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June, 2006:

Library, schmibrary

This is what happens when reacting takes precedence over thinking.

The Dean of Library Services at University of the Incarnate Word canceled the library’s subscription to the New York Times Wednesday to protest recent stories exposing a secret government program that monitors international financial transactions in the hunt for terrorists.

“Since no one elected the New York Times to determine national security policy, the only action I know to register protest for their irresponsible action (treason?) is to withdraw support of their operations by canceling our subscription as many others are doing,” Mendell D. Morgan, Jr. wrote in a June 28 email to library staff. “If enough do, perhaps they will get the point.”

Notice how the fact that the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal also printed this story plays no role in Morgan’s actions. Who needs consistency when you’re making a point?

Morgan did not return a call for comment this morning. The university released a statement saying that Morgan had the authority to remove the newspaper.

“The University of the Incarnate Word does not take an official position on the recent decision to cancel the subscription of the New York Times at the university’s library” the statement said. ” This decision was made by the administrator in charge of the library whose authority extends to the contents of the library, and thus it was within his purview to make this decision. The University is supportive of the First Amendment, a free press and of the presentation of diverse points of view.”

Boy, they sure don’t have his back on this one, do they? We’ll see if that’s enough to get him to back off.

Staff member Jennifer Romo said she and her coworkers were shocked when they received Morgan’s email.

“The censorship is just unspeakable,” Romo said. “There is no reason, no matter what your beliefs, to deny a source of information to students.”

The removal also runs counter to the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights, which states: “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

Who cares? It’s just a library. Now that we’ve settled what’s important, Dean Morgan can start going through the stacks to see what else offends him enough to merit removal. It’s a whole new world out there.

At least one media-watcher said she doubts Morgan’s move will have much impact.

“In the real world, it’s an almost futile act on many levels,” said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla. “From what we know about the reading habits of college students, it will not make a difference because they read online.”

That can be dealt with, too, you know. Does Dean Morgan have any sway with UIW’s IT department?

In all seriousness, I don’t expect this decision to stand. University presidents don’t much like it when underlings bring negative publicity to their schools. Head coaches have gotten forced out for similar things. If you want to help the process along to its natural conclusion, The Agonist has some contact information for you. I’ll second his call to be polite to UIW’s President. He didn’t do this, and there’s no point in yelling at him. If you get a response, let me know.

The 1996 timeline

Despite the Chron’s archives being unavailable, I did a little Googling and was able to find enough information about the 1996 Supreme Court decision on Texas’ Congressional districts to make a determination about when the new map was in place for the November open primary that followed. I’ve written about it at Kuff’s World.

More on the re-re-redistricting timetable

Here’s some more information on the timetable to fix CD23 as announced yesterday by the three-judge panel.

U.S. District Judge John T. Ward of Marshall set oral arguments in the case for Aug. 3. Other judges on the panel include U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham of Dallas and U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal of Houston.

Those eligible to submit maps include 14 individuals, the state of Texas and 15 local governments and organizations.

The groups include the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American GI Forum, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Texas NAACP, the Texas Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Texas.

However, it’s unlikely that each party will submit a different map. Some individuals who are parties in the lawsuit are citizen representatives of the groups involved. Also, some groups may cooperate to produce a single map to present to the court.

It’ll be interesting to see who works together on this, and what their final products will look like. Bear in mind that not everyone who was an ally in the lawsuit will necessarily be an ally in the redrawing process. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and former Rep. Martin Frost, both Dallas Dems, were famously at odds over the 1991 effort, which eventually led to the 1996 court-ordered do-over. Everyone has their own interests in this sort of thing, and people you wouldn’t expect can get crosswise with each other.

When a three-judge panel drew the state’s congressional districts in 2001 after the Legislature failed to do so, about 20 days elapsed between the end of the trial and the time the court ordered new districts.

That makes the ETA for a new map about August 23. Perry is skeptical that this leaves enough time to have an open primary in November, but I think it can work. If you set a short filing deadline – say, September 5 – that gives two full months for the campaign, which is no less than what we have now for regular primaries. You can have such a deadline for filing because by August 3, everyone will at least know what maps are in play, and can make whatever contingency plans they need to based on that. So, I continue to think this can be made to work, and I continue to think that however imperfect it may be, it’s better than having another election for the illegal CD23.

I wanted to do a Chron archive search to see what the time frame was for the 1996 situation, but as I write this their 1985-2000 stuff is unavailable. Anyone remember when the new map was put into place back then?

(UPDATE: August 6, 1996. See Kuff’s World for more.)

Dallas Blog has a copy of Judge Ward’s order (PDF), if anyone is interested in that.

One more thing:

Gov. Rick Perry declined to say whether he would call the Legislature into special session to change the congressional districts.

“It’s always been my preference that the Legislature take care of these issues,” Perry told reporters Thursday before learning of the panel’s order.

Except of course when he thinks it suits his purposes, as was the case in 2001. I’m going to repeat that every time Governor Perry opens his self-serving mouth on this point. It’s my fond hope that some time between now and (say) July 14, some enterprising reporter brings it up.

UPDATE: Valley Politico makes an interesting observation:

If the congressional changes are in place by November, a member of the Texas Legislature could be on their regular ballot for re-election, and they can also be on the special election ballot for Congress.

Hmm… I wonder who from the Valley legislative delegation would run…

The Lloyd Bentsen Rule rides again! I think we already know one such rep with an itch to run (see the end of this post if you’re not sure who I mean). Does anyone else have that itch? We may get to see.

One indictment against TAB tossed

A state district judge has thrown out one of the four indictments against the Texas Association of Business for activities related to the 2002 election.

District Judge Mike Lynch ruled that 2002 pre-election ads produced by the group did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of Texas legislative candidates. Travis County prosecutors had said the group broke state election law by using corporate money to support candidates.

Lynch’s ruling put in doubt two other similar indictments pending against the organization by also discounting prosecutors’ alternative theory that the ads became illegal when the association coordinated them with other political groups. Lynch called the prosecutors’ argument “innovative” but concluded that state law does not cover it.

Austin lawyer Roy Minton, who represents the business association, predicted that Lynch’s decision ultimately would be the end of the lengthy prosecution: “I believe the basic position the court has taken is going to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the state to prosecute TAB.”

Even as critics warned that the ruling would open the floodgates to more secret money in state politics, District Attorney Ronnie Earle said he would pursue prosecution of a fourth indictment accusing the association of making an illegal contribution to its own political action committee. He also will probably appeal Lynch’s ruling.

Here’s the original story, from last September. The indictments that were handed down were for the following:

14 counts of prohibited political contributions by a corporation (TAB) for paying Hammond and staffer Jack Campbell to do political work.

28 additional counts for fraudulently soliciting money from corporations to use in the 2002 election..

83 additional counts of prohibited political contributions by a corporation for paying for political mailers and TV commercials.

Three counts of prohibited political expenditures by a corporation for spending money in connection with 23 legislative campaigns.

It’s a little confusing, but I believe the “fourth indictment” that Earle will still be pursuing is the one listed first here, the 14 counts of “prohibited political contributions by a corporation”. I believe the tossed indictment is the last one, for “prohibited political expenditures by a corporation”. If anyone knows better, please say so in the comments.

In his four-page order, Lynch acknowledged that many people would read the ads as campaign material.

“The advertisements . . . irrespective of political philosophy, are troublesome because they engage in what most non-technical, common-sense people (i.e. non-lawyers) would think of as clear support for specific candidates,” Lynch wrote. The judge called some of the ads “patently offensive” – they attacked candidates based on actions they took as defense lawyers representing the accused.

However, Lynch concluded that the ads did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates under the Texas Election Code, which he called “an archaic, cumbersome, confusing, poorly written document in need of serious legislative overhaul.”

The judge wrote that the prosecution’s legal theory on coordination between political groups is a “convoluted maze” that would not give a defendant adequate warning about what they are charged with.

Lynch noted that Earle eloquently argued that the association unfairly attempted to subvert the electoral process. But citing the deficiencies of the indictment and state law, he concluded:

“You simply cannot make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear.”

I can’t say this surprises me. Like Vince, I think the intent of these ads is clearcut, and I’m disappointed that the judge didn’t follow that instinct to its logical conclusion. But I’ve never doubted the need to make the election code clearer and more relevant on these points. I continue to have hope this will happen, but frankly until it’s a priority among the state’s leadership, it will be very much an uphill fight.

Lawyers defending the association and its corporate donors in several civil lawsuits applauded Lynch’s decision.

Austin lawyer Terry Scarborough, who represents AT&T Inc., which donated money to the 2002 ad campaign, said the decision will have a broad effect: “Judge Lynch agrees with what we have argued for three years: The Texas election code is unconstitutionally vague. The only way the district attorney or the plaintiffs in the civil suits can win is if the election code is unconstitutionally applied.”

Austin lawyer Cris Feldman, who is suing the business group on behalf of Democrats, won a similar lawsuit against its ally Texans for a Republican Majority last year.

He noted that the legal standards for criminal cases are much higher than for civil lawsuits.

“Our case is as strong as it was Day One,” Feldman said. “We will continue to pursue enforcement of the election code and upholding the 100-year-old doctrine that corporate money has no place in Texas elections.”

Although Lynch’s decision does not relate directly to the money-laundering charges pending against DeLay and two associates, DeLay lawyer Dick DeGuerin said it helps his arguments that Earle’s prosecution is based on political philosophy.

“The judges that will have some say-so read the newspapers like ordinary people do,” DeGuerin said. “They will see the opinion. It certainly can’t hurt us.”

It can’t hurt, but I doubt it will matter much. Certainly, Dick DeGuerin didn’t need this to make his case effectively. And if you really want to press the matter, it’s clear that Judge Lynch thought the ads were bad and the prosecution’s cause was good. He just didn’t think the laws applied to TAB in this case. It’s not a stretch to argue that Tom DeLay isn’t TAB, and that the situation is different in his case.

But we’ll see. Earle is likely to appeal this ruling, and there are still other appeals in other matters pending. Lord only knows when all this will get wrapped up.

MyDD interviews Radnofsky

Check it out.

On to the defense in the Yates 2.0 trial

I’m a little surprised to realize that the prosecution has already rested its case against Andrea Yates in the retrial. I don’t remember it being this quick last time, and I’m not sure how it could be virtually the same evidence when they also presented testimony from a former cellmate of Yates’. On that score, I don’t think the prosecution landed a solid blow.

[Felicia] Doe told jurors that Yates initiated a conversation about her children’s deaths while the women shared a cell at the Harris County Jail’s psychiatric unit for several days in May 2002.

“She talked about the baby, Mary, being easy (to drown),” Doe said, as she took a deep breath and fought back tears. Noah, she said, “was crying really hard and throwing up and it made her mad. … Once he was in the water, it took a long time for him to stop moving.”

She said Yates described chasing Noah through the house and how the boy pulled on some window blinds, breaking them, during their struggle.

Yates’ attorneys tried to cast doubt on Doe’s testimony, noting that the children were clad in pajamas and play clothes, not their “Sunday best,” as Doe said Yates had told her.

The defense spotlighted Doe’s criminal and mental health history, and her capacity for truthfulness, during cross-examination.

“Did you tell (one) doctor you have a problem with being honest?” defense attorney Wendell Odom asked.

“Yes,” Doe said.

She said she once thought she suffered from bipolar disorder, but actually was just extremely depressed when she was placed in the County Jail’s psychiatric unit. Doe confirmed that she had been sent to prison after failing to comply with the terms of her probation for failure to stop and render aid, but said she has since been released.

As Odom grabbed a photo of the clothes the children wore when they died, Doe broke into tears.

“What does this appear to be to you?” Odom asked, holding the large picture in front of her.

Doe turned her head away and said, “All the boys’ clothes.” She refused to look at a photo of four of the children’s bodies, side by side on a bed, where Yates had placed them.

“Do they appear to be wearing their Sunday best to you?” Odom asked.

“No sir, they don’t,” Doe said, weeping.

My I-wasn’t-there impression of this is that she doesn’t seem too credible. Maybe you could say she was just embellishing a bit, but if you’re going to do that, what else might you add?

A bit of irony there, too, in bringing up mental health issues for Doe. Since Yates will probably not testify, that shouldn’t boomerang on the defense. I of course don’t know what the jury thought of her, and I have my own perspective on things, but I’m not impressed. We’ll see.

Doe has alleged that Yates described how to feign mental illness, but prosecutors did not ask about that claim.

That can’t be a factor in their eventual deliberations, but I wonder what the jury would have made of that. And I wonder what George Parnham would have made of it had it come up on direct.

Meanwhile, it looks like the defense got off to a compelling start.

Jurors in Yates’ capital murder trial listened closely this morning as [Dr. Melissa] Ferguson, the first psychiatrist to assess Yates in the jail’s Mental Health and Mental Retardation unit, recounted their discussions. Ferguson was the jail’s medical director of psychiatric services at the time.


Ferguson said that, after their first meeting, she concluded that Yates “had major depressive disorder, severe, with psychotic features with onset in (her) postpartum period.”

After lead defense attorney George Parnham asked if Ferguson considered Yates psychotic, she replied, “Yes, she was.”


Yates told her that “she was hearing a message from the TV while the children were watching cartoons,” Ferguson said.

“She said that the message had something to do with the children and herself. It was sometime in the weeks leading up to the drownings.”

In addition to telling Yates that she was a bad mother, they delivered messages to the children, Yates told Ferguson.

She said she could hear the cartoons telling the youngsters, “Don’t eat so much candy. Your mother is feeding you too much cereal.”


Jurors leaned forward in their seats and listened closely, even when Ferguson was defining psychiatric terms as psychosis and delusion, and clarifying issues such as whether someone could still believe a delusion is real, even after being told that it isn’t.

As we know, being mentally ill is not grounds for being acquitted on grounds of insanity. Insanity is a legal term, not a psychiatric one. The reason the prosecution mostly focused on things like how Yates called 911 and complied with instructions given to her by the police is because they have to prove she knew what she was doing. Since proving that for a specific time and incident is tough, the defense wants to show that she was so out of touch with reality as a general rule that you pretty much have to assume she was always out of it.

You all know my opinion on this, so I’ll just leave it at that. I expect there will be a lot more to the defense case, and I’ll be interested to see how the prosecution handles cross examination of their witnesses.

Speed trap city?

What do you think of when you think of Houston? I can name many things, but being a top ten speed trap would not have crossed my mind.

Houston is one of the top speed-trap cities in America, according to the National Motorists Association.

In its Top 10, Houston is fifth. Detroit’s suburbs lead the list, followed by Washington D.C.; Orlando, Fla.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Houston, Virginia Beach, Va.; Austin, Texas; Baton Rouge, La.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Fresno Calif.

The grassroots group that says it represents the rights and interests of of U.S. drivers is warning people ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, one of the heaviest travel times of the year, to be aware of heavy traffic-law enforcement.

The Waunakee, Wisc.-based group blames speed traps on bureaucracies trying to boost their budgets with fines from traffic tickets given in situations that are not fair to drivers, such as roads with no posted speed limit, the targeting of out-of-town drivers, and the like.

This list was created from the NMA’s SpeedTrap Exchange, a site devoted to identifying the location of speed traps.

Um, okay. You sure you’re not thinking of West University Place, or maybe Bellaire?

The page lists a bunch of locations, apparently entered by residents who have encountered them. Many have 2004 and 2005 dates on the entries, so make of that what you will. I’ll stipulate to this one, as I got nailed there once a couple of years ago. I’ve since realized that you can see the cops pretty clearly as soon as you hit the off-ramp, and as such I’ve not had any problems getting down to the posted speed in time. For what it’s worth, they’re not there very often – offhand, I can’t recall the last time.

Beyond that, I don’t know how to respond to this. Yes, there are speed traps in Houston. If anyone wants to claim we’re by and large a city that respects speed limits, you go right ahead and make that case. Everyone knows that traffic enforcement is basically a crapshoot, and that being just a little bit over the speed limit is no excuse and no guarantee. You pay your money and you take your chances. What else is there to say?

Four hours left to vote for Mapchangers

OK, this is officially the last time I’ll pester you about the Straight Ticket Texan vote for Mapchangers. Voting closes in four hours, at 2 AM CDT. The standings as I write this:

1. MT-Sen Jon Tester

2. CO-06 Bill Winter

3. TX-Gov Chris Bell

4. CA-11 Jerry McNerney

5. TX-Sen Barbara Radnofsky

John Courage has been in the top five and can get there again with a late push. He’s already a winner, as he’s about to be named a national netroots candidate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sweeten the pot a bit. If you haven’t voted yet, put Courage first, Bell and Radnofsky in the #2 and 3 slots, and don’t forget Mary Beth Harrell and Ted Ankrum. Four hours to go, and that’s all there is.

We have a schedule

Some breaking news from the Lone Star Project:

The three-judge Federal District Court has issued an order and provided a schedule for determining a remedy in response to the recently released opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court on Texas redistricting.

You can view the Court’s order here (PDF)

The Schedule is below

July 14, 2006 – All parties (plaintiffs and defendants) required to file remedial proposals including briefs and proposed maps.

July 21, 2006 – responses to remedial proposals must be filed.

August 3, 2006 – 9:00 a.m. – Oral arguments on proposals before the three-judge panel in Austin, Texas

Assuming it doesn’t take more than a couple of weeks for the court to render a decision, I believe there would be sufficient time to declare an open primary for November and set a filing deadline for some time in September. Needless to say, this would be a ridiculously short campaign, and would heavily favor incumbents. As all other options include allowing the illegal CD23 to remain intact for this election, it’s the best of a bad lot. At least a November open primary would have a normal level of turnout. We’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, in that other case…

Capitol Inside offers its perspective on the Democratic lawsuit over the GOP’s attempt to replace Tom DeLay on the ballot in CD22 and how both sides’ arguments played for Judge Sam Sparks.

Democrats suggested in a hearing in Sparks’ court on their request for a permanent injunction that they’d prefer to beat DeLay at the polls in a full-fledged race than have him take an easier way out that allows him to keep his winning record intact and minimizes the GOP’s odds of losing the seat. The last thing the Democrats want is for CD 22 nominee Nick Lampson to have to switch gears to run against a replacement Republican candidate who isn’t out on bail with the burden of a radioactive reputation and other baggage like DeLay would have to lug down the campaign trail. Democrats who had roles as lawyers and witnesses in Sparks’ court hearing agreed that fundraising, volunteer efforts and turnout for the CD 22 battle will suffer without a lightening rod like DeLay in the race for motivational value. Despite the tough talk about ousting their chief nemesis from a Republican House he helped build, the Democrats should be hoping that the GOP can’t replace DeLay and that he officially withdraws from the race or refuses to campaign even if he’s listed as a candidate on the ballot this fall.

While the two sides highly disagree on whether DeLay withdrew from the congressional race or simply became ineligible to run as a result of his move to George Washington’s home state, the Republicans seem to want to replace DeLay as the CD 22 nominee as badly as Democrats want to prevent them from doing so. A lawyer for the Democrats called DeLay’s dropping out of the race “a constructive withdrawal,” but Republicans in the courtroom seemed to be saying that such a scenario had never really entered their minds. After being told by DeLay that he wouldn’t be eligible to run in the general election because he planned to give up his House seat after moving to Virginia, Republican officials left the impression that they’d been following a technical instructions manual on election procedures when initiating the replacement process.

Sparks, who was appointed to the bench 15 years ago by the original President George Bush, didn’t seem to have much sympathy for the Democrats. But the judge indicated during the hearing that he found State GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkiser’s testimony “somewhat amazing” when she suggested that there’d been no discussion about the conflicting consequences of a candidate withdrawing from a race as opposed to being deemed ineligible to run. Sparks seemed to be able to find the Democrats more believable because they made no bones about admitting that their motivations for being there were purely self-serving while Republicans were suggesting that were simply trying to abide by election law without any agenda at hand. Sparks didn’t appear to buy that. While the judge seemed to be hinting that he wouldn’t be blessing the GOP’s move to replace DeLay on the ballot, he indicated that an official ruling would not be issued before next week.


The Democrats appear to have a fair chance at prevailing in Sparks’ court after agreeing with the state GOP’s request to move it there from a state district court that issued a temporary restraining order that put the replacement process on hold this month. Republicans may have helped the Democrats’ case when they seemed to have no problem with DeLay remaining in Congress, casting votes and sponsoring legislation for almost two months between the time he moved to Virginia and resigned from the House. But winning the ballot battle doesn’t assure Democrats that they will win the election in CD 22 if DeLay stays on the ballot. It’s a calculated risk at best that could backfire. On the other hand, DeLay could return to Texas and make a gallant effort to win back the seat that he gave up this month because he’s too proud, too mad or too determined to keep his old seat from being turned over to Democrats on a silver platter.

Couple of points here:

– I still think it was an error for Democrats to mention fundraising and turnout in any context in this case. It’s irrelevant, it’s self-serving (even if the Dems’ nakedness on that score was less offensive than the Republicans’ we’re-just-following-procedure malarkey was to Judge Sparks), and frankly it looks bad. This case is about the circumstances under which a candidate who has already won his or her party’s primary can withdraw, which Sparks said is what DeLay did, and be replaced on the ballot. As Rick Casey noted, you’ve got your choice of death, “a catastrophic illness that was diagnosed after the 62nd day before general primary election day” that would “permanently and continuously incapacitate the candidate and prevent the candidate from performing the duties of the office sought”, and being appointed to or nominated for another office. DeLay meets none of these criteria, and the “ineligibility” fig leaf is laughable. Pound those points until your fists hurt.

– On the issue of Republicans not having any problems with DeLay’s continued activities as a Congressman, I wonder if they have any problem with this?

Not even retirement can keep former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) from the game he loves so much.

Since his resignation from the House this month, DeLay has held at least two meetings with his old friend and political ally House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

The two met yesterday afternoon in Hastert’s office, and last week DeLay attended a regular gathering of former House leaders in the Speaker’s Capitol suite.

Hastert and his former majority leader held weekly lunch meetings when DeLay was in the leadership and kept them up after the Texan was forced to resign his post.

The Speaker declined to say what the two old colleagues discussed during their afternoon chat but later joked, “It was a nonpolitical, non-legislative discussion, as much as that can be with DeLay.”

When is a Congressman not a Congressman? Link via MyDD.

– Remember, the Republicans wanted this case moved to federal court. They crowed about getting the case moved there. If Judge Sparks rules against them, what will their excuse be?

– Having said all of this, I’m still not convinced that I want the Dems to prevail here. Forcing the GOP to put DeLay back on the ballot may work brilliantly, but it may also be the clearest example of “be careful what you wish for” you’ll ever see. You know how sometimes when you’re undecided on something it’s best to flip a coin, because you find yourself rooting for one side or the other to come up? I’m rooting for the coin to roll under the couch and get lost.

One more thing:

If DeLay resurrected his campaign three things could happen. He could win. He could lose. Or he could lose badly enough to hurt the entire Republican ticket because he’s been villainized more than any candidate ever. DeLay would have to juggle a campaign with the distraction of a criminal case that came about as part an investigation into the 2002 state House elections that made possible the redistricting effort that he masterminded. There’s also the potential problem of probes on the federal level into lobbyists and other former DeLay staffers and associates.

Despite DeLay’s predictions when he first announced his resignation, Ronnie Earle has not dropped the charges against him. I’ve lost track of where we are in the process, but for sure the trial will be in the news between now and November. Just another thing to keep in mind.

After the ruling – Now what?

Time to go through the news and see what we’ve learned since yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling on Texas redistricting. Before I get into that, let me start by endorsing what Matt wrote about the Voting Rights Act. It was important in 2003, it’s important now, and renewing it needs to be a top priority. Where do you think we’d be now if the staffers in the Justice Department who understood and respected the VRA had not been overruled by the appointed hacks when this Congressional map was up for preclearance? I don’t believe there would have been time to redo CD23 for the 2004 elections.

I should note that Rick Hasen and Amy Howe note a shift in the interpretation of the VRA by Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion. Expect to read a lot more about that in the coming weeks. (Links via Political Wire and Tom Kirkendall, respectively.)

One last thing before I hit the news stories: The one place where mid-decade redistricting is not likely to occur any time soon is Colorado. That’s because in their Legislature’s attempt to redo the lines in 2003, their State Supreme Court ruled that once-a-decade redistricting was a part of their state constitution. The US Supreme Court refused to grant cert on an appeal of that ruling in 2004. It’s possible other attempts at mid-decade do-overs will run into the same sort of roadblock, though at this time I have no idea where or even if other such restrictions may be in place.

OK then. Let’s start with the Chron, which dives right into the question of what happens to CD23 and Rep. Henry Bonilla.

Bonilla’s district cannot be redrawn without making changes to District 28, held by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and District 25, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

The reconfiguration of Doggett’s district also may result in a three-way trade of Travis County voters between Doggett and 10th District U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and 21st District U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.

McCaul also represents western Harris County. Such a trade of voters would put the Republican district’s power base in Travis County and make it unlikely that a Harris County politician would win the district in a future election.

For the record, in 2004 the Travis County portion of CD10 went Democratic by an average 58-42 margin in countywide races and 55-45 at the statewide level, despite the lack of a Democratic nominee for CD10 on the ballot. It’s the Harris County portion of this district that makes it Republican. I’m skeptical that this district would change much, but I suppose you never know.

The Supreme Court sent the congressional district maps back to a three-judge panel made up of 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham of Dallas and U.S. District Judges Lee Rosenthal of Houston and John T. Ward of Marshall.

That court likely will redraw the maps before the November election and set special elections in any districts where changes occur. However, it is possible that Gov. Rick Perry could call a special session of the Legislature to redraw the maps, but he indicated in a statement that he will be willing to let the court take the lead.

“We expect the panel to hold a hearing in the near future to address the timeline for the process,” Perry said. “I will work with Attorney General (Greg) Abbott in our state’s efforts to resolve this legal issue.”

While the Legislature could be asked to redraw the maps, that’s unlikely because of legal hurdles that would have to be cleared before the November elections, several redistricting experts said.

“It would be very difficult for the Legislature to do it in the time available,” said State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who sponsored the redistricting plan in 2003.

They can always redo it later if they don’t like what the court does. That’s what this all boils down to, doesn’t it? And just so we’re all clear on that, I refer you to this statement in the Star Telegram:

Gov. Rick Perry, declaring the decision a victory for the state, said the next step will probably be a hearing by the three-judge panel that had upheld the plan. A spokeswoman, Rachael Novier, left open the possibility that the Republican governor would summon lawmakers back to Austin to remedy the court’s concerns.

Asked whether Perry adheres to past statements that redistricting should be left to the Legislature and not the courts, Novier said, “Absolutely.”

Except of course when he thinks it suits his purposes, as was the case in 2001. Those were the days, huh?

Back to the Chron:

Bonilla said the Supreme Court’s decision about his district is “more of a nuisance than anything else” because instead of concentrating on re-election he will have to worry about what the three-judge court will do. He said the Legislature should be in charge of redrawing the map.

“People aren’t clamoring in neighborhoods to count how many brown faces are in this polling area or how many black faces or whatever,” Bonilla said. “This is a cause driven more by what I call the professional minorities.”

Bonilla said he also thought Cuellar would want to avoid going head-to-head with him in a special election.

“He has a scot-free election,” Bonilla said. “I don’t know that he would be interested in getting involved in a titanic battle.”

Cuellar said he was talking to lawyers to determine the impact of the court’s decision.

“I’ve always been able to land on my feet. I think we are going to be fine,” he said.

I’m sure Bonilla feels confident that his homeboys will protect him again as they did in 2003 after his little scare against Cuellar. The Statesman picks up on that.

The crucial decision for Republicans will be how to redraw Bonilla’s district.

If they suggest putting Laredo wholly in his district, then a senior member of the GOP delegation will face a tough battle against Cuellar in a majority Latino district. But GOP advisers said Bonilla might be saved by pinching off Latinos from the edges of other districts so he would not be pitted against Cuellar.

Neither Bonilla or Cuellar would welcome a showdown.

“I think you can fashion a remedy without necessarily pairing Bonilla and myself together,” Cuellar said. “The knee-jerk reaction is to get them from Webb County. . . . Laredo is not the only magical place to get Hispanics. The court didn’t say, ‘Get Hispanics from Laredo.’ The court said, ‘Get Hispanics.’ ”

I took a look at the Teaxs redistricting page to see what happened in the old 23rd District in 2004. The Republican index went from 47.5% in 2002 to 56.4% in 2004 there. That almost undoubtedly reflects the difference between having Tony Sanchez on the ballot, and having George Bush on it. Nonetheless, it reinforces what I said yesterday about Cuellar’s choice. Even if Laredo/Webb County is moved wholesale back into CD23, Cuellar would need a huge performance there, and he’d still need to overcome Bonilla’s advantages elsewhere. And he’d have to do it without a local turnout enhancer like Sanchez at the top of the ticket. Cuellar proved that he’s a pretty good draw by himself in the 2004 and 2006 primaries, but this is a tall order.

Bonilla, whose support among Latinos has dropped over the years, said he would prefer that state lawmakers, not judges, make the fix. He added that he saw no need to hurry toward a solution.

“Logistically it would be so difficult now to make a huge change before the November elections, that it would probably be wise to wait for the Legislature to do it when they convene next year,” Bonilla said. “The clock’s ticking between now and November – why not just let this election go?”

Doggett disagreed, saying that to wait would mean holding an election under an illegal map: “I don’t know if that has ever happened before.”

The judicial panel has not announced a timeline for reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision, but most Capitol observers don’t expect the judges to allow the issue drag out beyond the November elections.

If either the judicial panel or the Legislature acted quickly, another round of primaries could be required this fall for districts that are changed.

Or, as happened in a similar redistricting scenario in 1996, there might be an open ballot for congressional candidates. Under that plan, the number of candidates would not be limited by political affiliation, and the winner would have to get a majority.

The reality, however, is that there are few opponents who would have the money or name identification to challenge incumbents, including Doggett, on such short notice.

I still don’t see anything definitive as to timing, but I agree with Doggett in that I think there will be a new plan in place for November. And I agree with Nathan Persily when he says that if it’s the three-judge panel doing the dirty work, they’ll aim for as narrow a fix as they can. It’s not out of the question at all that Bonilla and Cuellar could be back in CDs 23 and 28 without much more than token opposition this time. Next time, though, who knows?

Once more on Bonilla from the Express News:

Redistricting experts said the districts most likely affected by the ruling, in addition to Bonilla’s, include those now represented by Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio; Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; and Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi.

Perales and others want new boundaries drawn before the fall election.

“There’s ample precedent for it to be done in a timely manner,” said Ed Martin, a Democrat consultant and redistricting expert. “The people whose rights have been trampled from one election cycle shouldn’t be denied those rights again. They should not be asked to wait and have their rights denied for two more years.”

Redrawing Bonilla’s district could mean changes in Cuellar’s neighboring District 28, which includes half of Laredo and Webb County that once was part of District 23.

“That’s going to be the question: How do we fix Henry Bonilla’s unconstitutional district?” said Webb County Democratic Chairman Javier Montemayor, who favors leaving District 28 alone. “One of the attempts probably will be to take Hispanic voters out of Webb County and give them to Bonilla. I don’t think that’s a solution.”

What about CD25? The Laredo Morning Times looks at it from the local perspective.

District 23’s proximity to the Rio Grande Valleys District 25, and possibly Rep. Ruben Hinojosa’s District 15 to the east, means remapped congressional lines inevitably will have an effect on the Valley.

Several Democrats praised the Supreme Courts recognition of what they perceive as partisan mischief and envisioned the growing Valley as its own congressional district.

“We have nothing in common with the people of Travis County,” said state Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Mission, who serves on the House redistricting committee. He was referring to the 300-mile-long, north-south stretch of land from the Rio Grande to Austin that [Rep. Lloyd] Doggett now represents.

“I think everything south of Falfurrias and as far as Zapata (County) and the Hidalgo County line would be District 25,” he said.

The ruling could affect all of Texas and align similar communities within a district, said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat and one of the leaders of the Democratic challenge to the Republican map.

“Its going to have a domino effect, and you will see more compact districts and not the fajita strips we have from McAllen to Austin,” he said.

“It is a sweet victory, especially after all the criticism we received fighting (former U.S. House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay.”


“Latinos were dealt a bad hand,” said Juan Maldonado, chairman of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party. “(Rep. Henry) Bonilla is not our congressman, not our party and doesnt represent our interests.”

Doggett said he is waiting for the three-judge panel to determine the remapping procedure.

“LULAC and I would be ready to go (on redistricting) next week,” he said.

LULAC is the League of United Latin American Citizens, an advocacy organization that had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court stating that the Republican redistricting plan eroded minority voting power in Texas and thus was illegal and unconstitutional.

“The sooner these lines can be drawn legally, the better off everyone will be,” Doggett said.

As far as that goes, the LMT observed elsewhere:

A clerk for the federal judges in Marshall said Wednesday that the judges had not yet received the official mandate from the Supreme Court.

The time it takes to get the formal paperwork, coupled with the fact that the judges dont have a set meeting schedule, means it could take a few weeks before things start rolling.

Finally, two other matters to discuss. One, in the Express News, is the idea of nonpartisan redistricting, which inevitably pops up whenever this subject arises:

Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio said he favors a plan long advocated by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, that would take redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians and empower the public to redraw political lines.

Wentworth has been pushing the idea since 1993 and plans to do so again next year.

And from the Morning News, what about mid-decade redistricting as a concept?

Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, one of the few targets of redistricting to survive, said Wednesday he will introduce legislation barring states from redrawing congressional lines more than once each decade.

I have more faith in the Wentworth bill finally passing than I do in Edwards’ bill, and I have very little faith in Wentworth’s bill. Not that I don’t think either effort isn’t worthwhile – I do – I just don’t believe that enough legislators share that sentiment.

On the opinion side, both the Statesman and the Chron have their say. Larry Stallings has the State House Democrats’ response, while Vince reminds us all of the phone number for the Ardmore Holiday Inn. (He’s kidding, I hope.) I have some longer statements from the Lone Star Project beneath the fold. And last but not least, Strange Bedfellows takes a fond look at the street in Austin where three Congressional districts meet.

UPDATE: Rick Bolanos, the current candidate against Bonilla, weighs in:

In spite of the furtive attempts by Mr. Bonilla and his cohorts to violate the constitutional rights of our nation, I will continue my campaign to give all the voters of the 23rd congressional district the type of ethical, fervent and passionate representation that they have so long been denied and that they so dearly deserve. I want to personally thank LULAC for their relentless pursuit of justice for those Hispanics who were oppressed by the misguided, avaricious actions of the present administration.

Full statement at Dos Centavos.


Where are they now – Ryan Pitylak

UPDATE: As this post is no longer accurate, and is apparently causing Ryan some harm, I have removed it.

Probably my last post for now on selling toll roads

Two more wonky economics analyses of toll road selloffs from PGL at Angry Bear:

1. In which a local columnist takes Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to task for being condescending towards the voters over their opposition to this deal.

2. In which noted economists Richard Posner and Gary Becker make the case for privatization.

North Corridor Metro meetings

From the I-45 Coalition mailing list:

METRO has just announced 2 meetings:

Saturday, July 22nd; from 10 am – 12 pm (noon); Jeff Davis High School, 1101 Quitman

METRO will conduct an open house to provide members of the community an opportunity prior to its public meeting to ask questions regarding information in it’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed North Corridor.

Then 2 weeks later…

Saturday, August 5th; an open house from 1 pm to 2 pm; then a Public Hearing starting at 2 pm; Jeff Davis High School, 1101 Quitman

METRO will conduct an open house to provide members of the community an opportunity to ask questions. Then at 2 pm the PUBLIC HEARING will begin regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed North Corridor. The FTA (Federal Transit Administration) will solicit comments relating to environmental issues addressed in the DEIS. They say comments will be accepted through August 14th.

What is this?

METRO has been working on the alignment of how they are going to extend the existing rail line North of the current termination/start point at University of Houston-Downtown. This rail is for the LRT (Light Rail Transit) which has since changed to BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and will be changing to GRT (Guided Rapid Transit) soon. This line will be going up Fulton (more or less) from the University of Houston to past Crosstimbers.

This is the Public Hearing that is mandated by the federal government in order to receive federal funding. The “environmental issues” deal with how the line placement will affect homes and neighborhoods. As I understand it, the “environmental issues” DO NOT address air pollution, noise pollution, etc. Why not? Good question! Ask that at the meeting.

You can get more information at and go to Metro Solutions and North Corridor. Here are some more links.

Please remember, this is NOT TxDOT’s (Texas Department of Transportation) meeting and does not directly affect I-45.

TxDOT is still working on their Environmental Studies and Schematic Drawings for I-45. They will be having a similar type meeting in probably 3 to 6 months.

I’m sure I’ll have reminders of these meetings as the dates draw nearer.

Orlando: It’s all about meeeeeeeee!!!

Orlando Sanchez gets at the real reason why Commissioners’ Court wants to abolish the office of Harris County Treasurer now: They all hate him.

Sanchez said Tuesday that eliminating the post would kill the immediate prospect of a Hispanic for the first time holding a countywide elected administrative office. Some Hispanics previously have won countywide judicial races.

Since commissioners didn’t consider abolishing the office after the March primary when Cato was nominated, Sanchez also said the attempt now may be personal.

“It is interesting that up to Mr. Cato’s death, they were supporting Mr. Cato and obviously keeping the office. After Mr. Cato died, they adopted a resolution to abolish the office,” said Sanchez.

“It makes you wonder, especially since I could become the first Hispanic and the first immigrant elected countywide.” Sanchez’s family moved from Cuba when he was a child.

Orlando. Please, stop. You’re embarrassing yourself. Now put the press releases down and slowly back away.

I mean, I really don’t have to point out that Orlando’s opponent in this race is named Richard Garcia, right? He’s been running on a platform of abolishing the office since 2002. And as noted before, the effort to do away with the Treasurer predates Jack Cato.

Democratic Commissioners Sylvia Garcia and El Franco Lee were the first to suggest abolishing the seat, [Republican Commissioner Steve] Radack said.

“The point is, we have a situation where you have a Democrat who wants to abolish the office and you have a Republican who has said he wants to use it as a sounding board,” he said.

“It’s the perfect opportunity to eliminate the office.”


“It has no auditing authority, does not issue official financial reports, and, in fact, no longer even writes checks. It is an antiquated office which duplicates other functions for no reason or benefit,” said Garcia, who served as Houston controller before she was elected commissioner. “The citizens of Harris County should have the right to abolish the office, just as voters in other Texas counties have.”

This was a matter of timing and opportunity. There should have been a continual push to do away with this office all through Cato’s tenure, but that’s the way things work in politics – being the right idea isn’t enough if it isn’t the right time for it. Maybe if Orlando Sanchez could make a case for what the Treasurer’s office does and what he would do with it other than gad about and spout off on issues that have nothing to do with the office’s official functions he could convince people of the position’s merits instead of making it abundantly clear that what he really wants is a cushy do-nothing job. And if not, then he can watch as Richard Garcia, who unlike him has a clear and compelling vision for this office, becomes the first Hispanic countywide elected official (non-judicial).

By the way, Orlando’s outburst did very little to convince his fellow travellers that he deserves this position. One comment, for David Benzion:

As far as I’m concerned, the Harris County GOP should have figured out a way to call the Democrat’s bluff. Get [Richard] Garcia on record supporting abolishment of the office, refuse to nominate ANYONE, and then work cooperatively with Treasurer Garcia to eliminate his job.

Garcia’s advocacy of abolishing the office is not a bluff. Neither, I expect, are Sylvia Garcia and El Franco Lee bluffing, as they voted to support abolishing the office. I’ll admit that this was likely an easier call for them given the current climate, but who’s to say Richard Garcia can’t or won’t win? It’s not like he won’t pick up some Republican support, given how this race has gone. How much would you wager on Orlando Sanchez right now? Republicans may have an overall partisan edge in Harris County (for now, anyway), but candidates still matter. Especially when Orlando Sanchez is your candidate.

(Would have posted this earlier, but was too busy with redistricting stuff. Sorry about that.)

SCOTUS throws out CD23, upholds the rest

The long-awaited Supreme Court ruling on Texas’ re-redistricting of 2003 is in.

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld almost all of Texas’ Republican-friendly U.S. House election district map.

By a 5-4 vote, the court said the 23rd District in Southwest Texas, represented by Republican Henry Bonilla, was unconstitutional because its design violated the rights of some Hispanic voters. Reshaping the district, a task that apparently now is assigned to federal court in Texas, would force a change in at least one other neighboring district.

But the high court ruling preserved the other districts in the Houston area and elsewhere that were created by the Texas Legislature in 2003. This includes a Dallas-area district whose constitutionality was challenged by black voters.

The Supreme Court today also upheld the right of states to change their congressional district boundaries more frequently than the traditional every 10 years following each U.S. Census.

I wrote about this yesterday at Kuff’s World. This is more or less what I thought was most likely. After all that’s been said and done, at this point what I like the least is that the concept of redistricting whenever the mood strikes a state legislature has been upheld. I see very little good that can come out of that, even if in the short term Democrats could use it to extract a little revenge against Republicans.

State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, a member of the House Redistricting Committee, said he believes the only way to fix the map is to put Laredo in one congressional district. The Republicans had split it between Bonilla’s 23rd District and Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s 28th District.

“There isn’t an easy repair. Any time you’ve got to move 100,000 people, there’s a domino effect,” Raymond said. “The easiest fix is you put Laredo back together

I’m not sure at this point if the three-judge panel that originally upheld the new map will be tasked with putting a replacement in place, or if the Legislature has to do it; neither am I sure if this needs to be done for 2006, or if a special election will be required for some point in the future – this could include an open primary in November, as we had in 1996.

What I do think will happen is that at the very least CD28 will be redrawn as well. If it’s possible to swap the CD23 portion of Webb County for an equivalent piece of CD28, that could work. What happens after that is a decision for CD28’s Rep. Henry Cuellar. He nearly toppled CD23 incumbent Henry Bonilla in 2002 thanks in part to getting 80% of the vote in Webb County. He did knock off fellow Democrat Ciro Rodriguez in the 2004 primary on a similar show of strength in Webb, and he won again in the same fashion in 2006. Without Webb, Cuellar probably can’t beat Rodriguez or someone like him with a strong base in Bexar County. With Webb, Cuellar would have a shot at Bonilla, but I don’t know that it would be better than a coin flip. Either way, it’s a tough call.

And yes, before anyone asks, I’ll happily support Cuellar against Bonilla even though I was an enthusiastic proponent of Ciro Rodriguez this past March. It’s a simple matter of mathematics, to wit:

Ciro > Cuellar > Bonilla

I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say after I see some answers to the questions I raised above. Stay tuned – this already crazy election season just took another big turn for the weird.

SCOTUS Blog has more, including a link to the opinion (PDF).

UPDATE: From the Statesman:

Redrawing [CD23] will force nearby District 25, the Austin-to-Mexico district held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin, to be redrawn, according to the court opinion.

Experts were still poring over the complicated 100-page opinion to determine how Texas will have to remedy the deficiencies.

And from BOR:

The three-judge panel will have the responsibility of deciding what to do with the redistricting map. The first decision is when they redraw the map for — this election cycle, or the next. The second decision, then, is whether they will redraw the map themselves, and accept three maps from both Democrats and Republicans, OR whether they kick it back to the Texas Legislature for them to redraw the lines during the 80th Regular Session starting in January.

Exactly how far the dominoes fall, we’ll have to wait and see. I’d imagine that CD 23, 28, 21, and 25 will have to be redrawn. As we wait to get more analysis, you can play around with an interactive Congressional map of Texas. Click on the “U.S. Congressional Districts” link to get to the map.

More to come soon.

UPDATE: I’ve put a statement by State Rep. Richard Raymond beneath the fold. Raymond was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, briefly a primary opponent to Henry Cuellar for this year, and a sure bet to run for Congress again in a Laredo-based district.


Senate committee vote on Net Neutrality today

From Reuters, via Daily Kos:

U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens said on Tuesday he does not yet have the necessary votes to get legislation to overhaul communications laws through the full Senate. . . .

Stevens told reporters he had not yet secured the 60 votes needed to end debate on the Senate floor, known as cloture, and set the measure for a final vote by the lawmakers.

“We have to get 60 votes, we don’t have them right now,” the Alaska Republican said after a daylong committee session for amending his proposed legislation. He has predicted the panel would pass the bill.

Stevens said he would not likely get a commitment from Senate leaders to bring the measure to the floor until there was greater support and that the toughest issue facing senators was Internet service, known as Net neutrality.

“They’re not going to take a month on the floor on this bill,” Stevens said. “Unless we can define a period of time that we get it done, we’ll not get it up (on the Senate floor) and that’s defined by 60 votes.”

It would be nice to put this one to bed in committee. According to Save the Internet, one of the Commerce Committee members that has not yet stated a position on Net Neutrality is our own Kay Bailey Hutchison. I’d not given any thought to the idea of calling her on this before because frankly I expect so little from her. But maybe this one time I can be pleasantly surprised. Give her office a ring this morning at 202-224-5922 and urge her to support the bipartisan Snowe-Dorgan Internet Freedom amendment in the Commerce Committee. If you do, please leave a comment here with the response that you get.

Oh, and I don’t need to tell you that Barbara Radnofsky supports net neutrality, right? As we expect to be disappointed in KBH, we expect the best from BAR.

UPDATE: I spoke to a gentleman in KBH’s office this morning and expressed my support for the Snowe-Dorgan amendment. When I asked if KBH had announced a position on Net Neutrality, he said that she had not yet done so, and was waiting on feedback from constituents. I asked if her office had taken many calls on this and he laughed and said “more than you can count”. He would not say which way they had been going, however, as it was a “private poll”.

So. Why not give KBH a few more data points for her “private poll”? Call now – 202-224-5922 – and urge her to support the bipartisan Snowe-Dorgan Internet Freedom amendment in the Commerce Committee.

Last chance to vote for Mapchangers

Tomorrow is the last day to vote for the Forward Together PAC Mapchangers. The good news is that we’ve now got two Texans in the top five – Chris Bell and Barbara Radnofsky. The better news is that we can still get at least one more in there with a little strategic voting. I quote from the email by Glen Maxey that’s making the rounds:

John Courage (TX-21) is sitting RIGHT OUTSIDE of the Top 5. We have an opportunity to bring another $5,000 to Texas if we can get him into that 5th slot. We also want to ensure that Chris and Barbara stay where they are. If John gets into the Top 5, we will have a unique “Texas Triple Crown” with not only having three candidates in the Top 5 of THIS contest, but it will make John Courage the Democracy for America Grassroots All-Star, the Feingold Progressive Patriot, and a Warner Mapchanger.

NOTE: This is instant runoff voting. If you don’t put these candidates in this order, you can actually push John further down the list instead of into the top five. We are very confident from the rumors we’ve heard that Bell and Radnofsky are secure in the top five and that John is just below the bar.

The ideal ballot would be in this order (it only takes a second to vote) to show the country that Texas is more purple than it is red:

1st Vote: John Courage TX-21
2nd Vote: Ted Ankrum TX-10
3rd Vote: Mary Beth Harrell TX-31
4th Vote: Chris Bell TX-GOV
5th Vote: Barbara Radnofsky TX-SEN

Please take a minute out of your day and vote THIS all-Texan ballot by clicking here.

Please vote while you still can. Thanks!

The political is the personal

Greg in TX22 notes Tom DeLay’s shifting rationales for why he cut and run in CD22. I’m sure if someone were to ask him again in a couple of months, he’d have another explanation for it.

John Carter’s VRA clown show

Eye on Williamson has been all over Rep. John Carter’s embarrassing statements regarding the Voting Rights Act. There’s too many posts to link, so go here and take your pick. And also read the editorials by the Statesman, the Chron, and Clay Robison, plus this letter to President Bush (PDF) from the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

I must say, I always knew Rep. Carter was not exactly a deep thinker, but I’m impressed at the depth and breadth of his clownishness lately. Beyond this, there’s his unnecessary fitness center earmark, his predictable demagoguery on immigration, his shoddy caretaking of Fort Hood – the list goes on. I find myself wondering if I’m just noticing his foolishness more this year thanks to the presence of a tough and well-qualified candidate opposing him and a dedicated blog keeping an eye on his shenanigans, or if he’s just ratcheted up the hijinx recently. Whatever the cause, he’s certainly made a spectacle of himself, and not in the good way.

More red light cameras coming

Catching up from the weekend – Remember that list of intersections where the red light cameras were going to be installed? Well, forget it. Things have changed, thanks to a ruling by AG Greg Abbott that red light cameras can be installed on roads owned by TxDOT.

“Now we can truly impact safety, because now we’re going to be using the (more dangerous) locations instead of having to work around” them, said Houston Police Department Executive Assistant Chief Martha Montalvo.

About half of the most dangerous intersections in the city belong to TxDOT, Montalvo said. Those locations can now be monitored by cameras intended to catch drivers who run red lights, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in an opinion issued late Friday.

“(TxDOT) may permit local entities to install camera equipment to monitor compliance with traffic-control signals for the purpose of enforcing traffic laws,” Abbott’s opinion reads.

HPD likely will scrap the list of 10 sites it released earlier this month as the first camera locations and come up with a new one that includes TxDOT intersections, Montalvo said. That new list could be released as soon as this afternoon, she said.

I haven’t seen that list yet (this story is from Monday). Have I missed it?

Many of the highways and other major roads in the city are owned by TxDOT, as are some smaller but busy roads, such as Westheimer outside the loop.

The city had gone ahead with the project, which has been in the works since City Council approved it in 2004, despite waiting on Abbott’s opinion.

Again, whatever the merits of these cameras are, it makes sense to deploy them where they ought to have the greatest effect. Now if we’d only promise to measure that effect and take appropriate action based on what we learn from those measurements, I’d be happy.

It’s Orlando!

Orlando Sanchez is ready for his closeup.

Harris County Republicans nominated Orlando Sanchez Monday to represent their party on the November ballot in the race for county treasurer.

The winner of the fall race will replace Jack Cato, who died May 22, but the office is somewhat uncertain since Harris County Commissioner’s Court voted last week to abolish it.

Sanchez won 66 percent of 321 votes. Precinct chairs selected Sanchez during a special meeting at a Houston Community College campus, said Jared Woodfill, Harris County Republican Party Chair. “He has a lot of support among precinct chairmen and Republicans in general,” Woodfill said.

“Most importantly, Orlando really, really needs the job,” Woodfill did not add.

Sanchez will be opposed in November by Richard Garcia, a Democrat, who advocates abolishing the office. Abolishing the office would require a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment, which first must be approved by the state Legislature.

You know where I stand on this. Do you want to subsidize Orlando Sanchez, or do you want to save Harris County some money? The choice is yours.

Judge says DeLay “withdrew”

Looks like Federal Judge Sam Sparks is a little skeptical of the scheme to replace Tom DeLay on the November ballot.

“He is not going to participate in the election and he withdrew,” said U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, who did not issue an official ruling after a daylong trial regarding DeLay’s status as the GOP nominee for the 22nd Congressional District.

Jim Bopp, a lawyer for the Republican Party of Texas, disagreed, telling Sparks “there’s been no withdrawal.” Bopp said that instead, DeLay moved to Virginia, making him ineligible and triggering a state law that allows the party to select a new nominee.

Sparks also said that if political parties are allowed to replace primary election winners with more popular candidates, “the abuse would be incredible.”

“It can happen in every race in this state for every office,” Sparks said. The Republican judge said a ruling could come as early as next week.

That’s what this is about, isn’t it? Either Tom DeLay chose not to run in November, in which case the law says that no replacement can be selected at this late date, or circumstances made him ineligible to be on the ballot, in which case the process for what happens when a candidate dies kicks in. Sparks hasn’t made any decisions yet, but it seems he understands what DeLay is up to.

And why shouldn’t Judge Sparks be skeptical when there’s stuff like this to consider?

The Democrats argued that DeLay’s move is a sham to circumvent state election laws.

Under the law, the Republican Party could not have replaced DeLay if he had simply withdrawn from the campaign after winning the party’s nomination. But state GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkiser testified that she ruled DeLay ineligible after he wrote her a letter saying he was moving to Virginia and she was presented with copies of his Virginia driver’s license, voter registration and state tax documents.

Judge Sparks seemed skeptical.

He noted that the Constitution establishes no residency requirement for a candidate of Congress. He questioned how a state party official can rule a candidate ineligible because they moved during the campaign when there is no residency requirement until a person is elected.

The judge also said he considered DeLay’s actions a “de facto withdrawal.”

Sparks questioned why DeLay’s staff, which prepared the letter stating his plans to move to Virginia, sent a draft to Benkiser several days before sending a final version.

The judge suggested that lawyers for DeLay and the Republican Party could have taken weeks to prepare a rationale that would allow the GOP to replace DeLay on the ballot.

I really don’t see how anyone can look at the facts and conclude that DeLay’s actions were anything but a deliberate choice, and that he made that choice after studying the law and finding a loophole that he then proceeded to drive a truck through. I mean, what motivated him to leave at this time? I’ve not seen any suggestion that his decision to retire and move to Virginia was in any way time-dependent. Was there a job opening that wouldn’t wait until next year?

I suppose Sparks has to decide if DeLay’s intentions matter in interpreting the law. If they don’t, then either he’s ineligible or not, and given that Texas law is generally pretty forgiving in terms of where one says one resides for voting purposes, he’ll probably be forced to rule that what DeLay did was in bounds. For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with DeLayVsWorld. For better or worse, I think the GOP is likely to prevail in this case.

Putting it another way, from the Quorum Report:

The judge said the evidence showed that DeLay simply decided that he would not complete the race. Lawyers working for DeLay then took time to figure out the best way “to manipulate the Republican Party, which he had a right to do,” Sparks said.

However, Sparks seemed troubled by the precedent set by the action, saying he was worried it could lead to widespread candidate swapping. “If (DeLay) is allowed to do this […] it can happen in every race in the state for any office”.

James Bopp Jr., Benkiser’s attorney, disagreed with Sparks’ conclusions, saying that only twice in 15 years has a candidate who won a primary been declared ineligible by the party and a replacement been named for the general election. He pointed out the other time was in 2004 when Democrats replaced a state House candidate who moved out of the district.

As for Sparks’ concerns about the damage to the political process, “it is not the job of the federal court to decide if this is good public policy or not,” Bopp said.

That’s a good thing for DeLay, since much of his legacy would be imperiled if courts did have that task.

Speaking of the courts and DeLay’s legacy, Houtopia raises an interesting point concerning another big court case on which a ruling is immiment, namely the Supreme Court and Texas redistricting:

Hey, if the court invalidates the whole Texas plan (unlikely but possible), we would revert to the 2001 apportionment lines, and candidates would all run in open primaries. Thus, Tom DeLay would get his wish to escape the ballot. There’s a tasty bit of irony to ponder — could DeLay secretly be hoping for the undoing of his own crowning political oeuvre? It’s fun to think about, isn’t it?


Finally, from Capitol Inside, I think this is a little Too Much Information from the Texas Democratic Party:

Texas Democratic Party employee Ken Bailey testified that DeLay had been a “lightening rod” for contributions and a prime target in light of the criminal case pending against him. Bailey said that the Democrats’ volunteer efforts and turnout would be adversely affected if the GOP was allowed to replace DeLay on the ballot.

Geez, why not complain about him stealing your lunch money while you’re at it? Didn’t we all come away from Fort Worth talking about energy and commitment for November? This case is about whether or not Tom DeLay is following the law, and what the remedy is if it can be shown that he’s not. Questions about volunteers and turnout (and fundraising – see the end of the Chron story) are irrelevant and frankly a bit insulting to the people who’ve been working their tails off both before and since DeLay’s resignation announcement. Stay focused, okay?

Poll in CD21

Karl-T reports on a poll commissioned by John Courage.

In a poll conducted by Lake Research Partners of 500 likely general election voters June 18-21, 2006, only 31% said that they would vote to re-elect Lamar Smith.(MoE +-4.4%)

This is an anemic number for a (20-year!) incumbent, as that number should on average be closer to 45-55%. The voters want change, and we’ve got a man of the people that is a teacher and a veteran who wants to be their representative.

I don’t doubt the statement about how anemic his re-elect number is, but let’s bear in mind that Smith is only a one-term incumbent for much of CD21, and the last time around he ran against a nutball perennial candidate, meaning he probably didn’t do a whole lot of campaigning. Going by the Redistricting Reports page, the population of Bexar and Travis Counties in CD21 in 2002 was about 356,000. In 2004, those two counties had 538,000 people in the district. That’s a lot of map-induced change. Smith’s tenure in government may be long, but to a lot of people in CD21, he’s a newbie.

Smith is below average in personal approval ratings as well, while President Bush clocked in at 44 approve/55 disapprove, and Congress itself was at a remarkable 21/78. As with Shane Sklar, the opportunity is there if Courage can get a message out. If you haven’t voted for Courage yet as part of the Straight Ticket Texan slate of Mapchangers, now would be a good time.

Ron Paul, rhetorical contortionist

The Baytown Sun picks up on funny business by Rep. Ron Paul after it was pointed out by Shane Sklar.

A Sklar release stated that Paul “triumphantly announced that Congress had passed hurricane relief funding and that (Paul) had worked to have 90 percent reimbursement for Texas communities affected by Hurricane Rita” included in the bill, called The Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Hurricane Recovery.

Among the provisions of the bill, HR 4939, cited in the press release as “important for Texas’ Gulf Coast families” are: $26 million for rural development; $235 million in additional assistance for displaced elementary and secondary school students for the 2005-2006 school year; and $6 billion for the federal Disaster Relief Fund.

But while Paul took credit in a press release for the Texas funding in the bill, “the release fails to mention, however, that Paul voted against the bill.”

“We get zero leadership out of Congressman Ron Paul on hurricane relief,” Sklar stated.

“It’s hypocritical and dishonest for Ron Paul to vote against this important hurricane relief effort and claim credit for it’s passing,” he said. “Ron Paul has been in Washington too long. Only in Washington D.C. would it make sense to take credit for something you voted against.”

But Jeff Deist, a spokesman for Paul, said hurricane relief was only a small portion of the bill, an emergency supplemental bill which is not considered part of the federal budget or the deficit because of a “procedural trick.”

“Congressman Paul always makes sure, in any of the appropriations bills, whether they’re a supplemental, a regular bill, or a hurricane bill, he always takes whatever steps he can to make sure that some of the spending in that bill goes to the district. That’s part of his job,” Deist said.

But, Deist said, Paul has a longstanding objection to increased federal spending that increases the deficit. “He runs on that promise. He wants Congress to spend less, and he won’t vote for bills that do the opposite, that raise the amount of spending. He’s committed to doing that, he’s done that throughout his career here,” he said.

Got that? He’ll fight to bring home the bacon, then vote against it because bacon is bad for you. You should be happy to know that this way he can sleep better at night.

This is Ron Paul in a nutshell. Given a choice between representing his district, and keeping his ideological purity intact, he’ll choose the latter every time. Kind of a bummer for him that in a year where his district really needs him, he’s got an opponent around to make noise over the contradictions inherent in his actions.

And this is what I mean when I say Paul is a nonentity, a boutique Congressman. He can write all the articles he wants for about government minimalism, and it will have no effect on how his party behaves. He has no influence, and in the end all he can do is argue that at least his purpose was noble. Sad, really.

There’s more in this BOR diary by Sklar.

No news is no news

I’m glad to see that nothing important happened while my family and I were on the plane home today. I wouldn’t have had the energy to do anything about it. See you all tomorrow.

Q&A: James Goodwille Pierre

Continuing in my series of interviews with local candidates, I bring you a Q&A with J. Goodwille Pierre, who is the Democratic candidate for County Clerk in Harris County.

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is James Goodwille Pierre and I’m running for Harris County Clerk.

Demonstrated by my accomplishments, I believe in hands-on community partnerships through service, education and outreach.

2. What exactly does the County Clerk do?

Primarily, the Harris County Clerk’s office is our county’s chief record keeper and oversees the election process.

The office has three primary roles: 1) maintain the records of the Commissioners’ Court, County Probate Courts and County Civil Courts at Law, 2) maintain real property records including state and federal tax liens; vital statistics records such as marriage licenses and assumed names; and uniform commercial code records, and 3) administer county and state elections.

3. What are your professional qualifications for this job?

I believe in active, hands-on community partnerships. I believe in the human rights of all people and am ready to be Harris County’s hard working, committed and concerned County Clerk.

My educational, professional, and public and community service backgrounds qualify me for this job:

  • My education background includes being a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School. I attended Morehouse College in Atlanta from 1983-1986 and George State University from 1987-1989 where I earned a Bachelors Degree in Chemistry with a Minor in Physics. I received a Masters in Education from the University of Central Florida and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from South Texas College of Law in 2000. I am licensed in the Supreme Court of Texas, Federal Southern District of Texas and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Currently, I am employed as Adjunct Professor at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and Manager of Small Business Development and Contract Compliance for the Houston Airport System.
  • From 2003 until the end of 2004, I served as the Texas Deputy Director for People for The American Way. In this capacity, I was the State Coordinator for the Texas Unlock Your Vote! Campaign. With the help of coalition partners, the Unlock Your Vote! Campaign registered over 20,000 new voters.
  • I also served as the Texas Legal Director and African American Outreach Coordinator for Election Protection 2004, the nation’s most far-reaching effort to protect voter rights. In this capacity, I was responsible for organizing civil rights lawyers and advocates to represent voters in lawsuits, preserve access to the polls, expose and prevent voter intimidation, solve problems with new voting machines, technology and ballot forms, and protect voter rights. I recruited the legal assistance needed and was co-counsel on the 2004 Federal Southern District of Texas Lawsuit, NAACP Prairie View Chapter vs. Waller County District Attorney. This successful lawsuit protected the rights of Prairie View students to vote in the local elections without being intimidated.
  • Previously, I served as the District Director for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-18th TX) where I was responsible for managing the overall operation of the 18th Congressional District while developing synergy between the District Office and the D.C. Office. In addition, I represented the Congresswoman at various meetings and events in the district, and nurtured and established constituent relationships throughout the district, while working with elected officials at the city, county and state levels to help with all community needs.
  • From 2003-2005, I served as Chairman of Houston’s Government Procurement Connections (GPC) Planning Committee. The GPC is an annual conference, which draws more than 3,000 small business owners seeking government contracting opportunities, and more than 500 representatives from various government entities. At the GPC conference, attendees have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with city, county, state, and federal representatives involved in purchasing decisions for their agencies. I am dedicated to helping small and minority owned businesses, and the conference has enjoyed outstanding growth and produced tangible benefits for small and minority owned businesses.
  • Finally, I am an elected director on the Board of the State Bar of Texas, Commissioner on the City of Houston’s Building and Standards Commission, and a Sustaining Member of the Harris County Democratic Party. I am also active as Chair of Region V of the National Bar Association, Chair of the African American Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Texas, Immediate Past President of the Houston Lawyers Association, and a subscribing life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I’m a Deacon at The Community of Faith Baptist Church and currently sit on the Board of Directors of The Dominion Community Development Corporation as well as The Robert F. Tinsley Scholarship Fund.

4. Incumbent Clerk Beverly Kaufman was responsible for the implementation of the eSlate voting machines. What is your opinion of the eSlates?

The eSlate machine itself is viable technology and was implemented at a time when an upgrade in voting efficiencies was greatly needed. The challenge lies in effective implementation of the eSlate system. I do not believe the system has been properly instituted.

eSlate was implemented in Harris County in November 2001. Even with over a year of experience, in November 2003 an investigation revealed a serious error – poll workers assigned the wrong ballots to voters.

We must build voter confidence in order to preserve the foundation of our democracy – the citizen’s right to vote.

5. What could be done to make the voting experience in Harris County better?

We should have an electoral system where registering to vote is convenient, voting is efficient and pleasant, voting machines work properly, fraud is deterred, and disputes are handled fairly and expeditiously.

The measures taken to accomplish this should be transparently communicated to our citizens to begin building voter confidence.

We also need to properly allocate voting machines and personnel to high volume voting sites to avoid long lines. And, personnel need to be trained to assure accuracy and efficiency in service.

6. Much has been written about the integrity and security of electronic voting machines. How secure are the eSlates?

Proponents of the eSlate machines will point to studies of voting problems where eSlates were used that revealed operator error rather than a malfunction of the technology itself. Without the source code being made available, however, voters have no assurances that their votes are secure. In addition, the accuracy and verification tests are not administered properly. The eSlate machines are a long way from the level of security needed to instill confidence in the voting public.

7. What can be done to improve their security?

I believe a task force should be created to look at the procedural and technological safeguards of the eSlate technology. This task force should research, develop and implement security and integrity measures that detect modification of software and parallel testing to detect intrusion software codes.

Secondly, I believe in implementation of a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. This is an important step to increase our citizens’ confidence that their votes will be counted accurately and can be verified should the technology fail.

8. Do you believe that the eSlates should print a paper receipt of each vote? If so, should these receipts be the official ballots or just serve as backups? If not, why not?

Yes, as indicated above, I believe in implementation of a voter-verifiable paper audit trail or back-up.

9. What is your opinion of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)?

First, I want to ensure everyone knows what HAVA is. The Help America Vote Act of 2002, H.R. 3295, signed into law by President George W. Bush in October 2002, provides $3.9 billion in federal funds to states from 2003 through 2006 to replace outdated voting machines, improve voter education and train precinct workers.

Under the law, states must:

  • Implement a uniform, centralized statewide voter registration computer database;
  • Provide provisional ballots to ensure no individual is turned away at the polls; and
  • Provide at least one voting machine that is accessible to the disabled per precinct.

I believe HAVA elevates the importance of an efficient and effective electoral system.

10. How good a job has Harris County done in fulfilling the requirements of HAVA?

Harris County complied with HAVA early. Areas for improvement in Harris County are 1) properly trained personnel, 2) proper implementation and use of a paper audit trail, and 3) incorporation and public communication of eSlate security mechanisms.

11. What is your opinion of the concept of “voting centers”, where the early voting model of a small number of centralized locations would extend to Election Day?

The voting center model came about in response to implementing the new requirements of HAVA. Voting centers ideally would be more cost-effective (voting centers save taxpayer money because they require fewer workers than do precincts), and provide an efficient and consistent voting system. Under this model, citizens may vote at any designated voting center rather than their precinct.

In Harris County, we use this model for early voting, which works well. It is prudent that Harris County fully evaluates the effectiveness of voting centers after a trial period. The upsides of using voter centers could outweigh the challenges as long as voters have proper information regarding the location of and access to voting centers.

12. What areas for improvement do you see in how the Harris County Clerk’s office is now run?

An education regarding the responsibilities of our County Clerk should not be needed. I want to make the office more visible, helpful and accessible to the public. Additionally, my goal is to be an advocate and resource for our citizens rather than simply a clerk. And, I will place particular weight on elevating the importance of voting for all citizens.

My promise is to:

  • Provide greater emphasis on voter participation.
  • Guarantee your vote is recorded as intended through verifiable paper trail ballots.
  • Increase confidence in our voting systems through testing and expert oversight of procedures and technology.
  • Be a leader with high visibility in the community.
  • Properly allocate voting machines and personnel to high volume voting sites.
  • Improve training of poll workers to assure your voting rights and efficient service.
  • Increase security of all records maintained by the County Clerk.
  • Better and timelier communication of voting location changes.
  • Expedite protection measures to assure your voting rights are not compromised and swift administration of justice when infractions occur.
  • Give you an updated and user-friendly Web site for the County Clerk’s office.
  • Create task forces of lawyers and grassroots community leaders to improve services provided by the County Clerk’s office.
  • Improved Neighborhood Center administration.

13. Why do you believe you will be a better County Clerk than Beverly Kaufman?

I want to advocate for the people of Harris County. I have always been about hands-on community partnerships through service, education and outreach – I will bring this tenacity, energy and passion to the County Clerk position.

14. What else do we need to know about you?

I am grateful and humbled by my many supporters and organizational endorsements within all communities in Harris County. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my biggest supporters – my beautiful wife of 11 years Jacquelyn Tinsley, a native Houstonian, and my two lovely daughters, Joi Candace, nine years old, and Jada Elaine, who is three.

Postscript: Since I first emailed these questions to Pierre, a group of activists filed a lawsuit to “prevent the State of Texas from using unreliable electronic voting machines in the November elections”. I asked Pierre for a statement regarding this suit. His statement is as follows:

The voters must feel confident that their votes are counted. I applaud David Van Os, Sonia Santana, the NAACP of Austin and its president Nelson Linder for forcing the State of Texas to listen and, hopefully, use common sense.

As someone who teaches and practices intellectual property law, I can tell you that it encourages and protects companies like Hart InterCivic in the production of proprietary technology such as source code. I believe, however, the law must give way to greater societal concerns. It is vitally important that our voting rights be protected from even the mere appearance of impropriety. We need to explore all available legal avenues to have the source codes made available for inspection and security.

Thank you, James Goodwille Pierre. You can read my earlier Q&As with Chuck Silverman here, and with Bill Connolly here.

Pretrial Services

Scott writes about Pretrial Services, which is a way to let low-risk defendants out on bail at a lower cost than using bail bondsmen, and Tarrant County is being pennywise but pound foolish by not using them. It’s a followup to an earlier piece, and a question he raised then sparked a reporter from Fort Worth Weekly to do a little digging. Now that’s synergy! And since this issue has to do with county jail populations, you know there’s a connection to Harris County as well. Check it all out.

UPDATE: HTML booboo fixed. Thanks, Greg!

Making a push for Juan Garcia

As we come down to the June 30 quarterly deadline for filing financial statements, you’ll be seeing a lot of efforts by candidates and their advocates to make their totals look as good as possible. Vince is kicking off such an effort for Juan Garcia, who is running for a very winnable seat against a very undistinguished Craddick disciple (Gene Seamon) in HD32. Take a look, and if you can give Vince a hand as he gives a hand to Juan Garcia.

More cases dismissed in Round Rock

Following up on this story of students arrested in Round Rock for breaking a daytiem curfew law during a protest about immigration, a municipal court judge has dismissed more charges for lack of evidence.

Like two cases dismissed earlier this month, the recent actions were based on insufficient evidence to prove the students weren’t exercising their First Amendment rights when they skipped school.

A city ordinance that required the students to be in school provides an exception for exercising free speech rights, but prosecutors said they wanted to judge each case individually because they thought some students had skipped school for the fun of it.

Prosecutors are going ahead with one of the first six cases, but City Attorney Steve Sheets wouldn’t discuss details. The trial is scheduled for July 7, he said.

About half of the 204 students cited for breaking curfew in the Austin suburb pleaded not guilty and requested jury trials. The citations are a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $500 fine.

Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing 82 students, said last week that the dismissals show the students shouldn’t have been cited in the first place.

Harrington questions why prosecutors don’t just dismiss the remaining cases. He said any students who skipped school to goof off probably already have pleaded guilty and accepted a fine or community service.

“I think it makes the other kids hopeful,” Harrington said of the dismissals. “But you know, this incremental thing kind of keeps people on edge until they get to the point where their case is dismissed. There’s no reason to keep the rest of these kids in suspense.”

Harrington’s group is awaiting a hearing Thursday on a motion to dismiss all the cases based on the free-speech exception.

“The more they dismiss, the more they’re recognizing this is the right thing to do,” Harrington said.

The DA is determined to drag this out to the end. I suppose it’s possible that some actual miscreants have not pled out yet and are now hoping to see their charges dismissed along with all of the First Amendment exercisers, but that seems like a small prize for the prosecution to be expending all these resources on. We’ll see what happens at the trial on July 7.

Metro meetings on Universities corridor

There’s a couple of public meetings coming up next week on the Universities light rail line:

Meeting One

Scoping Meeting
Date: Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Time: 4 – 7 p.m.
Location: Third Ward Multi-Service Center

Address: 3611 Ennis

The meeting is being held in a wheelchair-accessible location. Any persons requiring translation or other special communication accommodations should contact METRO Community Outreach at 713-739-4018 at least 72 hours prior to the meeting. Every reasonable effort will be made to accommodate these needs.

Meeting Two

Scoping Meeting

To accommodate a larger audience, we have relocated this scoping meeting from the San Jacinto Girl Scout Headquarters to the following location:
Date: Thursday, June 29, 2006
Time: 4 – 7 p.m.
New Location: Holiday Inn Select

Address: 2712 Southwest Freeway

We apologize for any inconvenience this relocation may cause.

Please note that the June 27 meeting reamains as originally scheduled.

The meeting is being held in a wheelchair-accessible location. Any persons requiring translation or other special communication accommodations should contact METRO Community Outreach at 713-739-4018 at least 72 hours prior to the meeting. Every reasonable effort will be made to accommodate these needs.

Here’s how they define a scoping meeting, and here’s what to expect at these events.

Pass the hat for Chet

The Chet Edwards campaign is running a little fundraising drive for the end of the quarter called “Pass the Hat” for Chet. This was an expensive race in 2004, and with fewer takeover targets for the national and state GOP this year, it’s sure to be another multimillion dollar affair. Edwards is in the 21st most Republican district in the US, and he’s easily the holder of the most Republican district by a Democrat.

Edwards’ opponent is a newcomer to the area and a millionaire in his own right. I’ve said before that I’m not as worried about Edwards as I thought I’d be at this time, but I could stand to be a little less worried. So check out “Pass the Hat” for Chet and toss in a few coins if you can.

More trouble for Six Flags

First Astroworld, now, well, see for yourself.

Theme park owner Six Flags said it could sell or even close six of its 30 properties across North America, although the company’s flagship operation in Arlington was not on the list.


The six properties being examined for possible changes include Six Flags Darien Lake outside Buffalo, New York; Six Flags Waterworld in Concord, California; Six Flags Elitch Gardens in Denver; Wild Waves and Enchanted Village outside Seattle; Six Flags Splashtown in Houston; and Six Flags Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor near Los Angeles.

The company said it can’t predict for certain whether any transactions will occur. It could sell the properties outright or dismantle the parks and sell the land for its real estate value.

Sorry about that, Splashtown fans. I figure the new Schlitterbahn park down in Galveston is doing them no favors. We’ll see what happens. Thanks to Kimberly for the heads-up.

A toll road threesome

Some good reading on toll roads for the weekend:

1. Kimberly Reeves (of A Little Pollyanna) has a nice article in the AusChron about the fight over tolling and/or expanding the western stretch of US290 in Austin. One point to highlight:

With the deployment of regional mobility authorities, however, the agency has had to redirect itself, from the traditional pattern of securing the funds to enact its designs into poured concrete to one of working with communities to buy into the concept, and continuing funding, of toll roads. In terms of its plans for Oak Hill, the agency’s estimated traffic counts indicate that US 290 West could see up to 157,000 cars per day by 2030, a figure more comparable with MoPac beneath US 183 than a peaceful Hill Country road. As is always the case with highways, it’s never clear how much projected development drives the highway, or vice versa. Nevertheless, Fix290 wants to see if they can find a middle ground, between a redesigned area roadway and TxDOT’s superimposed regional superhighway.

Richardson says TxDOT’s massive transportation goals are simply not compatible with the goals of the neighborhood plan: a better collector street system; a smarter placement of retail; the creation of infrastructure and transit that will increase the work-live density in the area as one of the city’s prime residential nodes; and even the creation of an actual, walkable “downtown” Oak Hill. TxDOT’s superhighway, which structurally mandates a high-speed thruway primarily serving outward-bound and commuter traffic, simply doesn’t allow that.

More than a year ago, the city of Austin’s Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department pledged to make transportation planning a more integral part of the neighborhood-planning process. That included negotiations with transit agencies. City planner Adam Smith says the city has made some progress with neighborhood/transit planning – most specifically, with Capital Metro – but still has a long way to go when it comes to working with TxDOT. “We’ve had meetings with TxDOT, but what it really comes down to is trying to get the buy-in from these other agencies into our plans,” Smith said. “We may address what our desires are for a particular corridor with them, but TxDOT is not always as receptive as we would like for them to be. That’s a problem.”

The one common theme in every fight over highway expansion – be it I-45, the Grand Parkway, or 290 West – is the conflict between the needs of the people who want to get from Point A to Point B faster and easier, and the people who live in between who don’t want their neighborhoods destroyed for the convenience of others. As someone who’s an in-betweener, my sympathies obviously lie with those folks, but I do recognize the value in making it easy to get around a major metropolitan area. My frustration is that I feel like the commuter group is often given a higher value than the affected homeowner group. I sincerely believe that if the people who live in the affected areas were given more of a voice in the process, it would make things go more smoothly, not more contentiously. I wish the Fix290 group much luck in having their voices heard.

2. Via Eye on Williamson, Fort Worth Mayor (and former State Senator) Mike Moncrief testifies about the Trans Texas Corridor.

Speaking for my fellow elected officials in North Texas, we applaud and welcome the Trans-Texas Corridor.

However, we are opposed to TxDOT’s vision for the North Texas portion, and we are disheartened by TxDOT’s refusal to partner with local government.


TxDOT’s proposal does not provide optimal truck flow through our region, which is the intended purpose of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Seventy percent of trucks which pass through North Texas need to make at least one stop within the heart of D-FW and do business. The vast majority of the trucks will not take advantage of the bypass.

Thus, a complete bypass would do little to: One, increase the speed and efficiency of the flow of goods to the rest of the country; and, Two, decrease the amount of traffic and congestion in the D-FW region.

In fact, it may actually make traffic worse by adding stress on our East-West thoroughfares. Remember, under TxDOT’s proposal, the vast majority of trucks are going to have to make a left and drive west into the D-FW Metroplex.


By far, however, the worst consequence of the TxDOT’s approach to the TTC is their radical departure from the traditional partnership with the Legislature and with local government.

You just heard Commissioner Whitley describe the extent to which local government has attempted to express their concerns to no avail.

TxDOT’s understanding of the new CDA [Comprehensive Development Agreement] approach to road building is that local branches of government and the Legislature are no longer part of the process.

According to the TxDOT view, once an agreement is made with a private partner, TxDOT and the provider alone are empowered to makes decisions concerning road alignments.

This is a staggering change from the way we have historically made these decisions.

He has more to say about sprawl, bad air, and other issues. Read the whole thing, it’s worth it.

3. PGL at Angry Bear is still working the Indiana toll road selloff beat (see here and this explanation (PDF) of why separating the depreciation rights to public assets from control of them makes more sense than selling off control of those assets does. Check it out.