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July, 2005:

Meet the municipal candidates

I’ll have more to say on this later (probably tomorrow morning), but I want to note today that Greg and I organized a brunch at Kaveh Kanes with a group of local bloggers and candidates for Houston city office in 2005. About ten candidates turned out – see Greg’s post for a full list – and what followed was a freewheeling and very interesting conversation about Houston and how these folks would like to serve it. The Houston Democrats crew took advantage of the free WiFi at Kaveh and liveblogged the event, so check that out for a play-by-play. In the meantime, I’d like to also thank everyone who showed up. This was a success, and we’re already talking about doing another event with a broader audience. Check back tomorrow for my impressions. I’ll link to as many other writeups as I can find as well.

WiFi in the suburbs

Nancy Sarnoff says that WiFi is beginning to get built in to new suburban housing developments.

The developer of Seven Meadows, a new master-planned community in Katy, has made wireless Internet access available at its six-acre park and recreation area.


The high-tech capabilities will soon span the entire 1,000-acre neighborhood, according to developer Newland Communities. The company plans to launch Wi-Fi in its other Houston projects, including Summerwood and Grayson Lakes.

“Wireless Internet service is fast becoming an essential amenity for residents of quality master-planned communities,” said Lisa Chahin, vice president of operations at Newland.

Other places are embracing the wireless world.

Wi-Fi access will soon be available in Sienna Plantation, a 10,500-acre development in Missouri City.

General manager Doug Goff said it will be available in areas like the swim park, fitness center and golf club.

“We’re at a point now in the community that there seems to be a growing demand for it,” Goff said.

And parts of The Woodlands have adopted Wi-Fi, as well.

The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center and parts of The Woodlands Mall have been outfitted with wireless capabilities.

And Market Street, a new outdoor shopping center, recently installed the technology in its central park.

I realize that the battle from the regular session over free municipal WiFi wasn’t really about new suburban development, but reading this I do wonder how long it will be before that fight is mostly moot. How long will it be before the only places left to be served are the ones the big telcos don’t much care for in the first place?

New planet discovered

Our little solar system has grown.

Astronomers have discovered an object in our solar system that is larger than Pluto. They are calling it the 10th planet, but already that claim is contested.

The new world’s size is not at issue. But the very definition of planethood is.


The new object, temporarily named 2003 UB313, is about three times as far from the Sun as is Pluto.

“It’s definitely bigger than Pluto,” said [Mike] Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy [at Caltech]. The object is round and could be up to twice as large as Pluto, Brown told reporters in a hastily called NASA-run teleconference Friday evening.

His best estimate is that it is 2,100 miles wide, about 1-1/2 times the diameter of Pluto.


Some astronomers view it as a Kuiper Belt object and not a planet. The Kuiper Belt is a region of frozen objects beyond Neptune.

Pluto is called a Kuiper Belt object by many astronomers. Brown himself has argued in the past for Pluto’s demotion from planet status, because of its diminutive size and eccentric and inclined orbit.

But today he struck a different note.

“Pluto has been a planet for so long that the world is comfortable with that,” Brown said in the teleconference. “It seems to me a logical extension that anything bigger than Pluto and farther out is a planet.”

Offering additional justification, Brown said 2003 UB313 appears to be surfaced with methane ice, as is Pluto. That’s not the case with other large Kuiper Belt objects, however.

“This object is in a class very much like Pluto,” he said.

NASA effectively endorsed the idea in an official statement that referred to 2003 UB313 as the 10th planet.

I don’t have any real opinion about the nature of planethood. I just want to know what we’re all supposed to do for a mnemonic once Mary Vincent Eats Many Jelly Sandwiches Under Ned’s Porch becomes inoperative. Naming the new arrival “Xena” certainly won’t make that task any easier, that’s for sure.

Some weekend reading

Couple of articles of interest regarding the state of the special session…

Via Aaron Pena, a very complimentary piece in the Star Telegram on his House colleague, Bob Griggs (R, North Richland Hills). One gets the feeling from the piece that if we had more Bob Griggses in the House and fewer Kent Grusendorfs, we’d have a workable school finance plan by now.

Via Eye on Williamson, here’s a Dave McNeeley column in which he says the biggest beneficiary so far of the endless legislative summer has been Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

And finally, from PinkDome, a story on poison pills and closed doors.

The Texas Senate emerged Thursday evening from a daylong session behind closed doors as deadlocked over public education as it was when it started the day.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst insisted he had the two-thirds vote necessary to begin debating Senate Bill 2, which overhauls state spending on schools. But he worried that the Senate, taking a cue from House colleagues, might implode the special session by adding a “poison pill” amendment to the measure that would raise teacher salaries, pay to distribute new textbooks and do little else.

Dewhurst, a Republican, never allowed the bill to come to the floor, avoiding the fate of Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who two days earlier saw the House repudiate the Republican leadership’s attempts to pass public education and tax measures.

Instead Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said she will file a new version of the school legislation today.

That measure won’t provide more than the $2.8 billion in new money in SB 2, but she said it would give superintendents more discretion in how they spend the money.

To the public, it must have appeared that nothing was happening Thursday.

It’s looked that way to me for a lot longer than that.

At one point, senators called the governor’s office to inquire whether he would call them back for a third special session this summer if the Legislature quit over the impasse.

They were assured Gov. Rick Perry would not let the issue die.

Apparently, the Governor has never learned that the point of banging one’s head against a wall is the good feeling you get when you finally stop.

Crabb: Not retiring

I posted earlier that I’d heard a report which indicated that State Rep. Joe Crabb would not be running for reelection after this session. One of Stace‘s readers contacted Crabb’s office and was told quite emphatically that this is not the case. Though it’s obviously my bad for not pursuing that myself, it’s not clear to me that this is the end of the story. Crabb might prefer to announce his retirement on his own terms rather than let word dribble out via constituents and nosy bloggers, and if so then his staff person’s denial is perfunctory. That said, until he does make such an announcement, we should not consider his status to have changed. My apologies for any confusion this may have caused.

Ten songs

Memed again.

List ten songs that you are currently digging … it doesn’t matter what genre they are from, whether they have words, or even if they’re no good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying right now. Post these instructions, the artists, and the ten songs in your blog. Then tag five other people to see what they’re listening to.

Bearing in mind that I don’t own an iPod and can’t listen to music at work, here we go…

1. I’ll Tell Me Ma, preferred version by the Flying Fish Sailors. One of the things they don’t tell you about parenthood is the vast number of earworms you get from all of the baby objects that play music. If I never hear “Skip To My Lou” or “Polly Wolly Doodle” ever again, it’ll be too soon. Your best line of defense is the realization that old-fashioned folk music is not only (usually) appropriate for kids and always easier on adult brains, it’s also generally easy for adults and kids to sing along to. I’ve been singing this one to Olivia, which she seems to like.

2. Whiskey in the Jar, Metallica. Another old folk song, which works really well as a straight-on heavy metal piece. Note that Metallica’s version of the lyrics are not universal.

3. and 4. Dizzy Atmosphere and Chameleon, by Dizzy Gillespie and Maynard Ferguson, respectively. Both were songs I learned while playing in bands conducted by Laurence Laurenzano. They’ve both been going through my head a lot since his death.

5. and 6. Fall Behind Me and Heaven, by The Donnas and Los Lonely Boys, respectively. Two songs I discovered when I first started listening to 89.7 KACC and began to realize how much else is out there once you escape the world of demographically appropriate radio formats.

7. and 8. Antifreeze and Old Blevins, by the Asylum Street Spankers and the Austin Lounge Lizards, respectively. Because every music-related list I ever do has something by each of these guys.

9. Stayin’ Alive, The Bee Gees. It’s Tiffany’s fault – she watched an A&E biography of the Bee Gees last night. Actually, it reminded me of how talented these guys were, and how massively successful as well. Of course, I still think of the parody of this from Airplane! when I hear this song, but I consider that a bonus.

10. Any of the 40 Most Awesomely Bad Dirrty Songs Ever, which had Tiffany and me in stitches last week.

All righty then. Ted, Linkmeister, Sarah, Nate, and HellieMae, you’re up.

Sheriff to do something about crowded jails

Some action on the overcrowded jail front: Sheriff Tommy Thomas is going to ask for more monry to get more jailers.

More than half of the 1,300 Harris County Jail inmates sleeping on mattresses on the floor because of crowding will have bunks by early next week, Sheriff Tommy Thomas said Friday.

The remaining 550 prisoners will get beds in the coming months as the sheriff’s department begins to rely on overtime and new hires to work in areas of the jail closed because of staffing shortages, Thomas said.

But improved conditions will come at a price. The sheriff’s department will ask Commissioners Court at its Aug. 9 meeting for additional funds to pay overtime for jail employees.

In the coming months, the department may ask the court for as much as $8 million to hire more than 150 corrections officers, Chief Deputy Mike Smith, who oversees the jail, told the county’s criminal justice committee.

I’ll say it one more time: Harris County has more than enough cash reserves (PDF) to afford that.

Swelling inmate populations will plague the county, as well as the state, for years to come, Thomas said.

In the short term, the county will hire more officers and look for ways to reduce the inmate population.

The long-term solution, several officials said, may be to build more jails, including inexpensive, barracks-like facilities in outlying areas.

You want to reduce the inmate population, Scott has a good suggestion for you.

However long it took him to pay attention to the problem, I applaud Sheriff Thomas for taking action. Now make sure what you do isn’t just a Band-Aid, and maybe we can avoid this sort of thing in the future.

Texans for Hackett update


When I checked the ActBlue page that we Texan bloggers had set up for Paul Hackett earlier this morning, it stodd at 11 donors and $295. At 4:45 PM, Richard Morrison sent an email to his list urging people to support Hackett, including a link to that page. It now stands at 36 donors and $920. Like Greg says, you are a class act, Richard. Maybe by the morning it’ll be over $1000. Not too shabby at all.

Two more bloggers to thank for linking: Easter Lemming and Matt Glazer, who will hopefully next year be the recipient of similar grassroots generosity.

In the end, whatever happens on Tuesday, I agree with Chris Bowers. Win or lose, the Hackett campaign has been a success on many levels: making the NRCC spend $500K on a race that should have been a cakewalk for them (the DCCC has now gotten involved with a more modest splurge; thanks to the nearly $400K raised online, they didn’t need to spend as much), engaging locals who’d long been ignored, proving the viability of a 50-state strategy, and delivering a great message not just to the people of OH-02 but to the national media and its audience. Pretty darned good for a race that some folks would say we shouldn’t have bothered with. Will Democrats do as well in CA-48 later this year? Let’s hope they start with as good a candidate as Paul Hackett, and I’ll feel fine about the odds.

UPDATE: It’s now $1275 from 45 donors. Woo hoo! Karl-T has the accounting breakdown. Also, add Houtopia and Texas Politics to the linkers. Thanks, everyone!

RIP, Foley’s department stores

Another piece of Houston history is biting the dust.

Houston’s most famous homegrown retail name is officially disappearing.

Federated Department Stores announced Thursday that 330 of the stores it’s acquiring in its $11 billion purchase of May Department Stores Co. will be renamed Macy’s in 2006. That includes 69 Foley’s.

Federated also will close 68 “duplicate” locations, starting in 2006, including the Houston Galleria Macy’s, which shares the mall with a Foley’s. Macy’s will move into the Foley’s space, which is newer than the current Macy’s location and in a more highly trafficked spot.


The first Foley’s, Foley Brothers Dry Goods Co., opened near Buffalo Bayou in 1900 and carried calico, lace, linen and furnishings. Twenty-two years later it was Houston’s biggest department store.


Throughout its life, Foley’s has been an integral part of the Houston community.

“The president of Foley’s was somebody and had great civic responsibility,” said Ray Miller, a longtime newsman who has chronicled Houston’s history. “Foley’s wasn’t just a business, it was a way of doing business. It had character.” Decades ago, during the holiday season, he recalled, “nobody else decorated their windows like Foley’s.”

Pity. I know department stores are basically dinosaurs, but at least the older ones have a character and history that the big box retailers will never come close to. And it’s just sad to see them slowly die off like this. I still remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanied Dillard’s buyout and closure of Joske’s in San Antonio back in 1987. The signature downtown store is still there, but it just ain’t the same.

The takeover is also creating a big hole at the Galleria.

Federated Department Stores said Thursday that the Foley’s store there will become a Macy’s, as it drops the Foley’s brand, leaving the old Macy’s location empty.

This switch, prompted by the merger of Federated and May Department Stores Co., which owns Foley’s, will occur in 2006. It will be the second big loss for the Galleria of late. Lord & Taylor closed its store there in January.

While mall manager Simon Property Group won’t yet say what will be done with the 256,000-square-foot Macy’s space, real estate experts say the possibilities could include movie theaters, outdoor shops or even high-rise apartments.

The one thing that seems least likely is another department store.

Apartments would be a very interesting choice. There’s been a boomlet in high-end, mostly high-rise dwellings out that way, though mostly as standalone structures. I’m not sure how you’d make residential space work in such a crowded and heavily-trafficked place as that. Who knows, though, maybe the eventual light rail extension will be seen as an integral part of that equation. As long as the construction on the West Loop is finished by then I guess it could all make sense.

Save the leap second!

It’s a programmer versus astronomer smackdown over the nature of time! How can you not love a story like that?

I can’t do it justice with an excerpt, so go read the whole thing. I actually don’t have any strong feelings either way, but I’m sufficiently fascinated by the topic that I want to hear more about the debate. More info on leap seconds can be found here, and an overview of the problem and the proposed US solution is here.

My favorite bit from the whole article:

Ending leap seconds would make the sun start rising later and later by the clock — a few seconds later each decade. To compensate, the U.S. has proposed adding in a “leap hour” every 500 to 600 years, which also accounts for the fact that the Earth’s rotation is expected to slow down even further. That would be no more disruptive than the annual switch to daylight-saving time, said Ronald Beard of the Naval Research Laboratory, who chairs the ITU’s special committee on leap seconds and favors their abolishment. “It’s not like someone’s going to be going to school at four in the afternoon or something,” he said.

If only we could put off all of our problems for another 500 years! Of course, since this is likely to cause a Y2K-style panic in many places when it happens, perhaps we ought to cryogenically freeze a few COBOL programmers before we implement this, so that when the problem appears on the horizon we’ll have some people with previous experience in dealing with it.

Thanks to Kevin Drum for the awesome link.

Senate tries again on school finance

The Senate is trying to salvage some form of school finance reform from this week’s special session wreckage, with Sen. Florence Shapiro doing the heavy lifting.

Action planned Monday Late Thursday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro announced that a revised education bill will be heard by the committee Monday.

The measure was rewritten to meet the objections of school superintendents and other educators whom they blamed for thwarting the Legislature’s progress.


Two provisions removed Shapiro said the new Senate education bill would delete two provisions that had been particularly objectionable to superintendents — a uniform school start date after Labor Day and November elections for school board members.

She said the bill, like previous proposals, would include a teacher pay raise, more oversight of charter schools and increased accountability standards. She said it would include the same amount of new money — almost $3 billion in the next two years — for the public schools but that superintendents would be given more “discretion” in how some of the money was spent.

The two major alterations are on things that don’t particularly get me all that fired up, though I can certainly sympathize with the “local control” arguments regarding each. Beyond that, it’s the same old porridge in a different bowl. The only way it can realistically ever get to a vote is if the House takes another stab at a tax bill, since only the House can originate tax legislation and House rules state that once a bill is voted down, as HB3 was by a 124-8 margin, it can’t resurrected unless it’s substantially different (though the Speaker is generally given some latitude on this point). Once again, unless Tom Craddick has had a change of heart, I don’t see him wanting to make his minions vote on a tax bill unless and until the Supremes make him do it.

In related reading, this DMN article gives a good overview of how the opposition to HB2 eventually succeeded. As Eye on Williamson notes, maybe having a special session on school finances during the summer when all the superintendants and teachers have more free time on their hands wasn’t such a hot idea after all.

K-Mart lawsuits can proceed

It’s never a good thing for a police force defending itself against various lawsuits to be labelled almost totalitarian by the judge.

Calling the operation “almost totalitarian,” a federal judge says a Houston police plan that led to 278 arrests in a Kmart parking lot almost three years ago was unconstitutional.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas allows all 10 lawsuits filed in the wake of the Aug. 18, 2002, mass arrest, and a smaller operation the previous night, to proceed.

The “plan to detain all persons … with no regard for the existence of open businesses and their customers, is facially unconstitutional,” Atlas wrote in an opinion made public this week.


Atlas threw out a number of the lawsuits’ claims, but allowed the plaintiffs to go forward with allegations that Bradford knew about the mass arrest plan, known as the “Jackson plan” for the officer who devised it.

“It reflected an unjustified, almost totalitarian, regime of suspicionless stops and was completely inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment rights Americans hold dear,” Atlas wrote, referring to the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.

She also allowed them to go forward with an accusation that a police “zero-tolerance” policy customarily allowed improper arrests and that Bradford knew about it.

Bradford has denied knowing about the plan or the policy.

I’d love to know which of the plaintiffs’ claims were tossed, but never mind that. We’re approaching the three-year anniversary of the great K-Mart Kiddie Roundup and we’re still nowhere near the end of the story.

Joseph Lanza, an attorney representing more than 60 of the more than 100 plaintiffs, called Atlas’ ruling “a signal victory for the plaintiffs because it continues to allow them to press their claims in federal court.”

Senior Assistant City Attorney Robert Cambrice said it was merely another step in a long process. He predicted the lawsuits will never reach trial.

“When you look at the total picture, the city is still in great shape,” Cambrice said.

They can’t both be right, but I do agree with Attorney Cambrice in one regard – I don’t think these lawsuits will go to trial. I think they’ll eventually be settled out of court. My gut feeling is that taking them to a jury would represent a sizeable crapshoot for both sides, and as such there’s plenty of room to come to an accomodation that should be suitable to all.

On the other hand, with ten suits total, there’s sure to be some wide variance in the level of risk acceptance among the plaintiffs, meaning that one or more may decide to take that dice roll and hope for the best. If so, then whatever the outcome is of those cases, I’ll bet the others that follow will either get dropped or quickly settled once a verdict is in.

But I’m just guessing. Any actual lawyers want to weigh in on this, please be my guest.

Texans for Hackett


Still time to donate to Paul Hackett for our Texas Thursday foray today. As of this writing, we’ve generated $240 for him from 9 donors. Which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s still $240 and nine donors he wouldn’t have had otherwise. You can bump those numbers upward if you’d like.

Thanks to the following blogs for participating:

Burnt Orange

Pink Dome

Greg Wythe

The Red State


Nate Nance

Brains and Eggs

Texas Truth Serum

Latinos for Texas

Eye on Williamson

Save Texas Reps



It was even mentioned on the National Journal Blogometer, which was cool. (By the way, if you do a Google search on “blogometer”, it will ask if you really meant to search for bogometer. I thought that was funny, but then I’m a geek.)

If I missed citing your link, or if you missed finding out about this in time to do your own link, please drop me a line and let me know. Thanks.

Finally, if you happen to see this post on Friday or over the weekend and feel guilty that you missed out on donating today, fear not. The election is on Tuesday, August 2, so chip in anytime before then.

UPDATE: I should point out that the main ActBlue page for Hackett has raised $310,813.70 from 5834 donors as of this writing. Wow.

Bell’s announcement

Here’s the full text of Chris Bell’s official announcement that he’s in the race for Governor. And I must say I’m suitably impressed with the Chron story, which not only covered the reason for his long exploratory phase (his wife, Allison, is recovering from breast cancer), it actually includes a link to the announcement. Compare it to the AP story that I spotted earlier today and you’ll see what I mean.

Anyway. Time to get down to business. We all expect Perry and Strayhorn to blow a sizeable chunk of their campaign war chests in the GOP primary, but we should also expect that whoever wins will get it all back in short order. With that said, now’s a great time to get Chris started on making up the ground he’ll have to cover to be competitive.

As for the continued speculation about John Sharp, well, he’s welcome to come in any time, and may the best candidate win. Greg has a post from a few days ago on former Congressional candidate Felix Alvarado, who has also announced a bid. As long as everyone keeps their focus on Rick Perry and not slagging each other, the more the merrier. Let the campaign begin!

The Chron and the Comets

There’s quite a lively debate going on at James Campbell’s About:Chron blog regarding their level of coverage of the Houston Comets. Personally, speaking as a six-year season ticket holder, I think the level is about right. Campbell’s point about all the other things that the Chron covers in its sports section rings true to me. Some of the complaints in the comments about the Comets beat writer also being their boxing columnist seem unfair to me. I mean, the WNBA season is three months long. Whoever covers the Comets is always going to have another gig; for sure, also being on the boxing beat as well isn’t going to take too much of W.H. Stickney’s time.

What amuses me is the level of vehemence that some of the commenters have about the “irrelevance” of the WNBA in general and the Comets in particular. Some of those folks seem to be paying an awful lot of attention to a sport they claim no one pays attention to. What’s it to you? Houston’s a big city. It can support things that you don’t care for.

Thanks to Off Wing Opinion for the catch.

Still no love between Dewhurst and Craddick

So now that the shock of seeing HB2 and HB3 go down in flames has subsided, it’s time for the where do they go now stories. It’s the usual lot of speculation from the usual sources, but today’s installation is good for a couple of laughs as well.

First, we have this quote from Bill Miller:

“Miracle is a precise word that fits perfectly,” observed Bill Miller, a consultant with ties to Speaker Tom Craddick, in summing up what it would take to mend political differences the governor and lawmakers haven’t been able to resolve despite three previous efforts since last year.

I can’t be the only person imagining that he gave this quote in the voice of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride, can I?

Bill Miller: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your special session here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.

Tom Craddick: What’s that?

Bill Miller: Hit up some lobbyists for loose change.

Even funnier is this from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst:

“I don’t think there’s any question that the governor and I, and I believe the speaker, would like to come out with a good solution on school finance reform,” Dewhurst said.

“I’d like to say that there’s no question that the speaker would like to come out of this session a good solution on school finance reform, but based on all the evidence I’ve seen to date, I can’t. And I won’t. You can’t make me!” Dewhurst did not add.

Two words, guys: sine die. You’ll feel better afterwards, I promise.

Texas Thursday: Paul Hackett

Since Paul Hackett has been named an Honorary Texan, it’s only right to celebrate by pretending it’s Texas Tuesday time and makng a donation to his cause. According to the Swing State Project, there’s a Republican poll which shows Hackett trailing by only five points in this nominally 70-30 GOP district. The NRCC is set to dump nearly $300K on ad buys down the home stretch, so every little bit you can give will help counter that.

There’s a bunch of stuff on this race at the Swing State Project, so just keep scrolling down. Or simply read this MyDD post and see if you can maintain normal blood pressure. Hackett is winning the newspaper endorsement battle, and come Tuesday he has as good a chance at winning a seemingly impossible electoral battle as one could want. So give him a hand. You’ll feel good about it.


Meet Shane Sklar

Got an email today from Shane Sklar, who has announced his candidacy for CD14 in 2006. He’s a former staffer for Rep. Chet Edwards, the Executive Director of the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas, and a full ten years younger than I am, which just makes me want to chug a bottle of Geritol and turn on a “Matlock” marathon. You can read his bio here, and he sent me the following statement as a brief intro for himself:

I learned from my former boss, Congressman Chet Edwards how a Democrat can win in a Republican leaning district and I plan to use the knowledge that I gained in my tenure with Congressman Edwards in my campaign.

Washington needs to change and I want to be part of making it happen. I am running for Congress to solve problems, not to serve the special interests. I’ll fight for the working families in District 14 on issues that are important to them.

Our nation is outsourcing more and more jobs everyday and this simply is not right. Our sovereignty is at stake and I will be the leader that works to reverse that trend, not encourage it!

I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about Shane Sklar in the future on Texas Tuesdays.

This ought to be an interesting race to watch. On the one hand, Ron Paul is the rare maverick who lives up to the title, and he’s got grassroots appeal. He’s in a fairly strong GOP district, and he actually outperformed George Bush in several counties. Paul’s eccentricity is a plus, and he’s the one Republican in Congress who can’t easily be tied to the DeLay machine.

On the other hand, Paul is new to most of the district and didn’t have to campaign in 2004. The biggest county in the district by far is Galveston, and it was the least pro-Bush of them all. (Galveston also contains a piece of CD22, and that piece was 50-50 in the Presidential race; I have not checked the precinct data yet, so “least pro-Bush” may mean 60-40 in context.) I’m told there will be a strong challenger for State Rep. Geanie Morrison in Victoria, at the other end of CD14, which ought to help Sklar out a bit.

And then there’s the money situation. Ron Paul doesn’t have that much, though he’s far from broke. He doesn’t take PAC money (at least, none shows up in the Open Secrets report), and the maverickness that makes him popular with the grassroots doesn’t exactly endear him to the state or national GOP. I can’t imagine the NRCC would be thrilled at the prospect of having to help him out. If Sklar can raise some cash, he can make a real race out of this.

And if he loses, so what? Democrats aren’t supposed to win that district anyway, but maybe (as with Paul Hackett) if we run some good candidates like Sklar in places like CD14 we can get our message to people that need to hear it and start reversing the tide. We have to do better, and this is the way to start. So check out Shane Sklar, and if you’re in the area drop him a note and maybe volunteer to help out. Every little bit helps.

Bell to announce tomorrow

BOR‘s Damon McCullar has the scoop – Chris Bell will make his formal announcement about the Governor’s race tomorrow. Check back in the late morning for the answer.

UPDATE: And the answer is…he’s in!

Some toll road notes

Here are a few toll road-related stories I’ve spotted lately:

Anne points to this story about a connector from the Fort Bend Parkway toll road to the West Loop and associated uncommunicativeness from Commissioners’ Court on the issue. The good news is that according to CTC‘s Robin Holzer, recent rabblerousing has had an effect. From an email I just got:

In June, Harris County released the new Capital Improvement Plan which identifies 5-7 new priority toll roads to be developed. On Tuesday, CTC volunteers demanded that Harris County open up the toll road planning process, and we came home with a victory.


Community leaders from Cottage Grove, Westbury, Willowbend, and Meyerland expressed concerns about traffic, noise, flooding, air quality, and other impacts from proposed toll road construction. We called on County Commissioners not only to hold public meetings in every affected neighborhood, but also to ensure toll road planning addresses community concerns.

When the Toll Road Authority Director, Mike Strech, said there was no need to hold meetings until future plans are ready, the Commissioners disagreed. Commissioner Lee agreed meetings are important, Commissioner Garcia said they need to happen in every affected neighborhood, and Art Storey pledged to come participate. Judge Eckels asked us to help make sure good information gets out to the community.

As I write, civic club leaders in southwest Houston are organizing a town hall meeting about the Fort Bend Parkway Toll Road and related road widenings. Others may follow. In the meantime, you can stay informed and join the conversation in CTC’s new forum.

Nice work, y’all. I’ll post more info about that town hall when I hear about it.

Eye on Williamson notes this Statesman story which suggests that the Corte eminent domain bill (if it passes before this session dies) would put some interesting restrictions on the Trans Texas Corridor. I spotted a different aspect of this bill which may have a similar effect. Is this a trend? We know the TTC isn’t popular, so perhaps the death by a thousand cuts approach will eventually cripple it.

And speaking of everyone’s favorite statewide boondoggle, Rep. Aaron Pena flags a piece about an appearance by Carole Keeton Strayhorn at another anti-TTC rally. I’ll be very interested to see if she ever gets any traction in the polls from this.

UPDATE: PerryVsWorld has more on the Strayhorn story.

Where will the Galleria rail line go?

Now that we know there’s going to be an east-west rail line from UH to the Galleria, the question is where exactly will the tracks be? Residents of Afton Oaks, on Richmond near 610, say not in my front yard.

In the face of strong and vocal opposition from Afton Oaks residents, Metro President and CEO Frank Wilson said a future light rail line to the Galleria area likely would bypass the neighborhood and its oak-lined Richmond Avenue median.

Wilson said an alternate route probably would combine parts of Richmond, Westpark and a connection over the Southwest Freeway.

“But which of those alternates, which of those crossings, which of those connections, is something we have to take a closer look at,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s comments followed a three-hour meeting with Afton Oaks residents Monday night.


The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s maps of the proposed University (formerly East-West) line show Westpark and Richmond as alternative routes west of Main, with a possible crossover at Timmons, Weslayan or the Union Pacific rail tracks. Monday night, several residents suggested Edloe as a crossover.

Splitting the route that way would prevent the loss of homes required to widen Richmond for the rail tracks, as well as spare the trees and calm residents — who told Wilson repeatedly that a rail down Richmond would lower their home values and impede their access to a street already busy with traffic. But Wilson said the route cannot run solely on Westpark, which he described as a “desert” separated by the broad Southwest Freeway from Greenway Plaza, Lakewood Church and other sources of riders to the north.

That means, he said, the Westpark route as initially designed would be “a non-starter” with federal funding authorities, who look at a project’s benefit-to-cost ratio.

By contrast, the transit CEO said, Richmond is “the shortest line between two points” and would have more riders than Westpark, lowering costs and increasing benefits.

The line does not need to go wholly on Richmond to achieve that, he said. He added: “A split may be the winning solution.”

Tory suggests the crossover at the Union Pacific line, which is west of Weslayan but east of Afton Oaks, and I think that makes a lot of sense. Richmond narrows from three lanes each way to two east of Kirby, and that will make for a tight fit especially between Kirby and Shepherd where there’s still a lot of traffic on Richmond, but at least there’s still a median there so it ought to be doable. I certainly hope they can avoid having to share track space with left turn lanes, as there’s no way that could work.

On a side note, I’m just impressed that Frank Wilson actually attended that three-hour meeting with the Afton Oaks folks and seems to have listened to their feedback. I wish TxDOT and HCTRA were half that accomodating.

They write letters

Philip Martin sends a letter to the whiny Rep. Kent Grusendorf. I second that emotion.

Julie Boyle

I got some upsetting news a few days ago when I heard via her husband Tom that Julie Boyle, the proprietor of the Midlothian Family Network website and an outspoken critic of the cement plants in that area and the Congressmen who let them pollute at will, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She wrote about that in the Star Telegram this past weekend, and as you can see she’s doing her best to be positive about it. I know from my correspondence with Julie that she’s a strong person, and I feel confident that she will get through this. If anyone can, she can.

Frontburner, which carried a great story on the Boyles’ fight to clean up their hometown awhile back (it’s unfortunately archived behind a firewall at this time), has three update posts on Julie’s diagnosis and the goings on in Midlothian – be sure to read that first one, in which the Boyles share some email from other residents who have experienced unusual health problems.

I’m told that mediation with TXI (see here for more) is still in the works; I’ll check back when there’s something to report.

In the meantime, a note from Julie in that last Frontburner post brought a smile to my face:

If Joe Barton doesn’t stop favoring industries at the expense of families, come the primaries, a bald Republican mother of three undergoing chemo might just take him on.

Forget Perry/Strayhorn. That’s the primary I want to see in 2006.

Get well soon, Julie! We’re all rooting for you.

Harris County jails get some attention

More news on the overcrowded Harris County jails.

Crowding and unsanitary conditions in the Harris County Jail have spurred a group of community leaders, clergy members and civil rights advocates to request a meeting this week with county officials to seek solutions.

“We know it’s not supposed to be comfortable for people who are incarcerated, but it is supposed to be humane,” Yolanda Smith, executive director of the Houston chapter of the NAACP, said Tuesday.

Smith and other community leaders expect to meet Friday with county criminal justice officials and judges to discuss ways to limit the number of people placed in jail and help probationers stay out.

Yes, well, you might want to talk to Governor Perry about that.

County Judge Robert Eckels said he is aware of the problems and will work with other officials to fix them. Public safety is paramount, he said, and the county will consider streamlining the booking process and the bonding-out system to help move people with misdemeanor arrests through the jail more quickly.

County leaders are scheduled to meet with the state commission Aug. 4 to discuss the problems.

That’s all fine as far as it goes, but I doubt that “efficiency” is a sufficient solution. I believe Harris County is going to have to admit that it needs more jailers, at least enough to fully staff the whole system so that the currently idle cells can be used. The money is there, Judge Eckels, and so is the need to spend it. Don’t overlook the obvious.

What a difference a vote makes

I knew that the Hochberg Amendment nearly passed in the previous special session. I’ve said all along that agreement among the Perry/Craddick/Dewhurst troika on HB2 and HB3 didn’t mean those bills would survive a vote in the House. And I’m still a bit in shock by what happened yesterday.

Speaker Tom Craddick said he wasn’t willing to declare the school funding effort dead, but he said he didn’t immediately know where a weary House goes from here.

He said he never had the votes for the tax bill, approved in a quickie meeting by a special, all-Republican committee shortly after the second summer session convened last week. He said the education bill failed after Democratic House members, in a rare victory, substituted their school finance plan for a Republican one.

“People are tired of voting. The members are just basically worn-out from voting on these different proposals,” Craddick said.


The Senate could revive the school finance bill, but Senate action on the issue was delayed for a second straight day on Tuesday in the face of strong opposition from several senators. They were scheduled to try again on Thursday.

The death of the tax bill, however, could all but doom the tax overhaul because the Republican-led House, under the state constitution, must initiate action on tax legislation.

Craddick said a different tax bill could be filed, but the lopsided defeat of House Bill 3, which would have raised several state taxes in exchange for school tax cuts, signaled a strong anti-tax sentiment in the chamber.


“There’s discontent, disagreement and a lot of fatigue. The Legislature needs to recharge,” said Austin political consultant Bill Miller.

Perry, who promised school finance changes and property tax cuts during his 2002 campaign and now faces re-election with that pledge unfulfilled, could order lawmakers into another special session, the third of the summer, following a five-month regular session.

But Miller said such an effort would be a waste of time, considering the inability for more than a year now of the Republican governor and Republican legislative leaders to hammer out agreements on school funding and taxes.

“Bringing people back would produce the same result,” Miller said. “There’s always going to be heartburn among Republicans for tax bills.”

First, as Greg has said, a big round of applause for Scott Hochberg for his leadership on this issue. He exposed the Perry plan for the sham it is and gave House members, including 14 Republicans, a real alternative. Thanks to him, there’s now a real chance that 90% of the state population will not see their taxes go up so that the remaining 10% can benefit.

I don’t expect Perry to give up, but it’s clear that any further effort must be a departure from the useless tinkering around the edges that they’ve been doing these past few weeks. Jim Keffer, the House sponsor of HB3, said “This is not the bill we need at this time” as he voted against his own measure. He wants a broader business tax, something which would probably be able to pass muster with most House members but which Perry can’t abide. This Express News article from last week (link via Texas Ed Equity) gives some analysis of this dynamic.

Lawmakers started out with broader tax reform ideas that would have involved more businesses, but the House and Senate couldn’t agree. Perry suggested simply plugging loopholes in the franchise tax on corporations as an achievable goal.

But doing so has provoked opposition from affected businesses that don’t want to be singled out.

An estimated 10,000 Texas companies use those legal loopholes to escape business taxes, including the San Antonio Express-News.

Express-News Publisher Lawrence Walker Jr. said executives of Texas daily newspapers agreed last year not to oppose efforts to close the corporate franchise loophole under one condition: “Everybody gets taxed.”

“To put a bill in, which still exempts the law firms and the real estate firms and the oil and gas partnerships and the medical doctors, is just egregious,” Walker said.

Closing the franchise tax loopholes would cost the Express-News “several million” dollars a year, he said.

Portions of the business lobby would retreat from its opposition to the proposed tax bill after all businesses are treated the same, Walker said.

“It’s just about fairness and equity,” he said.

Walker recently expressed his opposition to Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who voted for the bill to close the franchise tax loopholes without expanding the tax to business partnerships.

Wentworth said he agrees with Walker and favors a low-rate business tax applied to all but sole proprietor, or “mom and pop”-type businesses.

But Wentworth said the “speculation around here is that there’s a lot of limited liability partnerships — oil and gas partnerships in Midland, Texas — and the speaker is not going to allow them to be taxed.”

A real debate on that might be worth keeping this session alive and taking another crack at things. If we can’t have that, then frankly it’s time for someone to make a sine die motion.

Finally, the Biggest Whine award goes to Kent Grusendorf.

Mr. Grusendorf laid partial blame for defeat of the bill on school districts and education groups, who were almost universally opposed to the original measure because of what they complained was inadequate funding.

“I wish they had been for something instead of against everything,” Mr. Grusendorf said.

They weren’t against everything. Just against getting screwed. Maybe some day you’ll understand that.

House kills HB2


The Texas House, after rancorous debate and major changes to a multibillion-dollar school funding bill, voted down the measure Tuesday.

Although the move appeared to spell trouble for the special legislative session called by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, another school spending bill remained pending in the Senate.

The 79-62 vote against the Republican-backed House bill came after the House approved a Democrat’s plan to provide an additional $3.8 billion over two years to schools, including money for a teacher pay raise and more bilingual education funding.

That was substantially more money than the Republican measure included. Democrats and some Republicans joined to approve the amendment by Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Kent Grusendorf of Arlington, soon led the charge to vote against the overall bill.

An accompanying property tax reduction bill was still being debated in the House.

Right now, the blogs have the most coverage. See Aaron Pena, two from PinkDome, and two from BOR. To say the least, things are a bit confused right about now. I’ll update this later when there’s some newspaper coverage. Check those three sites for more immediacy.

UPDATE: As promised, here’s more AP coverage:

“This was the governor’s plan. We worked on it, massaged it as much as we could. To be quite frank, we didn’t get there,” said Rep. Jim Keffer, a Republican from Eastland who sponsored the tax bill but urged fellow House members to vote against it.

They followed his lead with a bipartisan 124-8 vote.

Perry said he wouldn’t give up and would keep pushing lawmakers to find a solution in the remaining 24 days of the special session.

Well, that’s a little better than a hundred and twenty-six to nothing.

The 79-62 vote against the Republican-backed education spending bill came after the House approved a Democrat’s plan to provide an additional $3.8 billion over two years to schools, including money for a teacher pay raise and more bilingual education funding.

That was substantially more money than the Republican measure included. Democrats and some Republicans joined to approve the amendment by Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.

His plan also would have given an extra school property tax break to homeowners through a larger homestead exemption.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Kent Grusendorf of Arlington, later led the charge to quickly vote against the bill because it was so dramatically changed from its original form. Grusendorf said the more costly changes would have hurt Texas businesses and that the bill was doomed for failure.

Craddick agreed. Once Hochberg’s amendment was added to the bill, it didn’t balance financially, he said. But Hochberg disputed that and said his proposal was designed to fit with the amount of money available in Grusendorf’s bill.

Craddick described the fast-moving series of events Tuesday as being “kind of like a mushroom-type effect” as both bills were defeated.

Democratic Rep. Rene Oliveira of Brownsville had urged against a swift vote on the tax bill, saying it could potentially wreck the special session if it were voted down.

“I think you’re commanding the Titanic right now with that approach,” Oliveira told Keffer.

Afterward, passage of a school finance bill in this session began looking less likely.

“The stars are going to have to be aligned for that and right now, they’re not aligned,” Grusendorf said.

I understand that the Democratic Senators are blocking a vote on the Senate version of HB2 now. This may be the end, but I doubt it. Perry won’t give up that easily. He can’t afford to.

I love this quote:

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee, bucked Republican leadership and voted for the Democratic-sponsored changes.

Pitts said that Hochberg’s amendment had problems but that at least it allowed for debate on a school finance measure that his constituents despised.

“I have had over 1,000 e-mails and calls telling me not to vote for this bill,” Pitts said during a recess after the vote. “They didn’t like what I call the Highland Park provisions (that could allow property-wealthy districts to keep more money), the school starting date and the elections in November. People in my district wanted me to vote for their children.”

What a concept.

More blog coverage: In the Pink, Common Sense, BOR, Rio Grande Valley Politics, and on a tangential subject, Latinos for Texas.

UPDATE: And Houtopia and Greg.

Christus Saint Joseph’s Hospital on the block

It pains me to see that Christus Saint Joseph’s Hospital is facing an uncertain future. It’s been put up for sale by its owner, it’s transferred its residency program to Methodist, and nobody really knows if it will remain operationally viable in the future, even though its emergency services are badly needed in Harris County.

The impact of a decision to shut down St. Joseph could be considerable, and not just for sentimental reasons to do with its designation as “Houston’s Birthplace,” the hospital where, at one time, nine of 10 native Houstonians were born. It is one of the city’s key providers of charity health care and home to one of its few trauma centers.

Christus Health Gulf Coast, St. Joseph’s parent company, has pledged to find a buyer that will continue to operate the hospital as a full-service facility. But health-care analysts are skeptical, questioning the viability of a downtown hospital.

In the meantime, hospital staff have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

“I think the next 60 days will be crucial,” said Dr. Cristo Papasakelariou , St. Joseph’s chief of staff. “The staff’s a little more hopeful now than immediately after the announcement, but if there’s not positive news about a potential buyer by then, the mood will probably turn negative.”

Papasakelariou has launched a campaign of sorts to save St. Joseph, including proposing that local government subsidize the 118-year-old hospital, the oldest in the city. The idea met with little enthusiasm.

Most recently, Rob Mosbacher Jr. , head of Harris County’s public health care council, has held meetings to put together a consortium that would make an offer to St. Joseph to share its assets. He said he hopes the consortium, to be made up of the Harris County Hospital District and some institutions in the Texas Medical Center, can put an offer before Christus Health by mid-August.

Olivia was born at Saint Joe’s, with Dr. Papasakelariou doing the delivery. I’m sure you can see why I like the place.

Analysts say negotiating a deal that would keep St. Joseph a full-service hospital will be a formidable task because any new owner would face the same sort of difficulties driving the sale: steep competition from the Texas Medical Center, financial drain from the jump in uninsured patients, old buildings that need rehabilitating and expensive real estate.

“It’s a stranded asset,” said Michael Barbour , a principal at the Houston office of Towers Perrin, a consulting firm. “That’s why Christus Health doesn’t want it. That’s why prospective buyers are likely to be bargain shoppers, people looking to get downtown real estate for cheap.”

Papasakelariou criticizes that attitude, stressing the hospital’s role in providing care to Houston’s indigent population. He notes that almost 30 percent of the nearly 5,000 babies born at St. Joseph last year were charity cases.

Much of St. Joseph’s charity care, of course, comes at its emergency room, where the traffic of trauma cases has increased in the past year because Harris County’s trauma-care system is so overburdened. Dr. Guy Clifton , head of a coalition of doctors and others calling for more emergency rooms, called the future loss of St. Joseph’s ER “inevitable” and said it would be a further blow to the region’s trauma-care problem.

In the mind of Clifton and many others, the ideal candidate to buy the hospital is the county’s hospital district, which has a critical shortage of beds and a strategic plan to add a third hospital by 2015. It held discussions with St. Joseph late last year, though they broke down.

St. Joseph is attractive to the hospital district for a number of reasons: it’s licensed for around 750 beds; it’s on mass-transit lines, making it accessible for some patients; it could provide a ready-made staff (St. Joseph has 2,000 employees) instead of forcing the district to hire a new staff; and it would give the district a third emergency room to alleviate overcrowding at Ben Taub’s and Lyndon B. Johnson’s emergency rooms.

David Lopez, president of the hospital district, said the staff is “very seriously” looking into a possible purchase and will put “something” before the board and the Commissioners Court.

“I think if you look at St. Joseph’s facility and its mission, we’re a pretty good fit,” said Lopez. “We just need to make sure whatever we propose is a benefit to the community and makes good business sense.”

The issue will be money. In the talks that broke down last year, the financially strapped district offered $80 million to $90 million, less than half of what St. Joseph wanted. The county would also need sufficient funding to operate the hospital, knowing, as Papasakelariou notes, that converting the hospital to a county facility would drive off private patients who help subsidize the charity care.

I hope they can make it happen. It’s a part of Houston’s history, it’s in an underserved location, and there’s no capacity to spare anywhere else in trauma care. Mosbacher’s consortium sounds like the best bet to bridge the money gap. We’ll see what happens.

Carlos Guerra blogging on the border

Express News columnist Carlos Guerra has a blog now dealing with issues on and around the Texas-Mexico border. Some good stuff there, so check it out. Via Latinos for Texas.

Why are we here again?

I think of all the bad things I could say about this series of special session on something that used to pretend to be school finance reform, the certainty that we’ll have to do it again is the worst.

HB3 would reduce local school operating taxes by 25 cents per $100 valuation in the upcoming school year and by another 4 cents the following year. It also would raise the homestead exemption, a special tax break for homeowners, by $7,500 if voters approve a related constitutional amendment.

The proposed cut would save the average homeowner in the Houston Independent School District about $225 in school taxes the first year. There would be no provision, however, requiring landlords to pass their property tax relief to renters, who make up most Houston residents.

To pay for the lost money, the House bill would increase the sales tax by three-quarters of a cent per dollar; expand the sales tax to auto repair labor, Internet access services and some computer goods and services; increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack; and close loopholes in the corporate franchise tax.

According to the Legislative Budget Board, the property tax cuts provided in the bill would cost local districts about $6.6 billion over the next two years. The higher state taxes, if collections don’t start until Nov. 1, would raise only $6.1 billion.

The higher state taxes would raise $6.7 billion — enough to cover the school tax reductions — if collections begin Sept. 1, the LBB estimated. But even then, the extra state taxes wouldn’t keep pace with the property tax cuts for long.

Within five years, the deficit would be $1 billion or more, the LBB reported. That eventuality would force the Legislature to face the prospect of raising state taxes again when it meets in regular session in 2007.

Bills passed by a normal majority vote take effect 90 days after their passage, but if they pass with a 2/3 vote they become law immediately. There’s absolutely no chance of that happening on HB3, so the state would lose 90 days’ worth of increased sales taxes that were supposed to make up for the property tax decreases, and thus the system is out of balance from the get go. Either way, by 2007 we’re back at square one and whoever the Governor is at that time will face this same problem.

So what’s the point? Why are we bothering? This isn’t a real tax cut, and it does nothing at all for the schools. If they insist on not considering any new approaches, then I say the hell with it. Wait for the Supremes to rule, be ready to override Perry if he re-vetoes the original school appropriations, declare sine die and go home.

Not just Crabb

There’s more retirement rumors floating around than just Joe Crabb. We’ve already heard that Rep. Jim Solis is reportedly hanging up his spikes. Capitol Inside says quite a few more members, many from the Class of ’93, are supposedly mulling the same thing.

The Class of `93 members could become part of a potential wave of retirements from a House that’s divided, drained and somewhat disillusioned amid a thankless school finance fight that could get more brutal before the issue is resolved. The potential for a high turnover in the lower chamber appears ripe in the wake of a regular session and a special session during which lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol have been forced to cast numerous no-win votes on an issue for which they still have nothing to show with no end-game in sight.

There have been reports from the Capitol – most if not all unsubstantiated at this point – that the list of members who might not run again includes some of Speaker Tom Craddick’s top lieutenants and committee chairs. Some Republican members are bracing for primary challenges within their own parties by opponents who will use votes on HB 2 and HB 3 as weapons against the incumbents. Some members from both parties have already been targeted for defeat by the opposing party in districts that conceivably could go either way. Some House members such as State Rep. Jim Keffer – an Eastland Republican who’s sponsoring a controversial tax shift proposal as the Ways and Means Committee chairman – could end up facing multiple challengers in both the primary and general election campaigns as well in 2006 if early predictions hold true.

There’s one school of speculation that State Rep. Peggy Hamric, a Houston Republican who chairs the House Administration Committee, will either move up as a candidate for an open state Senate seat or move out of elected office completely when her seventh House term expires at the end of 2006. Another veteran Republican – State Rep. Joe Nixon – is considered a probable contender for the Senate post from which State Senator Jon Lindsay has decided to retire.

A seat in the Dallas area could also be up for grabs if State Rep. Ray Allen decides against a re-election bid in 2006. A Grand Prairie Republican who chairs the County Affairs Committee, Allen was also a member of a 1993 class that produced 18 legislators who are still in the House today. He appears to still be undecided about a race for re-election in 2006.

The list of potential House retirees includes Republican State Reps. Bob Griggs of North Richland Hills and Anna Mowery of Fort Worth. Some observers are not convinced that former Democratic Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Laney will seek another term even though he would probably be favored to win big again in a West Texas district that has two Republican voters for every Democrat.

Losing Pete Laney would be a blow, since his seat is highly unlikely to remain Demcratic after his departure, but the rest of this looks like a golden opportunity. I’m told there’s already a Democrat lined up for Anna Mowery’s seat; Ray Allen faced a tough fight in 2004 from Katy Hubener; we all know about Moldy Joe Nixon.

Why the emphasis on the Class of ’93? Perhaps this will help clarify things.

With a swift vote and no debate, state representatives approved a boost in their own retirement benefits Monday as they gave judges a pay raise.

House Bill 11 by Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, won final passage, 105-26, amid criticism that House lawmakers have watched out for their own financial interests before those of schools and teachers.


The bill would raise lawmakers’ pensions by 22 percent, Hartnett said, the first increase in seven years.

Currently, Texas’ part-time lawmakers are paid $7,200 a year, although retired lawmakers can begin collecting pensions at age 50 if they have served at least 12 years. Benefits increase with each year of service. Under the bill, a retired official with a dozen years’ experience would get a pension hike of $6,431 annually, bringing the total pension to $34,500.

No guarantee that this makes it through the Senate, but I’d bet it does if they finally kill off the school finance beast. Look for more when the special sessions are finally over.

Paul Hackett in OH-02

I second Greg’s sentiments regarding Paul Hackett, who’s running a great race on some unfriendly turf in Ohio for a special Congressional election to be held this Saturday. Hackett is a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War and this year’s online favorite. In a truly cowardly move, his suddenly underfunded opponent is resorting to Swift Boat tactics to hold off his charge. Today is Tuesday, so pretend it’s a Texas Tuesday and visit this honorary Texan’s ActBlue page to help him out.

UPDATE: More on Paul Hackett in Salon.

Crabb to retire?

It’s not in the news as far as I can tell, but I’ve heard from a source that State Rep. Joe Crabb (R, Kingswood) is planning to call it a career after this session. Crabb was one of the architects of the 2003 redistricting, and a nasty piece of work, so it’ll be nice to see him go. Charlotte Coffelt took a run at him in 2004, the first time he’d been opposed in a decade, and though she didn’t come close, she gets credit for taking the fight to a normally ignored area. As with SD7, this is a strongly Republican area, and as with SD7, it still deserves a Democratic candidate. Let’s see if someone decides to make a go of it.

No MTBE liability protection?

Nick Beaudrot, sitting in at Ezra‘s place, notes this news story about the energy bill and asks “Did Tom DeLay just lose a legislative battle?”

House and Senate conferees abandoned giving makers of the gasoline additive MTBE liability protection against environmental lawsuits on Sunday, removing the major roadblock to enactment of broad energy legislation.

Senate negotiators rejected a House proposal for an $11.4 billion MTBE cleanup fund that House Republicans had hoped would serve as a compromise and still provide the liability shield to the oil industry.

But Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said “the proposal has not been accepted by the Senate” and that he would offer another MTBE proposal on Monday.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., leader of the Senate energy negotiating team, said while some MTBE issues were still being discussed, those did not include a cleanup fund, nor liability protection.

“Those are gone,” Domenici told reporters as the House-Senate conferees held an unusual Sunday session in hopes of completing work on a sweeping energy bill by Monday night.

Do a Google News search on +”tom delay” +mtbe and you’ll find plenty of cites like this one:

The legal protections have been championed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), whose state is one of the main producers of the additive. Industry officials have contended that Congress was responsible for promoting the use of MTBE by requiring cleaner-burning gasoline in the nation’s smoggiest regions.

On the other hand, there’s still a lot of grumbling about the new compromises in the bill, both from Republicans (in particular, the two Senators from New Hampshire, whose state is a plaintiff in an anti-MTBE lawsuit) and Democrats. Passing bills without Democratic support is DeLay’s modus operandi, so it’s a little premature to update the scoreboard just yet. But it’s a good question nonetheless.

Sallee on I-45 expansion

The Chron’s Rad Sallee devotes his weekly “Move It!” column to the proposed I-45 expansion and TxDOT’s undercommunicative ways regarding it. He doesn’t go into the attempted end run that was thwarted by GHASP, but he does give voice to some of the leading critics of the TxDOT plan, and as far as that goes, any publicity is good.

To answer Anne‘s question, I think there’s two reasons why we haven’t heard much about double-decking. One, from TxDOT’s perspective, is the same reason the tunnel option has been mostly brushed aside: cost. The cheapest thing to do is to widen the existing freeway. They have no real incentive to consider anything else. From the perspective of the affected residents, a double-decked freeway sounds like it’d be extra noisy, extra dirty, and an eyesore to boot. All of the things that a tunnel isn’t, which brings us back where we started.

I’m also not sure how exactly a second deck would work in this context – it seems to me that you’d still need a bigger footprint for the road just to put in the support columns, which puts us right back at the original objections. I guess I’d have to see a schematic diagram to know for sure. Personally, I’m a bit leery of it, but I could see how it might work, and I’d certainly prefer it to the condemn-and-widen default plan.

On a side note, this looks like as good a time as any to once again put out the CTC’s call for volunteers to attend the Commissioners’ Court meeting, which is tomorrow morning downtown. Click the More link for the details.