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October 9th, 2005:

Proposition One

Prop 2 is the easy one. Proposition One is giving me a headache.

Proposition 1 would amend the Texas Constitution to authorize the creation of the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund in the state treasury. The Texas Transportation Commission would administer the fund and could issue bonds pledged against it.

The proposal includes no funding, and it doesn’t specify how much should be set aside for the effort.

If voters approve the amendment, the Legislature would have to provide initial funding in 2007.

The fund could be used to relocate or improve private or publicly owned rail facilities to relieve congestion on highways, improve public safety or air quality, or expand economic opportunity.

Earlier this year, [Governor Rick] Perry signed separate agreements with Union Pacific Railroad and the BNSF Railway Co., pledging the railroads’ and the state’s cooperation in moving freight rail out of densely populated urban areas.

The governor said the initiative would lead to safer rail crossings, less hazardous cargo carried through populated areas and faster movement of products to market because freight trains no longer would have to slow down in congested areas.

More than 5,500 people have been killed or injured in vehicle-train collisions in Texas since 1984, Perry said.

Supporters of the amendment also say old freight lines could be upgraded for urban commuter trains.

The proposed relocations tie into the Trans-Texas Corridor concept, Perry’s long-range proposal for a dedicated transportation network stretching across Texas.

Perry’s agreements with the railroads, however, didn’t say how the relocations, which could cost untold millions of dollars, would be paid for, except that the agreement with Union Pacific ruled out additional taxes or fees on the railroad industry.

Proposition 1 would provide a funding source, although Perry spokesman Robert Black emphasized, “I don’t think it was ever determined for the state to do (pay for) all of it.”

Union Pacific spokesman Joe Arbona said the railroad’s financial contribution to rail relocations would depend on the project. “If it’s something that would be beneficial to the railroad, we would pay for that part that’s beneficial to us,” he said.

On the one hand, I support the idea of rerouting freight train lines outside of urban areas, and I support the idea of freeing up those tracks for commuter rail. What’s bothering me is mostly that there’s no price tag being given (the earlier post mentions $100 million as a figure) and no clear agreement on who’s paying for how much. Given the large amounts that rail interests have donated to various Republican campaigns (including $25,000 to Perry by Union Pacific) and the predeliction of the current Lege to hand out tax-funded goodies to their corporate masters, I want more specifics before I sign on the dotted line.

As with other propositions, it’s not clear to me why this couldn’t be done by a regular act of the Lege. In February, TxDOT Chairman Ric Williamson expressed reluctance to ask the Lege for more money when there was still the issue of school finance unresolved. I don’t know what the state’s financial picture will look like in 2007, but I’m a little hesitant to force this onto the agenda without knowing what else we’ll have to be paying for. Is that too much to ask?

And sadly, Mayor White isn’t much help to me this time:

Spokesman Frank Michel said Houston Mayor Bill White is concerned about traffic congestion and safety issues involved with a large number of rail crossings, but he said the city hasn’t formally taken a position on the amendment.

I need to think about this one some more. Feel free to offer your guidance in the comments.

The grassroots movement on Prop 2

This Chron article gives the best reason why those who oppose the Double Secret Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment, also known as Proposition 2, need to get out and vote on November 7:

“This is unique, historical. Nothing like this has happened in Texas. Most people don’t know it’s going to occur, and that’s the fear,” said Kelley Shackelford, one of [Texans for Marriage Political Action Committee]’s founders.

Similar measures against same-sex marriage were on the ballots of 11 states last November, and all passed. Texas is the only state this year where voters will consider measures defining marriage.

“If you had a huge turnout, there’s no doubt in my mind, Texans are solidly behind keeping marriage between a man and a woman,” Shackelford said. “I can’t tell you whether they will show up or not. Anyone can win.”

Don’t wake up on November 8 with a case of the coulda-shouldas. This is important.

And this is the saddest thing I’ve read about the Prop 2 debate:

Shackelford says support for banning same-sex marriage crosses usual political and philosophical lines. Though socially conservative issues often are associated with Republicans and white evangelicals, this measure appeals to people regardless of their party affiliation, economic status and ethnic background, said Shackelford, who is white.

Willie Davis, the senior pastor at Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and a supporter of the amendment, agrees. “This is not the normal right, evangelical fight. We are supporting it because of our biblical beliefs,” said Davis, who is black. “That’s not a principle we adopted because it’s on the ballot. That’s something we always believed in. I would hope we do not rewrite history as to what the creator has already defined.”

How many members of your congregation have common law marriages, Reverend Davis? Can you say for certain that the broadly-worded Prop 2 will not affect any of them? What will you say if you find out that it does? Remember, the ballot language includes a reference to “any legal status identical to or similar to marriage”. You tell me what that means.

(Putting aside, of course, the obvious possibility that there might be gay people in his flock. The point I want to make here is that Prop 2 isn’t just about gays, though they will certainly feel the brunt of it.)

Oh, and to respond to Shackleford, opposition to Prop 2 also cuts across various political boundaries.

Besides get-out-the-vote efforts among potential opponents of the measure, Houston’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Political Caucus PAC is trying to get candidates and officeholders on the record about the amendment.

Houston Mayor Bill White took no official stance but suggested the amendment is divisive.

“As mayor, I avoid commenting on state and federal laws and policies I do not influence,” White said. “I intend to vote ‘no’ on the proposed state constitutional amendment to protest its use as a wedge issue.”

Some responses, including at-large Position 5 City Council candidate Michael Stoma’s, were more vague:

“I support everyone’s right to pursue life, love and happiness under the law. I support political involvement to change the laws to reflect increased civil rights and enhance our constitutional rights to pursue a happy, prosperous life, with increased quality of life.”

“There are a lot of answers that are nonanswers,” said Maria Gonzalez, president of the caucus.

Sorry, Michael, that doesn’t cut it. Tell me how your voting and why, or I can’t respect you. If what you’re afraid of is giving a “wrong” answer, then go back and read what Mayor White said. It’s that simple.

Kudos also to DMN colunnist Jacquielynn Floyd for getting to the heart of the issue. If you need to know more or want to get involved, just remember these four words: No Nonsense In November.

Miers and Gore

Far be it from me to offer any advice to the right-wing crowd that’s currently frothing over the not-what-they-wanted nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, but I’m getting a little tired of seeing stuff like this in the papers.

“This president is saying ‘trust me,’ and people don’t want to just do that,” said a conservative activist with ties to the White House. The activist was particularly upset about Miers’ contributions to Democrats in the late 1980s.

“How do you explain this?” he said, referring to Miers’ 1988 contributions to then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, and then-Sen. Al Gore, D-Tenn. “She was in her 40s; it’s not like she was in college and drunk at the time.”

Listen to me closely, because I’m just going to say this once: Rick Perry, our beloved-by-the-conservative-base Governor, a man for whom anyone who is anyone in the Republican Party was doing their level best a few months ago to persuade Kay Bailey Hutchison to stay away from next year’s gubernatorial primary, was the Texas state chairman of Al Gore’s 1988 presidential bid. He was 38 years old at the time (how sober he may have been is a question I am unable to answer adequately). I’ll freely admit we know a lot more about what Rick Perry stands for than we do about Ms. Miers, though there’s a pretty simple way to resolve that particular conundrum. My point is just that Texas was a very different place in 1988 than it is today. If you don’t understand that, you should probably yield to someone who does.

(For extra credit, buy yourself a copy of Fifty Years of the Texas Observer and read about what the liberal wing of the Texas Democratic Party thought of Lloyd Bentsen in 1970, when he successfully ousted progressive hero Ralph Yarborough in the primary.)