will.

UPDATE: Here’s how Aron Danburg cast his ballot. Note what he has to say about the Sheriff’s race.

UPDATE: Here’s Greg to give the alternate view of the Tax Assessor’s race. I’m happy to take his word for it regarding Democratic candidate John Webb, but I do wish someone had taken a few moments to convince Webb of the need to hire a professional webpage designer.

Confusion over the propositions

A Zogby poll shows both Props 1 and 2 with more support than opposition, but that nearly half of voters in each case are undecided. According to the poll graphic, Prop 1 leads 31-24, with 45% not sure, and Prop 2 is up 29-24, with 47% not sure.

The poll of 500 registered Houston voters was conducted last week.

Just under half the respondents remain undecided about either proposition, and more than half say they do not feel they have enough information about the propositions.

Although the poll shows [Mayor Bill] White enjoys an approval rating of 76 percent as he nears the end of his first year in office, he has been unable so far to parlay his popularity into significant support for Proposition 1, said Rice University political scientist Robert Stein, who analyzed the poll data for the Chronicle.

“The mayor’s approval rating is as high as I’ve ever seen for a first-time incumbent,” Stein said. “(Former Mayor Bob) Lanier didn’t get to that level until his third term, and he was the most popular mayor Houston has had in 25 years.

“One would think that (popularity) would translate into support for the mayor’s position,” Stein added. “But it’s as if the mayor hasn’t been able to get his message out.”

I’ve seen virtually nothing on either proposition. A couple of yard signs, one TV ad (and I can’t even remember which proposition it touted), and that’s it. A sidebar to this story showed that 55% of the poll respondents had heard little or nothing about either proposition, which doesn’t surprise me.

Thirty-three percent of poll respondents knew that the mayor supports Proposition 1 and opposes Proposition 2.

But Stein said that White, who is a Democrat although city offices are officially nonpartisan, stands a good chance of prevailing in the election because the poll indicates most undecided voters are Democrats, African-Americans, Hispanics and women.

“It seems obvious that the mayor needs to get his message out to his core constituency,” Stein said.

The strongest supporters of both measures are men over 50 years old with annual household incomes of more than $50,000.

Supporters of Proposition 1 are most likely to be Democrats who have lived in Houston less than 10 years, while supporters of Proposition 2 are most likely to be Republicans who have lived in the city more than 10 years.

About 17 percent support one proposition but not the other. Five percent support neither, and 10 percent support both.

Stein said White will have two advantages in the final days of the campaign: His side is likely to raise more money, and there are few other hotly contested local elections competing for voters’ attention.

But support is more solid for Proposition 2, which has been pushed by tax limitation advocates for more than two years as tax bills have soared because of rising property values.

Almost twice as many Proposition 1 supporters said they were likely to change their minds as Proposition 2 supporters.

Both sides promised a blitz of radio and television ads in the campaign’s closing days. Early voting continues through Friday, and Election Day is a week from today.

I’ll bet radio gets blanketed – it’s much cheaper, and you can target audiences more effectively. I’m impressed by White’s popularity numbers – I knew he was having an extended honeymoon, but wow. If he makes the pitch for Prop 1 himself, I’d expect to see its support rise greatly. Since he needs for it to outscore Prop 2, I think he has to do this. I’m willing to bet that many of his un-approvers already support Prop 2, so there should be little downside for him.

Stein attributed the large number of uninformed voters to the confusion caused by the two propositions.

He said White took this chance when he decided to propose an alternative to Proposition 2 rather than just fight it, as former Mayor Bob Lanier successfully did in 1997 against a similar proposition.

But property tax revenues have doubled since then, and a Zogby poll in May showed voters would approve a revenue cap by 58 percent to 29 percent, but reject it by 43 percent to 39 percent if they believed it would hurt the city’s credit rating.

Stein said the Astros’ playoff run and the attention devoted to the presidential race also have made it difficult for backers of Propositions 1 or 2 to drive their messages home.

I agree with all that. I also think that unlike previous referenda, these proposals are more abstract. Whether you knew anything about a light rail line or a new football stadium or not, it was at least easy to grasp what you were being asked for.

I’m glad to see that neither of these props has anywhere near a majority yet, though I still fully expect both to pass. As such, as I’ve said before, I advocate a reluctant vote for Prop 1 and a firm vote against Prop 2. Remember, if you vote a straight ticket, you still have to vote on the propositions.

Great article on Morrison

I’ve been sent an excellent article on the CD22 race, which mostly focuses on Richard Morrison. No link for the piece, which appears in the October 25 issue of “Texas Lawyer”, so I’ve reproduced it below.

Kos reports a rumor that Tom DeLay is gearing up to sue Democracy for America for libel over this ad. Hard to believe, given DeLay’s obviously public stature, but you never know.

Here’s a clip from that fabled Clear Lake candidates’ forum. Looks like Morrison landed a pretty good punch there, if you ask me.

Quote of the day: “It’s time now for the American people to understand that we (the GOP) are a permanent majority.” — Tom DeLay, speaking to the Pearland, TX Chamber of Commerce August 18, 2004. You can see him say it at that link. And if you want to prove him wrong, you know what to do.


September traffic report

September was a busy month here, with about 49,000 hits, nosing it past June for the second busiest month. October looks to be even better, thanks in large part to the election, which appears to be driving everyone’s traffic up. Thanks to everyone for stopping by. Top referrers are beneath the More link.


Early voting roars along

After the first full week, the early voting totals this year for the Top 15 counties is nearly double what it was in 2000 after a week. And it’s not just the big counties, either – it’s all across the state. And in other states, too.

What does that mean? Conventional wisdom is that high turnout generally benefits Democrats. I’ve already given my reasons for why I think a high turnout in Texas will mean a better showing for Kerry than for Gore. Since Texas’ 34 electoral votes are not in doubt, the more interesting question is what effect this will have on the Congressional and State House races. Travis County’s strong showing so far has got to make backers of Kelly White and Mark Strama feel good. Beyond that, I just don’t know.

Early voting runs through Friday, with all sites open from 7 AM to 7 PM. After that, it’s Tuesday or nothing. Don’t miss out!