Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

February, 2006:

Ciro gaining on Cuellar

It’s not published yet, and I don’t have much time to discuss it now, but Andre Pineda forwarded me a recent poll in CD28 that shows Ciro Rodriguez closing the gap on Henry Cuellar from 45-30 in October to 39-34 today, with Victor Morales getting 8%. I can only surmise that Bush-hugging has been hazardous to Cuellar’s fortunes. The poll summary indicates that the more voters learn about Cuellar, the less they like him. No shock there.

As I’m about to skip town for a week, I haven’t the time to delve into this. I expect the numbers will be published elsewhere soon, so look out for it. And go Ciro!

UPDATE: Here’s the poll info (PDF), which I finally had the time to upload,

Hubener loses in HD106

Can’t win ’em all.

Republican Kirk England of Grand Prairie won a special election Tuesday to replace state Rep. Ray Allen.

England received 2,788 votes, or 53 percent, to 2,438, or 46 percent, for Democrat Katy Hubener in final, unofficial returns. Libertarian Gene Freeman had 48 votes.

That’s pretty close to the split from Hubener’s 2004 loss to then-incumbent Ray Allen. That’s still three or four points less than the overall GOP index there, which may mean Hubener’s peaked, or (since Allen had fairly well-publicized ethical issues before that election, which could easily explain his relatively poor performance) it may mean this district is now trending blue, something which was not evident from previous elections. Or maybe the tiny turnout doesn’t give us enough data to draw a conclusion. Hubener will take a third shot at this in November, so we’ll know more then. More from BOR here, and a statement from the Texas Democratic Party is here.

UPDATE: PinkDome brings the funny.

“The most meaningless office” in Harris County

Greg calls this story about the GOP primary for Harris County Treasurer “the race for the most meaningless countywide office”. He’s certainly right about that, and I agree that the story does a decent job of conveying how meaningless the Treasurer’s job is, but it doesn’t go quite far enough. Here’s what I mean: Go do an archive search on for the name “Jack Cato” and the period 2004-05. Want to guess how many hits I got? Four: One for Orlando Sanchez’s announcement that he wants this do-nothing job, one for Cato’s participation in a charity auction, one on the fall of Dan Rather that quotes Cato the former TV news guy, and one about the need for a photographer in a JP court. Two years, four stories, not one of which has anything to do with the official function of the County Treasurer. Do a similar search for “Paul Bettencourt” or “Beverly Kaufman” and you’ll see the difference.

So, the only thing you really need to know about this particular race is that there is exactly one candidate who is campaigning to do what needs to be done to the office of Harris County Treasurer, and that’s abolish it. That person is Richard Garcia, the Democratic candidate, who is running unopposed for his party’s nomination. If you fancy yourself a believer in smaller government, here’s a unique opportunity to act on that belief. Your choice this November couldn’t be clearer. Richard Garcia’s your man.

Oh dear.

Granted that sensitivity to nuance has not been a hallmark of the Lieberman campaign thus far, someone at his campaign website really should have thought to ask Mr. Amann (the CT House Speaker) for a different quote.

Perhaps they were too busy working out the cutting edge (sorry, up-to-date) red, white and blue stars and stripes design.

Screenshot in the extended entry


Turnout for Tom

Looks like Tom DeLay is confident of his chances in the CD22 primary.

With one week before the Republican primary in the 22nd Congressional District, the four candidates are setting strategies for how to make the most of the home stretch.

As incumbent Rep. Tom DeLay’s staff targets past voters and confirms that they will support him on March 7, the Sugar Land Republican is confident that he has laid the groundwork to spur his supporters to the polls.

Indeed, he will be in Washington on Wednesday, Thursday and maybe part of Friday to attend hearings and vote on the House floor.

Meanwhile, challenger Tom Campbell, a lawyer, may spend time between constituent events parking his mobile campaign RV at a local Wal-Mart to meet a few more folks. Candidate Mike Fjetland, also a lawyer, plans to meet voters today at Bob’s Taco Station in Rosenberg and at a pancake supper at his church, Richmond’s Calvary Episcopal.

Former schoolteacher Pat Baig’s schedule was too fluid to offer details on specific events, spokesman Glen Risley said.

With all due respect, Pat, that sounds a lot like there’s not much of anything particular on your schedule. You have my sympathies.

The four candidates are competing for the votes of the less than 10 percent of registered voters who typically vote in Texas primaries.

Not so sure about 10 percent being “typical” here. Yes, in 2004, when he ran unopposed in the GOP primary, DeLay got 15,000 votes, compared to 150,000 in the general. But in 2002 and 2000, when he faced Fjetland, the percentages were higher. There were 28,000 votes cast in the 2002 primary, and 100,000 for DeLay in the general. In 2000, 50,000 votes were cast in the primary, while DeLay got 154,000 in the general. If those patterns hold, I’d expect 25,000 to 35,000 votes cast, assuming non-Presidential-year turnout and GOP support for the general.

As for DeLay’s optimism, you may recall the recent survey that Tom Campbell was touting that showed him with a nine-point lead, in which I expressed some skepticism. I’ve since spoken to Dan Kent of OneNet, who took the poll in question. He said he did it on his own, not on behalf of any campaign, and he said he only phoned people who had voted in either the 2002 or 2004 GOP primary or both. He generously provided me with the phone script (Word doc) and full poll data (Excel spreadsheet), which you can see for yourself. It took me a minute to figure out that Question 2 is referring to the electability of Tom Campbell, and that the corresponding values for Question 3 are how many of each of those people voted for or intend to vote for Campbell. Basically, everybody who gave a 1 or 2 for Campbell’s electability (scale of 1 to 5, 1 = most electable, 5 = least electable) voted for him. Make of all that what you will. My thanks to Dan Kent for providing the data.

Bye-bye, bonus ball

The much-maligned bonus ball of the Texas Lottery is officially kaput.

Starting in late April, players will choose six numbers between 1 and 54 rather than five numbers between 1 and 44 and one bonus ball from 1 to 44. That will return the odds of winning the jackpot to 1 in 25.8 million, down from 1 in 47.8 million with the bonus ball.

Already sluggish sales fell even more after the bonus ball was added, lottery staff said. So far this fiscal year, a higher percentage of ticket sales have gone to the twice-daily Pick 3 game than to Lotto Texas, which once was by far the state’s highest-selling online game, commission chairman C. Thomas Clowe said.

“I think the handwriting’s on the wall,” Clowe said. “We’ve got to do what we can.”

Clowe blamed several factors for the decline in sales, from the growing popularity of Internet gambling to the prevalence of casinos in nearby states. Players also are increasingly drawn to the huge jackpots offered by Mega Millions and Powerball, he said, and are less likely to play for smaller prizes.

In an effort to build big jackpots more quickly — and therefore sell more tickets — the commission will devote a higher percentage of sales to the top prize and pay less to winners matching three, four or five numbers than it did in the old game involving 54 numbers. For example, players matching three of six numbers will win $3 rather than $5.

Lottery watchdog Dawn Nettles opposed the changes adopted Monday, saying that style of play already failed to draw customers and would fail again. She said players aren’t as concerned about high jackpots as Clowe maintained, but they won’t play for pocket change.

“The people are going to boycott this game, and I’m going to see to it that they do,” said Nettles, who also opposes the concept of guaranteed prizes, saying players should instead win a set percentage of sales.

Nettles of course also opposed the bonus ball, which led me to wonder when I first read this if she’s ever happy. Her objections are more clearly articulated in this Star-Telegram story.

Nettles said that the players who submitted comments to her made clear that even though they might despise the bonus ball; they do not necessarily endorse all aspects of the plan to replace it.

She said that under the original configuration, 5.07 percent of every dollar taken in ticket sales went to the prize pool for second-place winners. That meant all of the players who hit five of six numbers shared equally in that prize pool and the payoff was often more than $2,500.

Under the proposed new rule, Nettles added, 2.23 percent of ticket sales would be earmarked for the second-place winners. Therefore, if ticket sales were sufficient to pay $2,500 to the five-of-six winners under the old rule, there would be only enough money to pay about $1,900 under the proposed rule.

The prize amounts for those who match four of six would be cut by about half. Matching three numbers under the old method guaranteed a player $5; that would be cut to $3 under the latest proposal.

Seems reasonable enough. You’re much more likely to hit a lower-end prize in this lifetime, so it may as well be worth something.

The two-man commission discussed the issue for more than four hours, debating a variety of proposals, including the lottery’s original form when players chose six numbers from 1 to 50. While that setup would return more money to players, the commissioners said that would happen at the expense of the Foundation School Fund, where revenues from lottery games go.

“We can’t make everybody happy, but the thing I think the commissioners have to protect is that fiduciary responsibility to the state,” Clowe said. “That’s part of the integrity that we have signed on to discharge.”

Too bad about not reverting to the old-style pick-six-of-fifty game. Though I still think that the Lottery is a dead man walking and no slick advertising blitz can change that, I also agree with the first commenter here that there was goodwill to be mined from going back to the original game. Alas.

UPDATE: I drafted this last night when the AP story was on the Chron site. Today they have their own story, which has more detail.

Time to break out the damage control

You can give it whatever fancy name you want. I know damage control when I see it.

An investigation into payroll padding at City Hall intensified Monday, as Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado spoke for two hours with Houston police soon after hiring a new communications firm and prominent defense lawyer Rusty Hardin.

“She came out from that very pleased with the conversation,” said her new spokesman, Joe Householder, of the Austin-based firm Public Strategies Inc.

He did not provide details of the interview at the Houston Police Office of Inspector General’s office on Riesner, except to say that it wasn’t adversarial.

He said Alvarado believes the investigation could lead to improved procedures for preventing the possible payroll abuses that have led to suspension of four employees in the Office of Mayor Pro Tem. “She views this investigation as a first step on the road to reform,” Householder said.

The interview occurred hours after Householder confirmed that Alvarado, who represents City Council District I, had hired Hardin. Lawyers from his firm attended the police interview with the councilwoman.

Alvarado hasn’t been implicated in the probe into $143,000 in what city officials say were improper bonuses collected by Office of Mayor Pro Tem employees. No one has been charged with crimes.

Hardin and his associates were retained to provide guidance to Alvarado during the ongoing criminal investigation and any future involvement by Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, Householder said.

It gives me no joy to blog this stuff. I like Carol Alvarado. I don’t want to see her disappear from the public stage. It’s important to realize that she herself did nothing wrong. Her sin was of omission. How big the price she pays for that will depend in large part on how much the wrongdoers got away with while she wasn’t looking closely enough. Getting to the end of the daily drip of stories and having it all go to the DA’s office where the news will slow down considerably will help her recover. I’m sure she can’t wait.

Statement from Jim Henley

With the primary election one week from today, I asked both Democratic candidates in CD07 to send me a statement about why you should vote for them. The following is Jim Henley‘s statement.

Democrats have a great opportunity this November! The race for Congressional District 7 comes down to who can wage the stronger campaign against John Culberson. It is sometimes difficult for voters to assess the strength of candidates prior to the voting. Some important indicators are:

(1) I live in district 7.

(2) We have a broad based volunteer pool who live in the district.

(3) Please check the FEC filings for January and compare the number and amount of donations to both candidates.

(4) Issues: I have called for a complete withdrawal of our troops from Iraq by December, 2006. This is a national security issue for our country and a moral issue for a candidate for Congress.

It is true that District 7 leans Republican, but voters are looking for character, not the shadow of Culberson. I have refused special interest money, and folks have rallied to our campaign and opened up their checkbooks. Voters are looking for someone who is the opposite of Culberson to inspire them to give and work and take back their government!

Culberson, DeLay, Perry, Hutchinson,and Wong will be defeated this November by Democrats who offer the voters a clear choice. I ask the voters of District 7 for their vote and their support.

Jim Henley

Thank you, Jim Henley. Please see the previous entry for David Murff‘s statement.

Statement from David Murff

With the primary election one week from today, I asked both Democratic candidates in CD07 to send me a statement about why you should vote for them. The following is David Murff‘s statement.

I am a practicing attorney here in Houston, operating my own law practice, and have many ties with the local business community, having served as Chairman of the Board to a local securities brokerage firm. I am the third generation in my family to have served in the military, and at last count, one of ten family members who have sworn to uphold and protect the United States Constitution by serving in our armed forces. I have a beautiful family, including my wife Lindsey and our three children, ages 7, 2 ½ and 9 months, and they are among the many reasons why I seek office today.

Our Nation is destroying itself from within and must look to new leadership in 2006. We are failing our children in our approach to education and we are failing ourselves by continuing to permit this Administration and GOP led Congress to support initiatives that fly in the face of reason and defy logic. Our Nation must return to its roots as pioneers and reclaim our lost traditions of innovation and vision. And, we must have leadership willing to pursue issues such as: universal health care; strong public education; energy independence; and sound tax policies.

As a veteran, I am also a proud member of the Band of Brothers. We are 52 veterans running as Democrats, seeking a place within the 110th Congress. While there is more to consider, in chosing a congressional candidate, than one’s service to his or her country, consider that as your congressman, I will not be a freshman representative forced to get along and play along. Upon taking our place in Washington, we “Band of Brothers” will form one of the most powerful caucuses in Washington, and WE WILL command the respect of our colleagues.

I appreciate the following groups and individuals for their support and endorsement: Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Houston Black American Democrats, former congressional candidate – Richard Morrison, former HCC Trustee – Herman Litt, former city council candidate – Mark Lee, Dr. William Brinkley – Dean Baylor College of Medicine; Dr. Joseph Bak – former local chairman “Physicians for a National Health Program”, Debby Kerner, Marvin Rich, The Honorable Joe Jaworski – Galveston Mayor Pro Tem and City Council Member.

As a member of the “Band of Brothers”, I have received commitments and support from the following individuals: Senator John Kerry, Senator Russ Feingold, Senator Patty Murray, Representative Lane Evans, Representative John Salazar, former Senator Tom Daschle, former Senator Max Cleland, General Wesley Clark, USA (Ret), General Joseph Hoar, USMC (Ret), Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, USN (Ret), Lt. General Claudia Kennedy, USA (Ret), Brig. General Stephen A. Cheney, USMC (Ret), and Colonel Richard L. Klass, USAF (Ret).

Your voice will be heard and we will rebuild our Nation, one issue at a time.

David Murff
Democratic Candidate
U.S. House of Representatives, Texas CD7

Thank you, David Murff. Please see the next entry for Jim Henley‘s statement.

Go, Katy!

Today is the day of the HD106 special election. Donna Howard‘s victory in the previous special got everyone’s attention. A win today by Katy Hubener would demonstrate that it was no outlier. If you’re in HD106, make sure you vote. The Hubener campaign will have its vote-counting party at UAW Hall, 2218 East Main Street, Grand Prairie, beginning at 7 PM. I’ll be packing for a trip out of town tonight, but I’ll try to keep an eye on this result as well.

Meanwhile, early voting is up in Bexar County from 2004.

By the end of Friday, the fourth day of early voting, 5,161 people in Bexar County had cast ballots in the Democratic primary. That marks a 28 percent increase in turnout over the same period in the 2004 primary.

Early voting started Tuesday and runs through Friday.

This week, the pace could pick up even more.

“The final week of early voting is always the heaviest, and the hotter the race, the heavier the turnout in the last few days,” said Christian Anderson of Election Support Services.

It’s the SD19 race between Carlos Uresti and Frank Madla that’s the main driver of turnout, but as the article notes Ciro Rodriguez should also benefit. Link via Kos, who also quotes from a commenter who called the Webb County Election Administrator’s Office and reports that “Laredo was lagging a bit from the last cycle at this point in early voting.” It’s the end total that matters, of course, but this is a positive sign.

Finally, you can see Uresti’s latest ad here. And though it doesn’t affect either of these races, turnout is good so far in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties.

UPDATE: See this BOR post for more on Hubener and results when they come in later.

Effa Manley first woman elected to the Hall of Fame

And speaking of the Hall of Fame…

Effa Manley became the first woman elected to the baseball Hall of Fame when the former Newark Eagles executive was among 17 people from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues chosen Monday by a special committee.

“This is a historic day at the Hall of Fame,” shrine president Dale Petroskey said. “I hoped that someday there would be a woman in the Hall. It’s a pretty proud moment.”


Manley co-owned the New Jersey-based Eagles with her husband, Abe, and ran the business end of the team for more than a decade. The Eagles won the Negro Leagues World Series in 1946 — one year before Jackie Robinson broke the major-league color barrier.

“She was very knowledgeable, a very handsome woman,” said Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who played for the Eagles while the Manleys owned the team, as did Don Newcombe and Larry Doby.

“She did a lot for the Newark community. She was just a well-rounded, influential person,” Irvin said. “She tried to organize the owners to build their own parks and have a balanced schedule and to really improve the lot of the Negro League players.”

Manley was white but married a black man and passed as a black woman, said Larry Lester, a baseball author and member of the voting committee.

“She campaigned to get as much money as possible for these ballplayers, and rightfully so,” Lester said.

Manley used baseball to advance civil rights causes with events such as an Anti-Lynching Day at the ballpark. She died in 1981 at age 84.

“She was a pioneer in so many ways, in terms of integrating the team with the community,” said Leslie Heaphy, a Kent State professor on the committee. “She’s also one of the owners who pushed very hard to get recognition for Major League Baseball when they started to sign some of their players.”

Buck O’Neil and Minnie Minoso, the only living members among the 39 candidates on the ballot, were not elected by the 12-person panel.


The election was the culmination of a Hall of Fame project to compile a complete history of blacks in the game from 1860 to 1960.

More than 50 historians, authors and researchers spent four years sifting through box scores in 128 newspapers of sanctioned league games from 1920-54. The result was the most complete collection of Negro Leagues statistics ever compiled, according to the Hall, and a database that includes 3,000 day-by-day records and career leaders.

“What we’re proudest of is the broadening of knowledge,” Petroskey said. “When we started five years ago, we had 20 percent of the stats. We’ve got 90 percent of the stats now.”

Very cool, both Effa Manley’s induction and the overall project itself. It’s too bad that neither O’Neil nor Minoso, surely the two best-known non-enshrined Negro Leaguers at this point, didn’t make it, but if that’s how the committee saw it, then so be it. Link via David Pinto.

Biggio’s case for the Hall of Fame

This Sunday article on longtime Astro Craig Biggio briefly discusses his likelihood of getting into the Hall of Fame.

Biggio someday will hang up his elbow pads and mucky helmet, but don’t rush him. He’s still in great shape, he’s still productive, and there’s still the lure of 3,000 hits.

Most of all, he still has the desire.

He’s come a long way

Who could have guessed that the fresh-faced Long Island kid that who replaced Alan Ashby at catcher 18 years ago would put together a Hall of Fame-caliber career? Biggio has made the NL All-Star team seven times, won four Gold Gloves and broken a whopping number of countless records.

He has continued to adapt with age. He went from the physical demands of catcher to second base to the outfield and back to second. He added a leg kick to his batting stance and later took it away.

And at 40, he’s still going strong. This will be Biggio’s 19th season with the Astros, an impressive unprecedented run in an era of treachery constant player movement and free agency. But this season probably won’t be his last.


While Jeff Bagwell, who joins Biggio atop virtually all the club’s offensive charts, could see his career end at any moment, Biggio chugs away. He hit .264 last season with a 26 homers (a career high) and 69 RBIs, strengthening his Hall of Fame case.

I think Biggio’s case for the Hall can be summed up as follows: He’s 43rd all time in career base hits. Every single currently eligible player ahead of him on that list is in the Hall. The others are Pete Rose, Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Harold Baines, and Rafael Palmeiro, whose case for the Hall hinges more on how pissy the writers will be over his Senate testimony. He’s also 24th all time in career runs scored, and again, he trails only Famers plus Henderson, Rose, and Barry Bonds. If he gets 3000 hits, he’s a mortal lock. He’s pretty damn close to it without that number on his resume.

I’ll wait to see what Jay Jaffe has to say about Biggio’s statheads case before I make any statements about how he ought to fare in the voting, but I expect Bidge’s case there to be pretty solid, too. He played a lot of games in the Astrodome, so his overall numbers are really better than they look. I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Lair has more, while Plunk Biggio notes that a part of him is already enshrined.

By the way, the print story noted that Bidge is second on the Astros’ all-time stolen base list with 407 thefts. This should be an easy question for longtime fans, but who’s number one? Answer below the fold.


Retaliation against TPJ

Just go read this story about how one of Tom DeLay’s friends got Texas Congressman Sam Johnson to instigate a complaint against Texans for Public Justice with the IRS for its role in exposing DeLay’s financial shenanigans. As Josh Marshall puts it:

DeLay fundraising lawyer is worried that TPJ might end up deep-sixing the boss. DeLay fundraising lawyer contacts DeLay-lackey congressman and asks him to sic the IRS on TPJ. DeLay-lackey congressman does as he’s told. And so does the IRS. TPJ gets put the wringer for uncovering information about DeLay’s crimes.

TPJ was fully cleared in the matter, with no evidence of any wrongdoing on their part coming to light. You kind of have to admire the sheer shamelessness of it all.

Yates plea deal rejected

The Harris County DA has offered a plea to Andrea Yates, but the offer was rejected.

Prosecutors have offered Andrea Pia Yates a plea agreement in which she would get a 35-year prison sentence if she pleaded guilty to murder in the drownings of her children, an assistant Harris County district attorney told a judge today.

Prosecutor Joe Owmby told state District Judge Belinda Hill that the offer to let Yates plead guilty to the lesser charge will remain open until 10 days before her second capital murder trial.

Yates, who called Houston police to her Clear Lake-area home in June 2001 and told them she had drowned her five children in the bathtub, is scheduled to stand trial on March 20. She could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

Her attorney, George Parnham, told the judge “I have considered that recommendation laboriously,” but added that he has rejected the offer thus far.

Given that Yates is not eligible for the death penalty (since the initial jury rejected it), this wasn’t much of a deal for her. Not that I expect Parnham to accept anything less than a guarantee of placement in a real mental facility instead of incarceration, but still. Rulings on the other motions are expected today, so stay tuned.

UPDATE: As I thought, Judge Belinda Hill has ruled in favor of the prosecution on the question of whether or not Park Dietz’s erroneous testimony constituted double jeopardy for Yates.

Her decision could affect whether Yates’ second capital murder trial in the drownings of her children will be held as scheduled on March 20.

Yates’ defense team, headed by George Parnham, had alleged that prosecutors used false testimony to obtain her conviction for the deaths of three of her five children.

Prosecutors countered that the testimony by forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz was simply a mistake and that they did not try to hide it.

No ruling yet on whether it was frivolous or not. If the latter, Parnham can appeal, which would delay the start of the trial for months.

At least they’re covering some primaries

Today’s Chron has a couple of stories on primary elections that (unlike their pathetic effort from last week) are actually worth reading. First is this piece on the Ciro Rodriguez – Henry Cuellar rematch. Most of it is familiar to those who have followed this closely, but it’s a decent overview (if more than a little slanted in Cuellar’s favor, if you ask me) and it does have a good quote from Larry Sabato:

The contest also may signal Bush’s strength in a part of his home state where he got 53 percent of the vote against Democrat John Kerry in 2004. Bush is an element because on Jan. 31, before he gave his State of the Union speech, he was seen embracing Cuellar.

Cuellar, who says he would never switch parties, was standing with Republicans in the House chamber.

Democratic activists used the Internet, with a photo of the two men, to raise money for cash-starved Rodriguez and started calling Cuellar Bush’s chulo, Spanish for cutie.

The Rodriguez campaign said it got a much-needed boost from the photograph.

“It’s anger towards Bush,” said Larry J. Sabato, head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “It’s a Texas district, and you would think the anger would be less there, but it’s still substantial.”

We’ll know soon enough how substantial it is. Meanwhile, in an echo from 2004, Rodriguez is complaining about voting irregularities in Webb County. Let’s just hope this one isn’t close enough to be affected by a recount.

Story Two from the Chron is on the Leininger Five and the big issue of the cycle, education.

“If Republicans are vulnerable, it is on education. Collectively, they have not been able to give us anything more than gridlock on this issue,” said Greg Thielemann, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Political consultants and observers say this is an unusual primary election cycle because of the large amounts of money being raised, as well as the attention focused by the Legislature’s failure to lower property taxes and boost school funding during last year’s regular session and two failed special sessions.


Voter dissatisfaction about school finance has allowed a new political action committee to become a player in several campaigns. The Texas Parent PAC was formed last year by supporters of public schools to raise money, recruit candidates and influence legislative races.

As of Jan. 26, the PAC had raised $62,000 to support 10 candidates. Though the money comes nowhere near matching what most incumbents are raising, the group also is helping organize local volunteers and is providing campaign advice.

Brian Mayes, a Dallas campaign consultant working with Texas Parent PAC, said his polling shows the group’s message is resonating with voters. “They are taking an issue that is at the top of voters’ minds and making sure they remember who failed,” Mayes said.

Incumbents facing Parent PAC candidates are counting on the fact GOP primary voters usually are more conservative than the public at large. They also hope voters will be patient about their inability to agree on how to pay for the state’s $30 billion a year school system, historically the toughest problem for lawmakers to solve.


At a news conference in Austin last week, Perry said he didn’t put much stock in groups that bill certain candidates as being pro-schools.

“I would bet that there’s not a member of the Republican Party or the Democrat Party that is running on the platform of, ‘Elect me and I won’t support our children in public education,’ ” Perry said.

I just love that quote from Governor Perry. Of course no candidate opposes public education – well, other than Debbie “Pit of Hell” Riddle. No candidate favors crime or opposes job creation, either. What matters is “What have you done?” and “What will you do?”, two questions that people like Rep. Kent Gruesendorf and Perry himself can’t answer easily. People can see what’s right before their eyes.

The media-shy Leininger defended his campaign activity in a guest column Friday in the Austin American-Statesman.

Leininger said he has helped thousands of poor students in San Antonio’s Edgewood school district attend private schools, and would like to see others around the state have the same opportunities.

“My resolve is firm and my political activities unambiguous: those who support helping the neediest children escape failing schools will receive my support, and I will vigorously oppose those who don’t,” he wrote.

Here’s that editorial Leininger wrote. I want to call your attention to one thing:

Almost 15 years ago, I read about a private scholarship program helping kids out of bad schools in bad neighborhoods in Indianapolis. I thought, “That’s the answer!” That summer we offered 1,000 scholarships to low-income children in San Antonio. The first week we saw more than 6,000 applications from desperate parents.

Which means that 5000 desperate parents were sent away empty-handed. That’s the difference between public and private schools. Public schools take all comers, while privates can pick and choose who they want to educate. As long as private schools can turn away any kid for any reason, vouchers are and will be a sham solution.

Just so we’re all clear what Texans think the top priority is:

Asked to cite the state’s most important priority, 47 percent of respondents said it was public education.

Sixteen percent said cutting property taxes should be the top concern of the Legislature and the state.


Mr. Perry dismissed the numbers, saying, “I don’t pay a lot of attention to special-interest polls. We make our decisions based on what is in the best interest of the schoolchildren of Texas.”

We know, Governor, we know. There’s lots of things you don’t pay attention to. Here’s another:

A statewide poll conducted by The Dallas Morning News shows that 52 percent of Texans said they would pay more in state taxes if the money went to schools, while 39 percent opposed an increase.

“It’s interesting that Texas, which has always said no more taxes, no more taxes, no more taxes, is willing to say OK to this,” pollster Mickey Blum said. “But you find this all over the country, that the one issue that will open up the pocketbooks — and we all hate taxes — it is education.”

Blum & Weprin Associates Inc. of New York conducted the poll, which surveyed 1,482 registered voters by telephone Feb. 9-15. It has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The newspaper released the poll Tuesday.

Of Republicans, 46 percent said they would not be willing to pay more taxes for schools and 44 percent said they would. They were the only voter group unwilling to pay more.

I’m just saying.

Getting back to Leininger and his fembots for a minute, this is the sort of candidate that Leininger is trying to install in Austin:

Macias said the issue most important to him is limiting state spending and cutting taxes.

“As I walk door to door and talk to people, the tax burden seems to weigh most on people,” he said. “As a conservative Republican we are for limited government, less regulation, less burden on the citizenry.”

While he stressed the need to cut “wasteful spending,” Macias could not identify any areas he would advocate cutting.

“I need to get in there and really take a look at it,” he said. “Do an across-the-board, up-and-down review and look for ways to relieve some of the burden.”

That’s Nathan Macias, running against Rep. Carter Casteel in New Braunfels. Way to be informed on the issues, Nathan! BOR has more, as well as a different response to Leininger by Rep. Tommy Merritt.

This is getting a bit long, but I do want to note some other decent primary-related coverage, from the DMN: This nice piece on Barbara Radnofsky, and this piece on veterans/Congressional candidates David Harris and Van Taylor. Though Harris and Taylor are the only two who saw service in Iraq, it should be noted that a total of nine Democratic Congressional candidates from Texas can claim military experience. That to me is a story that deserves a little more digging.

Finally, the Chron has finally seen fit to start making endorsements in Democratic primaries, with recommendations for Chris Bell, Ben Grant, and Barbara Radnofsky. The bad news is that they apparently will be skipping at least one local State Rep race. Why they would do this, I have no idea.

RIP, Don Knotts

Don Knotts, known for many roles from Barney Fife to Ralph Furley and much more, passed away over the weekend at the age of 81.

Knotts first rose to prominence in the late 1950s, joining Louis Nye and other comedy players on “The Steve Allen Show.” In 1961, United Artists Records released a comedy album entitled “Don Knotts: An Evening with Me,” which featured various takeoffs on the “nervous man” routine the comic had made famous on Allen’s show. One of the bits, “The Weatherman,” concerned a TV forecaster forced to wing it after the meteorology report fails to make it to the studio by air time.

During the mid to late 1960s, in a largely unsuccessful bid for major film stardom, Knotts made a series of family films that many connoisseurs now say were critically underappreciated at the time. These include “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” (1964), “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966) and “The Reluctant Astronaut” (1967). The latter two were made as part of a five-picture deal with Universal Pictures.

“Limpet,” the tale of a meek man who is transformed into a fish, has particularly won recent acclaim. Its early mix of live action and animation was a forerunner of such later films as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “Space Jam.”

At one point, Jim Carrey was said to be considering starring in a “Limpet” remake, although the project has yet to materialize. Once, when Knotts visited the set of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” Carrey paid tribute. “I went to him, and I was just like, ‘Thank you so much for “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,”‘ Carrey later told an interviewer. ” ‘I watched it a hundred times when I was a kid.’ ”

Martin Short has likewise hailed Knotts as a major influence, and at least one of Short’s recurring characters, shifty-eyed lawyer Nathan Thurm, owes a debt to Knotts’ “nervous man” character, created for “The Steve Allen Show” in the 1950s.

As always, your best source of information on celebrity eulogies is Mark Evanier, who remembers Knotts as “The most beloved person in all of show business” and has more here. Rest in peace, Don Knotts.

Let’s extend the Hurtt Prize

You may recall from our earlier discussions of HPD Chief Harold Hurtt’s proposal to install surveillance cameras as a crimefighting tool that a fellow who takes civil liberties a bit more seriously created the Hurtt Prize, which is intended to reward the first person who catches Chief Hurtt breaking the law on film. Well, after seeing this obnoxiously ignorant cartoon from the Chron’s new in-house doodler, I say let’s extend the concept to include any high-profile booster of Hurtt’s plan. Anyone who’s that eager to sacrifice their basic freedoms in return for the illusion of protection deserves to live under a higher level of scrutiny, don’t you think? Smile for the cameras, Nick Anderson. You never know who’ll be watching.

Not ricin after all?

Whatever it was they found in the UT dorm, it apparently was not ricin.

A University of Texas at Austin student from Pearland was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital Friday night and “tested negative for any toxin” after she discovered a white powder that tested positive for the deadly toxin ricin.

Officials with the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services said late Saturday, however, that subsequent tests have indicated the powder might not be ricin, UT Director of Communications Rhonda Weldon said.


Special Agent Rene Salinas of the FBI’s San Antonio office said the agency believed the incident “is not terrorist-connected.”

But he said a team of experts on weapons of mass destruction had flown from FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., to Austin to collect samples of the powder for further testing.

Other federal agents “are trying to determine the exact origin of this material,” Salinas said, noting that additional testing would be completed over the weekend.

Strange. Better that what we thought at first, but strange. At least no one appears to have been harmed by whatever this is.

Help out a debutant

I got an email the other day from a former Trinity classmate, Stephanie (Greer) Stradley, whose sister Deb runs a cute blog here in Houston called Debutant. Deb has unfortunately run into some bad times.

On October 21, 2005, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia that is Philadelphia Chromosome positive. After that date, I was told that my daughter couldn’t live with me any more because of the risk of infection, and that I would have to get admitted to the hospital a lot to get chemo and go to the hospital a lot for outpatient services. She is now living with my Sis #2 and her family.

On Sunday, February 19th, I was admitted to the hospital for a stem cell transplant. It is a serious scary procedure but it is the best treatment for my form of the disease and hopefully will be a complete cure.

A little less than 4000 people in the United States get ALL each year. Most of those people are children. No one knows what causes ALL.

Deb could use a helping hand, be it in the form of financial assistance, blood or platelet donations, or just good thoughts and prayers. I’m told that the stem cell transplant takes place this Monday (tomorrow), so please keep that in mind. Deb’s got a beautiful little daughter and she’s a fan of the movie Airplane!, and that’s a pretty good combination in my book. Take a moment to visit her site and let her know you’re rooting for her.

Still more Koufax 2005 nominations

The Koufax nominations for 2005 are still coming in. Most of the categories are up, but there’s still a couple to go, and voting will commence once they’ve all been compiled. Meanwhile, the latest additions are:

Best Blog Community
Best Group Blog
Best Expert Blog
Best Writing

The deadline for the emergency fundraiser for Koufax support has passed, but there’s never a wrong time to help out the good folks at Wampum who put so much time and effort into doing this.

On a slightly different note, Julia wants you to help her buddy Michael Berube win Crazy Davey Horowitz’s Worst Professor In America contest (assuming you can get past the ick factor and follow that last link). He’s comfortably in the lead now, but you never know what those other loony academics might have up their sleeve, so go help him out.

Eckels wants lights synched

County Judge Robert Eckels wants to see more traffic light synchronization.

Signals cannot be synchronized in some areas now because signals installed by the county, Texas Department of Transportation and city are often incompatible, he said.

Synchronization generally involves setting lights to change sequentially, so traffic maintaining a certain speed can pass through numerous intersections without stopping.

As county, city and TxDOT signals wear out in the coming years, they will be replaced by equipment that is compatible, and more lights will be synchronized, including in the congested Galleria area, he said.

He praised Mayor Bill White for overseeing the synchronization of downtown traffic signals.

That sounds as good to me as Mayor White’s initiative, which was one of the very first things he did in office, did. I guess I’m just a little puzzled at how there could be county and/or TxDOT signals in the Galleria area. I would have thought that since this is solely City of Houston territory, only city traffic lights would be there. Maybe the ones on the service road at 610 are TxDOT’s, but where would the county have a hand in this? I’m just asking.

Minor point, and whatever the logistics, I like the idea. This was from Eckels’ state of the county speech, for which Anne has more info.

Carter and DeLay, BFFs

I thought that the recent lovefest for Tom DeLay would generate some campaign material. Mary Beth Harrell is first out of the box with a critique of Carter’s gushing.

Carter took time out of his busy schedule to show up one more time to defend and support Travis County Defendant Tom DeLay, but Carter could not find the time to come back to his own district to visit the veterans at the VA hospital in Temple for their Valentine’s Day tribute to the vets.


Carter’s office did send a representative to the VA event to speak for Carter. Carter’s rep told us that the Congressman was busy in D.C. and couldn’t be there. Carter’s rep told us that he must be real busy because he wouldn’t normally miss the opportunity to meet and escort Miss Texas on a tour of the VA hospital.

I’m thinking that if DeLay does get convicted in Travis County, or if he gets fingered in the Abramoff investigation, there’s going to be a lot of Texas Congressfolk with some explaining to do to their voters.

Who would have expected that Ciro Rodriguez would have more cash on hand at this point of the primary race than Henry Cuellar?

The most aggressive fundraising leading up to the March 7 primary was posted by freshman Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar and former Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez, who are waging a rematch of a 2004 primary that Cuellar won by 58 votes.

Cuellar reported raising $319,000 in the first six weeks of the year — in large part because of a slew of contributions from supporters of the Club for Growth, an organization that promotes fiscal restraint and tax cuts. Cuellar has $208,000 left to spend.

The Club endorsed Cuellar last month — its first ever endorsement of a Democrat. Rodriguez says that proves his point that the conservative-leaning Cuellar is a disloyal Democrat.

The reports show that Rodriguez is having some late success in attracting new donors. Rodriguez reported raising $272,000 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15, which was more than he had previously raised in all of 2005. He had $257,000 left to spend.

Most of Rodriguez’s itemized contributions came from Texas, though he also counted contributors from 15 other states and the District of Columbia. The FEC requires all donations of at least $200 to be itemized.

Rodriguez got a big boost from the liberal political action committee ActBlue, which transmitted about $96,000 to Rodriguez’s campaign from individual donors. Another $28,000 was earmarked from supporters of the liberal political organization Democracy for America, which has argued that Cuellar is a “DINO” — a Democrat In Name Only.

Cuellar’s campaign said its operation is fully-funded and fully-paid and argued that the uptick in funds for Rodriguez is too little and too late.

“Ciro and his special interest friends have arrived at the 11th hour and we think there will be a strong voter backlash to their vitriol,” said Colin Strother, the general consultant to Cuellar’s campaign.

Got that? Everyone who kicked into Ciro’s fund at ActBlue is a “special interest”, but the Club for Growth, why they’re just plain ol’ folks. Link via Kos. Oh, and to answer my own question, Henry Cuellar certainly didn’t expect this.

In the other hot San Antonio-area primary, Frank Madla’s spending habits made it into the Express News. Link via Matt. Remember: Carlos Uresti is the choice here.

Did Carole Keeton Strayhorn vote for Donna Howard last week? PerryVsWorld reads this story and thinks maybe she did. Well, she was a Dem once, and she needs Dems to vote for her now, so who knows?

Take a picture of a Larry Stallings push card out in the wild and win a prize!

Special Election Day in HD106 is this Tuesday. Katy Hubener gives a statement for her candidacy at BOR.

Who will earn the coveted In the Pink Texas endorsement for President in 2008, Joe Biden or Mark Warner. Click and see for yourself. Do Presidential candidates only come in one height these days, or does the Pink Lady adjust herself for those photos? Only her cameraman knows for sure, I guess.

Finally, Anna reports on the continuing pie fight in the GOP primary in HD94, where top DeLay lieutenant Kent Gruesendorf is going against Texas Parent PAC-backed challenger Diane Patrick. As I said before, the House Speakership will ride on races like this one. The Dems do have a contestant, a fellow named David Pillows, but in all likelihood the GOP primary will be the determinant. Keep an eye on that one.

Ricin found at UT

Holy crap.

Ricin, a potentially deadly poison, was found in a University of Texas dormitory Thursday by a student who reported the substance to school police officers.

The dorm was sanitized, and the substance was sent to a laboratory for testing and came back positive for ricin Friday night. University officials said they had not yet determined where it came from.

A “small amount” of UT students living in Moore-Hill dormitory were exposed to the substance, UT police spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said.

The students are now at an undisclosed location and are in contact with the FBI. They are not showing any symptoms, officials said. Other students living in Moore-Hill were being moved to Jester dormitory Friday night, Weldon said.

There is no threat to the university suspected, but an investigation is under way, Weldon said.

The substance found in Moore-Hill was a chunky powder and exposure was limited due to the humid conditions, Dr. Adolfo Valadez of the Austin health department said.

“We were very concerned as soon as we heard about the positive testing late this evening,” said Dr. Theresa Spalding of UT Health Services. “But everything was packed away and tested in an orderly manner.”

That’s appalling, however lucky we are that the prevailing conditions prevented more widespread exposure. I certainly hope the students who came into contact with the ricin remain in good health. I hate to be paranoid, but it’s a little hard to imagine someone casually possessing ricin. Whoever or whatever is behind this, I hope they’re found quickly. Karl-T has more, and there’s some video with the Chron story.

Yates decision Monday

State District Judge Belinda Hill will rule on Monday whether or not Andrea Yates should be tried again for murder or if the false testimony presented by prosecution witness Park Dietz creates a double jeopardy situation.

Dietz testified Friday he immediately notified prosecutors of his mistake. They, in turn, said they notified Yates’ attorneys. Yates’ attorneys, prosecutors testified Friday, seemed satisfied by alerting jurors of the mistake and did not take up Dietz’s offer to return to Houston at his own expense.

Yates’ attorneys have argued that subjecting her to another trial would amount to double jeopardy. If the judge disagrees and Yates chooses to appeal that finding, her trial could be delayed for up to a year, said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry.

But if Hill also declares the defense’s double jeopardy claim to be frivolous, Yates’ trial could proceed as scheduled, Curry said.

“Obviously, we’re taking this very seriously,” Curry said after Friday’s hearing. “When Dr. Dietz testified about this, we believed he knew what he was talking about. The court of appeals clearly found there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.”

My gut says that Judge Hill will not grant the defense motion. Dietz’s phony testimony was the grounds for overturning the guilty verdict from the first trial. In theory at least, the appeals court could have taken the extra step that the defense is now requesting, as Curry notes. I don’t think she’ll rule that it’s frivolous, though, so we may be in for a long wait.

Those who testified Friday included Dietz; Tomball area resident Shauna Thornton, who alerted the Harris County District Attorney’s Office of Dietz’s mistaken testimony; and the Harris County prosecutors assigned to the Yates case, Joe Owmby and Kaylynn Williford.

Thornton said she first sent an e-mail to the district attorney’s office one week after the Yates children died to alert prosecutors the A&E network had aired a rerun of L.A. Law that concerned a woman found not guilty of killing her child by using a “postpartum psychosis” defense. The program, Thornton said, aired shortly before the children’s deaths.

Prosecutors followed up by talking to Thornton, but said they did not give her message much weight because there was no way to prove that Yates had actually watched the TV program. They said they were busy chasing down numerous other leads.

Owmby said he mistakenly referred to the TV program as Law & Order when he briefly discussed the matter with Dietz, asking the psychiatrist to check if such an episode existed.

“I really had no interest in the matter except to put it to rest and get it out of the way,” Owmby testified Friday.

When Dietz testified at Yates’ first trial in March 2002, he said Law & Order had aired an episode about a case with circumstances similar to the Yates children’s deaths. Owmby and Williford both said Friday they had no reason to doubt Dietz’s testimony at the time, although they were surprised by it.

Thornton said she sent another e-mail to the district attorney’s office after seeing media coverage of Dietz’s testimony to alert them of the mistake.

“Actually, we shouted at the TV, ‘The name of the show is L.A. Law, not Law & Order,’ ” she recalled Friday.

Owmby said Friday if he had known Dietz’s testimony was incorrect, he would have spoken up immediately.

I dunno. This certainly sounds less than diligent on the part of the DA’s office, but not quite malicious. I think that the remedy already granted was sufficient. But we’ll see.

Chevron moves across the street downtown

Chevron will be moving some employees into the office building I once worked in downtown, across the street from the former Enron building they bought in 2004.

Almost two years after buying the 40-story downtown tower built for Enron, Chevron has leased about 20 stories of space in another high-profile building nearby.

The California-based oil giant will use 465,000 square feet of space in 1600 Smith, the 51-story building that’s also the headquarters for Houston-based Continental Airlines, to consolidate operations now in Sugar Land.

The transaction will be a “major plus to downtown,” said Tim Relyea, vice chairman of Cushman & Wakefield of Texas, who represented Chevron in lease negotiations.

I worked in 1600 Smith for about a year during 1993 and 1994. Had a great view of the Rockets’ victory parade down Smith Street after the won the NBA championship in ’94, too. I’m glad to see the old place still has some life in it.

I linked to this story mostly because Chevron’s purchase of the Enron building had a few bumps in the road. Here’s what I blogged about it at the time.

No injunction in BlackBerry case…yet

Breathe easier, corporate America, your BlackBerries are still good to go, at least for now.

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer said at hearing today in Richmond, Virginia, that he would rule on a shutdown probably after first assessing how much Research In Motion must pay the patent owner, NTP Inc., for infringement. He criticized the two companies for not settling the matter out of court.

The judge’s decision to postpone a ruling gives Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion time to settle the almost five- year-old dispute before any shutdown, which would affect more than 2 million nongovernment users in the U.S., including Wall Street bankers, members of Congress and White House staff.

“Many people expected at least a partial injunction coming today,” said Rob Sanderson, an analyst at American Technology Research. “I wouldn’t call it a victory yet. There’s obviously still a ruling coming. You’re seeing a favorable reaction from the markets.”

There are differing levels of anxiety where I work – I do BlackBerry server administration for a living. For the most part, we think the risk is low, but we all want to see this one in the rearview mirror.

Spencer criticized the companies’ settlement efforts.

“I am surprised, absolutely surprised, that you have left this incredibly important decision to the court,” the judge told company representatives at the hearing. “I have always felt it was a business decision.”


In the morning-long hearing, a Research In Motion lawyer said a “workaround” the company developed to deal with a shutdown would take 2 million man-hours to implement.

“It’s not something that can be done overnight,” company lawyer Henry Bunsow told Spencer. Balsillie said that works out to 15 to 30 minutes per user. New BlackBerry units will have the workaround technology installed, he said.

“No matter what, the BlackBerry service will continue,” Balsillie said.

Research In Motion has said its “workaround” technology would maintain service without interruption. In court papers, it stressed the difficulty of introducing the changes and said the switch would drive off some customers.

I’ve seen the specs on the workaround. The stumbling block is that each individual handheld would need to be updated. Given that BlackBerries by definition are heavily used by people who travel a lot, that’ll be a killer.

In a parallel proceeding, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled that one of the patents in dispute in the Virginia case should be canceled, Bunsow said today. The agency made similar findings on two other patents involved. Spencer said he won’t wait for the patent-office process to be finished before ruling in his case. Appeals of patent agency rulings could take a year or more.


Research In Motion has asked that any new injunction be put on hold. The reason would be either to await a final decision from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on a review of the NTP patents, the results of a Supreme Court hearing on the general issue of injunctions in patent cases, or for Research In Motion to file yet another appeal.

This part has always confused me. How can you infringe a patent that hasn’t been granted? I’m sure there’s a legal aspect to this that I don’t fully understand, but it’s still odd.

More on the story here and here. One winner in all this has been the Palm Treo, which is gaining market share at BlackBerry’s expense.

Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry, the telephone and e-mail device carried by Wall Street bankers and Washington politicians, scored lower than Palm Inc.’s Treo in a survey of customer satisfaction.

Treo won a rating of 3.61 out of 5 for satisfaction, while BlackBerry had a 3.31, according to Brandimensions, a researcher that scoured almost 100 Internet forums, Web logs and discussion boards to assess the product’s “buzz.” The company is known for surveys of consumer reaction to products such as TiVo Inc.’s digital video recorder and the Academy Awards.


“BlackBerry seems to be lagging behind,” said Mark De Paoli, the author of a report by Mississauga, Ontario-based Brandimensions. “When people are out there with their Treo, they’re often in an office where nine out of 10 people have a BlackBerry, so they feel a sense of pride in it.”


Palm may have an edge on the Internet chatter because the company’s products have been snapped up by consumer technology enthusiasts, while BlackBerrys evolved as a product issued to workers by corporate technology departments.

That may bode well for Motorola and Espoo, Finland-based Nokia, already well-known brands among consumers, De Paoli said.

“People online tend to be early adopters and like the newest things,” he said. “The more consumer-oriented products may have a chance at winning more interest and making it even more competitive in this market.”

Treos are definitely slick. The demo I saw of Good Technology’s server architecture is similar in many ways to RIM’s, so the email and calendar experience is much the same. It’s the other bells and whistles, like its Internet browser and music/video capabilities that really set it apart. That’s not nearly as useful in a corporate environment, of course. You can block a lot of that stuff on the server, but that defeats the purpose of having a Treo.

Prosecution claims Yates is faking it

A fellow inmate of Andrea Yates has told prosecutors that Yates gave her advice on faking mental illness.

Andrea Yates advised a fellow inmate how to “beat her case, specifically, to act mentally sick or crazy,” according to court documents filed by prosecutors Thursday.

Prosecutors say Felicia Doe told them last year that Yates told her not to eat, not to speak properly, not to be friendly or open in front of people. Doe spent four days in 2002 in a jail block with Yates, who drowned her five children in 2001.

“The defendant also said if you could get the jail psychiatrist on your side, they could testify to your mental health and they couldn’t prosecute you if you were sick,” according to a document in which prosecutor Kaylynn Williford details interviews with a variety of witnesses who could be called during Yates’ upcoming capital murder retrial.

“According to the witness, the defendant basically told her, ‘Do what I’m doing,’ ” Williford wrote.

George Parnham, Yates’ defense attorney, called the account “sad and ludicrous.”

“That is absolutely so bogus, it doesn’t even deserve a response,” he told the Associated Press on Thursday evening. “That discounts the medications that this woman was on, the mental illness she suffers from.”

Two things here: First, you’re going to have to do better than dredge up a jailhouse snitch to impress me. I’ll let Scott speak on that issue.

Second, did Yates have this alleged conversation with Doe before or after she was convicted? Because if it was after, and you want me to believe she’s fully in control of her mental faculties, then perhaps it might have occurred to her that the insanity defense was a losing proposition for her, and as such, wouldn’t have had much to recommend it. I’m just saying.

Is it possible that Yates is faking it? Anything is possible, I suppose. The evidence being presented here is a long way from compelling, however. It feels a little desperate on the prosecution’s part, as a matter of fact.

At the hearing, prosecutors say they will give defense attorneys more than 230 letters Yates wrote since the drownings.

Prosecutors say they want Hill to order NASA to turn over any e-mail communication between Russell and Andrea Yates, as well as any e-mails Russell Yates sent or received that discussed the killings. Russell Yates continues to work at the Johnson Space Center.

Prosecutors also want communications between Russell Yates and “any person with whom he had a romantic or intimate relationship prior to the murders or that evidence such a relationship.”

“Any communications that evidence a romantic or intimate involvement by Russell Edison Yates with another person prior to the murders are similarly relevant … ,” Williford wrote.

The letters Yates wrote could be interesting, though I don’t expect there will be too much. As for the other items, why wasn’t the prosecution interested in them before the first trial? (I’m assuming they’re only interested in emails between Rusty and Andrea prior to the murders; I doubt Andrea gets much email these days, and any that she does get should not require a court order to be available to the DA.) Do they know that Rusty was fooling around before the murders, or are they fishing? I suspect the latter, but who knows? All in all, a little strange.

That’s a lot of office supplies

The Mayor Pro Tem office manager implicated in the unauthorized bonuses business had testified to City Council last year that the requested budget increase was for office supplies.

Explaining a proposed budget increase for the Houston office of Mayor Pro Tem, manager Rosita Hernandez told a City Council committee last summer that the money would pay for reams of paper, document storage and ceremonial envelopes.

But much of the $66,000 budget increase that the council approved actually went where one might expect in an office at the center of allegations that four employees pocketed more than $143,000 in unauthorized bonuses.

It went to their paychecks.

Records released Thursday show that 88 percent of the extra budget money, about $58,000, paid Hernandez and her three employees.

And, with more than four months left in the fiscal year, the records show the office has spent all but $56,000 of its $326,000 budget.


Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado, who oversees the office in addition to her elected job representing council District I, says she wasn’t alerted.

“That’s why they call them checks and balances,” said Marc Campos, Alvarado’s political consultant.

He questioned why city finance officials didn’t say, ‘Hey, we might have a problem there.’ ”

But Alvarado didn’t notice, either. The unauthorized bonuses came to light last week after an employee in the Finance and Administration Department noticed irregularities.


The administration of Mayor Bill White, ultimately responsible for the city budget, also isn’t speculating publicly about how the process broke down.

“I’m not privy to what the investigators are doing or saying or talking about,” said Frank Michel, White’s spokesman. “We’re going to let them do their jobs.”

Michel said the results of the probe, which will be forwarded to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, would likely lead to a full airing of the details surrounding the payroll scandal.

I hope so, because we do need to figure out where and why this happened. The amount of money involved is small relative to the city’s budget, and employee malfeasance is not something that can ever be totally eliminated, but it’s pretty clear that there’s room for some process improvements here.

“If these people were siphoning money for unauthorized bonuses and raises,” Michel wondered, “what was their plan for the final quarter, when the reality of what was in the account caught up to this?”

Well, they did have Enron’s example to learn from. Sure, it all catches up with you in the end, but as long as you can keep putting that off, you’re in clover.

DeLay’s Texas colleagues have his back

The Texas Republican Congressional delegation still hearts Tom DeLay.

Ten Republican members of the Texas congressional delegation, including a few who owe their jobs to redistricting engineered by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, came to Houston on Thursday to endorse the incumbent.

“We’re not here because Tom DeLay is ‘The Hammer’ or because Tom DeLay is some intimidating, threatening character,” said Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis, referring to DeLay’s nickname as an enforcer of party discipline. “We’re here because he’s been a leader and a voice for positive conservative change.”

That’s so sweet. A fuller report, including some potentially useful quotes from several of DeLay’s BFFs can be found at DeLayVsWorld. This one is my personal favorite:

DeLay’s 1984 classmate Joe Barton spoke for a long time on DeLay’s integrity (“I’ll stake my reputation that he’s a man of integrity”).

Hey, it’s not like Smokey Joe’s got one to lose.

DvsW goes on to report from a “press availability” for DeLay’s primary opponent Tom Campbell. One bit of interest there:

Campbell shared that they’d done an internal autodialer tracking poll by OneNet Info (whom I’m unfamiliar with, and I know lots of pollsters) over the last few days which showed Campbell with 47%, DeLay with 38%, and Other with 14%. He claimed that this was an improvement over some of their recent polling, though he conceded that with only 151 respondents, the margin of error was quite large (his campaign puts it at 9%, I suspect it might be even larger since Dr. Hill put the Chron’s recent poll with 213 respondents at a 9% margin of error).

Wikipedia to the rescue! (Note to Richard Cohen: The following involves math. You may want to find a middle schooler to help you understand it.) The margin of error on a sample size of 213 is 8.8% if you use a 99% confidence interval. With the generally more used 95% confidence interval, the MoE is 6.7%. For a sample size of 151, those numbers become 10.5 and 8.0.

More interestingly, if one accepts Campbell’s poll sample as being representative of the population in question, then the probability that he is leading DeLay by some amount is 86.6% if we assume the 95% confidence interval. Having said that, I agree with DvsW’s skepticism – I’ve never heard of this polling outfit either, internal polls are notoriously favorable to the campaign that commission them, and a choice of “Campbell, DeLay, and Other” may push a few Fjetland and Baig supporters to Campbell’s tally. I don’t think we’ll have any real idea how this race is going until we start to see the returns.

On a side note, ThinkProgress has a scanned copy of the portion of the constituent letter DeLay wrote recently where he claimed that he did not have personal relations with that man, Jack Abramoff. Check it out.

UPDATE: More bad news for DeLay:

Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, trailed his Democratic opponent, former Rep. Nick Lampson, in fundraising and cash in the bank, according to new financial reports that covered the first six weeks of the year.

DeLay, who faces three contenders in the March 7 Republican primary for the 22nd Congressional District, said he raised $154,712 and spent $304,795 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15, the time span covered in the pre-primary filings required of candidates. The lawmaker reported having about $1.3 million in the bank.

Lampson, who is running unopposed in the Democratic Primary, reported having raised $250,970 in the same time frame and having spent $125,027. He said he has more than $1.4 million in cash on hand.

According to his report, DeLay’s largest expenditure — $110,000 — went towards paying Richard Cullen, the attorney representing DeLay in the investigation of an influence-peddling scandal involving indicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

It’s pretty ironic how after all he’s done in Congress, DeLay may wind up spending his last years in office fattening the wallets of trial lawyers everywhere.

Environmental issues forum in San Antonio

From my former history professor Char Miller comes word of a candidate forum on environmental issues on the Trinity campus this Sunday:

What: The Texas Environmental Watch Alliance, along with a host of prominent co-sponsors, will host a no-nonsense forum on key environmental policy issues for the candidates in the primary elections/nominating conventions for U.S. Congressional Districts 20, 21, and 28. At a time when decisions about air pollution, water quality and alternate energy are more important than ever, our Representatives must be held accountable for their actions. Questions will come from local and statewide environmental experts, as well as from the audience. The forum will be moderated by Dr. Char Miller, Chair of the History Department at Trinity University, and Director of the Urban Studies Program. The event is free and open to the public.

When: Sunday, February 26, 2:00pm – 5:00pm

Where: Laurie Auditorium, Trinity University Campus (from 281 go east on Hildebrand, take first left at Stadium Drive, fork right at bottom of hill and follow to auditorium on left)

Who: All candidates from U.S. Congressional Districts 20, 21, and 28 have been invited: Rep. Henry Cuellar, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, Rep. Lamar Smith, Victor Morales, Ciro Rodriguez, John Courage, Jessie Bouley, Michael Idrogo, Glenda Moyes, Mark Rossano, and James Strohm

Sponsored by: the Texas Environmental Watch Alliance; Trinity University, Urban Studies Program; Catholic Archdiocese, Office of Social Concerns; Bexar Audubon Society; Fuerza Unida; Environment Texas; and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas

Accomodations: American Sign Language Interpretation; Spanish interpretation simulcast

Don’t Vote in the March 7th Primary… until you learn where the candidates stand on the issues affecting your land, air, and water!

For more information: (210) 421-1518/ [email protected]

As of yesterday, according to Dr. Miller, Ciro Rodriguez, Charlie Gonzalez, John Courage, Mark Rossano and James Arthur Strohm have confirmed they will be there. Lamar Smith will not. I know, we’re all shocked by that. Anyway, if you’re in the area and want to learn more, check it out.

Oral arguments on redistricting next week

The Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on the Texas redistricting of 2003 on Wednesday, March 1. The Lone Star Project sent out this letter (PDF) yesterday, with an update on where things stand, a timeline, a brief bio of the attorneys involved, and an analysis of what might happen if the 2003 map is ruled unconstitutional.

If the Supreme Court invalidates the map due to violation of the Voting Rights Act:

• The Court will almost certainly remand the case to the three-judge court to provide a remedy consistent with the Supreme Court ruling.
• Given that the Supreme Court’s accelerated schedule allows time for a remedy prior to the 2006 elections, a new plan would have to be devised to fix whatever voting rights problem the Court finds.
• Normally, courts defer to the legislature to craft new lines to correct a violation, but the court may also impose its own plan to take effect in the 2006 elections. Consistent with the precedent established by the federal court in the Bush v. Vera congressional redistricting case in 1996, the Court could order that the March primary results be abandoned and that special congressional elections be held in new and legal districts.
• The most likely scenario for the 2006 elections and beyond would be the reinstatement of the 2002 courtdrawn plan, because it is a legal plan based on the 2000 census that was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States, and it is the logical default plan in the event the Supreme Court declares the 2003 plan illegal.

Who Might Run?

The seats lost under the DeLay plan were: District 1 (Sandlin), District 2 (Turner), District 4 (Hall switched parties), District 9 (Lampson), District 17 (Stenholm) and District 24 (Frost). If the map is reversed, Democrats would almost certainly reclaim Districts 9 and 24. It is also possible to reclaim Districts 1 and 2, assuming the former Members return or other very strong candidates are recruited. Obviously, District 4 is lost, and District 17 is strongly Republican and would not likely be reclaimed.

I’ve been skeptical before of the Democrats’ chances to reclaim these seats. I agree about CD24, and in retrospect Nick Lampson would be the favorite in CD09. If they did pick up those districts, and they held onto Chet Edwards’ seat in the old CD11, Dems would have between 13 and 15 in their delegation. Depending on how you want to count it, an 18-14 or 19-13 split in favor of the GOP would be a reasonable approximation of the state’s partisan ratio. The former could have been achieved in 2002 if Hall had switched earlier and the GOP had managed to knock off Edwards and Stenholm, both of whom won with narrow margins. Not that this would have satisfied Tom DeLay, of course.

An interesting case is the old CD23, where Henry Bonilla won a close one against Henry Cuellar. As things stand now, of course, Cuellar would get less institutional support in a rematch of the two Henrys than he otherwise might have. Jeb Hensarling at 58% had the next-closest win among the Republicans. As for CD22, who knows? It’s moderately less Republican now, but the DeLay Scandal-Go-Round factor clouds things a bit. Of course, DeLay would not have the well-funded Lampson running against him in this scenario. I’m not sure that any substitute Dem would be able to raise the kind of money needed to be truly competitive in that district, especially if the campaign schedule is shortened. I don’t even have a clear idea of who’d take a shot at it.

Finally, there is another possibility that LSP doesn’t mention. The only dissent in the original three-court ruling came from Judge John Ward, who argued that CD23 was illegal but the rest of the map was okay. It’s not out of the question to me that if SCOTUS punts this back to the three-judge panel, they might decide to go with that idea and limit the do-over to just that district. I’ll guess that in that case, CD23 would become more of a swing district, and CD28 (which picked up most of the Dem-heavy Webb County as a result) would become more anchored in Bexar County. You can do the math on that one from there.

Anyway. All briefs filed in the case can be found here. A decision is expected in the June/July time frame. Stay tuned.

Tastes great! Less salty!

I’ve previously confessed my semi-irrational fondness for Campbell’s tomato soup, so reading this makes me happy.

Executives at the Campbell Soup Co. have heard the same thing almost since Andy Warhol was making art out of their cans in the 1960s: Lower the sodium in soup without sacrificing taste and people will eat even more of it.

Now, after years of gradually reducing the sodium in its soups, the Camden-based company says it has made a breakthrough: natural, low-sodium sea salt. It will be used in about 30 soups — both new and reformulated recipes — scheduled to be on supermarket shelves in August, Campbell announced Wednesday.

“We’ve been everywhere on the globe trying to find a sea salt with all the characteristics of this one,” Chief Executive Douglas Conant said.

The company is hoping the lower-sodium salt will help soup sales, which have stabilized after losing ground to other convenience foods in the 1990s.

Regular table salt is 99.7 percent sodium chloride. The federal Food and Drug Administration says that adults should eat no more than 2,300 milligrams a day — or just under a teaspoon.

A few years ago, the average serving of a Campbell’s soup contained almost half the daily limit. By using less salt, the company got its average down to 850 milligrams.

The sea salt in the new soups has 40 percent less sodium than the regular stuff, said George Dowdie, Campbell’s vice president for research and development.

We only buy the original lower-sodium versions of Campbell’s soups, so I’m glad to hear that they’ll be even better in that department shortly. I’m thinking there’s gonna be a can or two in the works for my weekend. Mmmm…


I was fascinated by the following in this LM Sixel column about Mayor White encouraging local businesses to offer more flexible work schedules as a way of reducing traffic at peak hours.

Direct Energy Texas, for example, had to deal with the stigma attached to signing up for a “nine-80” shift (10 days of work crammed into nine workdays) or working from home.

Only 10 percent of the 220 employees who worked in what the company had identified as eligible jobs signed up for the program when it was launched, recalled Phil Tonge, Direct Energy’s president.

“People were very worried,” he said.

But Tonge knew employees wanted a compressed workweek or to telecommute because of their responses to a 2004 survey. They were frustrated with the time they spent in traffic getting to and from work, and with White’s mobility campaign to Get Houston Moving, it was a perfect opportunity to put the two ideas together, he said.

So Tonge held a series of meetings to encourage employees to sign up. He emphasized it had his full support, and he put pressure on managers to sign on to the idea.

To make telecommuting easier, the company bought laptops for some workers and provided them for departments to share.

As a result, 65 percent of its eligible employees in Texas are participating, and the company is looking for ways to include more job classifications in its program.

I’ve been on a 9/80 schedule for about a decade now. I love it, and I’ve loved it from the get-go. Having that Friday off to get stuff done – heck, just having that extra day in the weekend every other week – is wonderful. I dread the idea of ever having to go back to a “normal” workweek. As such, I’m at a loss to understand why so many Direct Energy employees would have resisted this. Nine-eighty acceptance was darned near universal when we adopted it where I work.

Harold Reddish, president of S&B Infrastructure, wasn’t thinking a lot about compressed workweeks last summer. But the head of the engineering company soon found himself pondering schedules based on four 10-hour days, among others, because its petrochemical business was booming.

“We needed a lot of people fast,” Reddish said. “We had trouble finding them.”

Many applicants wanted to work four 10-hour days and have Fridays off, he said. They also wanted to decide which hours to work between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Don’t know if they still do, but USAA had this schedule back when I was a summer employee in the late 80s. It too was great, though there were two hitches to their implementation of it. One, if the week contained a holiday, you had to work on Friday. I believe the only exception was Thanksgiving, but since I was there from May to August, I couldn’t swear to it. Two, as an hourly employee they subtracted a half hour each day for lunch, so I only got paid for 38 hours each week. I was making $5 an hour, so I looked at it as trading $10 a week for a three-day weekend almost every week. Needless to say, that was a trade I was happy to make.

Watch this

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what exactly bothered me about this article on the pervasiveness of surveillance cameras and the reaction to HPD Chief Hurtt’s proposal to install more of them for crimefighting purposes, and I think I’ve finally got it.

[T]he Metropolitan Transit Authority has a video camera on top of the Binz Building downtown to monitor Main Street — the same strip where the Houston Police Department hopes to install surveillance cameras.

Shoppers at the Galleria are monitored by camera both inside and outside the mall. Drivers on freeways managed by the Texas Department of Transportation are caught on tape. Commuters at Metro’s rail and transfer stations and inside trains, and also soon at Park & Ride lots, are watched on screen from miles away. And if you’re cheering at Toyota Center, you can bet you’ll be watched on video.

Schools, too, use camera technology to monitor students. A man who police say sexually assaulted a student in a Westbury High School restroom Feb. 9 was caught on one of the school’s 128 cameras as he entered the school, though authorities have not arrested a suspect. And officials at Westfield High School used images from a surveillance tape to identify students in a fight.

METRO’s camera, according to the caption to the photo in the print edition of the Chron, is to “monitor the Main Street light rail line”. Presumably, that means to ensure the trains are running on schedule, and to watch for any obstacles that could cause a collision. Similarly, TxDOTs cameras are to ensure that traffic is flowing. Those are very specific purposes.

The Galleria and the Toyota Center are private property. Their owners have a lot more leeway to do things, like search customers’ handbags, than the government does. Similarly, the courts have long established that minors do not enjoy the same level of constitutional protections that adults do, which is why school newspapers can be routinely censored and lockers can be opened at will.

Finally, the insides of light rail trains and Park & Ride lots are bounded spaces where it really doesn’t make sense from a cost perspective to use human patrols for security. The London study on CCTV usage in that city showed that cameras in parking lots was the one truly effective use of the tool as a crimefighting device.

What I’m getting at is that none of these situations is really a good comparison for Chief Hurtt’s proposal to blanket downtown in cameras. The purpose of that proposal is too non-specific (What exactly will they be looking for? “Suspicious behavior” covers a lot of ground, after all.), the constitutionality of it all is not a settled matter, the cost justification is questionable, and the effectiveness is poor. And we haven’t even touched the philosophical issues involved.

So let’s just say that I remain highly skeptical and leave it at that. I could imagine some specific, limited situations where I might be willing to acquiesce to this idea, but not without a lot of written guidelines as to what these things will be used for, who will have access to them, and how long the data will be kept. I hope City Council is up to the task of asking the right questions on Tuesday when this is brought up.

Finally, on a side note, I call your attention to The Hurtt Prize. The Internet is a wondrous thing, is it not?